The low carb diet is all the rage, and in recent years, the word “carb” has almost become a curse word in the fitness world. While there may not be one specific diet that is a cure-all for everyone, we want to shed some light onto this attack on carbs, and let you decide for yourself. Everything in moderation, even moderation, is the key here. In moderation, carbohydrates are an okay thing to eat.

Are carbs the only fuel source?

The body can run on any of the 3 main macronutrients. The body will always naturally run off carbohydrates before burning energy from fats, or protein molecules. With this bad wrap that carbs are starting to get, the low carb diet has become more mainstream, and the avocado is king in the health craze of today. Along with the rise of the ketogenic diet, so too has the avocado risen in popularity, catapulting an already popular food into the stratosphere of desire. We’ve all seen the rise in popularity of keto, adding yet another diet to the mix that makes meeting friends for food a minefield of wrong decisions. As far as carbs are concerned in keto, they are the problem, leaving some people, Josie and I included, with scars of carb guilt.

Quick Keto Synopsis

In a simple break down, the keto diet, is a low carb diet, runs on the following basic formula regarding carb consumption:

Net carbs = Carbohydrates – Dietary Fiber

Staying under a certain amount of carbohydrates starves the body of glucose and forces your body to create what are called ketones from the incoming fat and fat stores in the body. Without getting into the weeds on bodily processes, these ketones become the body’s new fuel source. Meaning, when your body needs energy it is pulling from the fat from the food you ate, and other stored fats in the body, leading to the amazing claims of weight loss. I’ll spare you the “most people switching to some form of special diet are finally eating a more wholesome diet and will always lose weight” speech. However, do keep in mind, if you consume carbs at all, the body is going to run off that before anything else, even if you have been eating a low carb diet for years.

Important Processes of Carbs

So, what do carbs do besides provide your body with energy? Surely, that’s not all they are good for, right? Carbs provide glucose for the brain to run properly, which are required even during periods of starvation [1]. When your body runs out of carbs during intense activity your body will likely activate proteins to get the needed glucose for energy, but more on this in a minute [2][3]. Since we are a body sculpting blog, and you are reading this, losing stored proteins (muscle) is the antithesis of what we are trying to do here. Carbs also come with the all-important fiber, to help you be regular and get rid of waste.

When Is the Best Time to Eat Carbs?

Since carbohydrates are the most fuel-efficient source for the body and the body is going to burn carbohydrates before anything else, I’d like to pose a question to you. Why restrict your diet even further than necessary? Consuming carbohydrates before working out gives you the necessary energy to get through a one of those grueling HIIT workouts we all love. And if you are aiming to build muscle at the gym, instead of cardio, carbs provide a necessary glycogen refill to the torn muscle sights that allow your muscles to recover faster. I don’t know about you, but energy to get the work done and solid recovery sound like positives to me.

Can’t the Body Run Off Fats On a Low Carb Diet?

During intense exercise the body is running through the different metabolism cycles trying to keep up with the muscle stress, oxygen levels, and energy demand. Carbs are metabolized the fastest of the 3 main macros. When starved of carbohydrates, during intense activity, the body may begin to use the amino pool, or the free agents of the macros. Metabolizing fats for energy is a slow process and in the heat of the moment your body will likely skip to proteins to keep up with demand [2][3].  Once the body runs out of free aminos to burn, it will start catabolizing your personal stores of proteins. This means that while you are trying to get muscle, you’re also burning muscle. How counterproductive is that? Your body really does not want to run off of ketones unless it has been trained to extensively; and even then, it still might prefer proteins over ketones.

What Happens to Carbs?

The body does two things with the carbohydrates that you consume after processing it and turning it into glycogen. The first is it uses it for energy if there is a high energy demand. However, if it is not used for energy immediately the body will call in the strong arm of insulin. Insulin then signals the glycogen molecules to be stored in the muscles and liver where it will be stored for later energy use. An excess consumption of carbs with a low energy demand is where carbs get their bad name for making people fat.

Carbs on a wood board

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

What Are Good Carbs?

Although they’re carbs, unfortunately for us, one cannot eat sour straws and butterfingers and get away with the same results. What you put into your body matters and eating a whole food diet will help maintain a healthy life above all other foods. So, what carbs should you be looking to eat? I will always recommend complex carbs for two reasons. The first being that whole grains are good for the body and have more dietary fiber which increases bodily functions such as motility. The second is that complex carbs are digested more slowly than simple carbs which mean less glucose in the body and less insulin. Which ultimately means less fat storage. 

Good Complex Carbs to Eat:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice (sprouted if possible)
  • Yams (orange on the inside)
  • Sweet potatoes (white on the inside)
  • Whole grain items
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Tortilla wraps

So how many carbohydrates should you consume? We cannot give you a standard answer that works for everyone, because there isn’t one. Anyone who says they have the answer for everyone is lying. The real answer is “it depends”. On several things for that matter. As previously discussed in posts, everyone is biodiverse, so the solution to this is as unique as you are. Factors that must be taken into account, to name a few, are:

Your personal weight goals Your activity levels How your body reacts to carbs Your body type Your age When you eat them What you do after you eat them

Summary

To sum it all up, remember carbs are okay to eat. They’re actually super beneficial. Complex carbohydrates are better for you over simple carbohydrates, especially so when you might not be active in the next couple hours. As with all foods, eating whole foods with quality nutrients is the name of the game. The body can be trained to run off of fat or ketones, but it will always try to metabolize carbs before anything else. What makes dieting work is the ability to stick to it. So, if your restricting it more than necessary, the sustainability of your diet will go down. If you plan to eat carbs, the best times to eat them are right before a workout, or afterwards for recovery.

sunny day picture of the owner of the blog
Hey there! My name is Hampton Tyler and I help others achieve their dream physique and fitness goals. I am certified in general nutrition and personal training. I have over 6 years in sports fitness and bodybuilding combined. Even now I am still learning new things all the time.

Sources

  1. ^Keith Pearson, PHD, RD. (2017.11.09). “What Are the Key Functions of Carbohydrates?” Healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/carbohydrate-functions
  2. ^Craig Clarke. (2019.06.18). “What is Gluconeogenesis?” Ruled.me. https://www.ruled.me/what-is-gluconeogenesis/
  3. ^Lisa Marcaurele. (2017.12.22). “Gluconeogenesis: Should you fear it if you’re low carb?” Lo Carb yum. https://lowcarbyum.com/gluconeogenesis/

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