If you’re feeling like this…
…It could be from the misunderstanding of how carbohydrates play a functional role in losing weight.
Carbohydrates are usually considered our enemy when it comes to changing body composition and weight loss. Carbs are everywhere around us and they can be difficult to resist. What exactly are carbohydrates? Before I get into the timing of carbohydrates and how they can benefit you rather than limit you, I want to cover the basic essential functions of this macronutrient.
The functions of carbohydrates are discussed below:
1. As a source of energy:
The main function of carbohydrate is to supply energy for the body processes. A greater part of the energy in the diet (more than 50-80%) is supplied by carbohydrates. Some of the carbohydrates are immediately utilized by the tissues and the remaining is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles and some are stored as adipose tissues for future energy needs.
2. Protein-sparing action:
Carbohydrates are mainly utilized by the body of fulfilling the major part of the energy needs, thus sparing protein for tissue building and repairing. The first physiological demand of the body is the need for energy, which must be satisfied before the nutrients are used for other functions. So, this function of carbohydrates to spare protein for its primary purpose of body building and repair of tissues is an important one.
3. Essential for Fat Oxidation:
Even though fat yields twice as much as energy as carbohydrate for unit weight, carbohydrate is essential for oxidation of fats. The common expression that ‘fat burns in the fire of carbohydrates’ is used to emphasize that in absence of carbohydrates, fats cannot be oxidised by the body to yield energy. Recent studies have shown that oxalacetic acid, a breakdown product of carbohydrate is essential for the oxidation of acetate, which is the breakdown product of fats. In the absence of oxaloacetic acid acetate is converted into ketone bodies, which gets accumulated in the body and the person suffers from ‘Ketosis’- a toxic condition of the body. Ketosis occurs in diabetes, where the cells cannot utilise carbohydrates and in starvation, where the cells must use fat stores in the body as a source of energy.
4. Role in gastro-intestinal function:
Carbohydrates play an important role in the gastro-intestinal functions of mammals. Lactose promotes the growth of certain desirable bacteria in the small intestine which brings about the synthesis of certain B-complex Vitamins. Lactose also enhances the absorption of calcium. Cellulose provides fiber and bulk which helps in the stimulation of the peristaltic movements of the gastroinl tract.
I mentioned in my last post that I recommend people follow a “Paleo Approach” to their way of eating. The reason is to establish whole, natural foods that have high nutrient quality. This means you must eliminate most man-made, modern, processed, and refined foods and emphasizing natural foods that we evolved from that can go a long way in improving health markers while helping achieve weight loss.
High intensity exercise creates a unique metabolic environment and changes how the body processes nutrients for 24-48 hours upon completion of a training session. If you exercise 3-5 days a week, your body is virtually in recovery mode 100% of the time. It’s an altered physiological state beyond pure resting conditions, thus its nutritional needs are completely different from the average, sedentary, overweight office worker.
The reason why I mention exercise is because carbohydrate intake is most beneficial for energy needed during your workout. It also enhances recovery by implementing it in a “post-workout” meal. Pre-workout carbs gives you energy for a grueling workout and protects your muscle from being used. Without adequate carbohydrate intake prior to exercise you sacrifice the breakdown of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) causing a detrimental catabolic effect (utilization of amino acids to provide glucose via gluconeogenesis).
I personally follow a peri-workout nutrition plan to establish an anabolic effect (building and sustaining lean muscle without the breakdown of muscle). What is a peri-workout nutrition plan? It’s simply the timing of certain nutrients around specific times relevant to the timing of my workout. In other words, most days I workout in the afternoon. I want to establish a healthy parameter around my workout time frame by bringing in much-needed carbs (for energy) and protein (for repair).
Pre-workout: simple and complex carbs, intra-workout: branched chained amino acids (BCAAs) to prevent the breakdown of lean muscle tissue and free radical damage, and post-workout: protein (to maintain an anabolic state), simple carbs (to start the recovery process and regain energy), and some healthy fats (reduction of inflammation).
I make sure I have both simple and complex carbohydrates about one hour prior to my workout. Why an hour before? I need to let my body take time to digest and uptake the nutrients so I can use them during my workout. Simple carbs are introduced for the beginning of my workout while complex carbohydrates are used in the middle and end of the workout. By using both I set my body up to have glucose for my entire workout. Some terms I use will be explained later on but for now I want you to get the general idea of how to consume food around your workout time.
Now that you understand the importance of carbohydrates for your performance during your workout, you will have a better appreciation for what carbohydrates can do for you. Hence, carbs are your friend and not your enemy when it comes to weight loss. Use them at the right time (nutrient timing) and you will find yourself moving up the leaderboard and on top! If you are curious about nutrient timing check out the book: (http://www.anasci.org/ebooks/Nutrient-Timing-Ivy-Ph-D-John.pdf)
The Fundamentals of Carbohydrates
Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs…
The following is excerpted from the book, The Power Of Champions
Carbohydrates are considered simple or complex based upon their chemical structure. Both types contain four calories per gram, and both are digested into the bloodstream as glucose, which is then used to fuel our bodies for normal daily activity and exercise. The main difference between simple and complex carbs is:
Simple carbohydrates or simple sugars – These carbs are broken down and digested very quickly, but most simple carbs contain refined sugars and very few essential vitamins and minerals. Examples include table sugar, fruit juice, milk, yogurt, honey, molasses, maple syrup and brown sugar.
Complex carbohydrates – the complex carbs take longer to digest and are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Examples include vegetables, whole grain breads, oatmeal, legumes, brown rice and wheat pasta.
When you eat (or drink) a simple carbohydrate or a simple sugar – whether it is a can of soda, a scoop of fat-free ice cream, or even a glass of orange juice – all of the ingested sugar quickly rushes into your bloodstream. You typically feel a quick rush of energy. Your body then promptly reacts to this sudden spike in blood sugar by calling on the pancreas to produce additional insulin to remove the excess sugar from your blood. And for the moment, you have significantly lower blood sugar as a result of the insulin doing its job, resulting in a sense or feeling of needing more fuel, more energy and more calories. And as you hit that residual low blood sugar, you begin to crave more of the quick-release, simple sugars, and hence you have just initiated the sugar craving cycle.
As this downward cycle continues, your pancreas continues to secrete insulin while it simultaneously reduces its production of another hormone called glucagon. Glucagon production, as it relates to improving your body composition, is very important if your fitness goal is to lose excess body fat. Glucagon is the only hormone that allows stored body fat to be released into the bloodstream to be burned by your muscles as energy. And when the pancreas has to elevate its production of insulin while reducing its supply of glucagon, you are basically locking-in your excess body fat. Therefore, too much simple sugar intake dramatically hinders the process of reducing stored body fat.
American’s consumption of sugar continues to rise year after year. So too, does obesity in our country. In my opinion, the correlation between increased sugar consumption and obesity is telling. When 16-20 percent of daily calorie intake is coming from sugar, Americans are not only locking in stored body fat, but also squeezing out the healthier, more supportive and nutrient-dense food choices. Sugar is the enemy of body fat reduction; and the enemy of a healthy, high energy lifestyle. So, do your best to begin to understand what’s in the food you are consuming and reduce those that contain more than a few grams of sugar.
When searching out the food choices that include simple carbs (i.e., sugars), start by looking for obvious ingredients on food labels that actually use the word “sugar”, like brown sugar, sugar cane, and of course, just simple sugar. Also, reduce your intake of foods that have any form of “syrup” in their ingredients. For example, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup and glucose syrup. And finally, look for those ingredients that end in “–ose”, like sucrose, glucose, lactose and fructose. All of these ingredients are sugars and, if ingested, will spike your blood sugar and initiate the pancreas to produce insulin and essentially shut off glucagon production – the fat release hormone.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are limited in your food choices (e.g., a breakfast or luncheon business meeting, traveling, dinner parties, etc.), and sugar seems to be the predominant choice, try to eat a protein with the sugar. Protein will help to slow down sugar’s release into the bloodstream, and reduce the insulin/glucagon effect.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand – and despite all the negative press they receive in some of the popular weight loss books – are actually your body’s preferred source of energy. When you consume the healthy complex carbs – the ones that have not been altered in a food laboratory – they are broken down into glucose molecules and used as fuel or stored in muscle and the liver as glycogen. When the body has an ample supply of glucose fuel and glycogen fuel storage, it can run efficiently. You will then have the energy to function at your best and provided the material that your body needs to reduce body fat and reach your health and fitness goals.
When you look for complex carbohydrate food choices to put into your body, seek out two subgroups of carbohydrates…starchy carbohydrates and fibrous carbohydrates.
Starchy carbohydrates include food choices such as brown rice, baked and sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown pastas and whole grains.
Fibrous carbohydrates include asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, spinach and peppers and can also be found in most varieties of dark green leafy vegetables.
One more very important nugget of carbohydrate information to remember: Do your best to seek out the complex carbohydrates that have not been processed in a food factory.
When shopping at the grocery store, stay away from the carbs that include the following words in their ingredients: bleached, enriched, processed or refined. These processed and altered foods are void of critical nutrient value and will do very little to fuel and energize your body.
Bottom line, the goal in consuming carbohydrates should be to reduce or eliminate simple sugars and instead focus on the complex carbohydrates – both the starchy and fibrous complex carbs – those that have not been processed or refined.
Do the best you can. At first, it may seem challenging as you begin to uncover the foods that contain sugar, eliminate them and seek out the more supportive carbohydrates. But once you get into the habit of eating the fibrous and starchy carbohydrates, eventually it will become a way of life for you. I can promise you, after an initial effort, the payoff of eliminating sugar from your diet can be dramatic. Your energy level will soar. You will lose stubborn body fat. And your craving for sugar will completely dissipate.
Recommended Daily Allowance for Carbohydrates
The Recommended Daily Allowances, or RDA, are a part of a larger nutrition system called the Dietary Reference Intake, or DRI, determined by the Institute of Medicine. Because the exact number of carbohydrates needed each day varies from person to person, the DRI is given as a percentage of total daily caloric intake. Carbohydrates contribute four calories per gram; the USDA recommends that between 45 and 65 percent of your total caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, this would equate to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates daily. – determined by the Institute of Medicine
The general public consumes far too many calories from carbohydrates when weight loss is the primary objective. For maintenance weight levels the DRI is just fine.
We all are determined to continue to lose weight for the remainder of this challenge. To continue I recommend a macronutrient ratio that opposes the DRI. This is where carb cycling comes into effect. Before I get into that let’s consider the makeup of your nutrition:
Example of a 200 pound male cycling on carbs to create a nutritional deficit with the macro split mentioned above:
1800 Calorie Intake (200 cal deficit from maintenance):
Protein: 576 calories / 144 grams (32%) This is established based on how we found the weight loss protein level from the last post…weight (200 lbs) x .36 = RDA Protein = 72 grams. Then double = 144
Carbohydrate: 684 calories / 171 grams (38%)
Fat: 540 calories / 60 grams (30%)
The reason why carbs are higher these days is because it is a workout day.
Now for the Non-Workout Day (OFF DAY)
1500 Calorie Intake (500 cal deficit from maintenance):
Protein: 576 calories / 144 grams (38%)
Carbohydrate: 474 calories / 119 grams (32%) (A reduction of 52 grams from workout days)
Fat: 450 calories / 50 grams (30%)
As you can see, the emphasis of protein and carbs switch roles depending on the type of day it is (workout vs non-workout).
Template to figure out your needed calories and grams of your macronutrients…
Women are set at 1200 on non-workout days and 1500 calories on workout days.
Protein = current body weight x .36 x 2 = weight loss protein intake in grams. To find calories multiply that number by 4.
Next you figure out fat intake…
Fat = calories (1200 or 1500) x .3 (30%) = calories coming from fat. To find grams to consume simply divide your result by 9.
Finally to calculate carb intake…
Take your caloric total from protein and fat and add them together. Subtract that number from your daily intake (1200 or 1500) to find the remaining calories your can consume from carbs. Divide that number by 4.
If this is difficult to follow look above at the 200 lb male example.
For lists of Carb Sources please refer to the URL below and the following carb list from Chris Powell (transformation specialist)
Smart Carbs. Carbohydrates are vital for energy production
Milk (1% or skim)
Yogurt (low-fat) with fruit
Whole grain breads
Whole grain English muffins
Whole grain tortillas
Long grain brown rice
Oatmeal (old fashioned or
Whole grain cereals
Brown rice pasta
Whole grain pasta
Potatoes (russet, red, gold;
small 1 ½” diameter)
Sweet potatoes/yams (small 2″
diameter, 4″ long)
Beans (boiled or low-sodium
Lentils (boiled or low-sodium
(p)= preferred fruits
Smart Vegetables. Vegetables fortify your body with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
So, after this lengthy post, I hope you recognize the importance that carbs have in the role of performance and recovery and timing. As long as you control the times at which you consume the majority of your carbs (pre and post workout), you will find yourself busting through that plateau to a new you in record time. Also, remember to start your day with some carbs so you have an initial surge of energy for your workday or workout…which ever comes first.
Control your cravings and work hard on the fundamentals of nutrition. I don’t expect everyone to be an expert on nutrition after reading this blog but I do expect that you take something away that will help you in your life-long journey of becoming a healthy individual. Cycle your calories to create a nutritional deficit and cycle those carbs! This is my fusion of the Paleo Diet and Carb Cycling. It has worked well over the years and I hope you can find it to be a part of your lifestyle.
Thanks for reading and good luck to all on Monday!!