The Macro Diaries Part 1: Carbs
An educated breakdown of why carbs shouldn’t be feared, especially when training.
Carbohydrates or carbs are the most demonised of our foods, people think in order to cut body fat they need to limit their intake of carbs, now this isn’t untrue for the vast majority of people but it will not work for everyone! Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient to your body, if you go too low for too long this will lead to the down regulation of certain hormones that are essential for fat loss, like T3, testosterone and Leptin for example . This is where refeeds (planned and structured day(s) of eating a lot of carbs, the amount consumed will vary depending upon the individual) become a great tool for an improved physique when they are implemented correctly. The roles carbs have in our bodies are:
- Provide Energy
- Stops the use of protein for energy
- Preferred fuel for the brain, nervous tissue and skeletal muscle
- Is important in the up regulation of thyroid, testosterone and leptin hormones to name a few
Carbs are generally classified as complex or simple carbs, or good (complex) and bad (simple) carbs, but what a lot of people don’t know is when digested ALL CARBOHYDRATES become monosaccharides or simple sugars AKA your bad carbs, the only difference being that complex carbs are digested a lot slower than simple carbs, once absorbed they are stored in the liver ready to be used as energy.
So what about carbohydrates and hormones?
Let’s start with Insulin – Insulin generally gets a bad rap, many people believe that increased levels in blood sugar and insulin will cause immediate fat gain, but it really doesn’t. Insulin actually helps the body feel full, which if anything could aid in fat loss. On the flip side, the intake of too many simple sugars can cause fatigue in the pancreas glands (where insulin is released), over time this can lead to diabetes which obviously isn’t something we want, this is where food choices become important, we need to ensure we are getting a good amount of our carbohydrates from complex sources such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice whilst limiting (not avoiding) simple sources e.g. sugar, fizzy drinks, certain fruit, chocolate and sweets etc.
T3 is the most active thyroid hormone and is hugely important in the function of our metabolism and blood glucose management, this is negatively affected by reduced carbohydrate and calorie consumption. Thyroid hormones are one of the most important hormones for weight loss. Carbohydrates are vital in ensuring you have a healthy Thyroid.
The muscle building hormone, similar to T3 testosterone levels will drop if you do not eat an adequate amount of calories or carbohydrates (this is bad news for all). When testosterone drops cortisol hormone levels rise, which is definitely one way to lose a lot of muscle and gain a load of fat quickly.
All of the above points in the direction of a carb filled diet, though that isn’t the point I’m trying to raise, people have varying levels of success with varying levels of carb intake, it comes down to the individual. But one thing I am certain of is, long term consumption of low to no carbs will cause fat gain, probably around your stomach and can cause health issues. Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t ever go on a low carb diet, you can, but in my opinion it should be for no longer than 6 – 8 weeks and there should be some form of refeed incorporated regularly into your plan (not only will this limit the above issues with hormones, it will increase fat loss).
What to do if you have been on a low carb diet for a long period of time, reverse diet! The basis of reverse dieting is incorporating more calories (mainly carbs) into a person’s diet whilst limiting fat gain. A lot of the time we find people will actually become leaner through the process, due to the up regulation of the above hormones.