Carbohydrates are our preferred source of energy and are used most efficiently by the human body. The brain utilizes carbohydrates to perform normal bodily functions, requiring a minimum of 100 grams of carbohydrate per day. Following a severely low carb diet, or eliminating carbs from the diet altogether, will cause physical performance and mental concentration to deteriorate severely.
Our energy source
Our bodies burn a combination of carbohydrates and fat during physical activity, for the most part using carbs during high intensity activities and weight lifting. However, as we know, carbohydrates are a more efficiently source of energy than protein and fats.
The body stores carbs in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is converted into glucose and used for energy. In fat loss program Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, Tom Venuto stresses that up to 400 grams (1600 calories) of carbohydrate can be stored in the muscles, and 100 grams (400 calories) in the liver. Every type of carbohydrate we consume will be stored by the body, which is why it’s essential for the majority of our intake to come from healthy carbs.
Wholegrain, unrefined carbs fuel energy, feed muscles and make us lean. Low-grade carbs trigger health problems, make us lethargic and contribute to weight gain.
Here are some of the best carbs that should make up the bulk of your diet:
Simple carbohydrates are those that contain sugar molecules. Fruit is a simple carbohydrate, since it contains a natural sugar known as fructose. Naturally occurring sugars in fruit are healthy, and can aid in fat loss. Fruit is high in water content and therefore low in calories. By contrast, food containing high fructose corn syrup, white flour, added sugar or white sugar should be avoided at all costs and only eaten as cheat meals.
Dairy products are another source of simple carbohydrate, containing a naturally occurring sugar known as lactose. Low-fat or nonfat dairy products offer multiple health benefits. However, full fat dairy products are high in calories and fat and are best avoided, regardless of whether your current goal is fat loss or maintenance. Some people lack the enzyme needed to digest lactose, making them lactose intolerant and unable to consume dairy products.
There are two types of complex carbohydrates, known as starchy carbs and fibrous carbs.
Starchy carbs are made up of grains, such as potatoes, bread, oats, rice, pasta, beans, etc.
Fibrous carbs are primary made up of vegetables, which are high in fiber and prevent disease. Fibrous carbs are lower in calories than starchy carbs and make ideal snacks or side orders with main dishes.
Your diet should consist of unprocessed carbs. These should be in their natural state, without any added sugar. Products made with white flour or sugar, such as white rice, pasta, bread, bagels and pastries greatly contribute to weight gain and can lead to health problems including diabetes, heart disease, dental problems and obesity, among others.
How to identify unhealthy products
Any carbohydrate containing refined sugar should be avoided. All food containing sugar is not necessary bad, as it may be a naturally occurring sugar (fructose or lactose). One simple tactic is to read nutrition labels or the list of ingredients to see whether or not to steer clear of a product. If it contains naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose or lactose, then the item can be consumed. If the product contains high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, brown sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup, glucose syrup or white sugar, do not buy it or eat it unless it’s a cheat meal.
The best type of carbohydrate is whole wheat, which should be consumed as close to its natural state as possible. Natural carbs help keep you full for longer, control your blood sugar level and promote fat loss and muscle building. Processed white carbs, such as pasta or pizza, can contain more than 900 calories per serving. Every meal should include a lean protein, healthy fats and unrefined starchy and fibrous carbs.
Fat loss guru Tom Venuto recommends starting off with a baseline of 50% of carbs based on your total calorie intake, then modifying as you progress, according to your goals. This applies equally to fat loss and muscle building programs. To help with your calculations, there are four calories of carbohydrate in every gram.
Here’s an example: you’re consuming 1800 calories a day. You want 50% of your intake to be carbs, so you should be eating 900 calories of carbs (0.50 x 1800). To calculate the number of grams, divide the number of calories by four (900/4) = 225 grams of carbs.
You can gradually decrease your carb intake as you progress along a fat loss journey by decreasing your carb intake and increasing your protein intake. Click here to learn more about how to create your meal plans.