Carbohydrates are misunderstood and needlessly made confusing by so many self assuming experts. Carbohydrates are often viewed as the enemy and consuming them is a fate worse the death! Well not that bad, but why are so many people scared of Carbs?
Some people are more scared of Carbs than death!
It comes down to understanding. Understanding carbohydrates can be confusing because there are many different ways to categorize carbohydrates and (systems used to measure carbs). Here in lies the problem. So my solution is to give you a schooling in carbs, lets begin.The eight main different types of carbohydrate are (with examples):
- Low G.I Carbs (Sweet Potato)
- Hi G.I (White potato)
- Fibrous Carbs (Green Vegetables)
- Starchy Carbs (Rice, Potato)
- Refined Carbs (Processed sugar, white sugar or Soft Drink)
- Natural Carbs (Fruit, Fructose)
- Simple Carbs/Sugars (Glucose, Lollies)
- Complex Carbs (broken down into 2 categories, fibrous and starchy)
Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars.
Types of Simple Carbohydrates (sugars) are:
- Glucose (blood Sugar)
- Fructose (fruit Sugar)
- Galactose (found in Milk, makes up half the sugar Lactose)
- Sucrose (table sugar)
- Lactose (dairy sugar)
- Maltose (malt sugar)
From the list of eight carbohydrates (above), it’s easy to understand why some people can get confused. To add to these terms, the labels ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’ are often given to different types of carbohydrates.
Good Carbs and Bad Carbs
What exactly are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary and premium fuel source. As carbohydrates digest they turn into glycogen. An excessive carbohydrate intake will result in “storage” in fat cells.
Exercise burns muscle glycogen and if the muscle stores of glycogen are not replaced the body’s system just slows down, lethargy sets in and this is not a desired state if you are concern with getting stronger and building muscle.
Severely depleted carbohydrate stores will ultimately result in a reduction of the body’s protein stores and lean tissue mass, obviously not the intent of any trainer.
So it’s a catch 22, we don’t want to consume so many carbohydrates that they are stored as fat and we don’t want to consume too little carbohydrates so that our glycogen supply causes muscle wastage and no energy during workouts thereby making building muscle and getting stronger nearly impossible.
Simple carbohydrates have a ‘simple’ molecular structure which allows them to be digested very quickly, producing a rapid rise in blood sugar.
Simple carbohydrates can be both natural (good) or refined (bad). Natural simple carbohydrates include fruit (fructose) and Lactose (found in dairy products). People can have problems digesting Lactose (Lactose intolerant). The term Hi GI carbs is often (but not always) another way of talking about simple carbohydrates.
Avoiding all simple carbs in natural foods (such as fruit) is not necessary but it is highly advisable to avoid simple-refined carbohydrates namely any products that contain white processed sugar. These are poison.
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES (Polysaccharides)
Complex Carbohydrates are made from thousands of sugar molecules linked together in long chains. As a result, these chains take longer to break down and digest compared with simple carbohydrates. The term Low GI is often used to describe complex carbohydrate digestion. There are two categories of complex carbohydrates:
- Starchy Carbs
- Fibrous Carbs
Starchy Carbohydrate sources:
- Oats or Oatmeal
- White Rice
- Basmati or brown rice
- White potato
- Sweet potato
- Rice cakes (make sure its 100% brown puffed rice and not maize or corn)
NOTE: Starchy carbs are higher in calories than fibrous carbs.
Fibrous Carbohydrate sources:
- Green Beans
*Most Green Vegetables fit into this category
To decrease body fat, carbs are often the first macro nutrient to be restricted, next to saturated fats. A low carb strategy undeniably works to shed body fat. However, fibrous carbs should always be included in any nutritional plan.
Low Carb plans require Starchy Carbs to be reduced and optimally placed in the diet. This is important to understand as many people will restrict fibrous carbs which is often unnecessary. It must be understood before we proceed, there is a major deference between Fibrous Carbs (green vegetables) and Starchy Carbs. It may sound like I am repeating myself (I want to make it clear), don’t restrict Fibrous Carbs.
Fibrous Carbs contain very few calories and are loaded with vitamins and minerals and have much less impact on Insulin. Starchy carbs are higher in calories and have a greater impact on Insulin, thus why they need t be controlled.
For the majority of people, there are optimal times for starchy carb intake, they are:
- Before training
- After training
Depending upon your goal, a trainer may need to choose from simple and complex carbs at these times. Trainers wanting to lose weight will gain benefits from sticking to a simple approach and keeping all carbs sources at the above outlined times to complex sources.
Trainers who are leaner, and are wanting to gain more weight (in general) will gain benefits from including both simple and complex carbs at these times. They may also want to include a malto-dextrin or glucose drink during training sessions or a post workout supplement such as Evolves Reload for enhanced muscle recovery. In introducing pre, post or during workout shakes it’s recommended that the trainers’ body-fat does not exceed 15%. Leaner trainers have a better Insulin response therefore can merit the consumption of glucose around training.
The three times of the day as outlined above are not absolutes. However they are a great starting place. Sometimes in extreme phases of dieting (such as before a bodybuilding show) carbs may have to be cut from one or more of these times. For most of you who just want to get in great shape, consume a starchy carb source at all times as outlined above to get bigger, stronger and leaner.
When on low carbs, be on low carbs, don’t mess it up by eating spoons of sugar. Sugar is often the critical error in most people’s diet.
REFINED CARBOHYDRATES- THE BAD CARBOHYDRATE
(AKA Refined sugar, Processed carbs or Bad carbs)
Refined carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates (starches) that have been highly processed to remove the bran, hull, fiber and most of the nutrient from the grain. In essence, refined carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates that are changed into simple carbohydrates with high concentrations of sugar. They are “empty calories”- Empty in a sense that they are nutritionally void but at the same time they are loaded with ‘bad’ calories.
Refined Carbohydrates are to your diet like big EMPTY boxes wasting space in your cupboards!
Sucrose (white table sugar) is a perfect example of an empty calorie. It has no vitamins, no minerals, and no proteins, just calories. It does nothing positive for the body. A brief study of my clients food diaries show that they will consciously restrict wholefood carbohydrates such as sweet potato, bread and pasta in the belief that they are eating “low carb” yet their diets include foods such as soft drinks, donuts and ice cream not realising that these foods are much worse.
A pet peeve of mine is when people restrict their carb intake but then eat chocolate and or drink soft drinks or sugar laden energy drinks. These are carbs! Not just that, they are bad carbs! People will cut things like bread, potato and paste, only to mess it up by eating things that are ten times worse.
Manufactures promote and market refined carbohydrate products as ‘fat-free’ or ‘low G.I”, this over hyped marketing leads to confusion as to what nutrients the product actually contains. For what ever reason people don’t understand that these products are full of bad carbs. A great example of this is Milo (in Australia), it’s classified as “low GI” but the sugar content is through the roof. The marketing of this product has made people actually think its low in sugar and a great source of energy.
Milo, full of sugar not energy
For a strange reason, be it misinformation, cleaver marketing or just plain stupidity, people don’t necessarily see these foods as ‘carbs’ per-say. Reality is they are the worst type of carbohydrate- Refined carbohydrate. To an extent, people want to be sold ‘sweet things’ because they enjoy them.
Refined carbohydrate products have a very long shelf life. Big businesses dealing in food sales prefer a product that does not expire as there is never any loss from over production. From a business stand point refined carbohydrates are a ‘hot product’, from a health stand point they are poison. Marketing of these products over time has seemed to confuse the masses of people to the point where people don’t know what’s in the food they eat or drink. It’s a common practise for manufactures to add vitamins and minerals to a refined product to give the impression that its healthy.
Restrictions on carbohydrate may cause cravings. Consuming refined carbohydrates cause Insulin to shoot up, this leads to more cravings! There is a hormonal reason why people crave foods. To counter-act unwanted hormone reactions, pre-planning a correct carbohydrate intake must take place so cravings can be stoped dead in their tracks (or limited).
The body is a smart system, if you restrict carbohydrates you deplete muscle glycogen and energy so the body does what it’s designed to do, it sends out signal in the form of cravings so you can quickly replenish its stores. Cravings signals want to be satiated and fast! Without a plan in place you find yourself searching the house for chocolate or ice cream (which obviously impacts fat loss goals in a negative way.)
Being more sensible about carbohydrate selection and timing will stabilise blood sugar and fight off cravings. Again, it comes back to sensible planning.
NOTE: If one is to be successful in pursuit of their health and fitness goals, clear distinctions must be made between unnecessary cravings, genuine cravings and discipline. Unnecessary craving characteristics are:
- Eating out of boredom,
- Eating out of emotion,
- Eating because it’s a special occasions or event
- ‘The other person effect’, e.g someone else is having ice-cream so you want it too.
- Lasts about 15 minutes
Cravings like these usually only last about 15 minutes. If you can wait 15 minutes and the cravings gone, it was an unnecessary craving
On the other hand genuine cravings are satiated by good food and will not go away after 15 minutes. The cravings (or hunger) will sit calmly in your stomach until you can eat.
Still uncertain about what refined carbs are?
Any uncertainty about food containing refined carbs, always check the ingredients list. Refined Carbohydrates are not always listed on nutrition fact panels as sugar. Be on the look out for products that carry any of the following ingredients:
- Fructose corn Syrup
- Corn syrup
- Rice syrup
- Glucose syrup
- Invert sugar
These are different varieties of the refined carbs. If one of these is a main ingredient in a food then it should be avoided.
CARBOHYDRATE TO SUGAR RATIO
I designed the term “Carb to Sugar ratio’ when working with clients to help explain and simplify quality carb sources versus empty carb sources (using food labels). You may even use it to distinguish a complex and a simple carbohydrate.
What is the Carb source made up of? Using the food label, check the ‘Carbohydrate to Sugar ratio.’ Below is an example of rice cakes per 100 grams is given:
|-Sugar||Less than 1g|
Compare this with Marshmallows per 100 grams
This is an example of a very bad carbohydrate source. Over half of this product is sugar. It is recommended that you back up this ratio test with checking the ingredients. In the case above (the marshmallow) glucose syrup was found on the ingredients list which of course is a refined carb/sugar.
When using this method, there are exclusions to be aware of. For example, glucose powder will read 100% sugar on the label, however after training it may have its use for the RIGHT PERSON. Fruit is also another exemption of this tool as it contains natural sugars. Remember to check ingredients for refined sugar when using this tool.
As a general rule, try to keep sugar as low as possible when looking at carbohydrate and sugar ratios, particular when containing refined sugar.