Know anyone who’s on a diet at the moment? Let me have a guess what was the first thing they decided to ‘cut out’…
Of course, after all, carbs make you fat, don’t they? Well, no.
If you want to lose weight, and are thinking about going on a diet, chances are you’re looking for scapegoat, something to blame on you not being in the shape you want to be. After all, it can’t be your fault for lacking self control and overeating can it? It must be something in your diet. The Daily Mail told you it was carbs, and you want to believe them. It’s carb’s fault, not yours.
The reality is, you don’t need to cut any one food out your diet to lose weight, particularly not carbs.
I’m not going to massage my own ego and delve into the science of carbs, I’m sure you all know what foods contain carbs, typically;
- Cous Cous
Other foods that contain carbs which you may not have realised include;
- Nuts/Nut Butters
If you cut all that out of your diet you’re probably going to get pretty sick, and also have a rubbish life.
Carbs are not your enemy. I’d imagine you’re still not convinced, and you want to believe that just by cutting out carbs, you’ll get the body you’ve always wanted.
I’ll try and address that below by dealing with some of the most popular misconceptions surrounding carbs.
‘Carbs are Not an Essential Nutrient’
This is true to a degree, but hold on a second.
Protein and Fat containing foods contain essential amino acids and essential fatty acids respectively. These are termed ‘essential’ because unlike other fatty acids or amino acids, they cannot be synthesized (made) by the body. They HAVE to come from food. You won’t die immediately if you don’t eat them, but you won’t be setting yourself up for optimal health either.
There are no such thing as essential carbohydrates. But does this mean you shouldn’t eat them? No.
Look at the list of foods above that contain carbs.
Most vegetables are 100% carbohydrates, but do you think cutting out dark green leafy veg is going to help you in any way? Of course it’s not you fool, regardless of whether you’re trying to lose fat or improve your overall health.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not as simple as just separating foods into ‘protein’, ‘carb’, or ‘fat’ categories – most foods don’t just contain one macronutrient, but rather, varying ratios of two or three.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to refer back to the list above – nuts may contain carbs, but they also contain essential fatty acids (and protein) – so if you you don’t eat nuts because they contain carbs, then you’d be missing out on other essential nutrients.
‘Don’t Eat Carbs Before the Gym’ (Or Before Marbs)
There’s a school of thought that says, if you want to burn fat in the gym, don’t eat carbs before you workout, because then your body will use fat as a fuel source in the absence of carbs. This is wrong for several reasons;
- Fat loss occurs when you’re consistently in a calorie deficit (regardless of the amount of carbs you eat) for an appreciable time period – not just because you’re ‘zero carb’ before the gym
- The body isn’t this simplistic – say you train at the gym at 3pm, just because you haven’t eaten any carbs since you woke up doesn’t mean you body won’t use carbs as a fuel source – what about the carbs you ate last night stored as muscle glycogen?
- If you are looking to lose fat, then high-intensity training is going to be the best method to achieve that, and the most efficient way to fuel that is with carbs, you might think you can train just as hard on fat and protein alone, but it’s very unlikely that that’s the case. With this in mind, you’re better off eating a good amount of carbs if fat loss is your goal
‘Don’t Eat Carbs After the Gym (or After 6pm)’
The ‘don’t eat carbs after 6pm (or some other arbitrary made-up time)’ “rule” has been doing the rounds for years now.
This is probably based on the assumption that, after 6pm, most people will sit on their arses all evening and gorge themselves on Dorritos while watching Eastenders. The problem is, most people sit on their arses all day too, at their desks, at work, very possibly also eating Dorritos. If this is your life, then your requirement for carbohydrates is going to be very low, but I doubt many of you reading this blog lead that sort of lifestyle.
So should you eat carbs after the gym? That depends on a lot of things;
What’s your goal? Are you trying to build muscle or lose fat? If so are you training tomorrow? How many days have you trained previously? Do you LIKE eating carbs after the gym??
Unfortunately this is so individual it’s impossible to give a clear answer, but the bottom line is nutrient timing – i.e. WHEN you eat your carbs is a lot less important than getting the right amount of carbs overall, whatever that amount is.
‘It’s All About the Type of Carbs’
What’s all about the type of carbs? Whether or not you lose fat? Bollocks.
As mentioned, the key determining factor in whether you lose fat is your energy balance over time.
It probably shouldn’t, and maybe I should seek therapy, but I find it infuriating when people make recommendations to switch to ‘Sweet Potatoes instead of White Potatoes’ or ‘Brown Rice over White’ to help with the weight loss process.
This is utter garbage, I’m not saying don’t eat Sweet Potatoes, they have some benefits over white potatoes (different vitamin and mineral profiles), but white potatoes are fine too (despite their seemingly impeccable reputation, Sweet Potatoes actually have more sugar than White potatoes – not that this is a bad thing).
Some quote that the Glycemic Index (how quickly a food is converted into Glucose) of Sweet Potatoes is favourable to that of White Potatoes (i.e. the GI is lower, so they keep blood sugar and therefore appetite stable for longer), but this is distorted by many other factors, such as how the potatoes are cooked, and what other foods they’re eaten with.
As you can see, this issue is incredibly complex, and it’s not just as simple as saying ‘one carb source is better than another’
See the chart below so you can compare the GI ratings of a few different foods
‘Cavemen Didn’t Eat Carbs, So We Don’t Need to’
This is people taking the whole Paleo debate out of context.
I have a lot of time for Paleo Diet advocates, I don’t think the diet is perfect for everyone, but it’s a good template for improving health, which a lot of people need to do.
Anyway, the Paleo Diet isn’t about NOT eating carbs – this is just a simplistic view of it.
Many Paleo books recognise that some ancient societies (e.g. in South America) survived on a diet predominantly made up of carbs, because this was all that was available to them, so saying that ‘Cavemen didn’t eat carbs’ is a complete non-argument.
Also, remember that list above – it contains vegetables, i.e. plant foods which would have been the most readily available food source for people that had to catch and kill animals using bits of flint.
Even if cavemen didn’t eat carbs, that wouldn’t be argument alone as to why we shouldn’t eat them now. Society has moved on – should we not use life-saving drugs simply because the ‘cavemen’ didn’t?
If you operate just fine on a diet free of starchy carbs (NOT vegetables, I’m not telling you it’s ok not to eat vegetables) then by all means go ahead, but you’ll probably be missing out on a lot of things – intense training sessions that’ll actually help you reach your goals, chips with peri peri salt in Nandos, and a few frosty ones with your pals on a Friday. Enjoy.
Joe is an online coach and qualified personal trainer of 15 years who helps busy, professional men and women lose weight and build muscle.
Having a 9-5 desk-job, Joe understands the struggles of juggling a hectic life with trying to maintain a good physique.