Carbs: 3 Things You Need to Know

I'm currently coaching 70 women online - and they all have one thing in common:

They are all eating starchy carbohydrates.

While it's currently very trendy to demonize carbs and pin them as the root cause of the obesity crisis, the thing you must understand about carbs is this: Carbs are not evil. They are individual. The question to ask yourself isn't "should I eat carbs?" The question to ask is "How many carbs should I eat and what kind?"

1. What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. Of the three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), carbs impact blood glucose levels the most. This is why you must hone in on your carb intake if you want to lose fat, as fat burning simply does not happen in the presence of high blood sugar. 

When you eat, your blood sugar rises. The hormone insulin is then released into the blood stream where it transports all that excess sugar into your cells for later use. You need SOME insulin. You don't want to stop this process completely or you die:) 

What you don't need is chronically elevated levels of insulin from consuming too many carbohydrates. Most of us know we shouldn't be pounding donuts and cupcakes, but we also have no clue how many carbs we're eating and what percentage of our diet is coming from carbs, protein, and fat.

You can gain fat from eating too many donuts and cupcakes, but you can also gain fat from eating too many "healthy/clean" foods like whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, beans, etc. 

2. How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

The amount of carbs you need for your goals is individual and no one can pinpoint it except you. Sure, a trainer or coach like me can run some numbers based on your age, weight, lean mass, activity level, etc. and give you a ballpark, but ultimately, it requires trial and error and consistency. No one knows your body like you, so blindly following some internet guru's advice on exactly how many carbs you should eat is kind of, well - stupid. 

If you want to get leaner, you will have to manipulate your carb intake. For most women who want to get and stay lean, that means 20-30% of their diet will from carbs. We also recommend weekly re-feeds or "reward meals" to give the body a bump of calories - especially carbs - as this resets hunger hormones and helps prevent slowing of the metabolism. 

Reducing carbs doesn't mean eating rabbit food. It simply means the rest of your caloric intake will come from other places: proteins and fats. 

3. Why Can Some People Eat More Carbs?

How many carbs you eat depends on a few factors:

  • Your genetics - darn, you can't change that!
  • Insulin sensitivity - you can change this and make it better.
  • Your lean mass - the leaner you are, the more carbs - and overall calories - you will likely need. 
  • Your activity level - fit, active people need slightly more carbs.
  • Your specific goals - training for performance vs. fat loss? Big difference in nutrition here. 

My current client groups are focused on fat loss. For many of them, that means a reduced-carbohydrate diet focused on carbs that are in fiber and low in sugar. Think: vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and some hypoallergenic grains like oats and rice. We are still watching the amounts closely, as overeating "clean" and "healthy" foods will still inhibit fat loss or cause fat gain.  

BOTTOM LINE: Even if your goal is fat loss, there is STILL room in your diet for starchy carbohydrates.

Did you find this article on carbohydrates useful? Does it mesh with what you already believed or does it fly in the face of everything you've been reading and hearing lately? I would love to know where you stand and what you think, so start a conversation in the comments below!