Carb loading, carb cycling, Low carb, no carb……ahh!!! Its enough to drive someone crazy!!!
Lets start with the basics, because when I started out in this fitness world, I thought that a carbohydrate was the big bowl of white pasta set out in front of me. Little did I know that carbohydrates encompass fruits, vegetables, grains, root veggies like sweet potatoes and potatoes, sugar, refined foods as well as my beloved pasta! This alone helped me as I ventured through the world of fitness, both for myself personally as well as for my future clientele. Knowledge is the first step in achieving success.
Now that we know WHAT a carbohydrate is, the next step is knowing HOW much and WHEN to eat them in order to attain fitness goals, health and long term sustainable energy for life! This can be tricky as well as VERY individualized.
Unlike protein, which we looked at in the first blog post, as being approximately 1- 1.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight, the world of the carbohydrate is quite different. This is where I recommend working with a coach who can help get your body in a healthy state for utilizing carbs (assuming you are not there yet), and then pursuing more of an “intuitive” eating plan where you listen to your body’s own cues.
For the purposes of this post, I will cover the bare bones basics, BUT, there are many schools of thought, including IIFYM (if it fits your macros), carb cycling, high carb raw food diets etc. Layne Norton’s YouTube channel provides some great resources for dietary research. There is no “cookie cutter” plan for all.
What works wonders for some, fails for others. So ignore your best friend’s diet, and find something that works for you, and something that is a lifestyle, not a deprivation diet…and whatever you do..INCLUDE carbohydrate sources from a variety of foods, including fruit, veggies, starches, grains and more. Yes, even treats can make there way in there!
I know, first hand the world of fitting in your macros every day no matter how, what and where. It works for a lot of people, especially in an industry that promoted (and promotes) deprivation diets for so long. IIIFYM which essentially making sure you eat the allotted amount of grams of carbs, protein and fat each day (not over or under) to attain your goals. This can be done in 3 meals, 1 or 7…and can include treats, “clean” foods, dirty foods and everything in between.
This “new way of eating” was like a breath of fresh air in the fitness industry: you mean I can eat Pizza and still compete?!?! It doesn’t however work for all. Being a slave to a scale and food tracker, or having a high insulin resistance to carbs or having more of a lifestyle goal with a need for a lower maintenance approach may not make macro counting a great fit.
For me personally, after trying every which angle in the book , including IIFYM, I was only at about 100 carbs at most to attain my goals. I became obsessed with counting the macros and making them fit and was not the most fun human being to be around! My body is now a lot happier, as I found out after much trial and error, that a higher fat and protein diet with carbohydrates at specific times, as well as a “refeed” day every 4-7days depending at what my body composition is at and my goals, is what works for me.
I am happy I did give IIFYM a good year, because it gave me a lesson on how to listen to my body more and feed it in a more timely fashion. When I finally put the food scale away, along with it went the belly bloat and stress of micromanaging my food intake. I now have a much closer relationship with my body where I listen to its hunger cues, can look at my body composition with more of a trained eye and less emotion and after years, finally found my sweet spot. I eat when hungry, but follow a few “basic” guidelines that help me stay fit all year, have energy – remember you NEED carbs to give you fuel, stay full, and not EVER feel deprived (or revert to my past competition deprivation-binge days (blog post anyone?).
- Keep my starchier, higher carb foods (such as dates, yams, sugars, banana, breads and treats) to my workout window (pre and post workout) and when breaking a fast (after 8-12 hours of not eating)..aka Breakfast.
- Use my lower carb foods, such as vegetables, some fruit and trace carbs in nuts, avocados etc. away from my workout window and up my fat intake, which is very little post workout.
- 45-55% (even higher for very active individuals and heavy lifters) of my daily caloric intake comes from carb sources.
- start a natural “carb cycle” where on lower activity days your carb intake is slightly lower (you concentrate more on leafy greens, fruits etc) and where you want to see some muscle building gains (shoulders and glutes anyone)- you increase or “refeed” those muscles with extra glycogen (aka energy) pre and post workout with starchier carbs from bread, waffles, dates, bars or your favorite bowl of pasta
- Keep it real! Overthinking, over-stressing and over analyzing your food can become tiring, stressful to you and those around you. Remember to enjoy life, food and keep track of your goals. Having the accountability of a coach is a great option. A great resource for nutrition training and coaching for those interested in finding what works for you check out Precision Nutrition.
Overall, remember that carbohydrates are not evil, and when used correctly, in the right quantity and at the right times they keep you satiated, happy , full of energy and meeting your fitness goals! Check out this delicious high carb and healthy authentic dish below that is always a crowd pleaser!