Today we're going to talk about one of the most controversial topics in all of nutrition, carbohydrates!
I'm going to simplify it for you by answering three questions today.
Carbs or carbohydrates, are one of your three big macro-nutrients, that's your carbs, proteins, and fats. They're the primary fuel source for our body's energy needs. That means there's a direct correlation between our activity levels and our carb needs, but we'll get into that a little bit more later.
The right carbs serve several purposes in our body.
Let's get into types of carbs. For simplicity we are going to group carbs into 3 categories:
Today, I'm going to focus on those first two. Vegetables, green vegetables in particular, do count as a carbohydrate, but we're just going to consider them in their own group. You still want to get those independent of what we're going to recommend for carbs today and that's why I'm not discussing them right now. Before moving on, be aware that some vegetables, particularly root vegetables tend to be very starchy and should be counted as a carbohydrate and a vegetable.
The two types of carbs we're going to focus on are fast digesting and slow digesting (also know as "Smart Carbs".
Fast digesting carbs, that's your simple sugar carbs: white breads, donuts, candy bars, sodas, all that stuff. These are the things that should be limited.
Notice I said limited. I didn't say you need to cut them out. I didn't say you can never have these things. But, you do need to understand a few things:
Bottom line, there is room for simple carbs in a healthy diet but they should be limited.
Slow digesting, or smart carbs as I like to call them are health-promoting and nutrient-rich. Some of your vegetables can get thrown into this category, but like I said you want to eat those in addition to some of the other smart carbs.
Slow digesting carbs:
*In many instances, frozen fruits and vegetables are healthier than fresh, because they literally are picked at the point of ripeness and frozen immediately, so they actually maintain that freshness. If you like frozen, or frozen's more convenient for you, do not let people tell you you have to eat fresh, it is okay to do frozen, and in some cases even better for you.
All right, so let's talk about how much you should be eating when it comes to carbohydrates. We are going to use a very convenient measuring tool as a guide - our hand.
I just heard the collective gasp, you're probably wondering how to count your calories. Here's a little secret, unless you are a professional athlete and you have someone paying you, or you're, say, a fitness model and someone is paying you to look a certain way, you don't need to put yourself through that. Calorie counting is imprecise to begin with, it can be off by as much as 25%. For most people this hand guide is going to be all that you need.
For carbs, 1 cupped handful is one serving. If you're weighing it out, that's about 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Want more help with serving sizes? Download the free portion guide here
We are going to use this as our starting point. Based on 3-4 meals per day:
Obviously if you are doing one to two meals you may need a little bit more per meal. If you're doing five or six meals you would just decrease the amount a little bit per meal.
Like I said, this is our starting point. From here we want to look at how your feeling and your results. Ask yourself, is my energy good? Am I achieving my goals, whether that's to gain weight, lose weight? Based on what you are feeling and seeing, you can play with the serving sizes a little bit to figure out what's going to work best for you.
Some additional considerations outside of portion size.
More activity equals more carbs, less activity, less carbs.
Going back to those serving sizes. Those assume that you are at least moderately active, that means that you're working out at least three hours per week.
When I say working out, that does not mean that you have to go to the gym and lift weights, it doesn't mean that you have to go and run on a 10 incline on the treadmill at eight miles per hour. That's not what that means. It just means that you're doing three hours of intentional activity that challenges you, everyone's different. Maybe what challenges you is walking around the neighborhood. That's okay, do what is in your range, don't feel like you have to meet somebody else's standards of what exercise is. As long as it's challenging for you, that's what we're looking for.
If you're currently doing less than three hours a week, just start doing more. I'm not even going to tell you to eat less carbs, just up your activity levels.
A side note on exercise and calorie intake
There are actually studies that show that eating more, not less, can be more beneficial. This article is really about carbs so I'm going to keep this kinda simple, but the whole calories in, calories out thing is a little bit off.
Let's say that you need 2000 calories a day just to maintain, and so you eat 1500 calories and do no exercise. Well, you've got a 500 calorie deficit. In theory, if you maintained that deficit, you'd eventually disappear as you kept losing weight. Obviously this has never happened to anyone. However, there is a bigger issue at play. By only reducing my calorie intake, I've taken away energy (that's what calories are) from my body. Energy it needs to perform, recover, and function.
By the same token, I could actually eat 2500 calories but burn 1000 calories through exercise. I've burned the 2000 that my body's going to burn anyways, plus 1000, that's 3000 total calories burned. So, I burned 3000 and consumed 2500 calories, still a 500 calorie deficit. The difference? I've now given my body 2500 calories worth of energy, not 1500, to rebuild muscle, to rebuild tissue, to give me energy, to do all the things I need to do. I still maintained a 500 calorie deficit to help with weight loss, meaning I'm going to lose fat while protecting my muscle and preforming at a high level. That has really nothing to do with carbs other than they are your primary fuel source. I just wanted to throw that in there while we're on the subject because I love giving you value.
All right, I wanted to ask a favor of you. Please comment below and tell me what your biggest takeaway from this article is. In doing, so you're letting me know what you're finding valuable and what may not be as valuable to you. In the future when I make these videos or posts, I can really make sure that I'm focused on what's valuable for you.
Source: Much of the information in this article is based on my personal experience or information from Precision Nutrition. As a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach, I have a partnership with Precision Nutrition that allows me to coach clients using their nutrition coaching curriculum. You can learn more about that program here - Personal Nutrition & Fitness Coaching
My passion for fitness started with my own 80 lb weight loss journey. I love showing people that fitness and nutrition don't need to be complicated or restrictive. A good coach should be able to meet you where you are and help you get to where you want to be. I am certified as a fitness trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Additionally, I hold certifications in exercise nutrition through Precision Nutrition and online fitness training through the Online Trainer Academy. When not serving my clients I am an expert media contributor for companies such as Men's Fitness, Men's Journal, Exercise.com, and many others.
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