We need to eat carbs for a healthy motabolism. But they can be seen as the all evil food group for weight gain. In this article we help you to understand why too much or the wrong kind of carbs can hinder your goals. We also look at how the body processes carbohydrates and provide tips for strategic carb intake for faster fat-loss.
The Cons of Carbohydrate Intake
Impact or “active” carbs spike insulin levels and elevate blood sugar higher and faster than all other macro-nutrients (proteins and fats)
In the presence of high insulin levels it’s pretty much impossible to burn fat as fuel. Insulin can be tricky because it’s your body’s primary storage hormone. Although properly timed insulin spikes can help tremendously with muscle gains, nutrient partitioning (storage), and preventing metabolic slow down can also make you fat.
Consuming too many unhealthy carbs over lengthy periods of time leads to a lot of internal inflammation
Which can eventually lead to other serious health issues; obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. because it promotes excess fat storage. This happens because of chronically high insulin levels, which eventually leads to insulin resistance. From there it becomes a downward spiral of health problems unless action is taken.
Carbs (especially processed carbs) are the most abused nutrient from both a health and fat loss perspective
Processed carbs like grains and nearly ALL over the counter wholewheat products that contain “anti-nutrients” that can block fat-loss and potentially cause various types of autoimmune diseases. Consuming today’s modern (and genetically modified) wheat, ends up leading to all kinds of health issues and there’s no doubt it can block fat-loss. Additionally, the gluten component in these types of carbs can make them even more problematic because of the inflammation it can cause. Processed carbs also hide nasty fillers and chemicals that can block your body’s ability to burn fat. We call these obesity additives.
Excess carb intake creates a lot of water retention, which leads to a soft look so it makes you look and feel bloated.
For every gram of carbohydrate you consume, your body will hold almost an additional 3 grams of water. So if you want to look and feel leaner, you have to learn how to manage your carb intake. Now you can see why people think you can just cut out carbs to lose weight. However, we need carbs to maintain a healthy metabolism.
This is why there’s so much confusion about carb intake. It can be a double-edged sword. That’s why you gotta get “sneaky” and cycle your carb intake to maximize both your health and long term fat loss.
How Carbs Can Keep You Lean 365 Days of the Year…
So now that you’ve had a quick snapshot of how and why carbs can make you fat, let’s discuss, in detail, why carb intake is necessary in order for you to burn belly fat and maintain a healthy metabolism long term.
Carb based starches like brown, black, and white rice along with tubers like sweet potatoes and white potatoes provide the purest, most natural source of fuel than any other food. Glucose in fact is one of the oldest evolutionary fuels on the planet. But our lifestyles have changed dramatically over the years. Most people wake up nowadays and grab a quick processed snack like a bowl of cereal, a bagel, whole-wheat toast, muffins, doughnuts, or even fast food laden with high fructose corn syrup. Over time this is what makes you fat because unlike other foods, as soon as a carbohydrate enters your mouth it’s instantly available for energy needs.
Carbohydrates Usage & Storage “Stages”
Stage 1: Immediate Energy Needs
Digestion begins as soon as it hits the mouth and carbohydrates are quickly made available for energy needs or stored for later use.
Stage 2: Storage in the Muscle & Liver
Our body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in the muscles and the liver as a source of energy for movement and daily function. Storage usually continues until the muscle and/or liver is full. Keep in mind, the average human body can only hold around 100 grams of glucose in the liver and approximately 400 grams in the muscles, depending on their size.
Stage 3: Storing Fat/Spill over
When energy intake is abundant and little or no energy is expended, muscle and liver stores over fill, and the body starts storing the unused energy as fat. So any and all impact carbs you eat will “spill over” and be stored as fat.
So if you’re completely sedentary you should definitely eat more like a caveman to stay lean and healthy – and avoid Stage 3 (fat “spill over”). Cut out processed foods, limit impact carb intake and focus on animal and plant proteins, vegetables, moderate amounts of whole fruits, berries, and friendly fats (raw nuts and seeds, coconut oil, avocado, etc.).
But if you’re reading this, are active and/or starting to exercise, you should be adding some strategically timed low sugar, gluten-free starches and fruits to your plan consistently to enhance fat-loss. Once you start losing some weight and you’re consistently using strength and interval training, over time you’ll dramatically improve your insulin sensitivity. This means as you start to lose weight and get leaner, your metabolism changes. When this happens you gotta “get smart”, meaning you have to customise, tweak, and adjust your plan to fight certain diet adaptations.
The Pros of Carbs
- Carbs are muscle sparing. In other words, they preserve and prevent the breakdown of lean, calorie-burning muscle tissue. And promote an “anabolic” environment. They do this primarily through the stimulation of insulin, which is your body’s primary storage hormone. This helps create a muscle building environment inside your body.
- They replenish glycogen and help reset our fat burning hormones. Remember, any time you carb deplete it only takes about 72 hours to drain glycogen levels (the energy stored inside your muscles and liver). This is a great short term approach for fat-loss, but it can put you in a trick bag because you’ll suppress your fat burning hormones and put the brakes on your metabolism. It only takes about a week of “dieting” to suppress your thyroid and leptin levels significantly. So by regularly consuming all-natural starches and whole fruits you’ll increase leptin sensitivity. This will keep your metabolism happy. Additionally, carbs provide energy to the brain and the body. They’ll replenish your glycogen levels to sustain you with adequate energy for your workouts and daily living.
- Carbs fuel a necessary metabolic process called “glycolysis”, which fuels anaerobic exercise (high intensity activity). This means that certain carbs (specially all natural starches) contain the purest glucose molecules that fuel our “anaerobic” activity, which is higher intensity exercise like interval, weight training, MRT, metabolic circuits etc.. So certain healthy carbs help fuel your body’s ability to more “efficiently” use carbohydrates as energy. This will result in overall greater fat-loss.
3 Tricks You Can Use to Eat Loads of Carbs and Never Store Them as Fat…
There are 3 time-tested strategies that you can use to eat tons of carbs and never have to worry about Stage 3, fat “spill over”.
Trick #1: Carb Timing- This is a biggie!
Good: A good time to consume healthy starches or fruits is first thing in the morning.
Better: An even better time to consume starches and fruits is a few hours before high intensity resistance training (MRT, bodyweight circuits, or metabolic circuits) or a heavier weight training session.
This will ensure that these carbs are used as energy during and after the workout to avoid fat-spill over – and provide sustained energy throughout the workout. Better performance = better results. Additionally, the extra insulin release will help prevent muscle loss and increase gains in lean muscle tissue.
BEST: The best time to consume pure glucose polymers from starches and sugars from fruits is in your post workout anabolic window of opportunity, which is anywhere from 1 to 3 hours after high intensity training. In fact, if you work out late at night you could actually consume your largest carb serving of the day right before bed and not worry about fat spill over.
This works best when you’re following more of a maintenance schedule so I don’t recommend using this tip when trying to achieve rapid fat-loss, but it does prove the point that eating late at night doesn’t really make you fat. That’s because when you work out intensely enough you’ll set off several powerful metabolic triggers no matter what time of day it is. Regardless if your goal is fat loss, strength, performance, energy, improved health or anything else, it’s critical for you to understand the process of carb timing.
Trick #2: Carb Preparation
Steam/boil your rice and bake your potatoes. Don’t fry them or douse them in tons of oil. In fact, the less ingredients you use with your starches and fruits, the better. They can work their magic best when eaten in their most natural form. Even fruits should be eaten as whole fruits with the skin. Unfortunately chicken fried rice, a loaded baked potato, and fruit cobbler aren’t part of this strategy- save them for your cheat day.
Trick #3: Carb Combining
Food combinations are another huge aspect of sustained fat-loss so read this carefully. It will help you understand how to be a long term fat-burner. Consistently combining your foods the right way is what will help keep your body in a fat burning environment.
There’s a lot of debate about how to combine foods, but I’ve always focused solely on keeping blood sugar stable and preventing insulin spikes throughout the day. This not only enhances your body’s ability to consistently use fat as fuel, but also promotes overall health and general wellbeing. If you learn how to control blood sugar, you’ll potentially avoid cardiovascular disease and even epidemics like diabetes. Additionally, your energy will increase in a big way. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule.
Here are all the details on food combining for faster fat loss
Never eat carbs by themselves
Remember, almost all impact carbs tend to spike blood sugar (raise insulin) more than other foods which creates a fat storing environment inside our body. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to burn fat in the presence of high insulin. So always combine your impact carbs with some type of lean protein.
Always have some type of high quality complete protein in every meal when possible
Consuming protein in every meal will keep your body in a consistent anabolic (muscle preserving) state. Protein also provides muscles with a steady stream of amino acids to help assist in repair and growth of lean muscle tissue. This will also help keep blood sugar more stable throughout the day keeping you in a high energy, fat burning environment. Also, the thermic effect of protein will help prevent metabolic slow down and burn more calories. In other words, your body will burn more calories digesting and breaking down protein than it will digesting and breaking down fat and carbohydrates. So, by consuming protein frequently throughout the day you’ll naturally burn more calories.
Try to limit fat intake when eating starches or fruits (impact carbs)
If you eat fat with your carbs when insulin levels are raised, it’s likely to be stored as fat. By keeping fat intake low in meals that contain starches and/or fruits, you’ll avoid insulin and fatty acids being present together in the blood stream.
Be conscious of fat intake before and after workouts.
Fats tend to slow digestion and keep insulin stable. This is a great benefit during other times of the day. But pre and post workout is where we want to speed up absorption and intentionally spike insulin. This is the ONE exception to the rule of keeping blood sugar and insulin stable. Here’s why: Spiking insulin after workouts, by limiting fats and eating carbs and protein together, will help force more nutrients into muscle tissue. Remember, insulin helps create a muscle building environment during exercise and prevents the breakdown of precious muscle tissue.
Take home message
Always combine post workout starches and whole fruits with a hefty serving of lean protein and limit fat intake when possible.
We hope you’ve found this helpful. Do you feel like you have a better understanding of carbs and how the body processes them?