Carbs get a bad press within the fitness industry but they’re not as bad as people make out. We’ve tried to summarise the key things to know about carbs below.
What types of carbs are there?
• Simple carbs include sugar, honey and corn syrup. These consist of just 1 or 2 sugar molecules and are the quickest form of energy as they are digested quickly.
• Complex carbs include vegetables, whole grain seeds and potatoes. These consist of sugar molecules strung together. They often have a high fibre content, thus providing greater satisfaction. These types of carbs are often found in whole plant foods and hence are often high in vitamins and minerals.
The Glycaemic Index
To complicate matters, not all simple carbs are digested quickly and some complex (slow digesting) carbs such as potatoes are actually digested faster than apples (a fast digesting carbohydrate) causing a more rapid rise in your blood sugar levels. This is where the Glycaemic Index (GI) comes into play. The GI is a ranking of foods containing carbs based on the overall effect on blood glucose levels. A low GI rating is given to slowly absorbed foods, while foods that are more quickly absorbed have a higher rating. This is important because choosing slowly absorbed carbs, instead of quickly absorbed carbs, can help even out blood glucose levels when you have diabetes. Low GI foods include but are not limited to; sweet potatoes, porridge, eggs and fish. A high glycaemic diet (one high in sweets, etc.) puts you more at risk of type two diabetes and heart disease.
Some studies have found that a low GI diet increases feelings of fullness after eating, improves appetite control and makes it easier to achieve a healthy body weight.
The role of glycogen
A low carb diet causes a glycogen (the storage form of carbs that is found in the liver and muscles) depleted state. Glycogen is readily converted to glucose to be used as an immediate energy source, especially during strenuous exercise/activity, such as running a marathon, sprinting or a long weights session. During a glycogen depleted state, there can be a detrimental effect on performance which is not ideal during a workout. It may mean that you are unable to lift a heavier weight and have to settle for something lighter.
Do low carb diets help with weight loss?
‘But so and so lost X amount of weight in X days on this low carb diet!’ Yes they might have and that is what is expected for those beginning a carb restriction. It all comes down to glycogen – each gram of glycogen is bound by 3-4g of water. Therefore, as your body works its way through the reduced carbs and into the glycogen stores, the water attached to it is also reduced, resulting in weight loss mainly due to water loss. This is not fat loss. In general, low carb diets are unsustainable in the long term and as consistency is vital for physique changes, it will be difficult to keep the weight off.
Do I need to cut out carbs to lose weight?
The simple answer is no. Carbs provide energy to the body and are the main source of fuel. If you’re in a calorie deficit you will lose weight whether or not you eat carbs. A low carb diet is not advisable as it can cause tiredness and a lack of concentration. It is also unsustainable in the long run.
Of course, there’s an optimal amount of carbs for everyone to consume to reach their fitness goals. The main thing to remember is to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Techniques such as carb cycling can be used to promote fat loss, rather than weight loss.
NOTE – this article should not be used to make any changes to your diet. Please consult a nutritionist before doing so.
Laura Ciotte – www.lauraciottept.co.uk
Diabetes UK. 2016. GLYCAEMIC INDEX (GI). [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Managing-your-diabetes/Glycaemic-Index-GI/. [Accessed 18 August 2016].
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