To Carb or not to Carb…….

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Low CarbAs a personal trainer and fitness leader I am regularly asked my opinion on the latest diet fad, including my thoughts on carbs an low carb diets.

Given that I am not a dietitian…this is admittedly not my area of expertise.  However armed with the knowledge I do have  and over fifteen years of experience both personally and professionally in the fitness industry.   I feel can confidently provide my opinion on the “Low Carb” question.

Before we get start you should be warned:  I don’t believe in diets.  Diets imply short term solution.  If you are looking for long-term lasting results you need to commit to long-term lasting change. We are talking behaviors modification. If you want to lose weight you have to break the habits that made you gain the weight in the first place, you have to develop a new habit, a lifestyle.  This not something that you go on, or off.

There are other reasons that I dont believe in diets that revolve around children and education….but that is for an an entirely different  article.

To Carb or nor to Carb….that is the question…… Before we can properly understand the answer we must first understand a few  things……..

What FUELS your muscles? 

The source of energy used to power the movement of a contraction in working muscles is adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – This is the body’s biochemical way to store and transport energy. However, there is not a large amount stored in the body at one time.  So once muscular contractions starts, the making of more ATP must start quickly.  Since ATP is so important, the muscle cells have several different ways to make it. These systems work together in phases. The three biochemical systems for producing ATP are, in order:

  1. Using creatine phosphate
  2. Using glycogen
  3. Aerobic respiration.

Here’s how it works:

You have missed the bus and start running:

  • For the first 3 seconds of your run, your muscle cells use the ATP they have within them.
  • For the next 8–10 seconds, your muscles use creatine phosphate stores to provide ATP.
  • Since you haven’t made it to the bus yet, the glycogen system (which doesn’t need any oxygen) kicks in.
  • Still not there, so finally aerobic respiration (that’s ATP using oxygen) takes over

What Is Glycogen?

Carbohydrates are sugars (Glucose) that are readily available in your body to supply with continuous source of energy.  (the word sugar and glucose are used interchangeably here) Glucose is present in your blood supplying you with an energy source sufficient for going about your daily tasks.  After eating a meal, when blood sugar levels become elevated, excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Each gram of Glycogen is stored along with four grams of water. At any given time the body stores about one pound of glycogen with four pounds of water, this means that approximately five pounds of your current weight is due to glycogen stores. 

If you are following a very low carbohydrate diet a, a very low calorie diet, or are in the  middle of an endurance event ( Aerobic exercises that exceeds ninety minutes) you will eventually become hypoglycemic.   This simply mean that you will have a low level of glucose circulating in your blood stream.  The body responds by breaking down glycogen stores to release a steady stream of glucose into the blood.  The glucose is used for energy; the water may be excreted or used for other bodily functions.  There goes your first five pounds.  If you don’t eat a meal containing sufficient carbohydrates, your glycogen levels may not replenish.  The body need energy to survive so fat breakdown increases.  There go a few more pounds. That got your attention!  You are thinking “Yes! That is what I want, so what’s your point?”



What Happens If You Don’t Have Glucose?

When carbohydrate consumption falls below 100 grams, the body usually responds by burning muscle tissue for the glycogen (stored glucose) it contains. When those glycogen stores start to run out, the body resorts to burning body fat. But that’s a very inefficient, complicated way to produce blood sugar. The body tries to do it only when it absolutely has to (such as when it’s starving)—and for good reason. Turning fat into blood sugar comes at a price in the form of by-products called ketones. They make your breath smell funny. They can also make you tired, lightheaded, headachy, and nauseated. Feeling lousy is certainly one way to dampen the appetite, but not one that I would choose, and certainly not a a long-term lifestyle choice.

With virtually no carbs in your system, you may even have trouble concentrating. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the human brain requires the equivalent of 130 grams of carbohydrate a day to function optimally—and that’s a minimum.

the carbs you cut and the ones you keep Are Very important:

Dietitians and nutritionists want us to eat fewer refined carbs, period. Think: white flour and bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, waffles, pies, bagels, and pastries. But as you’re cutting those less-than-wholesome ones, you should still be eating ones that have nutritional benefits.  Many healthy vegetables and fruits contain carbs.  If you cut these out in an attempt to follow a low-carb diet, you may miss out on key nutrients.  Carbs from whole foods that are also high in fiber, like whole-grains, vegetables, and most fruits (some are just a little too sugary) should be staples of your diet in the long term, even while you’re low-carbbing it.

Conclusion

In the short term, most people who go on low carb diets do lose weight and they lose it very quickly.  However, the majority of weight loss comes from loss of water and muscle tissue, not fat which is what you need to lose to keep the weight off. Also, if you’re trying to lose weight permanently, losing precious lean muscle tissue  is like sabotaging your own body. Muscle tissue is metabolically active, and burns calories even when you are at rest. A decrease in the amount of muscle tissue you have will lead to a decrease in the number of calories you need each day to maintain your weight, making it much harder to keep your weight under control when you stop following the low carb diet.

People are attracted to low carb diets as weight loss is very rapid, and we like to see instant results on the scales! Lots of Hollywood stars go on low carb diets, it important to keep in mind they do this because they need to drop a dress size for a film – they don’t do it for permanent weight loss or good health.

“There is no “quick” fix. Proper diet and exercise will never make you look like somebody else;  you will be a small fitter, healthier rendition of your current self. Genetic uniqueness and all.”

If you are looking for more information regarding  nutrition and healthy eating I suggest you check out my friends,  Carolyn Berry, of Berry Nourished, and Crystal Higgins.  Both Vancouver based registered dietitians.  Their pages are loaded with information and delicious recipes.

 

23 thoughts on “To Carb or not to Carb…….

  1. Melinda says:

    I love this! Thank you for breaking it down and telling why it’s not good to cut out all carbs. Every body is different, until we learn to love ourselves, in our own skin, we won’t be able to be our best selves!

  2. Jenna says:

    This was super Informative! I always thought of carbs as all bad. Saving this! We are on our way to eating cleaner and this will be great to reference

    • VenusFitness-Shannon says:

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Thrilled you enjoyed! Please share and spread the knowledge.

  3. Megan B says:

    Thank you for sharing this – I’ve been struggling with my diet on and off this year. Carbs are such a tricky thing to navigate for me.

  4. Amy Dong says:

    As a marathoner training for my 2nd Boston marathon, I totally appreciate this post so much! It’s easy to have the training/athletic aspect all organized, but food/fuel/diet is a whole different aspect that is much harder to gain a consistent handle on! While I basically have cut out most white/refined carbs and definitely incorporate mostly complex carbs, it still is a challenge to balance what I *should* eat vs. what I * want to* eat. Right?! 🙂

    • VenusFitness-Shannon says:

      That’s awesome! Thank you for reading and taking the time to join the conversation. It really is about fuelling our bodies appropriately.

  5. Evelyn | PathofPresence.com says:

    Thank you for this super informative post. I have learned a lot just from reading it, and you’ve explained it so eloquently – even I understand! The conclusion is my fave and definitively helps me understand that yup – so long as I’m consuming good carbs, I’m on the right track. You’re awesome!! <3 Thank You xo

    • VenusFitness-Shannon says:

      Thrilled you found it helpful and easy to understand! Thanks for taking time out of your day to reach out and share a comment!

  6. Shell says:

    I absolutely loved reading yiur post! As a type to diabetic I’ve been told by many people to just cut out carbs completely but when I do my sugars go dangerously low… After monitoring my blood sugars I’ve found what works for me is 25-30 carbs per my 3 main meals and 15 carb mini meals or snacks between,,,,

  7. Dr. K. Lee Banks says:

    Thank you for making this statement:
    “If you want to lose weight you have to break the habits that made you gain the weight in the first place, you have to develop a new habit, a lifestyle.”
    That’s been one of my beliefs for a long time, that it’s a LIFESTYLE…or should be. I just listened to Dr. Mark Hyman’s “Broken Brain” series, which was all about this idea – breaking bad habits and developing new, healthier lifestyles.

  8. Alina says:

    Thank you for such a detailed and scientific article. There is indeed a lot of debate concerning the carbs in our diets. I don’t believe in rapid weight loss to be sustainable, only the life style changes can bring proper results, and low carb diet is definitely not the way to go for a balanced body.

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