Carbohydrates 101

I’m a big proponent of the rule that you have to deserve your carbs.  

Determining the right macronutrient balance has long been the source of debate Dr. Atkins and Di Pasquale were the most vocal advocates of the low carb approach, to the great dismay of the RD who preached 16 servings of grains a day.

Of course, like everything else, low carb nutrition has its pros and cons, and there are people who don’t do well on it, but I think a large percentage of the population would do well to dramatically reduce its carb intake in favor of protein and smart fats in order to combat the growing obesity epidemic.  This would necessitate a huge change in consciousness, but as my friend Jonny Bowden once said: 

You need to approach your fat loss system like you should approach relationships:  Daily attention. Nurturing, support, crisis management, intervention, focus, attention, consciousness and mindfulness. It requires good negotiation skills. All the things we don’t tend to have when it comes to food.”

A clear definition of what low carb nutrition is a great start, as people tend to get confused on the issue. According to Jeff Volek, Ph.D, a low carb diet is everything from trace carbs up to 40% of total energy in the diet. So everything from a pure ketogenic diet to the very conservative  “Zone Diet” would then be considered low carb.

The Pros

Better health Profile

The greatest benefit of the low carb diet is of course insulin management.  Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar and influences the storage of macro-nutrients in the body.  However, in excessive amount it also known as an aging hormone. Insulin production is stimulated mostly by carbs, and a chronically elevated insulin level results in:

  • High glycemia
  • High levels of glycated hemoglobin (Hb A1c is considered a foremost marker of aging of the system)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and coronary heart diseases

Lower Inflammation

A diet rich in carbs can precipitate inflammation.  Most clients suffering from joint pain notice significant improvement upon embarking on a low carb diet.  Their aches and pains mysteriously go away.  This is because running high insulin levels have been associated with greater production of C-reactive protein or CRP, the body’s primary marker of inflammation.

It Promotes Advantageous Muscle Tissue/ Adipose Tissue Ratio

More simply: more muscle, less fat in your body. This is due in part to the greater protein intake and moreover to the improvement in insulin sensitivity. This is why I always recommend that trainees get lean first to facilitate subsequent muscle mass gains.

It Can Give You More Energy

Every body wants more energy: Olympians, top executives, senior citizens… everybody wants it., My friend, the late nutrition expert Robert Crayhon, stated that if you want the boundless energy of a toddler, you need to take care of your mitochondrias.   High levels of insulin are detrimental to mitochondrial health.

The Cons

You Need to Make it Fit Into Your Lifestyle

Low carb nutrition needs that you make a few adjustments to it in order to be successful. You’ll find that you’ll have to shop differently, commit more time to food preparation, re-learn to cook without certain ingredients and adjust some recipes to contain less carbs and avoid certain foods. The issue is to avoid eating bland, tasteless food all the time and enjoy yourself, without taking too much time in the kitchen. Jonny Bowden has some great cook books to help you with th

You’ll Have to Consciously Eat More Varied Foods to Avoid Nutrient Deficiency

The average person goes through life eating from 7 to 17 foods, that is it. Starting on a low carb diet, some people are at a loss on what to eat and thus suffer from various nutritional deficiencies.    The average person thinks veggies are carrots, celery and iceberg lettuce.

Putting new colors in your shopping cart is a simple trick to ensure more complete nutrition. Purple, yellow, red etc.. rarely make it in most people’s food basket.

By varying the colors in your food basket, you’ll make improve the odds that you have enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  Be sure to vary them on a regular basis.

Besides, it  will make your GI tract work efficiently, and will help you keep free radicals at bay.

 Some people claim that the quality does not matter as long as you watch your calories. In other words, a blender drink of Coca Cola, leftover pizza and a few Cadbury’s Turkish Delight is fine, as long as it fits your macros. On the other pole, carbs that were not around in the paleolithic era are downright evil. Those are obviously very different opinions, here is my take on carbs

1. You need to deserve your carbs

How many grams of carbs you can afford will be determined by levels of muscle mass, volume and intensity of training, percentage of body fat and insulin sensitivity. Some people obviously need to restrict their carbs to 10 licks of a dried prune every six months, while some can indulge in using 1,000 to 1,500 grams

2. Some people can get away with grains, some should stay away from them.

A high quality food intolerance panel will help determine that. The BEST ONE AND THE ONLY ONE WORTH DOING being the ones offered by Cyrex labs.

3. Carbs can be your friend or your enemy.

Carbs should be consumed based on which effect you want to accomplish on your neurotransmitters and hormones. Circadian cycles should also be considered. For example, for most people, it is nearly impossible to fall asleep with low serotonin levels from a carb restricted diet.

4. Some people can get lean on donuts and chocolate milk, true.

They have skinfolds as thin as cellophane paper. However, when you look at their blood work, you won’t be impressed. For example, the silent levels of inflammation are staggering. Once the damage becomes symptomatic, it is too late.

5. The goal of putting on large amounts of muscle mass is not always achievable with a strict Paleo regimen

For example, rice oligodextrins are certainly not paleo. And yet, they have been instrumental in the development of the athletes I have coached. As you may know, they are used in large quantities by cyclists, rowers, speed skaters, and bodybuilders to restore glycogen stores rapidly.

6. Most of the studies on glycogen replenishment have no practical value…

as the training protocols are so wimpy that only very low levels of carbs are necessary to replenish energy stores. For example leg extensions for 5 sets of 12 at 50% are not exactly a quality workout, as opposed to doing 4 exercises : back squats, and dumbbell deadlifts, leg presses, lunges for 5 each of 6-12 R.M.

7. Low quality carbs are a drain on your nutrient reserves.

Zinc, manganese, magnesium, thiamine, to name a few, take a beating from poor quality carbohydrate sources such as donuts and Pop Tarts.

8. Very high intakes of refined sugars have been shown to be suppressive to androgen production.

Which of course, impedes your recovery ability. In other words, taken at the wrong time, refined carbohydrates are a castration agent

Written By Charles Poliquin (1) + Source 2