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Carbs…. My take on them, part 1

Carb intake is a long debated subject, and up until now there has been, in my opinion, no definitive answer on what is best. Should we eat them or not? I tried reading as much as I can to find out what the actual answer is, there isn’t one. But what I did manage to fathom were some guidelines and principles that you must understand. If you manage to get it, then you can apply this to your life to achieve what you want.

Firstly, lets look at carbs on a basic level. Carbohydrates and sugars are the same thing. They just differ in complexity. More on this later. They are simply a combination of carbons, hydrogens and  oxygen. Their main function in the body is to be broken down to the simplest form, glucose, which can be used to make ATP. ATP is the body’s unit of energy. ATP can also be formed from fats and proteins. However, your body has a preference to using carbs to make its ATP as it’s a simpler process. In essence we don’t need carbs to make energy, but our body functions better when we do.

When it comes to how many carbs we should consume, the answer is relatively simple. If carbs are energy, how much energy do we need? This individual difference is the basis of the entire argument. A lean, muscular, active person needs and more carbs than an over weight, under muscled sedentary person. It may even mean that the overweight person needs next to no carbs day to day.

The real complexity comes in when people discuss how many carbs are needed to make changes. Most people want to drop fat. To burn fat your body must be in a good place to do so. Therefore, if you’re overweight, under muscled and inactive, your body will not be good at burning fat. So, cutting carbs may briefly help you drop fat because you’ve shifted from a crap diet to a less energy dense diet, however, it will not last and you will still be overweight, and under muscled.

If you understand your path to making the correct changes, your carb intake will become more apparent, and here’s the real kicker. As you change, your carb requirement changes, so you need to continually adjust these levels to adjust with your body. Taking our person mentioned above, instead of dropping carbs completely for fat loss, a different approach would be taken. In the early stages you may cut starchy carbs and only eat meats and vegetables exclusively. This allows for habits to form without over eating and to look after muscle tissue and help re-regulate blood glucose and hunger hormones. Then, gradually re-introduce small amounts of carbs, this re-regulates insulin sensitivity. As training picks up and you can cope with carbs better you can keep increasing them. As you increase the calories, energy levels increase along with muscle mass. You may have some physical changes at this point, but still fat loss is not the goal. Calories and muscle mass continue to increase, now from proteins, carbs and fat.

By now you are an overweight, but a more muscled and active person, with high metabolism and a good level of carb intake.This is the point to try and drop fat. You should add in more exercise and remove a few calories from carbs and fats. Your body will strip fat away very easily and predictably.

So, why is it we need carbs to add muscle and drop fat? surely one requires a deficit and one requires a surplus?

It is all to do with insulin. Your carb intake effects the hormone insulin. If you eats lots of carbs then your insulin response is high. Insulin takes carbs/sugar/glucose from the blood and pushes it into your cells. When it does this it drags proteins and other nutrients in. Therefore insulin is anabolic (makes you grow), and the presence of glucose in your cells stimulates the production of ATP (more energy). So, carbs make your muscles grow and produce more energy. This has the overall effect of increasing your metabolism. Metabolic speed is effectively how fast your body uses nutrients to create energy and undergo biological processes. If your metabolism is high your energy output is high. With a high metabolism if you eat a bit less and do a bit more your body must find its energy from somewhere else…..wait for it…..You guessed, body fat.

But carbs make you fat!?….don’t they?….errr…

No. Any excess of any nutrient will get stored as fat. The clue is excess. This goes back to my first point. If you are sedentary you need don’t many, if any carbs. You must eat to live. Your personal environment dictates your needs. Long distance runners need lots of carbs and fats to run and fewer proteins. Bodybuilders (depending on body type) need more proteins and moderate carbs and fats but in large quantities. The average person needs an equal amount of proteins, carbs and fats but in smaller quantities.

This may or may not have shed some light on the subject, and I’m fully aware of the fact it is way more complex than the way I’m explaining it, however most people don’t need to know more, just the basics. This is not trying to argue the methods of getting super ripped lean as it is further complicated by other hormones, metabolic shifts, re-feeds, and carb cycling to name but a few other aspects. This is purely to try to help the masses who just want to know how to look better. I’ll try to bullet point my key aspects:-

Carb intake quantity should be dictated by your energy ouputAny excess can make you fatStart with no carbs and slowly re-introduce them back into your diet as your training and muscles progressBe consistent to enable progress tracking accuratelyDon’t be afraid of eating, no athlete ever won an event by not eatingTrain hard and earn your carbs

There are other aspects to consider about timings and type of carbs. I will address these in another blog, however, for now, try to evenly spread food throughout the day and eat from single ingredient foods ie meat, rice, potatoes, veg  etc and leave anything that doesn’t look like it did from when it was grown.

Hope this helps.

Keep on liftin’ Ali ‘Fat Al’ Stewart

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