So I wanted to start off this first post with a little discussion about one of the most important macronutrients that in recent time, seems to have been likened to the Antichrist… Carbohydrates!!
Now before you go running in the other direction, let me reintroduce you to this macro because once you learn to stop fearing it, you’ll be happy to be friends once again.
Let’s start by first indentifying why you are justified in your misunderstanding of carbs. The way that the American diet has transformed over the years has become one of max quantity and degraded quality. In our pursuit to lead faster and more efficient lives, we have in many times developed this “grab and go” mentality when it comes to our eating. In order to feed the masses, the food industry has turned to cheaper sources of grains and the production of these grains for products such as our breads, pasta, sweeteners and more. Refined carbs (stuff like white flour, white rice, corn syrup) are cheap to produce and cheap to buy, therefore it has become a staple in our diets.
Fast foward to the moment we ingest these foods. The body has an easy time breaking down these kind of carbs because of the lack of fiber. They cause an immediate spike in blood sugar levels (all carbs get broken down into glucose before being released into the blood) which then leads to a spike in insulin levels. Insulin has an important role of helping the body to regulate the level of glucose in the blood. Too much, or too little can cause issues. Insulin helps to ensure your body remains in perfect balance. But with the increase of insulin also comes an increase the body’s ability to readily and easily store fat. Now couple this with the fact that most grab and go mass produced foods have a substantial amount of fat (bad fats like trans fat especially), and they also tend to be high in sodium. This combination is what causes the problems you associate with carbs: weight gain, bloating, energy spikes/crashes. Now imagine going through this cycle meal after meal, day after day. Imagine the effect it has on how your body regulates itself from a constant state of imbalance and huge hormonal spikes. Not a pretty picture, huh?
Carbs play such a pivotal role in our bodies that it is not a good idea to cut them out, at all. It is the MAIN substrate (glucose) that the brain uses. It is the fuel source that powers high intensity workouts. So cut them too low, and you may be in a world of trouble.
So what do you do?
Well the first step is to identify the most natural forms of carbs and how your body responds to them. For instance, choosing things such as whole grain bread, wheat pasta, brown and wild rices, steel cut oats, low glycemic index fruits, beans, and fiberous vegetables are far better choices and just as convienent as the “convenience food” that the food industry tries to sell you.
Learning what a serving size looks like is important as well. In any of the grains, one serving is about 1/2 to 1 cup cooked. When was the last time you ate 1 cup of pasta? Serving size is such an important factor and it very often gets over looked. Which as you can imagine, only adds more fuel to the fire over time.
But who are we kidding, let’s talk about the REAL carbs. The ones you love that do you in. Desserts and sugar. You love your ice-cream, your candy bars, cakes, pastries, and soda. So let’s acknowledge that, and learn how to make healthy choices based on those.
One of the best things you can do is find healthier alternatives to old favorites. Trust me it’s possible. For instance, when I’m in full on pre-contest mode on the quest to being my leanest, I would often eat a quick protein bar on the go not only as a snack, but a way to kill a mean candy craving. With the variety of bars out there, it isn’t hard to do. They taste great as well, and they’re very filling. A once in a while treat gives me the chance to enjoy the flavor without the guilt.
Another quick trick I’d use is making a nice thick protein shake with milk, protein powder (I really like BSN’s brand for this), ice, and a banana. Mix it all up in the blender, and POW, you’ve got a healthy alternative to ice-cream. I’ve found that mixing the protein powder into some Greek yogurt (whipping it with a quality is great), and putting the yogurt in a graham cracker mini crust, then lining the top with berries, nuts, and a little cinnamon or nutmeg makes an amazing little tart that can rival any decadent dessert. It all just takes a little creativity. But I have some bad news about soda… Just stop drinking that crap. I won’t even get into it, just stop. Please.
So now, armed with this info, go forth today feeling a little better, feeling more freedom to enjoy the things you love. If you have healthy alternatives to your favorite foods share with us below.