Carbohydrate Confusion: How Much, What Kind, & When to Eat Them
There has been so much in the news, in diet books, and from self-proclaimed experts about carbohydrate intake. It has really become hard to know what to believe. In today’s post, I am going to help clear the confusion about how much carbs we need to eat, what kind of are best for you, and when you should eat them. With the New Year right about the corner, why not make eating a healthier diet one of your New Year’s goals!
How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?
Some diets tell you to focus on eating carbs, while others tell you to avoid them. Both approaches can be dangerous and extremes should generally be avoided. Carbohydrates provide our bodies with glucose, which is converted and used for energy for both daily functions and exercise. Without enough glucose, we are likely to be fatigued, have difficulty concentrating and our bodies may start breaking down muscles for energy. On the other hand, too much carbs are likely to increase our fat storage and can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
So how much carbs should we be eating? Although experts caution us against obsessively counting carbohydrates, it is good to have a general idea of how much we should be eating each day. The bodybuilding.com website provides a helpful Carbohydrate Intake Calculator to get you started. Their calculator allows you to enter age, height, weight, gender, and activity level. Another great feature is that the calculator allows you to enter your goals to lose fat, maintain, or increase your muscle.
Are There Different Kinds of Carbohydrates?
Once you have an idea of how many grams of carbs you should be eating on a daily basis, the next thing to consider is the different types of carbohydrates available. Not all carbs are not created equally! To make it as easy to understand as possible, we’ll call them either healthy choices or not so healthy choices.
- Whole grains bread, pasta, and rice.
Not-so healthy choices.
- White bread, rice, and highly processed food.
- Pastries, donuts, cookies, cakes etc.
- Sodas, sweetened drinks.
Several nutrition recommendations, including Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, and the USDA’s Choose MyPlate recommend that half of the food we consume consist of vegetables and fruit. However, they also recommend that a quarter of what we eat be whole grains. So, it’s important to try lots of options and find some things you like. I love fresh fruits and usually do pretty well getting enough of these. I also love oatmeal for breakfast so that’s a good choice for me too. It’s the vegetables that I struggle with, but we’ll focus on them another day.
Does it Matter What Time You Eat Carbs?
When do you refill the gas tank in your car? When you’re running low on fuel, right. We can use that same principle when it comes to when we should eat carbs. We should eat them when we are going to need the most fuel. Lori Zanini, a Registered Dietician, recommends eating carbs throughout the day. This prevents your body from sensing a low blood sugar and releasing stored sugars. Consistent carb eating patterns may help to prevent fluctuations that could lead to diabetes.
However, if you’re really trying to maximize fat loss, you may want to go even one-step further than consistency. You may choose to focus on three specific times during the day when energy is needed most. Those times are the first thing in the morning, pre-workout, and post-workout. The Morellifit website staff discusses the benefits of these three times. The morning and pre-workout times are to provide energy for the day and the intense workout. The after-workout time is not quite as obvious. But intense workouts deplete sugar stores in the body. So this time is a replenishing time.
You probably noticed that no one recommended nighttime carbohydrate eating. If you are diabetic and taking certain medications, a nighttime healthy carb snack may be recommended by your primary care provider. But, for most people, the act of sleeping does not require extra energy. So that’s not the time of day to eat carbs. When they’re not used, they are much more likely to be stored away for future use, which we probably don’t want or need.
How to Set Carbohydrate Goals
Now that you know a little more about why carbs are important, how much you need, what types are the healthiest and what times of day are best to eat them, it’s time to develop a healthy carbohydrate goal and plan. Here are a few steps to get you started. I am also working on my own carbohydrate goal this year (2017) since this is an area I really struggle with from time to time.
- For one or two days, keep a food diary and calculate how many grams of carbs you are eating.
- During the same one or two days, determine what percentage of each meal/snack is carbohydrate.
- Use a carbohydrate calculator to determine your personal recommendations for daily carb intake.
- Compare what you generally do with your recommendations and see how you are doing.
- Set a realistic goal of where you would ultimately like to end up.
- Break your master goal into tiny bite size goals that you can achieve. Here’s an example.
Example of a Goal Plan
Recommended Carb gm -150
Actual Carb gm Intake -200
Different – 50 gms over
Master Goal – Reduce daily carb intake to recommended 150 gms.
January Month Goal – Reduce carb intake from 200 to 175 gms.
Ideas for Cutting the Not-So-Healthy Carbs
- Discontinue soda drinking.
- Switch from sugared creamers to reduced fat milk.
- Stop buying bags of chips, pretzels & other carb snacks.
- Stop nighttime snacking of carbs.
- Reduce portion of whole grains during mealtime.
- Have you looked at your daily carb intake lately? How is it?
- Are you ready to set a carbohydrate-eating goal for the coming year?
- What one or two things can you start changing tomorrow that will help you meet your goal?
Bodybuilding.com Carbohydrate Recommendation Calculator
Men’s Fitness Nutrition Q&A: When Should I Eat Carbs?
Tips to Help you Eat Whole Grains. ChooseMyPlate.gov.
The Healthy Eating Plate. Health.harvard.edu
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