The 101 of Carbohydrates

I’m very confused by all the information out there on carbohydrates. Some diet books say you need to eat fruit and grains and others say you should cut them down to lose weight. Some say all carbs are bad if you want to lose weight and then I hear how we need to eat about 300 grams a day to stay healthy. Can you give me a quick lesson on what I need to know?

Thanks, Rebekah


to sum it up, I’ve put together the points you need to know:

·       Carbs provide 4 calories per gram

·      All carbs are broken down into sugar in the stomach, whether you’re eating a snickers bar or broccoli. What differs is the rate of breakdown. The slower- the better for your fat loss.
·      Carbs provide us with energy

·      Lack of carbohydrates affects brain function, energy levels and your mood (carbs promote serotonin production = happy hormones)

·      There are favorable carbs (complex) and unfavorable carbs (simple). Simple carbs are broken down into sugar very quickly and can result in blood sugar spikes. As a result the body produces insulin to drive the sugar into your cells. If the cells are full, the rest goes into fat storage. Therefore – simple carbs make you fat.

Nope, he’s not your friend!

·      Complex carbs are broken down slowly, keep you full longer and provide energy over longer periods of time. If your intake is moderate they will not get converted to body fat. Hence, complex carbs can promote fat loss. 

·      Always combine carbohydrates with protein to slow the absorption into the blood stream.

·      Best sources for fat loss: Fibrous veggies, such as bell peppers, leafy greens, asparagus, celery, cucumbers, etc.

If you want to lose fat, eliminate your intake of all sugar and processed carbs (the foods that come in a box) and focus on eating as much fiber as possible. Keep your intake of starches from root veggies and grains as minimal as possible. They provide you with more energy than your an burn off. Limit fruit intake. Fruit contains fructose and since only the liver metabolizes it, it can easily overload the liver. It can also increase triglyceride levels (the form of fat that gets stored in our cells). 
·      Your body can store between 250 – 450 grams of carbohydrates in the muscle and liver. Once they’re used up (within 1-2 days of eating a clean diet) your body goes into fat burning mode to supplement its energy needs. 

How many carbs do I need?

If you are sensitive to carbohydrates then limit your intake of any processed carbohydrates (while flour, white rice, pasta, white potatoes, sugar, sweets).

Many carbohydrate-sensitive clients have seen impressive fat loss when they limit their intake to less than 100 grams per day.

How do I know if I’m sensitive to carbohydrates?

What’s the shape of your body? Do you store most of your fat around the stomach and arms? If so, then you probably produce too much insulin in response to processed carbohydrates.

Also pay attention to how you feel 2-3 hours after eating a high-carbohydrate meal (e.g. pasta, sugar, bread, rice, potatoes). Do you feel sleepy, moody, hungry, or experience brain fog? Then you’re sensitive and you should rely primarily in veggies for carbs. If you do not show any reaction, then you don’t have to be too careful about limiting your carbohydrate intake. 

Are you wasting your time in the gym?

You’re on a mission to lose body fat. Have you wasted hours in the gym by doing the following:

Before you start your workout you eat a snack because you think you need the energy. You eat nuts or granola, energy bars, dairy or fruit and then spend an hour doing cardio on the treadmill or elipticial or take a conditioning class.

What’s wrong with this approach? Well, the issue is that fat loss only happens when your body runs out of energy from carbs. If you eat lots of carbs every day you will burn only carbs and never body fat. What constitutes lots of carbs? For the average 150 lb woman that would be more than 150 grams per day. For the average 180 lb guy about 180 g of carbs per day.

The only way you will ever change the shape and look of your body is by burning off the body fat that covers your muscles. Unless you drop to a body fat of about 20% for women and 16% and below for men you are not going to see any muscle tone because the muscles are hidden underneath a layer of fat. Take a look at the pictures below, which illustrate the level of definition based on your body fat percentage.

How do you expose the muscle and show tone and definition? You need to burn off the fat that covers them. Here’s how:

When you work out your body uses energy initially from the carbs in your blood sugar. That might last you about 20 minutes – depending on how long ago you had your last meal and how many carbs you ate. (Just imagine that your first 20 minutes running on the treadmill might not even burn any body fat – but only carbs!). Once the blood sugar resources are used up, your body turns to carbs stored in your liver and muscle. These carbs are called glycogen. The muscles can hold up to about 450 grams of carbs if you have a lot of muscle and much less if you have little muscle (that’s why you want to strength train. The more muscle you have, the more glycogen they can hold without making you fat!). The liver can store about 100 grams of carbs. Both muscles and liver can store about 2,000 calories worth of glycogen, which can provide you with about 3 hours of energy during an endurance event or last you for about 2 days if you keep a moderate carbohydrate diet. Only once those stores in the muscles and liver are used up will you burn fat .
So, make sure you reduce your carb intake throughout the day to about 30 g per meal to allow your body to use energy from body fat instead of energy from carbs. Once the time for your workout comes, you’ll burn through your blood sugar energy and muscle and liver glycogen stores quickly and then draw energy from your fat stores. Did you know that the average person can live for several weeks without food because your body becomes ultra-efficient at burning fat as fuel? That’s how much body fat we all carry on our bodies. 

If you have reached your goal weight and body fat already, then snacking before a workout can help you push yourself harder and make your workout more productive. Here’s a few pointers for snacking before working out:

Dairycan make you congested so reserve it for refueling after your workouts or skip it entirely. Nuts are too high in fat and that can make you sluggish during your workout. Granola is loaded with sugar and 1/3 cup has about 40 grams of carbs. You might have to run on the treadmill for about 30 minutes to just burn through the food you ate to fuel your workout – that’s a total waste of time. Use the fuel stores in your body.
Fruit converts into fructose, which is used by the liver, but not your muscles. The muscles will only use it for energy if nothing else is available, so save yourself the fruit sugar. If you want to lose fat and maintain muscle, then do your workouts on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. If you work out at night them have a snack or protein shake about 90 minutes before your workout. A non- carb/low-carb protein shake is best since it will allow you to maintain muscle while promoting fat burning. And, the best fat loss trick of all is to finish your day with a protein shake instead of a heavy dinner. Not only will you wake up feeling energized and refreshed but also quite a bit lighter.