carbs, carbohidratos

Carbs: 2 Ways You Can Earn Them

Contrary to what some would have you believe, carbs are not evil

However, unlike other macro-nutrients, carbs should be earned. In any case, protein is the one macro-nutrient that should be prioritized as much as possible.  Not only because it’s an essential requirement for staying lean, strong and healthy. It also helps that it’s impossible to over-consume this macro. In addition, proteins actually prevent over-consumption of large volume of food.

Recent research shows that any excess is burned and not stored. And while an adequate intake increases satiation, it also reduces cravings between meals. Hence, protein makes you lean and jacked, while reducing hunger.

For example, a 2015 study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition had 2 groups of people on a high-protein diet. 48 resistance-trained men and women consumed either 2.3 or 3.4g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day for the purpose of this study. What they found then was a greater reduction in fat mass and body fat percentage in the higher protein group.  But what was most interesting however, is that the gains in fat free mass (i.e. muscle) were the same. This is in spite of a 50% greater protein intake and the extra calories that came it.

Fat is number two on the list because it is also essential for our body (and our brain) to function optimally. And saturated fats most of all. They have an important role in supporting nutrient absorption, cell membrane and hormone building, in addition to vitamin conversion and transport.

The Body Fat Rule

For males with a bodyfat percentage above 10%, and women above 15%, fats should make up the bulk of the calories after protein (20-30%). And for those with any degree of insulin resistance or symptoms of the metabolic syndrome? Well, then fats should as much as possible make up ALL of those extra calories (40%+).

Finally, carbohydrates are third because they’re non-essential. In other words, this means our body is perfectly capable of functioning without them.  Additionally, those keeping their total intake of carbs under 50g enter a state of ‘ketosis.’ Ketosis changes the way the body utilize stored fat as energy.

Carbs and Metabolic Advantages

Which isn’t to say fat people should always be in ketosis. It does not even mean that ketosis is necessary for everyone (ex: naturally lean, highly active).  But rather, that using predominantly fat as fuel is an option. And depending on the person, it can be very beneficial for other reasons.   This is especially true when looking at the superior impact a diet that is very low in carbs (ketogenic) has on the markers for disease:

  • Reduces beta-amyloid
  • Increases antioxidants (glutathione)
  • Stimulates mitochondrial growth
  • Improves glucose tolerance and cholesterol profile
  • Prevents free-radical damage
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Lowers triglycerides and fasting insulin
  • Provides alternative brain fuel (in Alzheimer’s patients)
  • Improves motor performance (in ALS sufferers)
  • Lowers HbA1c (in type 2 diabetics)

In my experience, the majority of the population can benefit from a 3-4 week ketogenic (or very low-carb) diet. If you look around, you will know why, as most people are carrying excess fat and dealing with varying degrees of insulin resistance.  In most cases, these people are also sedentary, stressed and sleep deprived. Therefore, even while some of them may be close to being lean, I wouldn’t encourage higher-glycemic carbs (think starches). The simple reason is because it would inhibit their results, as much for body composition as for long term health.

Low Glycemic Vegetables

Lettuce (All) Brussels Sprouts Shallots & Scallions Onions & Chives
Bok Choy Collard Greens Mustard Greens Turnip Greens
Arugula Kohlrabi Seaweed Kale
Broccoli Cauliflower Cabbage (All) Okra
Carrots Celery Cucumbers Peppers (All)
Tomatoes Avocado Olives Artichokes
Garlic Mushrooms Swiss Chard Spinach
Radish Asparagus Leeks Watercress


Considering this, whether they carry on with the ketogenic diet depends on their personal responsiveness. Yet, in most cases, simply adding 1 or 2 portions of carbs per day will not affect the improvements in insulin sensitivity and reductions in bodyfat. For a start, foods like low-sugar high-fiber fruits (ex: berries) and vegetables (ex: squashes) should be prioritized.

The Carbs Management Solution

To sum it up, there are two ways to earn your carbs:

  1. Get Leaner
  2. Exercise More

And realistically, the second doesn’t happen without the first. As has been mentioned, if you’re not lean, you’re simply stalling the fat loss process. Quite simply:

High-Glycemic Carbs = Insulin Up (Storage) = Glucagon Down (Burning)

And if you’re exercising while you have carbohydrates in your system, you are burning carbs, not fat.  This isn’t necessarily a big deal if you are an insulin sensitive SOB pumping iron to build muscle. But it is if you are a belt-busting baby-boomer looking to shed some pounds in the first place.

For instance, a 2011 study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology separated active young men into three groups. They had them go for a brisk walk in different conditions:

  • low-glycemic meal
  • low-glycemic meal with fructose
  • high-glycemic meal

The group that ate the low glycemic meal burned mostly fat. And the other 2 groups burned mainly stored carbohydrates. This specifically shows us the negative impact of sugar consumption before exercise. And in that case, it actually emphasize how ‘fructose’ alone can sabotage an otherwise good diet strategy as well. All of this as a result of poor food choices. Food for thought

Exercise Makes Carbs Your Friend

Opposite to this, the period following exercise is a bit of a different story. Notably because muscle tissue’s sensitivity to carbs is increased after exercise. This is due to the fact that elevated insulin promotes tissue building and glycogen resynthesis instead of fat storage. In addition to this, it also activates non-insulin dependant mechanism of glucose management, namely the GLUT-4 receptors.

Speaking about this, not having results might mean that you are experiencing anabolic resistance (non-receptive muscle tissue). This condition often accompanies insulin resistance. Hence, if your diet is not on point, it can affect your training results.

Interestingly, the latest research also suggests that a high-quality whey protein might be your best friend. It’s been shown to be doing a great job of elevating insulin and maximizing muscle protein synthesis (MPS) sans for extra carbs.  Hence, training with low muscle glycogen does not suppress the anabolic response. This is contrary to what researchers once thought it did.  Consequently, this would imply that those lacking insulin sensitivity and carrying unnecessary bodyfat are better with a plain protein shake. Or maybe some low glycemic fruit (like berries), if taken post workout. Especially relevant is that they should not be seeking a massive carbohydrate reload, as most do.

Low-Glycemic Fruit

Berries  (All) Grapefruit Lemon/Lime Pears
Plums Peache/Nectarine Oranges Guava
Watermelon Cantaloupe Honeydew Melon Apricot

Close image of berries studio isolated on white background

In conclusion, when it comes to carbs, context matters. While a high-level athlete training twice a day would need adequate glycogen replenishment, a desk-jockey with man boobs or a stress-ball with a muffin-top would best leave the bananas for the monkeys. Even if you did go to the gym once!

Want to know more about this topic? In Live It, NOT Diet!, Mike Sheridan delivers his progressive plan for losing the fat and keeping it off without counting calories, over-exercising, or sacrificing your health.

Live It, NOT Diet!



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