This post was written several months ago, but did not transfer over to the new site. So, from the archives, here it is once again!
Carbs tend to get a bad rep in the weight loss world. It’s hard to pinpoint where this reputation originated, but I feel like I am constantly surrounded by (primarily) women who have a carbohydrate phobia. This is depressing… because carbs are delicious. If loving them is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
Without a shred of doubt, I believe there is a time and place for carbohydrates. We need them. Not only for proper athletic performance, but for optimal brain functioning. However, choosing the right kinds of carbohydrates can the tedious task.
There are so many opinions floating around about carbohydrates, in terms of what kinds to eat, when to eat them and how to eat them. Personally, I’ve played around with lots of principles and have found what works well for me. It’s important to note that everyone is different. Although the fundamentals of carbohydrate processing and utilization are the same for everyone, people’s tolerances for them differ. Some find they are more carb sensitive, while other people tend to be more sensitive to fat consumption. There are some who are very fortunate and don’t find that they are particularly sensitive to either. Like everything else in the nutrition world, your approach to carbohydrate consumption should be individualized for your body and goals. However, I’m here to tell you what I’ve learned along my own journey. Do I always stick to these principles? Definitely not. There are way too many delicious things in the world. I simply use them as guidelines to help keep me on track for optimal functioning, performance, and body composition.
My favourite carbohydrate sources
Before I start in on my favourite carb sources, I would like to preface this by saying that although yes, all vegetables are considered carbohydrates, that’s not what I’m talking about here. When I decide on my carb sources for the day, I am considering my energy levels and expenditure—what do I need to accomplish in terms of activity? The foods I then incorporate into my daily meal plan are those from the fruit, grain, and starchy vegetable categories. Although spinach is a carb, I am not going to rely on leafy greens alone to get me through a workout.
Now, if I’m being honest, my favourite carbohydrates include copious amounts of assorted candy from Bulk Barn. BUT, since eating that on the regular doesn’t help me to reach any kind of goal (other than a brief period of pure bliss), let’s talk about what carbs I like to incorporate into my meals on a daily basis.
As mentioned, my carb sources often depend on my activity levels for the day, but for the most part, I like to eat roots, tubers and starchy vegetables like sweet potato, and whole grains like brown basmati rice. Quinoa is another favourite in our house (bonus: it’s also packed with protein). I also incorporate fruits here and there. Now, since I shy away from gluten, my healthy carb sources don’t include things like Eziekiel bread, etc. but I definitely recommend that brand for the non-wheat intolerant population. After reading the work of various health authors who looked at the best breads on the market, many professionals agreed that Eziekiel bread offers some of the highest quality ingredients.
Let’s pause briefly to consider why we are told time and time again to eat whole grains (like those found in breads like Eziekiel). This is a principle that many people follow, but it may not be clear why we follow it. When breads and other grain-based foods are made with refined flours, it means their bran and germ have been stripped away during the milling process. As a result, you consume all of the carbohydrates with very few of the nutrients that were originally found in the grain. To make matters worse, these products are often packaged with additional salt and fat. Will you keel over and die for eating a piece of Wonder bread? No. But consider value and nutritional density when choosing your grains on a daily basis.
Whether you’re eating a “healthy carb” or an “unhealthy carb”, they are all broken down into the same thing and sent to the liver to replenish energy stores.
In summary: eat whole grains and other real food for the majority of your carbohydrate sources. You’ll be getting the biggest bang for your buck.
When I eat them
It’s important to remember that this is my dietary regime. When I choose to eat the majority of my carbohydrate sources works for my optimal functioning, both physically and mentally. It’s certainly not to say that this is what everyone else should do. It’s so important to be mindful of your body and conscious of your reactions to different food intake. If you’re truly trying to discover what works best for you, start listening to how your body is responding to your food choices and timing.
When possible, I like to put the majority of my carb intake around my workouts. That might mean that I have a fruit before a workout and sweet potato afterwards, for example. There are many reasons for this, but here is one that’s easy to remember: carbohydrates are our body’s favourite fuel source. So if you need to access high levels of energy, such as during physical activity, choosing a carb source that can be quickly accessed by the body—like fruit—can make for a better workout. Many fruits are high in monosaccharides (fructose, to be specific), which means simple sugars that cannot be broken down any further. That’s why they are a fast-access carb. Have you ever seen cyclists grab a quick snack out of their back pocket during a ride? This is because they are often on the bike for hours at a time. Therefore, their energy stores need to be replenished. But they don’t have time to down a bowl of oatmeal. First of all, it’s just not practical. Secondly, oats are a complex, fibrous carb (which means they have more than two sugar groups linked together) that take longer for the body to break down. The food needs to be processed