Let me guess…
If you’re a woman, when you think carbs you think:
“Carbs are the DEVIL since I’m trying to lose body fat! Carbs make you fat!”
“What’s a carb?”
I hope to clear up some confusion about women and carbs so that we can all go on living our lives, eating some carbs, performing at our best (whether that be in the gym or in life), and generally just being more awesome.
What is a carbohydrate?
For our purposes, I am not going to get into the chemical makeup of carbohydrates, but let’s lay out a few pieces of information:
- A carb is one of three major macronutrients that make up the food we eat. The other two are fat and protein.
- Carbs are most easily defined (again, for our purposes) as a sugar or a starch.
- Carbs are delicious. And necessary to some extent if you are physically active.
Okay, let’s get started.
In the early 2000’s low carb diets were all the rage. We all remember the Atkins diet. If not, it’s basically a carb restricted diet where the goal is to switch your body from burning glucose as energy to stored fat as energy. Carb restriction can be an extremely effective way to lose body fat. There are a few issues I have with long term carbohydrate restricted diets…
- Sustainability- It’s a challenge to live your life restricting yourself by completely cutting out or seriously restricting ANY of the major macronutrients –carbs, fat, or protein.
- Lethargy- If your body has ever been in ketosis, you know that you don’t always feel amazing when you trying to switch your body to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs. This is a necessary evil for body fat loss to some extent, but you absolutely don’t have to feel this way all of the time.
- Bounce Back- If you go on a carb restricted diet, it is one of the most fail proof ways to lose weight. However, if you revert back to your previous eating habits of a “normal” carb laden diet, you are very likely to gain all of your weight back, and sometimes more. As someone who has been through this process- I can say: it’s probably one of the WORST feelings in the world.
So, let’s get down to business here so I can provide you with some information that will be helpful in your pursuit of leanness without counting calories or freaking out about every piece of food that you put in your pie hole. Mmmm…Pie. I digress…
Carbohydrates are absolutely necessary to fuel your body if you lead an active lifestyle. They are NOT the devil, and you can actually eat carbs at certain times and it will actually HELP your progress. When you eat carbohydrates, your body stores this “energy” you are consuming in your muscles. This is called glycogen. As we expend energy, our bodies utilize this stored glycogen. The problem? If we eat too many carbs and don’t “utilize” this energy it will get stored…long term… and what does that mean? Body fat. Nobody wants more of that stuff.
Okay, so now what?
Well, if you are a woman, there are some tips and tricks that I want to provide you with so that you can have your cake and eat it too!
I don’t want to burst your bubble, but women do NOT require the same amount of carbohydrates as men. That means your husband or man friend might be able to pound a huge chocolate fudge brownie with extra fudge and ice cream on top, and you might be able to simply look at it and you feel your pants get tighter. Yeah…it happens.
Tip #1: You will not be able to eat as much as the boys and still have a six pack. Sorry.
If you understand and think you can live with a “lighter” carbohydrate diet, we have gotten past that hardest part. YOU CAN DO THIS. It really is a delicious way to live, and nothing tastes as good as FEELING AMAZING and LOOKING AWESOME feels. End of Story.
Tip #2: Carbohydrate Timing- If you get nothing more out of this post, pay attention here: It is ALL about WHEN you eat the carbs.
You’ll probably like what I am going to tell you. When do most sugar cravings happen? At night. Yes, I want you to EAT YOUR CARBS AT NIGHT (gasp!). I could go into great detail of the science behind this, but I don’t want to bore you so I will say this: If you eat your carbs at night, this will spike your insulin levels to help repair your muscles from exercise (you MUST resistance train-but we’ll go into that later) and replenish your glycogen stores so that you can power through your next workout.
Tip #3: Knowing when and how much you should be consuming.
If I could make a blanket statement here and say to every woman “If you eat 100g of carbs a day, you will be lean and look like a bikini model” I would probably be a millionaire. Alas, this is not the case. Which makes me sad. I can think of lots of ways I’d like to spend a million bucks. Anyway, the point here is:
EVERY WOMAN IS DIFFERENT.
What works for me might not work for you. Many things need to be taken into consideration when you are trying to figure out how many carbs will get you to where you want to be. Current body composition, activity and hormone levels, and your ultimate goals will help to determine the right consumption for you. You also have to have a bit of patience (especially as you get leaner) and be willing to tweak your amounts in order to take your progress to the next level.
If your goal is to get really lean and maintain your strength, you would likely benefit from periods of carb restriction followed by refeeding. During the periods of restriction, you are training your body to run off of fat for fuel (your stored body fat). This would be awesome if it would work all of the time, but if you are active and strength train, carbs are necessary to help your body repair, grow, and to fuel your workouts. Enter: the REFEED. This makes me happy.
If you work your butt off in the gym, you can reward yourself with tasty, tasty carbs. I love food, and I love to work hard in the gym, so I don’t really see an issue with using food as a reward as long and you are smart about it and maintain a balance.
Have you ever been working out and just literally feel like you have run out of gas? The tank is empty, and a weight that flew off of the ground three or four days ago won’t budge today. This is likely due to low glycogen levels. This means that the carbs that your body has stored in your muscles have been depleted and it’s time for MORE if you want your progress to continue. Again, depending on your specific needs and goals this can be anywhere from every 4-10 days. If you are extremely active, your body will require carbohydrate refeeds more often in order for you to keep making progress.
My Tank is low. Now what?
Effort=Reward. Here’s the fun part.
When you feel like your body has run out of gas, you need to eat carbs. Pick something that sounds good to you and preferably has a high glycemic index (that contains sugar and/or starch so it will raise your insulin) and indulge at night. Some call it a “Cheat Meal”, others a “Carb Night”. Call it what you want; it’s glorious. And necessary. And Delicious.
My favorite indulgences are BBQ or a burger with sweet potato fries and a yummy dessert (I’ve been known to eat my share of cake-preferably gluten free). I have found a system that works for me where I stay lean while still being able to live my life, have balance, and pretty much feel awesome all of the time. You can experiment to see what types of carbs your body handles the best, as well as how much you should have.
Okay, so I’ve got the CARB part down-what about my other meals?
You can make this as difficult as you want- and that’s what people usually try to do. They over complicate. I am going to tell you how to make this STUPID SIMPLE and you can run with it if you want.
- Eat Fat. A lot of it.
- Eat plenty of high quality (not factory farmed) animal.
- Eat some green vegetables. (ok, so not everything has to be green but you want your veggies to be low carbohydrate, and high in fiber) Some examples of low carb veggies include: spinach, asparagus, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, and zucchini among others. Steer clear of veggies like potatoes, carrots, corn (not actually a veggie!), beets, and winter squash during your low carb meals.
In a nut shell ladies, if you want to look lean, lose body fat, and perform in the gym make carbohydrates your friend. Love them, but use them as a tool to help you get to where you want to be. You don’t need them very frequently, and you can’t eat them like the boys, but you CAN enjoy them and look and feel awesome too!
What’s your experience and take on carbs? Post your questions and comments below-I’d love to hear!