Now, many people out there say you should avoid carbohydrates all together, others say you should avoid them after certain times (6pm), others say that they are simply one of the three major macronutrients and you should utilise them for what they are… the body’s main source of fuel!
Personally, I agree with the latter, but we do need to look into carbs in more details to make sure we are prioritising the best types of carbohydrates and not ones that will spike up your blood sugar levels and leave you feeling lethargic later on, otherwise one minute you are deadlifting 200kg, the next minute you’re struggling to lift your eye lids.
So, let’s start with breaking carbohydrates into their three categories:
Simple carbohydrates usually come from food items with a noticeably "sweet" flavour. Chocolate, sweets, fruit and sports drinks are all examples of simple sugars. Simple carbs provide short term energy and are quickly broken down by the body, they don't make you feel satisfied for very long!
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, predominantly come from foods without such a noticeably sweet flavor, such as rice, bread, potatoes, oats, pasta and things of that nature. In general, since the body takes a little longer to break these down, they give you energy for a longer period of time than their simple sugar counterparts.
Fibrous carbohydrates come predominantly from roughage such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli and the skins of various vegetables and fruits, hence the term.
When you ingest carbohydrates, your pancreas secretes a hormone called Insulin. Simple carbs (for the most part) cause a quick insulin spike, and then drop you rather quickly, hence you crave more carbs soon after your insulin levels drop. These carbohydrates will be the ones you will want to avoid when reducing body fat.
Complex carbohydrates cause a more gradual insulin spike. This allows you to feel fuller for a longer period of time, typically for the two to three hour duration between meals, these have been a great assets to marathon/triathlete nutrition plans for many years.
Fibrous carbohydrates have a very small effect on blood sugar levels, but act more as a cleanser for your intestinal tract, providing you with a much needed tool for pushing food through the system. When you’re mum tells you to eat your vegetables, she’s talking about these.
The biggest factor to address concerning the affects of the carbohydrate you choose and the affect on your body composition is the Glycemic Index (GI), the higher the Glycemic Index, the more of an insulin spike you’re likely to have and the more likely that food will get stored as fat. Having said that, unless you’re in a caloric surplus you will not gain body fat by choosing the wrong carbohydrate, that doesn’t mean you can have a Mars Bar a day just because your calories are in check though!
In summary, eat carbohydrates that optimise your health markers and leave you feeling satisfied with sustained energy levels for a long period of time, a Mars Bar will not do you any favours when trying to reduce body fat.