Carbs is a word that can scare a lot of people when they are training but not all of them are the same. It isn’t really a one-size fits all kind of word so this negative reputation seems somewhat harsh.
The thing that is probably more important to consider when setting out your meals is the glycemic index (GI) of the food that you eat. The GI of a food refers to your blood sugar levels after you have eaten. So basically carbs that are slowly absorbed will have a lower GI, whereas foods that are quickly absorbed have a much higher one.
You might think that means that it’s only really important for people trying to lose weight or manage their blood sugar (e.g. diabetics) to consider but in fact the GI of the foods you eat can have an effect on a whole number of things ranging from your energy levels to the quality of your sleep. I would agree though that if you are looking to lose weight getting familiar with the idea of rating foods based on their GI is even more important.
The general idea is that you should be avoiding foods with especially high GIs and try to replace them with foods with particularly low ones. For example, white rice and bread seems to be the enemy of everyone the minute they step foot in a gym now. The reason behind this is because they are foods with a high GI. So after you eat them you will get a spike in your blood sugar levels and run out of energy fairly quickly. Whole grains like brown bread and rice have a lower GI and therefore they are absorbed more slowly and provide energy for longer periods of time. This means your energy levels won’t drop as quickly and you should feel fuller for longer.
As I’ve said in previous posts, a lot of people don’t need to completely change their eating patterns when they start to train but they do need to make a few swaps and sacrifices. A lot of these alternatives are so strongly recommended for the simple fact that their GI is lower than what is already being eaten. Here are a few examples:
- Swap regular potatoes, which have a medium/high GI, with sweet potatoes that have a lower one
- Swap sugar-coated cereals for porridge and oats
- Swap poor snack foods for hummus and vegetable sticks
I’m sure you get the idea – try to replace processed foods with whole foods that are generally high in fibre.
A GI isn’t a perfect science though. It only refers to the carbs in what you are eating and doesn’t consider fats or protein at all. So imagine you are on a low-carb diet and you decide to eat red meat, which has basically zero carbs and a lot of protein. Well then because of the lack of carbs your body will use the protein to produce glucose and provide energy and that’s from a food that wouldn’t even have a GI!
Another thing that isn’t considered is insulin response. Insulin is produced to control blood sugar levels but different amounts are produced when you eat different foods, even if their GI is identical.
So we aren’t looking at the cure to insomnia and a lack of energy here but it is still useful information. This idea that carbs should be avoided at all costs really is unnecessary. What’s important is that you are careful when you pick what carbs you do eat so that you ensure you can get the most out of them. For that, knowing a few common GIs is very valuable.