People think that I hate carbs. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I love carbs. Not just because they’re generally quite delicious, but because carbs are the key to strength and performance. As a competitive Strongman who trains 6 days a week, I couldn’t do without carbs, and they’re more important to me than the average person. So why do most people consume carbs at every meal while I consume them only a few meals per week? Where’s the disconnect here? Let’s explore…
The Cold Hard Truth About Carbs
Carbs have but one purpose: To provide the human body with energy. Unlike protein and fat sources, carbohydrates are not essential to human existence. Yes, the human body requires glucose to function, but this glucose can be derived from dietary fats and protein. Sure, some carbohydrate sources are high in certain vitamins and minerals, but these same vitamins and minerals can easily be attained via fat and protein sources.
Carbohydrates legitimately serve but one purpose, and that is to provide energy.
But Humans Need Energy…
Correct, humans require energy to produce energy. However, here’s a fun fact: Both protein and fat also provide energy, along with their other purposeful, life-sustaining activities. Extra fun fact: Low intensity activities, like walking, hanging out at work, doing the dishes, etc., are fueled almost entirely by fat. You read that right, fat. So if you’re just living life and not doing anything physically demanding, but you’re eating carbs, guess where those carbs are going? You know the answer. The undisputable bottom line is that the only true time when carbs are necessary is during high intensity activity: lifting heavy weights, sprinting, doing something physically difficult. Here’s an equation to simplify things:
Dietary carbs + low intensity lifestyle = Increase body fat and be less healthy
But I’m Different!…
Some people have a greater carbohydrate tolerance than others; true, genetically we are all a bit different. There are also certain populations across the world that thrive on high-carbohydrate diets, as their systems have evolved to best use the only available food sources. But here in first-world North America, there are basically four groups of people who need a significant amount of carbs in their diet:
- Growing children
- Pregnant women
- Avid exercisers looking to increase muscle mass
- Elite athletes
If you don’t fall into one of these categories and rely on carbohydrates as your primary “food” source, please refer to the equation above. Still think you’re different? If your goal is to be skinny-fat with sub-par health markers, I’m sure you’re right on track.
Control Your Carbs
Control Your Health
I understand why people consume a lot of carbs. They’re everywhere, they’re cheap, they’re social, and as I mentioned above, they’re generally delicious. I’m human, I get it, and I overdo it sometimes just like everyone else, especially during social events. The key is to have a plan and to be as consistent as possible over time by limiting binges:
1) When at home and at work, eat a very low-carb diet
2) Limit carb-based meals to:
- The evenings after weight training
- Social affairs
- Special occasions
If you can follow this 2-step plan, while otherwise eating healthful meals containing quality protein and fats, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with not only how your body begins to look, but how you begin to feel.
Change Your Outlook, Change Your Path
I personally view carbs as a supplement, not a food source. This might seem like a bizarre point of view, but given that carbs serve only one purpose (to fuel my high-intensity workouts), why wouldn’t I treat them as just another supplement? Carbs are not integral to my survival and lead to degraded health and performance if over-consumed. For these reasons, I supplement my carbs at night, after my workouts; that’s it. This approach has improved my body composition, increased my strength and according to recent blood work, has improved my overall health- that’s right, my high-fat, ultra low-carb diet has my cholesterol and blood pressure looking mighty-fine (which is pretty great considering cardiovascular health issues run in my family).
Despite the culture we live in, if we can change how we view food, and most importantly carbohydrates, it paves the road for making the lifestyle changes that lead to prolonged health and improved human performance. You can have your cake and eat it too, you just have to choose those times wisely.