Do you remember sitting at the kitchen table before a Saturday sporting event, mom making you a hearty breakfast? Maybe it was packed with French toast or waffles or scrambled eggs. You eat it because it’s what she’s making, but she’s handing it off to you, telling you how important it is to carbo-load.
Well there was something behind all of that. Carb loading very much is a dietary method for giving you energy to burn. It’s also the basis for a number of specific diets. Now, these kinds of diets are not for everyone. If you’re someone who just sits around and doesn’t get out to exercise the carbs will turn into a massive weight that crashes to the bottom of your stomach.
You know the feeling of post-Thanksgiving meals where you just want to nap for a month?
That is often due to eating too many carbs without any active movement. So as long as you’re an active individual, a carb diet can be perfect for you. Here’s what you need to know about a carb diet and, if you’re interested, what you should eat to stay on the diet.
Carbs For Energy
Carbs are quick energy options.
You’ve probably seen those Snickers commercials where someone is dragging their feet, complaining, and just not being themselves?
Well, then they take a bite of a Snickers bar and BOOM! They’re back to normal. Of course, this is a comedic commercial, but there is some truth to it. A Snickers is peanuts, chocolate, caramel, and other sugary items. Essentially these are all ingredients that are heavy in carbs. The carbs deliver quick energy to your body.
Energy your body takes in is measured in calories. While the word “calorie” might have a negative connotation to it, because excessive calorie intakes will ensure you gain weight instead of lose it, it’s simply a means of measuring energy your body is consuming. These calories are consumed via three different food types: proteins, fats, and carbs.
Fat calories take the longest to digest. Your body does not break down fats until it hits your stomach. It requires stomach acid to break down the fat energy cells, which means you’re not using any of the energy from the fat until it has passed through the top portion of your digestive system and hit your stomach.
Even from there your body will not always be able to take advantage of the energy cells, so much of the fat ends up being absorbed by the intestines (which is why individuals who eat large amounts of fat end up with extremely fatty intestines).
Protein is used by nearly the entire body to repair damages.
Your muscles require protein to repair damaged muscle fiber. Your hair is made up of mostly protein, and other areas of your body require protein in order to rebuild. Protein does begin to break down once consumed by the body, but it still takes longer than carbs.
Protein is good when you want a sustained release of energy for a prolonged period of time. It is why many bodybuilders and those looking to pack on muscle will consume a protein drink prior to going to bed. It gives their body protein to use for repairing muscles during sleep.
Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are quickly absorbed.
The body can begin using some of the calories in the carbs almost instantly. Carbs are used before the other energy types (because those are still being digested), so a food high in carbs is great for when you are going to perform in an athletic activity. So if you’re a very active individual you need to consume carbs.
If you ever go through the day feeling tired and zapped of energy it’s likely because you’re cutting carbs out completely and your body doesn’t have that kind of energy (SF Gate, 2018).
A carb diet is great for instant energy, as long as you know what kind of carbs to consume.
Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
Carbohydrates can be broken down into two different categories: good carbs and bad carbs. If you’re going to do a carb diet you want to focus in on the good carbs. Bad carbs will lead to all kinds of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But don’t worry. It’s pretty easy to identify one versus the other.
First, it is important to know that not all carbs are created equal.
In fact, there are three categories of carbs. Sugars, starches, and fiber are all carbs. Typically when looking at dietary information on a label you’re not always going to look at the fiber, as fiber has its own category (often a sub-section under the carbs). Fiber is a helpful carb in that it actually will cling to other food items and help keep your body regular. This happens because your body is not able to digest fiber.
So when fiber clings to other foods that particular food will not be digested.
Diets high in fiber will help prevent you from feeling “backed up.” It is also why it is so important to eat a diet with fresh veggies. Veggies are loaded with fiber, which will keep you feeling comfortable and prevent certain foods from sticking inside your digestive system.
But back to the whole good carb/bad carb thing. Carbs are separated into either simple or complex carbs (you might also hear some people refer to them as a whole and refined).
A complex carb (or whole carb) is a carb that still has the fiber within it. The carb has not been adjusted or tweaked. You will find this kind of carb in whole grains (think whole grain pasta and brown rice), vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes, and other foods.
A simple carb (or refined carb) is a kind of carb that has been “edited.” It’s been altered in order to strip away the fiber and often many of the vitamins. This leaves the carb to be extremely sweet and sugar-based. White pasta is actually a simple carb.
White bread, white rice, and other “white” grain foods are simple carbs. Other foods include anything with sugar in it. Because these particular foods are stripped of the fiber and contain a considerable amount of sugar it affects your body in different ways. Let’s dive into that (Healthline, 2016).
Complex vs Simple Carbs
Simple carbs are quickly absorbed by your body.
In fact, these kinds of carbs are consumed even faster than regular carbs. Complex carbs take longer to digest because there are other elements to the carbs. The fiber within complex carbs, as stated above, will not be broken down by your body so it does take some time to pass through. As you might guess, complex means there is more to the carb, which affects how long the body has to absorb the energy.
Simple carbs, as the name indicates, are simple. There’s not much to it. Perhaps you’ve heard a family member talk about someone who was “simple.” As in they don’t have much going on inside their head. It’s a nice way to say the person is dumb.
Simple carbs are the same. There’s not much going on. And you could probably say eating a hefty amount of simple carbs is dumb as well, because these foods are loaded with sugar, which will spike your blood sugar levels and lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other cardiovascular diseases.
In other words, you want to avoid simple carbs and focus on the complex carbs when you’re jumping on the carb diet (Medical News Today, 2019).
Healthy Foods With High Carb Counts
When you’re going with the carb diet you want to identify foods that are high in healthy carbs. It’s super easy to find foods with simple carbohydrates. You could go to any Italian restaurant and pack on 100 grams of carbs without too much of an issue. First, that’s too many carbs for a single meal, to begin with, and second, most of that will come from simple carbs that will not help your body in the way you’re aiming for.
So to help, let’s go over a number of foods that are high in healthy carbs.
And remember, if you’re ever out grocery shopping and you’re not sure, remember that all fruits and veggies are complex carbs. And when looking at grains you want 100% whole wheat. If you don’t see the 100% on the package it means there are simple, refined carbs in there.
First, let’s start with quinoa. Quinoa is technically a seed and not a grain, so people who are gluten-free and avoiding quinoa can actually eat it. Sometimes it falls into the category of “ancient grains,” but is more by default than anything else. This is because while it is a seed, it is used as a grain (the technical term is “pseudocereal”, and it is why so many gluten-free dieters are confused into thinking it is a grain. It’s used like one, but it’s not).
Quinoa is great as it is high in carbs and also has a solid interjection of protein and fiber. This makes it an excellent all-around food option.
Similar to quinoa oats is a fantastic option. Oatmeal and steel-cut oats are solid choices. Just make sure that when you’re buying the oats you avoid the instant oatmeal or the individually packaged and flavored oatmeal. These usually contain added sugar. If you’re not sure, check the label. Only buy oatmeal where there is one ingredient: oats.
Pretty much any kind of fruit is going to be a good option. Fruit does have “sugar” in it, but these are healthier sugar options. When your food is going to be sweet you want it to be natural. Not added. Bananas are a great option because the fruit is loaded with carbs and it isn’t too sweet, so you don’t need to worry about that. It’s also a great option when you want instant, healthy energy.
Plus, add in the assortment of vitamins and potassium and you have a recipe for excellent, carb-friendly food. Oranges are another fruit you’ll want to keep on hand. If you ever had a sporting event as a kid and one of the parents would give you oranges, there’s a good reason why. Oranges are healthy, mostly water, and have a healthy inclusion of complex carbs.
Looking for a food that is a great high-carb food option that also is packed with vitamins and you can both eat at dinner and substitute for other, less healthy foods?
Consider sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are high in antioxidants as well, which will help cut down your risk of certain diseases.
You’re going to want healthy carb foods that have protein as well. Because while the carbs will give you readily available energy, you’ll need protein that is a longer burn protein as well as gives you the necessary proteins to rebuild muscles. Most beans are great when it comes to this, although kidney beans are some of the best.
Kidney beans are loaded with carbs and also pack a solid protein punch. Just make sure to completely cook the kidney beans. Kidney beans that are raw or not cooked all the way through are actually toxic, so you’ll want to avoid this kind of situation. Buy the beans pre-cooked or slow cook them until tender.
A carb diet is an excellent way to gain quick energy that will fuel your diet. A carb diet is not for everyone. If you’re not someone who is readily active you won’t be using the carbs and the calorie energy will end up sitting in your stomach, absorbing water and making you feel bloating. As long as you are active a carb diet is perfect for you.
Just avoid all sugary carb foods and focus on healthy carbs. As long as you do this you’ll be primed and ready for an excellent diet and an excellent workout, whatever that workout might be.