Let’s Chat About…Carbs

by Sara on May 16, 2012

I have a confession.

I am a magazine thief.

Over the weekend, I snagged a copy of People from the magazine rack and stuffed it into my gym bag for Sunday afternoon reading.

People recently crowned Beyonce the “world’s most beautiful woman.” Apparently this is the female version of “sexiest man alive?” (I am not ga-ga over last year’s selection, by the way. Bradley Cooper is nowhere near as attractive as their 2010 pick, whom I gushed about here.) ;)

In the interview, Beyonce discusses her new life as a mom and discloses that she’s obtained her svelte postpartum figure by adhering to a strict diet and exercise regimen. The magazine provides a sample “menu” from her day, which includes ample amounts of lean protein and some vegetables.

I love Beyonce, and think that she is a healthy role model who celebrates a beautifully curvaceous body in a far-too-skinny Hollywood. However, her indirect assertion that the key to weight loss lies in limiting carbohydrates not only wrongly vilifies an essential nutrient, but promotes and perpetuates unhealthy relationships with food.

The truth is that our bodies NEED carbohydrates. And if you’re an avid exerciser or athlete, your body really needs carbohydrates! The topic of the 50-page research paper I completed two weeks ago (thank goodness that’s over with!) was post-workout nutrition, which meant that I spent many hours thumbing through research studies. The 20+articles I read arrived at more or less the same conclusion: carbohydrates combined with protein provide far superior physiological benefits than  protein alone.

Writing that paper reaffirmed what I’d been told, but had chosen not to believe for a long time. For years, I’d eat next to nothing after working out, believing that depriving myself of food was a ticket to a lean body. As I grew older, I learned about the importance of post-workout protein supplements, and began downing protein shakes, as if no other food existed.

 

[source]

I was doing the hard work in the gym and I was drinking “bodybuilding shakes,” but I wasn’t seeing results.

Or at least not the results I wanted. Instead of building sexy muscle, I was losing it.

Well, duh, Sara!

It was so hard for me to accept that my body truly needed carbohydrates. I’d latch onto any article or piece of advice that vilified them, and would let those words control my decisions.

Learning the truth, and writing about it, has helped me say “no” to those thoughts, and as a result, I’m finally gaining the muscle that I’ve always wanted. I feel strong both inside and out.

However, I’d be lying if I pretended that I now eat carbs with a completely carefree attitude, because that’s simply not true. There are days when I questions whether a half cup of oats is too much, or whether my sweet potato is a few ounces too large. The constant stream of media encouraging us to cut back on carbs wherever we can sure isn’t helpful.

But the truth is, the advice shelled out in many magazines is there to sensationalize and generate profit.

Here are the hard facts: when you’re working out, carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) spare protein by serving as your body’s principal source of fuel. Carbs provide the most efficient source of energy for both cardiovascular and strength training workouts.

Restricting carbohydrates before and after periods of intense exercise will likely cause your body to use protein as an energy source. This results in the breakdown of hard-earned muscle proteins to be used as fuel during workouts, or to replenish muscle glycogen after training.

That means that along with the fat Beyonce is losing, she’s very likely losing lean muscle mass as well.

In a fitness world where the importance of protein is placed on a pedestal, it’s easy to “forget” to consume enough carbohydrates, just as I did. However, even though sugars and starches are frowned upon, these carbohydrates are your body’s MOST important workout fuel source.

And let’s not forget another equally important factor: carbs are pretty gosh darn delicious!

Healthy Banana Bread Cupcake topped with Greek yogurt "frosting"

Sure, some carbohydrates are better than others. If you’re an avid healthy living blog-reader, you’re probably already well versed in the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates.

In other words, eating a pint of gelato isn’t exactly the same as eating healthy sweet potato fries.

However I truly believe that there’s a time and place for both. While I do my best to fill up on natural and unprocessed carbohydrates, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy refined sugars from time to time. I try to live by a 90/10 rule. In other words, about 90% of my carbohydrates are complex, and the remaining 10% are refined.

A few of the complex carbohydrates I enjoy incorporating into my diet on a regular basis include:

  • Sweet potatoes (preferably drizzled with peanut butter)
  • Fiber and Flax tortillas
  • Overnight oats
  • Oatmeal crackers (check out Carrie’s recipe here)
  • Popcorn (a new study shows that its packed with more cancer-fighting polyphenols than most fruits and vegetables!)
  • Bananas

My favorite sources of simple carbohydrates include:

  • Pretty much anything sweet and delicious. ;) When I’m treating myself, nothing is off limits. ;)

There’s no question that fueling our bodies with the right energy, most of the time, will enable us to rock it in the gym, on the field or in the yoga studio.

overnight oats are great pre-workout fuel

But let’s also not forget the simple pleasures-—those fun treats that have the ability to bring a smile to our faces.

Carbohydrates don’t make us fat. Too many carbohydrates make us fat. But so does too much protein. Our bodies were designed to metabolize all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat), which means there’s nothing to fear.

If we trust our bodies, our bodies will trust us.

As my dear friend Meg said in this post, there’s simply no room for deprivation in a strong, healthy, and happy lifestyle!

Nourish. Sweat. Live. Love. Enjoy.

Do you watch the amount of carbs you consume? Have you ever tried a low carb diet?

What are your favorite “healthy carbs?” Favorite “treat carbs?”

Who is your “sexiest man alive?”

Are there any other gym magazine thieves out there? ;)

  • http://www.juliegolean.com/ julie!

    AMEN to that girl! and i think the people who choose peoples sexiest man alive this year were smoking crack. like WTF bradley cooper is NOT the sexiest man out there. weird. yay for finishing your paper!!!!!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Haha! I’m glad you agree with me about Bradley Cooper. I mean, he’s *semi* attractive, but SEXIEST? No way!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Haha! I’m glad you agree with me about Bradley Cooper. I mean, he’s *semi* attractive, but SEXIEST? No way!

  • http://annasadventuresinhealth.com/ Anna

    Great post and such an important reminder that health and proper nutrition is all about balance..not deprivation! No wonder people get so confused on what to eat/what is healthy when there is so much media attention to unhealthy fads!
    My favorite healthy carbs are oatmeal, quinoa, and sweet potatoes…hands down! Treat carbs?…ice cream and brownies :)

    And yes, Ive totally been a gym magazine thieve…but I recover my good karma by bringing some old ones to my gym!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Exactly–I feel like it’s so irresponsible of magazines to print diets like this. They only confuse the public and lead people to adopt unhealthy habits! Grr. But if it sells, then they’ll print it.

      Haha, I try to donate magazines regularly too. It’s the only way I can steal without feeling guilty! ;)

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Exactly–I feel like it’s so irresponsible of magazines to print diets like this. They only confuse the public and lead people to adopt unhealthy habits! Grr. But if it sells, then they’ll print it.

      Haha, I try to donate magazines regularly too. It’s the only way I can steal without feeling guilty! ;)

  • http://www.clairetherd.com/ Claire @ Live and Love to Eat

    Fruit and dairy products are probably my favorite carb sources – I’m not big on breads or pastas, but desserts for sure! :)

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Oh yes, I’m all about desserts. My family gave me the nickname “dessert queen” at a very young age. :-p

  • http://www.sweatlikeapig.com/ Tara @ Sweat like a Pig

    I love this post and I’m so proud of you!! It’s funny how most people are obsessed with protein, especially post workout. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit down and convince someone that carbs are in fact more important than carbohydrates when it comes to building muscle.

    I can’t stand seeing sample celebrity diets in magazines. They are always made up of salads, protein and not much else. Women look to these magazines for advice, try following the same kind of diet, and last about two days because they are cranky and starving. Let’s not forget the fact that your brain needs about 110g of carbs a day to function!!

    And half a cup of oats is nothing, girl! I have a cup of oats in the morning ;)

    Most of all, I’m happy you’re seeing muscle gains!! That’s what we want :D

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      I’m seeing muscle gains thanks to YOU! <3 The diets that these magazines print make me so upset! I thought about printing Beyonce's sample menu, but then realized that by doing so, I'd be indirectly"promoting" her restrictive diet. It was probably 800 calories, no joke. As you said, women will see this and try to emulate it, only to fail and feel frustrated!

  • Alexandra

    “If we trust our bodies, our bodies will trust us” Love this post girl!!! You make so many amazing points, I wish more people had your attitude!
    My favorite carb source is hands down sweet potato mmm :)

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Thanks, Alexandra! Your posts inspire me big time too! Thank God for sweet potatoes, right?!

  • Gothextramileblog

    I LOVE this post!!! So true. I always make sure I have a mixture of protein and carbs before and after a workout. It is SO important!
    Favorite healthy carbs is oatmeal or sweet potato. Favorite treat carbs is definitely froyo or ice cream ;D
    Sexiest man alive.. CHANNING TATUM. And Zac efron is there too.

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      I totally agree with you about Channing Tatum! Hawt! And Zac Efron has been my boy crush for years. I know he’s not a boy anymore, but he’s younger than me, so I’d kind of feel cougarish crushing on him!

  • http://www.myfoodnfitnessdiaries.com/ Ash @ My FNF Diaries

    AMEN girl! i love everything you’re saying here. some of my favorite healthy carbs are oatmeal, sweet potatoes, good whole wheat bread, and bananas. my favorite treat carbs would definitely be ice cream/fro yo and brownies! yumm. :) oh and yes, ryan reynolds is most definitely the sexiest man alive. yesss please!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Yay, another Ryan Reynolds fan! I could watch The Proposal a million times and never get tired of his face. Haha

  • http://lovemintchocolatechip.wordpress.com/ Anne@LoveMintChocolateChip

    i could not agree MORE! i hate when i have friends go on “low carb” diets. my energy would be completely zapped if i gave up carbs!!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      No kidding. They’re so important, especially if you’re working out regularly!

  • Marcy

    Great post! I am totally a magazine theif, too, but I can’t find magazines at the new gym I joined. But I try to give them back or even leave magazines I’ve purchased when I am done with them. Sometimes ;)

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Hehe, me too. ;)

  • Carriepurchase

    Fav healthy carbs are sweet potatoes, Ezekiel bread/wraps, Oatmeal and Apples. Sexiest man is Brad Pitt- especially in Fight Club and Oceans Eleven!
    My favorite treat carbs are granola and soft serve yogurt! Mmmmmm

  • Carriepurchase

    Fav healthy carbs are sweet potatoes, Ezekiel bread/wraps, Oatmeal and Apples. Sexiest man is Brad Pitt- especially in Fight Club and Oceans Eleven!
    My favorite treat carbs are granola and soft serve yogurt! Mmmmmm

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Mmm, I forgot to include granola on this list! I totally agree! I might add it to the “healthy” carbs category, but only if it’s prepared at home/contains good ingredients. :) And YES on Brad Pitt…loved him in Ocean’s Eleven!

  • Debbie (Accidently Delish)

    I read that article and thought the SAME thing. Of course you lost all your baby weight, you’re not eating! And whose to say she “got her body back” she never lost it. I totally thought that article portrayed the wrong image.

    I LOVE carbs. And we need them. Carbs are our main source of energy. I think a healthy “diet” and I use diet loosely is LISTENING to our bodies. Giving it a balance. If we restrict the same things and give it the same things over and over all we do is devoid it of what it really needs.

    I could go on. But great post!!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      You’re so, so right! We need to listen to our bodies, not our heads! It’s all about trusting…that’s been huge for me. Even if I’ve had “enough” carbs at a meal, if my body is telling me it needs more, I’m going to give it more! Easier said than done, but I feel like I’m finally at a place where I can do that. :)

  • Debbie (Accidently Delish)

    I read that article and thought the SAME thing. Of course you lost all your baby weight, you’re not eating! And whose to say she “got her body back” she never lost it. I totally thought that article portrayed the wrong image.

    I LOVE carbs. And we need them. Carbs are our main source of energy. I think a healthy “diet” and I use diet loosely is LISTENING to our bodies. Giving it a balance. If we restrict the same things and give it the same things over and over all we do is devoid it of what it really needs.

    I could go on. But great post!!

  • http://sweetlyfit.com/ Kristi

    I could’t agree more with this! especially post workout, I can feel a difference when I refuel with adequate carbs and when I don’t refuel with enough. it’s a BIG difference!

    • http://www.nourish-and-flourish.net Sara Stewart

      Totally! I’ve never felt better during and after my workouts! Carbs make a HUGE difference!

  • http://sweetlyfit.com/ Kristi

    I could’t agree more with this! especially post workout, I can feel a difference when I refuel with adequate carbs and when I don’t refuel with enough. it’s a BIG difference!

  • http://glitzglamgranola.com/ Emily @ Glitz Glam Granola

    This is a great post and I think helpful for so many people to realize that carbs are not something to fear! I did a low-carb diet in high school and I admit that I did lose weight, however, I just don’t think it’s realistic to maintain. Not to mention our bodies crave carbs! Now I don’t limit my carbs but do try and generally make them complex and whole grain!

  • http://www.peaceloveandoats.com/ Katie @ Peace Love & Oats

    I used to be freaked out by carbs, but my nutritionist taught me the importance of having them in my diet! And that pinkberry looks delicious!

  • Meg

    BEAUTIFUL post hunnie! I love how you started it too :) Ryan Reynolds is definitely much sexier than Bradley. MUCH!

    You know about me and carbs. I love them, but have questioned them, too. My all time favourite source is sweet potato. I don’t think I could ever ever ever get sick of sweet potato. Seriously. I just eat it cold. I just love them that much. Straight out of the fridge. Leftover sweet potato. Nothing beats it ;) HA!

    I am not really into reading magazines actually. Except Oxygen. I get bored easy HAHA and I hate reading about celebrities. hahaha.

  • http://www.hungrymeetshealthy.com/ Christina

    i love that yo’ure kissing the magazine. you always make me laugh, smile, chuckle, all of it!! i want pinkberry!! would you believe i’ve never had it?!?! gahhhhhh. i don’t watch my carbs # wise, but i do try to eat less of them than i used to. gosh i love them though. bread, give me more bread!!!! and cookies. my favorite carb obviously.

  • http://thewhaleydaily.wordpress.com/ Mary Legare Whaley

    Nice post. Personally, I am a carb enthusiast. Never a low carb diet for me. In fact, my diet is probably equal carb + protein and mostly lower in fats. I am strictly cardio. I’m short, only 5′ 2″, and despite what everyone says about girls not getting “bulky”…I DO get big when I weight train. I think it’s due to my stature and small frame. Too much weight training makes me look thick and blocky. So since I am a cardio junkie, I know that carbs are a must. But just like you mentioned, there’s a difference between refined, over-processed carbs, like white bread, and a sweet potato. My go-to carbs are homemade popcorn, orange or purple sweet potatoes, and most any fruits. If it’s a natural food, it will serve as fuel for your body. Oatmeal? Always a winner. Whole grains and fiber help clean us out (and fiber is the jam!). My healthy carbs and treat carbs are the same: I love them all! But I tend to avoid empty carbs (like refined sugars or mystery baked goods). Oh. And sexiest man alive? Rob Lowe. Hands down.

  • http://lifeisbetterthanfiction.wordpress.com/ Meg

    I am so glad that you stressed the importance of different types of carbs! Not all carbs are created equally, that’s for sure.

    Within the last two years, I became more aware of how many and the type of carbs I consume. I was eating waaaay to many refined carbs: cheap bread, cereal, cookies, cupcakes, etc. While none of these things are bad in moderation, I was eating too many of them. Which was leaving less and less room for things I needed to nourish my body with, like protein and vegetables. I was feeding my body, but I wasn’t feeding my body, if you know what I mean. So I decided to see what would happen if I cut back a little. I found that not only was I less snacky, but my digestion was better and I wasn’t feeling as bloated. Whew! Long story!

    My favorite healthy carbs are probably broccoli or bananas! I think I love bananas as much as you! As for my treat carbs, bread, hands down. I LOOVE bread. Or cake. I do love a good piece of cake.

    I’m not a magazine thief! I’m the one who leaves my old, read magazines at the gym for others to enjoy! ;)

  • http://lisalately.com/ Lisa

    Great post love! I definitely have lived for the no carbs thing. I also used to hold onto any article that acknowledged that carbs were bad, because I was so fearful of consuming them. I still have trouble including them in my diet all the time, and do worry I eat too many, but I know that’s ridiculous, especially in my situation of trying to gain a little weight! Duh, Lisa. I dislike when stars promote low carb diets, because so many young woman get influenced on these things :( which is how my ED eventually started. My dream man would have to be Ian Somerhalder, he’s such a dream boat. My fave carbs are kabocha, pumpkin, bananas, oat bran, and many more!

  • http://onehealthymunchkin.blogspot.com/ Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin

    Love this post Sara! I never specifically ate a low carb diet, but I definitely avoided them when I was restricting my intake. Now I probably eat too much of them – I actually need to remind myself to eat more protein haha. :P Taking nutrition in school has helped me to learn so much about carbs and how essential they are, especially for exercise. I’m glad you’re helping to spread the truth about them!

    The sexiest man alive is most definitely Ryan Gosling! ;)

  • http://livingchel.com/ Chelsa

    I need carbs everyday or I’d be miserable. I try to keep them down to 1/2 cup oats in the morning and then fruits and veggies through out the day and night. If I’m extra active I’ll have a piece of toast in the afternoon too. I don’t know how some people could just eat an all protein breakfast in the morning like eggs without toast. I know it works for some but I’d feel horrible all day long.

  • Sally

    Glad the magazine came from the gym and not a store!!! haha! I would have loved that banana bread cupcake with Greek yogurt at camp this week…or some of those overnight oats!

  • http://www.theactorsdiet.com actorsdiet

    seriously craving PINK pinkberry now!

  • http://www.theactorsdiet.com actorsdiet

    seriously craving PINK pinkberry now!

  • JJ Doe

    So you then give examples such as “la tortilla” a.k.a “low carb” tortillas. ..yeah, okay.
    You still have insane ED fears don’t you see that?
    Eat ice cream, chocolate, chicken, yogurt, REAL bread …do you ever see “Kath Eats” or “Healthy Tipping Point” or “Peanut Butter Fingers”? They don’t have these mentally exhausting thoughts and worries about carbs and foods like a lot of you orthorexic or exercise-obsessed blogs and they are happy and healthy and beautiful.

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