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.
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!
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!)
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.
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?