How to Reduce Carbs the Smart Way
Unless you’re on a treadmill for hours every day, you’re probably eating too many carbohydrates. Perhaps not way too many, but if you want to shed excess body fat, then you’re going to want to figure out how to reduce carbs in your diet.
That’s not to say that carbohydrates are bad; that is far from the case. To cut them out completely will either make you feel terrible or affect your performance during training. Possibly both. There’s also the ketogenic diet to consider, in which we cut out carbs completely and substitute them for fats. Yet for now let’s just focus on how and why our bodies need certain amounts of good, complex carbohydrates.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are sugars in various forms. Simple carbohydrates, like the ones found in white bread, energy gels and soft drinks, are digested quickly by your body, releasing glucose into your bloodstream. This is the reason sports gels and drinks are so effective; they get to work right away, feeding your cells with their preferred source of energy.
Complex carbohydrates, like the ones found in whole wheat foods, release their energy more slowly. Combine those complex carbohydrates with fiber in your diet and the release is slowed even more. It’s the reason so many doctors and dietitians recommend a diet filled with fruits and vegetables. These kinds of food release their energy more slowly and are also loaded with other vitamins and minerals which the body can use in conjunction with the carbs for a more balanced and long-lasting energy release.
Why Does that Matter?
If you’re in the middle of a race or a long workout, a quick-release source of energy is ideal, but for getting you through the day, or for losing weight, maintaining your energy levels with complex carbs, is always going to be more beneficial. We know, you say that a big bowl of pasta and cheese fills you up and provides you with all the energy you need, and maybe it does for now, but it won’t always be that way. Your body is an adaptive system, and over time, that same low-quality fuel will work less and less effectively. When you welcome more starchy and fibrous vegetables into your life, you create a richer nutritional environment for your body to grow with.
Have you ever noticed how top athletes are always so adamant about a varied diet? They might carb-load with pasta and rice before a big event, but their diets consist mostly of the things their bodies truly need.
This explainer video from TED-Ed on exactly what carbohydrates are and do is also a great thing to check out.
Losing Weight with Complex Carbohydrates
If you exercise more and eat fewer calories, you’ll likely lose weight, but replacing the less friendly carbohydrates in your diet with protein or more slow-releasing carbohydrates can help you to maintain high and stable energy levels while still building lean muscle.
What About the Ketogenic Diet?
Ketogenic diets have been shown to have a huge positive impact on weight control and energy levels. A ketogenic diet works by swapping out your body’s preferred primary energy source (glucose) with healthy fats. The diet is very high in meat and dairy, with carbohydrates being virtually non-existent.
It takes a while to get used to, but if you can manage it, a ketogenic diet could be the way forward for you.
So What Foods Should You Consider?
What you’re trying to do, is to reduce the amount of excess glucose in your bloodstream, which is building up, not being used as energy, and eventually being stored as fat. Fat is, of course, a form of energy, but most of us don’t live in a world which requires us to keep fat stores on our bodies in the event of potential starvation.
The kinds of carbohydrates which are more likely to contribute to excess fat are the simple ones found in white bread, white rice, pasta, cakes, etc. Consider substituting these kinds of foods for ones like these:
- Proteins (extra chicken, beef, fish in your meal)
- Fats, from cheese (if you’re not paleo,) meat, oils (fats are filling, and a great source of energy)
- Nuts and seeds (like chia seeds)
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice and wholewheat pasta
A word on combining complex carbs and other foods: If you’re going to start incorporating foods such as sweet potatoes and brown rice into your diet, it makes sense to combine them with vegetables and other lean meats. You’ll be surprised by how much of your carb intake you can cut while still feeling great. Just keep in mind that it’s a matter of trial and error.
Then it comes down to hard work if you do want to tone up. A smarter diet and regular exercise are the best ways to keep yourself fit and healthy.