Low-carb diets have been popular in the health and fitness world for quite some time.
And while there certainly are people who benefit from eating a relatively small amount of carbs, these macronutrients are crucial for people who work out hard.
In this article we talked about why we need carbs. If you’re an athlete (or train like one), you really shouldn’t overlook them. Carbs are critical both from the physical and mental standpoint.
Why Your Body Needs Carbs
There are several ways that carbs impact your athletic performance:
They give you energy for your workouts. Carbs are the first source that your body turns to when it needs energy. Carbs are stored in your muscles as glycogen, but if your glycogen stock is empty, your body can’t work properly. You may have heard of “carb loading,” especially among endurance athletes. “Carb loading” is exactly this: filling the glycogen storages with carbohydrates.
They help your muscles to recover faster. To get the recovery process going, you need to refill your carb reserves. Just protein is not enough for recovery. The recommended ratio in your post workout meal or drink is 3:1 (30 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein).
They help you to build muscle. If you want to build muscle, you have to eat plenty of calories. Even if people know that, they still often make the mistake of only focusing on protein. However, you do need carbs too. Muscle growth happens during the rest and recovery and carbs helps to speed up this process.
They may help with weight loss. Low carb diets may be hard on your adrenal glands, and as a result, your body will produce too many stress hormones. When your stress level is high, your body’s ability to burn fat decreases.
Why Your Mind Needs Carbs
But your physical body’s needs are just one side of the story. Carbs are essential for your mental health too.
They help you focus. It has been shown in many studies that lack of carbs can lead to a “foggy” brain and the inability to concentrate. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you can read more about it in this book.
They keep you from getting cranky. Not having enough carbs (just like not having enough other macronutrients) will make you feel horrible. That will naturally lead to mood swings. Nobody wants to be around cranky people.
Good Carbs and Not So Good Carbs
One reason for carbophobia is that many people immediately associate carbs with only bread, pasta, cereal, pastries and other processed, not so heathy foods. Sure enough, these very high carb foods don’t have that much to offer to your body.
But labelling all carbs bad is shortsighted. There are so many awesome sources or carbohydrates that are found in non-processed foods, like many fruits and veggies. Also, whole grains are good source of carbohydrates. Here are some examples of healthy high carb foods:
- Fruits: Bananas, apples, cherries, mangoes, pineapple
- Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, squash
- Legumes: Green peas, Azuki beans, black beans
- Grains: Quinoa, rice, buckwheat
So, there definitely are some awesome carb sources. Don’t become carbophobic, just make good choices.
How Much Carbs Do You Need for Muscle Growth?
As mentioned earlier, if your goal is to build muscle, you need to eat carbs, not just protein. In this article, we recommended that 4.5 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight every day as the amount of carbs that you need for muscle building.
That means that if you weigh 140 lbs (63.5 kg), you should aim for at least 285 grams of carbs every day. A person who weighs 150 lbs should have 306 grams and a person who weighs 160 lbs, at least 326 grams of carbs every day.
To make your life easier, we will show you how many carbs are in the most common healthy carb sources, so you can plan your meals better.
Starchy veggies, whole grains and some fruit should be you main sources of carbohydrates. Fruits, especially dried fruits, are high in sugar, so be careful popping handfuls of them every day. Dried fruit is also often made even sweeter by adding sugar to it, so if possible, choose the natural unsweetened ones.
Carb Amounts in the Most Common Healthy Carb Sources
In the following list you find the nutritional value of the most common healthy carb sources. You will also see how many calories the most common portions of these foods have and how much fat and protein they contain.
- Baked potato, medium – 37 grams of carbs (161 kcal; 0g fat, 4g protein)
- Yams, 1 cup cooked – 37 grams of carbs (158 kcal; 0g fat, 2g protein)
- Baked sweet potato, medium – 24 grams of carbs (103 kcal; 0g fat, 2g protein)
- Squash (winter or butternut), 1 cup cooked – 22 grams of carbs (82 kcal; 0g fat, 2g protein)
- Azuki beans, 1/2 cup – 29 grams of carbs (150 kcal; 0g fat, 9g protein)
- Green peas, 1 cup – 25 grams of carbs (134 kcal; 0g fat, 9g protein)
- Lima beans, 1/2 cup – 20 grams of carbs (108 kcal; 0g fat, 7.5g protein)
- Black beans, 1/2 cup – 20 grams of carbs (114 kcal; 0g fat, 7.5g protein)
- Medium sized banana – 27 grams of carbs (105 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- Medium sized apple – 25 grams of carbs (95 kcal; 0g fat, 0g protein)
- Grapes, 1 cup – 27 grams of carbs (104 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- Mangoes, 1 cup – 28 grams of carbs (107 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- Pineapple, 1 cup – 22 grams of carbs (82 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- Raisins, 1 oz – 22 grams of carbs (84 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- Dates, 1 medium – 18 grams of carbs (66 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- Figs, 3 pieces – 15 grams of carbs (63 kcal; 0g fat, 0g protein)
- Cherries, 1 oz – 23 grams of carbs (98 kcal; 0g fat, 1g protein)
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa – 39 grams of carbs (222 kcal; 4g fat, 8g protein)
- 1 cup of cooked brown rice – 45 grams of carbs (216 kcal; 2g fat, 5g protein)
- 1 cup dry rolled oats – 56 grams of carbs (307 kcal; 5g fat, 11g protein)
- Corn cob, medium – 19 grams of carbs (83 kcal; 1g fat, 2.5g protein)
- Honey, 1 tbsp – 17 grams of carbs (64 kcal; 0g fat, 0g protein)
Don’t Be Afraid of Carbs!
Low-carb diets may work for those who don’t move all that much, but if you are a physically active person, you shouldn’t leave them out from your diet. If your goal is to build some muscle at the same time, there is even more reason to eat them.
The rule of thumb is to have at least 4.5 grams of carbs per bodyweight kilogram. If you eat 3 times a day, simply divide the number you get by three to know how many carbs you should eat at every meal to meet your goal.
And of course, if you’re snacking between meals, save some carbs for snacks.
What do you think about carbs? Yay or nay?
Nutritional data source: http://nutritiondata.self.com
Kersten Kimura is a NASM PT, kettlebell enthusiast and a fan of HIIT workouts. After relocating from chilly Estonia to California, she has taken full advantage of the area and works out outdoors whenever possible. You can find her throwing around her sandbag or swinging kettlebells at local parks, or sprinting along the gorgeous Bay Trail.
Find out more about Kersten here and sign up for her newsletter to get her one week equipment free workout plan and seven simple dinner recipes.
11 thoughts on “Getting Over Carbophobia with Healthy Carbs”
Finally a fitness person who knows the truth about carbs! Thanks for not being on the ridiculous and potentially damaging ‘all carbs are evil’ bandwagon.
Thanks Helen, I’m glad you think so!
I definitely fee the need for carbs, especially when I neglect them. However, I hate having to count them (or anything for that matter).
Kari, I know what you mean. I think the key is to get the general idea of what the macros are in each food, so counting may be useful in the beginning. But later you can simply eyeball everything.
What about using ketones for fuel? I’ve built muscle and lost fat from being in ketosis for almost a year and I feel great. Only time I feel bed is after eating carbs
Hi Sue! Sure, low carb approach can absolutely work too. We are all different. We just wanted to emphasize that not all carbs are bad. That’s great that you have found what’s best for you – no need to change anything! 🙂
All carbs are not evil but equally the NEED for carbs is greatly over stated and we humans manage very well with a minimal quantity. Low Carbohydrate Living and a host of other references confirms this. For those trying to control their weight and especially middle aged men with expanding waist lines, low carb nutrition has proved itself effective certainly in my health practice.
Low carb can absolutely work for many individuals. Also, very many people overeat them, especially the not so great quality carbs. But very active people definitely benefit from eating enough high quality carbs that provide their bodies with energy and help with recovery.
Isn’t low carb better for people with diabetes?
People with diabetes definitely have to watch their carb intake and follow their doctor’s instructions.