Tag Archives: carbohydrate
There’s so much discussion about carbohydrates and other components of a healthy diet (protein, fats, etc) that it can be tough to sort out what’s best. Even within carbohydrates we have a wide range of possible options, and there is a great deal of debate about which kinds are best and what proportions are best for your health and for weight loss.
If you're seeking to lose weight, chances are that you've considered a low-"something" or high-"something" diet. Three of the most common diets include low-fat, low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets. While all can be effective at losing weight, they may not always be the most sustainable approaches to weight loss.
Within this article, we are going to take a brief overview of all three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat. We will discuss how each of these nutrients can assist you in losing weight and how a healthy balance between these macronutrients can assist you long-term sustainable weight loss.
Macronutrients - Fats, Carbohydrates and Protein
All three macronutrients are essential for good health. The three macronutrients we are discussing here are proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
By definition, all three of these molecules are required in large mounts in your diet for the proper functioning of your body, as:
Macro refers to large (as in large amounts of consumption relative to other nutrients like vitamins and minerals)
Nutrients are a necessity in our diet, as it relates to the term nourish - for without nourishment one would be malnourished.
It is short-sighted to eliminate any one of these from your diet, as this could lead to some serious health complications and impact your weight loss results.
Protein and Weight Loss
Over the past decade in particular, protein has been associated as the "ideal" macronutrient to assist in weight loss. Protein certainly is important to assist in losing weight, as protein rich foods contain vital amino acids (the constituents of protein molecules) that are responsible for correct hormone production, energy levels, recovery, boosting the metabolism and muscle development - just to name a few functions.
Why is protein so spectacular at assisting with weight loss? Well, natural protein rich foods are generally quite filling (such as meats, fish, poultry and legumes), while being relatively low in calories (as protein only contains 4 calories per gram). The body also requires a lot of energy to convert protein molecules into fat, so the net calorie effect from consuming protein rich foods is relatively low.
Muscles are also very rich in amino acids, so in order to develop muscle tissue you do require a good quality source of protein intake. If you're seeking to lose fat tissue, it is quite beneficial to develop muscle tissue. This is because muscles are highly energy dependant, so a greater amount of muscle tissue will assist in burning additional calories throughout the day.
Keep in mind though, too much protein can lead to a calorie overload, so it is important to keep your protein intake in perspective.
Carbohydrate and Weight Loss
Carbohydrates (or colloquially "carbs") have been assigned a negative connotation ever since the Atkins diet (a low-carb diet) was released. Carbs have been associated with fat gain and it is a common belief that consuming carbohydrates will automatically serve to cause fat gain. This is simply not true.
Carbohydrates are just as dense in calories as protein - 4 calories per gram. So just as with proteins, too many of them can create a calorie overload and cause weight gain.
However it is not wise to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet, as, just like proteins, they serve to perform several vital functions within the human body. Carbohydrates are required to enhance energy levels, facilitate correct brain function, encourage recovery after exercise and speed up your metabolism. A deficiency in carbohydrate can cause anything from lowered energy levels, to causing medical condition called "ketosis", to death. Carbohydrates are necessary to survive and must be included in your diet.
The quality of carbohydrates is often measured via two mediums; their molecular complexity or their glycaemic index:
The molecular complexity considers how large the carbohydrate molecule is - complex carbs are much larger molecules than sugars, which are simple carbohydrates. It is generally recommended to consume complex carbohydrates.
The glycaemic index is a more reliable measure of the quality of a carbohydrate, measuring it's rate of absorption into the human body. The higher the GI, the faster the carbohydrate is absorbed. So aim for low GI foods, which will absorb slowly into your body. The exception is following an intense bout of exercise, when you should aim to consume high GI foods for enhanced recovery.
A side note on the relationship between molecular complexity and the glycaemic index. They are not related. Complex carbs can have a range of GI's, as can sugars. A complex carbohydrate is not necessarily more likely to be lower in GI than a sugar.
Fat and Weight Loss
In the 1990's, fat was crowned the macronutrient to avoid at all costs. There was (and still is) low-fat everything on supermarket shelves.
Fat is a critical nutrient, just as carbohydrates and proteins are. Fat is responsible for a number of mechanisms within the human body relating to energy levels, hormonal balance, cholesterol levels, metabolism, brain function, disease prevention and nutrient transport within the human body. A deficiency in fat can have some serious side effects, so it is important to include some good quality sources of fat into your diet.
Examples of good sources of fat are from foods such as fish, nuts, avocado, seeds and olive oil. Generally, you should be aiming to consume moderate amounts of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. As a general rule of thumb, aim to avoid trans and saturated fats.
So if fats are so important for your health, why are they so commonly restricted from diets? Simple - fat is quite dense in calories - 9 calories per gram. This is more than double that found in carbohydrates and proteins! So fat is required in much smaller amounts that protein and carbohydrate due to the energy density of a fat molecule. However, by no means should fat be eliminated from your diet altogether. This is because fat can not only assist in weight loss, it is also a necessity for your health and wellbeing.
It's very widely accepted that protein is a necessity when aiming to build muscle. After all, muscle is a highly abundant source of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), so it makes sense that in order to build substantial muscle mass, you require an above average intake of protein. Science too confirms this. Yet when it comes to your carbohydrate consumption, there is a lot of confusion on the topic. Do you need carbs to bulk up?
The answer is yes, you absolutely, unequivically require carbohydrates to build muscle. Reducing or even attempting to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet will impede muscle growth and most likely result in muscle loss. Carbohydrates are not only required to build (and maintain) muscle, they are required to facilitate proper brain function and maintain energy levels.
The question now becomes - if amino acids (which form proteins) are a primary constituent of muscle tissue, why are carbs necessary if they do not play a direct role in the structure of a muscle fibre? Let's consider why.
Protein synthesis is the act of creating proteins. When muscles are developing, protein synthesis is occurring by connecting amino acids together into proteins and thus into muscle cells. This is what causes muscle growth, or hypertrophy. In order for this to happen, muscle cells must be able to source amino acids from the blood stream. This is not possible without the presence of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Insulin acts as a blood glucose regulator. In order to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high and becoming dangerous, insulin is secreted to reduce blood glucose levels.
Now the question becomes, if hypertrophy requires amino acids, and amino acid uptake is only possible with the presence of insulin, how then do we increase insulin levels?
Upon ingesting carbohydrates, our body's attempt to break them down into glucose, a simple sugar. Too much glucose in the blood stream can lead to hyperglycemia, so insulin comes along to maintain a healthy blood glucose level.
Ultimately, eliminating any nutrient from your diet is a mistake. Proteins, carbs and fats are all required for optimal muscle development. Removing carbs is a big mistake for anyone seeking to gain muscle tissue.
Have you been fooled into thinking that carbohydrates are "evil"? That you should avoid these nutrients at any expense so you don't experience unwanted fat gain? Have low-carb diets taken over your life?
Well, think again. Carbohydrates are in fact a nutrient; something that is required for the normal functioning of the human body. By eliminating carbohydrates altogether from your dietary intake, you significantly increase the risks of problems such as:
- Initiation of ketosis, a potentially dangerous condition resulting in breakdown of bone, damage to organs, amongst other things
- Lack of energy
- Bad breath
- Loss of concentration
- Kidney stones
- Kidney infections
- Reduced kidney function
- Irritable bowel syndrome, severe abdominal pain or cramps
- Vertigo, dizziness or light-headedness
- Severe menstrual problems
I could continue, but I think you get the idea. Carbohydrates are in fact a requirement for a healthy body!
But how did carbs become associated with such a negative stigma of being the nutrient that makes everyone fat? Here's an extract from our free weight loss course:
Carbohydrates, commonly referred to as "carbs" have been assigned a very negative connotation over the past couple of decades. One could trace this back to the Atkins Diet which gained significant exposure in the early 1990's following it's revitalisation as a result of the Robert Atkins' (M.D.) best selling book, "Dr. Atkins". This diet is an extremely low carbohydrate diet. In actual fact, the Atkins Diet was developed in the 1960's - so it's nearly 50 years old! (And here I was saying that the food pyramid was outdated!)
Many people have lost a significant amount of weight as a result of a carbohydrate depleted diet. This then paved the way for many new "low-carb" diets and products to be marketed successfully, promising weight loss in a short period of time. But unfortunately the health, wellbeing and long-term sustainability of such low-carb diets are often not contemplated when the words "FAST WEIGHT LOSS" are flashed in front of consumers eyes. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, many low-carb dieters have experienced problems [such as those listed above].
Especially if you want to lose weight, build muscle or improve your fitness in a healthy and sustainable manner, it is imperative to balance your nutrition! I highly recommend that you sign up to our free weight loss course for more information!
Well over three years ago, I conducted a survey for the general public where one of the questions was "What is the most important nutrient when trying to build muscle?". The options were:
- A combination of the above
It may come as little surprise to know that the most common answer was protein. My hat goes off to the supplement companies who have marketed their protein products exceptionally well. No, I'm not being sarcastic, they have actually done a phenomenal job in convincing the "Average Joe" that protein is so superior to fats and carbohydrates that protein alone can do a better job at building muscle than a combination of all three!
But the objective and proven science paints a completely different picture. Upon reading the "actual" research, it becomes very obvious that protein in isolation is useless at building muscle. Carbohydrates and fats in isolation are also useless in building muscle. It is well established, with all other considerations being disregarded, that without doubt (among the scientific community at least) that a combination of carbohydrate, fat and protein is essential to even consider building muscle mass.
Let's return to the misconception that protein is the most important nutrient. Yes, it is an important nutrient, but it is equally important as fats and carbohydrates. Proteins are the main consituents of muscle cells when considering these three nutrients. So it comes as no surprise that is it easily assumed that protein is the most important because it is the most abundant. Not true at all. Proteins do not just get absorbed into the blood stream and into the muscle which therefore increases in size. There are many chemical reactions that happen in the process.
Carbohydrates have a major role in building muscle. Protein synthesis (or muscle building) cannot occur without the presence of insulin. Insulin is secreted in response to an increase in blood glucose. Guess how blood glucose typically rises? Through the ingestion of carbohydrate. Of course, carbs are vitally important for many other processes including energy production, assisting the breakdown of fatty acids, promoting good health etc.
Fats are responsible for a miriad of processes. One process that is particularly important for building muscle is hormone production. In particular testosterone, which is required for muscle sythesis, is significantly hindered by a super-low fat diet. Other important functions of fats include energy production, maintaining healthy cholesterol, nutrient transport and maintaining healthy skin.
Building muscle is like a jigsaw. You need all the pieces in their correct places in order to stimulate an optimal degree of muscle growth. The elimination of carbohydrate or fat from your diet will have highly undesirable effects.
If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, I highly recommend that you sign up to our free course which discusses nutrition in far more detail. The course is called Conquering Your Body.