Carbs… Friend or foe?
By Luke Buttery
We all love a good carb, some of my favorite foods are laden with this most lambasted of food groups. Pizza, pasta, ice cream, chocolate fudge brownies, the list goes on and on and on and… You get the idea. But after indulging in some of my favorite treats do I feel guilty? Do I punish myself by spending 5 hours on the elliptical? Hells no!!! So, have I finally lost the plot and given into the dark side? Are carbs acceptable or should we run for our lives at the mere sight of a Twinkie? The answer, I’m afraid, lies somewhere in the middle.
You see carbs release the hormone insulin. Insulin is an anabolic hormone; meaning it wants to make things grow, this includes muscle but also, unfortunately, fat. Insulin does not discriminate and when high will trigger growth. That is why guys trying to “bulk’ up by eating copious amounts of carbs end up putting on muscle but also end up with a fair amount of fat to boot. In addition to being greatly anabolic, insulin is also anti-catabolic and prevents the breakdown of muscle and fat. What this means is that when insulin is high muscle breakdown is prevented (sweet!) but so is fat burning (noooo!!). And when insulin is low fat burning goes through the roof (yay) but building muscle proves tricky (booo). Annoying I know, but never fear, for there is a way to harness the power of insulin to burn fat and build muscle simultaneously. The secret my friend, well it’s not much of a secret, is resistance training… da dah!
Resistance training literally changes everything, after an intense training session your muscles are primed to soak up sugar even before insulin is present. So when you do ingest carbs the insulin response is reduced and your muscles rob your fat cells of both the insulin spike and the sugar they require for fat storage. There is a catch, this only occurs in the 1 to 2 hour window after training, the rest of the time your fat cells will soak up those carbs and you can say hello to those love handles.
What all this means in the real world is that you can have your cake and eat it… but only after lifting lots of heavy stuff around the gym. This means lifting a challenging weight for anything between 1 and 15 reps, obviously with an appropriate load, good technique, blah blah blah. The rest of the time, to prevent fat storage and to increase fat burning, keep carbs low, all your carbs should come from vegetables, save the pasta and bread until after your workout.
To conclude, if you’re not resistance training or the intensity is not quite high enough (if you’re unsure then it probably isn’t) then you should probably avoid carbs as much as possible. On the other hand, if you’re pushing yourself in the gym (sorry, cardio doesn’t count as it doesn’t elicit the same response in the muscles) then utilize the post workout window to aid your recovery, prevent muscle breakdown, burn fat and build muscle…It’s a win win situation! So if you haven’t touched a carb since Dr Atkins hit the scene back in ‘72 maybe its time to let your prejudices go and indulge a little. However, if you haven’t lifted anything heavier than a chocolate chip muffin in a long time then maybe you should rethink your carb and sugar consumption.
Have a great day!
If you have any questions or comments feel free to ask me on the gym’s facebook page or send me a private message to email@example.com