Dear readers. Despite receiving offers from dozens of aspiring writers each week, I rarely accept guest posts. When I do they are always fellow fitness professionals, to ensure that you guys continue to get well-researched, factual information from somebody who knows their stuff.
That’s why I’m thrilled that the author of this week’s post reached out to me and asked if he could share his knowledge about carbohydrates and weight loss with us. What’s more, he’s a specialist in women’s health and fitness AND has much experience (both personally and professionally 😉 ) with helping perimenopausal women figure out their weight loss issues. Please welcome Howard Standring!
Good old carbohydrates get a real bad deal these days.
In every magazine or new diet book, we hear – ditch the carbs and eat the fats and all your weight loss prayers will be answered.
But is this necessary to lose weight? Are we all doomed to be eating low carb for the rest of our days?
Certainly, a carbohydrate-restricted diet can result in a loss of body fat.
However, as effective as lower carb diets are for losing weights there is a payback.
We miss eating them because they taste good.
Our moods may suffer – Eating carbs can lift up your mood because they help produce the feel good chemical serotonin.
Stress levels can increase – Limiting carbs for long periods may elevate the stress hormone cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to inflammation, reduced muscle mass and hunger cravings.
Less energy – if you are active then low carb dieting can diminish energy levels and affect your workouts and motivation levels.
Therefore, I believe that maintaining a certain level of carbs in your diet is important for our overall well-being and if you manage them right you can still get the fat loss results you want.
Carbohydrates and Insulin
As you probably know when you eat a meal, your blood sugar levels increase in relation to the type of foods you have just consumed.
In response, insulin releases from the pancreas to remove the blood sugar (glucose) and use it immediately for energy to function or store it in your muscles or fat cells for later use.
Insulin also tells the body to stop burning fat and use the new energy source that is readily available.
So large spikes of insulin on a regular basis is not ideal when trying to lose body fat, because not only is your ability to burn fat decreased but there is a greater potential for fat storage from the excess glucose in your blood stream.
This is why carbohydrates get such a hard time, because they are responsible for increasing blood sugars the most when eaten therefore increasing the release of insulin. The more insulin you release over time the more chance you have of becoming resistant to it. The more insulin resistant you become, the harder it becomes to manage body fat levels.
Insulin resistance is a whole other topic and out of the scope of this article but it´s a problem we need to address.
Insulin resistance occurs when the regular cells in the body stop responding to insulin and won´t allow glucose to be absorbed into the cells. This forces the body to produce even more insulin and we have a viscous cycle of high insulin and high blood sugar that if left untreated can lead to diabetes.
Along with diet there a whole host of factors that can contribute to insulin resistance such as genetics, obesity, reduced muscle mass through lack of exercise or natural aging and for women the onset and beginning of menopause.
Approaching and going through menopause causes an imbalance of hormones and one result of this is less tolerance to carbohydrates. Many women complain about weight gain especially around the abdomen during this time and this resistance to carbohydrates is often the culprit.
The good news is controlling your carbohydrate intake can significantly help you overcome this issue.
How Many Carbs You Need To Eat
If you think that insulin resistance is a problem for you, then the first thing is to be tested. You can do this with your doctor or purchase a glucose testing kit.
You perform the test in a fasted state and an ideal reading is between 70-90mg/dl. If you are over 90 then you need work on improving your insulin sensitivity.
With regard to how many carbs to eat for improving insulin sensitivity and losing body fat I have put together a set of guidelines you can use.
These are by no means set in stone or backed up by some scientific research. These are just recommendations I make based on years of working with female clients.
Everybody is different with unique circumstances so I would recommend using this as a starting point then make adjustments based on result.
When talking about carbohydrates we often focus on the refined and starchy carbs such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, biscuits, cereals etc.
However, carbohydrates come in many different forms and they all count to your daily totals so it´s important to be aware of them.
Vegetables – most vegetables are low carb in nature and do not need to be restricted. The only vegetables to moderate are those classed as root vegetables and peas.
Fruit – Fruit is a carbohydrate that many people consumed without any real control because it is healthy and pretty low in calories. But because of its sugar content (fructose) restrict the fruits you eat to the low-carb variety until insulin sensitivity has improved.
Starch based vegetables and grains are high in carbs so track them carefully and maybe avoid altogether.
All processed, packaged carbs , like breads, cakes, biscuits, crackers are be severely restricted or avoided completely when trying to improve insulin sensitivity and lose weight. Save them for an occasional treat if you need one.
Liquid Carbohydrates – Avoid all liquid carbohydrates such as soda´s fruit juice and energy drinks.
Ok, here are my guidelines for how to eat carbs and still lose weight based on your situation now.
Scenario A – You are doing little or no exercise and need to lose quite a bit of weight.
If you are just starting out with a lot of weight to lose then insulin resistance is probably high. At this stage, severely restrict carbs to allow insulin sensitivity to improve.
Aim for 50 g per day. The bulk of your carbs will come from vegetable sources. Restrict fruit and only eat those with a low GI rating such as berries. All other carbs are to be avoided or eaten in a cheat meal once a week.
Going this low is tough especially if your diet now is high in carbs. My advice is eliminate all the refined and processed carbs from your diet. Once you have achieved this focus on reducing daily totals until you hit 50 gram per day.
Scenario B – You are exercising regularly but still overweight.
At this stage insulin sensitivity is improved but carb intake should remain low. Increase carb intake to between 50 g-100 g per day. You want to find the point where you are losing fat consistently and have good energy levels.
Carbs to include:
- All the leafy greens and low carb vegetables you want
- Low-carb fruit within reason
- Introduce a serving or two of starch-based carbs such as sweet potatoes or wild rice.
If you are, eating this amount of carbs and exercising but not losing much weight then reconsider your fitness program. A program based around weight training and some higher intensity cardio will not only accelerate your results but also greatly improve your insulin sensitivity. It also means you can introduce more carbs into your diet.
Scenario C – You are active and pretty lean – (between 24-18% body fat)
If you very active and following a fitness program that includes resistance training and some high intensity work then you should be eating more carbs. At this stage you should find it easy to maintain your weight on between 100-150 g per day. In fact depending on your how insulin sensitive you have become and other factors such as your size, muscle mass and training regime you can still be losing body fat if that is your goal.
Carbs to include:
- All the vegetables you want. All the low-carb fruit you want plus 1-2 pieces of high carb fruits
- Starchy foods but measured out
- Refined carbs as an occasional treat or in a cheat meal.
- Going low carb is effective for losing weight and improving insulin sensitivity and depending on your situation is the best choice for you to take.
- However, if your goal is to build muscle, strength and fitness levels then you can and should be eating more carbs in your diet.
- Remember when cutting carbs you need to increase protein and fats to compensate for the reduction in calories, keep you satisfied and maintain lean muscle mass.
Howard Standring is Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach with over 10 years professional experience.
He runs the female fitness site ThinkFitNotThin, aimed at helping and encouraging women
over 35 to get strong, fit and healthy.