The true function of a carbohydrate

I’ve tried every diet in the book – South Beach, Paleo, Grapefruit, some weird cleanse where all you drink is cayenne pepper water. I tried Atkins a few times in high school and I never lasted more than 3 days. It was such a restrictive diet; I couldn’t even eat a piece of fruit! I remember thinking how backwards it all seemed to me…and then I’d throw up my hands and binge-eat donut holes.

More recently, when I first started eating paleo, I was consuming WAY too much red meat and ended up in the hospital with kidney stones. Trust me when I say that nothing is worth that amount of pain. So back to the drawing board I went.

When we restrict ourselves of a certain macronutrient (carb, protein or fat), we throw our bodies and its functions off balance. It can cause an array of problems, including illness, injury, weight gain and more. The macronutrient I see restricted the most in my clients’ diets is carbohydrates.

Carbs have a really bad rap – people think they make you fat. That’s simply not true. Sure, overeating carbs can lead to weight gain, but that can be said for overeating ANY macronutrient. Few people know the true function of a carbohydrate on the body; they are the main source of energy in our cells and muscles, either used immediately or stored for later use. Think of carbs like gas is fuel to the car.

So, carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in our muscles and glycogen is imperative for physical exercise – the more you have stored, the more stamina you have for a workout, for example. The less glycogen stores you have, the less intensity you can bring to physical activity.

What this also puts you at risk for is going into a state of ketosis. You oftentimes see this with people eating high protein, low carb diets. When your body goes into a state of ketosis, it begins to utilize (or eat away, essentially) your lean muscle for energy.

Carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet, including for weight loss. People get excited because when they stop eating carbohydrates, they drop weight quickly. However, it is not fat they’ve lost – it’s water weight from the body breaking down stored carbs. The problem is, again, this leaves you with an imbalance of physiological nutrition. Once you start eating carbohydrates again, your body replenishes the carb stores and you gain the weight back.

Not all carbs are created equal, however. Steer clear of simple carbohydrates, including white flour, simple sugar and processed foods. Complex carbohydrates don’t necessarily need to be whole wheat or grains, either! Think: fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy. So, carbohydrates are not the enemy…it’s the KIND of carbs you are eating and maintaining a proper balance of macronutrients in your diet.

If you need help with figuring out the best way to include carbohydrates in your diet for muscle building or weight loss, speak with a registered dietitian or qualified nutritionist for assistance.