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Carbs Are NOT Evil
Breaking Down The MOST Misunderstood Macronutrient
In recent years the mainstream dietary world has seemingly waged a “War on Carbs”. Their arguments are not completely off-base—insulin resistance is a leading cause of chronic health issues.
The main issue here is people have translated this to the fact that carbs are bad for healthy individuals.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is glucose is the preferred fuel for a ton of bodily functions—our brains run on glucose.
This will be a multi-tiered Substack:
How Our Body Uses Carbs
Benefits Of Carbs
Myths About Carbs
When To Eat Your Carbs
Best Carb Sources
Who Should Avoid Carbs
How Our Bodies Use Carbs
Carbs are simply a macronutrient group—a carb is literally in layman’s terms, sugar. Your body breaks carbohydrates (I’m calling them carbs for now on, too much typy) into glucose, aka blood sugar.
All carbs, through digestion, are broken down into glucose, this is why “sugar” is not as “evil” as people think, as it’s the most basic form of carbs. We obviously don’t want to eat pure sugar—especially refined sugar—but at the end of the day it all becomes “sugar”
Our body then uses this glucose to perform most of the energy functions of the body. Things like fuel for your brain, muscles, central nervous system, etc. They also keep your body from using protein as fuel (more on this later).
There are 3 main types of carbs:
Sugar - or simple carbohydrates—these can range from fruits all the way to candy. It’s simply the most basic unit of a carb.
Starch - or complex carbs—these are things like rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, etc. What makes them complex is the sugar molecules are strung together in longer, more complex chains (then it’s broken down into simple sugar, glucose).
Fiber - Fiber actually cannot be broken down into sugar (slightly contradicting myself from above)—it is instead passed through the body undigested.
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into simple sugars, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. As the sugar level rises in your body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where the sugar can be used as a source of energy.
Benefits Of Carbohydrates
It’s important not only that we point out that carbs aren’t “evil” and they actually have immense benefits, especially in regards to muscle growth (and that’s why most of you are here).
One positive of carbs are quite literally the fact they are your body’s preferred energy source. These aren’t the “benefits” though, so to speak. This is just basic biology.
One of the main benefits that is linked to this, however, is that carbs are your muscles’ preferred fuel source. Because of this, if we are to limit carbs, we are limiting our body’s growth potential, substantially.
A major aspect of this is insulin, and as we know from this post:
Insulin is highly anabolic in itself, and when our insulin is spiked—from a meal containing carbohydrates—this shuttles the glucose and other nutrients in our blood directly to muscle cells.
Your body then stores these carbs as glycogen, which is just a fancy word for “stored carbs”. When muscles have low glycogen, we are actually at risk to reduce performance in the gym and negatively affecting muscle growth, or even losing muscle if we are in a caloric deficit.
Carbs are actually protein sparing, meaning we can actually eat less protein if we are eating more carbs. This is in part due to the fact that carbs help reduce the amount of muscle protein breakdown, which then helps turn us in favor for muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Some carbs also have the benefit of being high in phytonutrients—these are natural compounds found in fruits and vegetables and have a plethora of health benefits. “Phyto” literally means plant, so these are nutrients we are typically only going to find in fruits and vegetables.
Phytonutrients are large sources of antioxidants and other nutrients that can greatly improve our health. To skimp out on fruits and vegetables is to skimp out on these greatly beneficial nutrients.
There are many other benefits we can go into, but these are the major players— especially when we are talking about our fitness goals.
Myths About Carbs
The biggest myth about carbs is that by spiking our insulin, we stop fat loss. This is not true—though it is true that insulin, when in the bloodstream, does inhibit fat loss.
The main flaw with this argument is that once insulin goes in and does its job (shuttling glucose to the cells), we can go right back to burning fat (permitted we are in a caloric deficit).
So eating carbs for one meal is NOT going to shut our fat loss down for the entire day, this notion is silly and is “cherry picked” frequently in arguments for diets opting for keto or lower carb.
Another myth with carbs is that all sugar is bad. While we do want to avoid processed sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined sugar, this does not mean all sugar is bad.
Things like fruit containing sugar, is absolutely fine as *remember* what we went over earlier, all carbs get broken down into simple sugars anyway. Fruit—especially berries—is very healthy and nutrient-dense. We do not want to avoid them in our diet.
Another myth, linked to the top myth, is that we need to eat low carb to lose fat. We absolutely do not *necessarily* need to lower carbs. To lose fat, we simply need to be in a caloric deficit—we need to eat less calories than we burn.
We can manipulate either fats or carbs lower (we always want to keep protein high at 1g per pound of body weight) to create a caloric deficit. Keeping our carb intake higher, for the reasons listed in the benefits section, can actually help maintain (and even grow muscle) while we are dieting and in a caloric deficit.
When To Eat Carbs
In a previous post I went over the best time to eat carbs:
The TLDR here is that we want most of our carbs around our workout window—around 50-60% of our carbs of the day during this time to boost performance and recovery/muscle growth for our training sessions. The rest of your carbs spread out evenly throughout the day, or see my suggestions in this post (it’s a free post).
Some people do better on lower carb for work and cognitive performance—for those people I would still eat the bulk of my carbs around the workout window then avoid them during work hours.
Best Carb Sources
Carbohydrates have a vast difference among sources in terms of satiety, micro nutrient count, and glycemic index (the insulin response to certain carbs, sugar being 100, so the lower the less insulin response).
You will always want to eat nutrient-dense food. While the pathway for all carbs to be converted into glucose is relatively the same, eating nutrient-dense, satiating carbs will always be superior to eating low nutrient-dense, low satiating carbs (I.e candy, sugary drinks which are the absolute worst, etc.).
Some people do not do well with certain carbs, we can test our sensitivities of certain foods by removing them and reintroducing and seeing how our bodies react. This is important as our gut health is vital to our total health.
My personal favorite carb sources are:
Dave’s Killer Bread
Generally speaking, most people can digest white rice very well and it causes no issues. For this reason it is a staple carb source for a lot of meals.
Who Should Avoid Carbs
Some people just absolutely do not do well with carbs. Some of us are unfortunately predisposed to illnesses like type 1 diabetes or other metabolic diseases—for you, managing carbohydrates is going to be very important.
For those with reversible diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, by eliminating carbs, we can actually completely reverse the illness.
If you are sedentary (none of you reading this should be), then you have no need for a lot of carbs as your muscles aren’t working and your activity levels are low.
If you are someone with higher insulin resistance, you should reduce the amount of carbs you eat to try to resolve this issue.
Bottom line, anyone who is healthy and reading this should be fine with carbs, especially if you are very active. Anyone with a medical issue should consult a doctor anyway—not a cartoon Ox.
I hope we have destroyed the concept that carbs are bad. Like anything, they can be abused, but we can do the same things with fats if we ate over our daily caloric expenditure.
Most people’s problems with carbs are not the carbs themselves, it’s excess calorie consumption in general.
You don’t necessarily need carbs—some people enjoy and do well with low carb diets. Ultimately, the diet you can adhere to, you enjoy, and promotes good health and body composition will be the best diet.
The fact is, if muscle growth is your goal, then we need some carbs in our diet, and if you are healthy, you can eat as many as you want as long as you’re within your caloric goals.
At the end of the day, food is just a tool for our health and our physique goals, and carbs are not the enemy and can have immense benefits in our diet.
So have that sushi after a workout and eat the fruit, it’s good for you.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.