Anyone with even a passing interest in being a bit less wobbly knows carbs are the enemy. Your mates know, your colleagues know (some are probably on low-carb diets right now, preaching about feeling refreshed and less bloated while secretly fantasising about pasta), your mum’s even heard it from her mate.
No one is 100 per cent sure why, but we all know it definitely has something to do with blood sugar, and that everyone from Joe ‘The Body Coach/Cheeky Fitness Chappy’ Wicks to Amy Schumer feels bad eating bread nowadays. But they shouldn’t have to, and neither should you.
Carbs (Huh). What Are They Good For?
As the body’s primary source of energy, carbohydrates are a vital part of the whole staying alive thing we’re trying to do.
“It’s possible to use fat for fuel, but it’s unsustainable for all but the most disciplined,” says Max Bridger, professional six-pack sculptor and co-founder of LDN Muscle. “Cutting carbs will likely make you feel drained, hungry, irritable, and make exercise feel even harder than normal.”
Besides, admit it, denying yourself the pleasures of all that stodgy deliciousness will inevitably lead to you inhaling a large chips next time your resolve slips. Besides, vegetables and other food stuffs necessary for a balanced diet contain carbs, so the idea that they’re all evil incarnate is total nonsense.
The Bad Guys
Sugar is the real enemy. It’s what makes us fat, and it’s what gives carbs such a bad rap. Refined carbs such as white bread, pasta and rice have all been processed in some way, and all have high sugar contents and GI scores (the speed at which its energy is released into your bloodstream – the lower, the better) so should be avoided by anyone serious about slimming down.
Bridger is more lenient: “Banning a food simply means you’re likely to end up binging on it. The healthiest approach is to generally make up about 40 per cent of your day’s calories from unrefined carb sources such as oats, quinoa, wholemeal breads, rice and pasta, sweet potatoes and fruit, but to also allow yourself an occasional treat to ease cravings.”
This is a far healthier relationship to have with food than hating your diet for most of the week, before going to town on the fridge one night, hating yourself, and then making your diet even stricter to compensate.
Timing is Nothing
When it comes to timing carb intake, you might have heard people talking about anabolic windows, inverted energy pyramids, or even back-loading. Not trying to be a champion bodybuilder or fitness model? Don’t worry about any of that. As long as you aren’t eating more calories than you’re burning, you’ll lose fat – when you eat them doesn’t really matter.
“Eating carbs in your last meal is even totally fine and may actually help you sleep better as they release hormones that aid sleep, and no – eating carbs after a certain hour in the evening will not result in fat gain unless you are in a caloric surplus for the entire day,” says Bridger.
In short, don’t tar all carbs with the same brush. Keep yours unrefined and you’ll be fine. Plus, if you do fancy some posh Swiss chocolate or even a Gregg’s sausage roll, don’t beat yourself up over it. Keep to a rough 70/30 rule of good diet to bad and you’ll still be able to fit in all your suits without having to treat toast like the spawn of Satan.
While carbs might not be what’s sabotaging your fitness goals (that’s these), if you’re not striking the right balance it might be time to crank up the willpower, or even turn to something a little more extreme.