Do you need more carbs in your diet or less?
Carbohydrates are an important nutrient to think about if you’re feeling stuck. They have an important role to play in energy, weight loss, and even digestive health. Here are three times you might want to experiment with MORE carbs (gasp!).
1. You’ve been dieting for years, eating a lower calorie diet and not seeing results.
Chronic under-eating with or without over-exercising can lead to metabolic changes that cause you to burn fewer and fewer calories, interrupt normal muscle gain/building, reduce immune function and shift body composition towards more fat and less muscle. This is called Relative Energy Deficiency (RED- S in the context of sport/over exercising).The fix:
You’re not stuck with that metabolism but it does take a dedicated 2-6 months to repair. It is 100% worth it to be able to eat more food and see better results down the road!
- Add carbs back to your diet – ¼ of your plate if you’re low to moderate activity, 1/3 of your plate if your moderate to higher activity (5-6 days of higher intensity exercise for 45 min or more)
- Focus on nutrient rich whole food carbs more often. Whole grains like wild rice, quinoa and corn, starchy veggies like potatoes or carrots, and fruits. This adds more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for repair and energy.
2. You’re pregnant, breastfeeding or up to 6-12 months after birth
Pregnancy is a lot of work! Your body goes through massive changes both in building new tissue and blood (blood volume doubles, that’s a lot of cells), nurturing a tiny human from a single cell to ready to thrive infant, and hormonal changes that put stress on your own nutrient stores, thyroid, and nervous system. During this time I find that carbohydrate restriction typically results in super low energy and keeping you stuck, even if it worked for you before pregnancy. The 6-12 months after giving birth requires a lot of repair and recalibration.The Fix:
Same as above! Keep a healthy carb on most plates, with a focus on whole foods for those especially important repair micronutrients. Given you are short on time and sleep in this period, prepping a big tray of roasted sweet potatoes for the week, or making extra rice/quinoa/grains and freezing them (whole grains freeze so well!) for future weeks will save you some effort.
3. You’re super active!
- If you do endurance training (60 + minutes of continuous running, cycling etc) 3-6 days a week
- If you do high intensity training (45 + min) of metabolic/met con/HIIT style workouts 4+ days per week
- If you are exercising at a higher intensity (more than walking, heart rate up) with any of the above for 4-6 hours or more each week.
High intensity exercise is by nature glycogen dependent (the stored carbohydrate in our muscle), and endurance activity will use some fat for energy but at longer distances also require that glycogen. Pushing through long or high intensity workouts on a very low carb diet will likely end up stalling your training over time, and may contribute to the metabolic issues from RED-S that we talked about in point #1 above.
On training days (for afternoon/evening training) or the night before (for early am workouts) make sure at least ¼ of your plate is a healthy carb so we can stack up muscle glycogen.
Finding the right amount of carbs for your age, activity, genetics, and unique history with food is so important to long term success! If I’ve learned anything with a decade in nutrition, it’s that there is no one “right” diet or answer for everyone. Personalized nutrition is the key to feeling absolutely great in your body.
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