We need carbohydrates to be at our healthiest. Yes, carbohydrates can cause fat gain, especially if an over abundance of the calorie dense variety are consumed too often. Eating too many calorie dense carbohydrates causes insulin spiking and when that happens, fat burning potential is greatly decreased and fat gain virtually imminent. From that it would seem that a low carbohydrate diet would make sense? It is actually true, you will lose body fat more quickly on a low carbohydrate diet than any type of diet. So why would I recommend as much carbohydrates as I do in my program? There are a couple of reasons for this. When carbohydrate intake gets too low, your muscles have no fuel (called glycogen). Your body then turns to it’s two alternate fuel sources, fat and protein. Once glycogen stores get too depleted, the body begins to breakdown proteins to use as fuel. Carbohydrates are protein sparing, so while we don’t want to prevent the burning of fat, we also don’t want to lose valuable muscle mass either or use all the protein we ingest for energy in lieu of muscle synthesis. We want the protein we intake to be used to repair and build muscle. We want the muscle we have to grow.
In the long run, the amount of lean body mass we have dictates how fast our metabolism is, 24 hours a day! We want lean, yet muscular bodies. We definitely don’t want to be a skinny, but soft and saggy person. So how do we do this? We want to eat carbohydrate foods in the right quantities, but focus on those that are nutrient dense and convert to glucose over an extended period of time so insulin doesn’t spike. That means the carbohydrates we eat must contain vitamins and minerals, have adequate fiber content and have the enzymes necessary to digest them. We also don’t want to eat them alone, but with some protein and a little fat, to further slow the insulin response.
Top Ten List of Clean Carbohydrates To Eat
10.) Brown rice: The key here is brown, with the fiber husks in place. Rice allergies are rare and it digests readily without too much distress, bloating or gas. It is best for fat loss to keep serving sizes under 1 cup cooked or ¼ cup dry weight.
9.) Steel cut whole oatmeal: Not the rolled oats you grew up eating, but maybe what your grandmother grew up eating. This is the whole oat with all valuable fiber and nutrients in tact. It takes a bit longer to cook, but the nutty flavor and slower insulin response are worth it. As with brown rice, keep serving sizes under 1 cup cooked or ¼ cup dry weight.
8.) Quinoa: Another high fiber, gluten-free cereal grain. Higher fiber and mineral content than the oats or rice for even better insulin control. If taste doesn’t suit you at first, mix 1:1 with oatmeal until you get used to it. Once you are, you’ll be hooked!
7.) Yams/sweet potatoes: These tubers are best prepared baked, in the skin. Not much more carbs than a regular russet of similar size, but more fiber, vitamins and minerals. I like them baked, then refrigerated cold and sprinkled with a little cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
6.) Winter squashes: Butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti or acorn squash are all very nutritious and now can be found in markets year round in most places. Cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and bake them skin side up over a ¼” of water. These are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals and a nice change of pace.
5.) Peas and Legumes: Most beans varieties and green peas fit this bill. Choose from black, pinto, navy, kidney, white, red, chickpeas, garbanzo, etc. beans or green peas, as all of these are high fiber and very filling. Protein content, along with the fiber, fills you up without filling you out by keeping insulin response low. For best results, soak and cook slowly. As a snack, try hummus!
4.) Colorful fibrous veggies: Red, yellow and orange bell peppers, green beans, beets, yellow summer squash, zucchini, purple eggplant, carrots, parsnips, red and green chili peppers… the colors mean carotenoids, and plenty of mixed carotenoids means more antioxidant coverage. A wide variety of colorful vegetables in your diet will improve your health and make your skin glow. There is almost no downside to the amount of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber (at low calories) they provide.
3.) Super fruits: Fruits are great foods, full of fiber and enzymes, and with their quick digestion yet slow insulin response makes them ideal for an instant energy boost. But not all fruits are created equal and most don’t even make this list, but a select few make it almost to the top. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, pomegranates, cranberries, and acai are amazing foods. You will feel the difference when you eat them versus other fruits. They are excellent when you’re sick, or when you workout hard, for that extra level of protection. High antioxidant, phytonutrients, enzymes, fiber and vitamins at moderate calories give you a lot of bang for the buck. They also have cleansing alkalizing effects on you internally, which along with all the antioxidants, provides an enormous immunity boost and keeps your digestive system functioning properly.
2.) Leafy green vegetables: Kale, sea kelp, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, chlorella, wheat grass, endive, alfalfa sprouts, spring green lettuces, spirulina, and spinach are so low-calorie, yet so nutrient dense, they rank very high on my preferred carbohydrate list. Include these several meals a week and they will cover almost any base you missed. They’ve got the minerals, phytonutrients, fiber and vitamins in high quantities. These also are alkalizing and cleansing, keeping your digestive system running at full capacity.
1.) Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, bok choy, napa cabbage, Chinese cabbage, green and purple cabbages are maybe not as high in micronutrients as the leafy green vegetables or super fruits, yet they contain DIM or Diindolymethane, a phytonutrient that acts as an estrogen disposal agent. Excess estrogen plagues almost anyone who is overweight or has practiced poor dietary habits for any amount of time. When you rid yourself of excess estrogen, you free up testosterone to do its job of building muscle at the expense of body fat. It is best to consume these incredible foods in large quantities. Try broccoli rabe or baby bok choy, sautéed in a little olive oil, with sea salt and garlic. Try mashed cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes, it’s terrific.
Now, I would suggest 80% or more of your total carbohydrate intake come from the above preferred foods list. That doesn’t mean you can’t have other complex carbohydrates like dairy products, bananas, white rice, pasta or whole grain bread ever again. It just means we will eat those foods more sparingly now. Simple sugars (other than whole fruit sources) should be used very rarely, if at all, except in one particular condition. That is your post-workout meal/drink. After you have been tearing up your muscles in the gym, they are primed for a quick and easy to digest meal, preferably a protein and simple carb drink, so your body can go from a catabolic state to an anabolic state and begin to synthesize lean tissue. That repair process will continue over the next 48-96 hours with healthy whole food meals, so this is the only time to do this. The rules for the drink are that it contain high quality whey or egg white protein, a simple sugar such as dextrose, glucose or sucrose (but not crystalline fructose or high fructose corn syrup), and virtually no fat or fiber. It is best if ingested anywhere from 0-30 minutes after your workout is complete. In essence, exactly the opposite of what we normally want in a meal. You can add creatine or L-glutamine if you like or fruit juice. These are not necessary additions, but may help in recovery.