A friend of mine asked me the other day: what exactly is a low-carb diet, why should someone follow one, and what are the impacts on exercise performance? Let’s jump right in to learn how carbs can benefit you!
A low-carb diet is defined as an intake of calories less than 45% of total calorie consumption. There is a wide range of what an individual may label low-carb for themselves. Most individuals who follow a low-carb way of eating do so as a weight reduction tool. Scientific evidence is mixed in terms of long-term weight loss efficacy with low-carb diets verses a low-fat diet and traditional calorie restriction. It seems there is no one universal macronutrient to focus on for weight loss, and the best option is to individualize eating habits to best suit your lifestyle. You may want to consider working with a registered dietitian to find a plan that works for you.
Carbohydrates offer some very healthy benefits, especially complex carbs. Complex carbs are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These foods include fiber, vitamins, minerals, fluid content and are generally processed by the body more slowly which keeps the individual happy and satisfied for two or more hours. Simple carbs can be found in foods such as white bread, sweetened beverages, candies, pastries, and some sweetened breakfast cereals and bars. Simple carbs are rapidly processed by the body and can leave the individual hungry again in as little as 30-60 minutes.
Carbs are especially important for the regular exerciser, and even more important for the training athlete. Carbs can better fuel moderate to intense movement, and when paired with protein, aid in muscle recovery and development of lean muscle mass. For more information on protein, check out my May 3rd, 2021, blog post.
If exercising for less than 60 minutes, it’s fine to do so on an empty stomach. Otherwise, try to eat a meal or substantive snack at least 2-4 hours prior to exercise that includes protein and complex carbs. A meal may look like two slices of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana. For post-exercise recovery, also balance complex carbs with protein, ideally within a 2-hour window of exercise completion. A snack may look like a single serving of whole wheat crackers (about 10), with 1-2 pieces of string cheese.
The everyday gym goer needs about 3-5 grams of carbs/kg of body weight daily and the more intense athlete needs closer to 6-10 grams of carb/kg of body weight daily. For a 150 lb. person, this is around a 200-gram carb intake daily for the casual exerciser, and closer to a 400-gram carb intake daily for the training athlete.
For more help coming up with a customized carb intake plan, reach out to [email protected] and get in touch with a registered dietitian today.