With the advent of the Atkin’s Diet in the early 1970’s most of us grew up in a time where carbohydrates were villainized and portrayed as something you need to avoid at all costs in order to lose weight or not be fat. Over the years there have been numerous diets that revolve around this flawed thinking and somewhere along the way we lost sight of why we truly need carbs. Think, Whole 30, Paleo, and Keto diets. There are many reasons to eat carbohydrates but I am going to focus on the 4 reasons that they are a necessary part of your diet.
The brain needs glucose to function properly. Since the body most easily creates glucose as it metabolizes carbohydrates, it stands to reason that without an adequate amount of carbohydrates in your diet you may experience brain fog and lower cognitive function. In a 2008 study done by Tufts University this hypotheses was tested and showed that the women in the study needed carbohydrates to think more clearly.
While the brain uses glucose as its primary fuel, it has no way of storing it. Rather, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is carried to the brain through the blood stream and used immediately by nerve cells for energy. Reduced carbohydrate intake should thus reduce the brain’s source of energy. Therefore, researchers hypothesized that diets low in carbohydrates would affect cognitive skills. The data suggest that after a week of severe carbohydrate restriction, memory performance, particularly on difficult tasks, is impaired.
“Although this study only tracked dieting participants for three weeks, the data suggest that diets can affect more than just weight,” says Taylor. “The brain needs glucose for energy and diets low in carbohydrates can be detrimental to learning, memory, and thinking.
In essence, if you deprive yourself of carbohydrates you are also depriving your brain of its main energy source and diminishing your ability to take in information and hindering memory and thinking abilities.
Carbs are our main source of ENERGY
I have said this before and I will say it again. You do not walk around with an uncharged cell phone, so why would you try to exercise or exist without our body’s main source of energy. Glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, is the very first option that our body goes to when we exercise. When we are doing high intensity interval training workouts like CrossFit, Orangetheory, or heavy weightlifting carbohydrates delay fatigue and allow us to compete at higher levels for longer periods of time.
Without an adequate amount of stored glucose the body will turn to muscle protein for energy which does not allow protein to do its main job of building and repairing muscles. High levels of training day in and day out without optimal carbohydrate consumption will cause fatigue and will not allow you to maintain and build new muscles.
Recovery and Sleep
Along the same lines, we also need carbohydrates to recover from intense physical activity. Just like we fill up our gas tanks when they are empty, we need to replenish our glycogen stores after we train hard. Most of us will naturally reach for a protein shake after a workout, and this is also necessary, but carbohydrates are also something we need in order to get the most out of our training post workout. My blog on pre and post workout recovery explains just how to fuel and re-fuel before and after your workouts.
In addition, carbohydrates have been shown to help with sleep. According to a study done in Australia, carbohydrates can help you fall asleep faster. It was found that high glycemic carbohydrates such as potatoes, cereals, rice, and fruits eaten 4 hours before bed can boost tryptophan and serotonin, two brain chemicals involved in sleep. Carbs before bed? Yes please!
Carbs are delicious as f*@k!
This goes back to my anti-diet agenda. Carbohydrates are a delicious and nutritious food group that has been villainized for long enough. They taste amazing and they make you happy. If you want potatoes, eat them. If you want rice, eat it. What is sushi without rice for god’s sake? If you want a fun treat like a piece of candy or some cookies, eat them. Deprivation leads to scarcity mindset which leads to bingeing which has long term effects both physically and mentally. Life is too short to skip the carbs or skip the dessert. Just eat it!
Fruits and vegetables are the most micronutrient rich sources of carbs but things like rice, potatoes, pasta, oat, breads, cereals, quinoa, beans, and legumes are tasty and a filling addition to any meal. Get creative and don’t fear the carbohydrate! Happy eating!