Carbs have been getting bad rap over the past decade. Various dietary religions have gone as far as to eliminate them completely because “protein and fat are essential for surviving, carbs aren’t”. Well no, you can survive without carbs just fine. The problem is, we’re not looking for survival are we? I don’t think anyone in the western world has really paid much attention to just surviving for the past few centuries.
So what are carbs essential for? Getting strong and building muscle. While cutting carbs is a great way to drop some fat, you need carbs to build muscle and get stronger.
You don’t need to eat tons of carbs, but I’d recommend that you get at the very least 100g a day. If you’re not getting a whole lot of carbs, make sure to split them up before and after your workout. If you’re getting a lot of carbs, I’d avoid big servings of carbs throughout the day, as it’ll often leave you sluggish. This is also the reason I don’t recommend having carb-heavy breakfasts. Last time I did that myself, I ended up having to take a nap before 9am. With carbs there’s a fine balance between getting energized and sluggish, so experiment a bit and try to find your sweet spot.
Personally the only time of day I’ll have more than ~100g carbs is at dinner (6pm). I’ve tried having 800g+ of pasta in one giant meal from around 9-10pm and I slept like shit that night. As mentioned above I’ve also had to take a nap within a couple of hours after waking up. For me carbs are a bit like alcohol like that – large amounts will make me fall right asleep, but I’ll sleep like shit. I don’t know the reason for this and I don’t really care about it to be honest as there’s no reason to eat such an insane amount at night (only reason I did it was because I was on a specific protocol in preparation for Copenhagen Marathon in 2010).
A few quick pointers on how to eat carbs:
- Eat complex carbs.
- Spread your carbs throughout the day, but get a little more after training.
- Protein is the cornerstone of any meal – always eat carbs with protein.
People practicing paleo often have a hard time getting carbs (which is one of the primary reasons I think paleo is silly). Getting just a minimal amount of carbs (~100g) will make a huge difference on recovery, muscle growth, strength gains and overall energy. I’ve done paleo myself and you will get used to the low carbs (if you’re doing a classic paleo). That doesn’t make it optimal. Make it a priority to get some carbs. Sweet potatoes, potatoes, quinoa, rice, oats and wholegrain bread are all good source of carbs. If you don’t eat any of the above (or some) because you’re doing paleo, I suggest you read this post (in danish).
So yea, carbs are good if you like to build strength and muscle and even while dieting, a small amount will let you hold on to your precious muscle better and boost your recovery. I really don’t see why you’d go super low carb at all.
Have a great weekend.