A common action for people to take when trying to lose weight or body fat is to cut out carbohydrates from their diet. They are often seen as the enemy of physical progress and the reason behind weight gain. This is why strategies such as adopting a ketogenic diet are popular – eliminating carbs means that you are well on your way to losing weight, dropping body fat, and having a much slimmer, healthier physique, right?
This is far from reality. If you want to lose weight or burn body fat, the bottom line is that you have to be in a consistent calorie deficit for a significant period of time – this means that you are burning more calories than you are consuming on a daily basis. So, in general, it does not matter how many carbs you are eating, providing that you are hitting your calorie target. You could have very few or even zero carbs in your diet but if your calories are too high, you are not going to progress and could even put on more weight and body fat.
Aside from that fundamental point, there are several other reasons why carbohydrates should be included in your diet, regardless of your fitness goal. They may be seen as a ‘non-essential’ macronutrient but their importance is often underestimated and they can actually benefit you in several ways.
Increase Energy Levels
One of the key reasons why carbohydrates are beneficial is that it is a primary energy source for your body. During a weight loss or fat loss phase, your resistance training, a form of sustainable cardio (e.g. walking), and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) (calories burned outside of exercise e.g. cooking, gardening, making your bed) are all going to be key to making sure that you stay in a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you are consuming) consistently. To do this, energy sources are essential and carbohydrates, along with fats (which serve as a back-up) provide that.
Carbohydrates also replenish the glycogen stores within your body, which is important for adding muscle and toning up. Having this energy source means that your performance, especially during your resistance training, will be enhanced and therefore your overall strength and progress will gradually improve over time. This is often far more beneficial and sustainable than a diet without carbohydrates, where you are likely to struggle with your workouts due to low energy as a result of depleted glycogen stores in your body. Make sure you opt for carbohydrates that release energy at a slower rate so that your energy and blood sugar levels are more consistent throughout the day. Great sources of slow-releasing carbohydrates include, oatmeal, white rice, brown rice, wholegrain bread, pasta, sweet potato and bananas.
Make your diet sustainable
Many people believe that just working out is going to get you in shape, yet it is the consistent combination of exercise and diet is the actual key. Training regularly is all well and good but if your diet is not supporting that, you are not going to progress and get to where you want to be.
One of the primary reasons why diets fail is because they are not sustainable or enjoyable. If you are not looking forward to what you are going to eat, you are more than likely going to give up pretty soon. This can often be caused by reducing carbohydrates from your diet, which can lead to meals being less enjoyable to eat and can reduce fullness and satiety.
However, if you include carbohydrates in your diet, you will feel fuller and more satisfied, which will then limit the temptation to eat junk food thereafter. Therefore, with carbohydrates included, your diet will become more enjoyable, which means that you are far more likely to stick to it consistently over a significant period of time.
The most important point to remember is sticking to your calorie and protein intake, so having balanced meals that include protein, carbohydrates, some fats, and plenty of vegetables will improve your adherence and palatability, which is vital to progression.
Many people underestimate the importance of sleep when it comes to weight loss or fat loss. A high-quality night’s sleep of 7-9 hours gives your body much needed rest and recovery from your daily exercise and tasks, which is also crucial to progression. Carbohydrates can improve sleep duration and quality because it leads to the release of insulin, which can boost the production of serotonin. Based upon light exposure to the eyes, serotonin is then converted to melatonin by the pineal gland. You will also feel more satisfied in your stomach and less hungry, which can keep your mind and body at rest.
As a result, you will be ready to sleep when bedtime arrives, which will lead to a much higher chance of that night’s sleep being the desired duration and quality.
As well as helping you to lose weight or body fat, healthy carbohydrates have plenty of other benefits to your body. The combination of resistant starch and fibre can improve digestive health, along with keeping your blood cholesterol levels in check by playing a role in lowering ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Carbohydrates can also help you maintain a sharper memory and improve or maintain a healthy mood and lifestyle. Finally, certain carbohydrate sources, such as oatmeal, contain vital antioxidants, which play a huge role in fighting off free radicals in the body that can lead to harmful diseases.
So, in summary, carbohydrates are not bad for you. They are necessary to provide energy for your day, sustainability for your diet, and improve or maintain other important areas, such as sleep and overall health. The way to lose weight or body fat is through being in a consistent calorie deficit for a significant period of time, regardless of whether you have carbs or not. This is the most important point.
But if you want to be consistent during your weight loss or fat loss journey, including carbohydrates in your diet is going to improve your chances of sticking to your diet and therefore making great progress over time.
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