The 4 Letter C-word: Carb

Few things in this world are as polarizing as the use of carbohydrates – why? Because they are complex (pun intended).


Its been said that carbohydrate consumption can help build muscle mass and can help expedite fat loss but use them wrong and they will prevent muscle mass development and expedite fat accumulation – Leading to the idea that the key to carbohydrates is when to use, how to use, and which sources to use – confusing right?


It doesn’t have to be, in the next 5 minutes, I am going to give you a quick course on carbohydrate consumption so you can take control of your carbohydrate consumption and stop all the “bro-science” insanity.

Over the years I have heard compelling arguments for cutting carbohydrate consumption if you want to be lean – Well this is generally true at least for a few weeks, but cutting carbs is like cardio – doing it will give you results for a few weeks but if you don’t utilize weight training your will plateau very quickly.


Carbohydrate consumption is similar, If you train regularly, cutting carb intake will generally work for a few weeks but cutting it too drastically for too long will not only inhibit fat loss but will also contribute to decreases in immune function, thyroid output and testosterone levels while increasing cortisol levels rise.


Signs of this happening may include low morning body temperature, difficulty getting out of bed in the am, low sex drive, irregular menstrual cycle (if you are a human that tends to menstruate) a stopped or irregular menstrual cycle, anxiety, chronic fatigue and fat retention in the midsection and triceps.


Let me be clear – experiencing the bulk of these issues does not give you the go ahead to eat the Hostess company back into business, but it may be worth taking a closer look at your nutrition.


Take away here – carbs aren’t all bad – but they key to carbohydrate consumption for fat loss when you eat them.


Bro-science-ism #1: Eat carbs in the morningDon’t eat carbs at night:

Anyone that has every received nutritional advice from a card carrying bro science member has heard this little gem – Eat carbs in the morning so you have time to “burn them off”: True, we do tend to be more insulin sensitive in the morning, but research suggest that’s because we presumably fasted overnight which also improves insulin sensitivity so its not conclusive.


This strategy also indirectly indicates that you need to eat carbs in the morning to burn them off throughout the day because our metabolism slows at night – which is not the case – in fact, some studies suggest metabolism may increase during REM sleep, so this theory doesn’t make sense.


Additionally, carbs are a yin natured food – yin natured foods have the potential to make you more relaxed, recover better, calm down etc.


One great example of the over consumption of yin foods is the aftermath of a traditionally carb rich thanksgiving dinner – you get sleepy – many people blame the tryptophane in turkey, but most meat has tryptophane, in fact many meats have more tryptophane than turkey. The food coma after thanksgiving dinner is more likely to come from the over consumption of yin natured carbs not the consumption of turkey.


It makes more sense to eat yang foods (like meat/protein) at yang time of day (morning to early afternoon) an example of this might be Charles Poliquin’s recommendation to eat a meat and nut based breakfast with a few berries, and eat yang foods for a yang time of day – for most people this is probably an apt recommendation.


Ok so it doesn’t make sense to eat the carbs in the morning then when should we eat them? To answer this question we need to consider what happens when we eat carbohydrates.


Should we eat carbs before we train?

The consumption of carbs does stimulate the release of insulin to bind with the sugar in the blood stream and shuttle it into the cell for storage or use.


Insulin also inhibits the destructive force of cortisol – but we do want to raise cortisol during training to damage the muscle so that when it repairs, its bigger, stronger etc – so taking simple carbs pre-workout may reduce our ability to damage muscle fibers thus inhibiting our results.


Using a complex carb that does not spike insulin thus will not inhibit cortisol might be a better way to go – provided you are lean and insulin sensitive enough to not spike insulin from complex carbohydrate consumption. My complex carb of choice in peri-workout environment is the super starch UCAN.


Should we eat carbs after we train?

We have the key to the castle and its name is weight training! The first 20 minutes after training may be the most insulin sensitive time of day, it is in this time frame that the insulin cell receptors are most likely to accept the insulin, which has bound with the sugar in the blood stream, into the cell for use.


Why? Resistance training moves a little molecule known as GLUT4 to the surface of the muscle cell helping it absorb the insulin bound sugar. Resistance training increases GLUT4 activity in muscle cells but not in fat cells meaning we can dictate which cells absorb the sugars via resistance training. – This is additional ammunition against to those who use methods other than resistance training to achieve fat loss.


It is also in this time period that we want to inhibit cortisol to stop muscle break down and begin muscle repair making it an optimal time of day to eat simple carbohydrates (sugar).


Take away

So what have we learned today? Perhaps nothing – but my hope is after reading this you have a better understanding of carbohydrates and why they are the topic of great debate. A few general rules you should consider about carbohydrate consumption:


  1. Carbs are not all bad, and increasing carbs may be necessary to help you achieve the physique you’ve always wanted.
  2. Carbs in the morning – probably only right for a small percentage of the population
  3. Carbs after training – good idea for most people
  4. Carbs in evening – evening is they yin time of day – carbs are yin foods, consuming carbs in the evening probably better than carbs in the morning especially if you trained in the afternoon or evening.


Side note: If you do not weight train the right way (hard) 4x per week carbohydrate rules change. But if you are weight training hard 4x per week and are not achieving the fat loss you want – your nutritional program is not working. Reading blogs like this can be beneficial to generate awareness but you should invest in your self and seek guidance from a nutritional professional.