Carb Questions (Answered)

Carb Questions Answered!

It seems that as health conscious individuals, as athletes and anyone with a goal of health and weight-loss all we hear about is carbohydrates.

Lean carbs, No carbs, Low glycemic carbohydrates of something in between. In truth, for a regular individual that is worried about their training and martial development it  is often difficult to also wrap your head around all of these concepts, as well as pinpoint a formula that is right for you.

 So, lets get started… 

The term Carb-Coma’ is used to described the state a person experiences after overloading on high glycemic carbohydrates. More then just feeling full, or stuffed, a ‘carb-coma’ will leave a martial artist sluggish, fatigued, lethargic, tired, moody and sleepy.

Carb-coma happens when we digest most carbohydrates, as we begin to digest the food our blood sugar rises. Most starchy and processed carbohydrates spike your blood sugar levels and then allow them to fall, resulting in a crash that is often followed by exhaustion, and over time, weight gain.

As a rule of thumb, sweets and processed ‘white carbs’ like bread,  white rice and pasta will spike your blood sugar high and fast, prompting a quick drop into what we call ‘carb coma’. Curbing the ‘carb coma’ is easy and does not always require taking carbohydrates out of your diet.  Typically to avoid the feeling of fatigue and sleepiness after a meal combine your carbohydrates  with proteins and healthy fats. As an example, add a lean chicken with your pasta. If your food intake is balanced out by other nutrients, a carb-coma can be easily avoided by helping  your body digest and process the food correctly.  Another option is to eat low glycemic carbohydrates, this means replacing a potato with a sweet potato, pasta with whole wheat pasta, or simply using a whole-grain bread like Ezekiel in your sandwich. These are all easy and clean ways to keep the foods you love in your diet, but also avoid a potential ‘carb-coma’.

Having a non-starchy vegetable with every meal, including lunch, is an ideal way to avoid the repercussions that can come along with overloading on carbs. The best way to do this is to cut any carbohydrate serving in half, while adding or doubling your vegetable course.

In order to avoid weight gain over time, most important is your post  ‘carb-coma’ action. What you do  directly after your ‘carbohydrate coma overload’ matters. If you do end up overindulging on processed carbs and experience exhaustion, get right back on track with a healthy meal. Your next meal should be nutritious and well balanced. Skipping meals to compensate is a huge mistake and will make you feel ever more lethargic. Additionally, no matter how tired, get up and force yourself to the dojo, most often you will over come the ‘coma’ and feel much better then simply sitting around.

Carb loading is something very different. Unlike a ‘carb-coma’ which is commonly experienced by accident, carb-loading is a tool that endurance athletes use to get an edge on their training. The idea is to maximize the storage of fuel (glycogen) in the muscles. Fist thing to understand is that carb-loading will not work for athletes and sports activities that last 60 minutes or less. As an example, a mixed martial artists that fights twenty-five minutes, or a recreational martial artist that takes a sixty minute training session will not benefit from traditional carb-loading. The tactic is generally recommended for an ongoing endurance event that last over 90 minutes. Unlike ‘carb-coma’ which happens from starchy and high sugar carbohydrates, carbohydrate loading is commonly done with low glycemic  carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, whole wheat pastas, breads and grains. Marathon runners commonly eat a huge pasta dinner the night before their run, but you never hear them doing a cake and ice cream dinner, as the quality and glycemic level of the carbohydrates is always taken into consideration. Typically, carb-loading is ideal for marathon runners, triathletes and cyclists. Otherwise it would not be recommended for most martial artist’s lifestyles.

There is however a  carb-loading modification that can fit a martial artists lifestyle, help maintain a healthy weight and add energy to training sessions. In  a modified version of traditional carb-loading , you will eat carbohydrates  on the days you train. But these will be good quality, non-processed carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and whole wheat pasta. Do not over eat them, just include them in your normal meals in a regular portion.  While on days off, or lighter training days the person might only take in carbohydrates in the forms of vegetables and legumes. Focusing all of their meals of the main course’s proteins, vegetables.  This version will hep an individual learn to eat cleaner, avoid the carb-coma and still maintain high levels of energy and ideal recovery for training days.

‘Paleo’ or the Paleolithic diet has become  highly regarded amongst many martial artists. The Paleo lifestyle is for many an extreme diet, while for others a very successful lifestyle.  Paleo makes sure to advocate that they are a ‘way of life’ and not a weight loss diet, but in reality a regular individual switching over to Paleo will most definitely see significant  weight loss. The idea of Paleo is living the dietary lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer, using our ancestors as examples. The diet includes lean meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts. There is no dairy in this diet. If you are careful and aware of your foods and eat well almond milk and your vegetables can easily compensate for the lack of dairy calcium. Unlike other diets, you are getting rid of all processed foods and complex carbohydrates. Whole grains or whole wheats are not allowed, therefore, even if the bread or pasta is ‘whole grain’, you still can not eat it.

Almost similar to the effects of carb-coma, in the first week or two of this diet a person can suffer  from  lower energy levels. But unlike the carb-coma, the reason is not from a sugar crash. Usually the lack of energy and mood swings subside after the first several weeks.  People taking on the diet will know with in the first several weeks if it works for their body type and level of activity.  Fatigue and mood swings are one reason many can not sustain this type of eating, however there is a good population of people that adjusts to the lifestyle easily and enjoys all of the benefits, including a leaner body, more energy, a clean eating lifestyle and no sign of cab-coma, ever.

It is important to understand, that just like martial arts tactics, carbohydrates and diets have their place, time and purpose. Changing your lifestyle can start with a substitution of one meal, perhaps taking your daily carb-coma lunch and adding a Paleo twits to it.

In reality, carbohydrates are not always the enemy. In fact if you ask professional athletes and many pro- martial artists like the Olympians or MMA fighters we all know and love, most of them use carbohydrates for energy and recovery. The key is to understand your body’s needs and identify your personal goals. Then you must be realistic. Creating an attainable program is far more important then radically changing everything you know and identify with in your diet.  For a martial artist just starting to concentrate on their nutrition, it is important to first identify your pitfalls, like the ‘carb-coma’ and begin to take healthy steps to avoid them.  If you are highly active and train at a peak level, perhaps simply cleaning your carbohydrates is more then enough, cutting them completely can prove to be a strain on your training and recovery.  Considering a lifestyle choice like Paleo is an option, but should be done only after reading the Paleo books and fully understanding the exact prescriptions. In any lifestyle change, your success will only come from doing all of your research. 

 XOKB    Dasha Libin Anderson, MS, NASM-PES, NASE-SES, M-KBIA