Carbohydrates Are Not Evil
It took me almost 20 years to understand how to select and utilize carbohydrates to aid in health & wellness optimization.
This article is being published just days before my wedding, which ironically led me on a journey into discovering my nutrition habits, which I learned were based upon some outdated biases and clear flaws.
In September 2020, in the center of Devil’s bridge in Sedona, AZ, I performed a perfect reverse lunge and proposed to my girlfriend, Polina. As soon as we returned home to Brooklyn, I took out a calendar and made a target date of Spring 2022 to get into the best shape of my life.
My first step was to begin tracking my food to get a clear perspective on managing my calorie intake, as well as my macronutrient targets (protein, carbohydrates and fat). I chose Carbon Diet Coach as my tracking tool, and set two goals:
1. Gain 10-15# of (mostly) muscle/healthy size
2. Lose 15-20# of (mostly) body fat
To gain the weight, based upon my weight at the time (178#) and my activity level (working out 4-5x a week), the app calculated that I needed to consume ~3,300 kcal (calories) per day to gain the weight slowly and steadily.
Of that 3,300 kcal, at least 50% of the calories were to come from carbohydrates.
That’s an average of 410g of carbohydrates. Per day.
You would think “more carbohydrates” would mean more pizza, burgers and ice cream, but as I learned the hard way, these and other similar foods are mostly FAT, not carbohydrates. Furthermore, the fat is what skyrockets the calorie count.
Even with my extensive understanding of nutrition, I quickly realized that prior to tracking my macronutrients, I ate much more FAT than I would have figured, and as such, far less carbohydrates than I assumed.
It took me weeks, if not months, to figure out a good dietary routine to get my carbohydrate intake that high without spilling over into consuming too much fat.
By the end of the weight gain phase, I was up to 196# in mid-2021 and eating the following carbohydrates on daily basis:
- Gluten-free Toast
- Mixed Berries
- Pineapple or Mangos
- Brown Rice
Remember, fat yields 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates (and protein) yield 4 calories per gram.
That’s almost triple the calories you take in from fat than you do from carbohydrates (and protein) when measuring food in terms of grams!
So, here’s where things got interesting: the weight-loss phase in 2021 into 2022.
As I write this email, I weigh around ~168#, which is almost 20# down from my peak in 2021.
How did I lose the weight?
The app reduced my calorie intake to ~2950 kcal/day.
It didn’t change my macronutrient allocation. I still was recommended to eat 50% of my calories from carbohydrates from my preferred choices outlined above. I continued to eat at least ~300g of carbohydrates all the way through the end of the diet, which concluded last week (mid-May 2022).
So, for all the talking heads deeming “carbs are the issue!”, many with outdated and blatantly inaccurate information, and of course their own personal biases, I can attest the opposite. I feel fantastic, with many of my health levels better than they were in my 20’s, and my waist is as small as it has ever been.
And I eat fruit and rice and oatmeal every single day.
I learned that carbohydrates are not evil, and the issue is (usually) overlooking the amount of fat within a food/meal.
Oh, I should mention, what was most interesting is that I never felt ravenous nor uncomfortably hungry at any point in the diet. I speculate this was because I was finally balanced in my protein, carbohydrate and fat intake, so there were no nutritional deficiencies.
Now, of course, if you are someone with insulin resistance or diabetes, being more strategic with carbohydrate intake is necessary. Also, if you naturally prefer popular diet trends like Keto, that’s totally fine too, especially if weight management is your goal. Remember, the main component of weight management is caloric management, so you can decide how you want to choose your calories to eat, just so long as you eat within the parameters.
If you want to get a better understanding of the science of carbohydrates and how they interact and affect fat storage in the body, read this excellent article by Precision Nutrition, which cites many current studies and research.
Takeaway: Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. Not all sources of carbohydrates are the same (think candy vs. fruit), and many foods have much more fat than they do carbohydrates. Ultimately, it’s important to respect the role of carbohydrates, and certainly not fear them.
(Cover photo was taken in the morning of May 15, 2022, while still eating ~300g/carbs/day)