CARBOHYDRATES: NOT THE ENEMY - PART I
Paul Skinner, MS RD LD
In several conversations with Joanne Sharkey, she revealed that a great deal of you have contacted her with some primary questions concerning your confusion about your diet, and as to whether you are eating the correct type of carbs, especially if you are wanting to lose fat.
I would like to address these questions in my articles with Mike's use of the term "adaptability." Adaptability applies not only to how the body responds to exercise but to carbs as well. I will emphasize this point as to why during the 21st century, unhealthy carbohydrates are being chosen that overwhelm the body's adaptability mechanism to deal with them. This has lead to a slippery slope of over consumption of calories weakening the individuals control over their intake. I use the word adaptability, because our ancestors (cavemen for the lack of a better word) did not have access to fast food restaurants nor did they consume chocolate cakes, cream filled cookies or donuts growing from a vine or tree. The refined carb business was not up and running yet and neither were the plethora of diet related diseases and disorders we have today.
I will explain why simple sugars are not so simple, and why complex carbohydrates are not so complex. After grasping these concepts, you will be able to choose and combine carbs with protein and fat for not only a balanced diet, but also for a steady supply of energy for working out, as well as, other mentally and physically demanding day-to-day activities. Finally, I will discuss how you can learn to formulate an eating strategy to maintain a healthy weight, lose body-fat, or gain muscular weight.
Over the years, I would occasionally re-read through sections of Mike Mentzer's books and old magazine articles and was pleased, though not surprised, that he had advocated the majority of macronutrients should come from carbohydrates. He furthermore added that any amount of calories beyond the need of the growth mechanism turned to fat. In other words, no matter how you slice the pie (no pun intended), whether protein, carbohydrate, or fat, taking in calories above the "need" will result in fat gain. Muscle growth has to be stimulated by high intensity exercise and not food.
There are many books and articles, and perhaps some infomercials, which put forth the notion that those nasty carbohydrates will make you fat. It used to be believed that too much fat in our diets made us fat. However, it is the "high protein, low carbohydrate folks" that seem to be re-hashing their cause these days. Frankly, I do not read every book put out by some self-professed expert on nutrition, whether they are a movie star, businessman, or physician. Although I have read some, I simply trust in the basic fundamentals of biochemistry and the study of macro (nutrients needed by the body in daily amounts greater than a few grams, such as carbohydrate, protein, fat and water) and micro (nutrients needed by the body in daily amounts less than a few grams, such as vitamins and minerals) nutrition.
Our bodies do not use one specific macronutrient exclusively. It depends on the intensity of the exercise. If one engages in high intensity exercise (weight training, vertical jumping or sprinting), the metabolic system utilizes glucose (blood sugar) primarily stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles that comes from carbohydrates. Low intensity exercises mainly require triglycerides as an energy source, and contrary to popular belief, one does not "burn fat" while engaged in the aerobic activity at the time. This occurs after the exercise (assuming you burn up more calories than you take in), and the body breaks down adipose tissue and converts it into triglycerides for the muscles to store and use for energy. Marathoners actually require more protein than bodybuilders, because eventually their glycogen stores become depleted, and they begin to use protein tissue as a fuel source. Even though they are using triglycerides, protein converts to glucose more efficiently when their glycogen stores have been tapped, however, this is like putting wet wood on a fire.
The two major health problems facing Americans today are obesity and diabetes. There are many hypotheses, theories, and answered or unanswered questions as to why both are out of control. It appears that it may be the type of carbohydrates and the subsequent over consumption of calories that may be major contributors. The United States Department of Agriculture has been advocating the "Food Guide Pyramid" for many years now; however, there are some under-emphasized specifics that may have lead to the non-compliance of a healthy diet.
All Carbohydrates in the pyramid, whether grains, fruits, vegetables, and some dairy, eventually are converted to glucose and are used by the muscles during high intensity exercise. The brain relies primarily on glucose for energy, and if you follow a high-protein diet with minimal to zero carbohydrates, you will note the difference in your cognitive abilities.
So what is the "big to do" about high carbohydrate diets and their demonization? Well, I thought I would never have to say this as a dietitian, so let me state it another way. There are healthy carbohydrates and not so healthy carbohydrates. All carbohydrates do, in fact, break down in the gastrointestinal tract to glucose, but unfortunately, some break down more quickly and this is where the problem begins.
When grains are processed, the "dietary fiber" and other nutrients are removed and only the micronutrients are put back in, such as, B vitamins. People are also consuming large amounts of simple sugars (sweets drinks with some fruit juice added, or 100% fruit juice) thinking these are nutritious substitutes for fresh fruits and vegetables.
These two examples of foods, along with many others, cause high spikes in insulin followed by storage of the glucose in the liver and muscles. The body tends to over compensate, so you experience a sugar-high followed by a low that creates a sense of urgent hunger causing you to gravitate toward similar foods that elicit the same response. The pancreas is frequently pumping out insulin to store glucose and triglycerides and depending on your genetics; this can set the stage for diabetes which coincides with heart disease. This up and down experience with blood sugar levels tends to create, as I said earlier, frequent bouts of hunger and an over consumption of calories that have lead to one of the major causes of our obesity problem.
I will analyze the foods in the pyramid and discuss why eating a monolithic diet that eliminates carbohydrate or fat, as a lot of fad diets do, is not metabolically correct. In order to feed the brain and body, you need to understand that there is a purpose and place for protein, carbohydrate, and fat. I believe Mike had stated that there are laws and rules that must be obeyed. Your body has metabolic laws that must be obeyed or serious health consequences may follow.
I hope you will look forward to my next article, where I will delve into the most abused carbs of all - the "grains". I will show what the optimal choices are in this group, and the ones that may act as a detriment to your workouts and cause harm to the blood vessels and overall health.
We hope you have enjoyed Paul Skinner's Part 1 Article, and we will look forward to posting Part 2 next month. If you have not read the Introduction to Paul Skinner and his tribute to Mike Mentzer, click here.