How Many Carbs Should You Actually Eat?
When it comes to a performance-based diet, carb balance is key.
Somewhere along the line, starchy foods like pasta, bread, and rice became synonymous with “carbs.” While spaghetti and bagels are indeed full of carbohydrates—and you do need carbohydrates for fuel—they’re not the only source of energy for your working muscles, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.Starchy carbs are as easy to overeat as potato chips (which are just fried, starchy carbs), and any surplus gets socked away in your fat stores. “Your brain operates on sugar,” explains exercise scientist Joe Friel, co-author of The Paleo Diet for Athletes. “When you eat bagels and potatoes, your body turns them into sugar and delivers them to your cells very quickly, which makes your brain happy and leaves you wanting more.”
That plays a big part in why it’s hard to stop yourself from plowing through a basket of sourdough bread or a bowl of pasta. Starch has an addictive property that leaves you craving more food, but not because you’re hungry.Though you do need some carbs to keep your glycogen stores stocked, don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the carbs you eat will be neatly tucked into your muscle glycogen stores. Remember that your body can store only about 90 minutes’ worth of glycogen-based energy in your muscles and liver. Once those stores are fully stocked, anything left over is ferried into long-term storage in the form of fat.
That much you might have already known, but that’s not to say that you need to completely kiss your beloved bread and noodles goodbye. So how much is enough? A little over half, or about 55 per cent, of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, CSSD, a New York City-based sports nutritionist.
Even better: pair those carbs with protein wherever possible. Lean meats, nut butters, fish, and eggs slow down digestion so you feel full sooner, get even more energy from your meals, and stay full longer. The amino acids in protein also help repair, build, and maintain muscle tissue, so they’re a great compliment to your favorite carb-laden staples.
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