Been receiving a lot of inquires lately regarding carbs. We are confused about them, aren’t we? Some of us are scared of them. Others believe they are evil and are the sole cause of obesity. While others insist, we need carbs! Of course we do, especially if we want to gain muscle and have enough energy to push through our tough workouts.
So which is it? Low carb? High carb? It depends? JILL, JUST TELL ME HOW MANY I SHOULD EAT!! :)
To answer the question of “How many carbs should I eat?” I brought in one of my suuuuper-knowledgable JillFit Ambassadors and Metabolic Effect-certified nutrition coach, Lauren Hight. As owner of “Once An Athlete, Always An Athlete” Lauren’s experience as a division 1 collegiate athlete and now as a working gal trying to stay lean and healthy, her credibility is absolute on the subject of carbs. Girl’s been through it all, and has finally figured out a unique system to help other women find their carb tolerance.
Enjoy this great guest post from Lauren on what she deems the ultimate guide to carb intake and she walks you through the process of how she figured it all out for herself. Take it away, Lauren :)
So excited to be here today and talking about carbs! Let’s dive in, shall we?
How Athletes Eat
I believe there are two kinds of people in the world – those that eat carbs and those that do not.
As a former Division-1 collegiate athlete I am most certainly on team “carb eater”. With crazy training schedules that had me burning several thousand calories a day, it was kind of a given that I needed loads of energy to perform my best.
This need for energy was a good excuse for constant “carb-up” dinners, sugar-laden sports drinks, bread and bagels as my primary fuel sources.
And add all this to the fact that I’d never met a carb I didn’t love – especially those of the bread, pasta, and French fry variety – it’s not surprising I’m a “carb eater”.
This love of carbs was never a problem for me during my athletic career; however I quickly realized as my athletic career came to a close that carbing-up wasn’t something Normal People did regularly.
Note: I define Normal People are those humans (fellow students at the time) who don’t train for 3 or more hours a day and live in the real world.
Being the scientist that I am (I got my PhD in chemistry – yeah that’s right! I’m a nerdy jock :)), I observed how Normal People ate less starchy carbs at each meal – NOT loads of carbs every meal in an “OMG!! The world is ending!!” fashion. <—what my teammates and I used to do
It wasn’t that Normal People didn’t eat carbs, though. In fact, I guessed that most of them got probably 75% of their calories each day from carbs. The difference was the total quantity – their diets were simply scaled down versions of mine and other athletes.
I thought about it, and it seemed to make sense at the time…well, from a pure caloric perspective at least. No longer a student athlete, I was burning fewer calories a day so I needed to eat fewer calories. Solution found.
My Carb Conundrum
So I scaled back my carb consumption. Instead of eating cereal and a bagel at breakfast, I just ate the bagel. At lunch, I opted for half a sandwich (maybe a tiny salad too if I felt like being “healthy”), and at dinner, I’d still eat pasta but a quarter pound instead of my normal half pound.
The problem with eating this way? I was always hungry!! For about 30 minutes after a meal, my stomach would be quiet, then I’d be ready to eat again.
Why was I suddenly so hungry all the time? I wasn’t eating all that different than I had before, so what was up?
I didn’t realize it until later, but my problem was that I was eating the wrong kind of food for ME.
The whole situation – including resulting weight gain from my inability to suppress the overwhelming urge to eat more food – frustrated me so much that I went into scientist mode again (think it might be my default mode?? :D).
So I jumped into the literature to see if there was an answer out there to my problem.
THAT was the point when I started to understand the issue – I wasn’t eating the right amount of food or even the right types of food for my metabolism.
Getting a better handle on my problem made my search for a solution a little easier. I took the helpful information I uncovered in my research together with advice from industry experts and did a little “experimenting” (on myself of course)
I kept what worked, chucked what didn’t, and boiled all my learnings down into: The Goldilocks Principle.
The Goldilocks Principle
The Goldilocks Principle states that systematic experimentation is required for one to find his/her carbohydrate tipping point.
Said another way, if you want to figure out how many carbs you need to eat each day, you’ve got to be patient, organized and willing try different combinations until you figure out what works.
If you’ve been around JillFit and Metabolic Effect for a while, you’re familiar with Metabolic Effect’s signature super power solution: the “carbohydrate tipping point”, but in case you’re new here I’ll explain it real quick.
The carbohydrate tipping point is the amount of (starchy) carbs one eats in a day that will provide a) enough energy so that you can kill your workout, and b) an environment low enough in carbs for fat loss (if fat loss is your goal).
It can be veeeeeery tricky to figure out your carb tipping point, but this is where a little Carb Therapy and The Goldilocks Principle comes in to play. Let me explain to you how I did it…
3 Steps of Carb Therapy
Observation is a critical part of any experiment and of life in general, so I started this whole process by observing my habits.
I logged my food for a couple weeks – every morsel of food got recorded and every drop of liquid. More importantly, I wanted to know how many carbs I was consuming on average every day, but it was good to know all the other stuff I was eating, too.
2. FOUNDATION FOOD
Now it was time to start making changes, but I decided it was best NOT to start with carbs.
Why? Well seeing as how I ate mostly carbs at the time, it seemed like a really bad idea to eat fewer carbs without having something in mind to replace them.
This would have left me crazy hangry. And hangry Lauren is scary Lauren….
What did I do instead? I ate carbs like normal, but at every meal, I would first eat a serving of lean protein and leafy, green veggies.
Doing it this way meant I didn’t have to change up any of my carb habits yet; I was simply creating a food foundation for when I started to reduce carbs.
I kept this up for a couple weeks until I felt like I had a good food foundation and that I was ready for the next step.
3. THE GOLDILOCKS PRINCIPLE
Once I was ready to start changing up starchy carbs, I was ready to channel Goldilocks and start experimenting.
What was I experimenting with?
Well, first I experimented with the AMOUNT of carbs consumed each day.
It’s often a good idea to start with ~100g starchy carbs a day. I ate this way for about a week, OBSERVED how I felt and if I was making progress towards your goals.
I asked myself – Is this too many carbs? Is it too few carbs? Or is it just right??
Since I wasn’t making progress on physique goals but my energy was good, I decreased carbs a little. After spending a week in this range, it was time to observe again – Too many? Too few? Just right?
Continuing this process of observing and altering my carb intake led me to finding my carb tipping point, the right amount of carbs for me at the time. Yay!
Once you think you have the right amount, you can also start looking at the TYPES of carbs you’re eating. Change up the starchy carb source (fruits, starchy veggies, grains, etc), observe and decide whether or not those carbs work for you.
The final variable is WHEN carbs are consumed throughout the day. If you’re trying to burn fat or build muscle, the timing aspect will be very important. However, if you’re at a point where you’re just trying to maintain, don’t sweat this part.
The process of implementing The Goldilocks Principle to find my carb tipping point did take some time, a little over 5 months actually, so please please please – DON’T expect to find your tipping point overnight.
If you start the process with those expectations you’ll end up annoyed, frustrated, and possibly with your face in a bag of potato chips again… or maybe that’s just me… *cough cough*
Anyway, you should know though that patience TOTALLY pays off in the end because carbs are no longer ruling my life.
- I don’t have wild energy swings any more – I feel great for the majority of the day.
- No more carb comas after meals.
- No more 3pm slump.
- I’m not lightheaded during my workouts from lack of energy.
- I’m not constantly starving!!! YAYAYAYAYA!!!!
Eventually as my physique goals or stress levels change, I’ll need to go through this process to find my carb tipping point again, but I’m not worried about it.
You know why? Because this time around I’ll have my 3 steps of carb therapy and Goldilocks to guide me.
It also helps knowing that I’m not the only struggling with these kinds of things. I regularly hear how difficult it is for people to figure out what they’re supposed to be eating, especially when it comes to carbs – former athletes included.
In fact, there are many things that can be tough for former athletes. Navigating life after high level sports can be a scary thing!!
I love tackling topics like how to deal with NOT training 3-4 hours a day, how to cope with no longer being “an athlete” but still feeling like one, and as you’ve read here, how to stay on team “carb eater” without constantly carbing-up. :)
It’s my passion to help other ex-athletes with the transition to the “real world” and living like Normal People (even though once you’ve been an athlete, you’re really always an athlete at heart).