I know carbs can be a source of confusion – but they’re actually a very important body fuel source that provide immediate – and stored – energy.
When you choose your carbs from whole food options, you can reap the rewards of all of their energy, fiber, vitamins, minerals and delicious flavors in your meals.
On that note, let’s clarify what I mean by “whole foods”. These are simply foods being prepared and eaten in their natural, unprocessed state, and they can be from animal or plant sources. Some great options for whole food carbs include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (1).
Whole food carbs not only taste fantastic – they also support lean muscle development and provide stable energy – and you can enjoy them without worrying they might sabotage your goals or pad your body with fat.
But it’s a real thing that eating an excess of carbohydrates (or any other nutrients) can have that effect, and it’s much more likely to happen when you’re making your food choices from foods that contain extra sugar (i.e. processed foods) than what you’d find in the food’s natural state.
Table of Contents
- What ARE carbohydrates?
- What Happens in Your Body When You Eat Carbohydrates?
- Why Do I Get Carb Cravings?
- When Should I Eat Carbs?
- Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
- Healthy Carb Options
- Putting it All Together
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are organic (carbon-containing) compounds found in food that contain naturally-occurring sugars (such as glucose and fructose), starch, and/or fiber (2).
All whole food carbohydrates include plenty of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that will support your system and your cells in all their tasks. Carbs ultimately break down chemically to glucose – a simple sugar that serves as the body and brain’s preferred energy source.
Fiber is an important component in whole food carbohydrates that slows the release of sugar into the blood, which gives you more steady energy, supports your healthy gut bacteria and immune system, and supports an optimal digestive flow (3).
Fiber allows for all of these benefits because it is not fully broken down during carbohydrate digestion, so what is not used for other functions in the body is excreted by the bowels (2).
There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble.
Just like the name implies, insoluble fiber is not soluble in water, so it passes through the body intact. This can be beneficial if you have a fussy digestive system, as it can add bulk to your stools and help bowel movements become more regular.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, can help to slow down digestion, allowing you to feel full longer (4). For instance, eating a whole apple (rich in dietary fiber) will make you feel full longer (and leave you less likely to reach for more food) compared to the same number of calories as apple juice (a lower-fiber food). Soluble fiber also plays a role in heart health and maintaining optimal blood sugar levels.
Healthy women should aim for at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily from nutritious whole food sources (2, 5). This may sound like a lot, but if your diet includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, you’ll find that the fiber grams add up quickly.
However, make sure you don’t do too much too fast – increasing your fiber intake too quickly can cause all kinds of digestive issues such as cramping, gas, or diarrhea. Just take it slow and drink plenty of water, and you should be able to avoid stomach troubles.
In fact, fiber supports healthy gut bacteria and optimal digestion. Fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut and not only helps the bacteria thrive, but also increases their numbers (6). This in turn impacts the thickness of the mucus wall in the gut while building a strong barrier against toxins and disease-causing bacteria.
Starch is another compound found in carbohydrates, specifically those from plant sources. Starch is structurally made up of polysaccharide compounds known as amylose and amylopectin (7).
Naturally-occurring sugars are also found in whole food carbs – such as lactose in dairy foods and fructose in fruit. Make sure not to confuse these with added sugars – naturally-occurring sugars play important roles in your body and health, and they are perfectly fine to consume in moderation.
You might have heard the terms “simple” and “complex” carbs being used. This classification isn’t really used by health professionals anymore, but the general idea is still valid. Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, starch, and sugars, while simple carbohydrates just contain sugars – either naturally-occurring or added (2).
The simpler a carb is, the faster it will be digested and absorbed into your bloodstream and the more complex a carb is, the slower it is digested and absorbed, allowing for steadier energy and easier fat loss. Some great complex carb options include sweet potatoes, apples, and lentils.
In general, your best bet is to go for complex carbs that are higher in fiber. Not only will they be more filling, they’ll also keep you satisfied longer, which is a great option for anyone focused on fat loss or maintenance.
What Happens in Your Body When You Eat Carbs?
Your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose molecules, which get carried in the bloodstream to your cells. The body uses glucose either as immediate energy to fuel your muscles and brain, or converts it into glycogen and stores it in the liver or muscles as reserve energy.
Used for immediate energy (as glucose):
After a meal, the carbohydrates you’ve eaten are broken down into their smallest building blocks (glucose molecules), which eventually are absorbed into the bloodstream through special cells in the small intestine. As glucose travels through your blood to your cells, it’s called blood glucose (or blood sugar.)
An essential part of maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body is the regulation of blood sugar levels – so we have the energy we need to do everything we do.
Your body has a process to handle the inflow of glucose (after you eat) so you can meet your energy needs and store whatever isn’t immediately needed for later use. These energy reserves are important, and are what your body draws on when you need energy between meals.
After you eat, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin. Insulin travels through the blood to your body’s cells. It tells the liver, muscle and fat cells to take in glucose so it can be used for energy right away, or stored for later use.
When it comes to immediate energy needs, your brain is a primary consumer of glucose. In humans, the brain accounts for about 2% of total body weight, but it consumes approximately 20% of glucose-derived energy.
Stored for later use (as glycogen):
Excess glucose from carbs that isn’t needed for immediate energy gets stored in the liver and muscles (8).
Your liver can store approximately 50-80g of glycogen, and your muscles can store approximately 300-400g of glycogen. This stored form of glucose allows your body to consistently regulate its energy needs and have a storage “tank” to draw from when circulating glucose levels are low.
Strategically eating whole-food carbs in moderate amounts throughout the day ensures adequate glucose reserves and stable energy.
When receptor cells sense that glucose is needed, the pancreas secretes glucagon (a hormone), which alerts the liver and muscles to release stored glycogen back into the bloodstream as glucose for cells to use as an energy source.
Most of your body’s cells use glucose, fatty acids (from fat), and amino acids (from protein) for energy, but glucose is the main energy source for your brain and nervous system.
The more muscle you have, the greater your capacity to store glycogen, which is why highly-active people and athletes have greater carbohydrate needs. Need more motivation to exercise? People who are less physically active have less glycogen storage capacity, and excess glucose is more likely to be stored as fat.
However, if you’ve already maxed out the amount of storage available in your liver and muscles, your body stores extra glucose as fat. One way that you can help to keep this balance in check is to keep an eye on the glycemic index (GI) of the food you eat.
The GI is a scale of 1 to 100 (with 100 equivalent to glucose) that measures the effect of food on blood glucose (sugar) levels (9). Foods that contain fiber tend to have lower GI than those that do not. For example, apples have a GI of 36, while white bread has a GI of 75. However, some fruits do have high GI, such as watermelon – a GI of 76.
When you eat foods with a high GI, your pancreas releases insulin to mediate the rapid influx of glucose in the blood. These blood glucose fluctuations can make you feel tired and sluggish, and excess carbs from these foods can ultimately be earmarked for fat storage.
Obviously we don’t want to be in “fat storage mode” when we’re working on getting lean and mean, so choosing carbs with a lower GI can help you minimize fat storage.
Hormones also play a huge role in your food intake, metabolic equilibrium, and weight. Your body wants to be in balance, and your hormones are responsible for establishing equilibrium when given the right nutrients. Some key hormones involved in energy and carbohydrate metabolism include cholecystokinin (CCK), ghrelin, leptin, and insulin (10).
Here’s where it gets cool: You can avoid storing carbs as fat by just making smart choices. The best way to get into optimal “fat burning mode” and have maximum energy is to make your carbohydrate choices from whole food sources, and avoid the fake stuff.
I don’t recommend a no-carb or low-carb diet for any length of time. Long term carbohydrate deprivation leads to a complete depletion of your body’s storage glycogen levels, depression of your immune system, reduced exercise tolerance, decreased metabolic function, and a host of other issues (11).
There are many dietary strategies that are beneficial – and I encourage you to experiment just as I have. I want you to have a healthy relationship with food and a strong foundational understanding of how each nutrient benefits you, so you can learn to listen to the signals your body sends you and change things up with confidence when needed.
Complex carbohydrates provide your body with fiber, essential nutrients, immediate energy, and energy reserves. Fat slows down the absorption and digestion of carbs, providing a steady, ongoing supply of glucose (keeping insulin levels steady), and will make you feel full sooner. Protein provides your body with essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth and hormone production, plus it stimulates the release of the fat burning hormone, glucagon, thereby maximizing your ability to burn stored body fat for energy.
Why Do I Get Cravings?
First, processed foods in your diet can play a role (12). If your diet is high in sugar and simple carbs, your body eventually gets used to the short bursts of sudden energy those foods deliver. Of course, that energy disappears as quickly as it arrived, and when that inevitable blood sugar crash hits, your body starts searching frantically for the next carb “hit.” This is when you experience cravings, fatigue, and even mood swings.
Cravings can also come from addiction to sugar and result from your body being triggered by sugar and its reward effect on your brain to keep seeking more (13). Although the idea of sugar addiction is controversial and mostly anecdotal right now, you may be among the many people who do feel a strong mental and/or physical attachment to sugar, so that feeling shouldn’t be minimized or ignored.
So, how do you avoid this blood sugar rollercoaster ride?
Eating regular, satisfying meals with diverse nutrients will ensure that your body knows when it’s full – and in turn, it will tell you when it’s hungry.
If you find that you constantly struggle with cravings, check in with your food intake. Are you eating enough protein, fiber-rich greens, and healthy fats? These nutrients deliver slow, lasting energy to the body just like complex carbohydrates do. Don’t skimp on these vital nutrients!
Take a look at the specific foods you eat, as well. If you buy any convenience or packaged foods, they often contain added sugar. Even with your best intentions, you might be unintentionally eating more sugar than you mean to all day long – and by the time you get to that evening glass of wine or purposeful dessert, you’re likely already way over the amount of sugar your body can use for energy.
You can also help your body to better handle carbohydrates and minimize cravings by including more fiber in your diet. Fiber can help to blunt the insulin response to increased circulating glucose levels, as well as suppressing your appetite and keeping energy levels consistent (2).
Another aspect of your diet to evaluate is the nutrient claims associated with the foods you buy. Although low-fat or fat-free versions of things like peanut butter and yogurt seem like a healthy option, they might actually sabotage your efforts. Typically, the fats that are removed from these types of products are replaced with sugar or salt to make the food taste better. This might not sound like a big deal, but in losing the satiating effect of fat and adding in the slippery slope of sugar, you may be more likely to overeat these foods.
As we’ve already learned, if your glycogen stores are full, the extra glucose from these foods will ultimately end up in fat storage. This means that in your efforts to avoid storing fat on your body by buying a fat-free product, you actually increase the likelihood of fat storage happening.
Why you should cut down on snacking:
If you want steady energy, consistent results, and an optimal metabolic rate, you need to fuel your body in a way that encourages it to run as smoothly as possible.
Snacking can be a great way to keep your energy levels up between meals, especially for active people who are always on the go. However, your snacks should be purposeful and nutritious, not a mindless junk food buffet.
One way to ensure that you’re not consuming excessive amounts of food and sabotaging all of your hard work is to limit snacking. So many people miss out on the body of their dreams (despite crushing their workouts!) due to mindless snacking.
Most popular snacks come in the form of high sodium and sugar – and let’s be honest, this habit is better for the snack food companies than it is for your body! Many processed snack foods have high amounts of added sugars – this gives the food a sweeter taste AND makes you want to keep eating (and buying!) the product.
If you need snacks to get you through long periods without full meals, think of creating them as “mini meals” so you remember to include whole food nutrients – especially protein, which is very satisfying.
Keep in mind if you’re eating sufficient carbs from quality sources, your body has a glucose reserve stored in your muscles and liver so there’s no need to snack between meals unless you are actually hungry. However, you don’t want to deplete that reserve by avoiding or restricting carbs, so stick to nutritious whole foods and avoid fake, processed foods full of empty calories that can easily tip the scale toward fat storage.
Curb your cravings by eating the RIGHT carbs at the RIGHT time. I make this super easy with my meal plans.
Even if you’re sticking to your workouts, limiting snacking, and eating nutritious and satisfying meals, cravings can still pop up from time to time. So, now what can you do? Here are a few options:
For starters, keep an eye on the sugar YOU add to foods. Your morning coffee can be a great place to start. If you like your coffee light and sweet, add a sprinkle of cinnamon (more on that later!), a teaspoon or two of coconut oil, or even a little bit of coconut cream.
Next, watch out for foods with added sugar. This isn’t always apparent from giving the food label a quick peek, although some foods will include an “added sugars” column on the label.
Otherwise, you can calculate the amount of sugar (this isn’t necessarily the same as added sugars, as many do occur naturally) by comparing the grams of sugar listed to the grams of carbohydrates. For example, if a food lists 24g carbohydrates and 20g of sugar, you can bet that food is high in sugar and probably not a great choice to help you achieve your goals.
If you like spices, cinnamon may be your new favorite! Studies have found that cinnamon (especially cassia and Ceylon varieties) have a beneficial effect on keeping blood glucose levels stable by slowing the rate at which food exits the stomach (14). I like to sprinkle it in my coffee, on my oatmeal, and even into smoothies. Don’t overdo it with the cinnamon, though – as with all spices, a little goes a long way! Try to limit it to a teaspoon per day.
Make good choices when it comes to your beverages. Avoid soda, and opt for fresh whole fruit rather than fruit juices. Although 100% fruit juices may sound like a good option, they lack the fiber and other nutrients found in the skin and flesh of whole fruit. Think of sweetened drinks (such as lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch, soda, cocktails) as “liquid candy”, and try to avoid them. Similarly, unless you need them to get through a particularly strenuous workout, limit high-sugar sports drinks (such as Gatorade, Powerade, and Vitamin Water).
Many eating programs urge you to eat the same foods every day. Although there is something to be said for simplicity, limiting the foods you eat decreases the variety of nutrients available to you (and your beneficial gut bacteria!). It’s also really boring to eat this way! I don’t like being bored, but I DO like simplicity and efficiency.
So, over the course of a week, eating similar foods works great to cut down the amount of time you’ll need to spend in the kitchen. But throughout the month, and throughout different seasons, your body is going to like and want different foods. As you become more and more in tune with your body, you’ll notice this too. Adding a bit of variety into your diet can keep you from getting bored and craving something different.
When Should I Eat Carbs?
When it comes to carbs from whole foods, try to figure out what makes you feel satisfied and energized. If you’re using one of my eating guides, there are daily menus with suggested meals from the recipes in the guide to help you experiment. With or without my guides, experiment to see how eating carbs affects your energy.(Here’s my 3-day easy eating guide with some sample recipes and suggested meals!)
If your goal is to GET AND STAY LEAN, the best times to eat optimal carbs are:
Your body uses up a good portion of your glycogen stores overnight, and breakfast is the perfect time to replenish glucose and top off those stores. It’s always best to consume protein and carbs together (especially after a workout) because the elevated insulin levels from the carbs help your muscles absorb amino acids from protein. Amino acids are then used to help your body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function (15).
My breakfast always includes carbs like overnight steel cut oatmeal (you can also mix in a scoop of chocolate protein powder to add extra awesome), eggs with a sprouted grain or gluten-free toast, or a protein pancake topped with fruit.
2: Before your workout
I recommend eating your healthy, complex, whole-food carbs around your workouts because they help your muscles use more protein.
In general, I don’t focus on having a “pre” and “post” workout meal, shake, or bar. Your body does keep energy on reserve in the form of glycogen, and it’s OK if you don’t get in the habit of eating something before exercising or right away after you finish. What really matters is your energy levels – if you find that you’re tired, light-headed, or just plain hungry, then you should probably eat something.
Eating carbs in your main meal prior to working out simply gives you energy to burn during the workout. It’s totally fine to train first thing in the morning if you haven’t eaten yet, but if you’re exercising at a time of day that’s after a meal this applies. If you find your energy levels waning during your workout, it might be a good idea to check out your meal and workout timing and adjust them to allow for optimal energy.
If you’re hungry going into a workout, you can always have something light like a smoothie or shake. Make sure it contains quality ingredients like protein, greens, and fruit to provide you with quick energy.
If you exercise first thing in the morning, whether you need to eat first is a pretty personal thing. If you find that your energy levels are high before a morning workout without eating beforehand, then you certainly don’t need to force yourself to eat.
3: Post workout
After a workout (within about 1 hour is always a good rule of thumb), make sure your next meal includes both carbs and protein to replenish muscle glycogen stores. It’s fine if the meal also contains fat and greens, but prioritize your protein and carbohydrates. If you skip the post-workout carbs, exercise recovery can take longer, soreness may increase, and you may even lose muscle tissue over time.
You might like to schedule your workout just before a meal, but definitely don’t plan to workout just after a meal – your body needs time to digest and process food first!
If you know you’re not going to be able to get a meal in after your workout and you’ll be hungry, having your shaker cup and Berry Green Protein with you can do the trick. By nourishing you with protein and greens (and a great taste, even just in water!), you’ll avoid that energy drop after your endorphins wear off.
I always cut off my food intake (all foods, not just carbs) 3 hours before bedtime to give my system time to wind down and prepare for high-quality sleep. You don’t need to stick to exactly 3 hours, but if you struggle with falling or staying asleep, providing your body with a bit of a food-free buffer before bedtime can work wonders.
Of course, don’t just take my word for it. There are many different possibilities for what could work best for you, so just pay attention to what feels right to you from day to day!
NOT ALL CARBS ARE CREATED EQUAL: A Word on “Good” and “Bad” Carbs
While it’s true that carbs can provide you with a stored energy pool AND deliver consistent, lasting energy to your body, not all carbs are created equal, and it’s important to eat the most beneficial ones.
As long as you’re eating intentionally, you can allow for any food you choose for special occasions, weekend treats, or what I call “No Strings Attached” (NSA) meals.
That said, there ARE certain types of carbs that will serve you and your healthy eating lifestyle better than others – I prefer to think of these two distinct groups as “Optimal” and “Suboptimal” carbs.
Whole, nutritious foods not only contain nutrients such as fiber, minerals, and vitamins – they also communicate this nutritional information to your body (in a language it recognizes) so it knows exactly what to do with the influx of nutrients.
When you eat satisfying foods such as complex carbs, your body communicates back to you with easy-to-understand information like “I’m full”.
On the other hand, carbs in a less wholesome form (think of potato chips or snack mixes) tend to be filled with ingredients like sugar, salt, stabilizers, or fillers in order to taste better. These carbs tend to be less satisfying (and less nutritious), and your body will likely keep saying “I’m hungry” as you keep munching away.
So, how do you know the difference between Optimal and Suboptimal Carbs?
Simply put, how much has the food been processed? The most nutritious carbs are like the best proteins and fats, they come to us from nature. If they are a single ingredient, you’ve got an optimal carb. If it’s been altered from its natural, whole-food state in any way, it’s probably a sub-optimal choice (or perhaps just better left to an NSA day).
A lot of “health” food carbs that come in a box or bag – like breakfast cereal, instant oatmeal, breads/tortillas, condiments, and snack foods – are a processed version of a whole food, and the processing alters the nutritional density of that food.
Most processed foods are low in naturally-occurring fiber, vitamins, and minerals and higher in sugar than their whole-food counterparts.
For example, white flour is missing the nutrients that the plant contained before it was harvested. Combining white flour, sugar and other ingredients to make pastries, breads, snacks and sweets might be convenient and tasty, but to your body it’s like speaking a foreign language when you pump all these substances into it.
This is where the term “empty calories” comes from. These foods have calories but lack the nutrient density found in the whole food form. Eating these empty-calorie foods can also set you up for cravings – not only is your body hungry for the actual nutrients it needs to function, but those engineered flavors trick your brain into thinking it’s getting a reward every time you eat a certain snack food or treat.
Filling up on empty calories is like injecting yourself with fat. If you fill up on crappy food, it becomes harder to get enough essential nutrients without gaining weight. Your body knows when it’s full or not regardless of the nutrient density of your food. If you’re eating low-nutrient-density foods, your body won’t receive the “full” signal until you reach a maximum volume of food. If you’ve eaten until you feel bloated and overfed, this is exactly what happened.
This is why so many people simply cannot lose the extra weight, no matter how hard they try to “clean up” their diet or how much they exercise.
An organic or a gluten-free cookie might sound like a better choice, but it doesn’t make the cut either for whole-food carbs. These terms simply refer to the ingredients used in making the cookies, and it doesn’t automatically classify them as “healthy” or whole. Cookies are cookies, and organic and gluten-free cookies contain excess sugar and carbs just like conventional ones do.
We all know how easy it is to eat an entire sleeve of Oreos, a whole bag of corn chips, or drink a super-size soda at the movies. If we could stop at just one or two bites, snack foods wouldn’t be such a problem. However, food manufacturers know just how to manipulate sugar and salt and structurally re-engineer flavors, tastes, colors, and smells to make food have a longer shelf life, stimulate your taste buds, and generally be more appealing to consumers.
Start making your own food, and the processed stuff will start to taste as artificial and weird as its ingredients actually are. You’ll likely notice a difference in the way you feel pretty quickly once you start focusing on whole, optimal carbs.
What are Healthy Carbohydrate Options?
Like we already learned, a single-ingredient carb is typically an optimal carb.
Think potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa or other grains, legumes, and fibrous vegetables like squash. Whole fruit is also a great carbohydrate source, but it tends to have a higher sugar concentration, so it should be consumed in moderation.
All optimal whole-food carbohydrates come complete with plenty of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that will support your body and cells in all their functions.
Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains are always the best options for preparation. By breaking down the protective outer coating of the grain, these methods allow your body to get the full nutritional benefits of the grains without potential irritants.
- Gluten-free grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, montina (Indian rice grass), quinoa, rice (all varieties, but especially wild, long-grain, and brown), sorghum, teff, oats, corn (higher in sugar, but fine on occasion)
- Grains that contain gluten: Wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, triticale (a hybrid grain produced by crossing wheat and rye primarily used as a fodder crop)
Legumes are a great whole-food carb AND a source of protein, which makes them a great addition to your diet.
- Beans: adzuki beans, black beans, white beans, soybeans, anasazi beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans and lima beans, and more
- Lentils: yellow, orange, green, brown or black
- Peas: split peas and black-eyed peas
Colorful veggies and leafy greens are fiber-rich and nutrient dense and are full of highly beneficial micronutrients and phytonutrients. These veggies tend to be low in carbs, so you can fill up on them to your heart’s content!
- Kale, celeriac, spinach, endive, fennel, radicchio, chard, watercress, romaine, arugula, carrots, Brussel sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, onions, artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, collards, eggplant, garlic, leeks, radishes
Starchy vegetables will fill you up faster than non-starchy ones, so you won’t need as much of them. They are also a nutrient-dense carbohydrate source, providing sustainable energy. They do tend to be quite high in carbs, which can affect your blood glucose levels and be destined for fat storage if your glycogen levels are already maxed out. If you’re eating a balanced diet, this won’t be a problem ― it’s just good to know.
- Sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, pumpkin, squash, yams
All fruits contain fructose, a simple sugar that your body uses for energy. Although fructose is chemically different from glucose, it is still a simple sugar. Your body has a limited capacity for fructose, and too much fructose can end up in fat storage, spike blood sugar and insulin levels, and set you up for cravings in the future.
The thing to pay attention to is the sugar quantity in the fruits you’re eating so you can still enjoy them in the right amount. Generally tropical fruits are higher in sugar and berries are lower.
I’ve classified some popular fruits lists into low, medium, and high-sugar groups to help you keep portion size in mind. When I make a smoothie for example I don’t usually mix two tropical fruits, if I use a banana I balance it with berries.
- Low sugar fruits: Apples, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit, prunes, plums, peaches, pears, oranges, grapes, apricots
- Medium sugar fruits: Bananas (higher in sugar when very ripe), kiwi, mango, figs, raisins, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple
- High sugar fruits: Dates, watermelon
Here are a few ideas for balanced whole-food carbs:
- Unicorn Bowl (blended overnight oatmeal, protein powder, almond milk, fruit)
- Buckwheat Bread
- Protein pancakes
- Sweet potatoes, grass-fed beef, and sautéed greens with garlic
- Beans, rice, baked chicken, and pesto
- Seafood stew made with butternut squash
Putting it all together
Taking all of this new information in can be A LOT. You might not feel like you know where to start.
My remedy for this begins with AWARENESS. Read food labels, avoid foods with added sugar, buy whole foods, eat and enjoy treats ON PURPOSE, and include carbs at optimal times so you can keep your body running like the efficient machine it was designed to be.
Here’s the bottom line: Carbs are fuel, and they affect your performance.
Start paying attention to how the ones you eat make you feel. Choosing whole foods will help you feel and perform at your absolute best. The ones you eat on your NSA days will definitely get your attention. The more you tune in and learn to listen to what your body responds to, the more on track you’ll be to feeling and looking your best.
For more great content on nutrition, read the other articles from this series:
- Protein 101: How Much Protein You Need, How it Benefits You, and How to Get it in
- Healthy Fats 101: Get the Skinny on Fat – Why We Need it and How it Serves Us
- Incorporating Treats: How to Have a “No Strings Attached” (NSA) Relationship with Junk Food
- How Muscle Works: Sleek, Sculpted and Strong Starts Here
- You’re on A Journey: There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Diet
Need some help with healthy eating? When planning for the week, I think about:
- 2-3 breakfast options I like
- A few entrees that could double as dinner or lunch
- A couple smoothie ideas that have complimentary ingredients to give you variety with your greens
- A snack option like homemade protein muffins or an easy to make trail mix for days you’re just hungrier and want a little more to eat.
- Round out your plan with a couple of staple sides that you would like to have on hand daily like a big mixed greens salad and some rice, quinoa or easy to grab sweet potato chunks…
……and then make your grocery list around that.
The 30 Day Challenge Meal Plan includes all the recipes and grocery lists for breakfasts, smoothies, sides, snacks and entrees for 4 full weeks – with plenty of delicious options and structure to help you eat right for YOUR life!
Check out everything included in the 30 Day Challenge Meal Plan right here, and let me make your life easier!
- Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. “Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men.” New England Journal of Medicine. 2011. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/
- “Carbohydrates.” Cleveland Clinic. Accessed October 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15416-carbohydrates
- Roger D Gibb, Johnson W McRorie, Darrell A Russell, Vic Hasselblad, David A D’Alessio. “Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. December 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26561625
- Flood-Obbagy, Julie E, Rolls, Barb. “The effect of fruit in different forms on energy intake and satiety at a meal.” Appetite. April 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19110020
- “Get to Know Carbs.” American Diabetes Association. Accessed October 2019.https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/understanding-carbs/get-to-know-carbs
- Zou, Jun, et al. “Fiber-Mediated Nourishment of Gut Microbiota Protects against Diet-Induced Obesity by Restoring IL-22-Mediated Colonic Health.” Cell. December 2017. https://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/fulltext/S1931-3128(17)30497-3
- Robyt J. “Starch: Structure, Properties, Chemistry, and Enzymology.” Glycoscience. 2018. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-540-30429-6_35
- Roach, Peter J et al. “Glycogen and its metabolism: some new developments and old themes.” The Biochemical Journal. Feb 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4945249/
- “Measuring carbohydrate effects can help glucose management.” American Diabetes Association. March 2008. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods
- Adamska-Patruno, Edyta, et al. “The relationship between the leptin/ghrelin ratio and meals with various macronutrient contents in men with different nutritional status: a randomized crossover study.” Biemedcentral. December 2018. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-018-0427-x
- Hearris, Mark A et al. “Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Metabolism during Exercise: Implications for Endurance Performance and Training Adaptations.” Nutrient. March 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872716/
- Hall KD, et al. “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.” Cell Metabolism. July 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31105044
- Hall, Kevin. “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.” Cell. July 2019. https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/fulltext/S1550-4131(19)30248-7
- Qin, Bolin et al. “Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.” Journal of diabetes science and technology.” May 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/20513336/
- Abdullah, Alghannam. Javier Gonzalez and James A. Betts. “Restoration of Muscle Glycogen and Functional Capacity: Role of Post-Exercise Carbohydrate and Protein Co-Ingestion.” Nutrients. February 2018. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852829/