The growing interest in a Paleo style of eating, which sees dieters limit their intake of dairy, wholegrains and processed food is like any diet – it works very well if you stick to it exactly the way it is suggested you should. In reality though human beings find it very difficult to stick to diets, rather, they do their style of any one diet. In the case of Paleo, this means that they leave their alcohol and extra food in the diet over the weekend, but follow their ‘Paleo’ plan in the week and cut out most of their carbs with it. The issue with this is that for active people, cutting carbs and impacting their overall macronutrient profile by keeping carb intake below 30% can actually prevent fat loss and explain while, despite keeping their diet relatively low in carbs they cannot shift weight.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for the muscles and for the brain. When excessive carbohydrates are consumed, we are more likely to gain weight as extra calories consumed as fat are more likely to be stored. Highly processed carbohydrate rich foods including white bread, rice, snack food and simple sugars consumed via soft drinks, juices, desserts and confectionery also elicit a relatively high insulin response when they are consumed and high insulin levels over time can result in weight gain.
The amount of carbohydrate we require on a daily basis will be influenced by how much activity we do. The greater the amounts of activity we do, the more fuel the muscles burn, and the more carbohydrate they will require to burn both carbohydrate and fat. This means that individuals who train regularly will require more carbohydrate than less active people, particularly if their goal is to burn (and lose) body fat.
Enter the carb cutters. While reducing carbohydrates in the diet will help to burn more fat initially as the body adjusts to a fuel shortage, over time muscles that are chronically deprived of the minimal amount of carbs that they need will increase the metabolic efficiency of their cells so they need fewer calories and carbohydrates to function. This means that while we eat fewer and fewer carbs, but continue with the same amount of exercise, we become less likely to burn body fat and lose weight. And this is the reason that individuals who train at hard, on most days of the week but eat minimal carbs do not get the changes with their body that they are looking for.
So, if you only eat carb rich foods at breakfast; are trying to strictly follow a ‘Paleo’ food plan or train first thing in the morning without having consumed any carbs since lunchtime the previous day, it may be worth really considering how much carbohydrate your body may need as a minimum to optimally fuel you for training and fat burning. As a general rule of thumb, a small female will require at least 100g of total carbohydrate each day, along with an extra 20-30g total carbs for every hour of high intensity training. In simple terms, this means making sure at least 3 meals a day include a carbohydrate rich food such as wholegrain bread, sweet potato, wholegrain crackers, legumes, fruit, milk or yoghurt.
To gauge your own carbohydrate content, a quick scan of nutrition labels will give you examples of 20g serves of carbohydrates to add to your snacks or meals, and include foods such as a piece of fruit, ½ cup yoghurt, a few wholegrain crackers or a slice or two of lower carb bread. If you prefer to keep your carbohydrate intake lower at night by skipping all heavy carb foods such as pasta and rice, all you need to do is make sure you consume a small carb rich snack an hour or so before any morning training sessions – a slice of toast; piece of fruit, small milk coffee or couple of crackers to give the muscles some readily available fuel to burn. When it comes to carbs, it does not have to be all or nothing, while we do not need a lot of them we do need some, at the right times, no matter which diet you follow.