Little Things: a Nutrition Series — 2 of 4; Carbohydrates

Making little changes in nutrition for long term habit making — Carbs are awesome!

Welcome to my 4-part series in which I share what I’ve learned about nutrition. The 8-week program, Simply Nourished Like a Mother, offered by Train Like a Mother and Registered Dietician Ellie Kempton walks through the dietary Macros and how to incorporate each into your daily routine. I had worked with Ellie one-on-one before, and much of this program was a strong refresher course. Let me share with you what I’ve learned and relearned.

In part one, I talked about how incorporating veggies was really just about some easy and quick fixes. In Part Two, I want to give carbs a little love.

Carbs have gotten a horrible reputation. Like the “Low fat” craze of the 80s and 90s, the Low Carb Lifestyle has become a standard by which many now live. Nothing wrong with this, really. My own husband follows a Low-Carb Diet, modifying the Atkins and Keto models. It works well for him, but even he will tell you that “low carb doesn’t mean NO carb.” The problem is the idea that all carbs are bad, which they’re not, and that we should all be living like cavemen, which…well, maybe….but that’s a philosophical conversation for another time.

Thing is, endurance athletes use carbohydrates. Our bodies have a natural saturation point of glycogen, and that tank is filled up with carbs. These turn into fast burning fuel used during workouts. We burn that stuff off first, then we flip over to fat for fuel. I’m not a dietician, and I’m not going to sit here and point to the science of fat-adapted running vs. carb fueled. I know both have advantages and disadvantages. You do you. 

Carbohydrates are not bad. You have carbohydrates in vegetables, fruits, and natural grains. These are the things that will top off the running tank and keep you going.

So here are a few things I (re)Learned as part of this program:

The Carb Crescendo: With breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, cereal, fruit, juice, toast, and bagels… It is super easy to get a lot of carbs first thing in the morning. Nothing really wrong with that, but it’s that carb load in the morning that may lead to an afternoon crash. But what if you ate fewer carbs in the morning, replacing them with protein, veggies, and fat sources, and loaded up on Carbs later in the day? The Carb Crescendo is a masterpiece of energy management throughout the day, and Ellie Kempton RD makes wonderful music with science and physiology. 

Upgrading the Carbs: Getting carbs in later? Sure! I’ll do that! But what if I told you that we can do better? Instead of that handful (or bowlful) of Cheddar Goldfish I grab mid-afternoon, how about half a green apple? Or even better, my new favorite grab and go snack, Picky Bars? The timing of them PLUS the type are what make for the energy sustainability throughout the day. And hey…White Rice? Actually, a suitable carb! Reaching for Sweet Potato chips or the sneakily good for you Chickpea Chip Cookie Dough Bites are a guilty pleasure I have zero guilt over.

Sleuthing the sugars: We all know how to find out what is in our food, but do we really look? Are you like me where you know those Sun Chips probably aren’t as good for you as you think but hey they are better for you than the Lays Potato Chips so no reason to really look at the label? Yeah. I get it. Sugar goes by a lot of different names, but some culprits you might not even have thought about include: low-fat and skim milk, many yogurt flavors, and sugars in their many altered forms such as splenda, fructose, glucose…you get the idea. It’s not so much that all of this is bad, but it’s added to so many things that we eat. To be fair, this last point was definitely extra credit, and it’s so hard to watch where all of these added sugars are coming from. 

I love my carbs, but I also love how certain sources make me feel over others. I prefer rice to pasta, roasted potatoes to fries, berries to cookies (well…two out of three ain’t bad). I stopped adding sugar to my coffee and honey to my tea years ago, and my tastes have definitely changed. Sweets taste so much sweeter — uncomfortably so, but more importantly, I feel like my energy levels are sustained throughout the day. 

Carbs are confusing, but they aren’t evil. Finding the right balance takes a little practice, but it pays off in so many ways! What do you think about Carbohydrates?

Heather Jergensen

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