I want to lose fat and maintain muscle so I’m trying to eat properly and work out 3-4 days a week, both resistance training and cardio. I’ve heard that within an hour of working out, you must eat protein but also “fast” carbs like white rice in order to restore cells properly. But I’ve also heard those are “bad” carbs. Should we eat these carbs if we want to lose weight?
— Carb Confused
Congratulations on taking action and making the effort to get moving and eat well.
Doing both resistance training and cardio is fantastic, and the former is particularly crucial for your goal of body recomposition (losing fat while maintaining or building muscle).
You’re right that cutting out carbs is unnecessary, and it’s not recommended by most nutrition and fitness professionals. If you cut out carbs but are working out intensely, you may experience a host of negative side effects such as “exercise flu,” limited performance, and muscle loss through gluconeogenesis, sports nutrition coach Dr. Mike Molloy previously told Insider.
It’s true that different types of carbs affect the body differently, but if you’re not an elite athlete, you don’t need to worry too much.
When we eat carbs, our bodies break them down into glucose. This is our main energy source, fueling the brain, heart, liver, and muscles, Dr. Nestoras Mathioudakis, a diabetes expert at Johns Hopkins Medicine, previously told Insider.
It’s a common myth that refined carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes are “bad.” While it’s true that their wholegrain/brown alternatives contain more fiber, neither is better or worse than the other, they’re just different, registered dietitian Eling Tsai previously told Insider.
“Whole-grain foods include all components of a grain (the bran, germ, and endosperm). Alternatively, ‘white’ carbohydrates don’t contain the bran and germ (only the endosperm),” she said.
“The bran and germ are usually put on a pedestal due to the fact that they are a source of fiber, B vitamins, and other minerals, whereas the endosperm is more recognized as a source of carbohydrate and protein.”
The increased fiber content of the likes of sweet potatoes and brown rice simply means those carbs release energy more slowly, which results in a smaller spike in blood sugar, registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Spence previously told Insider.
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Eating carbs, particularly lower fiber ones, before a workout gives your body energy to perform, Molloy previously told Insider.
“Foods that are easily broken down, commonly called ‘quick carbs,’ are often best,” he said.
I definitely notice the difference in my energy levels during workouts if I’ve eaten some sort of carb an hour or two before training, whether that’s a bowl of oatmeal or a slice of banana bread.
After working out, your body needs carbs and protein to recover and replenish glycogen stores in the muscles, sports medicine physician John M. Martinez previously told Insider.
Dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine recommends higher-fiber carbs like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, and mixed grains.
As someone who works out three to four days a week, at an average intensity, you don’t need to stress too much about which carbs you eat and when, registered dietitian Priya Tew told Insider.
Aim to eat something within an hour or two of working out, ideally your usual meal or snack. This is what I do.
“Fast-acting carbs can be used before exercise to help give your body glucose if you have not eaten recently, but these are not needed straight after a normal workout,” Tew said.
For body recomposition, three things matter most: Being in a gentle calorie deficit (taking in less energy than you’re burning), resistance training, and consuming enough protein.
I cut my body fat percentage almost in half four years ago and have maintained my physique since, so I know firsthand that nailing these basics works.
Don’t stress too much about the carbs you’re eating and when, just make sure you’re eating the right amount overall. And be patient, because body recomposition takes time.
Wishing you well,
As a senior health reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
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