Recently a lot of clients have been asking me about carbohydrates - it seems we're a pretty confused bunch when it comes to this macronutrient and are not quite sure about how many carbs we should be eating per day, which type are "OK" and at what time of the day it's a good idea to chow down on your favourite comfort carb - if indeed there is any good time at all!
Here are a few of my favourite points on carbohydrates as a bit of a guide:
1. Eat Carbs at the Right Time
As the always trustworthy people at Precision Nutrition would say, "eat carbs only when you deserve them". This means the majority of your carbohydrate intake for the day should be in the 2-3 hours following a workout, when your body is most likely to put them to good use.
2. Avoid Processed Carbs
Choose whole grain, unprocessed carbs that are as close as possible to their organic state. This does NOT mean 'wholeweat' cereals, breads, pastas, crackers etc that are processed to within an inch of their lives and will encourage your body to hold on to fat. It DOES mean natural, plain grains/seeds that you add your own spices to at home. Awesome examples are quinoa, amaranth, wild rice, plain oats, millet or barley. And don't be fooled by cous cous - it's basically just teeny-tiny pasta.
3. Eat the Right Amount
How much? As a general guide, a moderately active female should aim for around 3-5g of carbohydrates per kilo of bodyweight. So a 60kg woman should aim for roughly 180-300g of carbs per day. If you are super active (training intensely on a near-daily basis), you can increase your intake to 5-7g per kilo of bodyweight (so at 60kg you should aim for between 300-420g per day).
4. Veggies and Fruit are a Great Source of Carbs
When most people think of carbohydrates they think of grains/seeds/breads/etc but in reality, the vast majority of your carbohydrate intake should come from vegies and fruit! Swap your bread for spinach leaves, cut out pasta in favour of steamed broccolini and ditch those crackers for carrot sticks and you are on the right track. When choosing fruit, choose low-GI options like berries, apples, citrus fruits, cherries, apricots and plums rather than sugary watermelon, mango, banana and grapes. And NEVER swap a piece of fruit for a juice drink - juicing ditches the fibre that makes fruit a good carbohydrate option and leaves you with only the sugary bits, so you may as well be slurping a Coke!
5. Avoid Night Time Carbs
If it's weight loss you're after, try not to load up on carbs in the evening, as what your body really needs at this time of day is plenty of good quality protein and vitamins to recouperate after a full day of action! Your body is winding down at this time of day and a huge dose of carbs before bed is likely to end up being stored, rather than used - unless of course you're an athlete with a full training schedule booked for the following morning!
6. Eat Right 90% of the Time
If you're a real carb lover, remember the 10% rule - so long as you're making the right choices 90% of the time, what you eat for the other 10% of the time is not really going to have an impact on your weight or health. Personally, I save that 10% for chocolate - the good quality kind with at least 70-80% coco, of course ;)