Intro to Fitness Nutrition | Food as Fuel | Calories and Food Labels | Protein | Carbohydrates | Fats | How to Eat to Lose Weight | How to Eat to Gain Weight | Exercise and Nutrition | Supplements

Are carbs really as "bad for you" as people say? The simple answer is no, carbohydrates are not anyone's enemy. They're a fuel source like any other—one that you can get from quality whole foods or junk food; one that you can consume in moderation, or you can wildly overdo; one you can use to take your performance to the next level, or to sabotage your best efforts and leave you disappointed.

Get ready for a master class on the most divisive macronutrient. Don't go low carb until you watch this video!  

Essential Ideas from the Video

  • Carbohydrates provide important nutrients like fiber and many B vitamins, and fruit in particular can offer a wide range of nutrients, but their major benefits are in the energy they provide.

  • There's a world of difference between sugary carbs and those that come from nutrient-dense sources, which you could call "brown carbs" or "high-fiber carbs." Whole grains, fibrous veggies, and legumes are all in this class, as are fruits and veggies.

  • Unlike every other carb source, you can approach leafy veggies with a pure "the more, the better" attitude.

  • Why prioritize fiber? It plays a crucial role in helping maintain the microbial balance in the gut, or GI tract, and has been shown to help control cholesterol levels, among many other health benefits.

  • One more benefit of fiber: Plenty of active people find when they increase their protein intake up to where it should be, they get constipated. This is often because their increased protein intake has come at the expense of their fiber intake.  

  • Very few people have a true gluten allergy, called celiac disease, but some people definitely experience gastrointestinal distress from consuming gluten, and can benefit from decreasing it. However, there is no magic weight-loss results shown to come from this—unless it produces a decrease in calories.

  • Within very specific contexts, like lengthy workouts or sporting events, carb gels and powders are useful. Outside of that context, they're no different than candy.  

  • Consuming these quick carbs during exercise is no substitute for a diet rich in nutrient-dense carbohydrates to maintain storage of carbohydrates. Your overall diet matters far, far more than what you eat around a workout.

  • Carb dosage varies widely by person and activity level. Rather than counting, try the "hand" method: Use a single fist to measure out servings of high-fiber carbs like potatoes, pasta, or rice. Then if you find you're "hitting the wall" during training, add another fist. If you're not losing the fat you want, take a fist away. But don't take that fist away from your vegetables. Those should still be a double palmful.

  • If you're considering going low carb or keto, do this first: For a solid month, meet that recommended daily allowance of fruits and veggies—or at least have that double palmful of veggies at every meal, and a couple of palms worth of fruit daily. Cut out excess sugar and simple carbs, and eat a fist or two of healthy carbs at every meal. Monitor your body composition and athletic performance. Then, after a month, take stock.  

  • If you do go low carb or keto, keep eating vegetables even when you're not eating "carbs." If going keto is your excuse to pick nutrient-poor foods, you're not doing yourself any favors in terms of health or performance.  

  • Remember: No diet is magic! The best one has always been, and will always be, the one that you can follow consistently, giving you a maximum amount of nutrients and a minimum number of empty calories.

Fueling up for performance? Power your toughest endurance workouts with intra-workout carbs!

About the Author

Contributing Writer

Contributing Writer’s authors consist of accredited coaches, doctors, dietitians and athletes across the world.

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