Many athletes load up on carbs before a big game or event, because they mistakenly think it’s the only way to have enough energy the whole time. And it’s true, you have more quick fuel if you eat three Clif bars than if you don’t…
But consuming too many carbs is problematic in a bunch of other ways, and the myth that you need carbs to sustain yourself and prep for workouts is just that, a myth.
Here are the three main issues with using glucose from carbs to fuel your body:
Grains, a major group of carb-heavy foods, aren’t too great for you. The vitamins and minerals in grains aren’t absorbed well by your body. Breakfast cereals tout iron, calcium, and more, but they pass right through you, so what’s the point?
Not to mention the fact that gluten is difficult for your system to digest, especially for those more sensitive to it! Why irritate your bowels, especially when you’ve got an endurance event coming up?
Also, a carbohydrate-rich diet, as you may already know, ends up producing a lot of glucose. When you carb-load, glycogen (what’s that? It’s glucose storage, basically energy storage!) floods your muscles. Sounds good, right? Nope!
It actually leads us to…
You actually can’t store much glucose in your liver or muscles! So now, you’ve got a bunch of storage, but you don’t have more energy!
That means you’re going to crash after an hour or so. And you’ll want to eat…and eat…to keep those energy levels up, so…
If you’ve got a lot of glycogen due to your high-carb diet, then your body will think it runs on carbs. It will believe that it needs to use carbs (that turn into glucose) as your primary source of energy. After all, you’ve got all this storage just waiting to be filled by good ol’ glucose!
Since your body can’t hold much glucose at once, then in order to keep your energy up (especially while exercising) you’ll want to eat all the time! And all that glucose produces more insulin, which directly causes weight gain.
For even more of a vicious cycle, insulin makes you crave carbs!
This is super important, because carb aficionados will try and tell you they need to carb load for intense exercise, because carbs fuel them. And again, they’re right! But they’re also victims of what you might call carb addiction.
These people are running on glucose in short supply, always running out, and then their insulin spikes tell them they need more, more, more…which leaves them to believe they love carbs and there’s no other option! Let’s call it the carb cycle.
You guessed it: burning fat for energy, instead!
How can you burn fat while also gaining muscle? With a HFLC diet! There are many reasons why this works. First off, you really don’t need much glycogen in your muscles (and what you do need gets triggered by eating enough protein).
Instead, you’ll be using fat as your energy source. As you consume fewer carbs, since you won’t be using glucose for energy any longer, your glycogen and insulin levels deplete, and this lets your body know that it’s time to use fatty acids for fuel instead. (nutritional ketosis!)
Once your body learns to convert fats into ketones, now those are your new source of energy and your new best friend!
To sum up, carbs are broken down into glucose in your body, which increases insulin production, which has been linked precisely to both weight gain and…more carb cravings.
If you want to break this cycle and reliance on short-term fuel, a HFLC diet is the best way to get your body to start burning fat for fuel, and to ultimately have more energy!