The Carbohydrate Tipping Point is the amount of starch/sugar a person can eat to supply energy for exercise AND activities of daily living, but not over produce insulin, so that the body engages in so that the body can burn fat effectively.
Finding this spot is important, and has three primary parameters: amount of carb, type of carb, and timing of carbs.
Amount of CarbFor fat loss, each person needs to find the appropriate amount of carbs that will deliver sustained energy, but not slow fat loss … and it’s unique to each of us.
In this discussion, think in terms of bites since in today’s fast paced society people often eat on the go and don’t carry around scales to measure food. We also don’t have access to meals labeled with clearly marked grams of carbs. So using bites allows a quick and adjustable means to manipulate the amount of carbs we consume.
So a single bite will be approximately the size of a tablespoon and equal to roughly 5g of carbohydrates. For those new to adjusting your eating with a goal of losing body fat, I recomment no more than 10 bites of carbs eaten exclusively at each of the major meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This can then be adjusted up or down based on your fat loss results … AS WELL AS your responses to hunger, cravings, and energy. This is an individual process that needs to be approached with the mindset of a detective.
Type of Carb
The type of carbohydrate corresponds with the amount of carbohydrate. The more favorable carbs are consumed in greater amounts of bites and those bites can also be a bit larger. The more detrimental carbs to fat loss are consumed in fewer bites and should be smaller. As an example, if you are eating white rice, have 3 small bites, but if you are eating brown rice eat 5 bigger bites. The types of carbs have much to do with how fast the carbohydrate will raise blood sugar (glycemic index and glycemic load) and the allergy producing potential of the carbohydrate.
The carbs with the highest fiber relative to sugar/starch are basically eaten in unlimited amounts (for most people). These include non-starchy vegetables and whole fruits (berries, apple, pear). But the starchy carbohydrates and sweet carbohydrates have to be managed tightly. These include white grains, whole grains, beans, and other carbs. This is often a point of confusion for people as they have heard that the “healthiest carbs” are whole grains and beans because of their high fiber. These carbs ARE high fiber, but they are much higher in starch/sugar and therefore are not as beneficial as the fibrous carbs and fruit. This is an essential insight for body fat reduction and to the carbohydrate tipping point.
White grains have nothing but starch/sugar with little fiber. Whole grains and beans have more fiber and less starch, but they are still over 70% starch. They may be healthy, but they are not the best for fat loss. Vegetables and fruits in some cases actually have less fiber than whole grains and beans, but they have far less starch/sugar and also much higher water content. This means they have a low glycemic load and make for great fat loss foods. If you take nothing else about carbohydrates from this, you should know that the only truly free carbs are non-starchy vegetables and low sweet fruits (even fruits can be an issue for some). All others carbs should be consumed as bites.
Another consideration for carb type is the allergy producing potential of carbs. When I use the term allergy, I’m really talking about food sensitivities and not a true allergy. All grains and beans are best to be avoided in the fat loss lifestyle due to their concentration of gluten, lectins, and saponins, which can create negative consequences for the immune system and fat loss in some people. Also keep in mind that most of the time these sensitivities can be minimized and eventually eliminated through long term healthy lifestyle (the same way people no longer need medication after some time following a well-designed exercise program, and modifying their diet).
Timing of Carb
The timing of carbs involves using carbs to control your hunger rhythms and energy needs. A high carb meal induces an insulin response which has been shown to adjust the leptin rhythm determining how hungry we feel from one day to the next. For some, having carbs at each meal is still too much to allow fat loss. In this case it is helpful to reduce carbs further and focus all of the carb intake at specific times. Eating all your carbs at breakfast can help allay hunger at night. Eating all your carbs at night can help allay hunger in the morning. A carb load at night also helps sleep by dampening the stress hormone response many insomniacs experience at night. This leads to faster times falling asleep and less waking at night.
Another great time to include a higher carb load is post workout. Because exercise makes us uniquely carb sensitive, carbs taken post workout will be distributed to liver and muscle glycogen stores first and aid muscle building before they are stored away as fat. This means higher loads of carbs as well as higher glycemic index carbs can be better tolerated at this point if desired. However, this still has to be monitored, and viewed in context. There is a fine line between maximizing glycogen storage for performance compared to controlling carb amounts for fat loss. I’ll share a bit more on this tomorrow.
For now, if you’ve been exercising and eating healthy foods for some time and still have a few more pounds to go, start to think about your carbs in terms of bites. Develop an understanding of the types of carbs available, and what is BEST for your goals. And then consume the types of carbs using the timing suggestions above.
The key in all of this working is your direct feedback you get. How’s your energy? Your Hunger? And your cravings? All these should stay in check. This is feedback you receive constantly throughout the day.
Then every 4 weeks, monitor your results. Are you on track for your goals?
Brian Calkins NSCA-CPT, ACE
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