"Should I eat a high carbohydrate diet? I heard it is good for energy."
At my personal training gym in Singapore, I have have heard both those lines, and everything in between.
But what works?
As with many things in life... the truth can be anywhere between those extremes, and even more importantly, it depends on who is asking!
As usual, I like to start with a story. During his university days, my brother once did a visit for a week to a monastery in the rural part of the United States.
In this monastery, the type and amount of food given to each monk (and visitor) is the same. Some kind of rice or grain, some kind of beans and vegetables, occasional eggs and, sometimes, a serving of meat.
The interesting thing is that the result of this un-intended experiment, is that the monks come in all shapes and sizes despite an almost identical diet!
This monastery is miles into the open desert. There isn't really a way to order pizza or burgers to your room at night, so there is a very low chance of "cheating". (This is even better than some of the University studies on diets where the methodology of the study almost guarantees that some participants will not stick to the diet being studied)
There are monks who look like Bruce Lee in his prime: lean, with low body fat and a nice set of ab muscles.
However, there are also monks who look like Sammo Hung: overly fat with big bellies clearly visible even with loose clothing.
Their bodies handle the same food differently. Everyone is bio-chemically different. And we need to eat for who we are, not for what the latest diet fad says we should.
To help clients understand what they should and should not be eating, I like to put carbohydrates on a continuum. At the top, we start with the kinds of carbohydrates that every body can, and should eat. And moving down, these are the kinds of carbohydrates that should be eaten in fewer circumstances.
1. Green veggies
2. Non-Green Veggies
3. Lower fructose fruits — Apricots, avocado (1/3 medium; yes, it's a fruit) blackberries (1/2 cup), figs, grapefruit (1/2 medium), peach, plum, raspberries (1/2 cup) strawberries (1/2 cup) tomato (yes, also a fruit), pears, oranges
4. Higher Fructose Fruits — Papaya, banana, cherries (1 Cup) grapes (1 Cup) mango, melon (2 wedges), orange, pear pineapple, (2 rings), watermelon (1 large slice)
5. High Nutrient Natural Starches — yam, sweet potato, tapioca, brown rice, quinoa
6. Grains — bread, pasta etc (white rice falls under here too, but its not as problematic)
7. Nonsense crappy starch foods — the rest!
If you are naturally lean, and can handle starches well, stay at number 1-5 with an occasional 6 if you have no grain-related allergies.
If you are a natural fat boy (oops that includes me…) but exercise a lot and can see your abs, stay within number 1-3 for best results.
If you are very overly fat (can't see your abs at all) — more than 20 percent for women and 15-18 percent for men then stay within 1-2.
If you don't care about burning fat, or getting leaner, or being healthy and living long, eat number 7 all day.
So, understand that you are special and different, and you need to eat accordingly. Stay lean and healthy by customising carbohydrate intake to your current body fat level and genetic type.