Categorized as: Nutrition

Carbs… Will they make you fat?

carbohydrates-foods

 

Carbs…. it’s a dirty word. Controversy, curiosity, even conflict arises when you bring up this word among the healthsphere.  Everyone has an opinion on carbs; how essential they are, how they’re going to kill you or how they make you a bad person. The food industry has noticed this too and we’ve seen a low carb revolution where people can feel better about their 6th pint of beer because this one is low carb.

A few things about carbs before we start:

  • There are many foods that are classified as carbohydrates: breads, pasta, rice, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, oats, fruits, legumes.
  • They’re one of three macronutrients, alongside fat and protein.
  • They’re broken up into sugars, starches or fibre.
  • They mostly provide energy, but can easily be turned into fat (this is an important evolutionary mechanism).
  • They’re actually non – essential (despite what our health professionals may believe). You can get on fine without them, whereas protein and fats are essential.

Much of the myopia around carbs has come from our awful food guidelines that have told us to eat a shitload of them. And why not, they’re cheap, easy to access, and usually delicious. Check out the old food pyramid:

Pyramid2007

After a few decades of rampant obesity and dietary disease, people began to question this pyramid and everything we believed about nutrition. There’s a great piece from the New York Times on that here. As a result, there’s been a crusade of folk condemning carbs, many trying low carb diets, paleo diets, ketogenic diets. Many doing well off them, many not so well.

Like most things in nutrition, the answers about carbs really depends on you. Who are you? What do you do? How does this feel? how does that feel? The answer cannot be explained in a buzzfeed news title.

These nuances are prevalent in the many studies that have been done on different diets of traditional societies. On one side there are the Kitavans who eat a high carb diet (rich in starches) on the other side there are the massai who are reported to eat a diet low in carbs. Which is superior? Well, both diets seem to work as they don’t suffer from any dietary related disease or metabolic syndrome, and are robustly healthy as noted in Staffan Lindeberg’s research

Where we DO have some more answers is with carbs and their influence on physical activity. And we know this, right? “Carbs give you energy!” Says everyone who objects to your low carb diet. And they’re not wrong, carbs are a valuable source of energy and they’re the body’s first choice of fuel for most physical activity. Though this mantra tends to be abused as the office jockey will stock up on muffins to give her “energy” to get through the day.

So what do I do?

First, start by “earning your carbs” which means we’re matching our carb intake with our physical activity, and getting the nutrient timing right to maximise your recovery.

To make this simpler, here are three different people, with very lifestyles, each of whom has a completely different carbohydrate need:

 

Person 1: Office Jockey

Goals: Lose 20kg of bodyfat.

Training Volume: Very Little. This guy moves from his bed, to his car, to his office and then reverses these steps at the end of the day.

keith from the office

Recommended Carb Intake: Very little. I’d recommend going  low in carbohydrates (<100g per day) and sticking to a higher fat, moderate protein diet. These carbs should come mostly from green leafy vegetables and he should go easy on the fruit. Since weight loss is his main goal, I’d prioritise fat and protein, and aim to get these at every meal. It also goes without saying that he should get some god damn movement in his life and avoid all refined carbs and sugars.

Photo: If anyone knows Keith from the Office then can you please pass him my card.

 

Person 2: Fit Mum

fit mum kids

Goals: Lose a few kgs, stay in shape for life, keep up with her kids.

Training Volume: Crossfit 3xpw, long walks on weekends, general moving around with kids.

Recommended Carb Intake: Moderate. Between 100-150g per day, and slightly more on training days. Carbs should come from green leafy veggies, and starches (potato, sweet potato, pumpkin) and the bulk of her intake should come post workout. Two pieces of fruit per day is okay, but she shouldn’t go overboard, and should still make sure she’s getting adequate protein and fat at each meal.

 

Person 3: Games Athlete

Goals: Improved performance: stronger, faster, compete at an elite level.

Training Volume: Training 6+ times per week, sometimes twice a day. Lifts weights, sprints, does cardio, and high intensity sessions.

Recommended Carb Intake: High, >200g of carbs per day, from a variety of sources: starches (potato, sweet potato), rice, rice, oats, whole grains.

BUT THEN…

Even these are very vague guidelines. If you want a more accurate snapshot, you need to factor in thyroid status, adrenal profile, and gut function and this can play a huge role in the impact carbs will play on the body. For example, if we’re suffering from hypothyroidism, then a moderate carb approach will be more appropriate due to the raised insulin and conversion of T4 into T3. Whereas if you’ve got blood sugar issues, then any sort of ‘moderate’ approach to carb consumption can be like kryptonite.

Here’s a good graphic from the masterful Chris Kresser detailing this more:

kresser - The-3-Step-Process-to-Determining-Your-Ideal-Carbohydrate-Intake1

 

Summary

So as you can see, there’s no perfect health diet for all humans, and anyone who says otherwise is misinformed or an arsehole. A good place to start would be asking yourself, “what is my physical activity like?” “How do I feel when I eat this?” “Am I over/underweight?” What’s my performance like?” “Do I have an underlying health condition?” With an understanding of your body and it’s needs, you’re setting yourself to be a strong and capable human.

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Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and a Coach at Crossfit London.

Paleo and CrossFit… Can They Coexist?

CrossFit and paleo, two concepts that have grown side by side for the past fifteen years. Two market driven movements that promote health, minimalism, community, and two movements that are as controversial as they effective.

Having high stakes in both of these (I coach crossfit and use a paleo template in my nutrition coaching), I have seen first hand just how effective, and also how damaging these approaches can be.

First, we should look at both movements in their rawest form.

CrossFit: A method of exercise that practices functional movement at high intensity.

Paleo: A way of eating that promotes eating fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts and seeds. In other words, eating as minimally processed foods as possible.

paleo-foods

USUALLY, a standard paleo diet will be slimmer on the carbs and larger on the protein. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t consciously smash your sweet potato and go “high carb paleo,” but most of us who go paleo will be leaning to the lower side of carb consumption (<150g per day) – that’s about 3 sweet potatoes.

Now, questions of doing paleo and crossfit; “is it optimal? Will it help me lose weight? Will it help me gain muscle? Will it save my life?” The answers to these are like so many in nutrition… “it depends.”

So it’s hard to give a definitive answer as to whether it’s right for you, but in an effort to reach a conclusion, I’ll give you three real life examples of people I’ve come across and you can make up your mind where you sit from there.

  1. “The Athlete.”

 

pexels-photo-348487 (2)

This girl is training 2 hours per day, 5+ times per week. She lifts heavy, goes fast, and is completely dedicated to making the sport. Her goals are to to put on muscle to lift heavy, but not too much that it interrupts her conditioning.

 

2. ‘The Superdad.’

What-Gift-Buy-Fit-Dad

He’s recently taken up crossfit and trains 3 times per week. He has a busy schedule with two kids and a full time job, but fitness still holds an important part in his life. His goals are to lose weight and stay strong to keep up with his kids.

 

3. ‘The Office Jockey.’

keith from the office

This guy has recently taken up crossfit as the doctor suggested it. He’s overweight, has insulin resistance, and has high blood pressure. This guy is also extremely sedentary, and hasn’t had regular movement or sunlight since school. He’s started training 2 times per week and goals are to lose weight, feel more energy and build some muscle mass.

 

Now, the verdicts.

1. Should the “Athlete” eat paleo?

No! Why? Let’s look at her schedule… She’s training around 2 hours a day and spends the rest of the time recovering and thinking about training… Glamorous?! She’s using her anaerobic system consistently, and this system runs on glucose (carbs), not fat or ketones. Fran doesn’t run well on fat.

Carbs such as potato, sweet potato, beets, pumpkin, as well as non – paleo foods in rice, quinoa, oats (gasp) and other whole grains should be a staple for these guys, whereas our first two friends should be more diligent with them. Protein should obviously be a priority as maintaining muscle mass is important, and fat should be adequate.

Nutrient timing is also important. Post workout carbs will help funnelling nutrients to the muscles so adding some dextrose to her Barefoot Health protein shake would be helpful.

But won’t all those carbs store as bodyfat? Carbs, insulin, fat storage right?! Not quite. When we’re doing this type of anaerobic training, we mostly store these carbs as glycogen, not body fat. A whole different set of rules applies to our “Superdad” or “Office Jockey”, so don’t do a Michael Phelps and eat 12 wheat bix for breakfast just yet.

 

2. Should the “Superdad” eat paleo?

Yes! Greg Glassman’s initial mantra of “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar” is a perfect fit for this guy. In addition to this, a little tinkering with carb timing and quantity is required here to make sure he’s keeping the belly fat off.  He should ensure he’s getting carbs post workout, and enough to support his activity – around 150g per day seems to be a good area to stick to. His plan also has some wiggle room… Since he’s pretty active, sleeps well, and has good community, sticking to a plan of 80/20 paleo/non paleo will work well and be sustainable and give enough room for a glass of wine over his grass – fed steak.

 

3. Should the ‘Office Jockey’ eat paleo?

Yes! Absolutely. It might just save his life. Most carbohydrates will not be friends with this man, and his diet should be centred around healthy fats, protein and veggies.  Why? Well he’s one of 2 million Australians with pre diabetes, and a continuation of his current lifestyle will land him will land him in a very dangerous state. Having extremely low glucose tolerance means eating things like cereals and wholegrain bread is lethal, as it’s jacking up our blood sugar, and we don’t have the necessary insulin function to maintain homeostasis. (cereal and wholegrain bread are both recommended from our chief authority on diabetes – shocked face).

Now, should this fella get into the gym, and I hope he would, he might want to add some post workout carbs in the form of sweet potato or pumpkin, but I’d recommend going between 50-100g of carbs in the short term to restore some baseline of health.

 

Wrapping Up

So the point here is to accept that we’re all the same but different animals with different nutrition requirements for optimal health. At a baseline we can all agree that a diet with heaps of veggies, enough protein and healthy fats is good for all. But digging deeper, we need to consider our genetics, activity level, activity type, hormonal profile and GI status when deciding what the optimal diet is.

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Coach Steve

Clean up your back act. For free!

It’s been a hard back week at CrossFit London. Most of you use your backs well, moderate your loads and maintain a tight core when lifting, meaning deadlifting isn’t an issue.

If deadlifting is an issue, it’s normally traced down to a lack of what Stuart McGill calls ” back hygiene”.  Poor back hygiene means you use your back when lifting, all the time! You also abuse your back every day, by slumping and slouching ( or overextending). I t could also mean you are ok, but you cannot control yourself in a WOD. You’ll pile through in a workout no matter what your body is telling you ( it’s ok, I did this too, but,  it’s tough being an asshole isn’t it!)

I’m an expert in this area because, for years, this is what I did.  Zero back hygiene. My back took everything I  threw at it. Until it broke.

If you have back pain, there are 5 key mistakes you probably make. I made them all

1) Having a slumping place. That’s the place where you mold furniture to the worst position for your back, and you slump there for hours.

for the record, here is my slumping place

2) I went searching for physio’s,  therapists and experts to fix my back. The reality is that they all fixed it.  I just went right on home and screwed it up again

3) I failed to take responsibility: I blamed CrossFit for setting the deadlift, furniture manufacturers for making soft sofa’s, girlfriends for buying soft sofa’s, the door of our flat being wide enough to allow a soft sofa into my life. I also loaded stress, poor diet and worry into the mix, to get top quality pain, I certainly didn’t moderate my exercise: anger drove my deadlift up to levels that would guarantee to destroy it.

4) A refusal to do the “guaranteed to work” boring therapy exercises

5) A refusal to realise that I was a “backaholic”. That I loved slumping and  I liked that sickly sweet pain that comes with 8 hours of hanging in your back. I think I also liked the sympathy I got, but that’s awful to confess (in fact, I’m going to edit that confession out).

The good news is this: unless you have back plague, or a demon has possessed your spine,  you can fix your back. Back plague, demonic possession otherwise known as  Red Flags are here: if you have these symptoms, you do have a medical condition (or a demon)  and you need help fast.

But, unless you are in the tiny minority who has something really wrong with their back , your pain is down to you, and you can fix it if you want or can be bothered to.

If any of our members are remotely interested, we will  go through the skills and drills  you need to fix your back on Sunday 16th July at 10.30am in the back room at 9 Malcolm Place E2, for free. The class “back hygeine” is on the booking schedule. You should be able to book in and the system won’t charge you!

Don’t worry about me!  If no one shows, I’ll drink coffee! After all, I’ve decided to manage my back. I’m so over needing it to hurt