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low carb - CrossFit London

How Many Carbs Should I Be Having? First Let’s Look in the Mirror

In a world of keto, low carb, high fat, low carb high fat, paleo, primal, vegan and carnivarian (actually a thing now) there’s no wonder there’s so much mass confusion about what the best diet is. Amongst these doctrines, there is very little room for context – the low carb keto folk will say that carbs are the devil, without considering someone’s level of exercise or hormone status, while some vegan folk think that plants will change the world and meat causes diabetes – an actual claim from the recent propaganda film: What the Health.

And I get it, tribes are cool and extremes are easy, but in order to work out what YOU should be eating, the solution goes beyond tribalism and into your personal framework. We learnt this in my previous post on carbs making you fat where I made the claim that carb intake should be dependent on your activity level and goals (weight loss, mass gain, performance). In this post we go deeper and look at different bodytypes and their ability to turn carbs into energy or store as bodyfat…. Yes, there’s solid evidence to say that your carb intake should be determined by your bodytype!

Let’s look at the three main bodytypes or somatotypes made popular by William Sheldon in 1940 (you might remember them from high school health class):

  1. Ectomorph
  2. Mesomorph
  3. Endomorph

Two important footnotes:

  1. You’re not one strict bodytype. It’s important to know that you don’t fall strictly into one category – categorisation always sucks! Rather, we’re a mix of all, and have one dominant bodytype, much like the vata, pitta and kapha doshas in ayurvedic medicine.
  2. You can move between bodytypes. It’s also possible that an endo can become a meso or a meso to become an ecto. Diet, activity and lifestyle play a strong role in where we sit and where we can go – GREAT NEWS!

Ectomorph:
These folk are usually long, lean and wirey. They are known as “hard gainers” as they will have a tough time putting on mass. They use strength from their nervous system rather than muscle mass, making recovery extra important.
On Carbs: These guys shouldn’t worry too much about how many carbs they’re taking in. They’re usually sensitive to insulin (good thing), making them efficient carb burners. They’re usually sympathetic nervous system dominant, have a high metabolic rate, and can annoy many of their friends by eating whatever they want and remain thin.

Nutrition recommendations: Ensure you’re getting a good amount of carbs throughout the day, particularly around exercise. Also make sure you’re getting protein at every meal. Your body wants to stay lean, so make sure you keep your muscle mass high by eating enough protein. And don’t use your ecto status to eat whatever you want! You must take care of your gut, liver and nervous system (all seem to be more sensitive with ectomorphs) by eating quality foods.

Exercise recommendations: You may like your cardio because you’re good at it, but don’t ignore weight training as it’s probably going to be more important for you. Do compound exercises (squat, bench press, pullup, deadlift) at a heavy weight and make sure your nervous system is well recovered between sessions.

I hate celebrity comparisons but Beiber is all Ecto

Mesomorph
These guys are characterised by having higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone, and  having a high potential to gain muscle mass. Like their ectomorph friends, they’re usually more insulin sensitive, making it easy to process carbs, especially if they’re active. Ectomorphs usually hate these guys as they can spend a few months at the gym and be looking like the hulk.  Mesomorphs guys should still watch what they eat if they want to stay lean, as a big off season can mean storing of bodyfat. Carbs should still be eaten at every meal, and should be prioritised around training.

Nutrition Recommendations: Eat a mixed diet of proteins, carbs and fats, getting a solid serving of carbs in around workouts. If you’re more sedentary, watch your carb consumption if you want to keep lean and mean.

Exercise Recommendations: Ensure you keep up a regular training regime. Don’t let it slide and rely on your natural athleticism! Embrace variation and get into both strength and conditioning.

Serena Williams: The ultimate Meso.

Endomorph
Our more grounded, heavy set friends, these folk are known to be less active, and often curse themselves for their uncanny ability to put on weight… They’re usually weapons in the weight room, and have a natural ability to lift BIG.
Carbs for these folk should be taken in with caution, as too many can easily be stored as bodyfat. Getting the bulk of them in around exercise is a good idea, and monitoring their intake at our times in the day is also recommended.

Nutrition Recommendations: Prioritise fat and protein, and get the bulk of your carbs around your workouts. A low carb diet might work well for you, particularly if you’re sedentary. Also, chew your food for improved satiety signalling and watch for portion sizes! If you’re new this, you might want to track your calories via an app like myfitnesspal to get an idea of where you’re at.

Exercise Recommendations: Move! It may not always feel easy but trust me it’s worth it. Cardio might feel tough, but it’s going to do you the world of good and give you energy! And cardio doesn’t always mean running! If you can’t make it to the gym, then a long walk is nearly as good.

If anyone knows this lady, I’m currently taking on new clients.

So what to take away from this? Work out where you’re at, where you want to go, then put together the right plan to get you there. If you need some help getting yourself there, that’s where coaches come into play!

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*Disclaimer: This post is for information purposes only, and is not designed to diagnose or treat any disease. Always seek help from a medical professional whenever you undergo any dietary change.

 

References:

Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin SecretionThe DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2673150

The role of carbohydrates in insulin resistance. The Journal of Nutrition. DOI: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/10/2782S/4686473

Main characteristics of metabolically obese normal weight and metabolically healthy obese phenotypes. Nutrition Reviews. DOI: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/73/3/175/1837133?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Somatotype, Nutrition and Obesity. Reviews on Environmental Health. DOI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11199249

Somatotype and disease prevalence in adults. Reviews on Environmental Health. DOI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12088094

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:

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.

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.

Person 2: Fit Mum

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.

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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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 a 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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