CARBS: The Good, The Bad, and the Moderation

CARBS: The Good, The Bad, and the Moderation

By: Emily R Pappas, M.S.

Oh, carbs! One day we love them, one day we hate them, one day they’re vital, one day they’re evil. Nearly every day, there seems to be a new study on carbs conflicting one just before it.


So, how are we supposed to know what is best for us?


First of all, it’s important to remember that the results of studies do not present facts. Remember that science is theory. There are always a wealth of variables in every study that a snappy headline just won’t cover, especially when the studies concern a small sample of people with different activity levels and genetics. 


But as we continually flip-flop between no carbs, low carbs, or high carbs, the overall conclusion usually comes back to an age-old adage:



And this is exactly the conclusion from a recent study, which has touted itself as “the most comprehensive study of carbohydrate intake” ever. Here’s one of the main takeaways:

“Although carbohydrates are technically not an 'essential' nutrient (unlike protein and fats), a certain amount is probably required to meet short-term energy demands during physical activity and to maintain fat and protein intakes… moderate intake of carbohydrate (eg, roughly 50% of energy) is likely to be more appropriate for the general population than are very low or very high intakes.”-Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

So, what’s most important to consider is not whether you should eat carbs, but what carbs you should be eating.

Where Are You Getting Your Carbs?

You shouldn’t be afraid of carbs. After all, humans were eating plenty of carbs long before obesity was a thing. But you have to remember that not all carbs are created equal. If your diet has 50% of its calories from carbs, you need to choose them wisely.


You will end up looking and performing much differently if the majority of your carbs come from whole food sources that include fiber, vitamins, and minerals versus from refined carbs found in processed foods and sugar-loaded treats like cakes, cookies, pastries, and candy.

The bulk of your carb intake should come from “whole carbs” including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, oats, potatoes, beans, and even nuts and seeds. These are considered “whole carbs” because they have fiber. Fiber is absolutely essential to a healthy diet: it helps increase bulk to your stools and, while it doesn’t directly supply the body with energy, it does help feed the healthy gut bacteria that will go on to produce fatty acids for your cells to use as energy later.

How Many Carbs Should I Be Eating?


So, what is your optimal carb intake? Well, it depends on quite a lot, including your age, gender, metabolic health, physical activity, and preference. For the average female NOT in training, you’ll want to focus on that 50% goal. Try filling at least half of your plate with a colorful array of whole carbs. This is the best way to keep it all in moderation.


For the female athlete in training, carbohydrates FUEL performance and recovery.  For female athletes whose energy expenditure is much higher than the general population,, we like to see almost 60-70% of their daily energy intake from carbohydrates.

But, thats a lot of food!!! This is where those fun simple carbs play a huge role.  Not only are simple carbs such as cereals, white breads, & energy drinks delicious, they are less filling due to their lack of fiber content.  This allows female athletes to increase their carbohydrate intake to meet their energy demands without feeling super full.  Even more, simple carbs are IDEAL for athletes during and immediately after training as they: 1) immediately help refill your muscle glycogen stores 2) shuttle protein into your muscles for quick recovery 3) are unlikely to be stored in fat cells due to the increased insulin sensitivity of your muscles after exercising (AKA your muscles WANT those fruity pebbles post workout!!).


Want help figuring out how many carbs are right for you?  Sign up for my FREE nutrition coaching consult HERE!


Why cutting carbs is NOT the key to your success


Unlike the general population, most female athletes are at high risk of UNDER FUELING!


This is no surprise, really, given how much of our lives revolve around our physical images—and, yes, Instagram (hello filters, instagram models, and all the myths). Societal and cultural influences emphasize a certain aesthetic while almost always ignoring the importance of health.


This is why MODERATION in your carbohydrate intake is KEY!  Remember, there is no EVIL carb.  The real evil is under-fueling in an attempt to achieve a certain look.


Without enough carbohydrates, the female athlete is increasing the amount of STRESS her body is exposed to. Too much stress?  This leads to under-performing, break down, injuries, and a decrease in your metabolism.  When your body is exposed to a caloric deficit over long periods of time, the total amount of calories out by the body during any activity will decrease.  This is because your metabolism adapts to the restricted conditions! Remember, our bodies want to adapt for survival!


So instead of trying to balance looking lean, cutting carbs, and pushing your body to the EXTREME to perform, keep your carb intake in MODERATION! This means the bulk of your intake should come from whole complex carbs, while the extra energy you need for a boost in performance and recovery can come from simple carbs!


At the end of the day, remember to stay away from extremes. There is no GOOD or BAD carb as long as we keep everything in moderation! When you do, you set yourself up for success!  Remember, female athletes that perform better, feel better, and as a result LOOK better!

NUTRITIONEmily PappasComment