What is a carb? What is a protein? What is a fat? High fat. Low carb. We all hear these words thrown around so haphazardly that they have lost all meaning. Not to mention the confusion about when and how we are supposed to eat them. Are they good? Are they evil? Let’s shed some light and simplify things so that you can make good choices that work specifically for you, your body, and your workout routine.

Carb (short for Carbohydrate)

This includes bread, pasta, grains, legumes, cereal, crackers, chips, popcorn (yum!), and yes fruits and vegetables. Carbs are abundant and while they work well for some bodies, they don’t work for other bodies. My husband thrives on a low carb diet and has had great success with it, whereas I thrive on a diet that includes oatmeal, fruit and rice. Carbs are converted into glycogen (sugar) and are the brain and the body’s preferred energy source which is why you might feel weak and shaky if you go too long without it.

For those who include carbs in their diets, it is helpful to eat them about an hour before a typical workout. The amount of carbs you need varies based on your body weight, the intensity of exercise, and the duration of the workout. That is where the math and science come in to play and it is helpful to have a fitness expert’s help. But in general, a piece of bread or small piece of fruit is substantial to fuel a moderate workout. Just be careful that whatever you choose doesn’t have too much fiber because this can cause stomach upset or cramps during a workout.

Protein

This includes beef, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, dairy, whey, soy, and vegetable proteins. Legumes have a good amount of protein in them as well for those who are vegetarian, but it is important to note that they are also a carb. Protein is the thing that aids in muscle repair and rebuilding. And it is what you want after a workout and maybe even during if the workout includes heavy lifting. Again, a fitness expert can help determine your individual protein needs, but in general 20-30 grams within an hour of your workout is a good general rule.

This is one area though where more is not better. Some people believe that they need an extraordinary amount of protein to build muscle mass or to lose weight. Just remember that the amount of protein you should consume is based on your body weight and if you consume too much, then it isn’t going to help achieve results any better or faster. In fact, when our bodies have an excess of anything, whether it is carbs, protein or fat, it is converted and stored as fat. Our bodies have an endless supply of fat storage, but a limited amount of carb and protein storage. I know…not fair!

Fat

This is the thing that so many believe is pure evil. We just hear the word fat and associate it with being fat. It may be wise to phase out the word “fat” altogether and call it by its scientific name, lipid, because then maybe it wouldn’t scare so many people. However, more and more, even the average Joe is learning that not all fats are created equal. Back in the 80’s and 90’s we were told that non-fat was the way to go. So everything was made into non-fat–milk, ice-cream, yogurt, cookies, and butter. We replaced fat with sugar and ingredients that were created in a lab and hardly recognized by the body. Now we are learning that fats can actually be good. Coconut and olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are all examples of good, healthy fats. And like anything else, moderation is key.

But this is where I have to tread lightly. There is a lot of science to back up the high fat, no carb diets that say ALL fats are good if you stop eating carbs. This is because the fats take over and serve as the main fuel for your body. This therefore eliminates sugar from your body because carbs are converted to sugar so that they can be used as a quick fuel and whatever isn’t used is stored as fat. We have all heard the evils of too much sugar and there are many experts in the field that are educating us on the benefits of a high-fat diet. But like I said before, no diet is a one size fits all. I personally did not have a lot of luck on this diet whether it was for psychological or physical reasons. I don’t particularly enjoy high fatty foods or a lot of meat, but my husband thrives on this kind of eating.

When it comes to your workout, there is no real guideline for eating a certain amount of fat at a certain time. It is just important to know that fat slows down digestion and if you eat it right before or during a workout, it can cause stomach upset.

It is important to consult with your doctor and fitness expert before you make any drastic changes to you diet. And the experts can help you figure out exactly how much of what type of food to eat and when to eat it in order to maximize the benefits. It is essential to find the diet that works for you because every body is different. Once you find it, it will benefit you and your workout in the long run.


Lindsey Graves, BS, CPT, is an exercise science specialist and certified personal trainer. Reach her on Twitter @lindseyrae1979 and by email at Lrae1979@hotmail.com