This post covers the second part of mantra #4 (of 5), Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigorous Exercise. It’s in two parts because I’m just too loquacious (SAT word meaning BLAH-BLAH-BLAH). The setup in part 1 was reminiscent of working your way through a 7-period day in high school. We left off at a lunch break but until that point we learned who is responsible for our love-hate relationship with carbohydrates, the optimal types to eat, and when to eat them. This second part discusses how carbs actually get used and the amounts to aim for. The usual “Special Considerations” and all important “Key Points” are also included. You can review part one of the mantra #4 post here or you could scroll to the bottom of this post and just grok the key points. But that would be like showing up late to school and you don’t want to get detention.
But when we last left off, we heard…
Ring, Ring. Time for lunch…
Today’s special is 1-2 servings of protein with 2-3 servings of vegetables over whole-grain pasta (It’s OK, you just had a vigorous game of Dodge Ball in PE) in a sauce of healthy fat. Mmmm. Don’t forget to honor your good deed, the good deeds of others, and the efforts of those fine cafeteria workers behind the counter. Enjoy your lunch slowly and stop before you’re full
Ring, Ring. Was that 20 minutes already? Time to go to sixth period…
(I bet you weren’t expecting a science class.)
Your body’s metabolism of carbohydrates is unique compared to the other macronutrients. Carbs follow different pathways depending on what you actually ate, when you ate it, and your own personal physiology. These different pathways have a direct effect on your health. To get a full appreciation for this requires a level of geekiness that not even I’m comfortable inflicting upon you. But, if you want to manage your own Karma Sense Eating without support from a coach, I need to get into some detail. I promise, I’ll only tell you what you need to know, but I may occasionally go astray to make a wisea$$ remark. On the other hand, this explanation may err on the side of oversimplification. Nutrition pedants, I’m ready to suffer the consequences but please be gentle.
The Science of “Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates”
(NOTE: Whole Food Carbohydrates were discussed in the first post about this mantra. To save you from having to reference that post, scroll to the Key Points below for a list.)
When your meal enters your mouth, your saliva begins to break the carbs in your food into their simplest form, sugar. As your food continues through the digestive system, more and more of the carb content is converted to simple sugar. Once the food reaches the small intestines, some, but not all carbs, get absorbed into your blood stream. The portion that IS NOT absorbed continues through your digestive tract and is removed from the body (use your imagination). That undigested portion was just checking out the sights; passing through.
The portion that IS absorbed gets sent to the liver which acts as a factory and distribution warehouse. The liver keeps some of that sugar and circulates the rest onto the nutrition superhighway, your bloodstream. The circulating sugar is stored in a variety of ways:
- It remains circulating in the blood and is used for quick energy or to feed the brain since the brain has no way of storing its own. But the blood can only have so much sugar in it before it turns into syrup. Your body likes to keep your blood at a pre-syrup level. So, it finds other places to stash it such as…
- Muscle tissue and the liver where it is used as their source of energy. But the liver and muscles can only store so much. If the liver and muscles are “full” and there’s no more room at the inn, the sugar gets converted into…
If you want to minimize the amount stored as fat, one strategy is to maximize your intake of whole food carbohydrates in favor of the more simple, refined type. Simple carbohydrates like refined sugars and flours get absorbed very efficiently. Complex carbohydrates with lots of fiber are more of a challenge to the digestive system. The digestive system truly loves a challenge, but it doesn’t do as well at processing the foods that present that challenge. That’s good news because you get all the enjoyment of eating that entire sweet potato without it having the same metabolic effect as eating the equivalent amount of sweet-tarts. This is why mantra #4 emphasizes Whole Food Carbohydrates in favor of their refined cousins. Note that the Tasty-But-Empty-Calorie Cabal is always interested in finding new names and cheaper techniques for providing you sugar. Here are some examples to look for on an ingredient label:
|Agave Nectar||High Fructose
|Cane Sugar||Hydrolized Starch||Maple Syrup|
|Fructose||Inverted Sugar Syrup||Sugar Beets|
If you see these items on the ingredient list of what you’re about to eat, you’re not eating a carbohydrate that’s in the spirit of mantra #4. Fear not, if you have a jones for Hydrolized Starch (and who doesn’t?), its time in KSEP will come.
The Science of “After Vigorous Exercise”
If we look at the three ways the body stores carbohydrates and can assume you want to minimize the third (i.e. fat), then there are two main strategies. The first is to manage the type of carbs you eat (complex, whole foods; not simple nor refined). The second way is to manage the timing of when you eat them. So here is the theory of operations for that second method.
Most of the sugar sent by the liver to the blood is absorbed by fat and muscle cells. The exception is sugar that’s immediately used for fuel or to maintain blood sugar levels. Sugar enters fat and muscle cells through a series of “pumps” called Glucose Transporters that pull the sugar from the blood so it can enter the cells. A specific type of Glucose Transporter called GLUT4, is responsible for pulling in sugar to “feed” muscle and fat cells. Our goal is to pack as much sugar as possible into the muscle cells and not fat cells. However, GLUT4s are shy. They don’t welcome sugar at all hours of the day or night. If they did, they would be GLUT-10s (which, I admit, was a very bad joke). Instead, they depend on either (or both) of two events:
- Insulin Release – Insulin is a hormone (I told you there’d be hormones) that is secreted by the pancreas when the liver has no choice but to push all the extra sugar it’s received into the bloodstream. In the presence of insulin, your fat and muscle cells activate your GLUT4s so that the sugar can be pulled from the blood and stored in their cells. The amount of sugar that can be stored is directly related to how much muscle and fat tissue you have. But, once we’re adults, we only gain new muscle when we use it in new and challenging ways. Unfortunately, we gain fat simply by taking in more calories than we burn. What that means is muscle has an upper limit on how much sugar it can store. Fat does not. And the more sugar stored in fat, the more fat you carry around. If you consume too much sugar over your lifetime, you become insulin resistant. This is like the ding-dong-ditch of bodily functions. Your cells get so tired of insulin knocking on the door that they stop sending GLUT4s to answer. The sugar just circulates in the blood and lines your cell walls with candy coating like you find on an M&M. This is a condition also known as Type 2 Diabetes
- Vigorous Exercise – When you exercise, the cells of your muscles use the stored sugar for energy. It does this through something called the Krebs Cycle which, contrary to popular belief is not named after Maynard G. Krebs of the once popular television program, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
- In fact, the Krebs Cycle isn’t really critical to this discussion at all. However, Maynard G. Krebs? He’s just a hip cat. But back to vigorous exercise. As the stored sugar is consumed, muscle cells engage the GLUT4s to pull in more. This optimizes the amount of sugar targeted for muscles. Fat cells do not need to engage their GLUT4s during exercise because fat isn’t doing any work. Also, if you work hard enough and follow mantra #2, Eat Protein in Every Meal, your muscles will grow and that means they can take on more sugar next time.
And this is why for mantra #4, you Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigorous Exercise. Whole Food Carbs because they don’t get absorbed as sugar as easily. After Vigorous Exercise because it maximizes uptake in the muscle and minimizes the addition of fat.
So what is the lesson from today’s class?
- Admit it, science really was the best class you ever had and you actually do use it in real life.
- If your goal is optimal health, the type of carbs and the timing of when you eat them matters.
Ring, Ring. Time to go to seventh (and final) period…
Today’s class will cover everyone’s favorite activity…Word Problems. The problems focus on getting enough carbs in the diet. It is important to note that active people need more carbs than people who lead a sedentary lifestyle. The topics discussed below are mostly issues for active folk.
- Maynard is fit, active and does not really crave carbohydrates. He learned in school that they can make him gain fat. He figures he’ll just stop eating them. How many words are required to explain to Maynard why long-term avoidance of carbs is a bad idea? Solution: 1. And that word is “hormones” (there they are again).
- Davey H is pushing his luck with this post if he is expecting us to read something this long. For planning purposes, how many hormonal problems will he tell us about? Extra credit for listing the affected hormones and the associated issue. Solution: 7.
- Batman, Wonderwoman, Spiderman, and Jean Gray are having a dinner party 90 minutes after working out in the X-Men’s Danger Room. They will be having a whole grain pasta side dish. How many servings should they prepare? What size are the portions? Solution: Trick Question. Those four are from different comic universes. It would be impossible for them to meet. Furthermore, of all the macronutrients, carbs may be the hardest to come up with a one size fits all response for how much to eat. As a rule of thumb start with half a cup of cooked whole food carbohydrates for women and one cup for men. The actual answer depends on many variables including:
- Physiology – some people are more carb tolerant or process carbs more efficiently than others
- Activity level – active people need more carbohydrates than sedentary people.
- Goals – people looking to lose weight can opt for a lower-carbohydrate diet than people looking to maintain or gain weight.
- Some readers of the Karma Sense Eating Plan series are interested in figuring out what the right serving size is for them. How do they proceed? Solution: Trial and error mostly. Start with the above guidelines and adjust accordingly. There are other ways of pinpointing the right amounts, but they are beyond the scope of this course. I am happy to stay after class and discuss this. Please contact me if interested. But at the end of the day, which thankfully we have now reached, don’t over think it. Relax. Use the Force.
Ring, Ring. The school day is done. Here are some…
Time to explore how people with different goals should adjust the mantra of Eat Whole Food Carbohydrates After Vigorous Exercise.
Implement this mantra as is.
Maintain Weight but Eat Healthier
Implement this mantra as is. But if you’re so inclined to explore the limits, go ahead and let us know how it works out for you. Breakfast is a good meal to test out. When you first wake up, you are in a fasted state. The needle on your stored and circulating sugar gauge is pushing towards Empty. Breaking your fast with whole food carbs (e.g. oatmeal; not Chocolate Crunchy Sugar Bombs) is a good way to refill your tank. Your body depends on the insulin mechanism for engaging your GLUT4s (described in Biology class) which means both muscle and fat cells will take up the available sugar but I would not expect it to affect your weight.
Gain Weight in the Form of Muscle
You have further leeway to implement this. For example, feel free to add some fruit to your regular meals.
- The subject of carbohydrates and your consumption thereof is complicated, highly individualized and made more confusing by outside sources and forces. Don’t let them get to you. Common sense will serve you well. Karma Sense will serve you better.
- Aim for minimally processed sources of carbohydrates in the following order of preference (highest to lowest):
- Beans and lentils
- Those starchy vegetables that you labeled with #4’s on the list you created for mantra #3
- Whole Grains
- Other carbohydrates such as those that are highly refined (flour based or added sugar) and alcohol (not really a carb) are not included in mantra #4. They are discussed later in the Karma Sense Eating Plan.
- Eat whole food carbohydrates within two hours after engaging in vigorous exercise. Specifically, “vigorous” means:
- You can’t speak more than a few words without taking a breath alternatively vigorous means about a 7 or 8 on a relative difficulty scale in which 10 would mean all out effort.
- Instead of the above, you can participate in moderate resistance exercise such as weight training.
- Aim for a minimum of 15-30 minutes of physical activity.
- Portion sizes can vary and require monitoring based on your goals. For starters, a woman should go for ½ cup cooked whole food carb. A man should go for 1 cup whole food carb. Either can be replaced by 1 medium piece of fruit or half a cup of berries/chopped fruit.
- Eat Whole Food Carbs because they don’t get absorbed as sugar as easily. Do so After Vigorous Exercise because it maximizes uptake in the muscle and minimizes the addition of fat.