Johnny O'Connor: Time to kick carbs out of your diet
This week, Johnny talks about the need to drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet in order to prevent an increase in body fat.
Having talked about various nutrition tips and diets in my column in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about why everyone seems to be ganging up on carbohydrates and why they seem to be getting a kicking at the moment.
I started reading a book recently called Why We Get Fat by nutritionist and author Gary Taubes, and it confirmed my suspicions about the negative effects of carbohydrates on a person’s metabolism.
In the book, Taubes blames carbohydrates not only for the storage of fat in the body, but for a load of other health issues experienced in the world today. The symptoms of a broken metabolism, he says, are the inability to release and burn fat due to overconsumption of carbohydrates and the over production of insulin.
People often concentrate too hard on how to go about losing weight when they should be worrying more about how they put on weight in the first place.
Taubes believes that we don’t get fat from overeating, but we over-eat because we are getting fat. He believes that obesity is a metabolic disease, not a psychological disorder. He also believes that insulin is the key hormone that regulates our fat tissue, and keeps us fat.
The intake of carbohydrates affects hormones in our body in such a way that fat will be stored no matter how little or how many carbohydrates you eat - something that is explained in more detail in the clip below.
Avoid refined carbohydrates
Basically, the reason we eat so many carbohydrates is that they are so easy to produce and as a result are more readily available to consumers. If there’s one thing you should take from this article, however, it is that you should make a big effort to drastically reduce or cut out completely the amount of refined carbohydrates in your diet.
Refined carbohydrates are any sort of carbohydrates that haven’t been grown in the ground, so potatoes, for example, are not refined carbohydrates. Breads, cakes, white rice and pasta and sweeteners are all examples of refined carbohydrates you should be trying to avoid.
It’s something that Taubes goes into in greater detail in the book, but a lot of people would judge their diet in terms of the amount of calories they take in as opposed to the type of calories being taken in. If carbohydrates represent the majority of the calories you digest on a daily basis, you will increase your body fat in the long run. Cows, for instance, are fed grains like corn and soy to fatten them up before being slaughtered.
People might think eating wholegrain bread or wholegrain rice is good for you and although they are a good form of carbohydrates, they’re not going to be good for you if you’re sat at a desk all day long. People often replace what had previously been a high-carbohydrate diet with a healthier high-carbohydrate diet, but even though a breakfast of a wholegrain waffle with blueberries might sound healthy, it still represents a carbohydrate overload and will increase blood sugar and insulin levels in the body.
Taubes takes the pretty extreme view that some people shouldn’t eat carbs at all, even saying that fruit should be avoided in some cases. Although I don’t necessarily agree with that opinion, I do agree that people should make an effort to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in their diet.
Carbs make you fat
I think it’s an accepted fact that too many carbohydrates make you fat. I’ve been on diets before where a lot of my calories came from carbohydrates and although I did get bigger, I also increased my body fat as well. If you go on a high-carb diet, sure, you might look bigger in your tee-shirt, but you mightn’t necessarily be too impressed when you take it off and see what’s underneath.
Some people’s metabolisms just aren’t suited to carbohydrates and certainly, if friends of mine ask me to recommend methods of losing weight, I ask them about their carbohydrate consumption - how much carbohydrates they’re eating, what type of carbohydrates they’re eating, when they’re eating them and so on.
It’s not a coincidence that a lot of diets recommend drastically reducing the amount of carbohydrates because doing so helps to lose weight. I’ve said before that carbohydrates can be good when used to fuel recovery after a workout or a game, but people that are training on a regular basis need to find the balance that works best for them.
As a little test, it might be worth taking carbohydrates out of your diet for a little while until you get down to your desired weight. Once you’re down to that weight, gradually introduce carbohydrates back into your diet, but monitor your weight closely so you can have an idea of how much carbohydrates you can have per day before you start gaining weight or increasing your body fat.
Fats in general have a bad name but there are a lot of good fats out there. People are becoming more aware of both the negative side of carbs along with the positives that can come with certain types of fat. Like anything, carbohydrates are okay in moderation and if you can have them as part of a diet that has a healthy supply of protein and good fats you should be alright.
The problem at the moment is that people tend to have carbohydrates for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner and if you carry on like that, don’t be surprised if you’re putting on some extra pounds.
Also, if you are going to eat carbohydrates, try and eat those of the healthier variety. Instead of white potatoes, for example, try sweet potatoes. Instead of white bread, white pasta and white rice, eat wholegrain alternatives. You don’t want to be loading up on those either, but at least they’re better than the highly processed stuff.
If there’s one thing to take from this article, it is that you should make a big effort to drastically reduce or cut out completely the amount of refined carbohydrates in your diet.
It’s vital that you look at when you’re eating carbohydrates as well. After a hard training session, taking in carbohydrates to help you recover is no problem, but apart from then, try and avoid them if at all possible. If you do, you'll find that you can still eat your vegetables or have your chicken with sauce on it and still lose weight. I must stress that I’m no nutritionist, but if I was to offer some advice, it would be to progressively cut carbohydrates out of your diet if you want to lose weight.
People that are heavier or fatter than average often get criticised for a lack of willpower to stop eating and lose weight, but often it’s not as simple as that. Skinnier guys are able to regulate the fats in their body more efficiently because they are able to drip feed the fat they take in to be used as energy. In a heavier person’s body, the fat is stored rather than released and that’s why you’ll find that they’ll be hungry again not long after eating.
Look at how you put on weight rather than how you can lose it
People often concentrate too hard on how to go about losing weight when they should be worrying more about how they put on weight in the first place. You have to be willing to try things in order to achieve your goals and in terms of diet, reducing the amount of carbohydrates certainly worked for me.
As a rugby player, I can’t afford to drop my weight too much, but I have found that although I mightn’t look as big as I was a few years ago, I’ve managed to maintain my weight because of the way I have monitored and modified my diet over the years.
Johnny O'Connor plays professional rugby with Connacht. He has previously played for London Wasps and has made 12 appearances for Ireland. He is also a certified strength and conditioning coach. Johnny regularly posts articles from top strength and conditioning coaches around the world on his Twitter page. Click here to follow Johnny on Twitter.