It’s okay, most people don’t. I didn’t either until somewhere in early 2015, when I began to investigate the connection between carbohydrates and athletic performance.
I was driven to quest for knowledge by a desire to complete the Leadville 100, a running race of 100 miles, mostly above 10,000 feet, held in Leadville, Colorado every August.
As a sea level San Diegan, this race was sure to be especially challenging, but with challenge comes opportunity, and I love barreling through the gates of opportunity.
It took three attempts (yes, over three years) for me to finish the race, and the challenges along the way forced me to learn that we modern people have a very different relationship with carbs than our ancestors did.
First, our “normal” for carbs is off-the-charts high when compared to the diet we evolved to eat. The standard American breakfast of milk, orange juice, and jam on toast clocks in at 30 grams of sugar, and that doesn’t take into account your cereal or the sugar in your bacon (check the label, it’s there), or any donuts, muffins, or bagels you might be eating.
If we cut all those extra carbs out and replace a few of the calories we used to get from those carbs with calories from fats like olive oil, avocados, or animal fats, we’re left with a low carb diet. Want a hard number? 50 grams or less of carbs per day, with less than 15 of those coming from sugar, is truly low carb.
You might not be training for a 100-mile race, but lowering your carb intake can help you perform better no matter your sport of choice, even if your athleticism ends with walking the dog.
I’m not a medical professional or dietitian, but after going through my own journey with health and fitness, I’ve learned a lot, and I have a few tips that might just help you on yours.
Some Thoughts on Nutrition Labels
When you buy packaged foods, look at the nutrition facts panel. You don’t have to be a scientist to read nutrition panels or ingredient lists. Ingredients are listed by weight, and usually the first three make up the majority of the food. If you see ingredients that don’t immediately give you an edible visual, think almonds vs trisodium phosphate, then you’re probably best off putting it back on the shelf.
Look for sneakily named added sugars: Corn syrup, dextrose, barley malt, brown rice syrup, dextrin, agave, blackstrap molasses, cane sugar, and cane juice crystals. Want an easy test of whether you want to be consuming the plastic wrapped item in your hand? Anything more than 7g of sugar per serving should be considered a dessert.
Skip the Labels
Whole foods are items that don’t need nutrition labels to tell you what’s in them, because they are what they are. Think whole vegetables, fresh meat, fish, or fowl (not pre-packaged or processed), and a limited amount of nuts, fruits, and seeds.
Do your best to eat foods that don’t require labels. It will make your life easier and your diet cleaner.
Don’t Fear the Fat
Many of us grew up in the fat-free era, but as you reduce the number of calories you get from carbs, it is important to increase your dietary fat intake to replace those calories with slower-burning calories from good fats. If you’re choosing foods that are whole or have passed your inspection of the ingredients, you really don’t need to be hung up on the fat.
Miss a Meal
Yep, that’s right. Most of us eat too much, and skipping one meal per day gives your gut a much-needed break and can move you towards a much healthier life. I personally skip breakfast to give my gut the longest possible break between meals.