What are Carbohydrates? The What, Why, and When


What are carbohydrates, really? Are they just something you think you’re supposed to avoid in order to stay thin?

You know how much you love a warm roll? Bagels? Ice cream? Pasta?

Sadly, do you feel guilty after eating them?

So instead of feeling guilty,  you do that thing where you spend a month only eating rice cakes, oatmeal, and gluten free pretzels because it’s healthier?

But after a few weeks (okay, days) you cave and eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s?

Or, maybe, you’re this girl I recently had a conversation with.

“I’m not eating any carbs or sugar.” She says as she takes a huge bite of her apple.

“Oh, really? Why’s that?” I inquire.

“You know, carbs make you fat and sugar gives you cancer. So I just eliminated both from my diet, and now I feel soo much healthier… and I’ve lost a ton of weight!” She exclaims between chomping down bites of the apple.

“So, the fact that the apple you’re eating right now is a sugar laden- carbohydrate means what?” I ask plainly.

“Well, you know what I mean!” She spurts out, obviously trying to save face. “I’m only eating the GOOD carbs!”

After having this conversation approximately 500 times, it became apparent that the dancers I was speaking to, while health-conscious, had no freaking idea what carbohydrates were or how their bodies used them.

So, what are carbohydrates?

Let’s start at the beginning:

There are 3 types of foods that carry energy or, as some know it, calories.

These foods are:

So, what are carbohydrates? They are an energy source for your body. 

Now, to properly breakdown the question, “what are carbohydrates,” we must recognize that there are two forms of carbohydrates – simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are generally sugary and found in foods like white sugar, donuts, candy, cookies, and sodas. When someone is talking about “Bad Carbs” this is usually the image they have in mind.

And, by the way, sugar IS a carb, jussayin!

Complex carbohydrates are found in oats, sweet potatoes, fruits, and lentils or beans. These carbs are considered the “healthier” carbs because they “come from the earth.” And, in terms of nutrient density, vitamins, and minerals, these CRUSH simple carbs.

Because of this and their associated benefits, like fiber content, these carbs take an extra minute for your body to digest.

This slower digestion means they do not spike insulin as much as simple carbs do and help keep your blood sugar low. This means, no sugar crash after a few minutes of eating them. Nice.

However, it’s important to note that both types of carbs, simple and complex, can have their place in your diet without labeling one “good” or one “bad”.

Here’s the truth bomb that people, like Dr. Oz, don’t want you to know:

Once it’s broken down, your body can’t really tell the difference between a “good” or “bad” carb.

However, there are certain times when the body is better primed to eat the sugary stuff.

For example, after you lift, take a bunch of hard dance classes, or kick butt at some auditions, your body could probably use an insulin boost. This is the most optimal time to have the sweet stuff!

In addition, feel free to spread out the bread (yes, you can eat bread!), quinoa, and sweet potatoes during other meals of your day.

But even that’s not totallyyy necessary.

In fact, as long as you are hitting your daily macros– the specific number of protein, fats, and carbs it takes for your body to run optimally- the decision between simple vs. complex carbohydrates doesn’t really matter.

Wait, wait, wait… What did I just say?

You read that right.

There is a certain number, specific to you and your goals, of protein, fats, and carbohydrates that it takes for your individual body to look and perform its best! Click here to calculate your ideal number!

 I’ll discuss macros in depth in other blogs.  But for now just remember:

1 gram of carbs (“good” or “bad”) = 4 calories

1 gram of brown rice, a “good” carb= 4 calories

1 gram of M&M’s, a “bad” carb= 4 calories

The only difference is the nutrient value of the carbs, one comes with more healthful benefits. SO, 600 calories of brown rice and 600 calories of M&Ms, are used and stored roughly the same way.

The only difference will be how many vitamins and minerals, fiber, and satiety (fullness) you’ll reap from the rice vs. the candy.



So…How Many Carbs Do You Need?

If you’re trying to lose fat, aim for 0.5 – 0.75 grams of carbs per pound of lean body mass.

If gaining/maintaining muscle, shoot for 1 – 2 grams.

Why not just cut carbs entirely?

Sure you, or “a friend”, could lose fat by cutting ALL carbs out of your diet.

And it will work… for awhile.

But it’s important to understand that for each gram of carbs you take in there’s around 2-3 grams of water associated, plus glucose stored in muscle cells as glycogen. When you cut carbs, that water (water weight/bloating) diminishes and the carbs stored in your muscles get used up.

This is why, initially, you’ll see a big drop on the scale.

But over time, the scale will stall or you’ll be sad that you can’t eat at that new cookie dough bar down the street.

Simply put, this isn’t sustainable. 
And it does not inspire a healthy relationship with food or your body.


So…What are some good sources of carbohydrates?

Another fantastic question! Thank you for asking! I’ve compiled an (incomplete) list of carbs you can and should be eating.

In summation…
  • All carbs are not created equally, some have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But all carbs are calorically equal.
  • Sugar IS a carb. Not a separate entity. You can lose body fat while eating it. It is not evil.
  • 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
  • Fruit is a carb. A potato is a carb. M&Ms is a carb. All are awesome.
  • Fat loss 0.5 – 0.75 grams of carbs per pound of lean body mass.
  • Gaining/ maintaining muscle, shoot for 1 – 2 grams of carbs per pound of lean body mass.

Understanding how food affects your body is such an important factor
in having a great relationship with food and with your body.


Questions? Comments?

xoxo Am


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *