Carbs aren’t evil. But the way we eat them might be making us fat. In this episode we talk about how carbs have the potential to make us fat. We get into carbohydrate spillover, or the conditions under which carbs are actually converted to fat and stored as body fat. Fortunately, we talk about how to avoid that! We talk about how you can enjoy carbs without having them contribute to weight gain!
The Challenge: The Standard American Diet is rich in carbohydrates – almost every single meal and snack is dominated by carbs. The building block of ALL carbohydrates is simple sugar. When we break down these carbs they have the ability to raise our blood sugar and our insulin. This keeps us out of fat burning mode. Because we consume carbohydrates ALL the time, we encounter something called carbohydrate spillover – we don’t need these carbs for energy, there is no short term storage space available and so they are turned into fat and stored as such. In this episode we talk about what causes carbohydrate spillover and how we can avoid it while still enjoying carbohydrates!
We talked about how carbohydrates are chains of sugar of varying lengths and sizes, right? Straight chains, branched chains, all chains of sugar molecules – glucose, fructose – tiny little sugars. Well, it makes sense that when we metabolize these carbs they break back down into their little building blocks. Enroute to storage, this sugar enters the blood stream. The hormone insulin is released when sugar enters the blood and insulin is the USHER that takes the sugar to be stored. Now, if sugar hits your blood stream because you just drank a Gatorade during your 26 mile marathon, that sugar is probably going to be used immediately for energy, but for the rest of us, we’re probably not mid-workout or being chased by a tiger so that sugar needs to be stored. Insulin has a few drop off options for the sugar. The first place its going to try to take it is to the muscle. Storage space there is limited, but its easily accessible for your next workout or the next time you get chased by a bear. So, if you’re eating carbs regularly and not exercising regularly to tap into that fuel, chances are that the storage space in the muscles is all full. Next stop? The liver. Again, easy access in case your body needs to generate fuel but limited storage. And I’m talking seriously limited. About 400g between the muscle storage and liver storage combined. And that is not per day. That’s TOTAL capacity. Like I said, if you’re not working out regularly or your eating carbs on a regular basis, chances are that both of those storage sites are FULL. No vacancy. But insulin has another storage option. And this is what we call “carbohydrate spillover” – its also called lipogenesis, meaning essentially, creating fat. And this is where most of us live after every carb rich meal…
The excess glucose is converted to fat. That fat either continues to circulate in your blood (this is where we see things like elevated triglycerides) or it is stored in your adipose tissue – aka body fat. And, lucky us, this storage space is UNLIMITED and it is NOT easily accessed. Once it gets stored as body fat your body considers this its emergency fuel reserve and doesn’t give it up without a fight.
The Solution: We have to do the following: eat the right carbs at the right times in appropriate amounts. We need to get active so we can tap into our short term glycogen stores so that when we DO enjoy carbohydrates in the right amounts at the right times, they can replenish our muscle storage sites instead of initiating lipogenesis (fat creation) and being stored as body fat! This isn’t a complex process that will remove our enjoyment of food or require us to spend hours in the gym – it’s really simple once you understand how it works and how it can keep us in fat burning mode all the time!
Our control of our blood sugar and our insulin response is the primary determinant of our energy levels, our cravings, hunger, focus, mood and much more. Here’s the bottom line that you need to understand: your body cannot and will not burn fat when insulin is high.
Think about it – insulin is deployed when there is fuel that needs to be stored, right? There’s extra sugar (glucose) in the blood that needs to be taken away and stored. So insulin tells the body “hey, there’s plenty of fuel here, we are now in storage mode” – that message turns OFF any fat burning machinery. Why? Because burning fat generates extra energy for the body and insulin has signaled the body that there is already an excess of energy. No more is needed!
In order for your body to go into fat burning mode, there has to be two conditions:
- The right hormonal environment
- Less fuel available than your body needs to operate
Most people only focus on #2. They eat less and create hormonal chaos in the body without realizing that for your body to break down fat, the hormone glucagon MUST be in action. Glucagon kind of works as the opposite of insulin. Where insulin is deployed in response to excess fuel and facilitates storage, glucagon is deployed when there isn’t quite enough fuel and facilitates the breakdown of body fat to provide fuel for the body.
Eat the right carbs: Carbohydrates from whole food sources like berries, apples, citrus fruits, potatoes, sweet potatoes
Avoid the wrong carbs: Wheat, grains, oats, processed foods & simple sugars
Eat carbs at the right time: At your dinner time meal or post workout
Eat them in the right amounts: Not to exceed 1/2 cup
Pair them properly: Always have your carbohydrates with fat or protein (chicken, beef, fish, butter, avocado, etc)
Take care of your short term storage to avoid having excess carbohydrate being converted to and stored as fat: This boils down to getting active. The most effective activity is going to be high intensity intervals, lifting heavy weights, or both. This doesn’t require hours in the gym. In fact, these workouts can usually be done in 20 minutes or less. We talk about how beginners can get started in the episode and one of my favorite links for workouts is below!
For detailed information on carbohydrate strategies for fat loss including more on fruit, wheat, oats, gluten plus strategies for improving your carbohydrate tolerance, check out the comprehensive carbs & fat loss ecourse! Follow the link below and use the coupon code Primal10 to get lifetime access for only $69 (including troubleshooting help from me on demand!)
Hormones & Fat Loss ebook! 50 pages of diet & lifestyle strategies to help you naturally optimize your hormones and get into fat-burning mode!!
The Hormone Responsible for Making You Fat, Tired & Hungry
Effective Workouts: A great starting point
The Primal Potential Facebook page – where I share a ton of my meals & workouts
Episode 002: Hormones Trump Calories
Episode 007: Carbs & Fat Loss – Timing Matters