Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good Carbs!

I didn't lift yesterday. I forgot that I had a meeting after work until 8, and I'd already arranged to go out with friends at 8:30, which if I hadn't had that silly meeting, would have given me plenty of time to go home, work out and shower. D'oh!

But it's not all bad. I'll get a bit of rest, which I'm beginning to suspect is the missing element in my current program. Hopefully the extra rest will help me fix my Squat problems on Thursday.

Since I have no workout to report, let me ramble for a bit about nutrition. A few months ago, I was of the opinion that nutrition was unimportant and what really mattered was working hard in the gym. Boy was I wrong. Working hard in the gym matters. A lot. But nutrition is probably even more important.

Since about a month ago, I've been basing my diet on the paleo diet. The basic idea is this: only eat things that, in theory, you could go outside, pick up off of the ground (or out of the water) and eat. This means that pretty much all meat is ok, most veggies, fruits, and nuts. But no bread, pasta, potatoes, legumes, dairy or processed food.

Some people would call this a low-carb diet. I disagree. It's not a low-carb diet, it's a good-carb diet. Let me explain what I mean by this.

From the time I was a kid up until I took bread, pasta, etc. out of my diet, I would become very emotionally and psychologically unstable if I was hungry. If I hadn't eaten in a few hours, I was either on top of the world or I hated it. Something as small as stubbing my toe or thinking about having to go to school the next day could send me from one end of the spectrum to the other in seconds. I learned to control it by eating often and making sure that I always had food close to hand. My stomach literally controlled my mood, and to an extent, my life.

Now I realize that this pattern was the result of a post-carb crash. Traditional high-carb foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes cause a big spike in blood sugar after you eat them. Most of my meals would be full of whole grains, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc., which would spike my blood sugar levels and make me feel good for a couple of hours. Then, as my body released insulin, my blood sugar levels would plummet and I'd be moody. Since I started avoiding these foods, I've noticed that my mood is much, much less dependent on the state of my stomach, because I avoid blood sugar spikes and the lows that come after them.

So what makes the carbs from bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc. "bad" and other carbs "good?" Well, the good carbs, those that come from veggies, fruits, nuts, milk, etc., promote a slow, long-lasting boost in blood sugar levels instead of the spike that comes from eating the bad carbs found in bread, pasta, etc.

A carb source's status as "good" or "bad" is determined by its rating on the glycemic index:
  • Low glycemic index = slow, long-lasting blood sugar boost = good
  • High glycemic index = fast blood sugar spike = bad
Following a diet that has a relatively low glycemic index has been shown to reduce the likelihood of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other conditions. Also, you avoid what I call the "after lunch nap syndrome," where you feel lazy and tired after meals. By getting my carbs from fruit, veggies, nuts, and other low glycemic index sources, I've found that my energy level stays higher throughout the day, I no longer get moody when I haven't eaten, and I don't get tired in the afternoon or early evening like I used to. I'm not eliminating carbs; I'm just being picky about my sources.

So this isn't a low-carb diet because I'm not trying to minimize the amount of carbs I eat. Instead, I'm cutting out carbohydrate sources with a high glycemic index, and only eating the good carbs. On this diet, I average 170-200g of carbs a day, which, while it is below the 271g recommended by the USDA, is more than enough to keep my body properly fueled. (I personally don't think much of the USDA's dietary recommendations, anyway, but that's another post.) As a result, I feel better, I'm healthier (I think), and my stomach no longer controls my mood. I call that a win.

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