Don’t blame carbs when you pack on a few pounds. As much as most of the fad diets will have you believe, carbs are not the evil troll residing in your pantry, Any doctor will tell you that all of the major food groups—protein, fats and carbohydrates—are integral to maintaining or achieving overall health. The key is how you eat them, and when it comes to carbs, it really matters when.
“The best time of day to eat carbohydrates is when insulin sensitivity is at its highest,” says Dr. James Rouse, the author of Think, Eat, Move, Thrive. “Carbohydrates are broken down and converted to glucose (blood sugar) in the body. Insulin sensitivity is related to how well the body manages glucose. You have a higher insulin sensitivity when less insulin is needed to manage the glucose coming in, and the opposite, which is referred to as insulin resistance, is when the body needs to produce a lot of insulin in order to process the same amount of glucose. In general the body functions better when we plan our carbohydrate intake at a time when we are more prepared to manage it. This is typically in the mornings and after a workout.”
Of course, eating carbs at the prescribed time doesn’t give you a pass to binge eat. “Both the timing and the quality of carbohydrates that you eat are important, but the types of carbs you eat has to trump timing,” says Dr. Rouse. “For example, if you’re eating donuts, but you’re eating them after a workout, that doesn’t make them better than eating broccoli and kale with dinner—or even quinoa for that matter. Types of carbohydrates can vary tremendously and have a definite impact on physical and mental performance.”
For healthy, lower calorie carbs, he recommends dark, green leafy veggies, sweet potatoes, legumes and smaller servings of whole grains like brown rice, amaranth, teff, quinoa and organic whole wheat.