How to Use Carbs to Burn Fat

Get lean with carbs? Don’t believe everything you hear.

Carbohydrates are your primary fuel source. However, carbohydrates have received such a bad rap because of distorted second-hand information from your buddies and, let’s not forget, the often misleading media (like infomercials). Reps! is here to right the wrongs and shed some truth on two of the most common carb myths.

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Myth 1: You Should Eat a Big Pasta Dinner the Night Before a Race

If your event is less than two hours long, carb loading will actually work against you. Carb loading, which involves storing glycogen for easy access, only helps toward the end of a long event, like a marathon. But it takes 2.7 grams of water to store each gram of glycogen. “When someone is carb loading, he actually puts on four or five pounds,” says Sam Rose, a certified nutritionist and owner of the Rose Nutrition Center in Los Angeles. During a short event, it’s not worth the trade-off of carrying around all that extra weight. Also, most people don’t know how to carb load properly. Eating a plate of spaghetti the night before a race will just increase your fat stores, not the glycogen stores you need to enhance performance.

To carb load effectively, start four to six days before an event by lowering your carbohydrate intake to 40 to 60 percent (down from the 75 percent recommended for endurance athletes). Taper your normal training by 80 percent, then 60 percent, then 40 percent. Three days prior to the race, increase your carb intake to 70 to 80 percent of your diet. On the last day, avoid training. “You have to get your muscles a little hungry for glycogen before you boost your carbs,” says Rose.

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Myth 2: A Low-carb Diet is a Great Way to Lose Weight

There are different types of carbs. Fruits and vegetables are extremely healthy, as are whole grains. Man-made refined sugar is the problem when it comes to weight loss and overall health. “White sugar and white flour are very bad for weight loss,” says Rose. They are concentrated in calories—especially calories from carbs. Naturally occurring carbohydrates also contain protein and fats, but refined carbs are very high in carb calories, which are easily absorbed by the body—they deliver the message that energy is readily available and make the body lazy about burning its own reserves. Refined carbs encourage fat storage and discourage the body to burn its fat reserves. “When we eat too many processed carbs, we short-circuit the body’s instinctive desire to be a fat-burning machine,” says Rose. But that doesn’t mean that you should eat low-carb. A healthy diet should be 60 percent carbs, he says, but you should be picky about the carbs you eat and make sure to include starchy carbs like squash and whole grains.