Penne for your thoughts on carbs?

Carbs have always been a hot “should you or shouldn’t you” topic leaving many people confused about their role in our diets. I’ve broken down the role of carbs for both weight loss and muscle gain, one of which will hopefully be applicable to you and help set the record straight.


Common Perceptions


  •  All carbs are bad and must be cut down and be replaced with meals that are high in protein
  • There are multiple types of carbs, so not ALL of them as “bad”. Sugar is a carb that we’re recommended to cut back on but vegetables and wholegrains like brown bread and pastas etc are “good” for providing energy, fibre and B vitamins
  •  Carbs are the main cause of bloating
  • There is no scientific reason as of yet to explain what causes bloating as it can be caused by lots of things such as gut bacteria (unless you have diagnosed IBS in which gluten is an intolerance which causes bloating)
  •  In order to lose weight you must avoid carbs
  • This is false. To lose weight you must reduce your intake of calories from every food group, not just carbs. By reducing your carb intake and increasing your protein and fat intake, you will not lose weight unless calories in < calories out. Plus you’d be at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and increase your intake of saturated fat which is a risk factor for heart disease

Take home messages:

  • Studies show that following a low carb diet will help you lose weight, but it hasn’t been proven to be effective in the long term.
  • By cutting carbs you cut out high calorie ingredients mixed in or eaten with the carb, such as butter, cheese, cream, sugar and oil which is what ultimately contributes to weight loss. So intakes from ALL food groups have to be reduced to lose weight.
  • Protein has the exact same calories per gram as carbs (4kcal/g) so it all depends on how much of it you eat and the type of carbs you eat, one is not “better” than the other.
  • There is no evidence that wheat is more likely to cause weight gain than any other food so include wholegrain, wholemeal (i.e. brown carbs) and plenty of fruit and vegetables as part of your healthy balanced diet.


Common Perceptions


  • Muscles prefer protein over carbs to grow in size and become more defined
  •   Exercising muscles actually prefer carbs as their main source of energy to top up glycogen stores. Protein is certainly important for providing amino acids which are building blocks for synthesizing and repairing muscle, however a diet low in carbohydrates can lead to lack of energy, early fatigue and delayed recovery.
  •  Carbs are only good for “bulking”
  •   “Bulking” involves eating excess calories from all food groups whilst heavily exercising and should be limited to people that know what they are doing. For the average gym goer, “bulking” to try quickly increase muscle mass can actually cause fat  gain if you overdo it – more to come on this later.
  • You need to cut down on carbs if you want a six pack
  • True and false. You need to cut down on calories in general for ab definition along with weighted exercises.

Take home messages:

  • Carbs are an important source of fuel and glucose for exercising muscles and are essential for growing muscles. The only way to build muscle is have a caloric surplus, ideally from carbohydrates over fats.
  • Cutting out carbs so your body uses fat stores is actually dangerous and can cause ketosis, which is a build-up of ketones in the blood. Ketosis (even in short term) can result in headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability. More to come on this later.
  • The amount of carbs that should be eaten should be portion controlled “healthy” carbs that will provide B vitamins, fibre and energy (which includes vegetables).



In terms of what time is best to eat carbs – there is little scientific evidence that one time is better than any other. For weight loss, some people chose to eat starchy carbs earlier on in the day to allow enough time to “burn” off the energy but that it just personal preference and has not been validated.

So I hope this has explained that carbohydrates are important in our diets and should be incorporated into every meal (portion control is important) regardless of what Instagram gym bunnies/ click-bait articles try to tell you. Try and choose high fibre, wholegrain options and question the next time someone says to “eat clean” and cut out carbs because EVERYTHING IS OKAY IN MODERATION!eat barbs


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