By Team ICG® Master Trainer Joan Kent
Because of the bad press carbs have received for a number of years — and the new gluten-free trend is only its most recent manifestation — many of your students may be avoiding carbs.
People who avoid “carbs” tend to define them as starches (bread, pasta, crackers, cereals, potatoes) and sugars (cakes, cookies, candy and syrups). I include agave in that last group, but few people want to acknowledge it as the sugar it is.
As indoor cycling instructors probably know, there are plenty of other carbs out there, such as vegetables, lentils, beans, sweet potatoes and more. Many of them are good for us, particularly as fuel for training.
It”™s a bad idea for your students to avoid carbs, especially if they”™re working out on a regular basis. Here are a few reasons for that, some of which you may already know.
Avoiding carbs doesn”™t fit well with athletic training, especially tough training. In extreme cases, a low-carb diet could cause a full-fledged bonk. But even without that, low-carb eating can make it difficult, if not impossible, for the student to reach higher workloads in high-intensity classes.
A very low-carb diet can lead to cardiac arrhythmia, particularly in people who train hard. If you run hard workouts in your classes, you might need to remind your students to eat some starches both prior to, and following, a class. Fueling and refueling appropriately are important factors in fitness and health. In turn, the right carbs become an important factor in both.
Eating too few starches can increase appetite. This has to do with serotonin production, which involves carbs. Serotonin gives us a feeling of satiety, that we”™ve had enough food and don”™t need to seek more. Satiety caused by serotonin can be general, and its lack may lead to increased appetite. Satiety caused by serotonin can also be carb-specific, so a high-carb lunch might lead to a lower-carb dinner.
Someone who avoids starches as a general dietary strategy may not feel the satiety that starches (and serotonin) would produce. They may crave lots more food in general, and/or carbs in particular.
If your students avoid starches, the cravings could lead them to sugars. Because that general feeling of satiety might not be there, when they finally eat sugar, they”™re likely to eat a lot of it. Sugar is dietary trouble, and health issues may ensue. (Don”™t get me started.)
Eating too few starches can also lead to cravings for alcohol. See the preceding paragraphs for the mechanism of action; it”™s the same for sugar and alcohol. I”™ve seen this in many food logs submitted by clients — low starch intake, combined with substantial alcohol consumption. Alcohol can cause a host of heath, sleep and mood issues, as covered in previous post.
Less known is that the long-term effects of a low-carb diet can include an up-regulation of insulin receptors. Up-regulation is sometimes misunderstood. It takes place when the level of insulin is low, such as when the diet contains few insulin-triggering foods. In its ever-vigilant effort to maintain homeostasis, the body responds to the shortage of insulin-triggering foods by increasing both the number of insulin receptors and the sensitivity of the existing ones.
The result is that the body is ready to receive ANY insulin that”™s triggered and respond vigorously to it. In someone who”™s susceptible, that may translate to serious weight regain if and when the student returns to “normal” eating, even if only for a temporary period of time.
If your students need, or want, to avoid gluten, they can still consume healthful starches. Gluten-free starches include vegetables, lentils, various beans, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips and other root vegetables, squash, quinoa, and brown rice. These foods can help your students avoid the various health issues described above and keep them training well and often.
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