By Jade Teta ND, CSCS
The Carbohydrate Tipping Point has three primary parameters: amount of carb, type of carb, and timing of carbs.
Amount of Carb
For fat loss, each person needs to find the right amount of carbs that will deliver sustained energy but not slow fat loss. This is different for everyone. We teach our clients to think in terms of bites since in today’s fast paced society people often eat on the go and don’t carry around gram scales. They also do not eat all of their food out of boxes that contain labels with clearly marked grams of carbs. Using bites allows a quick and adjustable means to manipulate the amount of carbs. To us one bite is approximately the size of a tablespoon and equal to roughly 5g of carbohydrates. For beginner fat loss seekers we suggest no more than 10 bites of carbs eaten exclusively at each of the major meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This can then be adjusted up or down based on your fat loss results as well as your responses to hunger, cravings, and energy. This is an individual process that needs to be approached with the mindset of a detective. This blog on The Burner Types gives a little more insight into the process of carb amount for your individual metabolic type.
Type of Carb
The type of carbohydrate integrates with the amount of carbohydrate. The more favorable carbs are consumed in greater amounts of bites and those bites can be bigger. The more detrimental carbs are consumed in fewer bites and should be smaller. As an example, if you are eating white rice have 3 small bites, but if you are eatign brown rice eat 5 bigger bites. The types of carbs have much to do with how fast the carbohydrate will raise blood sugar (glycemic index and glycemic load) and the allergy producing potential of the carbohydrate.
In a fat loss lifestyle the carbs with the highest fiber relative to sugar/starch are basically eaten in unlimited amounts (for most people). These include non-starchy vegetables and low sugar fruits (berries, apple, pear). But the starchy carbohydrates and sweet carbohydrates have to be managed tightly. These include white grains, whole grains, beans, and other carbs. This is often a point of confusion for people as they have heard that the “healthiest carbs” are whole grains and beans because of their high fiber. These carbs ARE high fiber, but they are much higher in starch/sugar and therefore are not as beneficial. This is an essential insight to the carbohydrate tipping point.
White grains have nothing but starch/sugar with little fiber. Whole grains and beans have more fiber and less starch, but they are still over 70% starch. They may be healthy, but they are not the best for fat loss. Vegetables and fruits (best to stick with the less sweet ones) may have less fiber than whole grains and beans, but they have far less starch/sugar and also much higher water content. This means they have a low glycemic load and make for great fat loss foods. I have included a graph below to demonstrate this point. If you get nothing else about carbohydrates you should know that the only truly free carbs are non-starchy vegetables and low sweet fruits (even fruits can be an issue for some). All others carbs should be consumed as bites.
Another consideration for carb type is the allergy producing potential of carbs. When we use the term allergy, we are really talking about food sensitivities and not a true allergy. All grains and beans are usually avoided in the fat loss lifestyle due to their concentration of gluten, lectins, and saponins which can create negative consequences for the immune system and fat loss. The cleaner carbs include rice, oats, potatoes (including sweet potatoes), and banana (a high glucose fruit). A previous blog, called 4 Carbs for fat Loss, covers these “cleaner carbs” in detail.
Timing of Carb
The timing of carbs involves using carbs to control your hunger rhythms and fuel partitioning. A high carb meal induces an insulin response which has been shown to adjust the leptin rhythm determining how hungry we feel from one day to the next. For some, having carbs at each meal is still too much to allow fat loss. In this case it is helpful to reduce carbs further and focus all of the carb intake at specific times. Eating all your carbs at breakfast can help allay hunger at night. Eating all your carbs at night can help allay hunger in the morning. A carb load at night also helps sleep by dampening the stress hormone response many insomniacs experience at night. This leads to faster times falling asleep and less waking at night.
Another great time to include a higher carb load is post workout. Because exercise makes us uniquely carb sensitive, especially weight training, carbs taken post workout will be partitioned to liver and muscle glycogen stores first and aid muscle building before they are stored away as fat. This means higher loads of carbs as well as higher glycemic index carbs can be better tolerated at this point if desired. However, this still has to be viewed in context. There is a fine line between maximizing glycogen storage for performance compared to controlling carb amounts for fat loss. This blog on Rethinking Glycogen and Fat Loss explains the issue.