These heartier foods are even more critical in the warmer months.
Skimping on carbs is perhaps never more common than as we approach summer, when our bodies crave lighter fare (and wear fewer clothes). But making carbs the fall guy at this time of year can backfire, warns Brian St. Pierre, R.D., a fitness and nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition.
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“First of all, cutting carbs may help you lose some weight, but that weight loss is largely water, because when you eat carbs you store more glycogen and for every gram of glycogen you store 3 to 4 grams of water. You’re only going to lose fat if there’s a calorie deficit as well,” he explains.
“Secondly, you’re cutting something from your diet that you need more of right now. You’re more likely to be outdoors and more active in warm weather—hiking, biking, running, swimming, surfing, climbing. As your energy expenditure goes up, so does your need for carbohydrates, including grains, legumes, and fruits.“
Below, St. Pierre maps out five reasons to keep carbs on your diet roster this warm-weather season.
1. You need them for energy.
Fewer carbs means lower glycogen levels and glycogen helps fuel exercise activity. "Glycogen is also critical for the glycolytic energy system in the body—when you need to have some speed and power in an endurance event. In a study where people on a low carb/high fat diet did endurance tests on bikes, they could bike for a long time, but they lost the ability to sprint. If you’re racing someone, you need that extra kick at the end to win but you won’t have the appropriate fuel source for it,” he says.
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2. They can keep you from overindulging.
Glycogen is also among the many satiety signals for the brain. It tells your brain that you’re well fed.
3. They stabilize your hormones and keep your metabolism humming.
“When you increase your activity level but don’t match it with adequate carb intake, you may see a dip in thyroid function, which can impact metabolism. And hormones never work in isolation. The HPAG (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-gonadotropic) Axis comes into play here and inadequate carb intake can also throw off the testosterone to cortisol ratio, which is essential for muscle growth, body composition, and recovery for men and women,” says St. Pierre.
4. They’ll help you stay hydrated.
You’ll be sweating more and need extra hydration; carbs help you utilize water intake more efficiently. It’s one of the reasons that sports drinks are formulated with carbohydrates.
5. They’re important for muscle recovery.
If you have a sufficient amount of carbs around the timing of your workout—say before or after—it helps with recovery by raising insulin levels, preventing protein breakdown, and restoring glycogen for the next day’s performance, notes St. Pierre.
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6. They’re a celebratory part of the season.
Lots of great summery meals revolve around carbs, from starchy carbs like grain salads, bean salads, or potato salads to fruit salads with watermelon, peaches, plums, and nectarines. And these types of clean, light meals provide energy.
By Wendy Schmid