If you grew up in the ’90s, carbs were probably Public Enemy Number One. That’s when the low-fat-diet craze led to a mass demonization of all things carbohydrate, and many people began eliminating bread, pasta, and other starchy staples from their diets to lose weight. For many years, I’ve made it a point to consume a good amount of carbs. When I discovered how to work my way around eating carbs, it made it easier to eat healthier, maintain a healthy weight, and have more energy throughout the day.
Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which your cells use for energy, and you need enough for your body to function properly. Most carbs, like bread, pasta, or rice, contain at least some dietary fiber, but whole food sources (think yams) contain more fiber while also being excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They’ve even been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Use carbs to your advantage during your cycle
Menstruation has two (main) phases: follicular and luteal. There is an increase in estrogen during the follicular phase (day one of menstruation until ovulation), and you’ll feel low energy and fatigue. You’ll also have a higher insulin sensitivity, so your body burns more carbs, which works wonders for fuel if you’re doing intense workouts like HIIT (although this type of workout is only recommended after your period is complete).
Eating complex carbs can also help increase serotonin levels, aka that “feel good” hormone. So eating carbs can help improve mood and gives you the energy you need to power through your period and this notoriously low-energy time.
A decrease in estrogen levels marks the luteal phase. Hello, moderate to intense food cravings and bloating! It is also when your body’s insulin sensitivity decreases, so it will be more challenging to process carbs for energy. During this time, try to consume complex carbs earlier in the day so that your body has more time to process and use them before you go to sleep.
It’s WHEN you eat carbs that makes all the difference
The timing of carb intake can be very helpful in preventing carbs from being stored as fat. Women in their fertile years should try to consume most of their carbs in the morning and early afternoon for optimal hormonal balance. It gives your body time to process the carbs and convert them into energy rather than just storing them as fat immediately.
But eating most of your carbs at night can have many benefits for women not in their fertile years or those less concerned about hormonal balance. It helps keep the body in a state of fatty acid oxidation throughout the day, which is a mild state of ketosis. This has many benefits, but it can be too stressful for the body when overdone.
Choose a carb intake time that best suits your health goals—whether that’s detoxing, balanced hormones, weight loss, or something else. Remember to try to consume healthy forms of carbs like yams, rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, amaranth, and millet the majority of the time and be sure to exercise daily to help your body metabolize and use it as fuel.
Brittany Ford is aregistered holistic nutritionist and biohacker specializing in optimizing women’s health so that we can thrive, not just survive. She shares her knowledge and experience on her podcast, Biohacking with Brittany.
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