For better or worse, fad diets never seem to go out of style. Lately, carbohydrates are the most popular restriction. Almost every woman I talk to is trying to avoid carbs. It seems like everybody is going paleo, on an intermittent or a ketogenic diet or following the lead of their male coach, husband or boyfriend in another carb-light eating plan. While whatever buzzword diet is probably working for a male counterpart, specific diets can wreak havoc on a woman’s hormonal homeostasis.
I’m guilty of chasing the low-carb dream, too. This winter, I saw the success my boyfriend had with high fat, low carb diet (which he called “the gains diet,” due to the increased meat consumption) and eagerly followed suit. He preached his new diet, claiming it curbed sugar cravings and hunger. He no longer relied on a slow drip of calories and constant snacking for consistent energy throughout the day. I tried it. It was a disastrous and colossal mistake. Instead of feeling full of energy as claimed by my partner, I was fatigued, running slower and feeling worse.
Stacy T. Sims, elite athlete exercise, physiologist and author of ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness To Your Female Physiology For Optimum Performance, Great Health and A Strong, Lean Body For Life has dedicated her life to discovering how gender influences athletic diets, training and performance. Her message: women are not just smaller men, so we have to stop fueling like we are.
The most significant nutritional mistake Sims sees most female athletes making is not eating enough—especially carbs. While your male friends may get super lean spooning coconut oil out of the jar and cutting out bread, your results will probably be as frustrating as mine. From an evolutionary standpoint, a women’s tendency towards a higher carbohydrate diet makes sense. Sims notes in her book that men were traditionally a tribe’s hunters. They lost weight when food was scarce, which made them lighter and faster and therefore more effective at hunting. But when women slash carbs, our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone alerting our body we need to store fat to survive.
But just because we women need carbs, doesn’t mean we have to stock up on Wonder Bread and french fries. Many high-carbohydrate foods can benefit your health and athletic performance. The key is choosing the right ones. Here are a few energy-sustaining foods loaded with powerful nutrients and carbs to keep our lady bodies running sustained and balanced.
A four-ounce sweet potato is a mere 150 calories, with upwards of 30 grams of carbohydrates. The nutrient-dense veggie packs 100 percent of your daily requirement for beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A, which, along with vitamins C and E, prevents cell damage after exercise and promotes muscle recovery.
White bread gets a bad rap, for mostly good reasons but some bad ones too. Although some freshly baked loaves have minimal ingredients, most white bread is highly refined and lacks nutrients due to overly-processed flours. Bread with rice bran is a great alternative. It’s high in carbohydrates, fiber and has over 20 percent of our daily magnesium requirements, which is essential for energy, metabolism and converting glycogen into glucose during exercise.
The word “superfood” is undoubtedly overused. But in the case of blueberries, it fits the bill. One cup of blueberries has 20 grams of carbs, four grams of fiber and a significant amount of vitamin C. According to the USDA, blueberries have the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity, meaning they work to destroy free radicals in the body before they can do damage to healthy cells.
To prevent heart disease, the FDA recommends eating at least 30 grams of fiber for every 2000 calories. Oats, being high in fiber and carbs, not only help reduce the risk for heart disease but slow glucose absorption, helping to curb your appetite and maintain energy. Rolled oats are also an excellent source of B vitamins, aiding in energy production and zinc, which promotes immune function.
Nuts typically go into the high-fat category. But chestnuts are high in fiber, vitamin C, and folic acid and contain less than one gram of fat per ounce. The nutrients found in chestnuts are important for immune function and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.