• Don't Make Counting Carbs a Farce


    Not everyone makes counting carbs a sham, but some people do.

    Let me explain.

    A question from David:

    Q:  Hey Gale, I know you don’t push calorie-counting or carb-counting, but for me counting carbs helps me stay on track. I recently read a post from an endurance coach that advocates keeping carb count between 50 and 100 grams per day, depending on the athlete. He says he enjoys alcohol and includes his near daily consumption of wine or liquor in his carb count to be sure he stays low-carbohydrate and ketogenic. I thought you said alcohol shuts off fat-burning, so how can he stay ketogenic if he’s consuming alcohol daily? – David S.

    A.  Hi David – Great question. I often get questions about allowable alcohol consumption for the Fat-Burning Machine program. I think there are a few good points to be made:

    1. All carb calories are not created equal. We are slowly moving away from the false idea that “a calorie is a calorie.” It is also a false idea that all carb grams are treated the same by the body. Some carbohydrate grams spike blood sugar and insulin levels in the body, while others do not. For example, there are 39 grams of carbohydrates in a can of regular Coca-Cola. The carbohydrate grams are 100% high fructose corn syrup.

    Let’s say you decide to only drink ½ of the Coke for 19.5 grams of carbohydrates. These carbohydrate grams will be digested much differently than the carbohydrate grams in one serving of plain, Greek Yogurt (8 grams) with a ¼-cup of granola (13 grams) on the top. Both choices are near 20 grams of carbohydrates, but one has zero nutritional value (Coke) and the other choice has macro and micronutrients, along with fat, protein and carbohydrates. Though both choices have roughly the same grams of carbohydrates, the Coke carbs are very low quality – you won’t be building a healthy body consuming high fructose corn syrup as your carbohydrate choice.  

    1. Alcohol is digested similarly to fructose. An excellent column written by Dr. Jason Fung points out that “Large quantities of ingested fructose goes straight to the liver, since no other cells can help utilize or metabolize it, putting significant pressure on the liver.”

    He goes on to say that fructose’s propensity to cause fatty liver is unique among carbohydrates. “The metabolism of ethanol (alcohol) is quite similar to that of fructose. Once ingested, tissues can only metabolize 20% of the alcohol leaving 80% delivered straight to the liver, where it is metabolized to acetaldehyde, which stimulates de novo lipogenesis. The bottom line is that alcohol is easily turned into liver fat.”

    1. Hard liquor and soda water or diet soda isn’t “free.” It is popular among some carb-counters to consume hard liquor and sparking water or mix the liquor with diet drinks because there are zero carbohydrates to be counted. They tout “zero carbs!” Yes, the carbohydrate count is zero, but alcohol is obviously digested (see #2) by the body and it does affect the body’s ability to burn fat.

    Counting grams of carbohydrates can be a useful way to control carbohydrate consumption – but – the assumption that “a carb-is-a-carb” is false. I’m not making a judgement on whether or not people should consume alcohol, what I am saying is that pretending that alcohol carbohydrates (in wine and beer) are treated the same by the body as any other carbohydrate is a farce.


    Be sure to see if I have a easy-to-use training plan for you on my site and even more on the TrainingPeaks site.


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