Do carbs make you tired?
Yes, carbs can make you tired. Eating carbs that your body can’t handle puts extreme stress on your system. If this stress is prolonged it ends up causing fatigue.
Carbs and fatigue
When carbs are digested they are turned into sugar (glucose) which acts as a fuel for your body. After eating a carb your blood sugar will go up and your body will release insulin. The insulin will move the sugar into your cells to be used as energy and your blood sugar will go back down.
However, everyone reacts differently to carbs. If you eat a carb that your body can’t handle, your blood sugar will spike. Too much insulin may be released, causing hunger, shakiness, weakness, fatigue, sweating, and anxiety. This phenomenon is called rebound hypoglycemia. Rebound hypoglycemia is a low blood sugar reading that occurs shortly after eating.
This is a big stress to your body, and in response to this stress, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol pulls sugar out of your cells and puts it back into your blood. This raises your blood sugar. And (hopefully) alleviates those uncomfortable low blood sugar symptoms.
Your blood sugar goes down but cortisol brings it back up. How does this cause fatigue?
If this was a one-time deal, it wouldn’t be an issue. That’s a small stress that your body can handle. The real problem occurs when this happens daily. Maybe even three (or more) times a day. Each time you eat a carbohydrate source that your body doesn’t tolerate, it has to release cortisol to help re-balance your blood sugar.
If you regularly eat carbs that you don’t tolerate, your body releases cortisol many times a day.
It is this chronic release of cortisol that eventually causes fatigue. When your body is consistently releasing cortisol, it is preparing for a stressful event. Over the long term, daily preparation for these small stresses results in your brain decreasing cortisol production.
What’s the main symptom of lowered cortisol levels?
Carbs & the North American diet
Nearly half of the food a typical North American eats comes from carbs. This includes both refined and unrefined carbohydrates.
Unrefined carbs are eaten in their natural form and include:
- Whole grains
Refined carbs have been processed in some way and include:
- All forms of sugar
- Fruit juices
- Flours (whether they contain gluten or not)
I’m sure you know you should eat more food from the first group. However it’s safe to say that for most of us, the carbs we eat are mainly refined. Compare this with our ancestors. If your ancestors were of mixed European descent, it’s likely that they got only 30% of their calories by eating unrefined carbohydrates.
Remember, you’re likely getting 50% of your calories from carbohydrates. That’s twenty percent more calories from carbohydrate sources than your genetic ancestors ate. And, it’s likely that a lot of those carbohydrates are coming from refined sources.
Are all carbs created equal?
Bananas and cookies are both carbohydrate sources. Common knowledge would lead you to believe that bananas are good and cookies are bad. So if you eat a banana, your blood sugar wouldn’t go up the same way it would if you eat a cookie.
However, in the book Wired To Eat, Robb Wolf cites a study where one participant had a dramatic increase in blood sugar after eating a banana. Yet when this same participant ate a cookie, his blood sugar readings remained stable. The blood sugar readings in another participant were the exact opposite – low blood sugar readings after eating a banana and high blood sugar readings after eating a cookie.
In this example, bananas would actually contribute more to this individual’s fatigue levels than cookies. In theory, this individual could be quite healthy if he avoided bananas and ate cookies (in moderation, of course). I know this is an extreme example but it illustrates my point: a personalized approach to nutrition is key.
In an another incredible study, the blood sugar levels of more than 800 participants were monitored. Every participant was tested after every meal to see the effect on each individual’s blood sugar- more than 46,000 meals!
Researchers found that the blood sugar reading between individuals varied widely. Even when the participants ate the exact same meal, they had different blood sugar readings! (1)
The fatigue-carb connection
Just like the participants in the study, you are unique.
Some carbs will make you tired. Others will give you energy. But what exactly those foods are is unique to you.
A proper diet is about balancing all foods in a way that works for your body. It’s about individualized nutrition and aligning your food with your genetics.
You need to find a nutrition plan that is just right for you. This plan will allow you to comfortably achieve your wellness goals and reach your optimum energy levels. However, to develop this nutrition plan and beat fatigue, you’ll need to do some searching to discover your ideal carbohydrate intake.
At Flourish, we’ve developed two courses to help you do just this.
The first is our Fatigued to Flourishing program. Working closely with Flourish practitioners Ali Frederick, DOMP, RMT and Sheena Huculak, RN, RHN, you will discover the 10 carbs that most affect your blood sugar. After two months of personalized guidance and four months of support, you will emerge with a personalized nutrition plan that is perfectly aligned with your genetics. The result – a healthier, more energized you!
Contact us to learn if this program is right for you.
Looking for something a little more DIY? Check out my eCourse, Stop Feeding Fatigue. It’s designed to help you identify exactly which foods give you energy and which foods take it away – all within sixty days!
How many carbs are you eating?
For those of you unsure what I mean by the typical North American getting half of their calories from carbohydrates, imagine your daily food intake consists of 1700 calories total. Of this, 50% or 850 calories per day come from carbohydrate sources.
If you want to find out exactly how many carbs you’re eating, download an app like cronometer or my fitness pal. Simply punch in the foods you eat for a few days and you’ll see precise percentages of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
If even the thought of tracking your food in an app makes you fatigued, the eyeball method can help give you a ballpark estimate of your carb intake. At your next meal, take a good look at your plate.
- How much of your plate is filled with protein? (beef, pork, fish, chicken etc.)
- How much of your plate is filled with fat? (nuts, seeds, butter, high fat yogurt, oils)
- How much of your plate is filled with carbs? (potatoes, rice, grains, breads, fruits, vegetables)
Estimate the percentages of proteins to carbohydrates to fats based on how much of your plate they cover. Do this for each meal of the day. This exercise should help you ballpark what percentage of your meals are made up of carbohydrates.
Should you eat carbs to overcome fatigue?
Well, it depends…
Carbohydrates made up less than 5% of calories in traditional Inuit cultures that depended on hunting for survival. However, the Kitavan tribe in the South Pacific had near year-round access to fresh fruits and vegetables, so nearly 70% of their calories came from carbohydrates.
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re of mixed European ancestry, your ancestors likely got about 30% of their calories from carbohydrate sources. But let’s keep in mind that their carbohydrate intake would vary greatly depending on the seasons (remember, this was well before agriculture).
During the late summer and early autumn, your ancestors would likely have consumed more than 30% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. This would occur because fruits and vegetables would be plentiful. But in the late fall, winter, and early spring, there would be minimal carbohydrates available.
In these times, your ancestors would likely have subsisted on high fat, low carbohydrate or ketogenic style diets. During these months, your ancestor’s carbohydrate intake would be well below 30% – perhaps even as low as 5% – similar to traditional Inuit First Nation cultures.
For optimum health, do as your ancestors did. Align your diet to mimic theirs. This is how you beat fatigue.
This is how carbohydrates make you tired. If you change your diet so you are only eating carbs that your body can tolerate, you’re going to overcome fatigue.