I used to assume carbohydrates would make me fat. Through my weight loss journey, I learned that I was wrong. Carbs are not the enemy. In fact, they can help you lose weight and perform better in the gym.

The first thing to know is that there are two different types of carbs – simple and complex. Simple carbs are used by the body for quick energy. These are found in fruit, dairy, yogurt and processed foods with sugar. These are the carbs to avoid the most because they can easily lead to fat gain. (Yes, even the carbs in fruit!) Complex carbs take longer for your body to digest. These are found in vegetables, whole wheat foods, and beans. These are considered “good” carbs because they take longer for the body to break down and provide sustained energy.

Complex and simple carbs also have different glycemic indexes. High glycemic foods are not as good for you because they are consumed by your body quicker. Low glycemic foods are better because they keep you full for longer and take your body longer to break down. When considering what carbs to eat, research their glycemic index and choose foods with a lower score.

Now that we know more about carbs in general, let’s talk about why carbs are good for us. Here are four reasons why you need carbs for a healthy, balanced life.

1. We need carbs for energy.

In order to power through workouts, you need carbohydrates. If you are doing a heavy lifting session or difficult, sustained cardio, carbs can make the difference between success and failure. Carbs also help to stabilize your mood. Have you ever been “hangry?” That usually happens when you need carbohydrates in your system!

2. Carbs keep you satiated.

Carbohydrates can keep you fuller for longer. You are much less likely to be hungry an hour after breakfast if you eat a breakfast of complex carbohydrates. For example, I prefer to eat oatmeal (made of steel cut oats, not instant oatmeal) instead of an omelet for breakfast. Why? I am fuller for longer and have more energy for my morning workout. If I eat an omelet, I am ready for a snack in about two hours.

3. Carbs keep you hormonally balanced.

Your leptin levels drop when you eat a low carb diet. This can be a problem because leptin promotes fat loss. When you do not have carbs in your body, your leptin levels might drop so much that you will not be able to lose weight. This varies from person to person. You may find that eating low carb does not do this to you, but be aware that some people need carbohydrates to lose fat. Carb cycling is a great way to manage your diet if you are interested in restricting carbs. You can eat low carb most of the week and then do a carb refeed every 2-3 days. If you do this, you do not need to worry about your leptin levels dipping too low.

4. Carbs help you build muscle.

Muscle loss will likely happen if you are lifting high volume as well as performing a lot of cardio. If you want to gain muscle mass, you must have carbohydrates. They will fill your muscles with glycogen, keeping them strong and lean. Your muscles may atrophy and you will lose strength if you do not take in enough carbs. This can also lead to a slower metabolism, making weight loss more difficult.

Bonus point!

5. Carbs help keep weight off.

If you eat an extremely low carb diet, you will lose weight. However, if you reintroduce carbs into your diet, you will gain back all the weight you lost. This will happen almost immediately. It is better to have moderation in your carb consumption so you can lose weight slowly and keep it off, rather than do an extreme cut to lose weight and then gain it all (and more) back when you lose your willpower.