With the popularity of diets like Atkins and Paleo, carbohydrates have been labeled a “bad” food that can cause obesity. In reality, eating too much of any food can lead to weight gain.  Carbohydrates are actually critical for brain function as well as maintaining energy during strenuous and extended exercise.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are sugars and starches that provide energy that fuels muscles, the brain and the nervous system.  No matter what kind of carbs you eat (rice, apples, gummy bears or cereal), they all get converted to glucose and are used as energy.

How does the body use carbohydrates?

When carbohydrates are consumed, the body signals the pancreas to produce insulin. Cells respond to this increase in insulin by absorbing sugar from the bloodstream so that it can be used for energy. Any glucose remaining is stored as glycogen in the liver and the muscles. Only a certain amount of glycogen can be stored and anything left over is converted into fat.

When the body needs energy, it uses the glucose in the bloodstream first.  After that is used up, it breaks down the stored glycogen for energy.

Carbohydrates are critical to maintain energy during strenuous and extended exercise.

Not all Carbs are Created Equal!

High Fiber Carbs

Fiber Food Carb

High fiber carbohydrates are a type of food that keeps you feeling satiated because it digests slowly.  There are many benefits of including foods high in fiber in your diet including lowering cholesterol, keeping blood sugar levels stable and maintaining a healthy gut.  Foods high in fiber are also abundant in vitamins and minerals as well as other plant nutrients. Fiber can be found in foods like legumes, vegetables and fruit.   The goal is to include these types of foods in every meal, especially vegetables.

Starchy Carbs

Starchy carbohydrate foods should be eaten within 2 hours after exercise to restore muscle glycogen that was depleted. Some examples of these carbs are potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, brown rice, quinoa, squash, cereal, pasta, bread and oats.  These carbohydrates can be included in other meals, but should be eaten in smaller portions.

Sugary Carbs

Junk Sugar Carb PastriesSugary carbohydrates are found in processed foods like pastries, muffins, cakes, cookies, candy, chocolate, fruit juices, soda, sports drinks and even some granola and “nutrition” bars.  Having a diet that includes a lot of sugary carbs can lead to excess fat gain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you tolerate carbohydrates, these foods can be consumed sparingly right after exercise (if at all). If your goal is weight loss, sugary carbs should be avoided.

These two videos provide additional information on the effect of sugary carbohydrates on the body.

60 Minutes – Is Sugar Toxic

Catalyst – Toxic Sugar?

Questions?

Want more tips or advice on nutrition or interested in finding out how many carbohydrates you should be eating everyday? Contact FitFlex Nutrition to learn about our Nutrition Coaching services.

 

Sources
Ryan Andrews article, “All About Fiber”, http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-fibre
John Berardi, The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition (Precision Nutrition, 2016)
Lou Schuler/Alan Aragon, The Lean Muscle Diet (Rodale Inc, 2014)