Carbohydrates. One of the three macronutrients our bodies require to function at max potential. Carbohydrates or “carbs” as they’re more popularly known tend to get a bad rap. Food sources higher in carbs we are most likely familiar with are: bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, and beans. I bet at least one of you looked at this list and thought to yourself, ‘yup, I haven’t had one of those in quite a while’ or ‘I try and stay away from those.’ So, how did this happen? When did carbs become the enemy? Why have we decided to limit our body’s intake of carbs? I think if we know what carbs do for our bodies and how to use them properly, we may be more inclined to let them love us from the inside out. Let’s take a closer look at carbs and all of their glory…shall we??
Here are some fast facts about carbs:
- 1 gram of carbs contains 4 kilocalories (measurement of energy).
- Main energy source for the brain.
- Carbs help maintain blood glucose (sugar) levels which are imperative to performance and appetite control.
- There are complex and simple carbohydrates.
- The glycemic index (GI) is a means of measuring the body’s blood glucose response to foods. (Carbs contain glucose.)
If carbs are the main source of energy for our brain, I’d say they’re pretty important. Have you ever cut down your carb intake and felt a bit “foggy” or that you’re just “off?” Our brains can use upwards of 400 calories per day of glucose. That is a lot of energy. Additionally, neurons (the basic working unit of the brain) don’t have the luxury of using fat as fuel; so if we have substantially decreased our carbohydrate intake, it’s no wonder we are feeling foggy or off…our brain is scraping the bottom of the barrel for it’s energy source.
Complex and Simple Carbohydrates? What is that all about? To keep this all easily digestible (haha….digestible…get it?!?), complex carbs contain a longer molecular chain of sugar molecules than simple carbs. The body breaks down these sugar molecules, turns them into glucose that is then used for energy. Being the complex carb has a longer molecular chain, it takes the body longer to break down a complex carb than a simple carb thereby providing longer lasting energy. Complex carbs also tend to have a higher amount of fiber which takes the body longer to break down. Simple carbs have shorter chains and are more quickly absorbed into the body and converted into energy. Both complex and simple carbohydrates serve a purpose and are needed in the body. Ex: a power lifter will likely need fast absorbing carbohydrates in their system before a meet for quick energy vs. the endurance runner who requires more complex carbohydrates for sustainability. Both athletes are using different carbohydrate types to support their respective activities and provide their bodies with the energy they’ll need to perform.
Examples of Complex Carbs: (**not an exhaustive list)
- Brown Rice
- Wild Rice
Examples of Simple Carbs: (**not an exhaustive list)
- table sugar
- fruit juice concentrates
- foods with added sugars–baked goods and some cereals,
- some fruits–ex: banana
The Glycemic Index (GI) is an index which “…categorizes food according to blood glucose response. Glucose levels are measured two hours after a certain food is consumed and two hours after an equivalent amount of glucose is ingested. The lower the glycemic index, the smaller the glycemic response to the food eaten.” (Sports Nutrition, 3rd Edition) When we eat foods that generate a smaller glycemic response on our body, we are able to then maintain a more stable blood glucose (blood sugar) level. It’s important to maintain a stable blood glucose so you don’t ever feel that “crash” in energy for when that happens, we may not make the best food choices in a moment of “hanger.” You know we have all been there at least once. Ex: grocery shopping while your stomach is grumbling–get home and wonder, ‘how did I buy Oreos and forget the broccoli??’
What are the takeaways from our brief overview of carbs? Well, first and foremost–they’re not of the devil. They are not out to get you and cause you all sorts of despair. Your body needs carbohydrates. Unless your medical doctor has advised you otherwise, consuming a moderate amount of quality carbohydrates throughout the day is beneficial to your health and will not negate all of your exercise efforts or make you blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade float. Your brain demands carbs to function properly. Both simple and complex carbs serve a purpose within the body–it’s only when we have a surplus of carbs (simple and/or complex) in our system that we may find ourselves in a bit of a state. The more stable we can keep our blood glucose, the better.
So, get out there today, enjoy some good ‘ol carbs and have a great Tuesday!
Until next time…