Over the past several years, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap as “diet gurus” sought to make a buck. Rather than focus on the issue of excess calories in a person’s diet, these experts have demonized a category of food that is vital to a person’s existence and the ability to thrive. No matter what all of these gurus say in their books and propaganda, nothing has changed biologically with our species to alter our need for carbs. Active people still need to get at least 55% of our total calories from carbohydrates, and everyone needs to get at least 50 grams of carbs per day in order to avoid health problems. However, as a result of the money grab, people have lost sight of the fact that there really isn’t such a thing as a “bad” carbohydrate…
Carbohydrates are the evil food of this millennium. At least that’s what proponents of low-carb diets will have you believe. Are you overweight? Well according to these people the fault lies with bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and all the other staples that have sustained our society for thousands of years. In this “discussion” people have lost sight of the fact that portion control – or lack of it – and not carbs is to blame for the obesity epidemic.
Carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, are the preferred fuel source of the body. Glucose is the basic carb for human nutrition, and is a simple sugar. Examples of simple carbs are, fructose (fruits and veggies), galactose (not a super villain from the Marvel Universe, but a sugar found in milk), sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and maltose (grain sugar). The best times to eat simple sugars are during exercise and following workouts, as this is when the body is in urgent need for energy or to replenish carbohydrate reserves that are depleted during exercise.
I’ll repeat it because people need to be reminded; there is nothing wrong with consuming simple carbs, especially in response to exercise. Carbs also come in a “complex” variety. Examples of complex carbs are whole-grains and starchy vegetables, and these sources of carbs provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that you can’t get from simple sugars. The complex nature of these foods result in them being digested slower than simple carbs and as a result, eating complex carbs keeps blood sugar and energy at a more consistent level. The body makes a complex carb – glycogen – so that carbs can be stored for energy. Complex carbs are just connected simple carbs, and can be digestible or indigestible. Digestible complex carbs are starch, dextrins and glycogen and indigestible carbs are cellulose, pectin, and gums among others.
You can figure out your specific, daily carbohydrate needs with the help of a simple formula. Men need to about 7 grams of carbs for every kilogram of body weight (1 kilo = 2.2 pounds) and women should get about 6 grams for every kilogram of body weight. On active days, you will need more carbs than on inactive days, so you should adjust accordingly. The body stores energy in the form of glycogen, which can be quickly converted to glucose and used for energy, but the human body can only store so many carbs before the excess is stored as fat. Once excess carbs – or any calories – are stored as fat the body has a much more difficult time using this for energy. This is why portion control and the timing of the consumption of carbs is of the utmost importance. Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel so make sure that you consume enough carbs during the day to meet the majority of your energy needs.
By getting the proper amount of carbs, carbs can fulfill another of its vital functions; carbohydrates preserve protein. Carbohydrate’s protein sparing property means that by getting enough carbs to meet the majority of your energy requirements, you allow protein to be used for its most important function, that of building/repairing muscle tissue, and not for fuel. Relying on protein for fuel is inefficient and counter-productive. Only protein can build and repair muscle, so by getting the proper amount of carbs during the day, you allow protein to do its job, and as a result you get nice muscles. Good deal, eh? Those of you who workout regularly and who have eschewed carbs might have noticed that you aren’t as muscular as you should be, haven’t been able to lift as much weight as you would like, and don’t have the energy to get through your workouts. Now you know why. Avoid carbs at your own peril. Don’t eschew carbs, chew carbs.