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Carbohydrates 101

A little while ago we covered protein, now lets give a brief overview of carbohydrates.


Here is a basic overview of what carbohydrates are, what they do, and what types you should be consuming.


What are carbohydrates?


At the basic level, carbohydrates are a type of sugar.


I know, the S-word, sugar.


Even though most people associate sugar with poor nutrition, and health; scientifically speaking, sugar is a way to classify a type of molecule.


Sugars are then classified based on their chemical composition and structure. Sugars contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.


So carbohydrates are a type of sugar.


The types of carbohydrates differ in the amount of each of these atoms, and the way that type of carbohydrate is formed.


Carbohydrates can be simple, like glucose and fructose, which only have 1 ring to them and can also be called a monosaccharide. Or they can contain two or more rings.


For example lactose, the sugar found in milk is considered a disaccharide because it is made of glucose and galactose, two simple sugars.


Starch and glycogen are considered polysaccharides because they are made of many chains of simple carbohydrates.


What do carbs do for us?


The main role of carbohydrates is to provide us with energy.


When we exercise at moderate to high intensities, for a short to moderate amount of time, sugars are going to be used the most. This is because this type of exercise requires fast energy, and it is faster for us to get energy from carbohydrates than fats (fats are the other energy source we use, we'll cover those soon!)


For example, a hard set of 12 reps on the leg press or a 20 - 30 seconds sprint will require the use of carbohydrates for energy.


Energy from carbs can come from 2 ways.


The energy we need can come from the simple sugar glucose.


Or it can come from breaking down glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose in us humans.


Glycogen is primarily stored in our muscles, with some stored in our liver.


The glycogen is made up of lots and lots of glucose molecules, and when we need energy, the glycogen gets broken down, and the glucose released gets used for energy production.


Carbohydrates can also be used to form other helpful things for our physiology.


Carbs can help to form glycans, which are tiny labels on our cell membranes and anti-bodies that are used to help identify different cells.


Carbs are also involved in glucosamine production, which help proper development of connective tissue.


As you can see, carbohydrates do play an important role in our day to day functions.


Types of carbohydrates


As mentioned above, there are different types of carbohydrates.


Some are simple, like glucose and fructose. While others like glycogen and starch are more complex.


Simple sugars will enter our blood faster, and will be delivered to muscle faster than things like starch.


Longer more complex carbs take longer to be digest and broken down for us to use within our body.


We will cover why this distinction matters in a little bit.


One type of carbohydrate that we didn't mention above is fiber.


Most people are no stranger to hearing fiber is good for us.


Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that humans can't digest. However, fiber is positively associated with a healthy gut, reducing the chances of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and longevity.


Humans may not use fiber directly for energy production, but our gut bacteria do.


The bacteria in our gut ferment the fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids.


The short chain fatty acids are involved in metabolism within our body, and are claimed to be beneficial for us.


There are two forms of fiber. Soluble and insoluble.


Soluble fiber is water soluble, meaning this type of fiber can be dissolved in water. Soluble fiber is helpful because it can help decrease blood cholesterol levels. Which could be helpful if you need to lower them based on your medical providers advice.


Insoluble fiber, which make up plant cell walls, help add bulk to our stools and regulate our bowel movements.


What types of carbs should I eat?


Simple carbs like those found in honey, fruit, or a bowel of cereal may be best when you need quick energy or to add a little sweetness to your plate.


Something like honey, an banana, or granola bar may be a good option when you need boost before your workout.


If you have a little more time between the time you eat and your workout, opt for more complex carbs. These should be the focus a majority of the time you are selecting which carbs to eat.


These are things like potatoes, whole grains, large quantities of fruits and veggies, quinoa, and rice.

These foods will contain more fiber and will take longer to digest compared to the simple carbs. Which helps keep you fuller longer.


Special considerations


Because there has been a rise in low carb diets such as keto and the carnivore diets I do want to bring up some points about the amount of carbs we should be having.


Everyone's carbohydrate amount will be based upon a few things.

  1. Their preferences

  2. Their activity level

  3. Their ability to digest carbohydrates

In my opinion, I think carbs are an important part of a healthy diet.


That does not mean I am advocating everyone to eat all the carbs that they want.


I think it is important to listen to how your body responds to the amount and type of carbs you are eating. Make adjustments when you need to, and then re-assess based on how you feel.


Carbs by themselves are not inherently bad for us. They become detrimental when they are overeaten, and your only carbohydrate sources are ultra processed foods.


I hope this gave you some more insight on what carbs are. If you have any nutrition related questions, please send me an email or find me on Instagram (@stirohfitnessandnutrition)


If you would like to go over what your diet currently looks like, you can schedule a call below!


Click the link, select roadmap strategy call, and pick a day and time that works for you!



All the best,


Tim


Cover photo credit: https://www.godigit.com/health-insurance/nutrition/what-is-carbohydrates

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