Carbohydrates have been getting a pretty bad rap lately. The media leads us to believe that they are in some way “fattening” foods to eat and that any weight-loss efforts are doomed unless you choose to cut the carbs. This is unfortunate as all evidence points to the contrary as they are in fact incredibly nutritious foods to eat – as long as you choose the right ones.
There are three predominant types of carbohydrates; sugars, fibres and starches. Sugars are “simple” carbohydrates found in foods such as fruits and vegetables, while fibres and starches are known as complex carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are just as they sound – they’re complicated molecules and so they take longer to break down, meaning they provide a longer lasting source of energy, without that dramatic increase in blood sugar. These are the “good” carbs (there are no “bad” carbs, but for simplicity we’ll call them that) and they can be found in whole grains, root vegetables, beans and some fruits.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are interested in building muscle and giving it socks at the gym. You cannot expect to perform optimally without a sufficient intake of carbohydrates; after all, they’re basically your #1 training partner (Apart from the friend who always has the pre-workout. They have a special place in our heart).
WHY THE HATE?
One of the main reasons why carbohydrates are deemed the dieters enemy is because they are very easy to overeat – especially the simple, sugary ones. Think about it – it’s a lot easier to sit down and eat a huge bowl of pasta than to eat a big bowl of steak!
Too many of these addictive, sugar-filled foods can have a negative impact on the body’s insulin sensitivity which can lead to diabetes, weight gain and heart problems.
So it’s not actually the carbohydrates that are causing the problem, it’s the serving size and the type of carbohydrates consumed that are the issue. Instead of changing how much and which type of carbohydrate to eat, some people just drop them completely. Not only will you limit your athletic ability, but you’ll be cranky as hell.
WHY YOU NEED THEM:
Carbohydrates are a direct source of your body’s best friend – glucose, the predominant source of energy for your body. If you’re body runs low on carbohydrates, it has to turn to protein (from food or skeletal muscle) and fats as a source of energy. Your body can’t use protein or fat as a direct source of energy and so it must process them before they can be used. This process (called gluconeogenesis) is extremely energy inefficient and also puts you at risk of muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) and hypoglycaemia.
Although glucose (“blood sugar”) is heavily involved in physical activity, it’s also required for the day-to-day “housekeeping” jobs such as cell repair, hormone regulation and has multiple metabolic functions. So next time you’re thinking of cutting the carbs for your lazy days, remember they’re a lot more than just muscle-food!
Your muscles require carbohydrates to function – it’s their fuel! If you restrict your carbohydrate intake, your performance in the gym, sports and any physical activity will suffer. In addition, cutting your carbs while engaged in any sort of weight training can have devastating effects to your muscle tissue and limit your ability to increase strength and overall fitness.
Also, it is important to note that when restricting carbohydrates, you’re muscles appear “flat” and your hard earned gains can be difficult to spot. Although superficial, this can have an effect on your motivation as it may appear as if you’re hard work isn’t paying off – something everyone has encountered at some stage. Don’t worry; they’re still there. Just eat a bagel. Pair it with some peanut butter and let the gains commence!
Fibre provides bulk to the foods we eat as it moves from our stomachs to the colon, aiding in digestion and efficient absorption of nutrients. Dietary fibre speeds up the rate at which food moves through the digestive system preventing food from going rancid in our digestive tract, something that can cause bloating, heartburn and indigestion.
Most people associate fibre with the less “attractive” foods (did someone say ‘Bran Flakes’?) it’s actually very easy to sneak into your diet. Oats, potatoes, beans and fruits are all terrific sources of fibre and don’t taste like a bowl of wood chippings either!
Your brain requires carbohydrates to function properly – something we can all agree is pretty important. Appearing idle from the outside, your brain actually consumes up to 400 calories a day just by concentrating on your day to day activities. If you starve your brain of its fuel by reducing carbohydrates, you’re at risk of suffering from cognitive decline and memory problems.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Carbohydrates are not the devil! You won’t develop diabetes over that chocolate bar you had last week or the warming bowl of oatmeal you enjoy on the cold winter mornings. If you provide your body with the right amount of the best quality carbohydrates you will reap the benefits those glorious grains provide!