Carbs - Friend or Foe
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
It's safe to say, a majority of us love to eat. When we think of the foods we love- pancakes, bread, chocolate, cake, fries, brownies, biscuits... most of them have carbs.
Low-carb diet, ketogenic diet, Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, avoid carbs at night… I could go on and on about how the media portrays carbs. Do carbs make you fat? Does that mean we should avoid them like the plague? But what gives? Are they good or bad? Carbs are controversial. So let’s start with what a carbohydrate is.
A carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates), all necessary for our bodies to function properly. A carbohydrate is composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When we consume carbs, our body breaks most carbs down into glucose (blood sugar) where it is used for energy for our cells, organs, and tissues. There are 2 types of carbohydrates – simple and complex.
Simple carbs are QUICKLY broken down, digested, and used for energy. Simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules (monosaccharides & disaccharides). Simple carbs add a sweet flavor to foods. Naturally, simple carbs are found in fruits, milk, and milk products. But they are also found in processed and refined foods like candy, soda, table sugar, and syrups… these foods could be the part of the reason why we commonly hear that carbs are unhealthy and make you fat.
Complex carbs take longer to break down due to their chemical structure. They are made of 3-10+ sugar molecules linked together (oligosaccharides & polysaccharides). Complex carbs are the starches and fibers, such as vegetables, grains, beans, and peas. Since they take longer to break down, complex carbs keep you full longer and sustain energy levels longer.
Here are some functions that carbs serve in our bodies:
Primary energy source for the body – especially during exercise
ONLY source of energy in high-intensity anaerobic exercise
Energy source for cells of the central nervous system (AKA your brain and spinal cord … kind of important)
Spare muscle tissue … if your carb intake is too low, your body will literally burn your muscles to provide energy, so you lose the muscle mass that you’ve worked so hard for
Important for glycogen and muscle recovery
So with that, you’re probably still wondering if carbs are good or bad. Your TIMING and CHOICE are what will answer that million dollar question. If you choose carb sources such as cookies, sugar filled drinks like soda, smoothies, milkshakes, white bread, chocolate (all simple carbs), it won’t benefit you in the long run. With simple carbs, you’ll get hungrier quicker which leads to excess snacking, your blood sugar will rapidly spike and drop, it can lead to cavities, weight gain, and may increase your risk of diabetes, CVD, kidney issues, and neuropathy. While complex carbs can improve blood cholesterol, increase feelings of fullness, help succeed in managing weight, and aid in muscle recovery. These are just a few of the pros of consuming complex carbs, but to reap even more benefits, consume them at the proper time.
Y’all probably remember hearing growing up that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and there is some truth to that. There are 3 prime times to remember to eat carbs – breakfast, pre-workout, post-workout. These 3 times are important because it is when our bodies are the most insulin sensitive AKA the carbs are more likely to be stored in lean tissues (muscles) rather than adipose tissues (fat). Carb timing and insulin sensitivity can be a whole other blog post but regardless, carbs are SO so so important for our bodies! We shouldn’t be afraid of eating carbs as long as we are being mindful of our choices and timing. The meal plans I create are specific to how many carbohydrates each individual needs to ensure their body is functioning to the best of its ability- noticing mental differences like energy levels and fatigue are equally as important as physical changes. If you’d like me to be your coach, I would love to help you fuel your body properly!