Carbohydrate, carbs and carbos. Should we eat them?
High performance fuel to aid recovery and provide energy, while often providing the best nutritional value.

An introduction to the macronutrient, Carbohydrate.

 

 

By STEFAN Angheli
editor in chief


Carbohydrate and Carbs

While protein and fat are primarily building materials, carbohydrates are premium fuel for your body. As stated earlier, these are the body's preferred food source and will fuel the body no matter what energy system is warranted. They are also remarkable at storing energy for easy and quick usage when your body requires it. Take note, these foods should be eaten in order to feel full of zest, vigor and almost unlimited energy in all activity types.

You act according to your energy levels. No energy leads to no actions. Of all the nutrients, carbohydrates are the most potent in affecting your energy levels. Even though carbohydrates, like protein yield only 4 calories per gram whereas fat yields 9, it is proven that ATP is formed a lot faster from carbohydrates compared to fat. ATP, the energy currency of your muscle cell, provides a more rapid source of energy. In fact they provide approximately twice as much energy compared to fats in the same time (1). During anaerobic exercise such as resistance training, which uses only carbohydrates as fuel, this energy formation jumps to almost 5 times (2). In terms of people benefits, this means that with carbohydrates, you'll be brimming with energy quicker than with any other food.

This information may sound like you should therefore shy away from carbohydrate since they produce that much more energy that could turn to fat. Its true that over consumption of carbohydrates can turn to fat, but 23 per cent of the carbohydrate calories get burned up during the conversion process. Keep in mind that storing dietary fat uses up only 3 per cent. So if you over indulge, at least do it with carbohydrates and preferably carbs that offer nutritional value. (i.e.. Ones with vitamins and minerals.)

Carbohydrates produce that much more energy in a particular time frame and in some time critical tasks, energy production needs to be rapid. This energy is in terms of conversion to stored ATP which is needed for muscular movement amongst other things. Fat on the other hand is very efficient at storing itself in the body and not as efficient in topping up stores of ATP. Remember it is ATP that gets used up in exercise and other energy requiring functions of the body, and ultimately it is responsible for your level of energy.

So you can have plenty of fat in your body to top up ATP stores but this will occur more slowly. Using fat to top up ATP stores is like using a garden hose to fill a 25 meter pool. There is too much resistance encountered and it will therefore take more time. As mentioned before, this can be changed through exercise and affected by your level of conditioning.

When carbohydrates are ingested they are broken down into glucose and stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glucose circulates in the blood, also known as blood sugar. This is used mostly by the brain and nervous system for energy. The brain uses a whopping 70 per cent of the available blood glucose. If your brain cells are deprived of glucose, mental power will suffer and because your muscles are controlled by the brain might leave you feeling weak and shaky. Nervous system being deprived of glucose can leave you feeling tired, impair reaction time and leave you lethargic. So limited carbohydrate intake may be the reason for those times where you know you didn't perform your best, physically but also mentally.

The glycemic index was developed primarily for diabetic patients to see how fast a particular food was converted to glucose in the blood. The higher the index, the faster it converts to glucose. They would be encouraged to eat foods with a low glycemic index to allow a slower conversion to blood glucose. Remember a diabetics' insulin, which is needed to shuttle glucose out of the blood and into the cell, doesn't function optimally. By eating low glycemic foods they are able to better control their insulin levels since these foods don't produce fast conversion rate to glucose because insulin isn't able to clear this away.

The glycemic index was also used to dispel the myth that simple carbohydrates are nutritionally less dense, cause a high blood sugar response and should be avoided. That is not true since fruits are mostly simple carbohydrates but are very nutritious and some have low glycemic index like grapefruit, apple and pear. Complex carbohydrates such as breads, pasta and grains were said to produce a low more controlled blood sugar response and thus thought to have low a glycemic index. This again isn't true. These foods mentioned elicit a high blood glucose level and thus have a high glycemic index.

A proposal brought forward by 3,000 physicians, asked the USDA to ban the four food groups and to reclassify meats and dairy products as "optional foods"? Well, in 1992 the USDA issued a food pyramid which emphasized whole grains, then vegetable, then fruits as the basis for nutrition. These are all high carbohydrate sources, nutrient dense and energy replenishing. All types of carbohydrates are recommended by leading nutritionists and that is the reason why they should top your supermarket list. Foods high in protein and fat such as meats and dairy products are classified as minor foods.

Grain foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, rice along with vegetables and fruits should make up the bulk of your daily intake. Three quarters of your plate should be full with carbohydrates with the remainder of protein and perhaps a few from low-fat dairy sources. The fats will take care of themselves. Sources high in carbohydrates are usually low in fat, especially saturated fat, and by eating them chances are you won't eat any fat along with them. That isn't always the case.

There are other advantages that can be derived from a high carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrate spares protein from being used as energy, therefore leaving it to do its main job to build and repair body tissue, including muscle. This way you don't have to eat high amounts of protein to build muscle because protein sources are mostly high in fat, especially saturated fat.

On top of helping to build muscle, carbohydrates also helps in burning fat. If you think of fat as fuel waiting to be burned, carbohydrate is the spark that ignites fat at the cellular level. Without it, fat will not burn as well.

Another benefit to high carbohydrate eating is that these foods, especially grainy ones, contain fiber. Fiber is indigestible and provides stimulation of digestive tract muscles. Fiber improves elimination and may also help safeguard against colon cancer. It can also play a role in fat loss and weight control. They take longer to eat and provide a full, satisfied feeling. They lower the secretion of insulin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. In addition, during digestion and absorption, high fiber foods use up more energy (calories).

On the contrary, some people seem to think that carbohydrates are fattening. They don't seem to know where the extra calories are coming from. The answer lies in the calories from the carbohydrates themselves, and the calories that come from what the carbohydrates are eaten with. For example bread spread with butter or margarine, fried potatoes, pasta with meat sauce and cheese, and many others. So be careful in what you combine your carbohydrates with, as it can transform low calorie, low fat diets into high calorie, high fat very quickly. Many don't seem to make that distinction.

But there is however a downside to carbohydrate. Over ingestion of carbohydrate can lead to the conversion to fat and ultimately the storage of fat. However, remember that even though 23 per cent of the carbohydrate calories are used as energy for the conversion process to fat stores, the important message is that they do get stored as fat. So even though it is your body's preferred energy source and is perfect for generating ATP molecules, you should only consume it according to your level of activity, and also upcoming level of activity. Over consumption leads to fat storage.

How do you know if you over consuming? Get measures of body fat levels regularly and adjust accordingly (weight measurements are not adequate). But don't worry about it too much. A high carbohydrate diet is still better than your normal diet in terms of weight loss and definitely better in terms of energy levels. How do I know? Conclusive statistics tell me, (and thousands of other doctors and PhDs), so.

Carbohydrate Overview

... these are the body's preferred food source and will fuel the body no matter what energy system is warranted.

...carbohydrates, like protein yield only 4 calories per gram whereas fat yields 9, it is proven that ATP is formed a lot faster from carbohydrates compared to fat. ATP, the energy currency of your muscle cell, provides a more rapid source of energy.

Carbohydrates Cont'd

Its true that over consumption of carbohydrates can turn to fat, but 23 per cent of the carbohydrate calories get burned up during the conversion process. Keep in mind that storing dietary fat uses up only 3 per cent.

When carbohydrates are ingested they are broken down into glucose and stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glucose circulates in the blood, also known as blood sugar. This is used mostly by the brain and nervous system for energy.

The glycemic index was also used to dispel the myth that simple carbohydrates are nutritionally less dense, cause a high blood sugar response and should be avoided. That is not true since fruits are mostly simple carbohydrates but are very nutritious and some have a low glycemic index.

 

Carbohydrate spares protein from being used as energy, therefore leaving it to do its main job to build and repair body tissue, including muscle.

On top of helping to build muscle, carbohydrates also helps in burning fat. If you think of fat as fuel waiting to be burned, carbohydrate is the spark that ignites fat at the cellular level.

...these foods, especially grainy ones, contain fiber. Fiber is indigestible and provides stimulation of digestive tract muscles. Fiber improves elimination and may also help safeguard against colon cancer. It can also play a role in fat loss and weight control.

Scientific References:

1. Ahlborg B., et al. 1967. Muscle glycogen and electrolytes during prolonged physical exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 70: 129-142.
2. Wade, G. N. 1983. Physiology Behavior, 29: 710

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