Struggling to cut back on carbs? Want to slim down and clean up your diet? If so, there is no need to give up carbs. These nutrients are your body's main source of fuel. Without carbs, your muscles can not recover properly from exercise. Additionally, a diet that's too low in carbs may not be sustainable on long term. Let's see why carbs are important for health and athletic performance!
Why Are Carbs Important?
Along with protein and fats, carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the body, and the only direct energy source for the brain. Chemically, they are composed of carbon. oxygen, and hydrogen. These nutrients provide readily accessible fuel for all cells and tissues. Red blood cells rely on glucose to produce energy.
After ingestion, carbs are turned into glucose and then broken down through a process called glycolysis. If your body has enough energy to function properly, glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. The excess is stored as fat. Your liver and muscles can store about 4,000 calories at a time. Intense physical activity and exercise can deplete your glycogen stores, which may affect muscle repair and energy levels. Without glycogen, your body must use fats and protein for fuel. Basically, carbs spare protein breakdown from being used to make glucose.
Types of Carbohydrates
These macronutrients can be classified according to the number of sugar units combined in one molecule. The major types of carbs include:
Monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, and galactose)
Polysaccharides (pectins, cellulose, and amylose)
Disaccharides (lactose, sucrose, and maltose)
Polyols (isomalt, malitol, and sorbitol)
Carbohydrates can be also grouped into starches, sugars, and fiber, or into simple and complex carbs. These compounds occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. One gram of carbs provides four calories.
Carbs and Sports Nutrition
Athletes need carbs to recover from exercise and perform at their best. When their glycogen stores are low, they can not meet the energy demands of training or competition. Carbohydrates not only provide energy, but also play a key role in fat oxidation, digestive function, and cognitive processes. These nutrients allow your body to use protein for muscle growth and repair, and not just for fuel. Fiber, one of the main types of carbs, keeps the digestive system running smoothly.
The daily recommended carb intake for athletes depends on their body weight, type of activity, and training goals. For example, a runner or a powerlifter needs more carbohydrates than a bodybuilder. Most athletes need a higher carbohydrate percentage than sedentary individuals. I would recommend 45 percent to 65 percent of an athlete’s daily calories should come from carbs. For others, carbohydrate intake percentages would be based more on body type and or nutritional goals.
Be aware that not all carbs are created equal. Plant-based foods contain "good carbs," which fuel the body and support overall health. Processed foods, cookies, soda, chips, pastries, and commercial fruit juices are high in simple sugars that cause insulin and blood glucose spikes. Fruits and vegetables have both simple and complex carbs, but they also contain fiber, which slows sugar absorption into the bloodstream. Complex or slow digestive carbs provide steady energy throughout the day, while simple or fast digesting carbs are quick energy sources. Let us know if this is an area you need help in, we would love to join you on your journey to wellness.