What are Carbohydrates and why do we need them?

Hello everyone and welcome back to your introduction to macronutrients part 2. This article is going to look at carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates (carbs) are primarily used as fuel for all of our body’s processes. Carbs are found in many of the foods we eat including bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruits, vegetables and treats like chocolate and sweets.

There are many myths surrounding carbs and I want to begin by sharing one of the strangest I have ever encountered. I was once told in a conversation that you should blend your fruits and not eat them as this will stop them turning to sugar. I was honestly speechless for a brief second when I heard this. I then went on to explain that whether you eat or blend your fruits it will all be broken down and absorbed within the body as glucose (sugar). In this case the argument would actually be of the opposite, to eat your fruits and not blend them if you have the propensity to over consume. For example you can easily drink down 4 or 5 oranges when blended however you would be unlikely to eat 4 or 5 full oranges in one sitting.

Carbs are similar to protein in terms of calories per gram. They contain 4 calories per gram. The interesting thing here is that for every gram of carbs you store in the body it draws in and stores around 3 grams of water too. This is the reason that if you have a high carb meal or a high carb day you will likely wake up the next day a little heavier. This is nothing to worry about and you have certainly not gained fat overnight. It is simply the carbs being stored in the muscles as glycogen and some in the liver as liver glycogen ready to be used by your body the next day.

Now the big question of fat loss. Do you need to eliminate carbs to lose fat? No. I have mentioned this before but in a study by Hall done in a metabolic ward, where no one left during the study, people were fed the same calories and the same protein levels. The only difference was one group received high fat low carbs and the other received high carbs and low fat. The outcome of weight loss was the same. This study proved that energy balance is the main concern when trying to lose weight/fat.

Taking that a step further takes into account personal preference. Some people tolerate carbs better than others. Some people can eat them at breakfast and feel fine whereas a big bowl of porridge would send me to sleep by 11am if I let it. Simply experiment with what works best for you but a general guideline is to save your carbs for after exercise and in evening meals to promote a good night’s sleep.

When it comes to choosing what sources of carbs there is much debate. My advice is to choose the options that contain the most vitamins, minerals and fibre to promote healthy digestion and aid biological function. Start by choosing vegetables and fruits and then look to add in the likes of potatoes and rice after exercise and in evening meals etc. The more exercise you do the more carbs you will require.

Think of carbs as being something you need to earn through activity. If person A has a desk job working 9-5 every day and plays badminton once a week they are not going to require as much carbohydrate in their diet as person B who works as a gardener who is on their feet lifting and working all day who trains at the gym 3 nights a week.

Finally carbs are often attributed to the reason behind people gaining fat. The carbs are not the problem. It is the calorie surplus that is leading to weight gain. In this scenario people immediately look to cut all carbs and guess what? They lose weight. They then assume well carbs were making them fat. This is wrong and they would have experienced the same result had they cut out the same number of calories from fat or a mixture of macronutrients.

Take home points:

Carbs are your friend and provide your body with energy to function

Carbs enable you to perform your chosen activity to the best of your ability

Carbs enable you to recover quicker after activity and between bouts

Carbs help with a better night’s sleep when ingested in the evenings

Earn your carbs.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this intro to carbohydrate and this article has helped to debunk some myths surrounding carbs.

Next time we will be looking at the final macronutrient which also comes under scrutiny which is fat.

Yours in Health,

Robbie Totten (robbie.totten@hotmail.co.uk)

 

 

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