Nutrition made simple: Carbohydrates*

Wednesday, 18 January 2017, By Phil Lee

There are a lot of varied opinions about carbohydrates and this macronutrient has found itself at the front of many debates. That said, there are some important things that you should know about this powerful macro.

Carbohydrates are one of the macronutrients found in many foods and drinks which function as the body's main source of energy, meaning our body will use carbs over fat or protein if available. When carbs are consumed, the body converts them into glucose (sugar); this is the natural break down response designed to provide fuel to our brain and muscle cells. Glucose enters the bloodstream and then the cells with the help of the hormone Insulin, and is then used as energy.

Any glucose that isn't immediately used is converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver to be used later. When excess carbohydrates are perpetually consumed and remain unused, they will likely eventually be converted into fat and potential weight gain. However, inadequate consumption of carbs increases the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, insufficient fibre consumption, fatigue, poor performance and the stress hormone cortisol. As well as a decrease in concentration, energy levels, muscle and metabolism.

Carbohydrates are essential for:

  • Providing our muscles with energy
  • Supporting brain function
  • Promoting muscle growth
  • Providing our body with essential vitamins and minerals
  • Delivering protein into the muscles
  • Hormone production
  • Dietary fibre

 

Carbohydrates needs will vary from person to person depending on body type, muscle mass, activity levels and goals. Your body will react differently to the different types of carbs and it's recommended that most carbs consumed come from fibrous and complex foods to ensure adequate consumption of vitamins, minerals for overall health and well-being. There are approximately 4 calories in every gram of Carbohydrate regardless of the type of carb, and overconsumption of any type can lead to weight-gain.

 

Types of carbohydrates:

Simple (Sugar) carbohydrates can occur naturally or artificially in foods. They enter the bloodstream very quickly, providing the body with an instant energy hit. This can sometimes result in a spike and crash of blood sugar levels, however consuming Simple carbs after training can help the body to quickly transport protein and other nutrients to the muscles. Be aware that consuming high amounts of simple carbs can lead to an increase in hunger and poor nutritional choices as many junk foods are made up of simple carbs, so ideally you want to keep them to a minimum. Keep in mind that simple carb foods are usually quite high in carbohydrates so when following a structured macronutrient plan they may use up a large portion of your daily carb allowance. If you are on a fat loss program you need to weigh up if it's worth it.

Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Raw and brown sugar
  • Glucose, fructose and sucrose
  • Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Some fruits and fruit juice concentrate
  • Soft drinks, sports and energy drinks
  • Honey

 

Complex (Starchy) carbohydrates are broken down slower than simple carbs providing a longer lasting energy release. They are less likely to spike blood sugar levels and have a higher nutritional value compared to simple carbs however they are still high in carbohydrates. Consuming complex carbs after training can also help the body to quickly transport protein and other nutrients to the muscles but will be broken down slower than simple carbs. Aim to consume more complex carbs than simple carbs for better control of blood sugar levels and overall health benefits. As mentioned, complex carb foods are usually quite high in carbohydrates so they may also use up a large portion of your daily carb allowance if you are on a fat loss program, however there are more nutrients in complex carbs than simple.

Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Whole grains and whole-grain breads
  • Oatmeal and brown rice
  • Potato and sweet potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Kidney beans, lentils and legumes
  • Corn

 

Fibres are found in plant based foods. They contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals and are essential for a healthy digestive system, improving and maintaining good health, especially in the gut. Fibrous foods are lower in carbohydrates meaning greater volume can be consumed to increase satiety and reduce hunger, especially for those on a low-carbohydrate diet. They are the ideal choice for overall health as they are the most nutritious out of all carb types and should be consumed daily.

Some examples include but are not limited to: 

  • Spinach and kale
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes and capsicum

 

The take away

Carbs provide the body with essential nutrients and they are important for many everyday bodily functions.

The amount you can eat will be determined by your body type, muscle mass, activity levels and goal.

Aim to consume most your carbs from fibres and complex food sources whilst enjoying the occasional foods made from simple carbs.

Eat a balance and vary your choices for optimum health benefits and satisfaction.

Don't shy away from foods you enjoy, there's no reason to restrict yourself, just be aware that some options will be nutritionally better than others. 

 

Need help? At Vision Personal Training Camberwell we provide you with the support, education and tools to ensure your success. Our personalised nutrition plans are specific to you and we'll ensure that you have all the knowledge to achieve your desired body shape. Contact us today to start the beginning of your new life.

*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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