Carbohydrates are a main fuel source for the body and are one of the three central components of the human diet, along with fat and protein. Muscles rely heavily on the dependable supply of energy from carbohydrates and the brain is completely dependent on carbs and lives solely on blood sugar. Without sufficient blood glucose the brain is starved and any part of the nervous system can be affected.
Clearly, carbs are an integral part of a balanced diet. Any fad diets that suggest completely eliminating carbs are downright dangerous. The keyword, however, is balanced diet. While carbohydrates are a critical component to good health, it is very easy to overdo them. Improper carb consumption is perhaps the leading factor in fat gain.
Here’s how eating too many carbs can make you fat. After eating, enzymes in the digestive system break down carbohydrates into blood sugar, or glucose, which is used as energy for the body. This blood sugar is then stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles where it is used to maintain blood glucose availability to the body throughout the day. It also serves as an energy reservoir to provide emergency fuel during times of high energy demand.
This glycogen energy reserve is much like a cup. It can only hold so much. Any excess that overflows beyond the capacity of the cup gets promptly stored as fat. This is an important concept to grasp. After intense physical activity your glycogen reserves are most likely depleted so it is important to eat a healthy dose of carbs to restore your energy reserves. However, if you’ve been sitting on the couch all day watching TV, your glycogen reserves are probably filled to max capacity. Eating carbs now will be excess and thus stored as fat.
There are three different types of carbs and each provide energy in a different way. Let’s learn how to eat the right carbs at the right times to maintain high energy without fat gain.
Starchy Complex Carbohydrates
Whole grain bread, oatmeal, grits, pasta, brown rice, beans, potatoes, yams, and corn are a few examples of starchy complex carbohydrates. These foods have complex chemical bonds that are slowly broken down by enzymes in the digestive system and gradually absorbed into the bloodstream bit by bit. For this reason, starchy carbs provide long lasting energy. These are the foods marathon runners rely on for sustained energy.
Because our bodies are restoring themselves during the night, our glycogen stores get burned up a bit for energy. Upon waking up in the morning it will be important to restore these energy reserves. Some complex starchy carbohydrates for breakfast will help restore our energy as well as provide sustained energy throughout the early day.
It is important to have starchy carbohydrates prior to physical activity. Ultimately, carb intake throughout the day will vary greatly from person to person based on their energy demands and body type. Some people will need to avoid carbs almost entirely, while other people will require some carbs at every meal. Carefully consider your activity level, for eating more carbs than you require will lead to fat gain. Some people will gain weight at only 100 grams a day, while other will require over 500 grams.
Fibrous Complex Carbohydrates
Some carbohydrates have chemical bonds that simply can’t be broken down by the enzymes in the body. These indigestible substances simply pass through the body and are known as fiber. Fibrous carbs provide virtually nothing for energy, but are very important to digestive health and the cleansing of the body.
Fibrous complex carbohydrates are very good not only for getting fiber into the body but also for weight loss. On a high-fiber diet you are much more likely to reach the point of satisfaction before eating too much. As these foods are chewed, large amounts of saliva and gastric juices are produced. This additional liquid mixes with the food in the stomach and causes swelling of the fibers in the food. This distends the stomach and gives prompt and lasting feeling of fullness. It’s even been well established that those who consume a high-fiber diet actually excrete more fat in each bowel movement than those on a low-fiber, low-roughage diet.
Fibrous complex carbohydrates can be eaten any time of day without limit. Because fiber cannot be digested, the body will burn lots of energy attempting to process it. This is a dieter’s dream come true. It is something that can be eaten without limit and without risk of gaining even an ounce of unwanted weight. A celery stick for example contains about 5 calories. The body will burn about 10 calories just breaking down, assimilating, and eliminating the celery stick. This is called negative calories. So for people dieting, use as much leafy green vegetables as possible.
High fibrous foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Whether you are seeking to lose weight, gain weight, or build muscle, eat lots of fibrous complex carbs for their fiber and nutrients.
Simple carbohydrates are also known as simple sugars. They are easily digested and enter the blood stream almost immediately. These foods provide an instant burst of energy, also known as a “sugar rush”. These are also the foods that need to be used very sparingly. Used correctly, simple carbs serve a great purpose, but taken at a time when your body has no demand for high energy output, these simple sugars quickly overfill the glycogen energy reserves and get stored as fat.
Simple carbohydrates should only be eaten during and immediately after an intense workout. After intense physical activity, the body has burned through it’s glycogen energy reserve and is desperate to replenish it. Simple sugars are the best thing for quickly getting energy back into the body and back into the depleted muscles.
Even ladies trying to lose weight, this is the time to eat the sugar you want as it will replenish your glycogen. Immediately after an intense workout is the one time you can get away with it. Be wise though. Cookies would be fine, but cheesecake would be terrible as it is loaded with fat. Only sugars, not sugars and fat, should be eaten.
Some examples of simple carbs include milk, white bread, white pasta, table sugar, corn syrup, and most packaged cereal.
Evaluate Carbohydrate Intake Based on Your Energy Needs
You need to evaluate carb intake for yourself. Two weeks is a good time for testing this. Monitor your protein, carb, and fat intake over two weeks. If you gain fat, it means your energy intake is greater than your energy expenditure, so reduce your carb intake. Likewise, if you lack energy and are losing weight, up your carb intake.