Wellness Wednesday: Carbs, Carbs, Carbs
The mighty carbohydrate is perhaps the most divisive of all of the macronutrients- you either love them or you hate them, there is no seemingly in-between. In recent years, popular diet culture has cast a shadow over carbs, a distinct change from the 80s, when whole grains and fiber were touted as being beneficial for weight loss and health maintenance. Today, I’m going to give you some straight and help facts to inform your decision about carbs so you can better understand how to use them in your training, and form your own opinion about whether they are “right” for you. Let’s begin!
Carbohydrates or “carbs” are one of the three macronutrients your body needs to function in top form. From a biochemical standpoint they’re pretty simple, as they are composed of only 3 elements: carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Carbohydrates can take many forms, but can be grouped into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbs (as the same might imply) are composed of molecules that are on the smaller side and have a simple, uncomplicated bonding structure. This means it’s easier for your body to attack those bonds during digestion and make the energy they contain available for use super quickly. Examples of simple carbs are things like sucrose and glucose- the main components of white sugar and processed white rice. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are harder to break up as they are usually larger molecules with structures that may be complex or branching. This means your body needs more time to break them down into pieces that will produce energy for you, making them much slower to digest. This also means that they tend to affect your blood sugar much less violently than simple carbs and are therefore less likely to produce that sugar high/ energy crash that you would get from eating a bunch of sugar.
From a training perspective, carbs have power. They provide energy for your muscles in the form of glucose. This is most helpful for training that involved muscular endurance and medium to long durations, such as distance running or swimming, as well as leisure activities such as hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing. If distance isn’t your thing, they are still valid as an energy source and food choice. You simply won’t need as much of them. Regardless of your training mode, be sure to preferentially choose carbs that are nutrient dense and high in fiber to get the most nutritional benefit and to prevent energy crash. Good choices include foods like steel cut oatmeal, beans, quinoa, and crunchy raw fruits or veggies.
In a nutshell, it doesn’t much matter if you are a powerlifter or a marathon runner- carbs have a place in your nutrition world. If you choose them, keep in mind that not all carbs are the same (i.e. a Twinkie does not equal a carrot) and that they will have different effects on your energy levels and overall health, based on their fiber and nutrient content. Got more questions? Consult your friendly neighborhood dietitian. J