The Scoop on CarbohydratesNEWS FEED
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Posted: Nov, 12, 2014
The Scoop on Carbohydrates

by Kelsey Brandin

 

Carbs—a trigger word of the modern dieter and a misunderstood yet essential part of an athlete’s diet. Often associated with “good and bad carbs”, carbohydrates unfortunately have a negative stigma in our society. However without them, our bodies would not be able to function properly, and our energy levels would be nonexistent. So before you decide to grab a low carb meal in your attempt to further your “healthy” lifestyle, let’s examine what carbohydrates are.

What is a carbohydrate?

Composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, a carbohydrate is the body’s primary energy source. Though fat has more potential to provide the energy the body needs (more than twice the amount carbs or protein has), evolution took a different route and relies on carbs as its fuel. Found in sugars, cellulose, and starches, carbs are virtually everywhere. From bread to beans, fruits to nuts, milk to thousands of beverages, carbohydrates are all around us.

 

I’ve heard of good and bad carbs—what does that mean?

Often, carbs are referred to as “good” and “bad”—or, simple and complex. Simple carbs (“bad” carbs) refer to sugars or sugary foods (candy, soda, honey, syrup, etc.) while complex carbs generally refer to whole grain foods, green vegetables, potatoes, etc. Often, simple starches are dismissed as unhealthy, which is not necessarily the case. Because they are made of either one or two sugar molecules, they are very easily digested and can provide the body with immediate energy. So before you throw out a sports drink simply because you saw the word “fructose” or “sucrose”, realize that those carbohydrates are what will provide you with the very energy you sought to begin with! Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are molecules that form branching, stringy coils that take longer to digest, but provide sustained energy over a longer period of time. Generally, these complex carbs are categorized on something known as the glycemic index (or, the amount of glucose and insulin that is released into the blood stream to replenish glycogen stores from an ingested carbohydrate). Two foods with the same number of carbs could be consumed—but depending on the makeup of the carb, different quantities of blood glucose and insulin will be released into the bloodstream. If an athlete consumed something like plain applesauce (low on the G.I.), and another athlete consumed a fruit juice (medium on the G.I.), the one who ate applesauce would experience a slower response with a lower peak, but longer duration of glucose and insulin release than the athlete who consumed the fruit juice—who would experience an initial, very high spike of insulin and glucose, but a much faster dropoff over time.

 

So when should I take carbohydrates when exercising, and what quantity should I take?

Both simple and complex carbohydrates are important before, during, and after exercise. While an individual can obtain ample quantities of carbohydrates through their diet, it could be incredibly difficult (and messy) to bring a carb-heavy meal to the gym to eat intra-workout! Additionally, eating directly before working out (within a half hour or so) can also prove difficult on many athletes’ stomachs. Luckily, there are some complete carbohydrate powdered supplements out there to consider! Products containing amylopectin/”waxy maize” (a starch from barley) are a good choice. However, research has not yet confirmed the superiority of amylopectin to dextrose, sucrose, and maltodextrin, so try out some different carbohydrate supplements and decide for yourself! When deciding how much you should take, there are certain equations that can be used to determine the exact amount, such as the Mifflin St. Jeor equation, which can be easily found online. When supplementing carbohydrates during a workout, an individual can consume up to 90g an hour depending on length and intensity.

Some bodybuilders like to supplement carbs before working out (some mix it in with their pre-lift supplements). This intake of carbohydrates will cause an insulin spike in their bloodstream, and boost their glycogen stores. This allows not only for the bodybuilder to perform at peak strength, and to train longer, but it can also help with the post-workout recovery period, as the body will continue to draw from glycogen stores instead of by breaking down muscle protein.

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The Bottom Line:

Carbohydrates are essential. It’s that simple. Though when it comes to supplementing, a carbohydrate supplement should never be used in place of a balanced diet—but rather to further the performance of the athlete intra-workout or immediately before. Food cannot be surpassed in its benefits, however the simplicity and speed of drinking a carbohydrate in the middle of a workout ultimately weighs in as the deciding factor as to whether or not carbohydrates should be supplemented at all. While studies may disagree on the overall effectiveness of carbohydrate supplements post-workout or in comparison to foods, most would agree that supplementing carbohydrates intra workout when an athlete is glycogen depleted is undoubtedly a good idea to boost the performance of that individual.