In the previous blog, The Power of Protein, we discussed the makeup and purpose of protein. We found that protein is made up of varying combinations of amino acids, 20 in all. And, we found that amino acids make up every tissue and substance in our bodies, from organs and hair to hormones. Once we distinguish amino acids, essential from non-essential, we see the value in consuming and/or supplementing essential amino acids in order to obtain “complete protein.”
In this blog, we will shift to the second macro which are carbohydrates, also known as “carbs.”
What are their characteristics?
Carbs are a necessary component to mental and physical fitness. Unfortunately, they have developed a fairly poor reputation in recent years. The risk of undisciplined carb intake has been generalized to represent most if not all carb consumption. However, when used correctly, carbs are incredibly helpful in keeping blood sugar stable and energy levels constant. Therefore, it is imperative to know the risks and benefits of consuming this macronutrient.
Balancing our carb intake can be tricky. Carbs are like a guard dog. If treated well, they will take care of us. If mistreated, however, they will bite us in the butt…our ever-enlarging butt!
For fitness seeking people, carbs can be incredibly beneficial, not only for energy in the short term, but also in the long term. How? Unlike protein, carbs can be stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glucose. Hence, they can be used for energy at a later time. Overdoing it, however, leads to fat gain as excess glucose becomes glycogen, and excess glycogen becomes fat.
What are they made of?
Carbs consist of three components: fiber, starch, and sugar. We generally recognize carbs in two categories: complex and simple. Fiber and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb. However much of each is found in a food determines its nutrient quality. Complex carbs include whole grains, vegetables, beans, and lentils. Simple carbs include sugars (raw and brown), corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
Are all carbs created equal?
Contrary to product labeling, there are no “essential carbs,” just carbs. I would also be remised if I didn’t qualify carbs. Not all carbs benefit the human body. Refined carbs, such as white rice, white bread, and refined cereal, have a similar effect to refined sugar.
When we consume refined carbs, we get a rapid increase in blood sugar and a corresponding surge in energy. Unfortunately, energy surge comes with a crash as our body scrambles to balance our blood sugar levels. If repeated frequently throughout the day, this can lead to a host of problems ranging from irritability, tiredness, and headache in the short term to fatigue and weight gain in the long term. In the next blog, we will cover 4 tips on how to maintain healthy stable blood sugar levels.
What is their role?
Although the human body can obtain energy from fats and proteins, it is designed to run on carbs. Why? Because, it takes very little effort for the human body to convert carbs to energy as compared to proteins and fats. As eluded to earlier, our body’s prefers carbs as an energy source. All carbs that are consumed are converted into glucose. Any excess glucose is stored as glycogen (stored carbs), and any glycogen left after this gets stored as fat (fat stores). It helps me to create a visual representation of it, as seen below.
The above graphic simply shows the order in which we burn calories throughout the day. Simply put, if you only burn the amount of glucose you consume, you will not make significant progress against glycogen, and you are unlikely to burn any fat, much less, trans fat. In other words, those love handles…they aren’t going away.
Today, we learned about carbs, what they consist of, and what their role is in our diet. We also learned about the energy chain and what calories get burned in what order. We briefly eluded to the impact of volatile blood sugar levels, which we will discuss in greater detail in the next blog. You won’t want to miss it!
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