In the fitness world, carbs have had highs and lows in the eyes of the public. Even in 2022, the macronutrient is often regarded as a mixed blessing/curse- something to be embraced or avoided.
Like most nutrients, however, the truth is that balance and understanding is the key. Low carb diets might be effective for some specific needs, but most of us will be better served by consuming quality wholegrain carbohydrates to fuel us with the energy we need.
Though energy can come from other sources, your body’s favourite source is indeed tasty, tasty carbohydrates.
The science: what do carbohydrates do for the body?
● Provide energy
They are the nutrients that your body breaks down to glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in your cells. These cells use ATP to power your metabolic processes. Your body can use other nutrients to generate ATP, but glucose and carbs are the favoured source.
● Energy storage
If your body has excess glucose, it will store it as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells. These reserves are only depleted by prolonged muscle use – which leads to fatigue. Reducing training intensity or upping your carbohydrate intake will replenish these stores.
● Fuel muscle growth and metabolic processes
Muscle glycogen is critical in fuelling strength-training activities as your cells need it to fuel protein synthesis. Without glycogen, muscle cells can be broken down into amino acids and converted into glucose – which means muscle loss and fatigue. It also means you’ll be breaking down proteins rather than using them for muscle growth.
If you’re not burning enough calories, however, even higher amounts of glucose can be stored as fat – part of the reason traditionally carb-heavy diets have come under scrutiny.
● Fat sparing
When blood glucose rises, your body reduces its usage of lipids (fats) as an energy source. Increasing blood glucose releases insulin, which tells your body to use glucose instead of lipids for energy.
● Prevents ketosis
Ketosis is a condition that occurs when your body begins developing ketones. Ketones are an alternate source of energy created when glucose supply is too low – which means you’re not consuming enough carbs.
Are carbs good for you?
With all of these considerations in mind, are carbs good for you? Well, like any nutrient, you have to balance intake. Excess carbohydrate intake leads to excess glucose, which is then turned into fat. Consuming too few carbs cause fatigue, muscle breakdown and ketosis.
Even then, not all carbohydrate foods are created equally. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly, which leads to a spike in blood sugar – so if you’re not utilising the energy quickly you’ll store it as far. Complex carbohydrates include fibre to slow down the absorption and allow for slower releases of energy.
Complex carbs are better for you because they don’t ‘spike’ energy levels. They include foods like wholegrain bread, oats, starchy fruits and vegetables.
What are carbs good for?
So now that you understand the science, here’s the reality: carbs are a fuel source that your body needs and you must utilise them carefully. Split your approach into two factors:
- Simple carbs should only be eaten immediately pre-exercise, or enjoyed sparingly as part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Complex carbs can be eaten with most meals, provided you understand the calories in/calories out concept we’ve discussed in other articles.
There’s no need to fear carbs. Stop putting off that pasta or bread and make a swap for a wholegrain version. Fuel your body with the nutrients it needs so you can accomplish your fitness goals. Here at Oatein, we use oats as our base ingredient for a fibre-packed way to get complex carbs and quality protein into your body. Shop our range of protein cookies and brownies today.