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Carbohydrates
What Are Carbohydrates?

When it comes to achieving fitness goals, nutrition is just as important as exercise. One of the most important macronutrients to consider in your diet is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide your body with energy and are essential for maintaining good health and athletic performance.

With a lot of conflicting information around the internet, it can be challenging to understand how much and what type of carbohydrates to consume. In this article, you’ll explore the facts about carbohydrates to help you make informed choices about your nutrition.

In This Glossary

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Key Takeaways:

  • Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fat) that make up our diets. They are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
  • Carbohydrates provide your body with the energy it needs to function, including during exercise.
  • The recommended daily intake for carbohydrates is 45-65% of your total calorie intake.
  • Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body, but not all carbohydrate sources are created equal. It is important to incorporate healthy carbohydrate sources into your meals.
  • To maintain a healthy and balanced diet, focus on consuming complex carbohydrates from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes over processed and packaged foods that are high in added sugars and simple carbohydrates.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fat) that make up our diets. They are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are a source of energy for the body, as they are broken down into glucose and then used by cells for fuel. There are three main types of carbohydrates:

  1. Simple Carbohydrates: These are made up of one or two sugar molecules, also known as monosaccharides and disaccharides, respectively. Simple carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruit, milk, and candy.
  2. Complex Carbohydrates: These are made up of long chains of sugar molecules, also known as polysaccharides. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as grains, vegetables, and legumes.
  3. Fiber: This is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the body. Fiber is important for digestive health and can be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Courtesy of Dr. Eric Berg DC

How Do Carbohydrates Affect Your Body?

Carbohydrates provide your body with the energy it needs to function, including during exercise. When you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, which is then used by cells for energy. 

Carbohydrates also play an important role in maintaining good health. For example, fiber can help regulate digestion and lower the risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

However, consuming too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and other health issues. When you consume more carbohydrates than your body needs for energy, the excess is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Once glycogen stores are full, any additional carbohydrates are stored as fat, leading to weight gain.

How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?

The amount of carbohydrates you need depends on your individual fitness goals and activity level. The recommended daily intake for carbohydrates is 45-65% of your total calorie intake. For example, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, you should aim to consume between 900 and 1,300 calories from carbohydrates.

If you’re an athlete or have a highly active lifestyle, you may need more carbohydrates to fuel your workouts. In this case, you may want to consume up to 70% of your total calorie intake from carbohydrates.

Calculate your own daily needs of calories here with our free calorie calculator. You’ll receive your results and macronutrients in your inbox for later use.

What Are the Best Sources of Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body, but not all carbohydrate sources are created equal. To maintain a healthy and balanced diet, it is essential to incorporate healthy carbohydrate sources into your meals. Here are some healthy carbohydrate sources that men can incorporate into their diet:

  1. Whole grains: Whole grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and essential nutrients. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, oats, and barley.
  2. Fruits: Fruits are a great source of natural sugars, vitamins, and fiber. Some of the healthiest fruits include berries, apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, and grapefruit.
  3. Vegetables: Vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrients, making them an excellent source of healthy carbohydrates. Some examples of healthy vegetables include sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, beets, broccoli, and spinach.
  4. Legumes: Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans, are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber.
  5. Dairy: Dairy products such as low-fat milk and yogurt are a great source of healthy carbohydrates, as well as calcium and other essential nutrients.

When incorporating carbohydrates into your diet, it is important to choose the right sources and balance them with other macronutrients, such as protein and healthy fats. For example, adding some quinoa to your chicken and vegetable stir-fry or having a slice of whole wheat bread with your eggs in the morning can provide a healthy source of carbohydrates to fuel your day.

In summary, incorporating healthy carbohydrate sources into your diet is essential for maintaining energy levels and overall health. By choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products, men can ensure that they are getting the right balance of nutrients to support their active lifestyle.

How To Choose The Right Type Of Carbohydrates

When choosing carbohydrates for your diet, it’s important to consider the type of carbohydrate you are consuming. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed by the body and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. This can lead to a crash in energy levels and cravings for more carbohydrates. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, providing a steady source of energy without causing spikes in blood sugar levels. 

To choose the right type of carbohydrate, focus on consuming complex carbohydrates from whole foods. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes over processed food and packaged foods that are high in added sugars and simple carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, also known as sugars, are made up of one or two sugar molecules, also known as monosaccharides and disaccharides, respectively. Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed by the body, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar levels.

Examples of foods that contain simple carbohydrates include:

  • Table sugar (sucrose)
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Syrup
  • Fruit juice
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Candy

While simple carbohydrates can provide a quick source of energy, they are often low in nutrients and can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, which can cause a crash in energy levels and cravings for more carbohydrates.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are made up of long chains of sugar molecules, also known as polysaccharides. They are found in whole foods such as grains, vegetables, and legumes, and are broken down more slowly by the body, providing a steady source of energy.

Examples of foods that contain complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread
  • Vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes
  • Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans

Complex carbohydrates are generally high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and can provide sustained energy without causing spikes in blood sugar levels. They are an important part of a healthy diet, especially for athletes and those with active lifestyles.

In summary, simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed by the body and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, while complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly, providing a steady source of energy. It’s important to choose complex carbohydrates from whole foods to ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs.

Carbohydrates And Energy Explained

Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient that plays a vital role in providing energy for physical activity and exercise. When consumed, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is used by the body as fuel. 

This makes carbohydrates an important component of any diet, particularly for athletes and active individuals who require a steady supply of energy to power their workouts.

During exercise, the body relies on stored carbohydrates, known as glycogen, to provide the necessary energy to fuel physical activity. For short, intense bursts of exercise, such as weightlifting or sprinting, the body primarily uses carbohydrates as its fuel source. For longer-duration exercise, such as endurance running or cycling, the body shifts to using a combination of carbohydrates and fat for fuel.

To optimize energy levels during exercise, it is important to consume high-carbohydrate foods that can fuel workouts and improve athletic performance. Some examples of high-carbohydrate foods that are ideal for athletes and active individuals include:

  • Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, oatmeal
  • Fruits: Bananas, apples, oranges, berries
  • Vegetables: Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, squash
  • Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, black beans
  • Dairy: Low-fat milk, yogurt
  • Sports drinks and energy gels: These can be useful during long-duration exercise to provide a quick source of easily digestible carbohydrates.

Timing of carbohydrate intake is also important for optimizing energy levels during exercise. Consuming carbohydrates 30-60 minutes before exercise can help provide fuel for the workout, while consuming carbohydrates during prolonged exercise can help prevent fatigue.

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In summary, carbohydrates play a critical role in providing energy for physical activity and exercise. Active individuals and athletes should consume high-carbohydrate foods to fuel their workouts and improve athletic performance. By including these foods in a balanced diet, athletes can ensure that their bodies have the necessary fuel to power their workouts and achieve their fitness goals.

The Glycemic Index Explained

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates are absorbed by the body and how much they raise blood sugar levels. The concept of the glycemic index is important because it can help people choose foods that will maintain stable blood sugar levels and avoid spikes and crashes.

Carbohydrates that are high on the glycemic index are quickly absorbed by the body, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, while carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index are absorbed more slowly, causing a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels.

The glycemic index is especially important for people with diabetes, who need to closely monitor their blood sugar levels. However, it can also be important for anyone who wants to maintain stable energy levels throughout the day.

To choose low glycemic index carbohydrates, it’s important to focus on whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Processed and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugary snacks, tend to be high on the glycemic index and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

Here are some examples of low glycemic index carbohydrates:

  • Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, and peppers
  • Berries such as blueberries and strawberries
  • Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal

By choosing low glycemic index carbohydrates, you can maintain stable blood sugar levels and avoid the energy crashes that can come with consuming high glycemic index carbohydrates. This can help you maintain optimal energy levels throughout the day and support your overall health and well-being.

The Problem with the Glycemic Index

Courtesy of Dr. Eric Berg DC

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss

There is a common misconception that carbohydrates are bad for weight loss, leading many people to cut them out of their diets entirely. However, this approach can actually be counterproductive. Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient that provides the body with energy, and including the right types of carbohydrates in a diet can actually aid in weight loss.

First, it is important to understand that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Simple carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary drinks and processed foods, can cause blood sugar spikes and lead to weight gain. However, complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are a healthy source of energy and can actually help with weight loss.

One reason why carbohydrates can be beneficial for weight loss is that they provide the body with energy. When the body is deprived of carbohydrates, it may turn to protein as an energy source. This can lead to muscle loss, which can make it harder to lose weight in the long run. By consuming complex carbohydrates, the body is able to fuel itself with the energy it needs to power through workouts and maintain muscle mass.

Another benefit of including carbohydrates in a weight loss diet is that they can help keep the body feeling full and satisfied. This is because carbohydrates take longer to digest than other macronutrients, such as protein and fat. This means that consuming complex carbohydrates can help regulate appetite and reduce the likelihood of overeating or snacking on unhealthy foods.

To incorporate carbohydrates into a weight loss diet, it is important to focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods provide the body with the nutrients and energy it needs to stay healthy and active. It is also important to consume carbohydrates in moderation and balance them with other macronutrients, such as protein and healthy fats.

In summary, carbohydrates are an important macronutrient that can actually aid in weight loss when consumed in the right amounts and from the right sources. Including complex carbohydrates in a diet can provide the body with energy, maintain muscle mass, and help regulate appetite. By incorporating carbohydrates into a balanced and healthy diet, individuals can achieve their weight loss goals while maintaining their overall health and wellbeing.

Conclusion

In conclusion, carbohydrates are an important macronutrient that plays a vital role in athletic performance and overall health. When choosing carbohydrates for your diet, focus on consuming nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrates from whole foods. Aim to consume carbohydrates within the recommended daily intake based on your fitness goals and activity level. By making informed choices about your carbohydrate intake, you can support your fitness goals and maintain good health.

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