Workout Wednesday #7


Carbohydrates (Carbs) are frequently vilified in the media and made out to be the enemy in trendy fad diets, the truth is much the opposite. Carbs are our main source of energy and we should be eating them as part of a healthy balanced diet.

The next three Workout Wednesdays will be dedicated to exploring each of the three macronutrients, Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat. All macronutrients must be obtained through diet as the body cannot produce any of them on its own.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbs are one of three macronutrients, the other two being Protein and Fat. Carbs are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. They are called Carbohydrates because at a chemical level they contain Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen.

The basic structure of all Carbs is a sugar molecule and they are classified by how many sugar molecules they contain.

Their primary job is to provide the body with energy and they contain 4 calories per gram.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple Carbs are quickly digested, low in fiber and nutrients and potentially high in sugar, often causing a spike in energy levels after consumption before falling again shortly after. Simple Carbs are most commonly found in the form of processed foods and refined sugar such as fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, white bread and pasta. 

The exceptions to this being milk and fruit where they are found naturally and provide fiber and nutrients.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex Carbs are made of longer chains of sugars, meaning it takes longer for our bodies to break them down. This allows for a slower, more gradual release of energy over time. This form of carbs also contains higher amounts of fiber and nutrients than Simple Carbs.

Examples of Complex Carbs are: whole grains, legumes, beans.

What is Fiber

Fiber is an important factor in body and gut function. It is typically found in Complex Carbs and comes from plants - whole grains, vegetables, fuits, etc - Fiber isn't digested and helps keep our bowel movements regular and feeling fuller for longer.

There are two types of Fiber, soluble and insouble. Soluble Fiber becomes a gel druing digestion and aids with the process, it also slows digestion and softens our stool. Insoluble Fiber, is found in whole grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, etc and is not soluble in water and its main function is to keep our bowel movements regular.

There is one additional type of Fiber called Resistant Starch (found in: oats, beans, bananas). Resistant Starch is not digested but fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, it helps create an optimal environment for healthy bacteria in our gut.

Fiber can be found in most Complex Carbs. Complex Carbs often contain all types of Fiber, typically with more of one than the others.

Carbohydrates and Exercise

Carbs are one of the most important macronutrients needed when regularly exercising. Carbs are vital to reaching peak performance during exercise because they provide energy. They are the main source of energy for our brains and bodies to function properly and efficiently.

When we eat Carbs they are broken down during digestion into sugar molecules called glucose. These glucose molecules are stored in the liver and muscles to be used as fuel - especially during exercise. Carbs help delay fatigue and help us to perform optimally for longer.

Without an adequate amount of glucose stored in the body, our bodies will turn to other sources to create energy. Once glucose stores are depleted the body will turn to protein as a source of energy, often taking from skeletal muscles and organs, to convert its amino acids into glucose for energy. This can have a detrimental impact on your ability to build and maintain muscle and can ultimately lead to a loss of muscle mass, problems with immunity and affect other functions of protein in the body.

Additional Benefits

Eating a healthy balance of Complex Carbs and Fiber has numerous health benefits. These include but are not limited to:

Lower Risk of Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, Hypertension, Diabetes and Obesity.

Final Thoughts

Carbohydrates are crucial for the storage and utilisation of energy during our day to day activities and especially during exercise. We need to fuel our bodies correctly if we want to perform to the best of our ability.

It's also important to think about the type and quality of Carbohydrates we are consuming on a daily basis. For the best results and a balanced intake, it is advised to consume predominatly complex Carbs from all categories: whole grains, beans, pulses, fruits, vegetables, etc.

The topic of Nutrition can be a vast and complex one, whilst this article has only just touched the surface, it should highlight the positive benefits of including Complex or "healthy" Carbs into your daily intake.

So there you have it...

A run down on Carbs and their benefits. Did you learn something new? Do you feel we missed something out?

We'd love to hear your opinion on the topic.

The Springhealth Team