Making Good Choices – Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates get alot of bad press when it comes to dieting and losing weight. Thanks to alot of bogus diet plans and suggestions out there many people believe carbohydrates should be drastically reduced or avoided completely in order to lose weight.
Carbohydrates are sure a broad category, and many people don’t completely understand that not all carbohydrates are the same. Whilst eat too many carbohydrates can make you fat (just like eating too much protein and fat), it is the type, quality and quantity of carbohydrates we consume that is the most important thing. Whilst we should reduce the amount of sugar in our diet, particularly added sugar, we should be looking at consuming some form of carbohydrate from the starchy unprocessed wholegrain variety.
What are Carbohydrates? Well Carbohydrates come in three main forms - 1) Sugars, 2) Starch, 3) Fibre. As stated in previous articles 1gram of carbohydrates equates to 4 kcals. All carbohydrates are delivered to the blood stream as glucose (or blood sugar), with the exception of indigestible fibre, which assists in the passage of the digestive system. Of the absorbable carbohydrates some will enter the blood stream quicker than others, this is particularly important as the speed and amount of glucose in the blood has a significant contribution to weight gain.
Regardless of what type of carbohydrate you eat – whether its broccoli or a biscuit, the body will break it down into two substances glucose and glycogen. Carbohydrates are the bodies main source of energy, and the glucose that is releases in the blood stream is used by the body for pretty much everything we do from thinking and decision making to walking or going to the gym. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include starchy foods (wholegrain), vegetables and fruits.
Glycogen is a substance stored in the muscles and liver, and can be easily converted into glucose for immediate energy. When we exercise our bodies (muscles) will burn up there glycogen stores to cope with the overload.
So why is broccoli good for you but a biscuit isn’t? Well this is because the body reacts differently to broccoli and a biscuit. You have probably heard the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ carbs before and you may have even heard of GI or glycemic index! Well all of these are pretty simple to explain if you haven’t. GI is a numeric system that ranks how quickly carbohydrate converts into glucose (sugar) in the body. Carbohydrates are ranked on a scale from 0-100 and the higher the number the quicker it reverts into glucose. A ranking of 55 or under would be classes as a ‘low GI’, 56 to 69 medium and over 70 high. A simple carbohydrate is one that converts into glucose quickly so would have a high GI such as table sugar, honey etc, whilst complex carbohydrates are ones which convert slowly such as broccoli, most vegetables and wholegrain food. It is important to know where your carbs fall into as diets high in simple carbs tend to lead to increased risks of heart attacked, diabetes and obesity.
So when it comes to carbohydrates what should you be eating? Well this is pretty simple.... reduce the sugary processed carbohydrates from cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, pastries etc, as these usually have high fat, high calorie and poor nutritional values. Whereas pulses, fruits, vegetables and starchy wholegrain foods provide a wider variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals which have many health benefits, and adds bulk to your meals meaning you feel full.
When we cut out carbohydrates completely, our bodies will breakdown proteins and fats for energy as the body is low on glucose. This process causes a build up of ketones in the blood resulting in short term headaches, weakness, irritability and dizziness. Other adverse affects of cutting carbohydrates out of our diets are increases the risk of a deficiency in certain nutrients, as well as reducing our fibre content which will affect our digestive health and can lead to constipation.
The amount of carbohydrate you should be eating every day depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Building muscle requires slightly more carbs and energy, whilst dieting to lose weight requires that you reduce carbs... BUT NOT CUT THEM OUT!!
Regardless of how many carbs you need a day, there is a simple rule to follow....
Eat carbohydrates with a medium to high GI about 30 minutes either side of your workout, this will give you a quick release of energy whilst your training, and the reason you want them after training is to replenish muscle glycogen stores, this helps maintain your bodies anabolic state.
All other carbs should be eaten in the middle to low range. If you follow these general rules you will avoid those energy highs and lows and keep you blood sugar level stable.
For more information on carbohydrates, GI and stabilising blood sugar levels, or if you are
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