Starches; Simple sugars; Sugars; Complex carbohydrates; Diet – carbohydrates; Simple carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient found in many foods and beverages. Most carbohydrates are naturally occurring in plant-based foods, such as grains. Food manufacturers also add carbohydrates to processed foods in the form of starch or added sugar.
Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include:
The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. An enzyme called amylase helps break down carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar), which gives your body energy.
Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex. This classification depends on the chemical structure of the food, and how quickly the sugar in the food is digested and absorbed. Simple carbohydrates have one (single) or two (double) sugars. Complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars.
Examples of single sugars from foods include:
- Fructose (found in fruits)
- Galactose (found in milk products)
Double sugars include:
- Lactose (found in dairy)
- Maltose (found in certain vegetables and in beer)
- Sucrose (table sugar)
Honey is also a double sugar. But unlike table sugar, it contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals. (Note: Honey should never be given to children younger than 1 year.)
Simple carbohydrates that contain vitamins and minerals occur naturally in:
- Milk and milk products
Simple carbohydrates are also found in processed and refined sugars such as:
- Regular (non-diet) carbonated beverages, such as soda
- Table sugar
Refined sugars provide calories, but they lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Such simple sugars are often called “empty calories” and can lead to weight gain.
Also, many processed and refined foods, such as white flour, sugar, and white rice, lack B vitamins and other important nutrients unless they are marked “enriched.” It is healthiest to eat carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients in the most natural form possible — for example, from fruit instead of table sugar.
Complex carbohydrates, often referred to as “starchy” foods, include:
- Legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils and peanuts
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, green peas, and parsnips
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
MORE CARBOHYDRATE TERMS: NET CARBS AND GLYCEMIC INDEX
Terms such as “low carb” or “net carbs” often appear on product labels, but the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate these terms, so there’s no standard meaning. Typically net carbs is used to mean the amount of carbohydrates in a product excluding fiber or excluding both fiber and sugar alcohols.
You probably have also heard talk about the glycemic index. The glycemic index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their potential to raise your blood sugar level.
Weight-loss diets based on the glycemic index typically recommend limiting foods that are higher on the glycemic index. Foods with a relatively high glycemic index ranking include potatoes and corn, and less healthy options such as snack foods and desserts that contain refined flours. Many healthy foods, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, are naturally lower on the glycemic index.
TWO TYPES OF CARBOHYDRATES
There are two major types of carbohydrates (or carbs) in foods: simple and complex.
These are also called simple sugars. Simple sugars are found in refined sugars, like the white sugar you’d find in a sugar bowl. If you have a lollipop, you’re eating simple carbs. But you’ll also find simple sugars in more nutritious foods, such as fruit and milk. It’s better to get your simple sugars from food like fruit and milk. Why? Because sugar isn’t added to these foods and they also contain vitamins, fiber, and important nutrients like calcium. A lollipop has lots of added sugar and doesn’t contain important nutrients.
These are also called starches. Starches include grain products, such as bread, crackers, pasta, and rice. As with simple sugars, some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others. Refined (say: ree-FIND) grains, such as white flour and white rice, have been processed, which removes nutrients and fiber. But unrefined grains still contain these vitamins and minerals. Unrefined grains also are rich in fiber, which helps your digestive system work well. Fiber helps you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat these foods. That explains why a bowl of oatmeal fills you up better than sugary candy with the same amount of calories as the oatmeal.
So which type of carbs should you eat? Both can be part of a healthy diet.
CARBOHYDRATES: QUALITY MATTERS
What’s most important is the type of carbohydrate you chose to eat because some sources are healthier than others. The amount of carbohydrate in the diet – high or low – is less important than the type of carbohydrate in the diet. For example, healthy, whole grains such as whole wheat bread, rye, barley and quinoa are better choices than highly refined white bread or French fries.
Many people are confused about carbohydrates, but keep in mind that it’s more important to eat carbohydrates from healthy foods than to follow a strict diet limiting or counting the number of grams of carbohydrates consumed.
CARBOHYDRATES AND MUSCLE BUILDING
A post-workout carb fix helps release insulin, putting you into an anabolic, muscle-building state, says the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. But it only works when you take in protein and fat, too, explaining why 470ml of chocolate milk – which hits all three – proved to be the best recovery drink in a University of Connecticut study.
If you ask any bodybuilder to tell you about protein’s role in muscle building you’ll get an in-depth response about the way muscle builds, hypotrophy, anabolic rates and more! But what about if you asked the same bodybuilder about the role of carbohydrates and building muscle? I doubt you’d get a very lengthy response.
Carbohydrates are often overlooked when planning a muscle building diet. This is because a lot of people are not aware of the importance of carbohydrates and the role they play in muscle development. The truth is what type of carbohydrates you eat, when you eat them and how much you eat can have a great effect on the muscle building process.
If you want to optimize your diet for muscle gain and fat loss it’s important to know how to integrate carbohydrates into your diet. There’s nothing complex about it, you just have to follow a few simple rules.
TO MINIMIZE FAT STORAGE FOLLOW THESE RULES
- Eat complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are found in whole foods like brown rice, potatoes, whole grain cereal and oatmeal. Complex carbohydrates should make up the bulk of your daily calorie intake because they form muscle glycogen, the long lasting fuel that your body needs to train hard. Complex carbohydrates are slow burning which means you get longer lasting energy. They also help keep your blood sugar levels constant, this reduces fat storage and fatigue and promotes the release of insulin. Insulin is the body’s natural anabolic hormone and is essential for muscle development.
- Eat carbohydrates directly after training
When you train hard you reduce your blood sugar level considerably. Eating carbohydrates straight after a training session provides your body with an insulin spike. This insulin spike puts your body into an anabolic (muscle building) state. If you do not get the right nutrients after training it’s possible that your body could enter a catabolic (muscle breakdown) state. This is why post workout nutrition is so important.
- Eat small amounts of carbohydrates more often
Eating smaller servings of carbohydrates more often helps keep a steady flow of insulin into the body. If you eat large amounts of carbohydrates in one sitting your body is much more likely to store them as fat. Eating to much is one sitting is unnecessary; your body doesn’t need that much nutrients at one time.
- Eat high fiber carbohydrates
This goes hand-in-hand with point number 1 because most sources of complex carbohydrates are rich sources of fiber. Fiber helps to build muscle by making muscle tissue absorb amino acids faster and more efficiently.
- Avoid fruits
This may sound insane because we all know that fruit is high in vitamins, low in calories and very good for general health and wellbeing. But, fruit contains fructose which is a very simple sugar. The body converts fructose into glycogen which is used as a building block for fat tissue.
- Have carbohydrates and protein in the same meal
When you mix protein and carbohydrates together in the same meal you minimize the chance of the carbohydrates being stored as fat. Protein is harder for the body to process, so it increases your metabolism. Also, carbohydrates help transport the nutrients from protein to the muscle cells which aids in muscle growth.
Follow these rules, and you can use carbohydrates to your advantage to build more muscle faster. If you find you’re gaining too much fat then you should cut out carbs after 7pm. Unless you have a fast metabolism, eating carbs late at night is generally not a good idea. Your body does not need the energy while you’re sleeping so it’s likely to store the carbs as fat.
Another point worth mentioning here is meal sizes. Like I stated in point 3, you should eat small meals more often. Have you ever felt really tired after eating? Then you’ve eaten too much. Your body has to use a lot of energy to process the food which leaves you feeling tired and energy-less. This style of eating will also decrease your metabolic rate. To keep your metabolism high you need to constantly stimulate it with small meals every 3 hours or so.
So the main points you need to remember here are; eat good complex carbohydrates, eat small amounts more often, always have a good serving of complex carbohydrates about 1 hour before your workout (for energy) and straight after your meal (for insulin spike) and if you are gaining excess fat stop eating carbohydrates after 7pm.