The energy you need for living, and especially for exercising, can be broken down into three simple categories. These are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These are all important and we should have foods that contain each of the three. However, how much of each you need to consume, as well as the ratios can be controversial.
Carbohydrates AKA Carbs
Carbs are the best energy source for any athlete, whether they’re amateur or professional. Carbs give you that energy that allows your muscles to contract. The carbs, once consumed, break down into smaller forms, which are galactose, glucose, and fructose. They become absorbed and are used as energy, and those that are not used get absorbed into the liver and the muscles and become glycogen. Once you have more glycogen than you can store, it turns into fat.
You use glycogen as energy for exercise. Due to it being accessed easily, it’s great for short and intense bursts of exercise such as sprinting and lifting weights. It even gives you energy for the first few minutes of a sport. When you exercise for a long and slow period of time, fat can help you with energy, but you’ll still need glycogen to break the fat down into something that your muscles can consume and use.
If you eat enough carbs, it will stop protein from being used as an energy source. On the other hand, if you’re lacking in carbs, the protein is broken down, turning it into glucose.
So why is that bad? Protein builds hair, skin, tissues, bone, and most importantly, muscles. If you use proteins for energy, it can stop your ability to maintain and build muscles. What’s even worse is that it can put stress on your kidneys, since it has to work to get rid of protein byproducts.
Just one gram of carbs can give you four calories to use as energy. Many athletes talk about something known as carb loading and carb depletion. This is referring to how much carb energy a person stores in their muscles. For many, this is about 2000 carb calories, but a person may be able to change this number by depleting and loading on carbs. When you deplete from diet, exercise or both, your carb stores are all used up.
If you don’t restore them right away, you can no longer use fuel for exercising immediately. Many athletes call this “hitting the wall,” or simply “bonking.” If you eat large amounts of carbs, however, you can increase how much stores you have. This is known as carbo-loading, and it’s the strategy that many athletes use. For every person, their carb storage can vary in its capacity.
However, Dan Benardot, the writer behind Advanced Sports Nutrition, says that humans store about 350 grams of carbs in muscle glycogen, 90 grams inside the liver, and a bit inside the glucose in your blood. This means that larger muscles can create more glycogen stores, but also may require you to have more carbs because of it.
According to some research, the highest glycogen stores is about 15 grams per kilogram of your body weight, a kilogram being about 2.2. lbs. Let’s say you weigh 175 lbs. this means that you can store up to 1200 glycogen grams, or about 4800 calories. In other words, you could get quite a workout out of that!
How Exactly Do Carbs Fuel Your Exercise?
Glycogen is a quick source of energy, and we’ve already went over that. Its length depends on the duration and intensity of your workout, which could mean that it will last anywhere from a half hour to an hour and a half. If you don’t want to run out of energy, use your glycogen stores, and restore them during or after exercise in preparation for your next workout.
What are the Types of Carbs?
Carbs come in two forms: simple and complex. Simple consists of sugars that come from sports drinks and fruit and can be absorbed and used as energy quickly. On the other hand, complex carbs have a slow digestion and absorption rate. They can take a good while to break down, so you get energy at a slower rate. Some sources of complex carbs are pasta, breads and rice.
Fiber and starch can be complex as well, but fiber is indigestible, and thus can’t be used for energy. Starch, meanwhile, is one of the most important sources of energy because it’s stored as glycogen and then broken down. Starchy foods include whole grains, pasta, breads and cereals.
Types of Carbohydrate
Carbohydrates are also divided into simple and complex forms. Simple sugars (carbs) are absorbed and converted to energy very quickly and provide a rapid source of energy. Fruit and sports drinks are a good source of simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates take a bit longer to be digested and absorbed into the body. They also take longer to breakdown and therefore provide energy at a slower rate than simple sugars. Examples of complex carbohydrates are breads, rice and pasta. Starch and fiber are also considered complex carbohydrates but fiber cannot be digested or used for energy.
Starch is probably the most important energy source in an athlete’s diet because it is broken down and stored as glycogen. Foods high in starch include whole grain breads, cereals, pasta and grains.
Hope this has helped you understand carbs better and how they can help you with a healthy lifestyle.