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Carbohydrates aren't the enemy

*Cover photo courtesy of Ask the Scientist

Over the last 10 years, carbohydrates have become characterized as the cause of obesity, diabetes, and generally being “unhealthy”. The rise of this fear of carbs has spawned a massive multitude of fad diets – Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Keto, etc – all of which certainly can work, but resort to short term improvements with many tradeoffs.

Let’s shed a little bit of light on carbohydrates. The truth is, they are a critical part of nutrition to fuel your body for workouts, especially short duration, high intensity workouts like CrossFit. This is rooted in how our body uses energy for life. Short duration workouts (anaerobic) rely on glycogen stored in the muscles to provide the short bursts required. Long duration workouts (aerobic) rely less on the glycogen in the muscles itself, and more on other sources of energy (such as conversion of stored fat). Once we understand the need for carbohydrates based on our lifestyle, we can move on to understanding what types of carbohydrates we need to fuel our bodies.

Carbohydrates = Energy

Glycogen is stored in your muscles through the digestion of carbohydrates and your body relies on this for energy to carry you through your workouts. Similarly, excess glycogen that is not consumed is converted to fat and used as long term energy storage. As much as we have all been told “carbs are bad” this isn’t technically true. Your body needs carbs for its daily cellular functions.

There are two different types of carbohydrates and our body processes each differently. At its heart, all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, a simple molecule – however how the body processes different types of carbs into glucose can vary significantly.

Complex carbs – are generally foods in their whole, unprocessed form (fruits, veggies, etc)

Simple carbs – Sugars and starches that have been processed and provide a faster transition to glucose.

Simple carbs raise our blood sugar levels faster due to the body digesting them at a faster pace than complex carbs. This is generally characterized by a rapid insulin spike that quickly subsides, resulting in the body desiring further sugars. This is often called the so called “sugar rush” and “sugar crash” however it can happen with any easily broken-down carbohydrate. As can be expected, this rapid yo-yo of energy isn’t what you want to happen. The quicker and larger the spike, the bigger the crash you’ll experience later. This is why if you eat a slice of cake, you often are left wanting more.

Complex carbs take much longer to break down and be digested. This slower process helps in maintaining blood sugar levels within the normal range. These carbs also give you sustained energy, compared to the quick burst simple carbs are known for.

Simple carbohydrates

● Processed wheat products, bleached rices

● Raw sugar

● Brown sugar

● Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup

● Glucose, Fructose, and Sucrose

● Fruit juice concentrate

Complex carbohydrates

● Fruits

● Vegetables

● Beans

● Whole grains

● Oats

The more you know about how carbohydrates affect your body, the better you can fuel your workouts for optimal success.

Remember, we are always here to help with your nutrition! If you have any questions or would like our help dialing in what and how much you should be eating, talk with us next time you're in the gym or email us

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