Carbs: Good or Bad?

Written by Andrew Linn

January 10, 2017

Carbs (carbohydrates) are the most controversial macronutrient out there. You can find many diets out there that seek to address this including the Paleo diet, low glycemic diets, the Atkins diet, and more.

So, what is the truth about carbs? Should you really have a low carb diet and avoid them like the plague?

“Sure, you can eat carbs… if you want to not live as long”

“Yes- eat carbs! They are the backbone of our energy system”

“Carbs are the main culprit of obesity- so… no”

First, let’s define carbs and what they do. Carbs are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They have four main functions:

  • They are an energy source for red blood cells and nerves
  • They are an energy source for muscle-especially during exercise
  • They serve as a primer for the breakdown of fat
  • They are a primary energy source during exercise which spares muscle mass

Your body needs carbs to function properly. However, there are many different kinds of carbs. So, what types of carbs are there and what effects that they have on your body?

In order to understand carbs we must understand glucose and insulin.

*Insulin is a hormone that is released from the pancreas in response to elevated blood glucose and amino acid concentrations. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar that is broken down from the carbs that we eat and pushed into the bloodstream, known as blood glucose.

When high levels of glucose enter the bloodstream our body releases insulin to help pull the sugar out of the blood into the liver or skeletal muscle. When glucose is needed as energy the body then pulls it into use. If energy demands are low glucose is now turned to fat and stores as energy for later use.

So- Yes, carbs are good to eat. However, if you are eating a lot of carbs and exercising very little, there is a good chance that those carbs, and the glucose they contain, are being stored/turned into fat.

How much should I eat?

Many experts recommend anywhere from 50-200 carbs a day depending on your goals and current weight. We recommend talking to a professional to understand what is best for you.

When should I eat them?

For the best workouts eat your carbs around your workouts. This will help to fuel energy to skeletal muscle and increase energy output.  

Until next time- Carb on my friends.

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(*NSCA’s Guide to sport and exercise nutrition; pg. 17)

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