Help. I’m Scared of Carbohydrates!

Carbohydrates have gotten their fair share of unwarranted criticism. What are you saying about them? 🙂

Corporate athletes and non-athletes alike are keen on improving both athletic and mental performance.  Many may not realize the negative impact that excluding carbohydrates can have on the body.

Mind Your Muscles

Research indicates that high-intensity workouts (those that help build muscle) are only possible with a fully-loaded glycogen tank.  Glycogen is a fancy word for “a big block of carbohydrate storage.”  Athletes who do not train with a normal level of carbohydrates (see recommendations below) have been shown to hinder improvements in their performance, since they can only sustain a lower level of training.

How Many Carbs Do You Need Per Day?

These recommendations are taken from the International Olympic Committee.  To get your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.  The following equations provide an easy way to calculate how many grams of carbohydrates you require per day for the way that you exercise:

  • Low intensity exercise: 3-5 grams carbohydrate per kilogram body weight
  • Moderate exercise (~1 hour per day): 5-7 grams carbohydrate per kilogram body weight
  • Endurance exercise (1-3 hours per day): 6-10 grams carbohydrate per kilogram body weight
  • Extreme exercise (>4-5 hours per day): 8-12 grams carbohydrate per kilogram body weight

Here is an example of how many carbohydrates “Girl X” requires.  She is training for a half marathon coming up in October and currently weighs 135 pounds.  She trains a few days per week for at least 1 hour and has one 2 hour long run over the weekend.  On the days that she is training, she will need 6-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram body weight, which equals 368-614 grams.  On the lighter days or off days, she will need to follow the low-intensity exercise equation.

What Happens to Your Body Without Carbs?

Low carbohydrate diets require your body to burn through protein and fat for energy.  There are a number of dangers to eating that way.  Your brain runs on glucose, which is (you got it) a carbohydrate.  Sure, your body is efficient at breaking down fats and proteins into a usable substrate for the brain, but this metabolic state (called ketosis) forms ketones substances, which can result in kidney stones, gout and/or kidney failure.  Eating at least 100 grams of carbs per day prevents this.  Additionally, too much protein over time will put a strain on the kidneys, which can cause kidney failure.  High protein diets are also shown to cause people to excrete more calcium in the urine, and low bone -density can be the result.

Ways to Eat More Carbs

Where are the good carbohydrate sources?  Grains (breads, oatmeal, rice, pasta), all fruits, starchy vegetables (corn, potato), legumes, vegetables (they have minimal carbohydrate but not a good source of them), dairy products that are not full-fat, nuts and seeds.

Other Reads on Carbs:

Carbs are your friend.

Sugar Part 1: An Overview.

Sugar Part 2: Digestion and Absorption.

Sugar Part 3: Practical Applications.

What is a Whole Grain?


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