Posts Tagged ‘Carbohydrates’

Carbs for Dinner?

Question: “Per the debate over carbohydrate intake, what is the overall volume/ratio in your diet in relation to weight gain and particularly to that number one question you hear people ask about whether they’ll get fat eating carbs for dinner?” – Anonymous

Short Answer:  Calories in excess cause weight gain, not carbohydrates.  When calories are consumed in excess of the body’s needs, the body stores those calories in the form of fat tissue.

Long Answer:

We vilified this poor macronutrient

Before I jump into the science-y stuff, I thought I’d mention that the “carbohydrate debate” is not really a debate in medical communities.  Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy.  Carbs are essential for the brain, immune system and red blood cells to function properly.  The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), established by the USDA, recommend that adults consume carbohydrate at a range between 45-65 percent of total calories per day.

It’s the “refined carbs” to be wary about

Why carbs have gotten a bum rap: the fastest way to consume calories in excess of the body’s needs is in the form of “refined carbs.”  Why?  Refined carbohydrates have added sugar, which is sugar listed on a nutrition label in the form of high fructose corn syrup, glucose, syrup, nectar, etc.  When a product has added sugar, the total calories drastically multiply in that product.

What this means as far as weight gain

It’s easier to gain weight when the majority of your diet is full of refined carbohydrates.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has not established an “RDA” or recommended daily allowance for added sugar.  However, the Department of Agriculture and some non-profits (like CSPI, the Center for Science in the Public Interest – amazing organization) have recommended no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar, which comes out to ~40 grams.  Remember this is ADDED SUGAR.  You would not include a banana or apple to this limit, because people did not add sugar to natural fruits.

Let’s look at this in an extreme case.

Pretend you decided to eat all of your calories for the day in the form of bread.  You would feel, (a) bloated, (b) constipated, and (c) less sated due to consuming one macronutrient.  But here’s the kicker: you’d maintain your weight.  Maybe your weight would fluctuate by a pound or two, since glycogen (our energy storage) requires water to be stored.  But the reality is that if you only ate the amount of calories you needed to maintain your weight (even if through carbs), you would maintain your weight.

Demystifying the carbohydrate conundrum

There are refined carbs (as mentioned above) and there are complex carbs (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, starchy veggies, grains, whole wheat breads and whole wheat pastas).  Here’s where percentages of carb versus protein versus fat come into play.  The more nutrient dense the diet, the better off your health and your weight.  Thus, having a greater percentage of carbohydrate one day over another and a drop in protein or fat (within your calorie needs) will not make you gain weight.  Does this mean we always have to eat between 45-65 percent of our calories from carb?  No.  But it does not mean that including a carb will cause weight gain, either.

What this means as far as practicality…

Adults need at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, 38 grams of which should be fiber for men and 25 grams for women.  130 grams is not a lot of carbohydrates – especially for an active person.  Thus, it is appropriate to assess your baseline calorie needs, followed by a measurement of your current activity factor.  By doing so, you establish a range of calories you require on a daily basis.  I typically like to use the Harris Benedict equation to assess kcal needs.





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?

Sugar Part 3: Practical Applications

Halloween is right around the corner.  Are you likely to eat more simple or complex carbohydrates?

Of course, as you know from yesterday’s post about sugar digestion and absorption, simple sugars are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and are either used for fuel or stored in the liver and/or fat tissue.  Let’s pretend you go to town on the candy corn and ingest two handfuls of the stuff.  Your blood will be loaded with glucose almost instantly since there is zero protein, fat or fiber in candy corn to slow down absorption.  These are what we call “empty calories,” because they provide absolutely no nutrition to the body.

Ingesting loads of simple sugar might put a dent in your hips, but it will enhance exercise performance, which is why we offer Propel Waters in the gym – a small amount of sugar during a workout is utilized by the muscle and can optimize energy during a tough workout.  Post-exercise, simple sugars shuttle the use of dietary proteins for muscle recovery.

That said, too much simple sugar throughout the day will hinder concentration and any weight loss goals.  For this reason, the majority of your carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates or naturally occurring sugars from fruits and milk products, versus processed or refined (maple, table sugar, cane, high fructose corn syrup).  This is because complex carbs take a whole lot longer to digest and absorb.

But there is also another a reason why we want most of our carb intake to come from complex over simple.  Complex carbs not only have fiber to help move food quickly through your colon, they also help reduce the risk of colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.

There are many strategies that you can start today in order to learn more about simple and complex sugars and how to incorporate them into your diet. Here are some ideas:

  1. Begin to read a food label and point out the sugar ingredients. Example: a cup of yogurt has high fructose corn syrup and an oatmeal cup has whole grain rolled oats.  Which one has the simple sugar? If you guessed yogurt, you’re right.
  2. Start to reduce or avoid ingesting empty calories from sugar. Example: If your goal is weight loss, having more than 40 grams of added sugar is an easy way to keep those pounds!
  3. Start the morning with complex carbs.  One idea is to have a cup of oatmeal and add some fruit, to taste.

Sugar Part 2: Digestion and Absorption

The body digests and absorbs simple and complex carbohydrates differently.  Why would this information be useful to you?  Although there is a time and place for both types of sugar in the diet, the quantity and timing will change drastically depending upon your fitness and health goals.  For example, if you want to optimize your workout potential, you will have better physical and mental stamina by ingesting a small amount of simple sugars during the workout.  If your goal is simply to resist hunger pangs between breakfast and lunch, eating complex carbs in the morning will delay the speed at which sugar is absorbed, thereby making you feel fuller for longer.

Digestion and Absorption

Digestion is different from absorption.  Digestion is the route by which food and drink travel through the digestive tract (mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum).  Absorption is the uptake and use of food and drink from the digestive tract.  Both simple and complex carbohydrates must be broken down into glucose before being absorbed into the body.  You can only absorb ONE FORM of sugar from your small intestines and into your bloodstream: glucose.  Glucose is a single molecule of sugar.

Simple Sugars

The body digests and absorbs simple sugars rapidly.  Simple sugars are only one-two molecule sugars. As a result, it takes little to no time for the body to break down simple sugars in the digestive tract.  As soon as you swallow orange juice, soda, or dried fruit, the sugar will move down your esophagus, through your stomach and quickly into the small intestine.  In the small intestine, the simple sugar is absorbed right away into the bloodstream.  Almost instantly, your blood sugar level rises.  The sugar can either be utilized by your muscle and brain cells for fuel, stored in the liver as glycogen, or in your adipose tissues as fat.

Complex Sugars

The body takes a longer amount of time to digest and absorb complex sugars because they have a long chain of molecules that take time to break down.  This is also because the two subgroups of complex sugars (starchy and fibrous) pack a lot of fiber per bite.  Fiber delays the time it takes for food to pass from the stomach to the small intestine.  The body cannot absorb fiber and so complex carbs move faster through the intestines and rectum. Starchy carbs include brown rice, potatoes, oatmeal, whole wheat pastas and whole grains. Fibrous carbs include vegetables like celery, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, spinach, peppers and any dark leafy greens.

Now that you have a brief understanding about how simple and complex carbs are digested and absorbed, I will review practical applications of each tomorrow…

Sugar Part 1: Overview

All carbohydrates are sugars. (The word “sugar” is synonymous with the word “carbohydrate”).  There are two forms of sugar that this post will discuss.  Sugars are either “simple” or “complex.”  We can also call them “simple carbs” or “complex carbs.”

Simple carbs are the types of sugars you find in fruit, fruit juice, table sugar, milk, honey, yogurt, molasses, maple sugar and brown sugar.  These types of sugars are comprised of one or two molecules.  For example, fructose is a simple sugar found in fruit.  Lactose is a simple sugar found in milk.  Sucrose is a simple sugar found in brown and white sugar, cane or beet sugar, molasses and maple sugar.  Simple sugars are absorbed into the body rapidly.

Complex carbs are the the types of sugars you find in vegetables, whole grains, whole grain breads, oatmeal, legumes, brown rice and whole wheat pasta.  They are also known as “starches” and “fiber.”  They are considered complex because they are comprised of long chains of sugar molecules.  Complex carbs are absorbed more slowly into the body.  This is generally because they are packed with fiber, which slows down the digestive process.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the absortive details in what happens when you consume simple and complex carbs.  Stay tuned!

Carbs are your Friend

Jeremy asks: I just started to add a whole wheat roll after I work out and I’m surprised at how good a response I’m getting. I’m becoming leaner, I think, by strategically adding carbs.  Is this true?


To get the “lean look,” include 1-2 servings carbohydrates in at least two of your meals per day (e.g., grains, bread, fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes, legumes).  Here’s why:

Protein and carbohydrate work in a synergistic manner.  Carbs enhance protein’s ability to shuttle amino acids into muscles (meaning more growth).  Without enough carbs, the body has a tough time driving protein into the muscles for growth.  Without enough carbs, the body will begin to breakdown hard-earned muscle mass.

Consumption of carbohydrates will ensure a process called “protein-sparing.”  This means that instead of dietary protein being used for energy requirements, it will be used for muscle building. 

But, there’s a catch.  Jeremy is correct in asking about a “carb-adding strategy.”   Both the amount and the type of carb is important.

1. There’s a drastic difference between eating one whole-wheat roll versus nine.  Excess calories – in any form of macronutrient (carb, protein, fat) – will be stored as fat.

2. There’s a drastic difference between adding carb in the form of cookies and soda versus nutrient-dense foods.   Exercise will cause the body to produce free radicals in the muscles.  Exercising is damaging to the muscles (in a good way); but in order to prevent further damage, you want antioxidants.  Cookies and soda don’t have any antioxidants.  Instead, the concentrated form of sugar in cookies and soda allow the body to absorb sugar very quickly and raise blood sugar very high.  That cycle will not optimally replenish your glycogen stores (the immediate energy reserve we have in our muscles cells).  Plus, eating cookies and soda enhance harmful oxidative processes in the body.

3. The best strategy to replenish glycogen and “get leaner” is to consume at least 1-2 servings of natural carbohydrate sources per meal.   Some examples include fruit, bread, pasta, and starchy vegetables.