Ah, carbohydrates. They're an essential part of a balanced diet, but they can also be a slippery slope. Cutting out carbohydrates is a popular diet strategy for weight loss, but is it a good idea?
Simple vs. Complex Carbs
The first thing to understand about carbs is what they are and how they differ. Carbohydrates are micronutrients found in many foods and beverages as sugars, fibers and starches. These carbohydrates are then classified into one of two categories based on their chemical structure. A simple carb is a sugar found both naturally in certain foods like fruit or added to processed foods. A complex carb, on the other hand, is made up of multiple sugars and is found most often in starchy or more fibrous foods like whole grains and legumes.
Balancing Your Carbohydrates
The role of carbohydrates within the body is to provide glucose, which is converted into energy. This energy is needed for all the body's functions, large and small. As such, we wouldn't recommend going on an extreme low-carb diet.
So, which is better -- simple or complex carbohydrates?
U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends carbohydrates make up approximately 45 to 65 percent of all the calories you consume on a daily basis. In general, complex carbs are more ideal for the body because they aren't digested as quickly. The fiber and additional nutrients in foods that contain complex carbs help you feel fuller sooner during meals and longer after you're done eating.
Simple carbohydrates cause spikes and dips in blood sugar levels more rapidly and actually promote more feelings of hunger, leading to overeating and subsequent weight gain. However, you shouldn't eliminate all simple carbs, just consume them wisely. For example, fruit contains simple carbohydrates, but it's a much better choice for you nutritionally due to the fiber, water and nutrient content as opposed to candy or soda.
Therefore, it's best to choose complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates from whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes to round out your meals. When shopping for any processed or prepackaged foods, be sure to read the nutrition label carefully. Avoid added sugar as much as possible in your diet to stay on the right track.
Carbohydrates and Exercise
Carbohydrates give us that burst to wake us up and help us power through a day at work or school and, of course, through a workout. This is also why when you cut back on carbohydrates in your diet, you may feel fatigued. So, when it comes to training, the best time to consume carbohydrates is within an hour of starting your workout. This will allow the carbohydrates time to enter the bloodstream, where they'll be broken down into glucose and sent throughout the body to give you the energy you need to perform. You can have some carbohydrates after you work out to keep you from feeling drained, but be careful to avoid eating too much. Protein should make up most of your post-workout meal to encourage muscle recovery.
The bottom line: Don't be scared of carbohydrates. A little work in choosing the right ones can lead to big results when it comes to your fitness level and overall wellness. Check back soon for even more tips!