Carbohydrates explained

Carbohydrates – are probably one of the most known of the nutrients and for obvious reason’s. Carbohydrates can contribute to all sorts of health problems from diabetes, obesity and dental caries, depending on the type and time of carbohydrate consumption. Glucose, which is derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates, is the primary source of energy for our cells. They are understood by most people as being “complex” or “simple” carbohydrates, but basing foods on their glycemic index (rate at which the glucose enters the blood stream) is probably more helpful for the average person when choosing carbohydrate sources for health and for promoting healthy body weights. So carbohydrates could be distinguished on the glycemic index on a scale of 1-100, the highest number representing the speed at which 50g of glucose would raise blood sugar as a references. The ratings can be generally distinguished between low G.I (<55), medium G.I (56-69) and high G.I (>70) and foods with a low G.I will be better at maintaining stable blood sugar levels and keeping insulin levels low. More specifically though, carbohydrates are sugars and can be distinguished between three main types mono and di-saccharides, poly-saccharides and oligo-saccharides, all of which have different chemical arrangements. Its the chemical properties of these sugar, namely the lengths and bonding arrangements of these sugar units, which give them their unique actions and varied rates of digestion when consumed.

A crucial point regarding carbs is that when we eat carbohydrates and they are stored within the muscles and they draw in water, think of it like this, for every 1 gram of carbohydrate you eat it pulls in with it roughly 2.5 grams of water and this is why we see such fluctuations in weight when playing with our carb intake. If drop your carbs by 150g, you lose 375g of water, this is the misconception with people thinking they’e lost a ton of fat from crash diets when in reality they have lost muscle glycogen and the water it came with.The same hold’s true when the shoe is on the other foot, how many times have you heard someone complain about putting on all the weight they lost when coming off a diet, they get discouraged and frustrated thinking they have somehow regained all that fat when in fact its just water that comes with an increase in carbs after a low carb period and that why these fad diets focus on weight loss, its a con to get you to lose water weight and nothing more, focus on fat loss not weight loss..

Now the main reason we get fat from eating carbs is from carb choices and time of consumption, most people give no thought to having had their whole days worth of food made up of processed simple carbs, i’ll explain the basic process of why this is bad…

As we all know when we eat carbs we chew it/drink them, swallow it and it gives us energy right? so first thing in the morning were all tired and sometimes we need quick energy yeah? energy drink anyone? right, but there are better ways to get it… i know some people may leave work in a rush so they need quick energy so they grab a energy boasting bottle of lucozade or a redbull and feel energized and feel great and think they can start the day buzzing! you got some good quick energy and your charged!…until your sugars levels crash after an hour anyway then the hunger kicks in, lack of concentration, lethargy and cravings all from consuming sugar, ironically the sugar leave’s you with less energy then before you ate it then it becomes a cycle…and its this kind of thinking, dietary habits and lack of understanding that leads to weight problems and here’s why…

When we eat carbs our body breaks it down into glucose molecules, in the stomach it is absorbed into the blood stream, now depending on the type and quantity of carb it will be absorbed quickly or slowly (or some where in between) depending on it being simple or complex, low G.I or high G.I, fast burning or slow burning, ect, ect,  now when it is absorbed quickly our blood stream floods with sugar and this is dangerous and too much blood in the sugar can be deadly (hence the reason diabetics need insulin but i’ll get to that that later on) so when we eat excess sugar we are completely reliant on our bodies emergency response to this to rid our blood of all this excess sugar and we do have a built in defense for it…

We have an organ called the pancreas that release’s many hormone’s one in particular, in response to carbs is called insulin, when blood sugar levels rapidly rise this hormone is released to control sugar levels. For that reason this hormone can also be responsible for the fat storage that takes place when too many carbs or fast digesting carbs have been consumed. When a lot of insulin is released from consuming simple carbs, think of insulin as a little train running through your blood stream and think of all the excess glucose molecules as passengers, once the excess glucose molecules are picked up by the insulin train it takes them to either 2 destinations, your muscles where they are used for physical activity or converted to muscle glycogen (muscle glycogen is what glucose is converted into when it is stored in the muscles for later use) or the glucose will go to its less desirable destination….your fat!

The body is made to store fat so eating these fast carbs at the wrong time is a sure fire way to gain excess luggage. If you have not exercised intensely within the last hour and you eat these fast carbs you body has no use for all the sudden and excess sugar so the body will get rid of it by sending it to your the fat cells as after all storing fat is what your body is designed to do so essentially all your doing is assisting it. This is how people get fat eating sweets, insulin mops up and stores the excess sugar in the fat tissue, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when excessive amounts of insulin is released to control excessive amounts of sugar in the blood, instead of your blood sugar maintaining its normal stable levels it goes really high so you feel buzzing but then insulin takes out more then it should leaving you with sub-normal sugar levels which leaves you fatigued, hungry, with headaches and craving more sugar which incidentally leads to a vicious cycle of continuous fat gain.

Once you start down that road it becomes easier and easier for your body to store fat and eventually the pancreas becomes overworked then when you eat carbs the pancreas ends up either producing too much insulin or the body develops insulin resistance where the insulin no longer controls blood sugar, so when either one happens it means you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes = very bad. People just don’t realize how easily this can be influenced by poor diet.

That’s why slow release carbs are important, when there is a slow and steady release of sugar into the blood stream there is no threat so only small amounts of insulin or next to none is released and the sugar is used up efficiently and fat storage is not encouraged. This relates to fat loss because you’re body cannot burn fat while there is a large release of insulin. This is why low and no carb diets are efficient for fat loss, a low or no carb intake means low or no insulin which means more body fat can be burnt and less is stored…

When individuals are not sensitive to the effects of insulin (non exercising people and people with type 1 diabetes) they will store the sugar as fat as mentioned but when an individual is sensitive to the effects of insulin (such as an individual after a weights workout) and you eat sugar your muscles will be the ones to soak up the sugar not your fat so you can eat marshmallows, haribo, lucozade after training (providing its not 2 bags of each) and know in full confidence, its actually beneficial in helping your muscles recover as the glucose is converted into its stored energy form, glycogen, which will fill your muscles up with energy giving you fuel for your next workout putting you in a muscle building (anabolic) state.

Bodybuilders have manipulated this by having copious amounts of sugar (over a 100g for big guys) after their weight training workouts so they can use insulin as an anabolic hormone, because as the insulin is released it will pick up the passengers (glucose and protein molecules) and because the muscles have been sensitized to the effects of insulin by weight training, it sends the nutrients straight to them sore and trained muscles providing an optimum environment for muscle growth and recovery.

The funny thing is, a lot of guys that take these post work out shakes don’t know this and some often steer clear of the ones with a high sugar content in fear it will be no good for them when in actual fact its exactly what they’re muscles are screaming for. Fast digesting carbs include all processed carbs, white bread, white rice and pasta, all sweets, low fat ice cream, basically anything with a low fiber content low fat content will most likely be a simple carb.

Take this home…

So the take home message is fast carbs are only good to consume after intense sessions for post workout only and slow carbs should be the carb source in every meal. So when you see someone sitting on the train drinking a fizzy drink or eating sweets, white bread or any processed carbohydrate, you can sit there with well informed confident yet sympathetic face knowing they are causing them self unnecessary fat gain and are over working the pancreas.

All these health problems associated with just eating the wrong type of carbs just goes to show how our bodies are not fully adapted for today typical processed carb rich foods. Carbs get a bad rap because they can promote fat storage and they do they can be stored quite easily as fat bit only if you eat the wrong types at the wrong times or by simply eating too many. Your body only has a limited capacity to store carbs in your muscles and once you fill that capacity up there is then an endless capacity of storage in your fat cells (worlds heaviest women comes to mind) and this is why its easier to get fat eating carbs. Now carbs should not be considered bad, what makes them bad is a lack of understanding about how they work inside the body and then doing the exact things that encourage them to be stored as fat. Everyone perceives carbs with a two dimensional view and sees them as nothing more then energy but there’s so much more then meets the eye.

There are really a few main things that cause carbs to be stored as fat, 1) if your muscle or liver glycogen stores are full excess will be stored as fat, 2) if you are in a calories surplus i.e consuming more calories then your burning then carbs are much more likely to be stored as fat regardless of muscle and liver glycogen capacity and 3) eating fast digesting processed carbs when your muscle are not sensitive to the effects of insulin. Any blood glucose from food not being used by the muscles are either converted into glycogen or fat, if it is converted into glycogen it is usually stored in the muscles or the liver, the muscles have a much larger capacity then the liver for storing glycogen. Fruit sugar fructose is stored in the liver while glucose is usually for the muscles, now if i were to tell you eating too much fruit will make you fat, some of you may be surprised, but liver glycogen stores will be full after around four banana’s then excess is stored as fat, so it is very possible.

So! as we should know now excess sugar at the wrong times will cause fat to be stored, the take home message is, eat sugar at the right times when a) you are exercising intensely or b) immediately after exercising intensely and all your other meals should be made up of high fibre slow burning carbs below 55 on the G.I scale, then you have a recipe for good health and low body fat levels, phew! my fingers are killing me…

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