Updated: Aug 12, 2021
So, you want to learn about carbohydrates eh? Well, I'll try not to keep you too long. Strap in, and let's get learning.
Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars or “saccharides” if they can be broken down, and if they can’t be broken down we call that “fiber.”
Sugar is used mainly for energy production, and is the preferred source of energy for your brain. There’s a good reason that you crave carbohydrate rich foods when you’re tired. Your brain is looking for anything to make it feel less like a slug in mud and sugar usually does the trick (at least for a short while).
Carbohydrates can be generally classified in 3 ways:
You may also have heard them classified as simple and complex carbohydrates. Let’s explore them as simple and complex.
Carbohydrates become more “complex” as they group together. Every carbohydrate is made up of carbon and hydrogen molecules. Depending on the amount of carbon and hydrogen chains that have joined together, we get structures of different strengths. Those different strengths determine how (or whether) our bodies break them down, and how effectively they can be used for energy.
The simpler the structure, the more quickly it can be broken down, the faster we can turn that food into energy.
These are your simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are sugars.
Basically, if your body can only use sugar as energy, and the food you’re eating is already sugar, it won’t take very much effort for your body to convert it into a usable form of energy.
As more hydrogen and carbons join together, they create more complex chains which require more energy to be broken down. More energy requirement = a more complex process for digestion. It takes energy and effort by our digestive system to separate the chains into their base sugars so we can use them for energy. These are our complex carbohydrates. Our complex carbohydrates are either more difficult to digest (starches), or nearly impossible to digest (fibers).
A diet with carbohydrates that are primarily from starchy and fibrous sources like vegetables will take much more energy to process, and as a result will yield less energy in the body.
Hot Tip: Some starchy vegetables like potatoes and carrots will offer very little calories UNLESS they’re cooked. The cooking process increases the space between the starches, which makes it easier for our stomach acid and enzymes to break down, increasing the amount of energy available to us in these foods.
So what does that mean? Basically, if you eat more food that’s harder to digest, you’ll get less calories than you would from eating the same amount of food that’s easier to digest.
It’s important to understand this concept, because some food will be more helpful than others for certain goals.
If your goal was to gain weight, you’d want to choose carbohydrates that are easier to digest, and will yield more energy for the amount of food you need to eat. Easier to digest = easier to get more energy with less volume of food.
If your goal was to lose weight, it would probably be helpful to choose carbohydrates that are harder to digest. You’ll be able to eat a larger volume of food which will help to curb cravings and make you feel full, and you’ll get fewer calories from that food which will be helpful to create a “calorie deficit,” which will encourage your body (in most circumstances) to use stored body fat to make up for that deficit.
Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, and have a really bad reputation.
So, let’s be real here. Carbohydrates absolutely can contribute to weight gain.
BUT, and this is a big BUT, a HUGE BUT; carbohydrates don’t contribute to weight gain MORE than any other part of your diet or lifestyle that negatively impacts body composition and performance.
If you eat too many processed carbohydrates, there’s a good chance you’ll gain weight and body fat.
But, if you eat too many processed fats you’ll probably gain weight and body fat.
If you sit too much you’ll probably gain weight and body fat. If you don’t sleep you’ll probably gain weight and body fat. If you work too much and are too stressed out you’ll probably gain weight and body fat.
If you do anything too much that throws your personal, optimal amount of sleep, exercise and nutrition out of whack you’ll be very susceptible to not feeling great. And this is a GOOD THING.
“Did you just say it’s a good thing that I gain weight when I do things that aren’t good for me? I hate this course, I’m out.”
Well, if you’re still here, thank you. And I promise I’ll explain.
Your body is your vessel. It’s your thing. It’s realistically one of the only things that you get without buying and can’t lose without dying, and I think that’s a pretty incredible thing.
Your body is with you through thick and thin, through sickness and health, ‘til death do you part, and in a lot of ways I think it’s really important that we start to treat it as such. If your partner was telling you day in and day out that they weren’t happy, and they needed something from you and you ignored and blew them off day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, you wouldn’t be surprised if they finally had enough and quit on you.
You’re in a relationship with your body, and it’s important that you work to understand what your body needs, and put some effort in each day to make sure that your relationship is strong.
And if you do that, you’ll notice you start to feel better, a little more energetic, a little less aches and pains, and you’ll start to feel like you and your body are on the same team. Which is pretty great.
Anyway, carbs have 4 calories per gram, and they’re good for energy production, much better for people who are more active with regards to body composition; and if you train a lot, more carbohydrates in the diet can often result in decreased body fat, better training and less mental fatigue. So, food for thought.
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