The word ‘carbohydrate’ is the name given to a macronutrient that is in a very broad range of foods and comes in many different forms, which have slightly different functions and are digested differently.
Breaking down the different types of carbohydrate is important to make a distinction between the carbohydrates that are essential for training and good health and those that may need to be limited in some instances rather than lumping them all together as all bad.
At a snapshot, carbohydrates are the best fuel source for maximum energy.
Different carbohydrate dominant foods have different structures of carbohydrate that are broken down to the form that it circulates in the blood as glucose, to be used as fuel.
The most common types of carbohydrate are:
- Glucose – ingested and oxidized as fuel faster than the other forms of carbohydrates found in bread / pasta / rice / cereal
- Lactose – a compound of glucose and galactose found naturally in dairy products like milk / yoghurt
- Fructose – found in fruit / fruit juice / commercial products and is metabolized in the liver before circulating in the blood
- Sucrose – ‘Sugars’ – Table sugar / soft drink / lollies / cakes = ↓nutrient foods. Ones to limit in day to day eating.
Why do I need carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are circulated as glucose in the blood which is the most easily accessible and preferred fuel source for the body and brain to function, especially during exercise for muscle contraction and the central nervous system innervation.
Before being broken down to glucose, carbohydrates are stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen, with stores lasting around 60-120min of activity before they either need to be topped up through ingesting a carb source, or they become depleted and intensity and performance can start to drop or slow down and need to be replenished before the next session.
Going into a high intensity training session with low glycogen stores or an inadequate amount of carbohydrate in the diet can cause an early onset of fatigue, lethargy and decreased performance – low levels can make you lose focus and concentration in training when it’s needed the most.
Nutritious Carbohydrate Sources
All carbohydrates will ultimately break down to circulate in the body as glucose. The type of carbohydrate eaten can influence how quickly this glucose is available in the system. When choosing carbohydrate foods try to select nutritious, high fibre, nutrient rich carbohydrates to get more from them for maximum health, vitality and energy.
Less nutritious carbohydrates don’t offer too much more than sugar or glucose and are absorbed quite quickly. These foods may have their place at times around activity when you need a boost, however as part of an everyday diet they should be eaten in smaller quantities as they can have a negative impact on immune function and gut health.
|MORE Nutritious Carbohydrates||LESS Nutritious Carbohydrates|
|Whole grain bread and bread rolls – all types||Soft drink / cordial|
|Pasta / rice / noodles / barley / Quinoa||Bite size rice crackers|
|Fruit – fresh/dried/ tinned||Lollies / chocolate|
|High fibre cereal / oats / bran||Table sugar and added sugar|
|Low fat milk and natural yoghurt||Jams / sweetened spreads|
|Starchy vegetables like potato,
sweet potato, corn, dried peas /beans / legumes
|Sweet sauces and syrups|
|Grainy crackers and crisp bread||Sweet biscuits and cakes|
How much carbohydrate do I need?
The total amount of carbohydrates you require depends on your body weight, type of activity, fitness level; training and body composition goals.
It can even change from day to day, let alone week to week according to your training, so it’s not an all or nothing amount. As training and intensity of training increases, the more you will need to include before and around training times, with more during for long endurance events. The delivery of this will then have to suit activity and the individual, and any health requirements, to make fuel efficient for use at the right times for preloading and recovery.
Carbohydrate intake just needs good planning, there is no need to fear or avoid them. Like any food, if you eat too much it won’t be good for you, but if you don’t eat enough it won’t be good for your performance or health.