Carbohydrates… Our Friend?

Carbohydrates… Our Friend?

Can we have our cake and eat it too?

For many years people have given our friend the carbohydrate a bad name. For us cyclists and athletes they have a fundamental place in our fueling system, so let take a little bit more time to reunite with our energy giving pal… the carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates often get clumped together in two extreme categories: good and bad. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. Everyone needs them, but it’s important to know which ones are good for you and which ones aren’t. Often referred to as simple or complex carbohydrates, the three types of carbohydrates — sugar, starch, and fiber — all have a place in your diet. Simple carbs, which include sugar, are monosaccharides and disaccharides. Complex carbs, which include starches and fiber, are polysaccharides, but these “charides” are big words we aren’t using again.

Basic Carbohydrate Facts

The classification of carbohydrates depends on their chemical structure. Simple put is it made up of one thing, such as simple carbs (sugar) such as fruit sugar, (fructose). Glucose is commonly referred to as blood sugar and naturally occurs in fruits and sweeteners. Complex carbs such as starch and fiber are made up of more than one chemical that are joined together. There is another one also which is when only two chemicals are joined that will eventually separate, but for now we aren’t getting into that.   All you need to know is that carbs aren’t so bad, we just need to playout with the good kids and no when we have had enough… think going home when the streetlights come on!

Technical Carbohydrate Facts

Disaccharides are sugars that contain two monosaccharides linked together. They will eventually be broken down into two separate carbohydrates. Sucrose, lactose, and maltose are disaccharides. Sucrose, or plain table sugar, is made of glucose and fructose. Lactose, the sugar found in milk, contains glucose and galactose. Maltose is made of two glucose units and is found in germinating grains.  Polysaccharides are the most complex of carbohydrates. They are the starches and fiber in the diet. They are made of many monosaccharides joined together.

Simple Carbohydrates for Energy

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. Specifically, the brain prefers glucose over anything else. Simple sugars are easily used for energy and are rapidly absorbed by the body, because they can be broken down quickly into glucose.  Fructose and sucrose are natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables. Lactose is the natural sugar in milk. When you obtain natural sugar from whole foods such as these, you get a boost of energy while consuming vital nutrients.  Added sugars, or sugar that is added during food processing, contribute calories for energy but don’t have other redeeming qualities. They lack nutrients, cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar, and promote weight gain.

Starches Carbohydrates for Energy

Starches can be broken down into glucose to provide energy for the body. Different types of starches are digested at varying rates. These include slowly digestible starch, rapidly digestible starch, and resistant starch.

Slowly digestible starch gives you long-term energy and helps you feel full. Rapidly digestible starch, such as highly processed grains, digests quickly and can spike blood sugar. The third type, called resistant starch, isn’t digested; it’s fermented in the large intestine and is great for gut health.  Starchy foods deliver essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Examples of these foods include whole grains, peas, beans, corn, pasta, rice, and potatoes. Many of these starchy foods, such as peas and beans, are also sources of protein. Avoid refined grains and go with whole grains to get the full nutritional benefit.

Fiber Carbohydrates for Energy

When you consume fiber, most of it goes through your digestive tract without being digested. Fiber-rich foods, such as beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, contain different proportions of the two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.  Soluble fiber keeps your blood sugar steady by slowing down the absorption of carbs into your system. It also helps bind to fat and cholesterol and removes it from the body, which can help lower your blood cholesterol level. Soluble fiber can be found in citrus fruits, apples, legumes, and oats.  Insoluble fiber prevents constipation by keeping digestive wastes moving through your intestines. Brown rice, oats, popcorn, nuts, and seeds are sources of insoluble fiber.  Fiber passes through the body, so it is not a source of energy or calories.

What Do We Need?

In general, we need around 2g of carb per kilo of body weight per day. This is where I would start and for people wanting to be lighter on the bike. As a general for all, we want it to make up 40% of our daily total energy from carbs. Eat a good helping of carbs an hour before exercise from the starchy variety and keeping carbs to a minimum in the evening, if not training after dinner. Simple carbs are excellent for on the bike and lets face it we all love a good café stop!   For fiber women should consume around 25g of fiber daily, while men need around 38g