Not all carbs are created equal


Sunday, September 23, 2018

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ATHLETES, endurance athletes and active individuals require more protein and carbohydrates, but there is always a debate about how many carbohydrates are needed.

Carbohydrates are not your enemy; they provide energy for biological functions. However, not all carbs are created equal. They range from monosaccharides or simple sugars, the basic building blocks of all carbohydrate chains, to polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are a significant natural source of energy, and simple sugars, because of their rapid absorption and digestion, can trigger and spike insulin levels. With complex carbs however, there are enzymes which will break these food types down.

In both cases, we store energy in our muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is the reason some endurance athletes load up on carbs before, and in some cases after, an athletic performance. They are trying to store more energy, so their cells can break down those stored polysaccharides and have glucose to metabolise.

But here is the real catch: we can only store so much energy, and the excess glucose will be stored as energy dense fats. This is where the carb hysteria began, when people were being sold the idea that too much carbs will make you fat.

This is why people began going to carb free and low carb diets to avoid producing fat molecules, even though carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates in moderation is healthy.

While it is true that we can survive without dietary carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates can promote steady energy production, provide a consistent energy source for your brain, limit starvation reactions and with healthy fats can reduce feelings of hunger.

Additionally, natural complex and water-based carbs come with fibre which is essential for a balanced healthy diet, providing bulk for stool and reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which if elevated can increase health risks. Fibre is your friend and carbohydrates are your friend. Eliminating complex carbohydrates from your “diet” can be complicated.

However, if you are an athlete, especially an endurance athlete, your relationship with carbs and fat loss should be closely monitored. You have three options opened to you:

1. Ingest all the carbs you believe you need for performance and perform utilising ingested carbohydrates and stored glycogen;

2. Perform utilising stored fats by becoming a fat-adapted athlete;

3. Combinations of both.

Before we go any further, what you must understand is the early and simple measure of whether or not you are ingesting too much energy for your performance. If there are no medical complications and you are gaining weight, you are ingesting more calories than your performance requires.

This may seem simple to most, but with the pressures, competitive amateur or professional athletes put themselves under, and all the voices in their lives, it can become quite complex.

Any feeling of reduced performance is perceived to be because you are trying to control your intake and attempting fat loss, is not connected to insufficient energy intake, but perhaps other issues, such as stress, physical fatigue, sleep, mental or emotional fatigue.

At times eating excessively can feel energising, not because of the energy required but rather, because of the emotional comfort it brings, and this is more likely to be seen in athletes who have been struggling with issues of fat gain. Remember, if you are eating for your activity and your body weight is increasing, you are ingesting more energy than your body requires.

Regarding the fat adaptation solution, an increasing number of studies are showing that low carb (not zero carb) endurance athletes' burn more fat, and many are producing better performances than their carb loading peers. However, I will put aside the discussion of the fat adapted solution for another time, as it will require more attention.

So, for our carbohydrate loading endurance athletes, exactly how much carbohydrates are recommended? If you are getting single number recommendations, such as, “you need 500 grams of carbs” rethink your source, your requirement is largely dependent on your weight, gender, age, and other individual factors.

It is also useful to keep in mind that distance athletes have optimised glycogen stores and can store 1,700 to 2,000 calories worth of glycogen. When you consider that runners can metabolise roughly 100 calories per mile, stores can easily be depleted around mile 18 or 20, which is typically great for half marathon runners.

Some recommended, body weight-related, endurance athlete, carbohydrate requirement estimates for activity lasting:

• Less than one hour: 2.3 - 3.3 grams per pound body weight;

• One to four hours: 3.2 - 4.5 grams per pound body weight;

• Longer than four to five hours: 4.4 - 5.5 grams per pound body weight.

In other words, for a three-hour run, a 150-pound runner can ingest roughly 480 grams of carbohydrates, which is 1,920 calories. This is equivalent to 20 cups of potatoes, or 32 slices of bread. Also, for post workout recovery, 0.5 – 0.7 grams of carbohydrates per pound body weight is recommended, plus protein.

Now, if you have fat loss goals you can see how this, without careful record keeping and adjustments, can be disruptive, especially as we haven't even begun to consider your protein or fat intake.

Essentially, you will have to tweak these numbers, based on your own performance and next morning's body weight. Make the necessary adjustments on your training, pre-competition and competition days and stick to a balanced calorie-controlled diet on the other days. Of course, you could also consider becoming more fat-adapted by training your body to utilise fat for endurance activities.

So, for carb-loading athletes who are working to control body fat levels, write, record, journal and follow your scale. It will tell you the essentials. Track and measure your carb intake around your activity and tweak as necessary.

Know your numbers; individuals vary, so, understand how your body performs. Examine your other factors, hydration, sleep, stress, anxiety, heavy preconceptions, and the idealness of your carbohydrate and other food choices.

Always remember, insufficient rest, alcohol, flour, sugar, and nicotine are definite performance breakers.

Fitz-George Rattray is the director of Intekai Academy, which is focused on helping people live a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and weight management. If you are interested in losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, give them a call at 968-8238, or visit their website at .

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