Carbohydrates Are Not The Devil!

Carbohydrates are of primary importance to bodybuilders and other athletes seeking to maximize lean muscle mass. Find out what you should know!
Carbohydrates... those omnipresent fruits, yams, grains and vegetables, are older than mankind. In recorded history, it appears that the Egyptian culture was the first to 'mill' their high-energy grain, removing fiber, as well as much of the nutrition. Bingo-mankind had its first refined carbohydrates.

Sugar was first introduced into Europe around 700 AD when Arabian armies brought sugar cane from Northern Africa. Sugar then slithered into Spain, Sicily, and the surrounding areas of the Mediterranean. Sugar was known as "white gold" and was a luxury only the extremely wealthy could afford. With the exploration of the New World, sugar trade became more profitable, and even Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane cuttings to the Americas.

By the time of the American Industrial Revolution, the sugar refining business blossomed. Around 1900, the first sugar-in-the-box product was introduced to the American consumer. Today, the average sugar consumption in America is a mind-blowing per capita consumption from all sources of 160 lbs. per year, 40 teaspoons per day.

The opinions regarding sugar, particularly among athletes and weight conscious individuals, have violently changed since 1900! Instead of white gold some even call sugar white death. For example, If you are a devout Dr. Atkins fan you probably think that eating carbs is analogous to driving drunk (maybe ketogenic stupor driving). But, are carbs the most horrific poison ever created - or are they more of a missing link to huge gains in energy, strength, and a diesel physique?

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are complex chemical compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (CH2O). Carbo-hydrates are the key source of energy (fuel) in the human body. Carbs contribute 4 kilocalories (kcal) per gram by weight. Carbs can be converted in the body into either glucose (desirable) or fat (undesirable). Your body requires carbohydrates to burn fat. You typically store about 200 grams of carbohydrates in the muscles and another 90 grams in the liver. Your liver stores are used as fuel for the brain and typically remain untouched during times of muscular distress.

Carbohydrates are generally categorized as simple or complex and are more specifically classified as monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, or polysaccharides.

Monosaccharides:

Monosaccharides include simple sugars such as fructose (fruit sugar), glucose (blood sugar), galactose, and ribose. These compounds are the only carbohydrates that can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining and have a more immediate effect on blood sugar levels. Simple sugars are building blocks to complex oligo- and polysaccharides, some of which can contain up to several hundred units of simple sugars.

Oligosaccharides:

Oligosaccharides include disaccharides such as lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt sugar), sucrose (table sugar), trisaccharides (raffinose), and tetrasaccharides (stachyose). Some are non-digestible such as inulin and found naturally in foods.

Some are non-digestible oligosaccharides that serve as substrates, regulate metabolic pathways and even trigger hormone secretion. Inulin (known as fructooligosaccharides or FOS) is unique. Inulin is a naturally occurring complex carbohydrate, found in over 36,000 different plants worldwide and has been consumed for centuries by numerous cultures. It comes from such sources as artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, and wheat.

In the US, the majority of the average 2.6 grams consumed daily comes from wheat and onions. This amount, though, is simply not large enough to reap its numerous benefits which include, improved immune function, digestion, cardiovascular and circulatory function, as well as maintenance of cholesterol and improved mineral and amino acid absorption. Inulin decreases the rate of dietary carb conversion to fat, while simultaneously increasing glycogen production in the liver, It also inhibits lipogenesis, suppresses appetite, and increases metabolism by stoking metabolism (heat production) in response to food consumption.

Polysaccharides:

Polysaccharides include starch and comprise approximately 90% of all naturally occurring carbohydrates. The main polysaccharides are glycogen, starches and fibers. In the human body, the main form of carbohydrate storage in the liver and muscle tissue is glycogen. It is readily converted to glucose as needed by the body for energy.

Starches are a naturally abundant nutrient carbohydrate. Starches are polymers of glucose and are primarily of plant origin, found chiefly in seeds, fruits, tubers, roots, and stem pith of plants, corn, potatoes, wheat, and rice. Starches are water soluble, tasteless, and lack defined shape or structure.

'Dietary fiber' dates way back to the early 1950's when it was first used to describe the unavailable carbohydrates in foods. Fiber itself has no calories because the body cannot absorb fiber. Foods that are high in fiber, low in fat and calories. Fiber can be divided into two categories according to its physical characteristics and effects on the body, insoluble and soluble. Each form functions differently and provides different health benefits.

Good Sources Of Insoluble Fibers Include:

  • brown rice
  • dried beans
  • popcorn
  • seeds
  • vegetables
  • wheat bran
  • And whole grain products such as breads, cereals, and pasta.

Good Sources Of Soluble Fiber Are Fruits Such As:

  • apples
  • grapes
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • pears, as well as barley, oat bran, oatmeal, rye, seeds, and vegetables.

Although fiber is not considered an essential nutrient, the U.S. Surgeon General and many professional health organizations recommend a diet containing 25-50 grams a day. The average American consumes half the recommended amount, averaging only 10-15 grams daily.

Increasing your consumption of unrefined complex carbohydrates is the easiest way to increase fiber intake and may reduce your cholesterol and resting blood sugar.

What About Glycerine?

Glycerine (glycerol) is a sugar-alcohol. The FDA currently requires that glycerine be listed on food and supplement labels as a carbohydrate by "difference." According to the FDA this is done to classify glycerine under one of the macronutrient categories, carbohydrate, fat, or protein. But - Glycerine is not a fat because it lacks essential fatty acids. Glycerine is not a protein because it does not contain an amine (nitrogen) group.

Many sports nutritionists, chemists and manufacturers hold that glycerine is very different structurally and functionally from carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are polyhydroxy aldehydes or ketones, or substances that yield such compounds on hydrolysis. Glycerol is a tri-hydroxy alcohol (a three-carbon compound) and is found in virtually every cell of every living organism. Energy-wise, glycerine yields 4.32 calories per gram when oxidized to carbon dioxide and water, whereas carbohydrates yield 3.5-4.0 calories per gram.

Metabolically, the glycerine impact on blood sugar and insulin is negligible. In fact, glycerine and other sugar alcohols like maltitol, sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol, have been utilized in diabetic foods and candies for years for this very reason. While the total energy yield (calories) needs to be accounted for, glycerine is perfectly acceptable in virtually any diet and nutrition program due to its negligible effects on blood sugar and insulin.

Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load

The glycemic index (GI) is a ratio, a calculation of how high your blood sugar rises in the 2 hours after you eat a high-carbohydrate food (in relation to a glucose standard that is 100, the maximum). Specifically, what happens after you ingest 50 grams of any carbohydrate?

The glycemic load (GL) operates on the same basic concept, but is based on serving size. GL is a measure of your blood sugar response after you eat a normal serving size, regardless of the number of grams of carbs contained in the food.

High glycemic index foods trigger a rapid rise in blood sugar, which stimulates the release of insulin. A number of researchers postulate that in addition to contributing to a number of health concerns such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. This rapid and too frequent rise in insulin, contributes significantly to obesity.

The process increases enzymes responsible for storing fat, reduces your ability to burn fat as energy and actually stimulates appetite. If you eat high glycemic foods you tend to eat more since they don't contribute much toward satiety (feeling of fullness) thereby causing your appetite to return a lot quicker.

If you know your carbs' GI values, choose carbs with a GI below 55 and limit those above 70. Also, eat smaller, more frequent meals because this will keep your blood sugar levels stable and minimize insulin production.

Carbohydrates: Maximize Recovery, Performance And Lean Muscle

Carbohydrates are of primary importance to bodybuilders and other athletes seeking to maximize lean muscle mass. They are "protein sparing" which simply means that if you have sufficient carbohydrates present (full glycogen stores), protein will be used primarily for growth and repair. If you do not have sufficient carbohydrate, you may use protein for fuel/energy, instead of for growth and repair of muscle!

Carbohydrates are strongly anti-catabolic. Carbohydrates eaten right after weight lifting will help prevent the breakdown of muscle. Recent studies reveal that carbs combined with protein (particularly in isolate form) are even more effective at providing an anti-catabolic effect, as well as replenishing glycogen.

Carb Suggestions!

  • Limit refined sugars (GI above 55) to no more than 15-20% of your total daily carb intake.
  • Make unrefined sugars (GI below 55), from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, the bulk of your carb intake.
  • Eat the majority of your daily carbs early, when they will be burned as fuel.
  • Timing is important. Consume a mix of complex and simple carbohydrates, the majority, and high glycemic with protein, immediately post-workout. A good rule of thumb for hard training athletes is 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight and a 3:1 carb to protein ratio. For example, 180 lbs. - eat 90-126 grams of carbs and 30-42 grams of protein. To burn fat, avoid sugar at least 2 hours before exercise.

If you find it difficult and/or inconvenient to eat whole-food-based carbs after your workouts, try one or more of these delicious and convenient carb-based supplements:

Select High-Quality Carb-Containing Products:

Sugar: - Finding Sugars On A Food Label

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn Syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose (dextrose)
  • Granulated sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose