Carbohydrates are an important part of the nutrition equation, but it’s important to remember that not all carbs are equal when it comes to their effects on your body.
A quick recap on what carbs are.
I wrote an article about carbs here, but here is a shortened version as a recap:
Carbs are good.
Haha, only kidding! Kind of…
- Carbs are organic molecules made up of 1,2 or more strings of sugar molecules.
- Monosaccharides are single sugar molecules, disaccharides are 2 sugar molecules together, polysaccharides are longer chains of sugar molecules. See the table below for a list of each.
- All carbs, regardless of type are broken down to monosaccharides during digestion
- These are sent to the liver to replenish stores there first, then enter the blood stream to refuel muscles with the help of insulin.
- Excess carbs, those not used for liver and muscle glycogen replenishment, are stored for later use as triglycerides (fat).
Just because all carbs, regardless of their type, are broken down to the same component parts, doesn’t mean that they all have the same effect on your body.
Although the basics of digestion are the same, simple, processed carbs (think doughnuts) are broken down faster leading to more rapid increases in blood sugar levels and correspondingly high insulin levels to deal with this sudden rise. More complex carb sources (think whole grains/veggies/fruit) are more slowly digested, giving slower increases in blood sugar, lower insulin responses and more sustained energy levels.
Here is a list of the best carb sources you can put into your meals for optimal results.
- Bread (preferably whole grain)
- Pasta (preferably whole grain or flax)
- Rice (preferably whole grain, unprocessed)
- Oats (preferably whole oats)
- Legumes such as kidney, black or pinto beans
When having these carb dense foods, your serving size is also important, as a starting point, I like the PN approach of 1 cupped handful for women, and 2 handfuls for guys. Remember though that these are starting points and you may need to adjust for higher activity levels.