You eat them every day. Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, but also one of our most controversial nutrients. On one website you read “carbs are unhealthy”, while another blog titles “carbs are essential for a healthy diet”. What are carbohydrates and what can you believe? In this article, we shatter the myths about carbohydrates and get rid of the many contradictions.
(Reading time: 8 minutes)
Carbs are the sugars, starches, and fiber found in foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and dairy. Together with proteins and fats, they make up one of our three macronutrients, the three main ways to get energy into our body.
Are carbohydrates essential? Not really, but …
Carbs aren’t essential for survival. How we can prove that? Simply by looking at our ancestors. After all, they had no access to agriculture, because agriculture has ‘only’ existed for 60,000 years.
And yet, carbs are the single most important source of nutrition for boosting your health, weight loss, and as a source of energy. They are an important part of a healthy diet. So carbohydrates don’t contribute to insulin resistance, heart disease, and other ailments? Yes and no. That is precisely where the big difficulty lies. And that is also the cause of the controversial reputation of carbs.
Simple carbohydrates versus complex carbohydrates such as whole grains
Since there are two different types of carbohydrates, it’s important to distinguish between simple carbs and complex carbs, simple sugars and slow sugars. Slow sugars, also called complex carbohydrates, are broken down slowly and thus released into the bloodstream gradually. As a result, the blood sugar level remains stable and the insulin level does not rise.
A complex carbohydrate is also packed with nutrients, fibers, and phytochemicals. Almost all plant foods consist mainly of carbs. In an ideal world, we would get three-quarters of our carbohydrates from fruits that score low on the glycemic index and non-starchy vegetables.
Too often we choose to eat simple sugars that are broken down quickly. Think especially of foods such as white bread, added sugars, high fructose corn syrup, and white flour. Simple sugars are quickly absorbed into the blood, causing spikes in blood sugar. This ensures extra insulin production, causing the sugar in the blood to drop quickly, make you quickly hungry again, and a reason to reach for even more sugar. A vicious cycle and the ideal formula for weight gain, increasing your belly fat, and even the development of diabetes type 2.
Therefore, it’s important to choose the right carbs. After all, simply avoiding them is not a solution. A low-carbohydrate diet is not sustainable in the long term. Sooner or later your body will crave carbs again because they play an important role in reducing stress. They also stimulate the production of serotonin, which in turn promotes sleep.
The 8 major benefits of extra carbohydrate consumption for the body
1.Energy supplier of the anaerobic energy system
The anaerobic energy system provides energy without the intervention of oxygen. Sugars are the main energy supplier for this system. Do you regularly do strength training and intervals or sprints? Then get extra energy from carbs.
Those who train a lot can store more glucose in the muscles in the form of glycogen. More glucose in the muscles results in improved muscle building. Glycogen also makes muscles bigger. The extra fluid that is retained in the muscles further enhances that effect.
3. Power gain
Extra glycogen in the muscles not only makes them bigger, but they also perform better. This way your training sessions can be more effective and your progress is faster.
4. Faster recovery
Carbs help draw fluid to the cells, allowing more nutrients to enter the cell faster. Those extra nutrients promote recovery at a cellular level, which will ultimately result in a generally faster recovery of the body.
5. Fight inflammation
Consuming carbs has a positive effect on inflammation in the body. And the faster inflammation is dealt with, the faster your body recovers.
6. Promote neurotransmitter production
Carbs also influence our nerve cells, because they ensure the production of extra neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin.
7. Optimal hydration
Carbs that are stored as glycogen in the muscles retain water. To illustrate: 1 gram of carbohydrates retains 2.7 grams of water. Essential for optimal hydration.
Consuming carbs helps to reduce cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. Those who eat extra carbohydrates will therefore be better at managing stress.
And in which foods do you find a large number of starchy carbohydrates? Consider foods such as:
- Sweet potato
- Rice (basmati/jasmine)
How many carbohydrates are needed for our body?
This is not an exact science and depends on individual needs. These four factors influence the personal carbohydrate requirement:
Amount of muscle mass
The greater the muscle mass – and thus the number of muscles trained -, the more storage capacity for carbohydrates in the muscle. The greater the storage capacity, the more carbohydrates you can consume.
A striking statistic: 1.000 grams of muscle mass contains 12 grams of glycogen. 1.000 grams of trained muscle mass contains 40 grams of glycogen.
The higher the fat percentage, the fewer carbohydrates you need.
The more active you are, the higher the need for carbohydrates.
The number of grams of carbohydrates you need also depends a lot on your neurochemistry. It is genetically determined to which neurotransmitters we are more sensitive. People who are dopamine and/or serotonin dominant will naturally have a higher need for carbohydrates. People who are mainly dopamine dominant can handle simple carbohydrates better. Those who are predominantly serotonin dominant have a generally higher carbohydrate tolerance.
If these four factors largely influence our carbohydrate needs, it is immediately clear that the need for carbohydrates is strongly personal. For example, the diet of an obese person with a sedentary occupation may contain significantly fewer carbohydrates than the diet of an athlete who trains twice a day and has a fat percentage of less than 8 percent. The body of a person with type 2 diabetes will also have a completely different need for carbohydrates.
How do I determine my carbohydrate tolerance?
Earlier in this article, we talked about the positive influence of carbohydrates on inflammation in the body. But be aware, you only benefit from carbs when your body tolerates them.
But how can you determine such a thing? At Omnia, we do this based on skinfold measurements. Specifically, we perform two skinfold measurements. A first measurement is related to your genetic carbohydrate tolerance, a second measurement tells more about your temporary carbohydrate tolerance and the management of the level of sugar in the blood.
Based on the measurements, your Omnia professional can give clear guidelines about the number of carbohydrates that your personal diet may contain. Based on a later evaluation and retest, we check whether you are on track. This helps you discover whether you should eat fewer carbohydrates or increase your carb intake.
Omnia is committed to individualizing training methods and nutrition. That is why we use the Constant Glucose Monitor (CGM). This tool gives you important insights into how you can manage blood sugar successfully.
Here are the advantages of the Constant Glucose Monitor:
- Easy to apply on the body, without any inconvenience
- The CGM measures the blood sugar level 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- It gives you an idea of how your body reacts to certain foods and hormones, especially based on your blood sugar.
- This way you can find out how to keep your blood sugar levels stable, which is very important for your health
- It also helps you determine which carbohydrates work for you personally. Which carbohydrates your body can tolerate well
- The CGM gives an insight into the influence of the timing of your carbohydrate consumption
- Finally, it also helps you determine how many carbohydrates per meal are ideal for you