Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and that’s why they are essential for athletes and strength trainers alike. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and converted to glycogen. Glucose enters the blood stream as blood sugar to provide food to the brain and to the nervous system to keep you mentally alert. Glycogen is the body’s fuel and is stored both in the muscles and in the liver.
When the muscles need energy, glycogen is broken down to release energy in the form of glucose. However, when glycogen levels are depleted because of prolonged exercise, the body needs more fuel and will begin to use protein as an energy source. This diverts the valuable protein away from its primary function of muscle repair and maintenance, which is detrimental to muscle development.
Fat is a further energy source, but it is the least available to the body and is dependent on the presence of carbohydrate to trigger its metabolism. Without sufficient carbohydrate in the body, fat cannot be burned efficiently and remains stored.
In summary, sufficient carbohydrate in the diet ensures that protein is preserved to carry out its primary function of muscle repair and building and that fat can be mobilized effectively into energy when additional fuel is required.
The main sources of carbohydrate
Carbohydrates fall into two distinct categories: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates contain simple sugars such as fructose and glucose which are commonly found in fruit, some vegetables, honey and refined sugars as well as dairy products (particularly low-fat options). These simple carbohydrate foods provide a quick release of energy to the body, which is particularly important post-exercise.
Complex carbohydrates, commonly known as starches, occur primarily in cereal and grain products. Complex carbohydrates act as slow release fuels for the body and are filling and satisfying to eat. They also contain soluble and insoluble fiber which are essential for healthy digestion and elimination.
To maximize the benefit of grains, at least half of all grain foods you choose should be wholegrain instead of refined. These provide more roughage and are richer in vitamins and minerals than their more processed counterparts.
How much carbohydrate do I need?
For strength training, a good rule of thumb is to derive around 70% of overall calorie intake from carbohydrate sources. Therefore if your overall calorie allowance is 2,500, you should consume 1,750 calories in the form of carbohydrate.
But don’t carbohydrates make you fat?
The good name of carbohydrates has been sullied over the years by misguided beliefs that they are fattening and many fad diets have profited magnificently from perpetuating this myth. Yes, it is true that carbohydrates are converted to glucose (sugar) within the body and yes, it is also true that if you don’t use up the glucose, any surplus will be converted into fat and stored.
However, this will happen only if you eat more calories than you require. But whether your additional calories come from high carb foods such as potatoes or bread or from carrots or salads is not important – it’s the number of calories that count.
Carbohydrates are not the enemy. Maintaining a high carbohydrate diet is essential for all strength trainers and athletes.
plan:one calculates exactly how much carbohydrate you need to get the best possible nutrition to achieve the fastest results from your training program.