I believe that carbohydrates are the most misunderstood and feared macronutrient.

Nowadays, there are way too many fad diets and bogus ways of getting fit. Many of these fad diets and quick fixes blame weight gain on carbs.

While it’s true that eating too many carbs can make you fat, it is the same as eating too much protein or too much fat. All nutrients are needed in our bodies for us to function correctly. This is why portion control is the key to success in healthy eating.

Carbohydrates are hardly your enemy. They play an essential role in not only your muscle growth, but also in how your body functions every day. Regardless of what kind of carbs you eat, essentially the body breaks them down into two substances: glucose and glycogen.

Glucose, otherwise known as blood sugar, is the energy used by our cells to do all the tasks that our body performs, from deep thinking to the slightest movement of our fingertips. Glycogen, on the other hand, is a substance that is stored in the liver and muscles; this substance can easily be converted into glucose for immediate energy.

When you engage in any physical activity, your muscles will burn up stored glycogen to cope with the overload task. This is why I always recommend replacing your glycogen stores as soon as a workout is completed. It’s probably the most critical time to feed your body.

So if you have followed me so far, you would agree that carbohydrates are not the enemy, and that they play an important part in our overall health. If carbs can come from vegetables, fruits, and sugar, how do we know what types of carbs to eat?

You have probably heard the terms “simple” and “complex” carbs. You might have also heard the term glycemic index. So what are they and what do they have to do with the goodness of carbs.

To explain this in the simplest terms, think of the glycemic index as a numerical chart that is used to rank how quickly carbs are converted into glucose in our bodies. All carbs are ranked on a scale from 0 to 100 depending on how they affect our blood sugar level once eaten.

A ranking of 55 GI and under is known to be LOW GI, a 56 to 69 is MEDIUM GI, and above 70 is HIGH GI. Going back to “simple” and “complex” carbs, a simple carb is one that has a HIGH GI, meaning that it will convert into sugar very quickly. Table sugar, white pasta, and candy, are all good examples.

A complex carbohydrate is one that has a LOW GI ranking. Meaning it will convert itself into sugar slowly, giving you energy at a slower and more consistent rate. Apples or any green leafy vegetable, would be good examples. It’s also important to know that eating too many HIGH GI carbs can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. This is why at Athlete’s Kitchen we take food seriously, and create plans that lead you to a better, healthier future.

I’m assuming at this point you are thinking this is great, but how many carbs do I need? You understand the dangers of eating too many HIGH GI carbs and the benefits of eating LOW to MEDIUM GI carbs. Far from the enemy, eating carbs is essential because our body needs them to function properly every day. The amount of carbohydrates that you should eat, however, depends on what you’re trying to accomplish – your fitness or health goal!

Let’s start with building muscle. Building muscle requires you to eat substantial amounts of carbs, while dieting to lose weight requires you to eat fewer. A simple rule to follow is to eat medium to high GI carbs 30 minutes before you engage in exercise or heavy tasks. Also between the 30 minute mark of finishing your exercise. The main reason you need the carbs before training is to have the right amount of energy for your exercise or activity. The most critical time is after your training as your muscles’ glycogen stores are heavily depleted and replacing them will put your body into an anabolic state. This makes sure that your hard work pays off and that your damaged tissues can recover.

Personally, I stay away from any processed foods and all refined sugars, and stick with whole foods. One big part of eating healthy is to eat natural foods. Eat more vegetables and moderate amounts of fruits for energy, being sure to eat a variety of colours to get all the nutrients Mother Nature has provided us.

My father was a farmer and he always taught our family to enjoy all the produce we gathered, but in moderation. You see life is all about balance, we need to create the right portions and eat them at the right times to be healthy and strong. If everything we eat is natural, we build up our self-defences against disease and health hazards.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and please feel free to drop me a line with any questions you may have. I have also included a link here to Harvards medical school study on the Glycemic index chart: http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods


Oscar Naziri | Athlete’s Kitchen

Credits: Steele Roddick is a creative writer and fellow health enthusiast. You can read more of his work at thesteeleroddick.com