Carbs: An Essential Nutrient You Need to Know About

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Carbs: An Essential Nutrient You Need to Know About
Carbs! The word is enough to make many fitness enthusiasts run away in fear. After all, for years, people have been blasting carbs as sources of empty calories. Some people even say they're a surefire way to undermine your progress at the gym.
But are carbs really worthy of their bad reputation?

Not exactly. While it's true that some carbs just aren't good for you, your body does need to have some, and the right kind can actually help, not hurt you, when you're working toward your fitness goals. If you're keeping to a healthy diet, adding healthy carbs to your eating plan could help you improve results at the gym and enhance your performance.


Not All Carbs Are the Same

Read the section title here a couple of times and make it your mantra! Not all carbohydrates are the same. Refined flours like those used in white bread really don't give you much in the way of nutrition, so it's best to keep these out of your diet.

In fact, it's these kinds of carbs that are what have given carbohydrates their bad reputation to begin with. Unfortunately, many people get too many of these highly processed carbs and refined sugars in their diet, putting them at risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and other conditions. Other carbs, though, don't have the same effect on the body.

The other thing that's important to note about carbs is that while fruit is high in natural sugars and carbs, you really can't consider a piece of fresh fruit to be an adequate source of healthy carbohydrates from an energy standpoint.

While a healthy diet should include a lot of fresh fruits, don't rely on fruit as your sole source of carbs if you truly want to reap the benefits that carbs provide.

Starches: The Superior Carbs for Athletes and Bodybuilders

So what are the best carbs to consume?

A starch is a chain of glucose that is found in many different types of plants. Its very similar to the structure of glycogen that's found in our bodies.

If you're not familiar with the term, glycogen is a compound that is stored in the muscle tissue. When you work out, your body can rapidly burn that glycogen as fuel to help you power through your reps. A strenuous workout can leave the body depleted of glycogen, which can hinder athletic performance and proper muscle function.

Eating foods that contain starch gives your body a quick source of fuel that can be used just like glycogen. That's why athletes are often told to eat a meal high in starches before a game. Excess glucose that is not used to immediately produce energy is then used to replenish glycogen stores.

So what foods are high in starch? Here are just a few:


  • Whole wheat

  • Rye

  • Barley

  • Corn

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots


  • Chestnuts

  • Oats

  • Banana

  • Rice

  • Quinoa


These starches are all very fast absorbing and great for fueling up before a workout. Slower-digesting starches like brown rice and sweet potatoes can be used for those who are concerned about minimizing glucose spikes in order to keep to their diet plans or control their blood sugar levels.


Supplements for Increasing Carb Intake

Liquid foods that contain carbs are frequently recommended for individuals who are involved with serious training in order to maintain glycogen levels before and after workouts. Compared to starchy solid foods, liquids are much quicker and easier to digest, so they can resupply the body with glucose at a much faster pace.

Whole foods should always be your primary source of every nutrient, and you can prepare a liquid shake or smoothie with starch at home from whole foods if you wish. This can be done by pureeing cooked potato with coconut milk and fruit and a little sea salt or coming up with other pureed starch shakes that are pleasing to your palate.

Many people prefer to purchase liquid nutritional supplements in order to drink their starch before or after a workout. Typically, the best ones to use are those that contain one of the following carbs:

  • Dextrose

  • Maltodextrin

  • Waxy maize

  • Vitargo

You can purchase standalone carb powders that can be prepared by themselves or mixed with your favorite protein powder to create a complete pre-workout shake or recovery shake. It's also possible to find pre and post workout shake mixes that contain both protein and one or more of the above starches. One of these products can be ideal if you don't want to experiment with mixing and matching.

The Biggest Takeaways

To conclude this profile on healthy carbs, let's review the key points:

  1. Carbs have gotten a bad reputation due to refined flour and sugar that provide empty calories and cause people to pack on pounds. Processed foods are generally unhealthy, but they're not the only kinds of carbs out there.

  1. Carbs are needed to maintain glycogen levels in the muscles. A serious athlete or bodybuilder or someone who is training rigorously really can't afford to be without carbs, as it can negatively impact performance.

  1. Fruits are healthy additions to a diet, but they're not the ideal source of carbs. They should not be used as the primary carbohydrate in a balanced diet.

  1. Starches like whole grains, potatoes, rice and quinoa are the best types of carbohydrates because starch is nearly identical to glycogen and can be used by the body in much the same way.

  1. Before a very intense training session, carbs can be consumed for added energy.

  1. Carbs should be used as a part of post-workout nutrition to restore glycogen after a workout.

  1. Liquid forms of carbohydrates are preferred because they can be digested rapidly. You can choose to make your own liquid pureed carb shake or to purchase a drink mix.

Many people who want to ensure that they're getting an adequate supply of carbs in their diets choose to take supplements to get what they need. If you're interested in learning more about carbohydrate supplements, you can check out our selection of products at Sportsfuel. One of our experts in sports nutrition and supplements will be glad to help you select the right carbohydrate supplement to complement your eating plan and help you achieve your workout goals. Contact us today.

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