As you may know, energy is a vital element to sustaining normal bodily functioning and aiding performance during exercise. We obtain this energy from calories in macronutrient foods. Any budding fitness enthusiast or athlete probably knows that to ensure optimal performance during a workout, the correct fuel is required.
However, with the different types of carbohydrates available, to considering the gylcaemic index and nutritional timing, it can be a mind boggling task choosing the correct energy sources. Below we help you to identify the best pre-workout carbohydrates that will propel your body to peak levels during an exercise session, and also help enhance post-workout recovery with a list of carbohydrate foods.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates (also known as saccharides) are one of three macronutrients which provide energy to the body.
1g of carbohydrates equates to 4kcal energy.
They offer a quick source of energy, typically in the form of sugar; in contrast, starch offers a slow-releasing source of energy. They are typically the macronutrient associated with offering the body energy as carbohydrates are required in larger quantities than protein and fat. Many fad low-carbohydrate diets, such as keto diets or the Atkins diet, advocate the reduction or even worse, the elimination of carbohydrates in the body. Despite this, carbohydrates will always be integral to a healthy human diet.
Carbohydrates provide energy to support functioning of the central nervous system and other critical body systems. With regard to exercise, muscles utilise glucose (sugar source available from food) to fuel muscles during a workout. However, when glucose levels become depleted, the body then resorts to the reserve stock – glycogen, which is comprised of glucose, stored in the body. The muscle has limited quantities of glycogen stores available, and so when all the glucose and glycogen has been consumed, loss of energy and fatigue occur – you know the feeling when you feel like you’ve hit a wall? For this reason, it’s important to refuel your body with carbohydrates to maintain optimal glycogen levels. A common example of this is carb-loading where a person consumes a high portion of carbohydrates to maximise glycogen available.
Below we take a look at complex carbohydrates vs simple carbohydrates and debunk some facts surrounding good and bad carbs in addition to providing you with a list of healthy carbohydrates.
Types of carbohydrates
Not all carbohydrates are nutritionally equal. Some carbs are considered healthier than others. There are a number of ways to categorise carbohydrates. Firstly, they can be grouped based on their agility to offer energy:
Generally speaking, these are digested and absorbed faster than complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are commonly known as a ‘bad carbohydrate‘. They are often used as a quick energy source, typically 60 minutes or less before or after a workout as they are quickly digested; however, they may leave you feeling hungry after a short period of time. While not all simple carbohydrates are considered unhealthy, the ones that are generally less healthy are commonly found in processed foods which have limited nutritional value, and often contain refined sugars.
Below is a list of simple carbohydrates that should have moderated intake:
- Fruit juice concentrate, soda, table sugar, white bread, breakfast cereals with high quantities of sugar, sweets.
In the next section are a list of healthy carbohydrates which can be incorporated into most diets and used to replace the above sources.
Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugars and can be further categorised into:
- Monosaccharides: Single sugars molecules
- Disaccharides: Double sugar molecules
Complex carbohydrates are a slow-releasing energy and tend to leave you feeling fuller for longer; primarily comprised of starchy foods, they are also less likely to cause a sugar spike, compared with simple carbohydrate sources. In addition, complex carbohydrates are commonly considered the healthier ‘good carb‘ of the two categories. They contain three or more sugars and are also known as disaccharides.
Complex carbohydrates are a valuable fuel source for athletes fuelling up 1-2 hours before a workout. They also are an excellent ingredient in post-workout recovery meals. A common trend observed is to incorporate a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates into your post-workout recovery foods, e.g oats and milk.
While fibre doesn’t act as an energy source, it is an essential component required for healthy bowel movements and assisting in food digestion. The recommended daily allowance for an adult is 25-38g/day to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Carbohydrate food list
Simple carbohydrates: Bread, milk, raisins, bananas, yoghurts.
Complex carbohydrates: Potatoes, oats, peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, wholemeal pasta, starchy vegetables e.g. butternut squash, barley, brown rice, corn, quinoa, whole fruits such as apples, bananas.
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- Carbohydrates play a key role in achieving long-term health and reducing the risk of some chronic diseases
- Simple carbohydrates offer a quick energy spike, which may result in energy dips
- Complex carbohydrates provide a longer, more sustainable energy source while regulating stable sugar levels
- Moderate intake of simple carbohydrates containing unrefined sugar is acceptable in most diets
- However, the focus should be on including a greater ratio of complex carbohydrates into your diet
- Avoid foods containing added sugar. Reading the ingredients helps determine if there is sugar added to a food
- Simple carbohydrates can be a valuable fuel source <60 minutes before a workout
- Use complex carbohydrates when eating a pre-workout meal >1 hours before a workout
- Don’t forget to include fibre in your diet.
By now, you’ll possibly have read the previous articles regarding all 3 macronutrients. If you haven’t read these yet, you’re missing out on information regarding important nutritional components to a healthy body and enhanced workout, In these articles, we delve into the importance of pre and post-workout nutrition. I’ll just shamelessly leave the links here and you can take a look… pre-workout foods protein post-workout foods protein and is fat really bad for you?. Don’t worry, this article will still be here when you get back!
What are your thoughts and queries on carbohydrates? Leave a comment below.
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