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These day’s carbohydrates get a pretty bad rap. Some popular fad diets stress cutting back so severely on carbs that many uninformed folks have begun to blame their “battle-of-the-bulge” on this poorly misunderstood macronutrient. Get this right. Carbs are your friends. Without them you will have little or no energy and you won’t be able to synthesize protein for muscle growth. Eliminating all carbs can damage your health.  

Carbohydrates provide energy as your body breaks them down to form glucose, the body’s main energy source. Whatever glucose you don’t use is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissues. Muscles horde two thirds of this glycogen, using it to fuel daily activities, including your work outs. The liver holds the rest and releases glycogen as glucose when the brain and other organs need energy. If your carb intake is consistently low, you won’t have enough glucose to satisfy the body’s energy needs. When that happens, the body breaks down protein and fat for energy. Translated, this means that you can use valuable lean muscle tissue.

Carbohydrates are essential for energy and muscle growth just be careful not to over do them. When glycogen stores are maxed out, excess carbs are stored as fat. Speaking of fat, without enough carbs in your diet your body cannot burn fat no matter how dynamic your aerobic program may be. 

Not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbs consist mostly of sugar. These are found in candy, cakes, pies, and processed foods that are unduly high in calories and not as nutritionally valuable. Complex carbs provide healthy doses of starch, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Clearly, complex carbs are a superior food source.  

Complex carbohydrates like whole grain cereals, breads, beans, and many fruits and veggies, provide a steadier, longer lasting supply of energy. This is because they take time to break down and metabolize. This process allows glucose to be released into the blood stream more gradually providing you with a steady supply of energy. 

Don’t be confused by the glycemic effect of carbohydrates. The glycemic effect of a food is how fast and high your blood sugar rises after you eat it and how quickly your body brings glucose levels back to normal. It’s not just whether a carbohydrate is simple or complex that determines the glycemic effect. A number of other factors such as how a food is prepared, and which foods are present in the stomach at the same time come into play.

Its helps to know what sort of glycemic effect different foods have upon the body.  Low or moderate glycemic index complex carbs like yams, baked beans, apples, peaches, oatmeal, and whole grain rice and cereals are best eaten earlier in the day to sustain energy especially on workout days. High glycemic foods are great after an intense workout – they quickly replenish hungry muscles with glycogen. Try eating oranges, bananas, grapes, rice and pasta after a “kick-ass” workout.