CARBS! SUGAR! and FAT! Oh My!

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet;" -William Shakespeare 

Relax, relax: I know it's summer; and this isn't Freshman English class! But, it is an informative article regarding the widely known, yet highly controversial, topic of carbohydrates, and their role in your health. 

Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates

When referencing carbohydrates, we often hear that "complex carbohydrates" are better for us than "simple carbohydrates". Is this true? If so, why? ...and, what ARE the similarities and differences between simple and complex carbs, anyway? 

Role in the Body: provides energy for the body to perform both its cellular and physical work

Simple Carbohydrates: single, (unbound) glucose molecules (example: white sugar)

Complex Carbohydrates: single, bonded glucose molecules that are strung together by chemical bonds; those bonds first must be broken by the body in order to access the energy in those single glucose molecules (example: oatmeal)

Similarities: all carbs--simple and complex--come from plants. All carbs--simple and complex--are basically sugars. Because complex carbs must first be broken down into single, unbound glucose molecules (simple sugars) before they can be used by the body, they play the same exact role in the body as simple sugars play. 

Differences: because, as single glucose molecules, they are already in their simplest and smallest form when you ingest them, your body doesn't have to expend energy (calories) breaking down simple sugars, such as white sugar or honey, for use. And if they aren't needed, they are shuttled off to the fat cells and stored for later use.

However, when you consume complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potato or oatmeal, in order to be used for energy, your body must first break the connections between those bonded glucose molecules creating single glucose molecules, which are...you guessed it...simple sugars!!!  

Thus, when we eat complex carbs, our body must USE some of its own stored energy (in the form of stored calories) to break the carbs down into their usable, simple form. Because body uses more calories to process complex carbs, they are considered healthier than simple carbs for your body.

In addition, unlike simple, refined, and processed carbohydrates, whole food, complex carbs have added benefits such as a host of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, enzymes, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-angiogenic compounds (anti-angiogenic compounds help prevent blood supplies to abnormal cells helping them to die and be released by the body before they build up as cancer).

Thus, when we eat complex carbs, our body must USE some of its own stored energy (in the form of stored calories) to break the carbs down into their usable, simple form. Because body uses more calories to process complex carbs, they are considered healthier than simple carbs for your body.

In addition, unlike simple, refined, and processed carbohydrates, whole food, complex carbs have added benefits such as a host of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, enzymes, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and anti-angiogenic compounds (anti-angiogenic compounds help prevent blood supplies to abnormal cells helping them to die and be released by the body before they build up as cancer).

Thus, regardless of which type of carbohydrate enters your body, if you eat more carbohydrates than your body needs for its daily energy functions, the excess is stored as fat and can provide the body with energy in the future...if extra energy is ever required. This is why, if you consistently ingest more carbs than you use, you can end up with any number of metabolic disturbances such as Type II diabetes and obesity. 

Carbohydrates: 'Good vs Bad'

"Good carbs," unrefined and unprocessed, are eaten in their original, whole form. Examples include vegetables, fruits, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat berries. Your body works hard expending energy breaking chemical bonds so it can access the glucose in theses carbs. 

"Bad carbs" are already broken down, via machinery and sometimes chemical processes, into a simpler form for you. This means your body doesn't use as much of its own own energy to process them for utilization; and unless used rather immediately, they are quickly shuttled off to fat storage for energy use in the future. 

Processed carbs range anywhere from white, table sugar to simple starches like dextrose (often found in workout and recovery beverages); from pasta to the wheat flour in your bread. During the refinement process, most nutrients are removed from the carb resulting in what we've termed "empty calories." These calories are "empty" of any other beneficial nutrient besides pure energy and thus labelled as "bad."

A Sugar By Any Other Name? 

"What's in a name? That which we call a sugar, 

By any other name, is the same!" -Amber St. Claire 

Ha!!! Take THAT, Billy Shakespeare!!  

Hidden sugars can be found in several products without our awareness. Sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, maltodextrin, hydrolyzed starch, cane juice, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, molasses. These are all names for the same ingredient: SUGAR; and yes, they taste just as sweet as regular sugar and all are processed in the same way by your body...either used for energy or stored as fat. 

When Carbs/Sugars Are Appropriate: During and/or After Exercise

Carbohydrates, even simple sugars, are not inherently bad for you...as long as you use them. If you are happy with your weight and body fat levels and want to maximize your performance in the gym, utilizing simple carbs during and/or immediately after your workout is appropriate. The general formula is to calculate 20% of your body weight, and ingest that amount of both both protein and carbs per hour of exercise. For example, 20% of 150 lbs is 30. So, a 150-pound individual might consume 30 grams of carbs and 30 grams of whey protein for recovery during and/or after a workout. 

For example, you could use powdered Gatorade, waxy maize powder, dextrose, or coconut water mixed with whey protein. 

If you're participating in an endurance event or you're looking to gain mass (weight), an appropriate ratio is to utilize the same formula but then to quadruple the carbs to a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein per hour of exercise. 

If you eat low carb during most of your day (see the Anytime Meal plate), and wait to ingest your carbohydrates during and/or after exercise, your body can better partition the carbs for recovery (partitioning means sending nutrients to the places they're needed the most...in the case of during and/or after exercise, that place is the muscles). This means that, if you're trying to gain mass, you'll likely gain less fat with the muscle gained by using this nutrient timing strategy.

If you're looking to lose body fat, then simply eating a meal with protein and some complex carbohydrates within the three hours after you exercise is appropriate; you don't need the extra, simple carbohydrates found in a recovery drink because you want your body to utilize more of its own fat for energy and recovery (see the Post-Workout Meal Plate). So, if you're looking to lose fat, and you currently eat a lot of carbs (yes, even complex carbs) throughout your entire day, start subbing out those carbs for more veggies and hit up the carbs and sugars after you've exercised, choosing more complex carbs over simple sugars.

- Amber St. Claire

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