Carbs are athlete’s best friend. Most of the time, they are misunderstood mainly because of the popularity of high protein, high fat, low carbs diets. It is also because most athletes don’t really know what a carbohydrate really is, and why carbs are important in an athletes’ diet.
Carbohydrates and their benefits
There are many types of carbohydrates. Glucose and bran are both carbs, but their roles and effects on the body are totally different. This mandates that every athlete should know the difference between types of carbs and carefully consider which one is the best carb to consume before, during and after exercise.
Basic importance of carbs
The basic unit of carbohydrates, glucose, is the most important fuel source for the working muscle. Glucose provides substrates to create energy, in the way of Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. If you cannot provide enough glucose while training, you will reach the “burn-out” phase. Every athlete should know how to avoid this by ensuring a carbohydrate supply in their diets. This is not as easy as it sounds, since us humans have a rather limited storage capacity of glucose and glycogen (the way the body stores glucose).
Our brain works solely on sugar (glucose). When we train and don’t provide enough glucose, our brain function is compromised, resulting in mental fatigue. This, in term, sets in a physical exhaustion response, regardless of the amount of energy stored in the body. We can only store 2 minutes’ worth of energy in our blood and around 16 minutes’ worth of energy in our liver, which means that if we were to rely solely on carbohydrates to train, we could only train for 18 minutes before mental and physical exhaustion kicks in.
Luckily, we do not only rely on carbs to fuel our bodies, but the higher the intensity of the activity, the more we rely on carbs to fuel our muscles. As you can see, all athletes should respect the need of carbs in their diets and learn to use them properly, according to their own activity intensity and training method.
Not all of them have the same form, structure or goal in the body. I will try to make this as simple as possible:
- Monosaccharides & Disaccharides: Glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, lactose and maltose. These are the simple carbs, or also known as sugars. They cause a rapid rise in blood sugar when ingested and they stimulate the production of insulin. These are the “bad carbs” when consumed regularly.
- Oligosaccharides, digestible polysaccharides y indigestible polysaccharides: These are the healthy carbs, they are commonly found in legumes, cereals, vegetables, etc. and they are the “good carbs”. They provide the main source of energy from carbohydrates and they are found in rehydrating beverages or in sports gels as glucose polymers. Also, they provide fiber, improving the gastrointestinal tract health and immunity.