Carbs or carbohydrates are often depicted as the root of all evil when it comes to our dietary habits. But of course that is only a temporary fad, which will eventually go away. Just like the no-fat craze of the 80’s and 90’s. Carbs are one of the three macro nutrients, which comprise our food and are essential to the functions of our bodies.
You know the low-carb diet, right? The keto diet? Yes, you have heard of them. They are all very well, but those are just temporary solutions. There are people who have lost weight on either of them, but the common denominator is that restriction in calories, which leads to calorie deficit is what’s actually contributing to their success.
Here’s a quick, boring recap of some basic scientific concepts with regards to carbs. Carbs are practically some form of sugar. They are made of one of the three following molecules or from a combination of them – glucose (sugars in general), fructose (sugars in fruits), and galactose. Yes, the last one doesn’t sound familiar. Combined with glucose, however, it makes the well-known lactose (sugars in milk).
What actually matters is that our cells use glucose as their primary fuel. You can substitute it on some occasions with either proteins or fats, but the efficiency is far from perfect. If I am to try to use a metaphor for it I would say it is like trying to use diesel fuel on a petrol engine. It’s gonna work, probably, but not like you want it to. Same counts for your body too.
The fuel that carbs provide is more appropriate for intense bursts of activity and workouts. Something like sprints, workouts in the gym, etc. Carbs are best for anaerobic activity – when you don’t have enough time to get oxygen to the muscles. So, when you are doing resistance type of training carbs are the main source of power.
They are stored within our bodies in our liver, bloodstream and mainly in the depots of our muscles, under the form of glycogen. So when you are going to do something hard for a longer period of time it might be a good idea to stock up on glycogen. Eat a food rich in carbs, such as a plate of pasta. That’s what runners do before a marathon, as well as football and tennis players, among others.
Fats, on the other hand, are also utilized by the cells as fuel, but that’s more appropriate for lower intensity workouts. Unless you are a top-level athlete and have taught your body to look for power in your fat reserves, so that you can store your glycogen for the crucial part of the race. The more you train your body the better it becomes in saving the glycogen stores and in the utilization of fats. An useful piece of information – if you are feeling your hands and legs shaking during or after a workout, if it feels like a weakness from the inside, it means most likely that you have depleted your glycogen storage.
Carbs are also the main source of energy our brains use. If you have been on a strict diet you would know the feeling of slowness in your thought processes. It feels like you are underwater and everything goes super slowly. That’s also why diets of this type are not sustainable in the long-term. Nobody loves feeling like that.
An important thing to consider is that during human evolution for tens of thousands of years our bodies have evolved to work on carbs, as well as proteins and fats. For us to try to dispense with them, without any major biological changes to our bodies just doesn’t make sense.
When you hear next time that somebody lost weight on a specific type of diet regimen keep in mind that it is the calorie deficit that is doing the job. You could be drinking a little bit of sugared water every day and still lose weight. Whether it’s healthy and sustainable is a whole other question.
Until next time when we will get a overall look into fats.