If you’re about to embark on a new health and fitness plan, it’s imperative that you get your diet in order. As you go about this process, one question you may be asking yourself is what are carbohydrates, and, what role do they play in the body when it comes to building lean muscle mass, shedding body fat, and improving your health and fitness level.
Getting a good understanding to this question is going to be imperative to your success because your diet can really make or break the results that you see.
So what are carbohydrates?
Let’s go over the main facts that you need to know.
Role In the human body
First let’s go over the role of carbohydrates in the human body. The primary purpose of this nutrient is to provide energy for all the cells. When you eat carbohydrate rich foods, they will be broken down into smaller molecules called glucose as they reach the bloodstream, which is the usable source of energy that powers each and every cell in your body.
In addition to this, glucose is also the primary fuel source for the brain, which is why when you start a very low carbohydrate diet, you may start to feel slightly ‘fuzzy-minded’ or foggy with your thought patterns.
This is due to the fact the brain isn’t getting the energy supply it’s used to and is starting to make the conversion over to ketone bodies as a fuel source (which is the alternate source of energy the brain can run off of).
In order to prevent this process from happening and provide your brain with enough glucose, you should aim for a minimum of around 100 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Role In building muscle
When it comes to building lean muscle mass, carbohydrates are an absolute must. Not only will carbohydrates ensure that you have sufficient energy to complete each workout session at full intensity, but they’re also going to ensure that you maintain an anabolic environment.
When you consume carbohydrate rich foods, your pancreas will release insulin, which is a powerful hormone that generates new body tissue.
When weight lifting is performed along with the increased carbohydrate intake, this new tissue will be lean muscle mass.
When you reduce your carbohydrates significantly from your diet, you move into a ‘catabolic state’, which is where you’ll be breaking down tissue instead.
Role in Fat loss
When it comes to fat loss on the other hand, there is a lot of mixed information out there on how many carbohydrates you should eat. Some people firmly believe that a very low carb diet is the superior way to go.
They state that by removing the carbohydrates, you force your body to find an alternative source of fuel – that fuel being your body fat stores.
But, what you must remember is that as your carbohydrate intake goes down in the diet, your dietary fat intake will increase, which then provides another source of fuel available.
When the body is faced with an energy shortage due to lack of incoming carbohydrates, it will turn to both dietary fat for energy along with your body fat stores depending on how many calories are consumed.
Therefore, going low carb on your fat loss diet doesn’t mean you will automatically start losing body fat at an accelerated pace.
Role in fitness
When thinking in terms of fitness improvements, including carbohydrates is also going to be essential for success. When you perform intense physical activity, your body can only utilize glucose as a fuel source.
Therefore, if you’re cutting all carbohydrates out of your diet, you simply will not be able to maintain the intensity of workout that you’re going for, and thus will fail to see results. Since doing intense workouts is what allows you to make progress with your workout program, carbohydrates therefore become a must.
Now, with all of this talk about carbohydrates and the various goals you may have, one thing that cannot be discounted is the fact that choosing the right carbohydrates is half the battle.
Choose unwisely and carbohydrates will not help your progress regardless of the goal you have.
When it comes to muscle building and fitness improvements, you’ll want to make sure to take in wholesome complex carbohydrates. These are the more energy and calorie dense carbohydrates that will help provide your body with the fuel it needs.
Good examples of these carbohydrates include oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, millet, and sweet potatoes. These do contain more calories, so for muscle building, they’ll work well to help you reach your target calorie intake.
When you’re seeking fat loss, you’ll want to limit those carbohydrates to right before and after the workout period when you need the most energy, and then after that, turn to fibrous sources of carbohydrates such as vegetables. These are lower in calories and carbohydrates, so will still provide you with some, but won’t have you overdoing it and not seeing fat loss progress as a result.
Even those who are looking to build muscle should still include vegetables in their diet, just not extremely high quantities as they do have the higher calorie requirement.
Fruits can also be eaten, but in moderation as they are higher in calories and contain natural sugar. If you keep it to one or two servings per day, adding fruit to your diet shouldn’t pose a problem.
The primary carbohydrates that you want to avoid on the other hand are those that are simple in nature and heavily processed. This includes foods like cookies, cakes, candy, cereal bars, energy bars, and anything else with an ingredient list longer than your Monday to-do list.
If you choose wisely and be sure to tailor your intake to your specific body weight goals, carbohydrates will keep you feeling energized, keep you feeling satisfied, and help you build the body that you’re after.