All Things Macros Aren’t Created Equal: Carbohydrates

By Rachel Holcomb

Somewhere down the line of Atkins dieters, paleo lovers, and the keto craze carbs got labeled as “bad” and something we should feel guilty about eating.  This article will discuss the important role carbs play in our diet and how we can use carbs to support our energy and performance.  There are many benefits of a well-balanced diet that includes the consumption of carbs.  But first, what exactly are carbs?  Carbohydrates are generally categorized into two groups; simple and complex.  Carbohydrates include all of your sugars, starches, and fiber.  Carbs are broken down by our immune system and released into our bloodstream as glucose.  The role of glucose is essential to the body as it fuels the brain and central nervous system.  If you lack a sufficient amount of carbohydrates in your diet you may notice a lack of energy or stamina.  Carbohydrate consumption can help fuel our nervous system, balance hormones, and increase energy. [1]

Where does the fear of carbs come from?

Carbohydrates, like anything, can have a negative impact on our health when consumed in excess.  Eating a surplus of carbs has the potential to lead to hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain or difficulty losing weight.  However, it is important to note that these results are likely due to an excess of simple carbs in the diet, not the carbs from your fruits and vegetables.

Are there “good” carbs and “bad” carbs?

Carbs are often referred to as good carbs or bad carbs.  Generally speaking, there are “healthier” carb sources than others.  Complex carbs are referred to as “healthy” carbs compared to simple carbs.  Simple carbs include simple sugars and refined carbs.  All carbs are eventually broken down into simple carbs before being absorbed by the body, however, complex carbs are broken down by the digestive system at a slower rate.  Complex carbs include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  When carbs are digested, insulin is released by the body and there are times when the body benefits more from a higher release of insulin than others.  For example, an optimal time for carb consumption is before and after workouts due to the immediate energy source and role they play in recovery.  Complex carbs may help control the body’s response to insulin as well as body composition.  The complex carbohydrates coming from fruit and vegetable sources will also increase your vitamin and mineral intake as well as increase fiber. [4]

How many carbs should I be eating?

As with all foods, each individual responds differently to food type and source.  The type and quantity of carbohydrates that are ideal for beneficial results will vary based on your current body composition, lifestyle, workout routine and goals.  Due to the fact that carbs play an important role in energy and recovery, they are an important part of a balanced diet for anyone training using high intensity modalities such as CrossFit.  As a baseline, you can start with the goal of 40% of daily calories coming from carbohydrates (assuming that you are at an appropriate daily caloric intake).  If you need help calculating specific calorie and macro goals to meet your individual needs it is recommended that you hire a nutrition coach.  Your coach can help you set appropriate baseline numbers as well as adjust your numbers based on individual body response, training and goals!

Simple and complex carb sources:

Simple carbs: sugar, white bread, white rice, fruit juices, cereal, muffins, cookies, pretzels, chips, etc.

Complex carbs: whole grain, brown rice, quinoa, beans, oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, etc.



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