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Carb Benefits: 3 Reasons Why Carbohydrates Are Not The Enemy

Team Grenade athlete and Nutritionist, Vinny Russo, hits you with a bit of Carbohydrate-based science and explains why they should play a vital role in your diet.

Look, carbohydrates are not your enemy! Of course, over-dosing on carbs can cause problems, but to cut out the body’s preferred source of energy is senseless. Carbohydrates provide energy and we all need energy to function, thrive, work, workout, and hell, we need them to survive! All carbohydrates form glucose when broken down. Glucose is the necessary fundamental fuel for all of the body's functions. Glucose is transported by means of blood, and taken into cells to be converted into energy. Insulin, produced by the pancreas gland, plays has an important task as it controls the uptake of glucose by your cells.

1) Energy

Every carbohydrate ingested will be converted into glucose (sugar). Glucose is used by every single cell in your body for energy. Carbohydrates, in general, provide 4 calories per every gram ingested. Our body is smart and efficient in that it will choose the quickest, easiest, least energy expending route. Now, due to the fact that carbohydrates are so easily broken down, this becomes our body’s preferred source of energy.

Carbohydrates pass through the digestive system faster than proteins and fats. Proteins digest faster than fats.

2) Glycogen

Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in our bodies. This is stored within the liver and muscle cells, and the amount that can be stored is limited. Glycogen can be seen as a reserve or even a back-up plan when glucose is needed, but not available. A great example of this is during intense exercise as the body will convert glycogen to glucose to have sufficient energy for muscle contractions.

SCI-F.Y.I: Why You MAY Gain Fat with Carbohydrates

You want enough carbohydrates to give the body energy and function properly however, you don’t want to overdo the carbohydrates as the extra carbs will be stored away as body fat to be used at a later time. No one wants to walk around with a spare tire around their waist, so one needs to be mindful of their decisions. So what do I mean by “extra carbs?” Visualize the glycogen storage tanks you have in your body (liver and muscle cells) as a cup that is used for coffee. You go to a coffee shop on your lunch break and order a Tall cup of coffee for that extra kick of energy you need. As the barista is pouring your cup, you tell her to make sure she tops it off, as you feel the need to get what you paid for. Here’s the catch, you want the cup to be full, but you don’t want more coffee than the cupcan hold. You want to be able to enjoy what you paid for, and not have to sit at the table with spilt coffee all over your clothes. The glycogen storage tanks we have in our bodies are limited; there is a carrying capacity, like with the cup of coffee (it can only hold so much).

So if by chance, your storage for glycogen, aka your cup, was empty, the initial carbohydrates taken in will be either used right away, or if not needed, stored in your glycogen storage tanks. As you eat more and more carbs, the storage tank (the cup of coffee) starts to fill up. Once you reach the carrying capacity of the storage tanks, and you continue to eat carbohydrates, it’s as if you were to keep pouring more coffee into an already full cup. The coffee will eventually over flow and you have this spillage. With carbohydrates, this “spillage” is the glucose that will be stored away to be used as energy in times of need. In a nutshell, if you keep ingesting carbs when your glycogen storage tanks are full, then the excess carbohydrates will be stored as fat, if there is no immediate use for them at that moment. Your body is very efficient so it will store this energy instead of wasting it if it’s not needed.


3) The 3 'R's – Retain, Recover, Rebuild

Replenishing glycogen stores after intense exercise is vitally important to not only retain what you have, but to recover and rebuild your muscle tissue. In order for your body to retain, rebuild, and recover, you need to provide the body with the fuel it needs. If you decide to not fuel your body with carbohydrates, then the body will compensate by “stealing” nutrients from other areas to create glucose (the energy it needs). It’s like trying to build a log house without lumber. You have everything in place, all the builders are there and ready to go, but there’s nothing to build with. So, instead of wasting the day, and sending the builders home, you steal lumber from another area in order to start your building process. Basically, if you don’t have enough glycogen/glucose present, the body will steal protein from your hard earned muscle tissue by breaking it down to acquire the amino acids. The term for this process is known as GLUCONEOGENESIS. In layman terms, gluconeogenesis is when your body will use other sources, like PROTEIN from your muscle tissue, in order to manufacture glucose for the body to use as energy. Your body is literally “eating” your muscle tissue for energy, so we need to avoid this.