Carbohydrates get a bad rap these days, but they are very important for people who live active lifestyles. A reduced intake of carbohydrates leads to a slowed metabolism, lower levels of muscle building hormones and higher levels of stress hormones, which can derail your training, leading to muscle loss and fatigue.
Carbohydrates, or “starchy” foods are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley and other grain products. It’s a common misconception that grain products like bread, cereal and pasta are fattening. They’re only fattening when we add condiments like butter, jelly, and mayonnaise. Products such as cakes, doughnuts and muffins are fattening because of the added oil and sugar when they’re manufactured. Grain products can be broken down into two types.
Whole Grains (Complex Carbohydrates)
These products contain the entire grain kernel, the part of the grain that contains all of the vitamins, minerals and fiber. These foods are characteristically brown, or light in color and contain high fiber content, as well as slow absorption rates that do not have a profound effect on blood sugar levels.
Key words to help you identify whole grains are “whole wheat,” “whole grain,” “100% wheat,” “multi-grain.” Another trick to identify whole grains is to look at the fiber content on the nutrition label, as whole grains inherently contain high amounts of fiber. Most of your diet should be comprised of these types of carbohydrates.
Refined Grains (Simple Carbohydrates)
These products have been milled to remove the wheat and germ. The reason food manufacturers do this is because it produces a finer texture and it improves the shelf life of the product. The problem is that this process removes the healthiest part of the grain, the elements that contain all of the vitamins and fiber. These foods are characteristically white, or light in color.
While it is important for your diet to consist primarily of whole grains, due to the enhanced composition of nutrients and slow absorption rate, it is beneficial to consume refined or simple carbohydrates post exercise.
During the exercise or workout, your muscles use glucose (available fuel) and glycogen (stored fuel) for energy. When you use up both of these energy sources, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which is very harmful to the body because it causes stress and catabolic effects on muscle tissue. However, simple carbs help restore the muscle glycogen that was depleted during exercise and they release insulin which helps move vital nutrients through the blood stream, preventing muscle breakdown while promoting efficient recovery.