Nutrition 101: Carbohydrates

Nutrition 101: Carbohydrates

You can believe me, when I tell you… I love carbs. Look at all our amazing healthy recipes. Carbs are essential for our body and therefore we also cook a lot with them. 

Carbohydrates are often considered the “bad guy” in weight loss, or even the reason why people gain more fat. I am talking from a performance point of view and they have a lot of good sides – especially for athletes.

Many people always ask me: “What are good and healthy carbohydrates?” “Which bad carbs should you avoid?” 

We will give you all the information and tips for proper carbs consumption.

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Before we go into detail, we go through following points:

  • What are carbohydrates? 
  • Are carbohydrates fattening? 
  • Good and bad carbohydrates: the overview 
  • Why are carbohydrates important for athletes?
  • Food without carbohydrates 
  • The best recipes without carbohydrates

The topic of carbs is on everyone’s lips nowadays: some love their “carbs” in their everyday noodles, bread and potatoes and they cannot imagine a life “without” – the others demonize carbohydrates as unnecessary weight gainers and look for ways to substitute them or at least to reduce the daily content in the diet. We both work in the sporting goods industry and this is almost a daily topic at one or the other table. Our society changed its daily nutrition and the food industry as well. But guys, no worries, this is not a miracle.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the main energy supplier of our body and drivers for the work of our brain. Carbohydrates belong to the so-called macronutrients like protein and fat and form the largest part of our food. This is already enough to realize how important they are.


What do carbohydrates consist of? 

Carbohydrates – also saccharides is correct as term – consist of sugar molecules. They are converted in the body, more precisely in the gastrointestinal tract, to glucose and then used by the body as energy. And guys, now the best part: Compared to fat, carbohydrates have less than half the calories for the same performance for the body. 

What function do carbohydrates have?

Unlike fats, carbohydrates can be used by our body relatively quickly and are therefore an indispensable energy component of our diet. Most of the carbohydrate energy goes into the body’s metabolic rate (breathing, heartbeat, metabolism, brain activity & more).

Without them, it would be much harder for us to adequately meet this vital energy demand. Carbohydrates are by far the most important source of energy in the brain. A study by Tufts University (USA) showed that people who completely eliminated carbohydrates performed worse in memory tests. The intestines and skin also use carbohydrates as an energy source.

Carbohydrates can be stored?

Too much glucose converts muscle and liver into the multiple sugar glycogen, which acts as an energy store. When the glycogen deposits are filled, the body converts excess carbohydrates into fat and stores them in the fatty tissue. Thus, by the excessive consumption of carbohydrates an unwanted weight gain is possible.

Carbohydrates serve as building substance

Carbohydrates are part of the so-called extracellular matrix, which fills the space between the body’s cells. It mainly occurs in bones, cartilage and connective tissue. In addition, carbohydrates help to control the water and mineral balance and are involved in lipid metabolism.

Where are carbs in it?

Large carbohydrate suppliers are diverse cereals from which we make food – for example, wheat, rye, oats, rice, corn.

Consequently, many carbohydrates are found in bread, pasta, cakes, etc. Lentils, peas and beans are among the most important carbohydrate suppliers in legumes.

Important: Fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains also contain valuable fiber – so long-chain carbohydrates, which have many positive effects in the body!

Are there different carbohydrates? 

Depending on the number of sugar components, carbs are divided into three groups:

  1. Simple sugars (monosaccharides): The most important representatives are glucose (glucose) and fructose.
  2. Double sugar (disaccharides): This mainly includes table sugar as well as malt and milk sugar. Single and double sugars are found mainly in sweets and chocolate. They taste sweet but, with the exception of fruit, are usually mere sources of energy that contain no vitamins or minerals and can quickly raise blood sugar levels.
  3. Multiple sugar (polysaccharides): The most important polysaccharide is starch (e.g in potatoes). However, multiple sugars are also found in cereals, whole grains and legumes. Multiple sugars are tasteless and not water soluble.

Sweets cause blood sugar to rise sharply

The carbohydrates in gummy bears or chocolate consist of double sugars that enter the bloodstream very quickly. This means that the carbohydrates in all sweets are quickly digestible, but have no longer an effect on satiety, even though sweets have many calories. The sharp rise in blood sugar levels results in a high insulin release. As a result, blood sugar drops again after only a short time – some people get a ravenous appetite immediately.

What are complex carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates with multiple sugars last longer – such as whole grains or potatoes. Their molecular structure is longer than simple sugars one.

As a result, the body needs more time to break it down and gain energy from it: this keeps blood sugar levels constant and saturates better! In addition, the cravings are slowed down.

What need for carbs do we then have?

The American Society for Nutrition says: In normal diet, about 50 percent of the calories fed should come from carbs.

Whether carbohydrates make you fat, however, depends on the energy balance of the entire day. Even at what time of day you eat them, can influence your body.

Are carbohydrates fatteners?

I think this is now an important part! People gain weight through food in different ways!

First, by eating more fat than they use throughout the day – then they accumulate in fat tissue.

On the other hand, if they consume a lot of carbs. The body converts them into glycogen, which is then stored in the liver and muscle cells. When these stores are full, it transforms the excess into fat that is deposited in the fatty tissue.

How effectively the body does this depends on the SCD-1 gene in the liver – the less you have, the better.

That means translated: Everyone uses carbs different. One of them gains from or with carbs faster than another person. And lucky ones again not at all! But the most important point is the energy balance at the end of the day!

Why are carbohydrates important for athletes?

Energy equals energy? Wrong thought! Although proteins and carbohydrates have the same calories per gram, they are metabolized differently by the body.

Carbs are the muscle gasoline for athletes. The pure energy production from fat and protein would lead during a load to a performance collapse, because these nutrients cannot be metabolized so efficiently.

Sports physicians therefore also recommend hobby athletes basic foods for everyday life that are rich in complex carbohydrates – such as muesli, potatoes, noodles, rice or bread.

“Carbohydrate-rich foods are necessary for health and performance,” Mitch Kanter 

How do athletes best use carbohydrates?

“Carbohydrates are still the most important source of energy in most sports,” says Prof. Christine Graf from the German Sport University Cologne. “Whether they come from corn, rice or wheat, plays a minor role. The relationship is important. “

For the endurance athlete in the recreational area, the sports physician recommends a ratio of two-thirds complex and one-third simple carbohydrates. So it does not just have to be whole grains.

For runners, for example, carbohydrates are the best source of energy! But it must be the right one at the right time – for maximum performance! The only drawback: Our body can store only about 370 (in the untrained) to 600 grams (in the case of trained) carbs in the form of glycogen. This amount is enough for intensive continuous loads of 60 to 90 minutes, then you have to refuel again.

Good carbohydrates are mainly in prepared whole wheat pasta. Because they are slowly digested and ensure a constant blood sugar level – the level of performance remains constant. In addition, whole grains, vegetables (cooked) cereal flakes, rice and dried fruits are good sources.

About two hours before your exercise, easily digestible carbs in the form of a cereal-dairy mix are beneficial.

On the other hand, soft-cooked pasta and potatoes, sweets and white rice are unfavorable. Through them the blood sugar shoots up and sinks down quickly – during the stress it can come thereby to a hypoglycemia

What should you eat during sports?

Your carbohydrate stores are filled well? Then you can easily withstand loads of up to one hour without eating. If the training session or competition lasts longer, you should start eating continuously (every 20 to 30 minutes) about one to one and a half hours after the start.

In order to avoid a drop in performance, 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour are recommended – one banana contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates.

But of course there are also specially tuned energy bars. Important during competition: Drink plenty of water (approx. 250 ml) and test your power snacks in training before a competition for their digestibility for you.

Food without carbohydrates

Foods without carbs are those that have less than one gram of usable carbohydrates per 100 grams of weight. There are many foods (almost) without carbohydrates, in our list we call you the most important:

No or hardly any carbohydrates can be found in Seafood without breading, shrimp, lobster, crayfish shellfish; Meat, eggs, hard and sliced ​​cheese, green vegetables such as salads, cucumbers, spinach and chard; Water, unsweetened tea, light drinks

You will not find much carbs in

Mascarpone, processed cheese, camembert, gorgonzola, roquefort, avocado, kale, citrus fruits, berries, guavas, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, milk, yoghurt, quark, buttermilk, kefir, prosciutto, tomatoes, onions

Some carbohydrates, on the other hand, are found in root vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. Most fruits contain fructose and thus often a lot of carbs. Low values ​​include strawberries, grapefruit, apricots, oranges and raspberries.

I hope this post gives you a slight overview about the importance of carbs for our bodies. We need carbs during the day to provide energy to the brain and muscles. In addition, they are in most foods at least to a small extent anyway and should not be avoided. It is completely ok to vary your meals and to cook on some days lower on carbs. The most important thing is the balance and the ratio to carbs and fat within your body.

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