The Benefits of Carbohydrates
With many diets out there from paleo to gluten-free to everything else, one diet will always claim to be ultimately superior to the rest in regards to building muscle and burning fat. What most of the diets have in common with one another, is how they use carbohydrates for building muscle and burning fat.
A diet will almost always be set up one of two ways: high protein, high fats and low carbohydrates, or high protein low fat and high carbohydrates. Although in the end based off of the total number of calories consumed per day, both diets can yield the same results of either building muscle, losing fat or even gaining fat. The diets results will be based directly on how much you are eating and how much energy you’re expending per day (exercise and daily physical movements).
By now it’s very well known by almost everyone that protein is responsible for building muscle within the body. We all know or have a rough understanding that when we consume protein, the body will repair and build muscle mass, which is why many athletes and bodybuilders are always so focused on consuming enough protein in the day. What most people fail to see is that carbohydrates are also just as important in regards to building muscle and losing fat.
Effects of Carbohydrates
When we eat foods that contain carbohydrates, our body will break down those carbs into smaller sugars, such as glucose, fructose and galactose. These sugars will then get absorbed by the body to be used as energy. However, any abundance of these sugars will not be used immediately and the body will end up storing these nutrients instead. Glucose, when consumed in an abundance, will get stored in the muscles and liver in what’s known as glycogen.
However, once our glycogen stores are completely filled up, our body will store the excess glycogen or energy as fat.
Glycogen is the most used energy during exercise and we use it during high intensity, short burst workouts. An example of when glycogen is used would be during quick sprints. When we simply run for an hour at the same pace nonstop, our body will use the glycogen differently to help break down fat storages into energy the muscles can use to continue exercising or running.
What happens when we lack carbohydrates?
Since the body requires energy 24/7 to continue functioning, we are constantly using up energy from carbohydrates to maintain a daily routine. When the body lacks carbohydrates but still requires energy, our body will begin breaking down protein into glucose to create more energy so we can continue doing whatever it is we are doing.
The reason why carbohydrates are so important is to prevent this breakdown of protein so that our body won’t diminish our muscle cells for energy. By having sufficient carbohydrates, the body will continue to function as needed with plenty of energy while avoiding the possibility of losing muscle mass due to muscle tissue being used as energy. If you are an athlete or bodybuilder, having enough carbohydrates per day will be very important if you wish to continue making as much progress towards building muscle as best as you can.
Carbohydrates are like protein and contain 4 calories per gram consume. According to many sports and nutrition researchers, the body can store around 350g of carbohydrates (1400 calories) in the form of muscle glycogen, as well as an additional 90g (360 calories) in the liver. This equates to 440g of carbohydrates or 1760 calories stored within the body on average. (Note: this can also vary greatly per person based off of weight; a 150-lb male will store less when compared to a 250-lb male). The larger the body mass is, the greater the carbohydrate storage we will have, however, the greater the body mass the greater the carbohydrates use will be for energy to function.
If you ever wish to exercises for a long duration of time, having carbohydrates and enough of them is going to ultimately be the factor that will decide how intense and how long you can endure such exercise. Carbohydrates are found in two main types: Simple and Complex.
Simple carbs are ones that are absorbed and converted into energy quickly and are found in fruits and some sports drink. Complex carbohydrates will take longer to be digested and absorbed into the body, which means they will break down slower while providing energy at a slower rate as well. These are found in sources like bread, rice and pasta (fiber is also found in these foods but fiber cannot be digested and used for energy within the body).
Starch will be broken down and stored to be used as energy when needed, however, too much starchy carbs consumed and stored will result in a fat increase.
So how much carbs should one consume?
I’d say around 60-65% of your diet should come from carbs, with 1-1.2g of protein per pound of bodyweight, and the remaining calories coming from fats as a byproduct of proteins and carbs. This means that if you weigh 150-lbs and consume 2000 calories per day at 1g of protein per pound, you will be consuming: 600 calories from protein, 1200 calories from carbohydrates and the remaining 200 calories from fat.
This gives you the macronutrients of 150g of protein, 300g of carbohydrates and 22-23g of fat per day. This is not a recommended diet for everyone but rather an example of how to set up a diet focused on carbohydrates.