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What Are Carbohydrates Used For & Are They Essential?

When it comes to exercising, our body requires fuel or energy in order to properly function for such an extended period of intense activity. When we are in a resting state, the amount of energy which our body uses is called our Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR).

This is the amount of calories our body uses on a normal daily basis in order to function at the minimum performance. Our body uses calories for fuel because calories the same way a car would use gasoline to function.

When we exercise, our body uses 3 different nutrients as a source for fuel:

? Fat

? Carbohydrates

? Glucose


When we perform low intensity exercise, our body tends to rely mostly on our glucose storage for fuel. However, when we increase our exercise intensity and duration to a higher amount, the body will begin to use our carbohydrates for fuel because of the issue that when exercise intensity increases, so does oxidation requirements.

When our body requires more oxygen, it uses glucose to help with the oxidation increase to become sufficient due to the nature that at such high levels of oxidation in the body, fat cannot provide the energy or nutrients for ATP synthesis to occur or the regeneration of ATP for our body for fuel.

Burning Carbs as a Fuel Source



When we exercise on a sufficient amount of carbohydrates, our body will have plenty of fuel to continue exercising at a high intensity for a longer period of time. The carbohydrates act as an extra storage of fuel or energy for our body to use in order to keep normal function levels and even maintain stable at an intense exercise level above normal, which occurs when we exercise in almost any form of activity in which heart rate levels are above normal.

So since carbohydrates are essential for our body and for intense physical activity, the next thing is to determine how much carbohydrates one needs for his/her body. This is entirely based on the person and the amount of intense physical activity the person performs on a regular day to day basis. If someone only performs low intensity exercise, this person will require much lower levels of carbohydrates when compared to someone who has a much higher level of physical activity or intensity.

When we exercise for an extended period of time without carbohydrates, one will notice that performance will drop quickly and it will become much harder to exercise for an extended period of time. However, when we have an adequate amount of carbohydrates, our body will be able to maintain high levels of activity due to a surplus of fuel or energy by being able to use carbohydrates as energy or fuel after our glucose and fat has been used.

Different Activity Levels = Different Carb Intake


A person who performs little to no physical exercise and has a sedentary job that involves almost no physical activity during the day will require the minimum carbohydrate intake in order to maintain function. This would be around 1-2g of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.

This is an extremely low level of carbohydrate consumption. The average person should be consuming around 2-4g of Carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight if this person is someone who plays a sport/athlete or performs a higher level of physical activity daily. However, someone who is a competitive athlete and trains for multiple hours a day beyond the typical athlete, say someone who swims or runs for 4+ hours a day, will require a much higher intake of carbohydrates. This can be around 5-10g per pound of bodyweight.

The amount will vary per person based off of physical activity and bodyweight.

Without a sufficient amount of carbs, after a few days of intense activity, it will become much harder to function and our energy levels will drop to almost none. .

So when it comes down to basic functions, yes, carbohydrates are essential for our body to continue performing at our normal levels and beyond normal in order to exercise. It is important to consume a proper amount of carbohydrates daily based off of your exercise levels.

Take Out the Guess Work

If you are unsure of how much your current carbohydrate intake is it, try tracking your food in the MyFitnessPal app to get an idea of your current intake. If you feel tired most of the days, try increasing your carbohydrate intake by a couple grams and see how much of a difference it can make on your energy levels.

If you are trying to stay at a certain caloric intake and don’t think you can increase your levels of carbohydrates, try reducing your fat intake and using those extra calories to add more grams of carbohydrates into your diet.

I promise you’ll have much more energy on higher levels of carbohydrates and lower fat when compared to higher fat and lower carbohydrates. Mess around with your intake until you feel you can function on high exercise activity while still performing your normal daily routines.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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Logan Berman

Logan Berman

Writer and expert

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