Carbs before Marbs?
Popular diet plans, such as the Atkins diet and The Dukan diet, are known for extolling the virtues of a low-carbohydrate intake as a way to not only lose weight but also improve fitness performance.
Yet, other nutritionists argue that carbohydrates offer vital health benefits and are crucial to maintaining physical fitness and performance.
What exactly are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. There are three types – starch, sugar and fibre. Starch is found in cereals, rice, potatoes, pasta and flour. Sugar is found in fruit, vegetables, honey and milk. Fibre is from food derived from plants, such as vegetables with skins on, wholegrain bread and pulses (beans and lentils).
Starches and sugars are both digestible carbohydrates and, once they are broken down into their simplest forms, they are quickly absorbed by the body. Our bodies do not break fibre down during digestion.
Why do we need carbohydrates?
According to the NHS, carbs should be the body’s main source of energy in a healthy diet. Carbs are broken down into glucose, which is used by your body for energy, fuelling all of your fitness and physical activities. Exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel.
The NHS also explains that carbohydrates contain fewer calories gram for gram than fat and fibre-packed foods can help with weight loss. Diets high in fibre are also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
What is carb-loading?
Carbohydrate loading (carb-loading) is something many endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, do to maximise the storage of glycogen, or energy, in the muscles and liver. It is believed that carbohydrate stores can be maximised over two days before a big event through high carbohydrate intakes.
What are the benefits of low-carb diets?
Certain carbs can make you gain water weight and even fat – especially, foods that are high in sugar.
According to some nutritionists, fewer carbohydrates lead to lower levels of insulin, which in turn lead to fat being released from the body’s stores. In theory, with no carbohydrate intake, the body uses fat and protein (muscle) stores as its main energy source – a process known as ketosis – which will help your body become leaner. Some experts also believe low-carb diets allow for sustained performance with low-intensity aerobic exercise.
Is it dangerous to eat no carbs at all?
According to the NHS, ketosis as a result of a low carbohydrate diet can be accompanied by headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability in the short term. Severely restricting your carb intake is also not recommended because many sources, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, are needed for nutritional benefits.
The Fight Fit conclusion…
Your body needs carbohydrates, but just make sure you eat the right type and the right amount, as part of a balanced diet. Avoid sugary foods and go for healthy carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, potatoes, vegetables, fruits and lower fat dairy products.