What's so bad about "quality carbs"?

“Carbs are bad for us” is the message I repeatedly hear these days from the media. Not quite true. While that message might be applicable to some people who eat a lot of candy, drink a lot of soda pop, and fill up on refined sugar, (quality) carbohydrate-rich foods are actually important sources of muscle-fuel for active, athletic people. Carbohydrates enhance stamina and endurance during hard exercise. That’s why marathon runners “carbo-load.”

Too many athletes do not even know what carbohydrates are. One marathon runner claimed he “stayed away from carbs” —yet, he routinely ate oatmeal for breakfast, whole wheat wraps for lunch, and sweet potato with dinner. He failed to understand that oatmeal, wraps, and potatoes are carbohydrates. He was actually limiting his intake of refined sugars; there is a big difference!

     Carbohydrates include both refined and natural sugars and starches. High quality, nutrient-rich carbs are in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and milk (lactose). These foods all digest into the simple sugar glucose. Glucose travels in the blood and, with the help of insulin, is taken up for fuel by the muscles. Athletes who restrict bananas, pasta, whole grain breads and other quality carbs generally pay the price—“dead legs” and inability to perform at their best.

Here's what he needed to know to resolve any carbohydrate confusion——

• Carbohdyrates include sugars and starches. They are biochemically similar. For example, an unripe banana (or any fruit) is starchy. As it ripens, it becomes sweeter; the starch converts into sugar. In comparison, peas (and other vegetables) are sweet when young and their sugar converts into starch as they mature.

• All carbs—both sugars and starches—are equal sources of muscle fuel—but they are different in that refined sugar offers just fuel (calories) but no vitamins or minerals (spark plugs to keep your body's engine running smoothly).

• Regardless of whether you eat a starchy potato or sugary candy, the end product that fuels your body is the simple sugar glucose. Some of that glucose feeds your brain; some of it fuels your muscles; and some gets stored in muscles as glycogen, ready to be used for fuel during hard and extended exercise. Very little of the excess calories of carbohydrate gets stored as body fat, because the body preferentially burns carbs (and stores any excess calories of fat).

The bottom line: Fill up on the quality carbs in Wheaties, rye bread, graham crackers, carrots, beets, apples, and all types of whole grain foods, fruits and veggies—but limit your intake of sugary sweets. By eating quality carbs, you'll pave the path to better health at the end of your lifespan ... now that sounds like a wise investment!

 

For more information on how to eat wisely and choose an effective daily diet:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook