Carbohydrates Explained

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates or carbs for short, are macronutrients which provide a source energy to our bodies. They are the predominant fuel source which will be tapped into during high intensity training sessions and unless you are in a ketogenic state, glucose (what carbs break down into during breakdown) will be the only fuel utilized by your brain and nervous system under normal conditions. [If a non-normal condition arises which requires more energy or carbohydrates are not available and the body is required to break down another macronutrient for energy, this will present a different energy-utilization scenario for your body.]

Typically, in a carb based diet, carbohydrates make up roughly 40-65% of the diet’s caloric requirements. Individuals can drop this amount significantly and still have enough energy to perform, but this again is based entirely on the activity level, body size, activities to be performed and level of adaption to the activity. It is not advisable to under fuel for activities, though people who do their own diet and nutrition often do this, unintentionally.

While ketogenic diets such as Athletic Ketosis does not rely heavily on carbohydrates, even these diets can utilize carbs in a pre-workout fashion to fuel high-intensity strength training exercises.

Part of the reason carbs got a bad reputation is because not all carbohydrates is created equal. Within the current state of American diets, about 45-55% of the carbohydrates people consume are in the forms of high-fructose corn syrups and sucrose, two types of sugars (carbs) which are the least ideal for most people, especially those who are not using this carb to fuel performance.

 

What are the types of Carbohydrates?

A common question you might hear or be wondering is: What kinds of carbs are there?

  1. Polysaccharides – this is a complex carbohydrate which can consist of many monosaccharides (simple sugars) linked together
    1. Starch– included potatoes, wheat, corn and rice.
    2. Fiber – This is a particular type of carb which cannot be digested by the body but provides numerous benefits, low caloric yield, and high satiety. It is broken downs into two types and the recommendation is to aim for an intake of 20-30 grams per day.
      1. Soluble – This type can help lower blood pressure and glucose levels and can commonly be found in oatmeal, bran, root vegetables, lentils, some fruits and nuts.
      2. Insoluble – This type can help move food/ruffage through your digestive tracts, preventing constipation and improving regularity. Common examples include oats, rye, barley, brown rice, some vegetables, whole gain and wheat.
    3. Glycogen – This is a long term storage option for the body that is produced within the muscle and liver. (The brain and stomach can also produce glycogen during glycogenesis).
  2. Oligosaccharides – These are one of the components of fiber, typically found in plants, which are said to have many health benefits.
    1. Found in many vegetables such as onions, garlic, sunflower, asparagus.
  3. Disaccharides – A disaccharide is a type of carbohydrate consisting of two monosaccharides (simple sugars) linked together.
    1. Maltose – this is a combination of two simple sugars (glucose and glucose) and is found in candies and many cereals.
    2. Sucrose – this is a combination of two simple sugars (fructose and glucose) and this is known as table sugar – often coming from sugar cane.
    3. Lactose – this is a combination of two simple sugars (glucose and galactose) and is found in milk.
  4. Monosaccharides – there are the most basic and simple of the carbohydrates. They are often referred to as single sugars and are used to form bigger carbs (such as disaccharides).
    1. Galactose – examples include dried figs, milk, many beans, many yogurts.
    2. Fructose – examples include honey, fruit juices, some sweeter wines, types of molasses and corn syrups.
    3. Glucose – examples include fruit juices, candies, honey, agave nectar, chocolate, energy drinks.

As a note glucose and galactose have an exceptionally high glycemic index as compared to fructose which raises the blood sugar slower and at a milder rate (lower glycemic index). Sugar alcohols resemble both mono and disaccharides but are not either of them.

 

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Carbohydrates yield 4 kcal/energy per gram. For example, a candy carb with 30 grams of carbs yields, just from these carbs, 120 calories worth of energy.

 

In conclusion: Carbohydrates these can be viewed through the lens of sugars, starches and fiber.

Sugars are the simple carbohydrates and can be found in syrups, honey, table sugar, baked goods and juices.

Starches are the complex carb storage form in plants and can be found in breads, rice, pastas, corn and potatoes.

Fiber is a structural plan polysaccharide and is found in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, oats, breads and whole grain products.

When I am in Ketosis – What happens to the carbs I DO eat?

When you are in a state of nutritional ketosis you will remain in this state unless you fall over the carbohydrate threshold and kick yourself out of ketogenesis.

What happens to the carbohydrates you consume while safely WITHIN ketosis?

I answered this recently: [Transcript]

Individual: The longer I eat under 35g carbs the sooner I burn fat during the day?
I’m not sure how to word this but the sooner the carbs burn up the sooner my body fat and healthy fat is used as fuel and help build muscle and lean me out?

Leon: When you are in ketosis and not over your carb limit – your body will use fat for energy even in the presence of carbs. So as you walk, breathe, function – fat is being utilized to fuel this, not carbs. Fat, both in a ketogenic state and in a non ketogenic state, is used to fuel low intensity movements – whereas carbs are preferred for high intensity exercises – so if you have carbs available it will eat through that before going to fat. But to answer your question – and I really mean this – just stay under your allotted carb amount. If I thought staying under 5g would help you burn more calories, or in an amount that is significant enough to relevant, I would tell you to do so. You must also remember that we are thinking marathon not sprint – just stay under your total carbs and you will be maximizing your potential fat burning, especially along with IF, which I recommend ofcourse at 14 hours for women and 16. Remember – caloric deficit is what causes fat/weight loss. Ketogenic state just let’s us use a fuel that helps enhance this objective. A caloric surplus in ketosis is still weight gain. There are some functions that may still require glucose and the carbs you consume will go to meeting those demands. I believe eating 20-35g carbs is healthier and safer than 0-15g total. Some of the more elite ketogenic athletes I coach consume carbs pre exercise as they lift for 3 hours at extreme levels of volume and weight and use this carb to fuel their workout. The carbs are eaten and they are still in a ketogenic state. I ofcourse do not recommend doing this without guidance from a dietary perspective. But I mention this as so far to say that their fat and weight loss is not inhibited. Ketosis has many benefits besides an acceleration of fat utilization and fat metabolism – but in simple terms.. Don’t worry about those carbs especially if you lift. And even if you don’t – don’t hurt your diet and long term sustainability in a mad scramble to min/max yourself to lowest carbs possible.

 

The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to suffer in the creation of your meal plan and miss out on potential foods you enjoy, just to drop to under 20g carbs -> there is no need for this as you are not gaining any relevant benefits. Just stay in a ketogenic state, drink water, manage your electrolytes, check in with your coach and enjoy life.