Many of us have heard of Carb free diets, Low carb diets ketogenic diets etc. All which have one thing in common. NO or LOW carbohydrates. Many times we have been told by male gym ‘junkie’ friends (Jacqui’s brother) to give up carbohydrates, they are bad for you, carbs will make you fat… and so on. Though, throughout our time spent at university studying (especially for Jacqui’s upcoming exam in 2 weeks!) we have been taught otherwise. Being healthy isn’t about losing the most weight; it is about giving your body the right fuel it needs to run to its full extent.

In saying this, how are carbohydrates used in our body? In particular how does it affect muscle?

Carbohydrates provide the body and all the cells with a source of fuel and energy (energy compound is known as ATP) that is required to carry out daily activities and exercise. Any extra energy is stored in the body until it is needed.

Within our muscle cells (muscle fibre) we use a process (called bioenergetics) which is where cells convert food into energy that can be used by these muscle cells and other cells of the body. The breakdown of bonds in food we eat creates energy. The food is not used directly as fuel for the cells function; instead the energy contained in the bonds of the food molecules is released and stored as ATP (fuel or energy).

When resting, our body needs energy for cells to maintain function. Where does this energy come from? The breakdown of carbohydrates and fats! Protein usually provides little energy for resting metabolism. Maybe you have heard of high-intensity interval training… well this short intense exercise needs carbohydrates to generate ATP. Though during long endurance sports, the body uses carbohydrates and fat to produce the energy.

But how do carbohydrates become ATP? Carbohydrates from our diet are converted to glucose; glucose is stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver. Through many stages of complex reactions like glycolysis, the kerb cycle and so on these glucose energy stores become the prime energy source for our cells.

To sum it up carbohydrates are an ideal source of energy for the body. This is because they can be converted more readily into glucose, the form of sugar that’s transported and used by the body, rather than proteins or fats.

Even so, a diet too high in carbohydrates can upset the delicate balance of our body’s blood sugar level, resulting in fluctuations in energy and mood which leave you feeling irritated and tired.

It is better to balance your intake of carbohydrates with protein, a little fat and fibre.

Our foods contain two types of carbohydrates complex and simple, Complex carbohydrates are often referred to as starch or starchy foods. They are found naturally in foods and also refined in processed foods. Simple carbohydrates are also known as sugars. They also exist in either a natural or refined form.

So what should you choose? Instead of labelling carbohydrates as simple or complex, look at how whole or processed the food actually is. Unrefined or whole-grain carbohydrates found in products like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and bran cereals are digested slowly and contain vitamins, minerals and fibre which promote health. Fibre and nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits and beans, which also contain carbohydrates, also make excellent choices for health and weight loss. Try to limit your intake of highly processed, sweetened and sugary foods and choose the most wholesome and natural foods possible for your health and weight-loss goals.