Carbohydrates: The Most Mis-Understood Fuel Source

Recent research has proven that the body prefers to convert to body fat the calories from fat over the calories from carbohydrates. All carbohydrates have only 4 calories per gram, which the body prefers to use directly for energy.       --Dr. Fred Hatfield and Daniel Gastelu
For many individuals who workout several times a week, psychologically, a workout starts when the first rep and or exercise  takes place . However, according to Drs. John Ivy and Robert Portman, authors of The Performance Zone, if you redefine when your workout begins, you can jump start the refueling process which can deliver big benefits to improving your performance. According to the late Dr. Stuart Berger the author of How To Be Your Own Nutritionist, to perform at peak levels  you  must  work on something else first as intensely as you do your workout routine.  Based on the remarks above by two of the nations most prominent sports nutritional experts, a question comes to mind.  That question is:
When does your workout routine actually begin?
For many aspiring health enthusiast their workout routine begins when they consume or take their favorite:

 1. Energy supplements.
  2. Drink a cup of coffee.
  3. Take a fat burner that increases metabolism right before working out.
  4.  Gulp down their favorite sports drink laced with caffeine and or other metabolic  enhancers .
  5. Take a scoop of their favorite protein powder .
  6. Load up on sugary snacks and drinks.
  7. Or simply start right into their exercise or workout routine.
While many of these approaches will give you a quick burst of energy, they will not sustain those energy levels.  In fact, you will find that your zest and zeal will plummet rapidly. Exercise physiologist today know that a well-thought out food or nutritional plan is your best way to jump start and sustain the energy  you need to workout at peak levels. In practical terms, this is when your exercise or workout routine actually begins.  In fact, according to Dr. Robert Hass past President of the American College of Sports Nutrition: Your success depends to a large degree on how, what and when you feed your body.
 This is the answer to the above question and is what you need to work on mastering as intensely as your physical workout routine. Based on past and present research you should make sure that you understand how important carbohydrates are to what could be referred to as fueling the body’s chemical exercise processes.

Carb Power!

Although carbohydrates have taken a beating in the news over the last few years, the truth is, they are the primary source of fuel the body uses for a myriad of body functions.  While fats and protein can be converted to energy, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel.  In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that ingestion of carbohydrates before, during and after working out, especially in routines that are over 30 to 45 minutes long, shows that carbohydrates can substantially improve performance.  Studies have also indicated that carbohydrates enhance recovery after exercise and also helps preserve lean muscle tissue. 
To examine the effects of no carbohydrate feedings (PP) , pre-exercise feedings (CP), carbohydrate feedings during exercise and the combination of carbohydrate feedings before and during exercise (CC), researchers at Ohio State University’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory found that when carbohydrates were consumed  beforehand, the rate of carbohydrate oxidation (a chemical reaction that increases the oxygen content of a substance) was much higher during exercise versus no carbohydrates.  These researchers also found that total work output was 19% to 46% higher compared to 0.05% without pre-carbohydrate feedings.  Time to exhaustion was 44% for feeding before and during exercise, 32% during exercise and 18% for pre-feeding before exercise as compared to 0.05 without any carbohydrate.  
These study results confirmed that performance is substantially improved by carbohydrate feedings before, during and in combination (before and during) workout routines.

How Carbs Work

When you consume carbohydrates they are broken down to form glucose.  Glucose, also referred to as blood sugar, is the fuel the body uses to produce energy.  A portion of the carbs you consume are immediately converted to glucose and some are converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissues.  This stored glycogen serves as a backup source of fuel the body can use when glucose levels get low.
The Exercise Paradox
Dr. Ivy and Dr. Portman, whom I spoke of earlier, compare working out to driving a car and the residual effects of wear and tear that occurs over time.  For example, each time you drive fuel supply decreases, carbon builds up around the pistons, and the wear on the engine parts increase.  Each time you workout your fuel supply decreases, waste builds up and the wear and tear on body systems and muscle tissue increases.  This analogy is critical to understanding why your workout routine starts and centers of your food intake.  
You must first for all intents and purposes chemically exercise your body systems nutritionally to be successfully physically.  By ingesting the right amount of carbs throughout the day, as well as before and during exercise you are assured of re-stocking or re-establishing waning glucose and glycogen levels to meet energy demands, as well as to help spare lean muscle tissue breakdown.
Determining Your Carbohydrate Needs
As cited by Dr. Susan Kleiner, Ph.D.R.D. and Maggie Greenwood Robinson, two of the countries most notable nutritionists, ideally for most physically active people, 60% to 65% of their calories should come from carbohydrates.  To determine your individual requirements per day based on a 2000-calorie diet:
First: Multiply your total daily calories by 65% (.65).  For example,  2000 calories X .65 = 1,300.
Second: Divide your daily carb calories by 4, the number of grams in each carbohydrate.  1,300 / 4 = 425 grams of carbohydrates per day.
This represents what your daily carbohydrate intake should be.
A Special Note: You can also determine what your individual daily carbohydrate intake should be by consuming 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight.

Storing Glycogen

As mentioned earlier, stored carbohydrate in the form of glycogen serves as a back-up source of fuel when glucose levels get low. Current data indicates that as your oxidized carbohydrate levels decline and fatigue begins to set in, the body shifts to using stored carbohydrate (glycogen) for energy.  So, the more carbohydrate deposited in muscle tissue beforehand, the longer you can perform.  Typically, on average the body will store about 1,200 calories of carbohydrates in your muscles and 400 calories in your liver.
Special Note: It is important to remember that how efficiently your body is at storing glycogen in your muscles is directly related to the amount of carbs you consume and what kind of shape you are in , meaning how well you are trained. This is why nutritional experts suggest that 60% to 65% of the calories that you take in should be composed of carbohydrates to maximize performance.

To Carb or Not To Carb

Despite the advantages that carbs offer, many hard working exercise enthusiast limit their carb intake.  This due to the fact that carbs not used immediately for fuel, or stored as glycogen, is stored as fat.  To minimize this negative aspect of carbohydrates, exercise physiologist, nutritional and sports medicine experts recommend consuming the majority of your carbohydrates from complex carbs.  Complex carbs include unrefined whole grain foods (pasta, whole wheat, oatmeal, barley, brown rice, buckwheat) fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and soybeans.  An overwhelming body of past and new research indicates that complex carbs are metabolized as a much slower rate and provides you with a much more sustained steady flow of energy.
The Glycemic Index of Foods
This new concept of how fast the body converts a specific food to glucose is known as the glycemic index of foods.  Foods like refined carbohydrates, sugar laced fruit juices, potatoes, sugar, candies, pies, honey, white rice and rice cakes are examples of foods comprised of mostly simple sugars or carbohydrates that will lift your spirits initially, but quickly have you experiencing what could be referred to as an energy deficit.  
The above types of foods are known as high glycemic index foods  and convert rapidly to glucose(sugar) and also encourage fat storage . This happens as high glycemic index foods cause insulin levels to rise to combat or lower the sudden sugar surge. This is why you suddenly find your energy levels plummeting like a ton of bricks. It is the hormone  insulin  that encourages the body to store fat and also zaps up your glycogen stores in the process.  Based on the above factors, your pre-workout or pre-competition carbs should come from the lower numbered  glycemic index foods or the complex carbs mentioned earlier.

Carbs are Thermogenic Too!

Victoria Zak, the author of The Fat to Muscle Diet reminds us that we burn more calories eating carbohydrates than eating fat.  She states that “to turn 200 calories of carbohydrates into body fat, you burn about 23% of your total calories compared to fat’s 3%.  This suggests that 46 out of every 200 carbohydrate calories is burned off while fat burns off only 6 calories.”  She went on to say that if you compared a 1200-calorie diet with 40% fat to one with 40% carbohydrates, you’d find that carbohydrates would thermogentically  burn up 110 calories while fat only burns 14.  
Other experts recommend eating 5 to 6 smaller meals a day to minimize the storage of body fat from carbs and encourage more conversion of carbs to glycogen.  For example, if you consume 450 grams of carbohydrates over the course of 3 meals, the body has to deal with about 150 grams of carbs versus 75 grams over the course of 6 meals.  This will promote greater glycogen storage for improved performance, increase energy, promote better recovery, and prevent less fat storage, as long as the majority of the carbs you consume are complex.


Dr. George Redmon


Although carbohydrates have taken a beating in the news over the last few years, the truth is, they are the primary source of fuel the body uses for a mirad of body functions.