There’s a lot of talk about complex carbs vs. simple carbs. That’s not useless talk, but what’s even more important is understanding where your carb scores on the Glycemic Index (GI). Carbs are consumed by the body at fast rates. Much faster than lipids (fat) or proteins. That’s why they are useful as an immediate energy source if you’re being active.
GI food scores are 0-100 based on how quickly carbs raise blood sugar levels after eating.[i]
What you may not be considering is how fast those carbs are being processed. If it’s consumed too quickly, your body won’t use the calories (unless you do something to burn it up right away). The body may store some of those calories as glycogen, but A LOT of those unused calories as fat in your body for later use. Which sucks. Because you may already have enough calories hanging on your body.
Here’s an idea of what carbs get utilized at what rate:
Sugar loaded food:
Candy. Ice cream. Sweets. This is so astronomically unuseful to your body. There’s no need to consume it unless you’re in glycemic shock or sad about Michael Bay pillaging your childhood (a la Transformers and Adult Alien Ninja Turtles).
Rice. Rice cakes. Bagels. Wonder Bread. Also a great way to restore your glycogen right after a workout. But don’t chomp on these throughout the day as your main energy source. If you’re not going to create an oxygen debt (read: heavy panting) and use it within 30-60 minutes, it’s a waste of food.
Are high in sugar but are lower on the Glycemic Index than you might think (interestingly unripe fruits are even lower on the GI) . Such as eating a banana right after your workout to restore your glycogen. Or some berries for antioxidants. But fruit is full of sugar. And if you down a lot of it, you won’t be using the sugar quickly enough before it’s stored as fat.
Ezekiel bread. Sprouted grains. Quinoa. Most lentils. I’ll admit I have to hide my quinoa in eggs or under some Tapatio sauce to consistently down them, but slow-burning carbs (over the course of 2-hours) are king.
Choose your carb timing
Think about when you eat what type of carbohydrate. If you’re going to burn it up within 30-60 minutes, or consume it directly after some rigorous activity, have at it. Otherwise, chow down on something that raises blood sugar levels at a moderate, steady rate.
[i] Burani, Johanna (May 26, 2006). Practical Use of the Glycemic Index. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
[ii] Burani, Johanna. “Glycemic response”. Graph. Practical Use of the Glycemic Index May 26, 2006. Retrieved April 3, 2012