Not All Carbs Are Created Equal

carbsIt’s true that carbohydrates are fuel. Without them it’s difficult to fire up your metabolism and charge through your day. But not all carbs are as useful as others.

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).

White carbs:

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.

Fruits/Berries:

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.

High-quality carbs:

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.

Carbs[ii]

[Featured image credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetbeetandgreenbean/]


[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


About Todd Mayfield

He's a lover, not a fighter. But he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas.

He works for a series of private schools to advance innovative education to combat ballooning classroom sizes and challenge the status quo of the current public and private education format.

Comments

  1. Nice article guys, very helpful :) It would be cool to hear (maybe in a follow-up article?) what you guys think we should eat during the workday…it would be nice to have a plan for the 8 hour workday that’s focused on long-lasting carbs.

    • Todd Mayfield says:

      Jarek-Great thought! Thanks for the feedback. I’ve already been thinking of a follow-up article that really goes in depth on the above subject. There’s so much information on the GI that I didn’t dive into.

      I have a Personal Trainer that’s going to begin writing for the site. I’ll talk to him about writing on the subject you just described!

  2. Robert says:

    Great article, being diabetic this article is crucial in maintaining blood sugars and knowing what carbs are going to spike and what carbs will maintain for appropriate insulin injections. Been struggling with learning what carbs do what to my sugar, so this really helps cant wait for the follow up article.

    • Todd Mayfield says:

      Thanks Robert! This article really just scratches the surface as you know. I purposed it to introduce the concept of the GI and in another article would like to talk a little bit more about GI scores. My mom is diabetic and so are some close friends, but now that I understand the GI I think people who aren’t diabetic could really benefit from understanding not only for weight purposes but for carbs impact on their energy as well!

  3. Stacy Green says:

    Very nicely done cuz. Maybe a listing of a “sample” meal/snack for Pre and Post work out would help translate the info for beginners :-)

  4. Nice breakdown. I’ve stopped eating grain, fruit, dairy – basically only meat, beans and vegetables. A good snack is almonds.

    I’ve never felt better in my life.

    Cool site, guys!

    • I’ve also recently heard how good almonds are for you. You can even make almond milk by blending almonds and water. The stuff in the store is maxed out with preservatives so I wouldn’t drink that.

  5. Nice article, many individuals in the fitness community believe that the glycemic index is not accurate enough because the research itself was conducted on diabetic people who had been without food for a certain number of hours. Therefore, those food with a high score will not have the same effect on a normal healthy person.
    Many natural bodybuilders and fitness models have experimented with “If It Fits Your Macro’s.”
    This threw the whole glycemic index out of the window as they were able to reach single body-fat figures whilst eating whatever they wanted just as long as it fit into their daily macro nutrient requirements.
    As a personal trainer i always suggest to my over-weight clients that they need to eat low glycemic carbs because they’re high in fibre so it will keep them full for longer. I feel it also teaches them discipline which is vital when trying to get into shape.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Todd Mayfield says:

      This is really intriguing insight that I haven’t heard before. Can you direct me to where I can read more from those that don’t believe the GI is accurate enough? Also, any great reads you can suggest on “If It Fits Your Macro’s”?

      Thanks for the insightful comment.

  6. I just had quinoa for the first time last night. It was blended with brown rice. It was interesting, but I don’t think that I would eat it by itself (as opposed to mixed into something like eggs as you suggested).

    For grains, I mostly consume brown rice and whole-wheat flour. But I sometimes wonder if they may be TOO slow-burning. I remember a couple years ago, I had eaten whole-wheat pasta the night before a physical. I had the 12 hour (actually, it worked out to be more like 16 hour) fast, and my blood sugar was still slightly elevated at 112.

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