Carbs for Fuel and Performance
Carbs are the #1 source for fuel in the body.
The main function of carbohydrates is to supply the body with energy, and they are also the only fuel source for the brain.
Our body does not “need” carbohydrates to survive, but they are vital for optimal performance in all forms of athletes, as well as everyday life.
The amount of carbohydrates required for optimal health and performance is different for everyone, based on body weight and activity level, but we all need that fast-acting energy source to be at our best.
Many diets focus on manipulating carbohydrates for different purposes. These are effective as long as you are using the right amount of fuel for your needs, and not forgetting about your health.
When manipulating carbohydrates in your diet you can choose:
- No Carb
- Low Carb
- Moderate or Regular
- High Carb
Each serves a specific purpose that we will go over in the following.
Low carb diets limit the number of carbohydrates you are allowed to consume each day. This is great for non-active individuals or those trying to decrease their cravings or dependency on sugars.
If you find yourself often sedentary (without exercise), or craving sweet treats too often, you may want to give this a try. Just don’t limit your carb intake too much.
By limiting carb intake through low carb diets, you are starving your body and brain of the fuel it needs to perform optimally.
This is not deadly, but your brain and muscles will not function at their highest performance.
If you just go low carb, consuming only 30-130g of carbohydrates per day you will often feel tired and slow as your brain doesn’t get enough fuel to perform its best and your body runs on its slow-acting fat stores.
So make sure that even on low carb diets you get at least 130g of carbohydrates, no matter your bodyweight, to keep your brain focused on tasks, not hunger.
Any extra carbs you have after that should be based on your activity level for the day.
The (No Carb) Ketogenic Diet
The Ketogenic Diet, a no carb diet, is getting more and more popular these days for its ability to relieve people of their sugar dependencies in order to lose weight and become healthier.
Of course, this lack of carbohydrate intake poses a problem for our brain’s fuel. However, our bodies have a solution.
Our bodies are smart and will adapt to a lack of carbohydrates by creating ketone bodies as a secondary fuel source for the brain to live on. This is a survival mechanism, but it can also be harmful if ketones are in the blood for months at a time.
Ketone bodies are acidic and will change our blood pH which in turn puts stress on other systems in the body.
So realize that Ketogenic is only a short-term diet.
The Ketogenic Diet is not meant to be maintained for more than 3-6 months. It is a lifestyle change that allows you to restart your relationship with carbohydrates after a few months.
When you start over, simply start adding in good carbohydrates that are non-addicting like fruits, whole grains, and some starches. Breads and sugars tend to be addictive so only have those on occasion.
Carbs for Everyday
While carbs should not be too low, they should also not be too high.
If carbohydrate intake is too high without adequate exercise, then there will likely be an excess of energy leading to fat storage. Any carbs that are not used through exercise, or metabolism, will be stored in your muscles, liver and then fat cells.
It is easy to use carbohydrates while they are in the blood or muscles, but when they are stored as fat their function changes. They go from being a fast-acting fuel source to a slow-acting fuel source in the form of fat.
Therefore, carbohydrate intake needs to be regulated depending on the amount of exercise you do.
A good range of carbohydrates to have daily for inactive individuals is between 1-2g per pound of body weight with a minimum of 130g to maintain optimal brain function.
Intake should be spread throughout the day in small increments rather than eaten all at once so that you always have a little fast-acting energy ready.
Your main carb intake should come from whole fruits (not juices), beans, oats, and grains; not addictive carbs like breads and sugary treats.
High Carb for Athletes
Athletes that do intense exercise exceeding 1 hour on a given day, should have a high carb diet. This allows for higher performance and faster recovery.
An optimal range of carbohydrate intake for highly active individuals is 2-4g per pound of bodyweight.
The majority of carbohydrates should be consumed before, during and after exercise.
During intense exercise, that exceeds one hour or more, it is helpful to intake about 20-60g of carbohydrate per hour, depending upon body weight and intensity, to increase endurance.
To replenish glycogen stores post exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed at a rate of 1.2g per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight every hour until stores are replenished (based on body weight).
The Final Word
Overall, when it comes to carbs, find what fits you.
If you are not very active, then you do not need more than 130g of carbohydrates daily. If you are highly active, you need a lot to keep up with your activity level.
Most of us are in between so just keep a normal amount based on your bodyweight and make sure you are getting your carbs from healthy sources, not breads and treats.