Basics · Nutrition

Eat up! The truth about carbs

I am a born bread lover. As a child, bread was a staple in my house. We had it almost every night with our dinner. If my family was invited to eat with another family, my parents knew us kids would not come home hungry if any type of bread was served. I still could make a whole meal out it.

But I don’t. Why, you ask? Is it really as bad as everyone says it is?

Here’s the deal. As an active adult, carbs should make up 40-50% of your daily food intake. They are important and essential to being healthy. Let’s define active. By active, I mean that you should be exercising at a moderate level (you’re working so hard that you cannot talk using complete sentences during activity but you can speak a couple words at a time) for 30 minutes about five times a week.

Carbs are your body’s go-to source for quick energy. All carbs get converted to sugar and are stored in your muscles as glycogen. As you exercise, that glycogen acts as fuel for your muscles. As it is used up throughout the day, those stores need to be replenished.

And what do you need to eat to replenish this fuel for your muscles? You’ve got it. Carbs! But even though all carbs are broken down into sugars, they are not all created equal. There are two basic camps of carbs: simple and complex.

Don't breakup with bread


Most white breads and processed foods are simple carbs. Simple carbs don’t offer much nutritional value. They are quickly digested and absorbed into your system. Think of the sugar rush and crash you get from eating candy. The sugar (simple carbs) from the candy is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream, giving you a spike in energy. Once your body has processed the sugar and filled the glycogen stores in your muscles, you crash. Simple carbs give you immediate energy that is quickly used up.

Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are complex carbs. Complex carbs provide your body with fiber, vitamins and minerals as well as the glycogen used for energy. It takes your body longer to digest complex carbs, which means the energy it provides you lasts longer. As the nutrients, vitamins, and fiber are slowly moved through your system and absorbed into your bloodstream, your system is being continually fed, which provides you with sustained energy.

Now, when you pour more water into a bucket than that bucket can hold, the water overflows and spills out. The same is true with our muscles; they can only store a certain amount of glycogen. What our bodies can’t use for energy gets stored as fat. (It’s really a little more complicated than it sounds so I’ll dedicate another post to this topic in the future.)

This brings me back to my original question – is it a good idea to make a meal out of bread? No, it’s not. Your body needs to be supplied with more than that for it to function properly. Should bread be avoided at all costs? No, it should not. Eating whole grain breads (as long as your system can tolerate them) is a healthy and important part of your diet. Just remember, grains are just one type of carbohydrate. Fruits and vegetables are also healthy sources of complex carbs. When you fix your plate, make sure you load up on those first.

FitTip: Eat a healthy amount of complex carbs every day – they should make up about 60% of your meal. To make sure you’re getting the correct type, make your plate colorful! Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are all complex carbs. They are more nutrient dense, are a good source of fiber, and help provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it requires to be strong and active.


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