Carbs seem nowadays to be as devil-like as fats were back in the golden ages of bodybuilding and colorful aerobics clothing. Many diseases such as prevalent diabetes, obesity, and sugar addiction seem to relate to carbohydrates. Moreover, it is true that we nowadays consume way too much sugar and carbohydrates within our Western Diet. Many foods have added sugar and lots of calories within them.
But is this a reason to damn them entirely?
I don’t think so. In this guide we’re digging deep into carbohydrates as a substance, how your body uses them, to which common diseases these are related and if the best answer is us all going Keto.
Carbohydrates are molecules with a particular atomic makeup ratio.1 Commonly they’re also known as sugars, carbs, or saccharides. We win energy from them by transforming it chemically into glucose which is used by all organisms to produce energy. Glycolysis is an ancient cycle to win energy.
Each gram of Carbohydrates provides your body with 4kcal.
Carbohydrates are classified based on their chain length into monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. While the chain length is believed to be the main factor in the total speed of digestion, modern research suggests that this process is dependent on many other factors.[/efn_note}Read https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5996878/ on Chain Length[/efn_note]
Important to know about carbs is that their intake directly increases blood glucose levels and therefore insulin secretion. As a fun fact aside, other macronutrients also cause insulin secretion such as proteins – quite a big one.2 Science has no answer to this anomaly yet. Only fats seem to not cause huge insulin spikes.
How does the Carbohydrate Metabolism within your Body look like?
Step I: Breaking down Carbs and Sugar
First off, this is a vast topic that employs lots of scientists, doctors, and biochemists. In fact, diabetes research is a huge industry with knowledge far beyond my tiny bit of apprehension. That’s why we’re going into this subject on an understandable, but sophisticated level.
Alright, after this disclaimer let’s start the journey at the beginning – in your mouth. Let’s say you eat one Oreo or 20. Hopefully, you chew them and they get in contact with your saliva. It already contains a molecule that breaks down sugars – Amylase.3 Amylase’s only job is it to cut carbohydrates to size – ultimately into Maltose. Beside’s a better feeling for satiation this might be the reason why your mum always called you out on eating way too fast.
Alright after chewing your Oreos you swallow them. In your esophagus nothing interesting happens it is solely a pipe, but as soon as they enter your stomach the fun begins. Here come even more enzymes into play – like sucrase, lactase, and guess it more amylase.4 This enzymatic cocktail breaks down all digestible carbohydrates into glucose, lactose, fructose, galactose, and maltose. All these sugars are mono – or disaccharides which your small intestine can begin absorbing right after.
Mission successful – energy is in your blood. Blood glucose levels rise.
Step II: Get Glucose out of your Blood
Too much or too little Glucose can get very dangerous quickly. You best see this in diabetic patients who have to be adjusted to their optimal dose and be strictly adhering to it. They lack your body’s control mechanisms – aka insulin – and therefore have to help your body through an external supply of insulin:
A big pike in glucose over a longer period could lead to high ketone levels and damage nerves and vessels.
But remember all these conditions are exaggerated and a few extreme exemplary symptoms. There are many stages and a healthy person has the best observer – their incredible body.
That’s why your body strictly manages your blood glucose levels – mostly through insulin and glucagon. These two guys are peak competitors:
The former get glucose, protein, and fats out of your blood into your cells and inhibits new build-up in the liver. It’s mainly an anti-catabolic hormone. Moreover, it has 1.000 additional effects as your primary metabolic hormone, but going into this would explode this post. It is a beast of a hormone.
The latter does the opposite and is a beast, too. It is your main catabolic hormone. Therefore, it raises blood glucose levels by promoting breakdown of the stored glucose. It also affects fats.
Your head’s still where it is supposed to be? Great dude! We are through. With the secretion of glucagon or insulin, your body can control the levels tightly.
Are Carbs healthy?
Like any ‘… are healthy?’-question the answer is it depends. In case of carbs even more so. Sugars can be healthy, carbs can be healthy, but both can also wreak havoc onto your system and reduce your lifespan by years. It depends on:
Your general activity and energy needs
The total amount of carbs you eat in relationship to other macros
Timing of carbs and sugar
The general makeup of your meals
Chain-length of the carbs you consume
Other diseases which could interfere
…and many more
But I don’t want to leave you solely with a crappy ‘it depends’-answer for the matter of playing it safe.
How I’d approach Carbs and Sugar in your Nutrition
Look at your overall Carbohydrate Consumption
First you should look at how many carbs you consume a day. Therefore, measure your macronutrients for a couple of weeks to get a rough picture. After this time you should know how many carbs you consume and what kind of carbs.
There is no perfect answer to how many carbs you should eat per day, humans are very different in that matter. I for example enjoy a lower-carb diet, intermittent fasting, whole day fasts but nonetheless consume around ~150g of carbs per day. Other’s flourish with even fewer carbs, while others totally crash and need a certain amount to feel energized.
My advice would be to experiment – go keto for a month, try low-carb for some time, eat a non-processed high carb diet, and look closely at how you feel. 5Most will do best with their diet containing all three macronutrients and shouldn’t go keto. Nonetheless, the experiment can lead to deeper insights!(/efn_note]
Choose high-quality Sources combined with Plenty of Fibre
Very important are the sources of your carbohydrates and therefore the chain-length of saccharides you consume. All will have an impact on your insulin and blood glucose levels, but each in a unique way:
In general, you should stick to long-chained polysaccharides and eat lots of fibre with them. This combination will have a flattened impact on overall absorption. In my opinion, especially the fibres are a point many people are missing out on. Aim for 50g per day.
Prefer unprocessed foods and limit your sugar intake – ban sugared drinks entirely. Unprocessed, natural, real foods come with a cocktail other substances and often beneficial uptake speed. Apples for example have a lower impact on blood glucose levels than potatoes, although they contain sugar.
Time Carbs and Sugar strategically
Bodybuilders inject insulin as it is one of the strongest anabolic hormones. You can also manipulate insulin to a certain degree without going roids.
By consuming sugars and fast-digestible proteins* around your workout and spiking up your insulin intake on intent you can use its anabolic effects for your good.
Keep insulin at bay, by fasting or building in some high-fat days to reap those benefits.
Teach your Body to run on Carbs and Fats
Most of us never experience running out of carbs. And when they do they refer to it as hitting a wall from a performance point of view. But fortunately, you can train your body quickly to adjust to ketones as the main fuel source – in fact, humans are awesome and starving and living off fat reserves.
Most will hit this wall after your carbohydrate reserve of ~300-500g of carbs is empty. This will be after around 1.500-2.000 kcal or roughly 16 hours.
There are many ways to practice and get used to this important pathway:
Have 1 -2 High-Carb followed by 1-2 Low-Carb weeks
Should we all go Keto?
Oh, you want more of an answer!? Actually, this was a joke. Hell no. We all have to find what works for us, our bodies, and our lives individually. While for some the answer is ‘keto’, for most it is not. Most will get by much better eating every macronutrient. Most will do best not following extremes and sticking to the basics. Sticking to the above guidelines when it comes to carbs.
Nutrition is very individual, that what’s makes it challenging. We all don’t even know ourselves well and what we want, what we like. Figuring this out in a highly marketed domain, with lots of bro-wisdom around and soaring numbers of diseases is a challenge. That for sure. But I am sure you’ll get there!
Knowing carbs and sugar, which kind of carbs are good for you, and how this fits into the whole framework of nutrition is a big chunk.
See you in the next post and stay sweet,
They all contain a carbon, hydrogen, oxygen ratio of 1:2:1