Carbohydrates 101: The When, Where, & Why

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of the main sources of energy to the human body that is responsible for many vital bodily functions including energy transportation. Derivatives of carbohydrates also help in the various roles of blood clotting and boosting the immune system. Carbohydrates clearly play vital roles in the human body, but the question for people trying to stay in top shape is: How many carbohydrates does my body need for training and how many should I consume?

Kinds of Carbohydrates:

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates are primarily the refined and processed, sugar-based carbohydrates that are not healthy options for the body. These include the carbohydrates found in foods like candies, table sugars, syrups, white bread, and soft drinks, but can also include starchy items like white potatoes. 

Complex Carbohydrates are the types of carbohydrates the body can turn into glucose (sugar) and use for energy. These carbohydrates can help boost your energy levels during workouts and other daily activities. These include the carbohydrates found in peas, beans, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, and vegetables to name a few.

What Kinds of Carbohydrates Does the Body Need?

Plain and simple: Simple Carbs offer the body little-to-no nutrition value. Period.

Complex carbohydrates (in the appropriate portions) will fuel your workouts without growing your waistline. Complex Carbohydrates provide more than just energy for your workouts, they also provide many other key nutrients to your body including vitamins and minerals as well as a great source of dietary fiber.

How Many Carbohydrates Should I Consume?

The real question for most fitness-minded individuals is: How many carbohydrates should I consume? The common myth that carbohydrates will “ruin” your progress in fitness is largely a false narrative. Actually, a proper intake of good (complex) carbohydrates over the long-term can help aid your fitness potential.

Keep in mind that the “average” American eats about 300 grams of carbohydrates a day based on a 2000 calorie diet. The problem with the “average” American diet is not how many carbohydrates they eat but the fact that most of those are simple carbohydrates from poor sources of nutrition such as soft drinks, white potatoes, white bread, or sweets.

When focusing on fitness, your carbohydrates should come almost exclusively from the complex carbohydrates category. A diet “moderate” in good carbohydrates is ideal for most fitness-minded people. This means based on a 2000 calorie diet that you should be consuming between 100-150 grams of good carbohydrates. That’s about 1/3 to 1/2 of what most Americans will consume in a day.

Of course, if you are competing in physique competition or bodybuilding show that will change. During the weeks leading up to the competition, you will reduce your carbohydrate intake much more drastically than to a “moderate” level. Even during “off-season” many bodybuilders or physique competitors live in the “moderate” carbohydrate intake phase.

The Takeaway:

Remember, all carbohydrates are not your enemy. The good ones help your body turn glucose into energy which can help fuel your workouts as well as your daily life. It’s how many carbohydrates you are taking in and if they are good or bad carbohydrates. Many people think they need a lot more carbohydrates than their bodies really need. Moreover, they eat the wrong kinds of carbohydrates. This is where people really derail their own diets.

Simple carbohydrates simply have no nutritional value and should have a limited place, if any place, in the diet of someone aspiring to be fit and healthy as they can be.

Complex carbohydrates in moderation are the key to your success!