To continue on with my ‘PT’s Top Tips for Nutrition’ series; in which we have already covered the topics of calories, as well as both fats & protein. It is now time to get into arguably the most controversial of the 3 macronutrients; the infamous carbohydrates.

I’d like to start by saying THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ESSENTIAL CARBOHYDRATES. Yes, that’s right. You heard me. There are essential amino acids – the building blocks of protein; there are essential fatty acids – the building blocks of fats; there are no essential sugars. Which is ultimately what all carbohydrates comprise of, in various forms.

Sounds black and white, right? Unfortunately not. As with all things in nutrition, there are 2 sides to this story, as well as very definite health benefits to consuming carbohydrates within your diet.

The Basics of Carbohydrates

Firstly, it is important to note that carbohydrates WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT. Being in a caloric surplus within your diet will cause you to gain weight, not the foods that you are eating. This is something that has been reinforced many times throughout the articles in this blog.

Here’s a very quick ‘Carbohydrate 101’ in order to give you the foundational knowledge on which the rest of this article will be built. Carbohydrates contain 4kcals per gram. When you consider this in relation to the other nutrients – protein at 4kcals per gram, alcohol at 7kcals per gram and fats at 9kcals per gram – really isn’t that bad at all.

Now, all carbohydrates are sugars, our body’s preferred energy source, and come in either:

  • Simple Form – These are individual molecules that require very little processing. These will go straight into your bloodstream, causing a spike your blood sugar and your energy levels e.g. fruit, sweets, chocolate.
  • Complex Form – The same sugar molecules make up complex carbohydrates, but there are now bonds between them which the body must break down before it is able to access the energy they possess. This means it is a much slower, steady release of energy and elicits a lower insulin response e.g. bread, pasta, rice, potatoes.

(Note: apart from around training or physical activity, there is no instance in which simple carbohydrates are nutritionally advantageous – sorry)

These are the basics. No great argument for consuming carbs yet, I admit. But read on, and you may think again…

So, why do we need carbohydrates? 

As you may be aware, our bodies contain trillions of bacteria. I recently heard that on a cell-to-bacteria ratio we are something like 9:1, which means that in one context at least, we are 90% bacteria! So, it’s pretty vital that we keep those little guys happy and on the right track, as they have a profound effect on our wellbeing. Or our not-so-wellbeing, as the case tends to be these days.

You see, our only sources of fibre come from carbohydrates, and fibre is absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy bowel and keeping these intestinal bacteria happy.

The bacteria that need fibre to survive life at the very end of our gut passage, in the large intestine. As most other nutrients are processed long before they reach this part of our anatomy, if we do not consume fibre then these little guys begin to starve. And like most things in life, they don’t merely accept this without a fight. They start to adapt and travel up our gut passages towards the small intestines – where they do not belong! This, in turn, causes a hormone called Zonulin to be released, which opens up the linings of our gut barriers through where our immune system sits. And what does our immune system do when it see’s something it doesn’t recognise? It attacks. Causing a severe inflammatory response in the gut, reducing our ability to uptake nutrients, affecting our mood & energy levels and causing auto-immune diseases such as asthma, eczema, IBS; the list goes on. (Note: you do not have to have one of these issues in order to be affected by inflammation, these are simply the extremes and it is of benefit to everyone to minimise their auto-immune response).

Not quite following? Feel free to watch the following short video which will back up this point – To cut what could be a very long story short, we must eat quality carbohydrates in order to ensure we are up-taking the necessary fibre. So, what should we eat?

So, what should we eat? 

Well, it shouldn’t be grains, I’m afraid. Pasta, bread, rice, oats, all of these are very bad for us (even if they are gluten-free!). To give you some perspective, 12,000 years ago, when we first developed agriculture (growing wheat), arthritis and tooth decay rates in early home sapiens increased by 16% in an extremely short period of time. Furthermore, this would have been long-grain wheat, grown organically, untreated and unprocessed. Imagine what the short-grain, quicker to grow, mass-produced in over-farmed fields with minimal nutrients left, likely treated with chemicals and other unnatural preservatives in order to sustain it in edible form is doing to us. No, I’m afraid we were never designed to eat wheat, and although abundantly available, that has not changed.

So really, what should we eat? 

Starchy, unprocessed foods are the answer. Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, butternut squash and legumes and sweet potatoes (as well as normal potatoes, to a lesser degree). Even bananas, as a random outlier of the fruit family, contain ‘resistant starches’ that will provide you will a good source of fibre and help keep our delicate gut bacteria happy.

In conclusion, carbohydrates are not essential as long as you are consuming adequate fibre in your diet. But also, as every individual is unique, we must listen to our own bodies. Some individuals will be genetically predisposed to favour a carbohydrate-rich diet, and other individuals are predisposed towards fats.

The best advice I can offer you is to take note of your body. Note when you feel energised and happy – what have you been eating? Or conversely, when you feel bloated and lethargic – what have you consumed recently that could be responsible for this? If you genuinely listen to your body, it is very good at telling you what it likes and what it doesn’t like. Notice patterns, adjust accordingly and make smart choices.

I hope you have found this article helpful. Any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Stay Healthy,

Coach Dorrington.

Author - Alex Dorrington - Personal Trainer & Mentor

Like what you read? Want to know more?

If you have a question about anything Health & Fitness that you want to see answered in a future article, or even fancy treating your brain & body to a whole day with one of our brilliant Mentors. Please contact us – we will endeavour to get back to you within 24hrs!

Remember – It is never too late to bulletproof your future self.

Spread the love