Grains for Gains | Do You NEED Carbs?

Man doing bicep curls

Out of all 3 macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs), carbohydrates are perhaps the most frequently misunderstood nutrient in food.

Are carbs really as bad as some nutritional trends claim them to be?

In this article, we’re going to tell you some important considerations about carbs, which will allow you to make them a functional part of your nutritional plan.

Essential Nutrients

Food contains essential nutrients which the body needs to sustain healthy functioning, but cannot produce on its own.

Those essential nutrients are namely fatty acids, as well as amino acids, which come from dietary fats and dietary protein, respectively.

Amino and fatty acids regulate a number of functions and if consumed in suboptimal amounts, can be the reason for suboptimal recovery and hormonal functioning.

HOWEVER, out of the 3 macronutrients, only protein and fats are essential, meaning that carbohydrates are not really essential.

If the body needs glucose but doesn’t get it from food, it can produce its own, in a process called “Gluconeogenesis”.

Though non-essential, carbohydrates appear to be important for the goal of maximizing athletic performance.

The Glycogen Energy System

During intense physical performance, we use 3 main sources of energy to sustain muscular contraction:

  1. ATP (Adenosine triphosphate)
  2. Creatine
  3. Muscle glycogen

In essence, the main energy source is ATP, but since its stores are relatively limited and get depleted in about 5 seconds, the body needs alternative fuel sources to regenerate that ATP.

As mentioned above, creatine and glycogen are the other two energy sources, which the body uses to regenerate ATP and continue the muscular activity.

Glycogen is basically the stored form of blood glucose, which in turn, is the end product of carbohydrate metabolism.

We store glycogen in two places – The muscles and the liver, with the former being the storage with bigger capacity.

During prolonged, intense muscular activity, the body quickly uses up ATP and creatine and starts utilizing muscle glycogen.

What this means is that glycogen levels are low, athletic performance output can suffer.

Modern-day trends like the keto diet suggest that you don’t really need carbs, but glycogen is the only source of fuel that can be broken down into energy rapidly enough.

This is very important when the task at hand is to MAXIMIZE output while training.

In summary, your body doesn’t really consider carbs essential, but they are the body’s preferred energy source and the best energy source for intense training activity.

Best Sources Of Carbs

Not all carbohydrates are the same and some may even be bad for you.

Modern-day nutrition choices consist of many processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates.

Those refined carbohydrates have a really simple structure and the body digests them rapidly.

This leads to sudden spikes and drops in blood glucose, often referred to as “sugar crashes”.

For this reason your best bet is to rely on natural, unprocessed carb sources.

Here is a list of our top 10 best carb sources:

  1. White rice
  2. Brown rice
  3. Fruits
  4. Starchy vegetables
  5. Whole grain bread
  6. Whole grain pasta
  7. Sweet potatoes
  8. White or red potatoes
  9. Oats
  10. Quinoa

Not all of the above will suit everyone’s taste buds, which is why you are best off experimenting and finding out the foods you like and can eat consistently.

Once you find those food choices, make them a part of your regular meals and you are well on your way to optimal physical performance!

Conclusion

Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates are non-essential for the body, BUT they are the preferred and most efficient, rapid energy source for intense muscular activity.

This is why including a reasonable amount of carbohydrates in your daily nutrition is important.

Ultimately you should rely on whole food, unprocessed carbohydrate sources, such as rice, quinoa, potatoes, fruits, and starchy vegetables.