Did someone say, CARBS?! Carbohydrates provide a quick source of fuel for the brain and muscles in the form of glucose. Fiber in carbohydrates also serves as fuel for our microbiome and helps us eliminate waste. When combined with protein and fat, carbs can help us fight infections and help grow and repair body tissue such as bones and skin. As CrossFit athletes, it’s important that we get carbohydrates to utilize as a readily available source of energy for high intensity exercise. Issues with carbohydrates only arise when we are consuming highly refined and processed carbs, and indulging in too many carbs for our daily level of activity.
Simple carbohydrates like sugars and sugar alcohols that are usually sweeter in flavor and absorbed easily within the gut. This makes them an easy choice to grab pre and post-workout and we find most of these kinds of carbohydrates in processed foods and sweeteners. They also come with a risk, as they result in a high glycemic load on the body, spiking our blood sugar and as we know, what goes up must come down. We will talk more about blood sugar in the future, but the main point here is, if you suffer from the afternoon sleepies, this probably has something to do with it!
Conversely, complex carbohydrates like starches and fiber are found mostly in foods we can identify that grow in nature like vegetables, tubers and most fruits. These carbohydrates are not broken down as easily as simple carbohydrates, but they still provide us with tons of easy-to-use energy if we allow our bodies enough time to convert them. These types of carbs are generally lower on the glycemic scale, as they are packed with fiber, water and other nutrients that slow the absorption of glucose into our bloodstream. Aiming for to fill our carbohydrate needs with complex carbs will allow us to reap the positive benefits of this macronutrient without putting us on the blood sugar rollercoaster.
So, how much should we be consuming? As with anything, moderation is key here! Making sure you get in the correct amount of carbohydrates for your lifestyle will ensure the best performance and long term health benefits. If you are a construction worker, who also takes CrossFit class 5 days per week, your carbohydrate needs will greatly differ from someone who works a desk job and comes to class the same amount. Finding your optimal carbohydrate consumption range can be tricky, especially since simple carbohydrates (sugar) can be addicting! Some good guidelines to follow would be swapping out most of your simple carbohydrates for complex carbs, and eating most of your daily intake of carbs around your workout times (during pre and post workout meals). Let’s also remember that we get smaller amounts of carbohydrates in all vegetables, so if you simply enjoy eating, swap the potato for squash or green vegetables and you can reach your carbohydrate goals on a much higher quantity of food!