Carbohydrates (aka carbs) have long been considered a macronutrient, alongside proteins and fats.
However, they are NOT an essential macronutrient. They are not needed by any system of the body.
As the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board 2005 textbook states, “The lower limit of dietary carbohydrate compatible with life apparently is zero.”
In this article, we will cover:
• What carbs are and how the body uses them,
• Why you don’t need carbohydrates for optimal performance
• The dangers of eating too much sugar
What Are Carbs?
Think of carbs as fuel when you are consuming them. They exist as the body’s preferred energy source when they’re introduced into your system. You can find carbs in bread, fruits, pasta, rice, vegetables, and many other food sources. Eating carbs will spike your insulin (the storage hormone) higher than proteins and fats which can result in your foods being stored as fat.
Here is the science-y stuff. The carbs we eat are broken down and converted into glucose (sugar) by the liver to be used by the brain and muscles. Any glucose that is not needed immediately for energy is converted into glycogen and stored for use later in the muscles and the liver.
Intense exercise, fasting, and a ketogenic diet depletes these glycogen stores.
How Are Carbs Stored?
Glycogen is made and stored in the liver and muscles. The muscles hold the most glycogen, which is not surprising when you consider that muscles account for between 20-30 percent of your total mass. They can typically store between 350-450 grams of glycogen, enough energy for around 90 minutes of endurance exercise. The glycogen stored in the muscles cannot be used elsewhere in the body.
The liver, in contrast, stores around 100 grams of concentrated glycogen and uses it around the body. The glycogen stored in the liver is responsible for maintaining blood sugar and energy levels throughout the day.
What Are The Risks of Eating Carbs?
Dietary sugar is the leading factor in obesity and is found in many processed carbohydrates. In general, you don’t get fat from eat fat (though you can – which is why Keto can sometimes go wrong if you overconsume), but you get fat from eating too much sugar as well as other kinds of carbohydrates.
Like sugar, carbohydrates keep you constantly hungry, along with an up-and-down spiking of your blood sugar. And because carbohydrates are not as satiating as proteins and fats, this constant hunger can have a HUGE increase in how much food you consume and therefore how many calories you take in.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat Per Day and When?
Ideally, carbohydrates should be kept under 50 grams a day. Ideally, under 20 (or zero) if adhering to a carnivore, animal-based diet. The lower you can keep carbs, and the higher you can keep protein, the better.
What about Carbohydrate Timing?
For most individuals, carbohydrate (or nutrient) timing does not play a significant role in their nutritional protocol. We believe that an initial focus on total protein intake, food quality, sleep, hydration, and exercise is far more critical.
Here are a few general rules for nutrient timing:
1. Do not eat right before a workout. We don’t want the body to be digesting food while trying to fuel a workout.
2. Consume protein (and a small amount of carbs if you want) post-workout to help the body shift to a parasympathetic mode (aka recovery mode).