Don’t be a Carbophobe…..

With it being half way through January, New Years Resolutions have been set and the majority are working hard to on staying on track – exercise increases and more of a focus on nutrition is had. Out goes the chocolate, biscuits and crappy food in an attempt to get ready for summer and looking tip top in those budgy smugglers or bikinis.

However, with Nutrition – comes problems. It’s a common thing to see people undereating or using fad diets that result in big calorie deficits in an attempt to see some rapid weight loss. Doing this can certainly be detrimental to your health. Not only will you lose some fat, but you will also lose muscle mass and there will be a big reduction in energy levels and performance in everyday life activities, as well with in the gym. Head aches can occur, concentration can be hard and feeling lethargic will be inevitable.


Low Carb diets are extremely common – to the point people become complete carbophobes – carbs aren’t the enemy! It is important to understand what carbs actually are and what they do for your body and performance. Carbohydrates are an essential part of an individuals diet – that is why its classified as a ‘Macronutrient’ along with Fat and Protein. Cutting a Macronutrient out of your diet os both unnecessary and detrimental to everyday activity – keep it simple and have a well balanced diet including all your required macronutrients.

Depending on the structure, carbs can be classified as simple or complex. No matter what type of carb it is, the body eventually breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is our bodies favourite form of fuel. The primary source of energy for all of our cells, from your brain to your muscles.

The main difference between simple and complex carbs is that complex carbs take our bodies longer to digest and breakdown to glucose meaning there isn’t a sudden rise in insulin levels and big rush of glucose into our blood stream that occurs with simple carbs.

Simple carbs are often found in the form of sugars and in most ‘processed’ food. If your diet is high in these types of carbs, you may find you often feel groggy, have extreme highs and lows in energy. Complex carbs are found in foods like veg and fruits. Consuming carbs from these sources can help control insulin response, energy levels, and body composition.

How does the body use carbs? Carbs are digested during meals and broken-down by the body and enter the bloodstream as glucose, a simple sugar. Cells use glucose as fuel. Insulin is a hormone that causes cells to absorb glucose from the blood. A high insulin level will “drive” glucose into cells, lowering the blood glucose concentration. Insulin production is regulated by the blood glucose concentration: as blood glucose concentration rises, insulin production increases, and vice versa. Ingestion of simple carbs results in a rapid spike in blood glucose concentration. This, in turn, causes insulin levels to rise dramatically to combat this sudden rise. Glucose is forced into the cells at a high rate. More complex carbs do not stimulate as severe an insulin response as complex carbs take longer to break down into glucose and there isn’t such fast rise in blood glucose levels.

Eating foods that have simple carbs, immediately after intense sessions like CrossFit, Assault Concept or Triangle Conditioning will be benefical. At this point the muscle cells are in an anabolic state – i.e. actively engaged in protein synthesis refuelling, rebuilding and growing! When not exercising, the muscles don’t require refuelling and have enough stored energy in the form of glycogen. If there is a sudden rise in blood glucose as a result of eating foods rice in simple carbs then the glucose will be converted to fat cells.

The amount of carbs you should consume is very dependent on your body size and energy output throughout the day. If you train a lot, you likely will need more carbs. However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore where your carbs come from; everyone could benefit from trying to get the majority of their carbs from veg and fruits as much as possible. These types of food are also high in fibre – key to good nutrition!

So what happens when you aren’t adequately fuelled? If you severely restrict your calorie intake or carb intake, there is a high chance you won’t get enough nutrients or glucose in your blood stream. This can worsen if you participate in rigorous workouts, like CrossFit, Assault Concept or Triangle Conditioning that will see you use up your energy supplies much faster. A condition known as Hypoglycemia can occur – ever experienced the ‘whitey’ when training intensely? That feeling of light headiness, headaches, nauseous.

Hypoglycemia is caused by low levels of blood sugar in the blood stream. Your body needs blood glucose in order to carry glycogen to cells for energy. This energy is used for organ function and muscle activity. If you use up all these glycogen stores then one way to get instant energy into the bloodstream is to digest sugar rich foods and that’s often why you see athletes, in particular endurance athletes eating things like jelly babies or sports gels when training or competing. Within minutes, your body will be replenished and your energy levels should return.

So for 2019, your goal should be to optimize the amount of carbs that are being stored as glycogen and minimise excess carbs that would contribute to fat stores. Selecting the right types of foods like veg are beneficial because they contain fibre, vitamins, minerals and are more complex. The glycemic index measures how much a food increases our bodies glucose after eating. High GI, simple carb foods like  sugary  cereals, chocolate, sugary drinks. These foods can be very bad for your belly flab, because if your body is not using the blood sugar and muscle glycogen stores are full they will immediately be stored as fat.  Focus on consuming more complex carbs, lower G.I that provide key nutrients and avoid high sugar. Bottom line is if you are participating in high intensity exercise that we certainly do at ION then you need Carbs to optimise performance in and outside of the gym.

Robin Sowden-Taylor
Passion Trumps Everything at ION
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