Carbohydrate sources, Carbs for fuel

The Role Of Carbohydrates


If you have attempted reducing your body weight or even if you haven’t I’m betting you have heard some pretty negative claims about carbohydrates? Something like “carbs make you fat” “carbs shouldn’t be eaten at night” or maybe “Low carb diets are the best way to loose weight.” Hopefully this document helps you understand the role of carbohydrates, why we need them and how we can use them to optimise our health goals.

What Is Carbohydrate?

Simply put carbohydrates are used by the body for energy. Carbs are broken down by our bodies into their simplest form – Glucose. The main organ of our bodies that uses glucose is the brain. Our muscles particularly like to use carbohydrates to help them perform during exercise and energetic activity. Sources of carbohydrates are often very high in vitamin and mineral content. And also provide good sources of insoluble and soluble fibre. Carbs are naturally low in saturated fat (too much saturated fat contributes ton heart disease). Without going too “sciency” Carbs come in simple and complex forms. Simple forms generally being broken down quickly and absorbed, whilst complex forms taking longer to breakdown and be used.

Why Do We Need Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are essential. Even in low carb diets like the Keto and Atkins, (a discussion for another time) carbs are needed to keep us functioning properly. Plus it would be very hard to eradicate all carbs from any diet choice. As we mentioned above carbs are essential for energy. Our brains alone need about 120g of glucose per day to function properly. Should we not consume enough carbohydrate our blood sugars can drop, which causes hypoglycaemia. Signs of this can be tingling in fingers, blurred vision and feeling weak. CARBS DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT!!!! What makes you fat is eating too many calories or being in a calorie surplus for considerable time. Dietary carbohydrate is. Ot readily converted to body fat. In short when you consume carbs it can slow fat burning down because your body will use its preferred energy source – Glucose.

Your Health Goals And Eating Carbs

Carbs are protein sparing. This means that when the body has enough carbohydrate proteins (amino acids) are more readily available as these now don’t need to be broken down for energy. Consuming the right amount of carbohydrate can make you feel great and optimise your performance and results. So what is the right amount. Like most of nutitirmion this is highly individual. However there are some fundamental advices we can give to help you utilise this MACRO for best results. Carbs are stored in the liver and muscles. The average person can store around 400g-700g of glucose, that can be used during daily activity ad exercise. About 75-100g of glucose in the liver and 300-600g in the muscles. A useful fact to remember is that there are 4kcals in 1g of carbohydrate. This becomes helpful when calculating MACROS. Dietary fat may then be more likely “stored” and dietary carbs are transferred to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver. What can make you fat though is if you don’t use this energy you have consumed (calories). Weight loss is only about the amount of calories you consume and burn. Burn more calories than you eat = loose weight. Eat more calories than you burn = gain weight. Check out my factsheet on ENERGY BALANCE and CIRCO (Calories In Calories Out) to explore this understanding more.


Products rich in fibre

Fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate and again is essential for optimal health. Only carbohydrate food sources contain fibre. Unlike carbs, fibres main use is keeping your digestive system healthy. As this system is required for converting and absorbing energy having a healthy digestive system is very important. Fibre can help prevent constipation and flatulence. Generally speaking the average adult requires about 30g of fibre per day. This becomes higher as you get older. There are 2 types of fibre as we previously mentioned “Soluble” and “Insoluble.” Check out this article for more information about fibre.

Soluble Fibre

Soluble Fibre dissolves in the stomach, draws in water and creates a gel like substance. In the gut this is useful to help keep you feeling fuller for longer (satiated), plus it helps to regulate blood sugars by slowing down the digestion process, which can help prevent and manage diabetes.

Insoluble Fibre

Insoluble Fibre doesn’t dissolve. It absorbs water and increases in size, again this can aid feelings of satiety. This type of fibre helps your body process waste better. It improves bowel health. Prevents & treats constipation. Reduces your risk for colorectal (colon & rectum) conditions, such as haemorrhoids and diverticulitis.

What Foods Can We Consume For Healthy Sources of Carbohydrates?

Healthy carbohydrates

Firstly what defines “Healthy?” Arguably most foods in moderation have some health benefits. Rather we should consider the consumption of carbohydrates (and all foods) Ito that of our goals and health requirements. When choosing carbohydrates to eat often those higher in fibre such as popcorn, oats, lentils and split peas are all very natural sources, minimally processed (if at all), digest slow and create a good gut environment. They are also very filling and packed with vitamins and minerals. If though you require quick energy or feel full but require food then better choices may be foods like white rice, dates, watermelon, grapes, bananas etc. Ultimately aim for a good variety of less processed foods and chances are you gain the nutritional benefit these foods have to offer you.

Quality Carbohydrates List

This list is not exhaustive by no means but gives you some idea about more optimal sources available to you.

FOODCARBS per 100g
Bran Flakes67g
Rolled Oats60g
Split Peas60g
Popcorn (Plain)50g
White Bread50g
Rye Bread46g
Granary Bread43g
Boiled Egg Noodles36g
FOOD CARBS per 100g
Boiled pasta (White) 35g
Prunes 34g
Couscous (cooked) 30g
Boiled Rice 30g
Chick Peas 27g
White Potato 23g
Sweet potato 20g
Lentils 18g
Kidney beans 18g
Bananas 15g
FOOD CARBS per 100g
Oranges 15g
Grapes 15g
Blueberries 15g
Apples 12g
Beetroot 10g
Kiwi 9g
Watermelon 7g
Grapefruit 6g
Strawberries 6g
Rasperries 5g

How Much Carbohydrate Should You Eat?

This largely depends on various different aspects. Your diet choice or preferred way of eating, your activity level, your tolerance to carbohydrates, allergies / diseases (coeliac, diabetes etc), body weight. Age and gender can also contribute. This ultimately means therefore that there isn’t a set amount of carbs you should each per day. Generally though the more active you are the more carbohydrate you are likely to require. The guidance, whilst highly debated amongst nutritional and health professionals, is that about 50% of your daily kcals come from carbohydrates. Aim to consume more complex (starchy carbs) because these are slower digesting, higher in fibre and full of antioxidants, vitamins & minerals. The national guidelines to portray the “average male adult” lets see the numbers:

A typical male adult weighing 70kg eating 50% Carbs per day and eating 2000kcal would consume 250g carbs per day to maintain their body composition and weight.

Macro Splits

Charts To Demonstrate Possible Carbohydrate Consumptions Based On Individual Goals and Health Needs

MACROS – Refers to “Macronutrients.” Which are the main nutrients that contribute to daily dietary requirements. These are Carbohydrates, Fats & Protein. Check out this article we have on fats for more information about the role they paly in your diet.


GI (Glycemic Index)

The GI Index is a scale that indicates the impact of carbohydrate on an average persons blood sugar levels. 0 being little to no impact and 100 being a very high impact on blood sugar

The Glycemic Index Chart

It’s important to know that the GI index only measures the affect on blood sugars for singular food items. When you combine a high GI food with another MACRO food such as fat or protein, the absorption rate of sugar to the blood is dramatically reduced. This ultimately means that blood sugar levels don’t spike as quickly, nor as high when a combination of foods are eaten together. When blood sugars rise this temporarily prevents fat being burned as energy until blood sugars reduce and normalise

The Run Down

This article is designed to offer you an in-depth understanding of carbohydrates and how they can align with your specific goals. Here are key takeaways that encompass the significance of carbohydrates in our diets, backed by scientific insights:

The Role of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, often referred to as carbs, constitute one of the three primary macronutrients, the other two being fats and proteins. Unlike fats (9 calories per gram) and proteins (4 calories per gram), carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. It’s essential to distinguish between body weight and body fat, as cutting carbs can initially lead to weight loss primarily due to a reduction in water weight.

Carbohydrates for Brain Function and Activity

Carbohydrates are essential for optimal brain function. The brain requires approximately 110 – 145 grams of carbohydrates daily to function correctly. Individuals engaged in endurance sports or those with high activity levels may require more carbohydrates to sustain their energy needs.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates come in two primary forms: simple (sugars) and complex (starchy). Simple sugars are found in foods such as fruit juices, table sugar, honey, milk, and biscuits. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are derived from foods like bread, potatoes, pulses, rice, and oats. Nearly all carbohydrates are plant-based, with lactose (naturally occurring sugar in milk) being a notable exception.

Glucose and Glycogen Storage

Carbohydrates are metabolised by the body into glucose, its preferred source of energy. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver. Liver glycogen serves as a systemic energy reserve, while muscle glycogen is specific to the muscle until depleted.

Advantages of Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, especially starchy varieties, offer several advantages. They are slow-digesting, high in fiber, and rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This makes them a favorable choice for sustained energy and overall health.

Limiting Added Sugar

It is advisable to limit the consumption of foods with added sugar, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and sugary drinks. Such items contribute to excess calorie intake and are often devoid of essential nutrients.

Fiber: A Crucial Component

Carbohydrates are the sole macronutrient that contains dietary fiber. Consuming 30-40 grams of fiber daily is essential for maintaining good gut health.

Carbs and Weight Gain

Scientific evidence does not support the idea that carbohydrates inherently lead to weight gain. Weight management is governed by the principle of Calories In, Calories Out (CICO), emphasizing the importance of overall calorie balance.

Carbohydrate Recommendations

For an average 70kg adult male aiming to maintain weight, a daily intake of 250 grams of carbohydrates, within a 2000-kcal diet, is a reasonable guideline.

Timing and Performance

While a balanced diet generally suffices, individuals on low-carb diets like keto or Atkins may benefit from a high-carb meal 90 minutes before a workout. Performance-related carbohydrate consumption should amount to 2.7-4.5 grams per 1 pound of body weight in the 24-48 hours preceding a substantial workout.

Intra-Workout Carbohydrates

Intra-workout carbohydrate solutions (sports drinks) prove valuable during workouts exceeding 60 minutes, with optimal consumption around 30 grams of carbs per hour. A cautionary note is that these solutions should not exceed 8% carbohydrates, as higher concentrations can hinder fluid absorption and cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

In summary, carbohydrates are a versatile and vital component of our diets, offering sustained energy, supporting brain function, and aiding in overall health. Their role can vary based on activity levels and individual goals, and understanding these nuances is crucial for making informed dietary choices. Consult with a qualified nutritionist or dietitian to tailor your carbohydrate intake to your specific needs and objectives.