Carbohydrate and the Saccharides

By: Gavin Hemmerlein

Oh carbohydrates, how I feel for you. I think you’ve become the new “fat”. First Dr. Atkins, then Nutrisystem, and toss in a little Paleolithic jargon in the mix. Maybe some education will help to revive your destroyed reputation!

First off, what is a carbohydrate (CHO)? It is an organic compound with Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen that are broken down into sugars (glucose/sucrose, often monosaccharides and disaccharides and sometimes oligosaccharides), starches (polysaccharide), and celluloses (polysaccharide). These saccharides are the simplest form of a carbohydrate; similar to how proteins are built of amino acids.

I know what you’re thinking, “But what does it all mean?” Well, it means that some carbohydrates must break down before being digested. This is the true meaning between simple (easily broken down or already broken down and spikes blood sugar aka blood glucose levels) and complex (must be tediously broken down and has a slow release of blood glucose) carbohydrate sources. Hell, we even have an Index for such things: The Glycemic Index (GI). The GI has its limitations and it has been studied profusely, but we’ll get into that in a bit.

Carbohydrates are ESSENTIAL for your body’s energy path. The body will break these saccharides down into glucose. The glucose will then be transported throughout the body and used as energy. Ever heard of muscle glycogen? Guess where that originates! Your body uses glycogen to fuel the glycolysis path. It fuels this until you reach the lactic threshold (feel the burn) and can’t go anymore. Then it repurposes as much as it can until you go again or it’s tapped out on resources. It is NECESSARY for performance!

So I’m expecting most of you have now Googled the GI to find out what to avoid. Here’s the beauty of it all… The GI was done on fasted individuals with solely a carbohydrate meal. Read that again slowly. This is part of the reasons behind one of my dietary recommendations. For a mixed meal (proteins and fats included in the meal), the GI is affected GREATLY. It is to the point that it is nearly pointless to follow. It can also be modified with a high intake of fiber because fiber is nearly impossible to digest (hence why it does a great job of “cleaning you out”). So always have your protein spread out evenly throughout your meals (for even more reasons that I will get into on my Muscle Protein Synthesis post). This will attenuate your GI “spikes” and will also help you feel satiated (protein is far more satiating than CHOs).

What about Gluten? Gluten is bad, right? Well, that is a difficult and “gray area” question. Now, I want to make a distinction before I go into details. Gluten is a protein composite made from gliadin and glutenin. This protein causes the dough that you eat (most often bread) to have a chewy, more “pleasing” texture. I placed this in the CHO category for the reason that it is in grains. For some people with Celiac’s disease as well as Wheat Allergies, gluten/wheat is TERRIBLE. It constitutes approximately 80% of the protein in wheat fruit.

Here is the kicker. Celiac’s disease has been diagnosed to approximately 1 out of every 133 people (or about .75%). [1] Most of that estimate hasn’t even been confirmed. What does this mean? Most of the people who have self-diagnosed it have misdiagnosed the issue. It is likely some other issue that hasn’t been investigated. For everybody else, gluten is perfectly fine.

The last subject I want to cover is fiber. Fiber is so important. So, so, so very important. I cannot stress this enough. If you want your digestive track to operate like a well-oiled machine, get in your fiber! A good estimate I’d say is that you need at least 35g a day and I would put the high end up in the 60-70g range. Fiber will help normalize the bowels as well as help them maintain healthy operations. You will also likely lower cholesterol as well as regulate blood sugar (see, toldja). [2]

I want to leave you with this tid bit. There isn’t an athlete out there whom I would not have carbohydrates as the highest consumed macronutrient for performance.

1. Celiac Disease Fast Facts. < > National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA)

2. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. < > Mayo Clinic


One thought on “Carbohydrate and the Saccharides

  1. Pingback: Podcast #10 – Meet Your Macros: Carbs |

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