Carbs and Exercise

Alright all you activity goers, let’s talk carbohydrates and how to select them. Remember the tid bit here about how carbs store as glycogen in the liver to be used during activity? Keep that in mind during this discussion.

Our carbohydrate needs is one the most controversial topics in the nutrition,dieters, and exercise world. This is because there is no official requirement for this nutrient class. There is no such thing as a carbohydrate deficiency (there is such thing – and seen too much in third world countries – fat and protein deficiencies) because there are no essential carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be produced in a lot of different ways in our bodies if necessary, and there lies the problem. How can we set a minimum or maximum requirement?

Dieters always want to cut out carbohydrates and fill up on protein, but those who follow high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets will find themselves pretty fatigued half way through their exercise routine. But wait, can’t fat be converted to glucose to be used for energy during work outs over 20 minutes? Yes, but this process is slow. If your body is already low on fuel (aka glucose) you are going to feel totally drained before the fat converting magic even happens. If you don’t feel energized you can’t finish your work out. If you can’t finish your work out, you won’t burn calories, If you don’t burn calories your diet really isn’t going to help much in the end. See the problem?

But on the flip side, sometimes we go over board with the whole carbohydrate and exercise thing. The best example I can think of is 5k races. So a little over three miles, this race can easily be done in 30 minutes if you jog. Yet, we have a station half way through passing out Gatorade and orange slices. And then when we complete the race they hand out bagels and chocolate chip cookies. Those who organized the race must know a thing or two about running and nutrition, right? So I need to fill up with everything the 15-year-old volunteers throw at me, right? Wrong. The volunteers aren’t handing it to you because it is the best nutritional choice for you, but rather it was donated and the people have grown to expect and demand it! The truth, you don’t need to carbo load for a work out like that. Whatever stores you have from dinner the night before should be sufficient, and calories still count! A person burns around 300 calories during a 5k race, and one cinnamon sugar bagel and a swig of Gatorade will cost you around 600. Owch.There goes all your hard work to complete that race!

So where is the balance? Remember this chart I told you I would come back to? Find where you think your calorie range is by multiplying your weight in kg (divide your pounds by 2.2) by 25-30. Use 25 if you are sedentary or trying to lose weight, 30 if you are extremely physical or trying to gain weight.

ex- a 120 lb female who jogs 45 minutes a day

120 lbs / 2.2 = 54

27   (medium activity level for weight maintenance)

54 x 27 = 1458 kcals/ day

Once you find your calorie level, look at how many calories should be from carbohydrates when using the 50-25-25 rule. So our example 120 lb female, let’s call her Rapunzel. would need around 700-725 calories of carbs or 175 grams (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate) per day. So what choices does she have and what does that mean in real life? Rapunzel doesn’t count calories…

The best carbohydrates you could select are those that are fiber-rich and/or have a high water content. Eating these types of foods will slow your digestion, help you feel full, and give you lasting energy during your work outs. These complex carbs would be fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Obvi.  A lot of people get this notion that a calorie is a calorie, a carb is a carb, I’m going to have a danish pastry before my runs and fill up on donuts the rest of the day. Well first of all, people really tend to overestimate how much they actually burn off, and secondly, even if you stay in your calorie allotment, you’re body isn’t going to sustain its glycogen stores as well with these simple sugars. So prepare yourself to consistently consume good complex carbohydrates if you want to slim down or perform at your best.

Now the good part. What to pick. Print this out and put it on your refrigerator, please.

Best Carbohydrates

Fruits (60 calories per serving)

Apple, orange, pear, nectarine: 1 small (tennis ball size)

Peach or plum: 1 medium (fist size)

Banana – 1 small (5-inch) –mostly we eat bananas that count as two serving sizes…

Kiwi: 1 whole

Grapefruit- 1/2 of whole fruit

Grapes- 1 cup or 17 if you want to be exact

Cherries- 12 to be exact

Berries – 1 cup

Mango: 1/2 small

Tangerines or clementines : 2

Pineapple: 3/4 cup diced (can you dice pineapple? you know what I mean…)

Canned fruits (no syrups added): 1/2 cup

Vegetables (25 calories per serving)

Raw vegetables : 1 cup

Cooked vegetables : 1/2 cup (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbaef, green beans, eggplant, onions, etc)

Green pepper: 1 whole

Asparagus: 7 spears cooked/ 14 spears raw (please tell me if you eat these raw!)

Leafy greens: like 5 cups

Carbohydrates to Choose with Caution (aka watch portions)

High-starch vegetables (80 calories per serving)

Beans(black, lima, kidney, pinto, etc): 1/3 cup

Corn: 1/2 cup

Corn on the cob: 1 medium ear

Peas and lentils: 1/2 cup

Baked potato or sweet potato: 1 small (tennis ball size, we mostly eat double this…)

Pasta/rice ( 80 calories, choose less if you like)

Couscous: 1/3 cup

Rice (brown or white) : 1/3 cup

Quinoa : 1/4 cup

Noodles (whole wheat or white): 1/2 cup

Bulgur: 1/2 cup

Breads/Cereals/ Crackers (80 calories per serving)

100% whole wheat bread : one slice (actually around 100 cals, so you must read labels!)

Tortilla (wheat or white): 1-6″

Mini pita bread (5″): 1

Bagel: 1/4

The rest in this category can be found on labels, please read them!!!

I challenge you to keep track of your carbs for just one day. Notice portions, refer to this chart, and see how well you did. This experiment can at least give you an idea of where you could improve, or maybe you will be pleasantly surprised with yourself. If you have specifics on other not-listed items, feel free to ask me!

Next up, to carb load or not to carb load?

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