In recent years, the health and fitness industry has been inundated with weight-loss and diet recommendations via popular books, websites and infomercials. Desperately seeking a quick fix, the general public falls easy prey to pseudoscientists and sneaky supplement salesmen intending to pad their wallets through a multibillion dollar market.
Some of these imprudent nutrition pundits have vilified dietary carbohydrates as inherently “fattening”, expendable and even unhealthy as reasoning for their extraction. Although some research has associated carb-restricted diets with improvements in health-related biomarkers, the benefits of their inclusion for athletes and fitness buffs are plentiful.
Here are five reasons which make the case for dietary carbohydrates.
Glycogen, or carbohydrates stored in muscle, is essential to optimal anaerobic performance, as nearly 80% of ATP production is derived from carbohydrate breakdown. High intensity resistance training rapidly depletes muscle glycogen.
Consuming dietary carbohydrate soon after exercise results in faster rates of glycogen re-synthesis and provides the body with enough glucose to initiate the recovery process. Muscle glycogen stores are replenished the fastest within the first hour after exercise. Accelerating glycogen replenishment may be particularly important for individuals who perform multiple training sessions within a 24 hour period. Consuming carbohydrates within an hour after exercise also helps to increase protein synthesis and thereby influence muscular growth.
Although many people like to label carbs as sinful or fat-producing, those monikers are simply incorrect. The misconception may be rooted in the fact that some carbohydrate sources (those higher in simple sugars) tend to be more calorically-dense and therefore, can easily lead to overconsumption. So the particular food source needs to be considered before labeling carbs “good” or “bad”.
Whole Grains, legumes, wheat and whole grain brown rice contain something called “resistant starch”-which is an indigestible fiber that passes the upper digestive tract to the large intestine.
Resistant starch reduces the caloric density of food due to its indigestibility and has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, prevent fat deposition in adipocytes, and possibly increase satiety.
Some studies showed that resistant starch increases protein retention and may have positive effects on body composition consequently influencing resting metabolic rate. These effects have resulted in the characterization of resistant starch as a “weight loss wonder food”.
Unfortunately, many people confuse insulin spikes with blood glucose spikes. While a rapid rise and subsequent fall in blood glucose can contribute to hunger, elevated blood glucose also causes rapid rise in insulin. So carb-fearing fanatics like to blame insulin and the effects of carbohydrates on insulin for weight gain. However, protein can be just as potent of a stimulus for insulin as carbohydrate. A 2010 study compared the effects of two different meals on insulin. One meal contained 21 grams of protein and 125 grams of carbohydrate. The other meal contained 75 grams of protein and 75 grams of carbohydrate. The results indicated that the higher protein meal induced a slightly higher insulin response.
More importantly, fat stores simply can’t be increased without the provision of excess calories. Therefore, weight gain or loss is mediated by the effects of energy balance and not insulin.
Extracting carbohydrates from the diet can also have a profound influence on neuroendocrine functioning. There is evidence indicating that acute hormonal responses favoring metabolism is highly correlated with carbohydrate intake. Two hormones in particular that play an important role in the regulation of food intake and body weight are leptin and ghrelin. Both play major roles in the control system for energy balance in humans, and neuroendocrine disturbances of these hormones appear to play a role in the maintenance of weight.
Several research studies have shown that the serum leptin level is a strong positive determinant of resting metabolic rate (RMR) which in turn can encourage improvements in body composition.
Maintaining long-term health and well-being is an essential goal for most fitness enthusiasts and athletes.
Epidemiological and clinical studies demonstrate that consumption of dietary fiber which can be obtained in whole grain, carbohydrate-rich foods may have a protective affect against numerous chronic diseases.
Scientific evidence shows protective health benefits from long-term adherence to diets dominated by plant-based carbohydrates. In fact, populations in Japan; Italy, Costa Rica and Greece have been associated with exceptional longevity and a preference toward plant-based carbohydrate diets.
Residents of these areas -which have been labeled as "Blue Zones" adhere to diets consisting of up to 90% of calories from carbohydrates -mainly in vegetable form.
While science has not completely validated the exact mechanisms and associated causes of the exceptional longevity of Blue Zone inhabitants, it is generally advised that individuals follow a diet that includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.