Coach Marys Tasty tips #3
I hope you enjoyed the little recipe I gave you last week and maybe even tried it once or twice. Today I want to start talking about the components of food, more specifically macro and micro nutrients. Most people have heard these terms before and many of you may even know what they are and what function they have in your body. If you do know all about it I apologize, as I will be repeating stuff you know already, but I think it is important for those who don’t know to understand a bit about them. So here it goes.
The food we eat is composed of three main macronutrients; they are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. These are components that our bodies need in amounts of grams in order to survive. The term macro is used to differentiate these from micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are also present in most foods, but our body only needs them in quantities of milligrams.
Starting with carbohydrates (aka carbs), they are molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They are the sugars, starches, and fiber (topic for another day’s post) that we eat, and our body uses them mostly as energy to fuel our day-to-day activities and most of our lovely workouts at CF green! (Starting to see why it isn’t a good idea to not eat carbs?!…)
Carbohydrates can be separated into two big categories: simple and complex. It’s quite hard to summarize each one in a paragraph, but here is my attempt to explain them in a simple but comprehensive way.
- Simple carbs are made up of one or two of the simplest molecules of carbohydrates called monosaccharides. There are three main monosaccharides, which are glucose, fructose, and galactose. The most important one to remember is glucose, as it is the ultimate way our body uses carbs to produce energy. Table sugar is an example of a simple carb we consume regularly; it is a disaccharide (two monosaccharides together) also called sucrose and it is composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose bonded together.
Fruit, vegetables, milk, and candy all contain simple carbs, so do not jump to the conclusion that all simple carbs are bad; they can serve a purpose in our diet if eaten at appropriates times and in appropriate amounts. Also, not all simple carbs are the same as they can contain different amounts of fibre and micronutrients, which can make big difference in terms of its absorption and nutritional value.
- In comparison, complex carbs are foods such as whole grain cereals and bread, starchy vegetables such as pumpkins and potatoes, and legumes such as beans and lentils. They are made up of three or more monosaccharides connected by chemical bonds, forming long chain or complex structures that are harder for our bodies to digest and absorb. Our bodies have chemical and physical mechanisms put in place to break down the bonds keeping these complex carbs together, reducing them to smaller molecules to be absorbed and used for energy. Regardless of how big the carbohydrate molecule is, it will ultimately be used for energy in the form of glucose, one of the small monosaccharides mentioned above.
Another way, and probably a more important way to distinguish carbohydrates is according to their glycemic index. Glycemic index is a measurement of the effect each carbohydrate has on our blood sugars when eaten; it can theoretically range from 1-100 (glucose as a glycemic index of 100). The higher the index value, the quicker the carb is digested, absorbed, and metabolized, causing a fast elevation and drop in our blood sugars (it can even drop it below the initial level). The lower the index value, the longer it takes to digest and utilize it, causing a steadier and slower elevation in the blood sugars. A slower release of sugar into our blood means it will fuel our organs for a longer period of time, and it will keep us from spiking the hormones that control the levels of blood sugars.
- High glycemic index foods = 70 or above. These tend to be simple sugars such as candy and sugar-sweetened beverages, but also include some complex carbs such as white potatoes, white rice and refined cereals.
- Medium glycemic index foods: 56-69
- Low GI foods: 55 or less. Some examples are bran cereals, legumes, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
You can easily find a more detailed list on the Internet if you look for it, but this gives you an idea of the different foods in each category. If you hear the term glycemic load, it is simply the term used for glycemic index adapted to serving sizes of each carbohydrate. The idea is the same with this term, the higher the value, the higher and sooner the spike in the blood sugar when that food is ingested.
So what happens to carbohydrate molecules when digested and absorbed? They are used for energy for the most part, and the remainder that is not used is stored to be used later. Carbohydrates are stored mostly as a complex molecule called glycogen, which can be found in both the muscles and the liver. Two main hormones, glucagon and insulin, regulate our glycogen stores and blood glucose. Very simplistically, insulin helps reduce blood glucose while glucagon does the exact opposite. For example, right after you eat a carb-heavy meal, your insulin levels increase and allow for the absorbed glucose to be transported to muscles, the liver, and adipose tissue (fat). In contrast, when doing a CF workout that requires a high amount of glucose for energy, glucagon levels increase and signal the liver to break down its glycogen stores and release glucose into the blood to be used. It’s important to be aware that carbohydrates, when in excess and not used to fuel our daily activities, can be stored as fatty tissue. This doesn’t make carbs evil; it simply means that they should be eaten in moderation and according to our energetic needs.
Lastly, I just want to mention that 1 gram of carbs has 4kcals. This is good to know if you are thinking about counting your macros at some point, but more on that subject another day.
Once again, thank you for putting up with me, I know this was a long post, but it is all pretty important information that I will build onto in later posts.
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