By Anthony Ricciuto
At the present time the most written about macronutrient is the carbohydrate. This macronutrient has gone through some major changes over the years. Well, the carbohydrate hasn’t actually gone through physical changes, but the way dieticians and the way people consume them over the past decade has changed 360 degrees. We have your high carb diets, low carb diets, no carb diets, Zone type diets and more variations than you could shake your powerlifting belt at. What is it about carbs that makes them so interesting compared to fats and proteins? Ok, they really aren’t that interesting, they just taste much better than the other two macronutrients and that is where all the interest lies. This article is the first part in a two part series on carbohydrates and the role they play in the powerlifter’s diet. In this article we will take a look at what carbohydrates are, their types, and where they can be found in your diet. Believe me, carbs are more complex (no pun intended) than you imagined!
Carbohydrates are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They are the preferred nutritional source of energy. In the United States the average adult male consumes approximately 300 grams of carbohydrates per day. Females consume approximately 180 grams of carbohydrates per day. Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, which is the equivalent of protein. The average American diet is not only too high in fat and sodium, but also simple carbohydrates. In recent years, Americans have reduced their consumption of complex carbohydrates, and have increased their intake of simple and refined carbohydrates. It is this fact that has scientists and dieticians studying the effects of carbohydrates on our performance and health.
TYPES OF CARBOHYDRATES
Just as with fats, there is more than one type of carbohydrate. They can be broken down into two main categories. They include your simple and complex carbohydrates. They can be further broken down into categories, including different types in each of the categories. I have outlined the categories and types of carbohydrates.
Monosaccharides- are known as simple sugars
Disaccharides-are formed from 2 monosaccharide molecules
Polysaccharides-are formed from multiple chains of monosaccharides
The most basic unit of carbohydrates is the monosaccharide, also known as the sugar molecule. Scientists have discovered over 200 different monosaccharides but most of us powerlifters don’t really care…right! Lets find out where each of the major ones can be found and what it does.
Glucose is a natural sugar found in food. Glucose also goes by the name dextrose or blood sugar. You are sure to find this in many weight gain powders, sports drinks and creatine transport formulas. Glucose is also present in soda in the form of corn syrup. One very popular soda has the equivalent of 13 teaspoons of sugar per can! The U.S.D.A. recommends taking in no more than 10 teaspoons a day. You would exceed your daily total sugar intake just by drinking one can of this soda. Here is one major form of hidden calories and most American’s consume an excess of soda, including children.
Fructose is also known as fruit sugar. It is mainly found in fruits and honey. It can be found in some energy drinks mainly designed for endurance athletes. It is also used in some supplements as a sweetener since it is the sweetest of all the simple sugars. The absorption of fructose into the blood stream is much slower than that of glucose. This leads to less problems associated with roller coaster blood glucose levels that leave us feeling tired. Fructose doesn’t replenish muscle glycogen stores like other carbohydrates, but its forte is to replenish depleted liver glycogen. This is why it is a main ingredient in energy drinks customized for endurance athletes. When muscle glycogen is depleted, stored liver glycogen is then used as an energy source. The brain also utilizes the majority of its energy supply from liver glycogen.
Galactose is unlike the other simple carbohydrates as it is not found in plants. Galactose can be found in milk as it is produced by the mammary glands of lactating animals like cows.
Sucrose is the most widely known sugar since it is also known as table sugar. It is composed of one glucose, and one fructose molecule. This is the main culprit for tooth decay, so stay away from this as much as possible. It also plays a major role in obesity in the United States. It can be found in maple syrup, candy and chocolate bars, just to name a few. I know, it always seems like the foods that taste good are the worst for you.
Lactose is well known since many individuals especially from Asian and African countries do not posses the enzyme lactase to properly digest this sugar. It is found in milk and dairy products. Lactose is composed of one galactose and one glucose molecule. You may have experienced the wrath of Montezuma’s Revenge when you chugged down one of those cheap bargain basement protein or weight gain powders in the years past. Presently, most supplement companies have the lactose reduced so it can be consumed more often with out discomfort.
Maltose is composed of two glucose molecules. It is also known as malt sugar. Since it is mainly present in cereals, beer, and germinating seeds, it isn’t a major player in most individual’s diets. That’s unless you eat a lot of germinating seeds or you have your own brewing station in the basement. One side note…Just because you read that maltose is present in beer, don’t take advantage of this information. Please don’t tell your wives that you are taking expert nutritional advice from PL USA, so you need that extra brew to prevent a maltose deficiency. You could try, but I don’t think it will work!
Starch is also known as complex carbohydrates. Unlike the simple carbohydrates mentioned above, starch is composed of long chains of glucose molecules. Starch can be found in such foods as bread, grains, pasta, rice, cereal, potatoes, and beans. There are also processed forms of polysaccharides. This would include glucose polymers and maltodextrin. These forms of polysaccharides have shorter polymers than a solid form of starch like a potato. They are highly soluble in water so they enter the bloodstream faster than trying to stuff down a yam between your lifts. Plus, it won’t cause the bloating like solid food. Eliminating complex carbs in your diet for simple carbohydrates is not a good idea. This is one of the reasons why we have seen an increase in diabetes and obesity in the United States. Complex carbohydrates provide the best energy source of all carbohydrates, so this is one reason why they should be a staple in the powerlifting diet.
Fiber is another very valuable nutrient that is deficient in the majority of American’s diets. Ok, I know what you are thinking, “What does fiber have to do with powerlifting?” Fiber has many benefits for the powerlifter and they are outlined in Chart 6A. We all know the reputation of powerlifters when it comes to this topic…so enough said, I‘ll continue on with the lecture. Fiber is considered a non starch polysaccharide. To the mainstream public it is known as dietary fiber. Unlike the other carbohydrates, fiber cannot be digested as it is resistant to digestive enzymes in the human body. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts. Consuming a high fiber diet helps prevent such diseases as colon cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can also have a positive effect on lowering bad or LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber transports bile acids out of the body. Bile acids are needed to produce cholesterol, so eliminating them leads to a lower blood cholesterol rating. The two main types of fiber are insoluble and soluble. The types and categories of fiber can be further broken down. They are outlined in Chart 2A. Insoluble fiber speeds up GI transit, slows down starch hydrolysis, increases fecal weight and delays glucose absorption. Soluble fiber delays GI transport, lowers blood cholesterol (LDL), and delays glucose absorption as well. As you can see, fiber has many benefits that the powerlifter can take advantage of so make sure it is part of your power meal plan.
TYPES OF FIBER AND SOURCES
Gums and Mucilages
As you can see from the above chart, fiber isn’t as simple as you probably thought. Fiber is broken down into the following types and forms. Cellulose is found in fruits, vegetables and legumes since it is the main property of plant cell walls. Hemicelluloses are mainly found in oatmeal and bran cereals. Since they are composed of several different monosaccharides, this leads to some being insoluble while others are soluble. This is why they are in both columns in Chart 2A. Pectins are present in citrus fruits and vegetables. They are also used to thicken jelly since it controls the consistency and texture. Gums and Mucilages are used for different purposes. Gums are used as additives for food, and mucilages are used as food stabilizers. Lignins can be found in small seeds such as in strawberries and carrots. Lignins are considered to be a non polysaccharide fiber.
TYPES OF CARBOHDRATES AND SOURCES
THE MAJOR ROLES OF CARBOHYDRATES
Even though I am not a major advocate of super high carbohydrate diets especially for the powerlifter, carbs play a major role in the functioning of our bodies. One of the most important functions that carbohydrates perform is to serve as the main energy source or fuel. As powerlifters, we need a specific amount of carbohydrates to perform at our optimal levels. This is a variable that is different for everyone. The variables must be analyzed to find out how much carbohydrates you need per day. These variables are outlined in Chart 4A. As you can see, just stuffing in mounds of any type of carbs as often as you like won’t cut it in terms scientific powerlifting nutrition. We will be discussing some of these ideas in part two of this series.
Another very important aspect of carbohydrate consumption is the effect they have on protein. Carbohydrates are known to be “Protein Sparing”. What this means is that carbohydrates protect the protein you do consume from being converted to glucose to serve as an energy source when glycogen and plasma glucose levels decrease. This process is known as gluconeogenesis. This occurs when blood glucose concentrations are too low. This in turn causes the release of the hormone glucagon. It is released by the alpha cells in the Islets of Langerhans. This is an area of the liver that controls both insulin and glucagon. This hormone is known as an “Insulin Antagonist”, since both insulin and glucagon work at opposite ends of the same scale. The major problem with good old gluconeogenesis is that it can also consume lean muscle tissue. This puts you into a catabolic or muscle wasting state, thereby reducing your lean muscle mass. This is something we all want to avoid like the plague unless you enjoy losing muscle, gaining fat, decreasing your metabolism, and losing strength.
Carbohydrates serve another important purpose. Carbs are very important for the proper functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). The human brain uses blood glucose as its main fuel source. The brain doesn’t have a stored supply of blood glucose the way the muscles and liver store glycogen. This is why the last time you were on a low carbohydrate diet you may have not been the sharpest tool in the shed. Having a proper supply of carbohydrates in your diet will also prevent hypoglycemia or what is known as low blood sugar. Symptoms include hunger, dizziness, weakness and fatigue. Nothing will shoot down performance like a nice bout of hypoglycemia during your training, so make sure you have the right carbs when your body needs them.
These are some of the major roles carbohydrates play in your power diet, but this is not all of them. We will take an in depth look into some of the other roles of carbohydrates in part two of this series.
Now that you understand the different types of carbohydrates and fibers, where do we go from here? Don’t worry; I wouldn’t bog you down with all this serious nutrition lingo without explaining how all this info affects the powerlifter. I know that this article was a little science based, but I will layout all the important information on how we can use it to help increase our performance in the next part of this series. With this base of knowledge, we can now put together a plan that will best maximize the use of carbohydrates in the powerlifter’s diet. So until next month, make sure you get adequate supplies of your complex carbs, and don’t over dose on the maltose!
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VARIABLES FOR CARBOHYDRATE CALCULATION
The individual’s bodyweight, both lean mass and fat weight
The individual’s Basal Metabolic Rate or B.M.R.
The Type of Carbohydrates consumed
The Glycemic Index Rating of the carbohydrate consumed
The Grams of Carbohydrates per meal
The Grams of Carbohydrates per day
The degree of Insulin Sensitivity or Insulin Resistance
The individual’s Body Fat Percentage
Total amount of Daily Energy Expenditure
Activity Type: Anaerobic or Aerobic in nature
The Thermic Effect of Food
BENNEFITS OF CARBOHDRATES
BENNEFITS OF FIBER
Reduces your chances for colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes
Lowers LDL or bad cholesterol
Helps the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream
Helps eliminate toxins from the body
Regulates proper bowel movements
Increases fecal weight
Slows down starch hydrolysis