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Fit Fridays with Tracy: The importance of carbohydrates


Sometimes carbohydrates get a bad rap.

Sure, too many carbs (or too many anything for that matter) can take you down a bad road, but let’s get into the reasons why you need them.

We need carbohydrates to maintain muscle health as well as nourishing and energy purposes. Carbs are our primary source of energy at 1,600 calories per pound. Carbohydrates yield four calories per gram. They come in two forms: simple and complex. Complex carbs are used for timed-released and sustained energy. Starch, cereals or vegetables are good sources of complex carbs and are your ideal source. Complex carbs make you feel satisfied or full after a meal.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy. Simple carbohydrates are found naturally in foods such as fruits, milk and milk products. They are also found in processed and refined sugars such as candy, table sugar, syrups and soft drinks. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates (starches) and naturally occurring sugars rather than processed or refined sugars.

Making energy isn’t the only thing your body does with the carbohydrate nutrients in your diet. Carbohydrates also protect your muscles. When you need energy your body looks for glucose from carbohydrates first. Carbs help to regulate the amount of sugar circulating in your blood so that all your cells get the energy they need. They provide nutrients for the friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract that help digest food. They assist in your body’s absorption of calcium and may even help to lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood pressure (these effects are special benefits of dietary fiber).

If you’re on a carbohydrate-restricted diet or have a medical condition that prevents you from using the carbohydrate foods you consume, your body begins to pull energy out of fatty tissue. The body’s next move is to burn its own protein tissue (muscles). If this use of proteins for energy lasts long enough, you could run out of fuel and die. A diet that provides sufficient amounts of carbohydrates keeps your body from feeding on its own muscles.

Don’t be fearful of carbohydrates. They are not bad for you. Always take into consideration the amount of carbohydrates you consume as well as the type of them (simple or complex) to determine how it directly affects your weight and energy levels.

Tracy Springs is a fitness instructor at LA Fitness. Feel free to contact her at [email protected]  with any questions or to set up a fitness appointment at the LA Fitness Waukegan facility.