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Carbs and the Water Bottle

Understanding and Optimising Your Body's Fuel Source

By Kaillum Key, PT Trainer at Wollongong

Despite all the information and research that shows the benefits of having carbohydrates in our diet, there is still a level of concern or even fear sometimes about consuming them. This usually comes down to 2 things:

1) We aren’t aware of how our body uses and stores them.

2) We don’t how much we need vs how much we eat.

So, let’s look at both points here and try to clear up some of the confusion.

Carbs are our bodies' preferred source of fuel; they are used in all forms of exercise for different periods. For short and more intense bursts of exercise, they are the bodies primary fuel. For longer and less intense sessions (walking and jogging) they are briefly used then the body moves over to body fat. They play other important roles in the body but that is for another article, or we will be here for a while.

When it comes to storing carbohydrates, our body is quite efficient. If it wasn’t then we would all be diabetic. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose. This glucose then enters the bloodstream. Insulin is then released to store it in your muscles and liver. Now here is where it can get confusing. I want you to think of your muscles and liver like a water bottle. If you have a 500ml water bottle and put 400ml of liquid, it will have room to spare. If you try to put 700ml, it will overflow. This is kind of how the body works when storing the energy from carbs (glucose). If your muscles and liver (water bottle) can store 300g at any one time, and you are constantly trying to add 400g, the extra 100 has to go somewhere, and this is when the body will store the extra in fat cells. Now everyone’s storage capacity is different for various reasons such as amount of muscle, metabolic rate, activity levels and other factors too, so try not to compare what your body can handle to someone else’s. But if you’re trying to lose weight, this leads us to point 2.

To figure out how much carbohydrates we need is simpler than we think. First, you should track your intake to see how much (even roughly) you might be eating. That gives you a baseline. If you are not gaining or losing weight at that amount, its safe to say that you may be sitting close to your needs, assuming your fat and protein intake are stable week to week as well.

So, by that logic, if you keep your protein and fat intake roughly the same for a few weeks but reduce your carb intake, your weight will drop. Similarly, if you increase it, your weight should increase. This is a very broad way to look at how much you need when it comes to weight loss or gain as fat and protein intake will also play a big role.

Another way to assess it is by paying attention to how your energy levels bounce back after high intensity exercise. If you find it takes you a long time to get back to normal, it could mean that you need some carbs after your training session to replace what has been used and bring your blood sugars back to normal.

What we need to remember is that carbohydrates are key part of a healthy diet and will be stored and used by the body as needed. So, if you find that your weight isn’t changing as you would like and you’re keeping your protein and fat intake stable, it might be time to make small adjustments to your carb intake and make use of your body’s ability to store and use carbs for energy.

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