Oh carbohydrates! We hear about them all of the time! Carbs are bad, carbs make you gain weight! Heck, this is the only macro nutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) that goes by a nickname! Having served in the health and fitness industry for more than 8 years I have found this single macro nutrient to be the most misunderstood with no exception. Granted it is the most complicated macro nutrient but it CAN be simple if we understand the basics.
1-The Glycemic index is a rating system ranging from 1-100
2-This scale pertains to carbohydrates ONLY.
3-The higher the rating, the faster that particular carbohydrate breaks down into blood sugar (your immediate and ultimate source of energy)
4-Every time a carbohydrate is broken down into blood sugar you have a corresponding rise in the hormone insulin
5-Insulin acts as a transport hormone that shuttles the blood sugar into one of three containers in your body (blood sugar, glycogen, and fat)
6-High insulin levels are equated with fat storage and other hormonal shifts that cause hunger pangs and satiety issues.
Summary: Each carbohydrate source that you ingest has a glycemic index attached to it. The higher it is, the faster that carbohydrate breaks down into blood sugar which is your immediate source of energy. The faster it breaks down the more insulin is required. Chronically high insulin levels are associated with a plethora health disorders such as insulin resistance, hyper-glycemia, metabolic syndrome and ultimately Type II Diabetes.
SO…Who should care about the glycemic index?
As we all know, nutrition is the most vital part of any fitness program. It can make or break our goals and ambitions. Furthermore, when it comes to nutrition there is little discussion that carbohydrate seems to be the most confusing macro-nutrient (out of carbs, protein, and fat). Why is this? Let us think about a few reasons.
1. Carbohydrates are all listed on the glycemic index, while protein and fat are not. This means that we need to educate ourselves as to what carbohydrates are good and which ones are bad. This can be tedious at first, but will eventually become second nature to us as we form a new lifestyle.
2. Carbohydrates are shrouded with myth. What have we been told by popular diets such as Atkins®? We have been told that carbohydrates are the culprit for mass weight gain. Is this true? Stay tuned.
3. Carbohydrates come in all shapes and sizes. Carbohydrates range from simple carbohydrates to complex carbohydrates and everything in between. What further complicates the scenario is that some complex carbohydrates are high on the glycemic index and some simple carbohydrates are low. However some general rules can be established. Remember that complex carbohydrates are generally lower on the glycemic index and simple carbohydrates are generally higher.
In my next post I will delve into some common myths that surround carbohydrates and I will give you some ammo as to how you can dispell them and make the right carbohydrate selections. Please stay tuned!