The human body is a complex system consisting of 78 organs and 13 major organ systems. Billions of cells reside within each of those organs. While exercise is an essential component of staying healthy, you also require a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to function correctly.
Carbohydrates are one of the oft-discussed topics in the health world. If you’re wondering how to become a personal trainer or nutritionist, the mighty carbohydrate is something you’ll need to be very familiar with.
What is a Carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates provide your body with its primary fuel. Consider carbohydrates as the gasoline to your body’s engine. As noted by the name, carbohydrates are composed of carbon atoms and water molecules. Whole grains are the primary source of carbohydrates; they can be found in an entire slew of other foods, including fruits and vegetables.
Simple vs. Complex
Carbohydrates are broken down further into complex and simple categories, based mostly on how hard the body needs to work to process the food into usable energy.
Simple carbohydrates are made up of just one or two sugar molecules. These are the easiest to digest and the quickest source of energy. Unfortunately, foods high in simple carbohydrates don’t contain much of anything aside from empty calories. They lack fiber and pass out of the body quickly. You might gain a small boost of energy from that candy bar, but it won’t last very long. Some foods that contain simple carbohydrates include:
- Table sugar
- Soft drinks
Complex carbs, also known as starches, are made up of several sugar molecules chained together, causing slower—and steadier—digestion. Complex carbohydrates keep blood sugar more stable and contain more fiber than the simple variety. Anyone working their way toward group fitness certification knows the importance of the long-lasting energy complex carbs provide for high-intensity workouts.
Starches are how plants store their energy, so they inherently have more vitamins and minerals. These are just a few foods high in complex carbohydrates:
- Green veggies
- Whole grains (bread, oatmeal, pasta)
- Sweet potatoes
- Beans and peas
Good vs. Bad
In the past few years, the concept of carbs as good or bad has led to all sorts of fad diets, most popularly the Atkins diet, which does away with carbohydrate intake almost entirely. However, speak to anyone with a nutrition consultant certification, and they will tell you that cutting carbohydrates out of your diet isn’t an exceptionally healthy choice. Your body needs more than protein and fat to operate.
Good carbohydrates come from natural foods high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals (i.e., fruits and vegetables). Bad carbs come from sugars and foods with added sugar. For the most part, simple carbohydrates are bad, while starches are functional.
However, be aware that refined grains (like white bread and white rice) are complex but aren’t considered good carbs. Through the refining process, a lot of the good stuff is taken out, leaving an unhealthy result that won’t sustain energy.