Fueling Yourself for Success: Part 4 – Carbohydrates

9 mins read

In this article we explain carbohydrates, the final macronutrient that is essential in fueling your success.

When you get to the end of your day, do you lack energy? If you were to look back and reflect on your day, did you eat? Beyond eating grab-and-go snacks or processed foods, did you eat any nutritious meals? These are important questions to consider, as many business owners and executives struggle with putting aside the time for proper meals in their day. Why is this important to consider, you may be wondering? Consuming adequate calories through the 3 essential macronutrients in meals throughout the day is crucial to fueling your success! Each macronutrient plays a vital role for bodily functions, including the brain, which helps you to perform your best.

In the first 3 articles of this series we described the important role of calories, proteins, and fats in fueling a successful day. In this article, we explain the last of the 3 essential macronutrients, which is carbohydrates.

What are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are nutrients that our bodies need in larger amounts in order to function properly, which makes sense as macro means large. These nutrients provide us with energy, in the form of calories, which our bodies need in order to maintain our systems and structures. The 3 major macronutrients that should be included in every health meal include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. In truth, each food contains all 3 macronutrients, however almost all food items contain a majority of just 1 of the 3 macros, which is why each specific food item falls into a specific macro category. For example, an apple is highest in carbs, so it is therefore categorized as a carbohydrate.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrate molecules are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Also referred to as carbs, these are the most abundant biomolecules (a molecule produced by a living organism) on Earth! Carbohydrate molecules can be divided into 4 different structures:1

1. Monosaccharide: These are simple sugars, which are the most basic and fundamental unit of a carb. This would include glucose, galactose, and fructose. The general chemical structure is C6H12O6.

2. Disaccharide: These are compound sugars, which contain two monosaccharides, and the elimination of a water molecule (H2O). The typical chemical structure is C12H22O11. Disaccharides include sucrose and lactose.

3. Oligosaccharide: These contain 3 to 10 monosaccharides. Examples would be maltodextrins, and raffinose.

4. Polysaccharides: Polymers containing long chains of monosaccharides connected through glycosidic bonds. These are covalent bonds which connect a carbohydrate molecule with another carbohydrate molecule or another compound such as an alcohol. This would include cellulose, and amylose.

The structure of the carbohydrate molecules can then form 2 different types of carbohydrates:

1. Simple Carbohydrates: These are one to two sugars, monosaccharides or disaccharides, combined in a simple structure. The simple structure makes them easily used for energy, resulting in a rapid increase in blood sugar levels and insulin secretion from the pancreas. Common simple carbohydrates include glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, galactose, and ribose.

2. Complex Carbohydrates: These are 3 or more sugars, oligosaccharides or polysaccharides, bonded together in complex chemical structures. As the complicated structure takes longer to digest, these carbs have a more gradual effect on blood sugar and insulin secretion. Examples are cellobiose, rutinulose, amylose, cellulose, dextrin. The two most common types of complex carbohydrates are starches and fibre.

a. Starches: Complex carbohydrates with a large number of glucose molecules. These are polysaccharides produced by plants and include foods such as potatoes, chickpeas, pasts, and wheat.

b. Fibre: This complex carbohydrate is non-digestible. Fibre encourages healthy bacterial growth in the colon and acts as a bulking agent, easing defecation. The main components in fibres are cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin.

Insoluble fibre absorbs water in the intestines, which helps to soften and bulk stool resulting in more regular bowel movements and a decreased risk of diverticulosis. This includes brans, seeds, vegetables, brown rice, potato skins.

Soluble fibre helps in decreasing blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, reduces strain of bowel movements, and helps with post-meal blood glucose levels. Examples are fleshy fruit, oats, broccoli, and dried beans.

Why are carbohydrates essential?

It is important to understand that carbs are not bad for us! Many people associate carbohydrates with weight gain, however they are an essential macronutrient for the body. The “bad” carbs are found in the highly refined and ultra-processed foods, as these foods are typically low in fibre, high in added sugars, and lack important nutrients. Carbs are essential for energy, which is the main fuel for our success! The body converts carbohydrates into glucose, which is then transported in the blood to cells, tissues, and organs including the brain, heart, kidneys, muscles, etc. To help move the glucose from blood into the cells that use it for energy, as the blood sugar levels rise the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Glucose that isn’t immediately used is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for later use, however, this supply is limited to about half a day’s worth of energy. It is also vital to understand that the brain requires a constant supply of energy as it does not have the ability to store energy.

Carbohydrate Food Sources:

Foods that are placed in the carbohydrate category are considered to have a higher amount of carbs than the other 2 macronutrients.

Here are some healthy carbohydrate food sources:

  • Fruits – ALL of them, from Apples to Zinfandel grapes (other than avocados and olives. Also not wine, even if it does come from grapes – nice try!)
  • Vegetables – ALL of them, from Arugula to Zucchini
  • Beans and other Legumes
  • Yogurt – the flavoured ones
  • Natural Sugars
  • Unrefined Grains

Fueling Your Energy for Success

This article described how carbohydrates are an essential source of fuel for our energy. They can be simple or complex, and provide our blood with the glucose necessary to fuel our cells, organs and tissues with energy. Now that we have discussed calories and macronutrients and their roles in fueling our success, we challenge you to start considering how you could incorporate meals with the 3 essential macronutrients in your day!

To help with this challenge, check out the 5th and last article in this series, which will include tips to fuel yourself for success during the busy days of business.

Download this resource Fueling Yourself for Success Part 4 – Carbohydrates.

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1 JE, Holesh, et. al. “Physiology, Carbohydrates.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280/

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