Carbohydrates make you happy and full. Carbohydrates make you fat. Carbohydrates increase athletic performance and help build muscle. Carbohydrates could reduce athletic performance.
Yes, what now? Research on carbohydrates is obscure: on whether the supposed fatteners simply fill you up or really make you fat – or whether they can even help you lose weight in sports, make you faster, stronger or more persistent in training and competitions.
The fact is: the body doesn’t really need any carbohydrates to survive. According to nutritionist and author Nicolai Worm, he could get his energy entirely from fats and amino acids, i.e. the protein components – and produce carbohydrates himself.
Several studies have shown that low-carb diets and especially the keto diet help to accelerate fat metabolism and thus the process of losing weight. Diets with only a few carbohydrates work significantly better than a similar diet that is based on a low fat intake and instead has a high proportion of carbohydrates.
In the short term, in particular, it can help to consume a little less carbohydrates. In the long term, however, it is not very advisable to cut carbohydrates very much, as studies show. One that appeared in the European Heart Journal in 2019 had accompanied almost 25,000 people for over six years.
The result: the lower the carbohydrate diet was in the long term, the higher the risk of cardiovascular, cerebral vascular and cancer diseases. The researchers suspect that this is a consequence of the then mostly fat and cholesterol-heavy diet. In addition, the liver and kidneys could be severely stressed, and important minerals are usually not included in this diet.
Some endurance athletes with intensive training, such as marathon runners or triathletes, also rely on a particularly low-carbohydrate diet in the weeks before the competition – but with a different goal, says Worm to NewsABC.net. In this way, the body learns to optimize the production of energy from its fat reserves. If he does get carbohydrates the evening before the decisive day, it gives him a real energy boost for the phases of highest stress the next day.
“It depends on what goals you are pursuing and whether you are doing sport for performance or for fun. Anyone who knows they want to win a competition or play an important tennis match without knowing when it will end should definitely use carbohydrates, ”he continues.
Instead of gummy bears, prefer a banana
Combined with exercise, carbohydrates can also help build muscle because they release more insulin, he says. Together with proteins, this increases the anabolic, i.e. the cell-building and cell-preserving effect of the protein. Insulin regulates the blood sugar level, so it is the messenger substance that tells the body that it should now consume food. This also makes the muscles more receptive to protein.
For example, some resort to gummy bears, says sports scientist Michael Despeghel from Despeghel & Partner Health Consulting to NewsABC.net. But he doesn’t think it makes sense to eat sweets.
“That harms the absorption of important minerals such as vitamin B. Instead, I would recommend eating complex carbohydrates, such as those provided by a banana.” Put simply, when the body digests sugar, it sets in motion processes that require certain minerals and vitamins are necessary. But since sugar only provides “empty calories”, i.e. no nutrients, the body pulls what it needs from the bones. And that can make them unstable.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. All of them consist of small sugar molecules, but they can either be multiple or just strung together. Carbohydrates with single or double sugar molecules – white flour products or sweets – are more easily absorbed by the body, causing the blood sugar level to rise quickly and then drop again steeply. This suggests that the body gets hungry and you may eat even though you don’t have to eat anything.
Multi-chain carbohydrates are a little more difficult to digest and therefore keep you full longer. They can be found in potatoes, whole grains and legumes. They usually contain other valuable nutrients and have a lower fat content.
However, Michael Despeghel does not consider the method of consuming as few carbohydrates as possible for weeks before competitions in order to reach the pasta party the evening before to be wise. “The athletes were more likely to report gastrointestinal problems. I would rather increase the amount of protein from one to 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight a few days before the competition and reduce my intake of animal fats. “
If carbohydrates are used, they should be as complex as possible
According to him, it is best not to eat anything an hour before strenuous exercise. It is particularly annoying to eat something very sugary 20 minutes before the start. “If you want to prevent hunger pangs, you shouldn’t do that. That would only drive the insulin level up and drop it again sharply during exercise. ”This would make the piece of cake look even more tempting after the run than usual.
But as an athlete, do without carbohydrates entirely? That is also not expedient in the long term, says Despeghel. “They should make up a good 40 percent of your daily calorie intake. Otherwise the metabolism will not work as well as possible. ”
The Mediterranean diet is ideal – both for athletes and for those who want to lose weight. “But it would also be possible to stick to a balanced nutrition plan four days a week and to completely avoid alcohol, wheat flour and sweets. The remaining three days can be eaten as usual. This method has proven itself. ”
For those who want to lose weight, it might help to exercise on an empty stomach every now and then. And those who are after performance should use complex carbohydrates more often. Last but not least, it doesn’t help to completely do without cakes and all the other things if they make you so wonderfully happy. Both scientists agree on this.