September 19, 2012 10.59 am This story is over 134 months old

Lincoln fitness: Are carbs friend or foe?

Confusing carbs: Not sure if you should be eating carbohydrates or not? Personal trainer Ross Burns explains how your body uses carbs, and how it affects your physique.

One of the most common questions I get asked is: “If I cut out carbs from my diet, I will lose weight?” Sure you will, but is it healthy? Let me explain.

High-carbohydrate diets place the blame for weight gain on the body’s metabolism of carbs. This has some basis in fact, but it’s not that simple. Between the time you eat a high-carbohydrate food and the appearance of another pound on the scale, a complicated process takes place. The nature of the process depends on what kind of carbohydrates you’ve eaten.

Types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are either simple, complex or fiber. Simple carbs, found in sugar, fruit and milk, are the easiest for your body to digest because they involve only a single molecule. Complex carbs, such as those found in legumes, starchy vegetables and whole wheat foods, consist of chains of molecules. Fiber is a complex carbohydrate consisting of a chain of molecules your body can’t break down at all. Fiber foods include nuts, grains and vegetables.

How Carbs are digested
Your system does not have to reduce simple carbs to single molecules through digestion. They’re already small enough that they can pass into your bloodstream with a minimum of fuss. However, your digestive system must break complex carbs apart into separate molecules for absorption into your blood. Fiber isn’t digestible at all. It passes through your system as is. Soluble fiber absorbs fats and some glucose and takes these along with it, helping to regulate blood sugar. Insoluble fiber moves food and waste through your system, maintaining regularity.

How Carbs Are Metabolised
Your body metabolises all carbs except fiber into glucose, or blood sugar. All your cells can make use of glucose, so it’s your body’s preferred source of energy. Because simple carbs don’t need a great deal of processing, they convert to glucose and hit your bloodstream in a rush. Glucose from complex carbohydrates reaches your bloodstream more slowly because the conversion process is more involved. When glucose begins moving through your bloodstream, this signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin sends the glucose to your liver and muscles for storage as glycogen for potential use later. If you stop eating carbs, your body will release glycogen back into your bloodstream for energy.

That’s all great to know, but how does it affects your weight?

Your liver and muscles can store no more than about 500 grams of glycogen, depending on your gender. If you consume a great amount of carbohydrates and glucose after those 500 g or so have been stored as glycogen, your body will convert the excess to fat. Fat is your body’s backup source of energy in case it ever runs out of both glucose and glycogen. If you overeat carbohydrates on a regular basis, your body will continue converting the overabundance to fat and will keep hoarding it. Eventually, the fat will add up and result in weight gain.

Moral of the article: eat carbohydrates in moderation. They are not your enemy, but too much will lead to you gaining fat.

The thing I cannot stress enough is do not focus on scales; focus on how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror. You don’t look on the front cover of a magazine and say “I would love to weigh as much as her!” Instead, you always say “I would love to look like her.” Scales mean nothing; we are all different shapes and sizes.

Focus on your shape, strength and physical fitness, these are the main factors of creating a happier life than digits on a scale.

Ross Burns is a community fitness instructor and personal trainer based in Lincoln. He also regularly blogs on his website about common fitness queries and issues, and run his own gym.