Carbohydrates are utilized for energy, both instant and sustained. When insufficient carbohydrates are taken in, the body must utilize proteins for energy even to the point of catabolizing muscle tissue for energy. The principle functions of carbohydrates are to:

  • Serve as the primary energy source for working muscles.
  • Ensure that the brain and nervous system function properly.
  • Help the body use fat more efficiently.

       Digestive enzymes in the small intestines break down the carbohydrates into glucose. The glucose can be immediately utilized by the body or stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. The muscles can store about 20 minutes of glycogen for energy. The bloodstream can hold about an hour of glucose for energy.

      If glucose levels are maximized and all glycogen storage locations are full then the excess glucose is converted to fat by the liver and stored in adipose tissue or fat cells. There is really no limit to the amount of fat that a body can store. According to studies at the University of Massachusetts, carbohydrates are generally converted to fat at the rate of 75% where 25% of the carbohydrates are used in the conversion process.

Types of carbohydrates :


      Monosaccharides are simple sugars and are the basic unit of carbohydrate. Examples of monosaccharides are glucose and fructose.


      Disaccharides are composed of two monosaccharides.Examples of disaccharides are table sugar (sucrose) which is composed of fructose and glucose also milk sugar (lactose) which is composed of glucose and galactose.


      Polysaccharides are composed of multiple monosaccharides. Examples of Polysaccharides are starches (bread, fruit, grain, pasta, rice). These are also called complex carbohydrates.

      Carbohydrates should comprise approximately 60% of the daily caloric intake. Therefore, for a 3000 calorie total daily intake, 1800 of those calories should be carbohydrates.

      Fiber is a form of carbohydrate. Approximately 20 grams of dietary fiber is required in our diets. Fiber facilitates elimination and decreases appetite as a bulking agent. Fiber also inhibits the absorption of cholesterol into the blood stream. It has also been shown that fiber slows the absorption of sucrose into the bloodstream.

      This can be important in the treatment of type II diabetes. Too much fiber in the diet can restrict the absorption of necessary vitamins and minerals. Excess carbohydrates are converted into fat by the liver and stored in adipose tissue.Sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream within minutes. Consuming large amounts of sugar prior to exercise can actually inhibit performance. This produces a drastic increase in blood sugar.This causes the pancreas to secrete large amounts of insulin to metabolize the sugar.

       All this insulin inhibits the metabolization of fat by the muscles. Therefore, the muscles rely more on glycogen which is in limited supply. The insulin reduces blood sugar level which is already being reduced by the muscles utilization of glycogen stores for energy production. The blood sugar level reduces to a level which may not only cause fatigue but dizziness as well. Therefore consumption of excess sugar prior to exercise reduces performance and endurance.

Carbohydrate Loading

      Muscle glycogen depletion is a well recognized limitation to endurance exercise that exceeds 90 minutes. Carbohydrate loading can nearly double an individual's muscle glycogen stores. Usually the loading has been preceded by a low-carbohydrate diet, the only draw back may be hypoglycemia and ketosis, which is associated by nausea, fatigue, dizziness and irritability.

Glycogen Resynthesis

      It takes about 24 hours before muscle glycogen is fully restored. When an individual is consuming carbohydrates, relative to exercise, it is very important to refilling muscle glycogen. By doing so within an hour or two, your muscle glycogen storage and recovery is increased.

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