In short, carbohydrates are a source of energy.
I refer to carbohydrates as energy because that is what fuels your muscles. Before we get into specifics, I want to debunk a carbohydrate myth that causes “low carb” diets to fall short: not all carbohydrates are created equal!
Now, let’s talk differences.
Simple carbs are the quickest source of energy and the most easily digested. The glucose in your blood will increase and decrease rapidly, also know as a blood sugar spike and crash. Examples include maple syrup, honey, sugar, and soda.
Complex carbs have a structure that is harder to break down by the body and usually present with fiber; therefore, it is slower to digest, giving a more steady gradual increased and decreased supply of glucose to the blood. Examples include legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
So what are refined carbs?
Refining: the human process of changing food
Refining complex carbohydrates affect blood sugar the same way as simple carbohydrates. Using refined carbs in your body as fuel is like trying to keep a bonfire going all night with newspaper. On the other hand, using unrefined carbs in your body for fuel is like using slow burning logs to keep a bonfire going all night.
Quick-acting carbohydrates, AKA simple or refined, break down to glucose (energy) and move through your digestive system and into your bloodstream more quickly than a slow-acting (complex and unrefined) carbohydrate, such as brown rice. In your bloodstream, glucose sails the red sea and travels to different muscles knocking on the gate to be let in. The gatekeeper is this ugly troll named insulin (OK – I’m getting carried away with the metaphor, I like pirates OK!) that allows the glucose to pass or not pass into muscle island to deliver energy and power. On muscle island, if you invade through the gates too quickly, the locals will riot and there will be a quick and bloody finish. If you are too slow to act, the locals may catch on to your plan and overtake you.
That perfect timing for the most effective delivery of “power” is our goal.
When you exercise, the ugly insulin troll is more likely to open the gate for you so it is OK to have quick-acting carbo energy ready to deliver; but we still need Captain Blackbeard, or “protein and fat” to strategically slow our advances through the gate to make sure we have a well-timed execution (or as we like to call it – optimized exercise performance). Make sense?
So to recap:
Quick-acting source of carbs + source of protein and fat = stable blood sugar = optimized performance
Balanced blood sugar side effects may include:
- Balanced moods (suppresses the Hangry (hungry + angry))
- Improved sleep
- Increase of energy
- Mental alertness
- Regulated hormones
- Reduced sugar cravings