Carbs Explained – Good Carbs, Bad Carbs

Carbohydrates Explained

Carbohydrates are often considered the “bad guy” in a weight loss process. But they also have a lot of good sides – especially for athletes. What are good and healthy carbohydrates? Which bad carbs should you avoid? Here you will find all the information and tips for proper handling of carbohydrates.

The topic of carbohydrates is on everyone’s lips these days: some love their “carbs” in their everyday food noodles, bread, and potatoes and cannot imagine life without it. The others demonize carbohydrates as unnecessary and look for ways to get around them or at least to reduce the daily amount in the diet.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbs are the main energy supplier of our body and important for the work of our brain. Carbohydrates belong to the so-called macronutrients like protein and fat and form the largest part of our nutrition.

What do carbohydrates consist of?

Carbohydrates – also saccharide is correct as a term – consist of sugar molecules. They are converted in the body, more precisely in the gastrointestinal tract, to glucose and then used by the body as energy. Cars have less than half the calories of the body when compared to fat while maintaining the same level of body fat.

What function do carbohydrates have?

Unlike fats, carbs can be used by our body relatively quickly and are therefore an indispensable energy component of our diet. Most of the carbohydrate energy goes for the basal metabolic rate of the body (breathing, heartbeat, metabolism, brain activity and more).

Without them, it would be much harder for us to adequately meet this vital energy demand. Carbohydrates are by far the most important source of energy in the brain. A study by Tufts University (USA) showed that people who completely eliminated carbohydrates performed worse in memory tests. The intestines and skin also use carbohydrates as an energy source.

Which foods include carbs?

Large carb suppliers are diverse cereals from which we make food – for example, wheat, rye, oats, rice, corn. 

Consequently, many carbs are found in bread, pasta, cakes, etc. Lentils, peas, and beans are among the major carbohydrate suppliers of legumes.

Important: Fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains also contain valuable fiber – so long-chain carbs, which have many positive effects in the body!

Are there different carbs?

Depending on the number of sugar components, carbohydrates are divided into three groups:

Simple sugars (monosaccharides). Most known and most important are glucose (glucose, e.g. in grapes) and fructose (fructose, in most types of fruit).

Double sugar (disaccharides). These include household, malt, and milk sugar. Single and double sugars occur mainly in sweets and lemonades. They taste sweet, but, except for fruit, are usually mere sources of energy that contain hardly any vitamins or minerals and allow the blood sugar level to shoot up quickly. This promotes food cravings. Single and double sugars are sweet and water-soluble.

Multiple sugars (polysaccharides). The most important polysaccharide is starch (e.g. in potatoes). However, multiple sugars are also found in cereals, whole grains, and legumes. Multiple sugars are tasteless and not water-soluble.

What are the complex carbohydrates?

Sustainable are complex carbohydrates with multiple sugars – such as whole grains or potatoes. Their molecular structure is longer than that of simple sugars.

As a result, the body needs more time to break it down and gain energy from it: this keeps blood sugar levels constant and saturates better! In addition, the cravings are slowed down.

Why do we need carbohydrates?

According to the German Nutrition Society, in a normal diet, about 50 percent of the calories consumed should come from carbohydrates.

For years, however, the DGE also explicitly recommended consuming plenty of carbohydrates – with the latest update of their 10 golden nutrition guidelines in the fall of 2017, this message has quietly disappeared!

Whether carbohydrates make you fat or not, it also depends on the energy balance of the entire day. Even at what time of the day you eat them, can influence the weight.

For how long do carbohydrates fill you up?

How long carbohydrates fill up depends mainly on their glycemic index – also called Glyx for short. It determines how fast they are digested to glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. The higher the Glyx, the faster and higher the blood sugar level rises – and the faster it falls again.

In general, foods with a value of over 70 are considered unfavorable, as well as those with a value of less than 50. Example: Raw carrots, for example, have a glyph of 30 – popcorn already of 85.

Scientists from the University of Tel Aviv have used a special detection method to study the processes in the arteries that occur before, during and after eating high-glyc foods, mostly sweet foods.

The result: If food with a high glycemic index (Glyx) such as cornflakes (Glyx ​​up to 84) or sugar (Glyx ​​70) on the plates of the subjects, it came to dysfunction in the cell layers of the vessel walls, which can cause heart disease.

Do carbohydrates make you fat?

People gain food in different ways: first, by eating more fat than they consume – then it accumulates in the adipose tissue.

Second, if they consume many carbs, the body converts it into glycogen, which is then stored in the liver and muscle cells. When these stores are full, it turns the excess into fat, which is transferred to the fat tissue.

How effectively the body does this depends on the SCD-1 gene in the liver – the less you have, the better.

To summarize, one person takes more of carbs faster than another. And happy ones do not! Especially since a new study from the year 2018 has found out that you can just lose weight with noodles instead of other carbohydrates.

When should you eat carbohydrates?

Nutritionists recommend after 17 clock only dishes without carbohydrates (realistically, very few quantities of carbs – also called low-carb foods).

The popular sausage casserole in the evening or a nice noodle with luscious gravy is not a good choice.

Because to reduce the consummation of carbohydrates in the evening, the pancreas produces the hormone insulin. Insulin, in turn, causes the blood sugar levels to fluctuate – and subsequently inhibits the burning of fat, which should be running at full speed overnight. 

By contrast, non-carbohydrate recipes in the evening keep insulin levels low in the body so that the growth hormone somatotropin can become active.

Why does somatotropin help against obesity? First of all, the hormone keeps blood sugar levels stable and, secondly, it reduces fat and additionally muscle – and who has more muscle mass, consumes more calories even when at rest.

If you consistently eat food without carbohydrates in the evening, so can gain up to two kilos per month!

However, this works only with a total negative energy balance – which means that over the day more calories are consumed than you consume.

Eating as much as you like from everything and slowing down in the evening, it just does not work like. Eating habits of the whole day should be in balance. The nutritional concept of the ketogenic diet also does not recommend carbs.

How do you prevent carbs from making you fat?

As a matter of habit, many people find it difficult to simply put away the classic “dinner” and switch to non-carbohydrate meals.

For starters, you can start with two or three evenings a week, where you do not eat carbs in the evenings, switching to well-saturated egg whites – possibly in the form of a protein shake.

An alternative to bread is fish, lean meat, tofu, salad, quark, and cheese. Beware of fruit as due to its high content of fructose, it contains many carbs – better replace with vegetable sticks.

The very good carbs from the foods in the left column make you full, but not fat; the “middle one” may eat it moderately; from the food in the right column, you should rather keep your fingers!

The carbohydrate table

Very good carbohydrates Medium carbohydrates Bad carbohydrates
Muesli without sugar Whole wheat bread Cornflakes
Wholegrain bread (with pumpkin seeds) Millet, couscous Sweet cereals
Coarse wholemeal bread Whole grain rice, basmati rice Instant oatmeal
Pumpernickel Pasta, gnocchi Baguette
Legumes (peas, lentils) Jacket potatoes White bread / bright rolls
Bulgur (wheat meal) Sweet potatoes Long grain rice
Whole wheat pasta Shortbread Baked potato
Parboiled rice Beer Potatoes microwave
Milk / soy milk Fruit yoghurt Mashed potatoes made from powder
Nuts and seeds Bananas, melons, mangos French fries
Salads and vegetables * Papaya, pineapple Gummy bear
Yogurt, quark, cheese Raisins Nut nougat cream
Tomato and vegetable juice Apple juice, orange juice Sweets
Grapefruit juice, apple spritzer Jam, jam Chocolate bar
Apples, pears, berries, kiwi Sports drinks Jelly fruits
Oranges, apricots, grapes Taco shells Cola drinks
Crispbread (high in fiber) Rice crackers Lemonades, ice tea
Agave nectar Milk chocolate Glucose

* Exception: pumpkin, sweetcorn, beetroot (they still contain medium carbohydrates)

Why are carbohydrates important for athletes?

Energy is equal to energy? Wrong! Although proteins and carbohydrates have the same calories per gram, they are metabolized differently by the body.

Carbs are the muscle fuel for athletes. The pure production of energy from fat and protein would lead to a performance slump during stress because these nutrients cannot be metabolized so efficiently.

For this reason, sports doctors also recommend hobby athletes basic foods for everyday use that are rich in complex carbohydrates – such as muesli, potatoes, pasta, rice or bread.

“Carbohydrate-rich foods are necessary for health and performance,” says nutritionist Anja Carlsohn of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences.

How do athletes use carbohydrates?

If athletic performance is required then it depends on “fast”, i.e. immediately available energy.

“Carbohydrates are still the most important source of energy in most sports,” says Prof. Christine Graf from the German Sport University Cologne. “Whether they come from corn, rice or wheat, plays a minor role. The relationship is important. “

For the endurance athlete in the recreational area, the sports physician recommends a ratio of two-thirds complex and one-third simple carbs. So it does not just have to be whole grains.

For runners, for example, carbs are the best source of energy! But it must be the right one at the right time – for maximum performance! The only drawback is the fact that our body can store only about 370 (in the untrained) to 600 grams (in the case of trained) carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. This amount is enough for intensive continuous loads of 60 to 90 minutes, then you have to refuel again.

Good carbs are mainly in al dente prepared durum wheat pasta. Because they are slowly digested and ensure a constant blood sugar level – the level of performance remains constant. In addition, whole grains, vegetables, cereal flakes, rice (parboiled or basmati) and dried fruits are good sources.

About two hours before your exercise, easily digestible carbohydrates in the form of a cereal-dairy mix are beneficial.

On the other hand, soft-cooked pasta and potatoes, sweets and white rice are unfavorable. Through them, the blood sugar shoots up and goes down quickly – during the stress it can come thereby to hypoglycemia.

What good are carbs loading?

“In the process, the stored energy is first completely emptied through intensive training and then replenished over several days by consuming large amounts of carbohydrates,” says the doctor.

“This super-compensation results in glycogen storage that is well above normal levels, followed by muscle biopsy before and after carbohydrate loading.”

For amateurs, however, carbo-loading is at best relevant to special challenges such as a marathon or triathlon and should not be done without sports medical support.

“It is not enough to eat your belly with noodles and oily sauce the night before,” warns Graf, “on the contrary, it can quickly lead to indigestion, disturbed sleep, and corresponding performance interruptions.” 

What should you eat during the sport?

Your carb depots are well filled? Then you can easily hold loads of up to an hour without eating. If the training session or competition lasts longer, you should start eating continuously (every 20 to 30 minutes) about one to one and a half-hour after starting.

In order to avoid a loss of performance, 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour are recommended – a banana contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates.

But of course, there are also specially tuned energy bars. It is important during the competition to drink plenty of food during the meal (about 250 ml) and test your power shots during training for their digestibility before a competition.

Food without carbohydrates

Foods without carbs are those that have less than one gram of usable carbohydrates per 100 grams of weight. 

No, or hardly any carbohydrates can be found in

  • Seafood without breading
  • Shrimp, lobster
  • Crayfish shellfish
  • Pure-bred meat
  • Poultry (not processed, such as cold cuts)
  • Eggs
  • Hard and sliced ​​cheese
  • Green vegetables such as salads
  • Cucumbers
  • Spinach and chard
  • Mineral water
  • Unsweetened tea
  • Light drinks

You will also not find many carbs in

  • Mascarpone
  • Processed cheese
  • Camembert, gorgonzola
  • Roquefort
  • Avocado
  • Kale
  • Citrus fruits
  • Berries
  • Guavas
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Almonds
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Quark
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Prosciutto
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions

Some carbs, on the other hand, are found in root vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. Most fruits contain fructose and thus often a lot of carbohydrates. Low values ​​include strawberries, grapefruit, apricots, oranges, and raspberries.


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