What they are:
Carbohydrates are our optimum food source for energy. Grains and cereals, their by-products, potatoes and starchy vegetables and fruit are the most carbohydrate rich foods.
Why do we need them?
Our body breaks down carbohydrate into its simplest form, glucose, and uses glucose as fuel to power our cells. Some organs, for example, the brain, have a daily requirement for glucose. We store excess glucose as glycogen in our muscles and liver. This glycogen can be converted back to glucose when energy is required.
How much energy do they yield?
Carbohydrates yield 4kCals/gm.
How much do we need?
40-60% of daily energy requirements should come from Carbohydrate.
A very active person, like runners should aim for 4-5g/kg bodyweight per day.
Some more information:
Carbohydrates can be classified into simple and complex. The simplest unit of carbohydrates is glucose and it is glucose that our body converts to energy. Simple Carbohydrates or mono/disaccharides are glucose, sucrose (table sugar) fructose (fruit), maltose (barley), lactose (milk) etc. Complex Carbohydrates are polysaccharides (meaning ‘many’) and contain starch, glycogen and fibre.
Try and go wholegrain where possible and limit the amount of processed foods such as confectionary, white bread, cakes etc. By eating wholegrain, you will have a slower, steadier release of energy as opposed to a ‘sugar rush’ from highly processed foods. It is these highly processed foods that are getting the blame for the increase in obesity and diabetes. However, as endurance runners, you will need simple sugars throughout your long runs and on the day of the marathon as you will need to replenish glycogen and blood glucose levels, quickly. So, on these days you can go for simple sugars as well.
There are 2 types of fibre, soluble and insoluble and both are extremely beneficial to our health. Most of us don’t eat enough fibre so we should all try and make an effort to choose high fibre foods when possible.
Insoluble Fibre can’t be digested by our bodies. It absorbs water and helps move food along our digestive tract. It creates bulk and so keeps our intestines working hard, which is what they want! A diet rich in insoluble fibre is the key to a healthy bowel. Also, for those wanting to lose a few pounds, fibrous food fill you up with very little calories, so you won’t feel hungry. Examples of insoluble fibre rich foods are wholegrain breads and cereals, pastas and vegetables.
Soluble fibre can be partially digested by our bodies and acts like an internal sponge, mopping up bits of cholesterol, debris and toxins from our digestive tract. It is important in preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Fruit, oats and lentils are good sources of soluble fibre.