Basic Nutrition Part 1, The Carbohydrate

I’ve been revisiting something I haven’t looked at in a while.  As well, a few folks have been asking me questions about nutrition.  Therefore, I thought it might be helpful if we went through a 3 part series together defining and talking about the basics of nutrition.  I like to keep things as simple possible.  I get confused or distracted easily, and I find beauty in simplicity pays major dividends in my ability to learn (or relearn) new things.  With this in mind, I’d like to use these three posts to cover the three macronutrients we humans need to exist.  These are the following:


In this post, we’ll go over what is likely to be all of our favorite macronutrient, the carbohydrate.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that carbohydrates are our body’s main source of fuel.  There’s a reason for this on a biological level.  Carbohydrates are easily used by our bodies for energy; our bodies have the easiest time breaking carbohydrates into glucose (the most abundant sugar in the body) which we can then assimilate into a complex storage material called glycogen.  Glycogen is stored energy substance that is kept mainly in our livers, muscle tissues, and other bodily tissues.

Not all carbohydrates are created equal.  They exist in two main groups:

– Simple carbohydrates or simple sugars
Fruit juice, honey, and most processed foods are some examples
– Complex carbohydrates
Unprocessed foods like potatoes, corn, rice, and vegetables

There are 4 calories per one gram of carbohydrate.  Most of us seem to think of calories as something we need to count or limit (thanks in part to diet trends).  A calorie happens to be a unit of energy and just by being living breathing humans we need around 1,200 to 1,400 calories (varies by individual) a day just to support normal bodily functions!  In fact the calorie is a unit of heat that indicates the amount of energy a food will produce in the human body.  If on a food label there existed 12g of carbohydrate, 0g of protein, and 0g of fat, that food would yield 48 calories of energy (12 x 4).

Still with me?….  Good, back to carbohydrate and glycogen!

I said earlier that glycogen is stored energy that our body creates from assimilating glucose (blood sugar) and glucose we obtain by breaking down and digesting carbohydrate.  This next part is pretty cool.  Our liver and muscle tissue store glycogen.  Because we have much more muscle mass than liver mass, the amount of glycogen in our muscle tissue is roughly 5x that which is stored in the liver.  When our blood sugar gets low, our body calls on our liver to release some glycogen to bring it back up.  However all the glycogen stored in our muscles, is reserved solely for the muscles.  It cannot be used to replace depleted blood sugar.  What happens if we starve ourselves and the liver runs out of glycogen you ask?  Well, our body is smart and will protect itself by breaking down protein and lean body mass to create more glucose.  Not optimum, but it’ll keep us alive.

On the flip side, if we ingest too many simple, easily broken down carbohydrates we have a crazy high blood sugar (glucose) level.  Our liver the gets on the line with the pancreas and tells it to dump insulin into our bloodstream to regulate that spiked glucose level.  Oftentimes our pancreas over-reacts and produces more insulin than is necessary.  This causes the assimilation of glucose into glycogen to be inefficient and some of that glucose gets stored as fat.

So as we can see, there must be a magic balance of glucose.  We obviously want enough so that our body doesn’t go into starvation mode and cannibalize our lean muscle tissue, but we don’t want so much glucose that insulin gets dumped and some of it winds up as body fat.

Lets think about it this way: if we were to consume 80% of our calories a day in simple carbohydrates (highly processed foods) what would that look like?  At the first meal I ingest a simple carb, my body does it’s job and breaks this down into glucose.  My glucose spikes and I feel the surge of energy.  By my liver freaks out and tells my pancreas to get some insulin into my bloodstream to regulate that glucose.  Remember I said that the pancreas has a tendency to over-react?  Well, it does and dumps enough insulin to remove more glucose than is necessary.  So, my blood sugar is now low again, and my body starts signaling me that I need more carbohydrate to convert.  I again eat some sort of processed food and the cycle repeats.  Because I’m consumed most of my calories in carbohydrate and very little protein or fat, I’m wiped out by the end of the day.

Not consuming enough protein has caused my body to catabolize my muscle tissue to get the protein it needs.  This in turn would lower my metabolic rate because my body is trying to protect itself.  See more muscle means I need more energy, and today I haven’t done a good job of providing that for my body.

What I need to do is reduce the calories I get from carbohydrate and increase what I get from protein and fat.  As a general guideline, approximately 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates.  We know we can get these carbohydrates in two forms: simple and complex.  I’d highly recommend getting as many as you can from complex sources such as vegetables.  Why?  Because in addition to being carbohydrate your body is better equipped to handle, vegetables also have a myriad of other vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients that aren’t found in processed foods.

Remember, too little carbohydrate and your body will turn to your lean muscle tissue to produce glucose (not ideal) and too much carbohydrate will cause your liver to send you hate mail (in the form of insulin and that extra glucose might get stored as body fat).

I use the visual carbohydrate system.  A solid 50-60% of my plate is vegetables.  The more colors the better.  This keeps it simple for me, and hopefully is a good gauge for you.

Next week, the controversial fats.  They’ve gotten a bad rap, but we’ll explore the various types of fat and why some of they are down right essential to your diet.

The O-Board Says…

Part A.
EMOTM For 12 Minutes
Odd Min – 8 Alternating Dumbbell Snatches
Even Min – Max Double Unders

Part B.
5 Rounds For Time
7 Toes To Bar
14 Alternating Dumbbell Snatch
21 Wall Ball Shots

Post by Stets.