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Fundamentals Of Good Nutrition: Get Smart With Your Carbohydrates

This week, Ciaran Ruddock from FFS discusses the role of carbohydrates as a fundamental to good nutrition and how to manage their intake in your diet.


Do you want to have more energy, feel satisfied after meals and improve your sports performance?

Of course you do.

Carbohydrates provide energy for our bodies cells and are the fastest source for our body to access. For this reason, I would recommend aiming for a serving of smart carbohydrates with most meals.

In addition to energy, carbohydrates are important for:

  • Thyroid function
  • Maintenance and building of muscle mass
  • Fuelling athletic performance

We can get carbohydrates from:

  • Fruit
  • Bread
  • Wraps
  • Rice
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Beans
  • Wraps
  • Bagels
  • Couscous
  • Pasta

One term that I like to use with people who I coach is ‘smart carbohydrates’.

I would recommend choosing minimally processed carbohydrate sources because they have a higher nutrient density and they are better digested and absorbed by our bodies. Remember we aren’t what we eat, we are what we digest and absorb.

Also, minimally processed whole foods help us to tune into our body’s hunger cues. Remember our bodies are pretty good at telling us what we need, we just need to learn how to listen to them.

Ultimately, all carbohydrates are broken down into sugars, but minimally processed real foods are digested better and higher in essential nutrients. For this reason, I like to be smart with my carbohydrate sources.

I like to think of carbohydrates as the gas and our muscle tissue as the gas tank.

All carbohydrates will be broken down to sugars that can be used to fuel the brain and muscle, or they can be stored in the muscle as glycogen or in the fat cells as fat.

If carbohydrates provide our body with energy (gas) for activity and they can be stored in our muscles (gas tank), the carbohydrate demands for everyone will be different.

The more physical activity we do throughout the day and the more muscle mass we have, the higher our carbohydrate needs are.

Other factors that might influence carbohydrate intake are:

  • GoalsIf your goals are body composition related I would recommend being mindful of your carbohydrate intake and stick to moderate carbohydrate consumption at each meal. This will help you to keep your calorie intake and blood sugar levels consistent. If your goals are sports performance related I would recommend increasing your carbohydrate intake by one to two cupped hand sized serving with the majority of your meals around training and the day before, day of and after a match. This will ensure that you have additional calories and muscle glycogen (gas) stored.
  • Genetics & Body CompositionYour body type might affect how you tolerate carbohydrates; if you have more muscle mass or are leaner you might be able to tolerate additional carbohydrates. In my experience, people tend to be able to eat more carbohydrates as their body composition improves. I would suggest experimenting with what works best for you, is it one, two or three cupped hand sized servings per meal? Collect data on how you are looking, feeling and performing. Find what works for you, and this might change as your body changes.
  • Carbohydrate SourcesI have found that eating smart carbohydrates with most meals helps to regulate energy levels and hunger cues. The feedback that I get from most people who I work with, is that they have so much more energy and need to snack less when they eat smart carbohydrates at most meals.
  • Activity TypeHigh intensity exercise uses carbohydrates as the primary fuel source, so if you play any team sport or do CrossFit, I would recommend smart carbohydrates to fuel your training and competition. If you do low intensity endurance exercise or are less active you might not need additional carbohydrates to fuel your activity. At lower intensities our body has enough oxygen to break fats down for fuel.

A good starting point for carbohydrate intake is:

  • Males aim for two cupped hand-sized servings of carbohydrates per meal.
  • Females aim for one cupped hand-sized serving of carbohydrates per meal.

The top three lasting points to remember when it comes to carbohydrates are:

  1. Keep it simple and do not overly restrict yourself.
  2. Enjoy a wide variety of minimally processed, fresh real foods as your carbohydrate sources.
  3. Experiment with what works best for you.

Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.