Download your FREE 7-Day Vegetarian High Protein

Weight Loss Meal Plan

Invalid email address
Start Today

Ep. 02 – The Misunderstood Role of Carbohydrate in Exercise

A photo of James on an orange background with the podcast title and a stamp

Here’s the second podcast of Vegetarian Health and Longevity from Hurry The Food Up and Sports Nutritionist James LeBaigue.

Listen to the podcast on your favourite provider or click play below.

Forget Everything You Know About Carbohydrates

Because it’s probably wrong, good, bad, fattening, slimming. There’s so much noise out there, that it’s overwhelming.

So let’s start again. And by the end of today’s episode, you’re going to understand what carbohydrates really are, how they can help you to exercise and stay healthy, and learn how some of the myths that are rife on the internet are so amazingly wrong.

Introduction to Vegetarian Health and Longevity Podcast

Hey, and welcome to Vegetarian Health and Longevity, the podcast where we cover amazing topics that help vegetarians live longer in better health.

I’m your host, James LeBaigue. And I get to interview expert guests and also share my own experiences working as a sports nutritionist.

The Wonderful and Evil Carbohydrate Debate

The wonderful carbohydrate, the evil carbohydrate, if you ask around, you’ll get both of these views on them.

Logic suggests that both can’t be correct. Let’s take it back to the basics and talk about energy.

Understanding Energy and Carbohydrates

I’m not talking about anything spiritual. Here, I’m talking about playing hard energy, what your body uses to power everyday movement and exercise.

Your body uses a mix of fats and carbs. And the amount varies depending on what you’re doing, which we’ll cover shortly.

The Role of Glucose and Fructose

But suffice to say your body uses carbohydrates. And if we’re being more specific, glucose, the other sugar to mention is fructose.

And these two are both what we call simple sugars or simple carbohydrates. Glucose is the main energy currency that our body uses.

Carbohydrates in Exercise

Now this is due to carbohydrates being more efficient, in that you need less oxygen to create energy compared to using fat.

The other massive thing to say here is that you have to have oxygen to be able to metabolise or burn fat or energy.

The Importance of Carbohydrates in High-Intensity Exercise

This means that for high intensity training, carbohydrates are your primary energy source.

So if you aren’t consuming carbohydrates in your diet, then you’re going to struggle with high intensity exercise, so most likely, you’ll feel sluggish, you’ll feel rubbish.

Daily Carbohydrate Needs

So what I want to highlight is that you need carbohydrates just for day to day living.

So your organs and your brain, for example, need carbohydrates and glucose in particular, but you also need it when you exercise too.

Practical Advice and Resources

If you’re looking to try the Vegetarian Diet, and you’re not sure where to start, then we’ve got you covered.

We have free meal plans available on our website for whatever your goal whether that’s weight loss, muscle gain, and toning or just generally healthy living had to hurrythefood to check them out and download your free plan and get started.

Understanding Complex Carbohydrates

Now I’m going to give you some nuance later on into how many carbohydrates you should eat in a day.

But first I want to just go back to those terms that I mentioned earlier, glucose and fructose. These are what we call simple carbohydrates.

Differentiating Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

But there’s also complex carbohydrates to which in simple terms is a longer chain of these simple carbohydrates and more specifically glucose.

So when you think about rice, pasta or bread, that’s simply a long chain of glucose molecules, all paired together to make that more complex carbohydrates structure the name dictates how easily these are broken down and used for energy.

Using Carbohydrates for Recovery and Performance

Now the type of exercise that you’re doing and the duration of the exercise can actually dictate what type of carbohydrate you should be consuming because they have different purposes and different benefits depending on the context.

Typically, simple sugars or simple carbohydrates are best used either immediately before exercise, during exercise or after exercise to help with recovery, because what you’re trying to do is absorb that carbohydrate at a quicker rate, so that your body can use it for energy and process it quicker than a complex carbohydrate.

Choosing the Right Carbohydrates

So if you think that you’ve done a particularly gruelling or hard high intensity session, or you’ve done a race like a half marathon, then simple sugars can actually really helped to speed up your recovery, because you help to replenish your glycogen stores, which are your body store of carbohydrates at a quicker rate.

This is useful and typically when I’ve worked with athletes who have been struggling with their recovery, but do quite a lot of exercise. This is one area where we can refine and improve their nutrition.

The Role of Whole Grain Carbohydrates

When I’m working with clients, I try to encourage them to have wholemeal varieties or brown varieties of carbohydrates.

So we’re thinking of things like whole grain rice, or pasture or wholemeal bread, there were a couple of benefits to doing this.

Balanced Carbohydrate Intake

The first is that whole grain varieties will typically contain more protein and more fibre, which will make someone feel more full and satisfied with eating but also mean that that should help with their recovery because of the higher protein content as well as that they typically have higher amounts of micronutrients.

So think of your vitamins and minerals. And for example, bread will often contain extra calcium or niacin, and you get similar in rice or pasture.

Balancing Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

So you may have guessed it, but I’m a fan of including carbohydrates in your diet, the majority of your energy from carbohydrates should come from those complex carbohydrates that I’ve mentioned.

And good examples are rice, pasture quinoa, bread, and oats. A smaller amount of your energy from carbohydrates should come from simple carbohydrates, which might be from fruit like bananas, and apples.

Understanding Sweets and Moderation

Now, one thing that often surprises people when I work with them on a one on one basis, or when I do group talks, is my stance on sweets. And confectionery, I don’t think that they should be an everyday thing, but they shouldn’t be demonised.

But I think it’s a trap that a lot of people fall into. Let’s go back to the start when I said that simple sugars are just energy, and nothing more.

Practical Tips for Balanced Meals

Now you might be thinking, Alright, I get it, carbs. They’re good. Or at least I hope you do now, how much should you eat?

How many carbohydrates should you consume a day, a really nice way to go about it is to split your plate up into quarters. This doesn’t work for everything, but it’s a really good rule of thumb, and it’s something that you can think about with the meals that you prepare at home.

Understanding Caloric Needs and Carbohydrates

As a rough number. Your brain needs about 200 grams of carbohydrates or more specifically glucose per day to function and your total carbohydrate needs is somewhere around 250 grams, without exercise accounted for as a bit of context for you.

Myths About Carbohydrates

So let’s get into the bit that I’ve been most excited about, we’re gonna go through three myths and break them down. The first is that carbohydrates make you fat.

This just isn’t true. The most important thing when it comes to weight, and this goes for weight loss, weight maintenance, or weight gain, is calorie balance.

Debunking Low-Carbohydrate Diet Myths

The second myth I would like to bust is that low carbohydrate diets are helpful for sports. Realistically, there are very few scenarios.

And this is backed up by evidence where low carbohydrate diets are superior to carbohydrate rich diets. And this is particularly true for any sport that involves high intensity or training for a long period of time.

Reframing the View on Junk Food

Now, the third myth that we’re gonna bust here is that junk food is bad. Now, hear me out, there’s a bit more to it.

It’s not something that should factor in every meal. And it probably shouldn’t happen every day either. But at the end of the day, junk food is simply calories.

Understanding Moderation and Context

And like I mentioned earlier, you can lose or gain weight by eating literally any food if you eat enough of it.

So this is actually one of those things where there needs to be context because that is way more important. And what I encourage the clients that I work with, is that it’s much better to understand context and have a good relationship with your food.

Conclusion: Embracing a Balanced Approach

Now hopefully this episode has been eye opening for you and you have a better understanding of what carbohydrates are and why they’re so important.

If you did find it useful, then I would really appreciate it if you gave this a five star review. It will only take you a minute and it will help the podcast spread to more people and to help them develop an amazing relationship with their food.

Studies used in this podcast and article:

Glucose, Fructose and Recovery

Modified Carbohydrates

Slow Carbs During Exercise

You can also sign up for your free newsletter and high-protein meal plan right here!

And finally: More vegetarian podcasts this way!


Leave a comment below

Your comments make our day. Thank you! If you have a question, please skim the comments section – you might find an immediate answer there. If you made the recipe, please choose a star rating, too.