Carbohydrates are one of the three basic nutrients, which are needed for the proper functioning of the whole body.

They are the main source of energy and can perform many important functions in the system. They can be of great importance especially in the lives of physically active people - their adequate supply can have a positive effect on performance and strength during training and thus can contribute to the improvement of sports results.

Carbohydrates should be supplied to the body along with the daily diet. Athletes can also include carbohydrate supplements in the menu, which can be a valuable source of macronutrient and thus the energy needed to perform the effort.

Carbohydrates - what is it?

Carbohydrates are organic chemical compounds, which consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They are commonly found in nature and the vast majority of them are plant compounds

They contain several hydroxyl groups and one carbonyl - ketone or aldehyde

Plants can produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis, while they should be supplied to the human body along with the daily diet.

They are one of the basic nutrients and 1 g of carbohydrates provides the body with 4 kcal.

Breakdown of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be divided, i.a. according to their chemical structure. The following can be distinguished:

  • Simple carbohydrates - called monosaccharides, that is, simple organic compounds, which contain from 3 to 7 carbon atoms. This group includes: i.a. glucose, galactose or fructose,
  • Complex carbohydrates, which are formed by combining at least two simple sugar molecules with a glycosidic bond. Since such a chain is difficult to break, complex carbohydrates are a valuable component of the diet. In this group, the following can be distinguished:
    • disaccharides - made up of two molecules of monosaccharides, e.g. sucrose, lactose or maltose,
    • oligosaccharides - low molecular weight complex sugars, e.g. raffinose,
    • polysaccharides - polysaccharides, which combine many molecules of monosaccharides. These are: glycogen, dextrin, starch, chitin or cellulose.

Carbohydrates can also be divided according to their susceptibility to the action of digestive enzymes in the digestive tract and their effect on glycemia on:

  • Digestible carbohydrates - compounds from which the body can draw energy by digesting and absorbing them in the small intestine. They can be a reserve material stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen,
  • Non-digestible carbohydrates - compounds important for the proper functioning of the digestive system, which can stimulate intestinal peristalsis and provide a feeling of satiety. They are not digested in the human body, and are partially fermented in the large intestine.

Sources of carbohydrates

Since carbohydrates are mainly produced by plants, their source is foods of plant origin. In addition, carbohydrates can be found in products in which they do not occur naturally, as they are artificially added in the process of their processing. Thus, carbohydrate sources include:

  • grain products,
  • dry legume seeds,
  • fruit and vegetables,
  • mild and dairy products,
  • processed products, e.g. sweets, sweet drinks, confectionery.

Monosaccharides are fruit, as well as honey, sugar, sweets, purified cereal products or highly processed food.

Complex sugars are wholegrain cereal products, e.g. buckwheat, oatmeal, brown rice, wholemeal pasta or dry legume seeds, e.g. broad beans, beans, lentils.

Properties and role of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates in the human body can be a key energy substrate. The energy obtained in this way can contribute to the proper functioning of the body, i.a. brain, heart, red blood cells, muscles or intestines. They can also be a spare material, which is accumulated in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver.

Carbohydrates can also be basic structural elements of DNA and RNA acids and components of cell membranes. They may be necessary for the synthesis of glucogenic amino acids and fatty acid oxidation.

Some of the carbohydrates may perform other functions in the body, e.g. heparin can inhibit blood coagulation processes, while dietary fiber can support the functioning of the digestive system, improve intestinal peristalsis, positively affect the intestinal microflora and provide a feeling of satiety.

Carbohydrates and physical exercise

Carbohydrates are important for the proper functioning of the human body. They also play a vital role in the life of every athlete. This macronutrient is a fuel, which can provide energy for a long time and at high intensity of effort.

It is recommended to include 8-12 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day in the diet of athletes.

Physically active people can provide a macronutrient to the body with food or in the form of carbohydrate supplements, which can be a quick source of energy and at the same time can replenish glycogen stores in the body.

Before starting physical exertion, it is worth consuming complex carbohydrates, which can be a source of energy for a long time and at the same time do not contribute to hypoglycemia during training. In turn, after physical activity, it is worth providing the body with carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores in the muscles.

Adequate carbohydrate intake can help optimize performance during training and recovery after its completion, and can also contribute to improving athletic performance. In addition, the macronutrient can protect the body against a rapid feeling of fatigue and a sharp decrease in strength.

The body's need for carbohydrates

The human body's demand for carbohydrates depends, on age, health, type and intensity of physical activity, as well as physiological state.

The minimum amount of carbohydrates that should be supplied to the human body every day is one that will meet the energy needs of the brain. Among healthy adults, it is 130 g of carbohydrates per day.

According to the Food and Nutrition Standards, carbohydrates should be the basic component of the diet and cover 50-70% of the body's energy demand every day. Simple sugars should not exceed 10% of the daily supply of the macronutrient. You should also pay attention to the adequate supply of dietary fiber in the daily diet.

Carbohydrate deficiency

Carbohydrate deficiency in the body can contribute to the occurrence of undesirable symptoms and effects, such as:

  • irritability,
  • fatigue,
  • sleep problems,
  • impaired concentration,
  • acid-base imbalance,
  • constipation,
  • lowering blood glucose,
  • metabolic disorders,

Many diets are based on a reduced supply of carbohydrates, as it is believed that a reduced supply of a macronutrient may contribute to rapid weight reduction. However, it is worth remembering that then in the diet, carbohydrates are replaced by high-protein products, which can lead to acidification of the body. With insufficient carbohydrate supply, the body can synthesize glucose from proteins and partly from fats. Therefore, elimination diets should only be used for a limited time.

Excess carbohydrates

Both deficiency and excess carbohydrates can have serious health consequences. Excessive supply of a macronutrient may contribute to:

  • increase the amount of body fat,
  • caries,
  • increased risk of developing diseases such as atherosclerosis, overweight, obesity, type II diabetes or insulin resistance,
  • to impair the metabolic balance.

It is worth paying special attention to the supply of simple sugars, which the body does not need much, and which are often delivered to the body in excessive amounts, which may increase the risk of incl. excessive body weight.

Excess carbohydrates are stored and over time converted into triglycerides, which are deposited in the body in the form of adipose tissue.

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