By Ryan Lawson, exercise specialist, with Brittany Nelson, RD, CHWC
It seems like every week we hear about a new diet claiming to be the latest and best way to achieve weight loss. Typically these diets focus on consuming a majority of your calories from certain foods or eliminating specific foods altogether, which means you’re losing out on nutrients, too. Many of them suggest a low carbohydrate diet. While carbs can get a bad reputation, they’re vital for the body to function, and it’s never a good idea to restrict or eliminate them. The best method to any food regime is still one of balance. Eliminating macronutrients (such as carbohydrates) should never be an option.
Carbohydrates are an important energy source in everyday activities—especially exercise. In fact, carbs are the most important nutrient you can eat to stay active, as they’re fuel for muscles. In addition to muscle function, carbs also provide energy for the brain. When we ingest carbohydrates, the body breaks it down into glucose, which is then stored in the liver where it can be drawn upon for energy down the road. This storage of extra glucose allows the body to delay fatigue and permits you to exercise longer. A lack of sufficient carbohydrates will force the body to utilize other nutrients for fuel and function. This also takes away from the nutrients’ primary application as well. For example, protein’s primary function is to repair and rebuild muscle. When the body does not have enough stored glycogen to function properly, it has to use protein, and the muscles suffer.
There are also long-term health issues when you subject your body to a chronically depleted state of carbohydrate intake. Without sufficient carbohydrate consumption, the body is not able to store enough glycogen as a fuel source. This, in turn, causes undo strain on certain organs and systems. For example, the liver is exposed to extra stress as it’s forced to assist in manufacturing glucose from other nutrients such as protein and fat. The immune system can be compromised as well, since the lack of carbs leads to a lack of energy and a weakened health state overall.
Consuming a well-balanced diet that includes sufficient carbs is important because without enough carbs, your body won’t be able to function properly and you’ll place unnecessary strain on your internal systems.