How Carbohydrates Improve Aesthetic & Athletic Performance

Diets like Atkins, Keto, Paleo and other low carb diets are a hot topic with people that wish to lose weight. Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not the enemy. In fact, they are essential for sustaining life, increasing a slow metabolism movement and improving athletic performance. And, when utilized from the best quality and quantity for the individual specifically, can have a dramatic effect on your physical appearance. When I first meet with a client that is trying to lose weight, nine times out of ten the subject of a low carbohydrate diet comes up. It generally sounds a lot like this:

Me: What have you already tried doing to lose weight?

New client: Cut out carbs.

Me: And how did that work for you?

New client: Great at first, then stopped when I started eating them again.


The reason for this is because carbohydrates store fluid within the body for hydration. When carb intake is reduced, so is the overall amount of water on the body therefore it generally lowers the number on the scale. In addition, if high inflammatory carbohydrates, like refined sugar, are being consumed, eliminating them then also reduces inflammation in the fat cells therefore reducing overall inches. Specific quantity of carbs should be calculated based on your personal needs! And is safe to assume that a higher level is extremely important for highly active individuals, especially for anyone that participates in strenuous exercise. And if weight loss is your goal, exercise had better be a part of your plan to encourage the growth of lean muscle mass and increased metabolism.

While carbs are not the enemy, it is safe to say they are not all created equally. It is important to consume carbohydrates for proper brain and organ function as well as to fuel your exercise, but it is more important to be choosey about what types of carbs you have and when. There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Here are some examples and explanations of how they work for or against your body:


Simple Carbohydrates

Complex Carbohydrates

Sugary drinks and sodas

Refined grains, any white breads or rice

Processed or tropical fruits

Sweeteners like honey, agave and sugar

Cake, Candies & desserts

Alcohol: Beer, wine & liquor

Fibrous Vegetables

Quinoa and Brown rice

Sweet potatoes


Oats, Barley, Bulgur, Wheat berries

Pumpkin & other squashes

Rapidly digesting carbs or simple carbs can be useful in small, properly timed doses by the athlete or workout fanatic. Simple carbs are best consumed after a strenuous workouts because insulin sensitivity is high, liver and muscle glucose uptake is rapid and the use of those carbohydrates is a priority to your body. Basically, the sugary carbs replenish the depleted glycogen stores in your muscles and help transport the amino acids from protein consumed post-workout. This helps to repair and prepare the body for the next workout session. However, the general public should be sure to mainly consume complex carbohydrates because unused simple carbohydrates will be stored as fat. Complex carbohydrates are best option for any person looking to manage a healthy diet because they are unprocessed, digested slower and contain higher amounts of fiber which speeds up digestion. High fiber carbohydrates do not metabolize into glucose like simple carbs do. Instead, they help your digestive system  absorb nutrients in your gut an increase natural detoxification through elimination. These types of carbs are the highest in macronutrient benefits and are best consumed during regular meals that also contain protein and fat. These carbs are then processed in the body for lasting, slow-burning energy.

Carbohydrates to Glucose

When carbohydrates are consumed and digested, they are then converted into glucose and become the main source of fuel for our brain, organs and muscles. Therefore, anyone active, especially athletes, must have an adequate amount of stored glucose to workout at a higher intensity. Without adequate amounts of stored glucose, the body will then take other nutrients like muscle tissue or fat to create the necessary energy to complete movement and organ function. This becomes true for those that deplete glucose to the minimum for long periods of time making it very difficult to build and maintain muscle mass and energy levels.

If the body does have adequate glucose levels, consumed protein can do its job to repair the muscle tissue to maximize muscle gains and performance. This proves that a well balanced number of macronutrients that include carbohydrates can help you build and maintain muscle mass rather than burn muscle and fat. Body size, age, activity levels, other macronutrient intake and your specific goals definitely come into play. So, as important as this macronutrient is, excessive carbohydrate consumption will be stored, often as fat. That is why I definitely recommend consulting a registered dietician that can cater to your needs and customize not only the total number of dietary carbs, but the types and timing that would be the best for you. If you’re ready to start today, simply begin replacing high glycemic carbohydrates with low glycemic options and consume them only on days in which you participate in physical activities.

Lauren Rae
Dallas Fitness and Nutrition Coach

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