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With all the negative talk about carbs, it’s hard to know what the truth is. Why should it be so terrible to have a slice of bread?

Firstly, if you eat too many carbs without a consistent fitness routine to utilize the energy, you will gain weight. Period.

If you’re here to learn more about your favorite in-between snack (as an athlete or workaholic), here’s the simpliture*: carbohydrates are sugars and starches that fuel our bodies much like gasoline fuels a race car.
*Simpliture: simple literature

Each gram of carbohydrate contains ~4 calories worth of fuel. Just like a race car stores its fuel in a tank, the human body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in both our muscles and liver.

Muscle glycogen is the primary fuel (followed by intramuscular fat) used by the body during exercise. These glycogen reserves are relied upon not only to fuel our training sessions but also to stabilize blood sugars and allow for optimal muscle function. 

Low muscle glycogen stores results in muscle fatigue and the body’s inability to complete high intensity exercise. The depletion of muscle glycogen is also a major contributing factor in acute muscle weakness and reduced force production so becomes the limiting factor in performance. 

The mixture of fat and glycogen stores used to power your activity changes to reflect your relative intensity, the harder you’re working – the more fuel you’ll be burning.

In addition to fueling skeletal muscle, carbohydrates also serve as a fuel for the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and red blood cells. While nerve cells can use alternative fuel sources in limited quantities, red blood cells rely strictly on glucose. Glucose also represents the primary energy source for the brain. 

The brain is highly dependent on glucose (from glycogen stores) as a fuel, and as blood glucose concentrations drop, hypoglycemia may develop, which results in dizziness, nausea, cold sweat, reduced mental alertness and ability to concentrate, loss of motor skill, increased heart rate, excessive hunger, and disorientation.

To maximize and optimize performance and recovery, athletes need to continually load and reload muscle glycogen stores. In summary, athletes looking for maximal and optimal mental acuity, performance adaptations, proper recovery, and body composition need to have a diet rich in nutritious carbohydrates. 

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