For a start, our bodies run on carbohydrate in two different ways - through processes called gluconeogenesis and glucose oxidation (through the Krebs cycle) - anyone at University studying biochemistry would be pretty aware of this. This process is called glycolysis.
Here is the definition below:
- An ATP-generating metabolic process that occurs in nearly all living cells in which glucose is converted in a series of steps to pyruvic acid.
- The metabolic breakdown of glucose and other sugars that releases energy in the form of ATP.
We produce energy by converting ADP to ATP. In other words, carbohydrates make us move.
When we cut carbohydrates from our diet, our bodies begin to rely on fat or protein to be chemically converted into carbohydrates for use in our bodies as energy. I can hear some people saying "but that's what I want to do to lose body fat!"
In theory this may be good, but carbohydrates also are intimately tied up with neurotransmitters, for example serotonin, which control brain function. Our brain functions exclusively on glucose. Although we have control of what we consume most of the time, if our brain senses a lack of carbohydrate through a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin, then it will do almost anything to override our thinking that carbs are evil and we'll basically go for anything that will boost serotonin levels FAST - that is have a giant great big binge on sugary fatty foods. Not unsurprisingly most people I have ever met who espouse a low carb diet have often had trouble with "bingeing and overdoing it" in the past.
In athletes and specific situations, low carb days are not harmful and can have benefits in certain situations, however as an every day thing, they are not conducive to muscle gain, increasing fitness or wellbeing. In my opinion if you want to turn into a bingeing mad monkey go low carb, the longer the better!
Where I think people "go wrong" is in their choice of carbohydrates - put simply, the more refined or processed the carbohydrate source is, the worse the "reaction". This can be tied up with the Glycaemic Index - most highly processed carbs are high GI which cause insulin to spike rapidly and fall just as fast, hence giving you that sugar high/sugar crash that most of us have talked about in the past. In my opinion it's important that 35-50% of intake comes from carbohydrates - a mix of low, medium and high GI carbs and that nutrient timing is looked at. Focus your starchy carbs post workout and then try them at other times of the day as well if you feel you need a bit more. Try less processed grains like quinoa, oats and buckwheat for something a bit different.
What I think people are really trying to say when they say that CARBS ARE EVIL is that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the work of the devil and I'd have to agree with them. I'm going to add another post to this to stop this from getting too long