Passing Over the Carbs?

Contrary to some popular fad diets, carbohydrates are not as evil as you think.

Passover is an annual holiday that took place in April this year. For Jewish people this means no leavened bread for eight days—or as many might say, no carbs.

My biggest challenge during Passover (aside from not eating my favorite cake) is not having my turkey bagel sandwich on long bike rides. My alternative is matzah, which isn’t the same. It lacks any fiber and does not fill me up for nearly as long.

How Carbs Work

Some popular diets—such as the original Atkins diet—treat carbohydrates as if they are the devil, causing body fat and excess weight. It is helpful to understand why your body needs carbs. No matter what sport you play, carbs provide energy for muscles.

Carbs are broken into smaller sugars (glucose) that get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose not needed right away gets stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Once these glycogen stores are filled up, any extra gets stored as fat.

Glycogen provides energy during the first few minutes of sports and is needed for any short, intense workout from sprinting to weight lifting. During long, slow exercise, such as walking, fat can help fuel activity, but glycogen is still needed to help break down the fat for the muscles to use.

You should also eat enough carbs, so that protein does not get used as energy. You need protein to help build muscles, bone, skin, hair and other tissues.

Simple and Complex

Carbohydrates are divided into simple and complex forms. Simple sugars found in fruit are absorbed and converted to energy very quickly. Complex carbohydrates such as breads, rice and pasta take longer to digest and don’t provide immediate sources of energy.

If you do at least 60 minutes of high intensity exercise, starch is probably the most important energy source in your diet. During exercise and afterward, you will want to replenish some carbs. You will often see cyclists using gel packets or energy drinks that are easy to take on the road.

Bottom line: Limiting your carb intake, in many cases, will do more harm than good. Instead, think of food—especially carbs—as fuel. Most of your carbs should come from whole grains, fruits and veggies.

For me, Passover is a good time to stop eating refined sugars and get back to eating more wholesome, natural foods. Passover cake isn’t that great anyway!

This article originally appeared in a longer format in the Santa Monica Daily Press.

About the Author

Karen Jashinsky is the founder of O2 MAX, a youth fitness company that teaches youth how to integrate fitness and nutrition into their day-to-day lives. Karen is a Certified Fitness Trainer and the recent recipient of the first “Emerging Female Leader” Award by IHRSA, the fitness industry’s professional organization. O2 MAX also operates a fitness training studio in Santa Monica, Calif. For more information, visit www.o2maxfitness.com.