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Carbohydrates — Good or Bad?


Carbohydrates get a bad rap, but the reality is they’re a great source of fuel. The truth is, carbohydrates are good for you. When it comes to needing lots of energy and fast, our body’s go-to fuel supply is glucose, the final product of digested carbohydrates. Our body loves this energy substrate so much that we even store glycogen (the stored form of glucose) in our liver and muscles. It can be helpful to think of carbohydrates this way. If digested carbohydrates, such as sugar were not good for us, then our bodies would store these in our liver and muscles, would they?


The reason our body goes straight to glucose as a fuel supply when we need lots of energy quickly is that we can utilise glucose to release energy without the need for oxygen. This is the kind of energy we predominately use when lifting weights or doing high intensity cardio.

Many carbohydrate dense foods when included in our diet also help to fill us up (increase satiety). This is a good thing, especially when considering the calorie value of carbohydrates. Did you know that carbohydrates only contain 4 calories of energy per gram? To put that into perspective, protein is also 4 calories/gram, while alcohol is 7 calories/gram and fat is 9 calories/gram.

So why does sugar get such a bad name then if it’s only a simple carbohydrate? Well it’s a denser form of carbohydrate. Consider satiety as I mentioned earlier. How many spoonfuls of sugar would you need to feel as full as you would after eating a large baked potato? A bucket-load, and that’s how we’d consume all those extra calories.

Sugar is just carbohydrate, but because it is a simple form of carbohydrate, it’s energy density is higher. For example, a decent size baked potato will have about 60g of carbohydrates and a caloric value of approximately 270kcal with about 240kcal coming from the carbohydrates in the potato. The same carbohydrate intake from sugar is only 3 teaspoons – that’s how much of a difference caloric density can make.


Carbohydrates post-exercise also help us recover better from our workouts by replenishing our glucose energy stores in the body. The amount of carbohydrate intake post-exercise is related to the intensity of the session. Greater intensity requires greater amounts of carbohydrate replacement.


  • Carbohydrate as fuel is great,
  • Be aware of the energy density of your food and choose lower energy density foods allowing larger intake quantities with lower calorie input,
  • Include carbohydrate in your pre workout meals to give your body the fuel it needs for exercise, and
  • Include carbohydrates in your post workout meal to enhance recovery.