Low-carb diets attract a lot of buzz, but some people turn to high-carbohydrate diets to increase their energy levels. Your body uses carbohydrates as its main fuel source for energy. When you eat a high-carbohydrate food, your body quickly breaks it down into simple sugars, which it absorbs into your bloodstream. So if your energy levels are dwindling, opt for healthful carbohydrates to give your body a boost.
Each carbohydrate has a specific chemical structure. Simple sugars are made up of one or two sugar molecules, while complex carbohydrates are made up of three or more. Simple sugars occur naturally in fruits, milk products, honey and vegetables. Manufacturers also add them to processed products such as candy, soft drinks, doughnuts and other sugary foods. Simple sugars give you a quick energy boost when you eat them. It takes longer for your body to break down and absorb complex carbohydrates, which are found in breads, legumes, cereals, rice, potatoes and other starchy foods.
Glucose and Glycogen
When you eat a carbohydrate, your body converts it into glucose, which is the blood sugar that gives you energy. Whether your body needs energy for athletic performance or necessary functions like breathing or brain activity, it uses the glucose available in your bloodstream for fuel. When your bloodstream is carrying excess glucose, your body converts it into a sugar called glycogen that can be stored in your muscles for later use. During heavy exercise, your body can convert this glycogen back into glucose and use it as energy.
Glycogen fuels your body when you are exercising for 90 minutes or more, so many athletes adopt a high-carbohydrate diet for two to three days before a long training session or big event. This is called carbo-loading, and it also maximizes the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles. But in the era of low-carb dieting, some people who have been restricting the amount of carbohydrates they eat may feel energy deprived. If you are looking for ways to boost your energy, replacing some of the fats and protein in your diet with carbohydrates may help.
Athletes may consume 70 percent of their calories from carbohydrates in the days leading up to a race, but most people don't need to go to that extreme. According to the Guidelines for Americans, 2010, carbohydrates should provide 45 to 65 percent of the calories you consume. On a high-carbohydrate diet, almost two-thirds of your calories would come from carbohydrates. The majority of these carbohydrates should be healthful ones. Breakfast on a high-carbohydrate diet might consist of oatmeal, a banana, a glass of milk and toast. For lunch, you could have a turkey-and-cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a salad and some fruit juice. Dinner might be whole-grain spaghetti with tomato-meat sauce and French bread. Avoid refined sugar and other sweets while you are on a high-carbohydrate diet. These may provide a temporary energy boost but can pretty quickly lead to low blood sugar, which can cause you to feel even more tired than before you consumed these quick-digesting carbs.
Krisha McCoy has been covering health- and nutrition-related topics since 2002. Her work has appeared in the "Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter" and HealthDay News. She received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Texas and a Master of Science in nutrition communication from Tufts University.