Stories tagged carbohydrates


Carbo loading: The conventional wisdom in sports nutrition has been to "carbo load" on foods high in carbohydrates before a contest. But now some are saying avoiding gluten carbs can actually enhance athletic performance.
Carbo loading: The conventional wisdom in sports nutrition has been to "carbo load" on foods high in carbohydrates before a contest. But now some are saying avoiding gluten carbs can actually enhance athletic performance.Courtesy cyclonebill
The arrival of fall each year brings leaves changing colors, apples ready for the picking and a host of long-distance races contested in more temperate conditions. And with those marathons and other distance tests come the pre-race rituals of "carbo loading," the practice of eating a high carbohydrate meal of pasta to fill a body up with extra energy.

But several elite athletes are now shaking up that conventional wisdom. They're saying that they're feeling better and performing more efficiently by focusing their pre-performance meals on the right kind of carbohydrates: gluten-free carbs.

Tennis champion Novak Djokovic, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the entire Garmin cycling team are now crediting gluten-free diets as helping them feel and perform better. Djokovic went gluten free in 2010 and has now climbed to become the No. 1-ranked player in men's pro tennis and he credits his new diet with giving him better focus, more endurance and avoiding injury.

However, all these benefits so far are anecdotal. There have been no research studies done on the impact of a gluten-free diet on athletic performance. But some nutritionists point out that gluten, evolutionary speaking, is a pretty new entry into the human diet, having only been around 10,000 years. Our digestive systems don't know how to deal with it, so we get no nutritional benefit from it. For most of us, our immune system handles the gluten in our digestive track, just like stray microbes, and works it into our waste. About six percent of the population is gluten sensitive and has to avoid these types of foods entirely.

Does this new information change your thoughts about "carbo loading?" Do you avoid gluten foods even if you're not sensitive to them? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.


The peak of civilization: The haze you see is good ideas, just floating around.
The peak of civilization: The haze you see is good ideas, just floating around.Courtesy Jose P Isern Comas
Ahoy, Buzzketeers. I’m a-travelling, far across the ocean. I’m not sure which ocean (I fell asleep on the plane), but things are very different here, and I’ll keep you updated with any science I come across as I have the time.

Anyway, the last place I remember being in was Los Angeles. (And even that was pretty hazy.) I saw lots of strange things, including several awesome cyborgs. (Although… if I were to become a cyborg, I think I’d have to go with laser eyes or robot arms. Do bags of silicone give you mega-strength, or something?) I heard some strange things too, including the following exchange between a father and his two tiny children:

“We can go to McDonalds?”
“If your mother said it was OK… yeah!”
“But remember… you have to finish your protein before you eat your fries.”

The dad had clearly done some exceptional fathering, according to the look on his face… but what? Were they speaking in some sort of code? Is there a tonal component to west coast language that Midwesterners can’t recognize?

I typed the whole thing into Google, and it came back with a bunch of words like “low-carb,” and “atkins.”

So what’s happening here? When L.A. dad said “protein,” he was probably referring to meat specifically—meat is mostly fat and protein. The fries waiting in the little girls’ future, on the other hand, are high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are things like sugar and starch (and starch, kids, if you look at it on the molecular level, is pretty much just a long chain of sugar molecules.) Carbohydrates can be quickly turned into energy in the body, but if you aren’t being very active, they can be stored in your body as fat.

Way back in the way back, before French fries and cake were invented, people were mostly hunter-gatherers, and what they hunted and gathered probably would have been high in protein and fat, and low in the sort of carbohydrates our bodies can digest. So some folks think, with good reason, that our bodies are adapted to function best on that sort of diet.

Also, when we eat sugars, our pancreases have to produce the hormones insulin and glucagon to regulate the amount of sugar in our blood, because having too much blood sugar is toxic, and having too little blood sugar essentially starves our cells. In this time of cake and French fries, though, we eat lots of sugar, and our bodies produce lots of insulin, and our poor little pancreases can’t keep up, and they freak out and get sick and can’t produce those hormones in the right amounts any more—we call that diabetes. So regulating sugars before they enter the body is a good idea.

A good idea! Thanks, dad!

But, wait… what else? It turns out that little kids (or, as I call them, lil’ kids) are often pretty active in the first place, and can probably deal with carbohydrates pretty well. They might get hyper, but those carbs may not ever be turned into fat. Also, when there isn’t enough sugar in one’s diet, the body produces chemicals called ketones, which cause fat to be turned back into carbohydrates. That’s cool if you want to loose weight, but if you’re a lil’ kid, and not a fat lil’ kid, ketosis just makes your body think it’s starving and your lil’ brain is robbed of sugars, making you feel… kind of dull. (So say some scientists, anyway.)

Also, let’s consider dad’s specific protein: we don’t know exactly what the kid were going to order, but let’s go with the McDonald’s standby, the Big Mac hamburger. See, while dad was advocating good, old fashioned (Paleolithic), hunter-gatherer values, the high fat and protein items hunted and gathered back then rarely, if ever, included Big Macs. A Big Mac has almost half of the fat an adult should eat in a day (29 grams, so about 45% of the daily value), and a kid is going to have even lower nutritional requirements than an adult. And a lot of that fat is what is called “trans fat.” There are different kinds of fat, and trans fat (trans fatty acids, partially hydrogenated whatevers, etc) are probably one of the fats that you don’t want to have too much of. I won’t get into it, but trans fats really aren’t that great for you.

Also, a Big Mac has 45 grams of carbohydrates. You’d get the same amount of carbohydrates from eating a Snickers bar and a “fun size” Snickers bar together.

So it looks like those lil’ kids aren’t going to be deprived of carbs after all. Thanks for thinking it all out, dad!

Holy smokes! Are we learning or what? Anyway, LAX was awesome.