The Importance of Carbs for a Highly Active Lifestyle

January 20th, 2019

If you lead an active lifestyle, fitness is critical for your well-being. Athletic training, competitions, workout routines, injury rehabilitation exercises, and even the non-stop pace of everyday life all take energy — and the first source of energy your body turns to come in the form of carbohydrates. If you're pushing your body hard in physical therapy, you'll need plenty of carbs to help you achieve your goals. Let's look at the role of carbohydrates as a fuel source, what happens if you let your carb stores run out, and how our physical therapist can guide you in your carb intake.

Why Carbs Matter

Carbohydrates are organic molecules that contain an equal mix of hydrogen, oxygen, and water. There are two main categories of carbohydrates to be aware of: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are simple sugars. Sugar is a quickly absorbed, fast-burning fuel and the body's first choice when it needs immediate energy in large quantities. Simple sugars tend to produce a sharp spike in your insulin levels until they're burned off. Complex carbs are made out of longer chains of sugars, and they also contain fiber. These carbs burn more slowly and steadily, with insulin levels rising less sharply as a result.

You can see how these different types of carbs might present different benefits depending on a person's chosen activities. For a sprinter who might want to burn a massive amount of energy in a matter of seconds, simple carbs can be a great help. Endurance athletes, on the other hand, are more likely to benefit from access to a steady supply of longer-lasting energy.

Cutting Carbs Can Be a Bad Idea

Excess weight can obviously be detrimental to an active lifestyle, not only by slowing you down and limiting your physical function but also through the long-term effects of those extra pounds on your weight-bearing joints and muscles. Since carbohydrates that don't get used get stored as fat instead, many individuals seeking to live a fit life become obsessed with the notion of cutting carbs at all cost. But carbohydrates should actually be the most plentiful part of your diet; they're critical for brain activity, heart function and numerous other physical processes. To make matters worse for athletes, cutting carbs may force your body to burn protein as a substitute fuel source. The end result is reduced muscle mass, not to mention relatively sluggish access to your energy reserves.

How Carbohydrates Can Enhance Your Physical Therapy

If you're in need of a rigorous physical therapy program to restore and re-train injured tissues, increase your range of motion or boost your muscle strength, carbs can play a crucial role in your success. If our physical therapist prescribed exercises that require repeated motions over time — such as cycling, swimming, walking/running on a treadmill or other activities that call for endurance — your muscles will need enough glycogen (blood sugar) to keep going.

How many carbs do you need before endurance-based physical therapy or other training? Our physical therapist may advise you to prep for your physical therapy sessions by consuming 1 gram of carbs per kilogram of your body weight for each hour of activity. Our physical therapist may also recommend that you consume additional carbs (and muscle-building protein) after your workout since your body is still burning fuel.

Learn More From Our Physical Therapist

Now that you see how carbs can help you get the most out of your physical therapy and other high-energy tasks, call our office to talk to our physical therapist. Contact ProMotion Rehab and Sports Medicine in Lake City and Florence, SC to schedule an appointment today!