Carbohydrates are compounds composed of water, hydrogen and carbon. Carbohydrates provide a tremendous source of energy to your body. Your body can use the carbohydrates you consume as an immediate source of energy, or it can store them in the muscles and liver for later use in the form of glycogen. Carbohydrates exist in several forms, and each affects your body differently. Carbohydrates should generally make up a higher percentage of your diet than other macronutrients.
Percentage of Calories
A fairly common recommendation is that carbohydrates should account for anywhere between 45 and 65 percent of your total calories. If you get a high level of activity each day, you will want to favor the higher end of the scale to help replenish depleted glycogen stores. Protein and fat, the other two macronutrients, should account for between 10 to 15 and 20 to 35 percent of your calories, respectively. Finding the optimal balance of these three macronutrients is as much art as it is science, but according to British track and field coach Brian Mackenzie, the ideal blend is 57 percent carbs, 30 percent fats and 13 percent protein.
Sugars are the simplest forms of carbohydrates and generally produce an immediate rise in your blood sugar levels. You can find natural sugars in products like fruit, vegetables and milk. Desserts, sodas and packaged foods generally contain added sugars. Excessive amounts of any type of sugar can be harmful to your health, potentially resulting in weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Try to consume mostly natural sugars and limit your total sugar intake to 150 calories a day if you are a man, and 100 if you are a woman.
Starches are composed of multiple sugar molecules and are referred to as complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates enter your bloodstream slowly and provide a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels. There is no hard-and-fast rule for what percentage of your carbohydrates should be complex, but there are several advantages to complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates can prevent weight gain, improve cholesterol levels and help you feel full longer. Whole grain products, rice, pasta, vegetables and beans are complex carbohydrates. One method of maintaining a diet full of complex carbohydrates is to eat foods with a low glycemic index, or a low glycemic load.
Like starches, fiber is composed of multiple attached sugar molecules. The body cannot digest fiber, however, and as fiber passes through the intestines and colon it helps cleanse your digestive system. Fiber can help improve digestive regularity, prevent colon cancer, reduce cholesterol and help you feel full. You can find fiber in vegetables and fruits, beans and whole-grain products. Men and women should generally try to consume at least 120 and 80 of their carbohydrate calories from fiber, respectively.