Although many diet plans recommend avoiding carbohydrates, this oft-misunderstood macronutrient can be quite healthy for you. Eating carbohydrates offers many nutritional advantages, and certain groups of people, such as athletes, may find carbohydrates especially advantageous. Of course, overindulging on carbohydrates can lead to fat gain, just as consuming too much fat or protein would.
Vitamins and Minerals
Carbohydrates are important for your health because they provide vitamins and minerals. Not all carbohydrates provide the same nutrients, and carbohydrates in vegetables and fruits are more nutrient-dense than the simple carbohydrates found in refined foods, such as table sugar. The National Institutes of Health suggests emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products such as bread and rice, and legumes such as peas and beans to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals.
Another advantage to eating carbohydrates is that they are the only macronutrient that provides dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for your health because it promotes a healthy digestive system, helps regulate blood sugar levels, induces feelings of fullness and may help reduce your cholesterol levels.
Improved Athletic Performance
Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of energy, so consuming this nutrient prior to exercise may help enhance your performance. While your body can use protein or fat as fuel in the absence of carbohydrates, carbohydrates are most easily converted into energy. Some research -- such as an article from the August 2010 edition of "Nutrition Journal" -- suggest that even just swishing carbohydrate-rich beverages in your mouth can improve your exercise performance.
Improved Muscle Recovery
Although protein is often considered to be the most important nutrient to consume for exercise recovery, carbohydrates can play a crucial role as well. Research published in the December 2010 edition of "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism" notes that carbohydrates are vital for replenishing glycogen, a stored form of energy, in your muscles. Replenishing glycogen helps you maintain strength in subsequent exercise bouts.
Maintenance of Hormone Levels
Many factors, including your exercise habits, affect your body's hormone production. Another major factor is your diet, and carbohydrates can play a vital role, especially for athletes. According to research published in the April 2010 edition of "European Journal of Applied Physiology," failure to consume enough carbohydrates in conjunction with intense training can reduce your levels of testosterone.
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia; Carbohydrates; June 2011
- Mayo Clinic; Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet; November 2009
- "Nutrition Journal"; Carbohydrate Mouth Rinse: Does it Improve Endurance Exercise Performance?; V. Salles Painelli, H. Nicastro, A.H. Lancha, Jr; August 2010
- "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism"; Nutritional Strategies to Promote Postexercise Recovery; M. Beelen et al.; December 2010
- "European Journal of Applied Physiology"; Influence of Dietary Carbohydrate Intake on the Free Testosterone: Cortisol Ratio Responses to Short-Term Intensive Exercise Training; A.R. Lane, J.W. Duke, A.C. Hackney; April 2010