How 'net carbs' can hurt athletes

News & Results

03/18/2005| 0 comments
by Ashley Kipp

How 'net carbs' can hurt athletes

Athletes are getting caught up in the 'control carbohydrates' frenzy.

Over the past several decades, American weight loss trends have shifted from low-fat, low-calorie, to the strict regimens of the ?Grapefruit Diet? or the ?Cabbage Diet,? to the current miracles of the ?low-carb? diet. Recently, it seems like everything revolves around controlling carbohydrates, and athletes are getting caught up in the frenzy. What athletes often fail to realize is that low-carb diets were designed for significantly overweight, sedentary people; they were not designed to supply the nutrition active people need to support exercise and training. While small ?net carb? numbers are welcomed by low-carb fanatics, athletes should regard these same numbers as energy that?s been stolen from them.

Grocery store aisles are lined with low-carb snack bars, low-carb breads, and even low-carb catsup. Honestly, if someone is eating enough catsup to be worried about its overall contribution to their carbohydrate intake, there are probably some other eating habits that need to be addressed. Fast food chains have also embraced the fixation with bashing carbohydrates. Low-carb burgers without buns and low-carb sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast bowls fill television and billboard advertisements day after day. For most people, in an examination of the connection between extra body weight and frequent consumption of fast food hamburgers, it?s not the bun that?s the problem.

The claims that backers of the low-carb diet trend are taking are that sugar and refined carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, rice, and cereal) increase the body?s production of insulin and thus promote body fat storage. Further statements argue that the insulin ?spike? caused by carbohydrates eventually causes ?insulin disorders? which greatly increases the risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, and diabetes. Low-carb diets are based on the goal of eliminating the blood sugar ?spikes? that supposedly lead to and cause insulin mediated storage of carbohydrates as body fat.

What Is a ?Net Carb? Anyway?

In an effort to reduce the amount of carbs that are reported on product package labels, manufacturers have come up with the term: ?Net Carbs.? What this refers to is the number of total carbohydrates in a serving size of a product, minus the fiber content of the food exceeding 5 grams per serving, and also minus the sugar alcohols that are said to have little or no effect on blood sugar. Because fiber is generally indigestible and sugar alcohols (hydrogenated chemicals designed to compensate for the bulk missing from the lack of carbohydrates in the product) are not absorbed very well, manufacturers do not report these numbers as ?impact? or ?net carbs.? It would seem that the solution to weight loss is easy? consume food that is not digestible.

Where Do the Carbs Go?

The truth, though, about low-carb assertions, is much more complicated and entirely realistic. The term ?net carbs? is really just creative marketing terminology used to sell popular and pleasantly textured and flavored foods as ?low-carb.? The FDA requires no testing or regulation of foods marketed with these terms and does not approve the expression. In fact, there are also dangers associated with some low-carb foods, due to the way manufacturers produce them.


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