We all think we know sugar, but then why is there so much carbohydrate confusion? What does the body do with sugar once ingested? How can it affect metabolism? How does it relate to exercise and fat? Sugar and all the terms associated with it need a glossary, which we have provided. Read on to get up close and personal with one of our most basic nutrient needs.
Anabolic processes build tissue in the body. Catabolic processes break down tissue. The human body performs both anabolic and catabolic process. Sugar (which will be referred to as glucose in this article) plays an important role in both anabolic and catabolic processes.
The role of the hormone insulin is to lower blood glucose levels. It completes this task by ordering glucose to the muscles, in order to be used for energy or assist muscle building, making insulin an anabolic hormone. Ingested carbohydrates can also be altered and stored as fat, which is where individuals worried about their body fat percentage need to pay close attention. Individuals lose body fat when the stored fat is broken down, changed back to glucose, and used for energy.
Glucose is simple sugar and the body’s source of energy. The body does have the ability to break down fat for energy. In rare cases, protein can be broken down for energy, but the molecules that eventually produce energy must be converted into glucose first.
The body creates energy in the form of heat. The calorie is a measurement of that heat, which is why scientists decided to measure food in calories and not some other unit. The process of converting glucose into heat energy is called Glycolysis.
The liver stores chains of glucose called glycogen. When the body needs extra energy, it orders the liver to break down the glycogen into glucose (simple sugar) and then release it into the bloodstream to be converted into heat.
The triglyceride molecule contains exactly what the name states. The molecular structure of triglycerides is a glucose-based chain with three fatty acids connected to it. The glucose base is known as glycerol. The body prefers to break down triglycerides (fat) into energy because triglycerides have more energy potential than glucose (the process of breaking apart triglycerides is called lypolysis).
Fat has 9 calories per gram and carbohydrates (sugar/glucose) have only 4. Since the calorie is a measurement of heat, and heat is energy, triglycerides (fat) have the potential to deliver more than twice the energy of carbohydrates.
The pancreas releases two hormones – insulin and glucagon. Insulin lowers blood sugar levels. Glucagon raises blood sugar levels. When the body needs energy or when blood sugar is low, glucagon is the hormone that orders the liver to release glucose and triglycerides to be broken down. During exercise, adrenaline is the hormone giving the orders.
Weight Loss and the Relevance of Exercise
The fat molecules stored between muscles are triglycerides. The body needs a burst of energy during exercise. The pre-workout meal usually will not provide enough energy to cover demands of exercise and if it does, it is virtually impossible for the body to convert food into energy that quickly.
The body prefers to use fat (triglycerides) as the main energy source. The fatty acids must be combined with oxygen in order to produce energy, known as aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise (walking/light jogging) breaks down a tremendous amount of triglycerides. Furthermore, aerobic respiration creates 30 units of energy while anaerobic (without oxygen) respiration that occurs during strength training produces only 2 units of energy.
Aerobic activity gets rid of fat quicker than strength training during exercise. If a low-fat diet (under 30% of total calories from fat) is consumed, the triglyceride level shrinks. The process takes place at a molecular level, which is why it tends to take a long time for actual fat loss, in terms of kilograms/pounds, to occur.
This is not to say that anaerobic strength training should not be performed for weight loss goals. While strength training does not get rid of much fat during exercise, it builds muscle. Muscle demands much more energy than any other tissue in the body. Since energy is heat, think of muscle as a fireplace in a home. Adding more muscle to the body is like adding more burning fireplaces in a house. This raises metabolism and energy levels, which helps the body shed fat when it is not exercising. If an individual averages 30 minutes of exercise a day, metabolism burns fat for 23 and ½ hours a day. Given this statistic, it is a good idea to elevate metabolism.
Individuals need a good mix of aerobic activity and strength training. Fitness professionals have developed many exercise plans to lose fat. If an individual strictly follows nearly any exercise and nutrition plan, they will lose fat. If only one plan worked, everyone would be following the same exact workout routine.
Ingested carbohydrates can be directly used for energy (good), stored in the liver (good) or built into triglycerides (very bad). The types of carbohydrates consumed are the key to avoiding a rise in triglyceride levels and body fat.
Fructose is a simple carbohydrate, and because it’s a simple sugar one would think that it would always be bad. But fructose can be found in many fruits, and fruits contain fiber. Dietary fiber is non-digestible, and it slows the digestion process and improves waste removal. The dietary fiber found in fruit also attaches itself to fat and since fiber is not digestible, it helps pass excess fat before it can become a problem in the body.
Sucrose is the most common food sweetener in the world. It is the main ingredient in table sugar and commonly found in junk foods. It breaks down in the digestive system quickly, providing a burst of energy, although the energy is short-lived. Sucrose is linked with ill health effects such as tooth decay, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Many food manufacturers have moved away from sucrose and begun to use high fructose corn syrup. The manufacturers even launched an advertising campaign, claiming health benefits received from it. High fructose corn syrup is not good for you. The manufacturers claim the health benefits related to fruit, however, high fructose corn syrup does not contain the fiber or vitamin and mineral contents. The reasons high fructose corn syrup is bad for you are the same reasons fruit juices are not good. Fruit juices remove all the fiber from the fruit, providing quickly-digested, short-lived energy that raises blood sugar levels.
Starch is an example of a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates are found in wheat, rice, oats, buckwheat and barley. Complex carbohydrates have a complex molecular structure, which causes it to pass through the digestive system slowly. The energy obtained from complex carbohydrates provides energy for hours. Complex carbohydrates do not significantly elevate blood sugar levels. Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup do.
A slow release of glucose hinders the formation of triglycerides, so avoid fruit drinks, anything with high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient, table sugar and sweet candies. In order to keep blood sugar levels at normal levels and prevent the formation of triglycerides, consume fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as wheat, brown rice, oats, buckwheat and barley.
Another popular digestible sugar is lactose, or milk sugar. It is a sugar which is easy to digest when we are young, but which becomes harder to digest as we age. For more information about sugars and metabolism, ask a local and experienced nutritionist or personal trainer.
Ken Kashubara earned a BSBA from the University of Pittsburgh along with four varsity letters. He has now furthered his wellness knowledge by earning Personal Training certificates from both the American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which he puts to good use through his writing for Greenmaple Wellness Inc, and his Kash Personal Training business, where he now leads others to better health.
Ken Kashubara is a regular contributor to the Fitness Town Health & Wellness On-line E-zine. For more great articles like this one, please visit here and sign-up to receive our free newsletter once per month.
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