Carbohydrate Crash Course

By Coach Jacky Bigger, MS

Nutrition can be so complicated, however, it can be made relatively simple. I’m here to give you a very quick crash course on carbohydrates that will hopefully simplify things for you if you’re just getting started out on your fitness journey, or are interested in learning more about nutrition in general.

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients needed by our body, meaning they are one of the three main sources of energy for our body. To define them very simply, they are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruit, veggies, and grains. Carbohydrates are typically categorized into two types, simple carbs and complex carbs. The difference being the chemical structure and how quickly the sugars are absorbed and digested.


Simple carbohydrates are things like sugars, sodas, and syrups. Many simple carbohydrates are highly processed and contain little to no nutrients. These are often referred to as empty carbohydrates, since they provide little to no nutritional value. They are digested quickly and provide short bursts of energy. Simple carbohydrates are best consumed immediately before, during, or after a workout, because of the rapid energy that they provide.

Complex carbohydrates, are exactly as they are named, more complex. They contain multiple simple sugars combined together to create a larger molecule. Complex carbohydrates include things like whole grains, beans, potatoes, etc. They typically digest more slowly and provide longer steadier energy. Complex carbohydrates contain more nutrients and fiber, and should be the bulk of your carbohydrate intake.

However, despite the digestion rate, both simple and complex carbohydrates are eventually broken down in the body into glucose. This glucose is then carried through the bloodstream and converted into the energy that our body needs not only to do physical activity, but also for the basic functions of our body. If glucose is not readily needed for immediate energy it is stored in the liver until it is needed. Once the liver stores are full, the excess glucose is then stored as fat.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh no, carbs will make me fat!” Yes, too many carbohydrates combined with too much protein and fats can make you gain weight, however, too little carbohydrates can be problematic as well. If we are not getting enough carbohydrates our body will then turn to protein for energy. This can cause issues because the body needs protein to build muscle. Also, the use of protein for fuel rather than carbs can be very stressful on the kidneys.

So how do we know how many carbohydrates we actually need? The recommended daily amount of carbohydrates recommended by the National Institutes of Health is 135g for adults. However, they also recommend that everyone should have his or her own carbohydrate goal. Each person has their own carbohydrate needs based their body type, age, weight, height, energy expenditure etc. Typically, carbohydrates should be about 40-55% of your overall daily calories. There are four calories in every gram of carbohydrate, so for example, if you’re consuming 2000 calories per day, you would want to consume somewhere between 200 and 275g of carbohydrates per day.

As mentioned above, there are many different sources of carbohydrates. You want to fill a majority of your carbohydrate allowance per day with nutritious, whole foods to maximize your health and micronutrient intake. The less processed foods you consume, and the more fruits and veggies the better. I’ll leave things off with a list of some of my favorite carbohydrate sources. Enjoy!

  • Mangos
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Japanese Sweet potatoes
  • Ezekiel Bread
  • Madjool Dates


Nutrition is more about changing your lifestyle than anything else. The more that we can educate you at LEAN will mean the more that we empower you to make your own decisions. Education is our number one priority at LEAN, so we can put the power in your hands to get healthier.

If you are a member of LEAN, let us know if you would be interested in starting a nutrition program with us including:

  • Weekly changes in lifestyle
  • Prescribed amount of Macros
  • Weekly group meeting for accountability
  • Weekly nutrition education
  • Weekly recipes

If you would be interested, respond to the article or email us at

This is Hunter Elam, one of Jacky’s clients and member of our gym at LEAN. She’s lost twenty pounds in less than 8 weeks.

If you live anywhere near Lewisville, NC, we would love for you to visit. Email us at for a FREE Assessment or a FREE Week. Our goal is to make our community and healthier and stronger place to life.


Photo of the author, Jacky Bigger, M.S.