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The Master Nutrient

06.22.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

AP Photo

Jane Jakubczak MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, Redskins Team Dietitian

This week I began teaching a Sports Nutrition Course at the University of Maryland. I love teaching this class because it allows me to focus on the basics of nutrition, the very information that fascinated me many years ago and propelled me into the wonderful profession of dietetics/nutrition!

My students and I began the topic of carbohydrates yesterday, my favorite subject! Our society has developed a very negative attitude towards what is known as the "Master Nutrient" so I love to get back to the basics of carbohydrates and restore the respect this nutrient deserves.

Six Reasons Carbs are "GOOD"

Carbohydrates are needed to metabolize (burn) fat as fuel. Carbohydrates are the kindling needed to get this fire burning! You cannot burn fat without carbohydrates assisting the process.

Carbohydrates are the nervous system's (brain) ONLY source of fuel. The brain cannot use fat or protein for energy. Without enough carbohydrates, thinking becomes hindered causing confusion, memory difficulty and an overall fuzziness.

Carbohydrates are "clean burning" fuel. The body breaks down the carbohydrate molecule efficiently and completely, without any by-products. When you breakdown protein for energy your body must dispose of the nitrogen and fats must go through several intermediate stages before it is in a form usable for energy.

Carbohydrates are stored in an efficient location. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and the muscles (as glycogen). The muscles are a convenient location for the energy nutrient when exercising and participating in physical activity.

Carbohydrates are the only energy nutrient than can be used without the presence of oxygen. Oxygen is needed to use protein or fat for energy. When you are sprinting on the track (or up the stairs), carbohydrates are your only source of fuel.

Carbohydrates are "muscle sparing". Without enough carbohydrates your body is forced to use protein as an energy source. Protein is found in lean tissue and muscle and may be broken down to supply the needed energy if carbohydrates are not available.

Enjoy carbohydrates from the grain group, including whole grain breads and cereals, whole-wheat pasta, wild or brown rice, and Quinoa for example. The fruit and vegetable groups also supply a healthy dose of carbohydrates, especially potatoes, corn, summer squash and bananas. For more on these groups, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

I hope you have a new respect for this Master Nutrient!

Make it an energizing week,
- Jane

Interested in the field of nutrition? Visit eatright.org

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