Carbs are not the enemy – here’s why

by Alec Graves on Thursday 11 January 2024

4 min read

Carbohydrates (carbs) are not the devil they’re made out to be. In fact, they’re an important feature in any well-balanced diet, and essential to our ongoing health and wellness.

So how did we get here? Why is everyone so scared of these brilliant macro-nutrients?

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient, just like proteins and fats, and they’re an essential feature of any balanced diet. But unlike the other two macros, carbohydrates are actually sugar molecules that the body can break down and use as a source of energy.

There are two main sub-types of these magical molecules: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates: quick energy sources

Simple carbohydrates are usually found in the foods you think of as ‘sweet’ or ‘sugary’. They appear as fruit sugar (fructose), table sugar (sucrose) and milk sugar (lactose), and they’re an excellent go-to for that burst of energy you might be want before a workout.

Complex carbs: sustained energy release

Complex carbs are also made up of sugar molecules, but they feature a greater variety of molecules strung together in longer (complex) chains. You can find complex carbohydrates in starchy, fibrous foods such as vegetables, whole grains, beans and more.

The importance of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an essential ingredient in many important processes.

Carbs provide energy

Both simple sugary carbs and complex starchy or fibrous carbs are an important source of energy. Once eaten, they’re broken down in the stomach to glucose, which is the sugar in ‘blood sugar’ that’s stored in your liver, muscles and other organs for use as energy.

Carbs protect your health

Eating the right kind of carbs (more on that in a sec) has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. The fibre that comes with many complex carbs is also great for your colon and rectal health, as well as helping minimise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Carbs support healthy brain function

Good quality complex carbohydrates are associated with healthy brain ageing and improved memory in both the short and long-term. Carbohydrate-rich meals are also responsible for the processes behind serotonin production in the brain.

How to make sure you’re getting the right carbs

The best way to ensure you’re getting the right carbohydrates in your system is to focus on the source. We’ve written about some of our favourite guilt-free snacks before – but keep an eye out for these ingredients to fuel and nourish the body.

Fibre-rich fruit and vegetables

Fibre-rich fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, apples, carrots, and Swiss chard are the right choice for not only sustained energy throughout the day, but also support the growth of good gut bacteria.

Beans, peas and lentils

Beans peas and lentils are rich in the complex carbohydrates, but they’re also versatile ingredients and packed full of other nutrients. Beans, peas and lentils offer a great way to get your carbs while drawing on the benefits of nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, folate, iron and more.

Sub in whole grains

Whole grain foods are an excellent and straightforward substitution to make. Whole grain foods are typically better at helping maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and could be a helpful for those experiencing weight trouble and high blood pressure.

Adjusting carbohydrate intake for activity

While moderation is important, simple carbohydrates can be used to support performance in the gym. Short, high intensity sessions in the weight room rely particularly heavily on glycogen in the muscles. Longer sessions at a lower intensity, with varying exercise types will bring forward other factors in your diet.

A balanced diet, plus a moderate dose of simple carbohydrates for energy, is a recipe for success in the gym. As a rule of thumb, aim for 0.7 grams per kilogram of your body weight for each hour you’re working out.

Take it to the next level

If you’re looking for guidance on getting your diet right and better fuelling your workouts, reach out to one of our friendly and knowledgeable Personal Trainers.

If you aren’t already a member, find out more about training and prioritising your health and diet at your nearest Virgin Active club today.

Related articles


4 min read

How to encourage our loved ones to move more


4 min read

Plant-based foods packed with protein


4 min read

How to truly ‘live in the moment’

Enjoying our blog?

Sign up to our newsletter to get updates on training, healthy living, news and events.