Food is fuel.
This is mantra that you hear from a wide variety of different sources. The athletic community, bodybuilding community, professional athletes, trainers, and health magazines – all of them understand the importance of providing the body with enough fuel to fire through the day.
However, anyone who’s been paying attention has probably noticed that two types of food tend to get the most attention with these debates: fats and carbs.
Why is it that high carb and high fat (or low carb and low fat) diets get so much attention? With all the different food groups out there and the many varieties of food, why do these two groups seem to own the debate over how food works as fuel?
Read on to find out!
Carbs & Fats: The Body’s Fuel Sources
There’s a quick and simple reason why foods that are high in carbs or high in fat seem to get a lot of attention as “high energy” foods: because they are.
The way the body works, when it’s not in starvation mode or there isn’t another irregular influence on your system, is that the body burns one of two things for fuel: sugar (which is what carbs are easily turned into during digestion), or fat.
Because the body is designed to work this way, with food being broken down into sugars and fats for the body to burn, it only makes sense that the food groups that most epitomize these two energy sources would be the ones to dominate the conversation.
Carbs as Fuel
Unless a person has a diet that is very low on carbs but high on fats for a long period of time, chances are that carbs are the main fuel source.
Most people’s bodies are naturally set to work this way unless changed by diet.
Carbs are known for giving a burst of energy because they take very little work for the body to break down into sugar.
This is why many athletes have high carb diets because that fuel can give them energy to work out, train hard, and perform at the highest level.
Generally speaking, carbs are going to be a main energy source, however eating a lot of carbs without having activity is a good way to get fat quickly since those sugars in the body will quickly add to fat if not burned as energy.
This is why a lot of people tend to prefer low-carb diet options, like Personal Trainer Food (read our review here), for example.
Fat as Fuel
Fat is another easy energy source for the body to use and that includes fat from foods as well as fat that is stored in the body.
While carbs are more easily converted into quick sugars for quick energy, fat takes a little bit more work to process.
The result usually isn’t a burst of energy, but more of a long steady feed that can keep someone running at a moderate level for long periods of time.
Carbs vs Fats: Which is Better For Explosiveness?
The general answer is carbs.
Keeping in mind that explosive athletic performance versus long endurance muscle performance are more affected by things like body type, training, activity, and type of muscle fiber in the body, carbs are easily and quickly converted into energy which is what makes them better if you know you’re going to need a high amount of energy in a short time to perform.
Which is Better For The Long Burn?
On the other hand, fat tends to be better for a long term energy use, especially for really long term endurance.
This is part of the reason mammals need stored fat in the winter, as it creates a steady burn of energy or fuel for the body during cold months.
Having high fat snacks to go with other food is also really handy for thinks like multi-day or multi-week hikes and backpacking excursions.
How Does This Affect Diet?
If you’re talking about diet for performance, it depends on what exactly you need.
If you are looking to gain energy and bulk like a football player then you definitely want to toss in some healthy high carb meals into the eating plan.
If you’re doing an insanely long work out sometimes a high carb snack, even with some sugar, right in the middle can give that extra boost.
Having fat in meals to balance out the sugar and give the body needed nutrients is also a good idea to bring in both sides of the high energy coin.
If you’re talking about diet for weight loss, on the other hand, that gets into all kinds of gray water and “it depends” type of arguments.
Generally high carb diets don’t work well for weight loss because unless you’re working out like a beast hours and hours each day, and right after meals, those carbs can become sugar which becomes fat.
High fat low carb diets have been popular for weight loss because they prevent that settling from happening, tend to make a person feel full, and make it easier for the body to access fat that is already stored as fuel, although some people do report headaches or flu like symptoms for a few days as the body adjusts.
Examples of these diets include Atkins, the Slow-Carb Diet, as well as the very trendy ketogenic (“keto”) diet plans.
Are There Good Reasons to Consider a High Carb Diet?
If the focus is on being able to workout at an elite level, a high carb diet gives fuel for athletes. You can’t train 6 hours a day without carbs. The body needs fuel and carbs are the quickest way to get them in that situation.
For continued weight gain (via muscle growth), recovery from athletic use, or high energy needs in the short term, high carb diets can be very useful to athletes.
There it is. High carb foods and high fat foods seem to dominate the debate over energy and as you can see there is a very good reason for that trend.
Now you have the information you need to make an intelligent and educated decision on which direction is right for you.