3 Ways the Body Can Use Sugars
All carbohydrates are made up of sugars. Carbohydrates can be found in four of the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. The chemical structure differs from source to source, however the body breaks all carbohydrates down similarly. To understand how the body uses sugars it’s worth understanding how the body metabolizes carbohydrates. To begin, carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth through mechanical assimilation and/or enzymatic reactions. The food then moves through the esophagus down into the stomach through the small intestine. The small intestine handles most of the digestion and absorption. Carbohydrates are then broken down into single sugar units called monosaccharides – glucose, fructose or galactose. Once absorbed, the monosaccharides are transported via the portal vein to the liver. The liver can transform the sugars into glucose, then release them back into the bloodstream for energy or store as glycogen or fat.
1. Glucose: Many cells in the body prefer glucose as an energy source. It’s the body’s main source of energy. After carbohydrates are ingested, it can be converted to glucose, which then circulates in the brain and through blood to all tissues. Carbohydrates, except fiber, can be converted to glucose.
2. Glycogen: The body’s storage form of carbohydrates. It’s made up of many glucose units linked together. The body can convert glucose to glycogen, which can be temporarily stored in the liver and skeletal muscle for ‘future use’ when energy needs increase. The body can tap into glycogen stores if you’ve gone for extended periods with without food, if you have insufficient glucose readily available, or if your body requires more energy during activity. If glycogen stores become depleted, then the body can become fatigued.
3. Fat: If glycogen stores are at maximal capacity, then glycogen may be stored as body fat. Meaning that carbohydrates consumed in excess of what can be stored as glycogen can be converted to body fat. However, carbohydrates alone do not cause weight gain, excess carbohydrates, like any other macronutrient in excess can be stored as body fat.
It’s all about moderation and balance and understanding your personal needs. Once you understand your needs, then carbohydrates can help fuel your body appropriately. If you understand the fundamentals of carbohydrate digestion, absorption and metabolism, then it can help you to make determine the type and amount needed to help support body and performance. In all, carbohydrates play a role in daily life as well as activity. It’s important to consume an adequate amount of carbohydrates each day to fuel body and muscle.