Body Fuel – The Difference Between Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats

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Understanding your body’s fuel system will give your players an edge during game time. They’ll be able to make educated decisions about how their diet affects their play.

Your body has three main types of nutrients (called “macronutrients): carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about each of them.

Why not?

Because you don’t need to know everything. Too much information and you and your players will become confused and forget it all. At least, that’s what happened to me the first couple of times anyway. You need to know the essentials… the things that are most important to athletes.

Here’s the essential things you need to know about each fuel source.


Carbohydrates: Your Body’s Primary Fuel Source

Carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are carbs that your body can break down into glucose and burn as energy almost immediately. If you eat a slice of watermelon, it only takes about 20 minutes before the sugar hits your blood stream. High doses of simple sugars can cause sugar spikes and crashes, while small doses can help give an immediate energy boost.

Complex carbohydrates are carbs that your body needs to digest and slowly break down. They’re converted into simple sugars over time as your body metabolizes the carbs. Bread, rice and vegetables are examples of complex carbs.

It’s important to note that not all carbs are created equal. Though a Kit-Kat bar and a banana are both simple carbs, the latter has far more nutrition and causes less of an insulin spike than the Kit-Kat bar. As a rule of thumb, opt for whole foods rather than processed foods and avoid processed sugars.


Fats: A Multi-Purpose Nutrient

Fats serve several important functions in the body. For one, they’re a store of energy. When your body needs more energy than it has glucose, it breaks down fat. Fat also helps your body process vitamins. The body also uses fats as a temporary storage system for toxins, before they can be carried out of the body.

There are many different kinds of fats. The so-called “unhealthy fats” are trans-fats and saturated fats. These tend to be found in fast foods, hydrogenated oils, baked foods, butter and certain kinds of animal meats.

The “healthy fats” are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Nuts, avocados, olives and other natural sources of fats have these kinds of healthy fats.


Proteins: Your Body’s Building Blocks

Proteins are the primary building block for your body’s tissues. The amino acid chains form different patterns to create different kinds of tissues. Think of it like the raw materials that your body uses to form new muscles.

Protein is generally not used as an energy source unless the body has no other option. It uses carbohydrates first, then fats and finally breaks down muscles and uses protein if no other options are present.

These are the three essential building blocks to your body’s fuel system. Make sure you have enough carbs to fuel your workout, enough proteins to build new muscles and enough healthy fats to keep your body running smoothly.


Is there anything you consider important that I left out about each of these fuel sources? Let me know in the comments.

– Coach Mac


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