Carbohydrate: Friend or Foe?

Popular diets today tell people to hold off on the carbohydrates and double up on the protein. The false, yet widely believed explanation for these diets is that excess protein is associated with more muscle mass while excess carbohydrates are associated with fat.

Because of all this protein popularity, people just can’t seem to get enough of it: protein shakes, protein bars and an extra scoop of protein in that strawberry smoothie.

Is it possible to get those 18-inch arms without the protein supplements and with the carbohydrates? Most definitely.

First, look at the different roles each nutrient has in the body. Protein supports growth within the body, builds enzymes, hormones and antibodies, helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance and even supplies a small amount of energy (10 percent).

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are the body’s main source of energy. They also act as a protein sparer so that protein won’t have to be used for energy and can be used for what it is designed to be used for: growth and repair. As mentioned last week, carbohydrates keep the body’s metabolism running.

With such individual and crucial roles in the body, it is hard to believe either nutrient could be deemed bad, but they can be. That is why it is crucial to understand, especially with muscle building, how to intake both carbohydrates and proteins to maximize the results.

The body can only process and use a certain amount of protein at one time. This amount varies from individual to individual. To find out how much protein is necessary in your body, plug numbers into the following standard equation.

First, take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. This converts your body weight from pounds to kilograms. Next, take the weight in kilograms and multiply it by 0.8. The answer is how many grams of protein your body needs in one day. For athletes and bodybuilders, multiply weight in kilograms by 1.5-2.0.

For example, a 135-pound woman needs about 49 grams of protein a day, and an athletically active 170-pound man may need up to 154 grams of protein a day. The latter number is extremely high and only recommended for someone that is very athletic, not just an average gym member.

Going beyond the recommended protein amount does not ensure you will add more muscle. In fact, it can lead to gaining more fat. Since excess protein cannot be stored for later use, it is broken down into glucose.

As glucose, it is either used for energy or, if energy demands are already met, is stored as fat. Yes, contrary to popular belief, excess protein in the diet can be converted to fat and stored as fat just like excess carbohydrates can.

When protein is converted to glucose, nitrogen remains in the body and must be urinated out to maintain proper nitrogen balance. This protein-to-glucose conversion can be very damaging to the liver and kidneys because of the nitrogen.

Though extra protein may seem good in theory, the fact is it can be stressful on the liver and kidneys. It can result in excess calories with fat as their fate and it can make it hard to sit through a movie without needing a bathroom break to get rid of all that extra nitrogen.

American health authorities generally recommend at least 55 percent of a diet be from carbohydrate sources, and why not? They are the best source of energy, they are crucial to metabolism, and it helps proteins focus on their job within the muscles and cells.

The general guideline for carbohydrates is 6-11 servings a day, which is equivalent to 90-165 grams a day. Anything less than six servings will hinder those fitness goals and put health at risk.

As for carbohydrates and proteins: people don’t have to choose one. Use both in proper proportions and get muscle built faster and stronger than before.

Dayna Davidson is the group and fitness supervisor at the Campus Recreation Center and is a senior majoring in wellness and leadership with a minor in professional writing. She can be contacted for questions or comments at