Do You Need Carbs for Energy?

Our bodies don't actually need carbohydrates to survive, but that doesn't mean we have to cut them out completely

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You may have heard of “essential fatty acids” and “essential amino acids” before. These are fats and proteins that are essential to the functions in our bodies, and they must be consumed through food because they are not produced by our bodies.

Something you've probably never heard of is "essential carbohydrates." This is because we don't actually need carbohydrates to exist.

There are three macronutrients found in our food -- fats, proteins and carbohydrates. As it turns out, carbohydrates are the only macronutrient we, as humans, do not need to consume to live. Some of you may scoff at this, but this is just the science, so don’t shoot the messenger.

Your liver is actually capable of creating its own sugar through process known as gluconeogenesis. For you non-Latin speakers, this process literally translates to gluco (sugar), neo (new) and genesis (creation), or "new sugar creation."

From an evolutionary perspective, this is a handy little trick. If you wanted carbs 10,000 years ago, you couldn’t walk over to the corner store and pick up a box of doughnuts. You had to be lucky enough to find some naturally occurring sugar in the form of fruit, so our bodies learned to produce energy from fat and protein. This process, known as ketosis, is the reason that people who adopt a “low carb diet” are able to live normal, fit and happy lives.

So does this mean we should not eat carbs? Absolutely not. It simply means we need to change the conversation from “Do we need carbs?” to “When do we need carbs?”

We need to use our carbs as a tool to replenish our muscles after a hard workout and our souls after a hard week. Each of us has a different level of carbohydrate tolerance so you need to find the appropriate carbohydrate mix for you.

Dusten Recommends:
Try to limit your starch carbohydrate intake to 1-2 fist size portions of starchy carbohydrates in your post workout meal and allow yourself to have one “cheat meal” per week and see how it impacts your waist line.

Dusten Nelson is a Chicago-based strength coach, nutritional expert and practitioner of Chinese medicine. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and check out his website. You can email Nelson at

Nelson is currently training Chicago filmmaker Kenneth Yoder to compete in a 100-day bodybuilding challenge. See the original story here.

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