The poor old carbohydrate has gotten a bad rap over the years. Some of it deserved, some not.
Your body needs energy to operate. Your muscles store this energy as glycogen which is in essence the fuel for your muscles. This is the energy that allows you to run, jump, play sport, to CrossFit.
A high intensity sport such as CrossFit can place high demands on your body to use and replenish its energy stores. The most efficient way for you to replenish this store of energy is by consuming carbohydrates.
All carbs are sugars, the only real difference is how hard your body has to process them and turn them into energy to fuel itself. This is where the whole complex and simple carbohydrate conversation begins. Ideally, you’d ensure that most (or all) of your carb sources come from the more complex sort. Because it takes your body a bit longer to process them your energy levels tend stay more level and you are less likely to get energy and insulin spikes. Oats, many legumes, barley, and vegetables are some examples of more complex carbohydrates.
As for simple carbohydrates, these will generally come in the form of more processed foods, white breads, sweets, fizzy drinks etc. These are all more quickly processed by your body and can cause that energy spike and crash. Anyone remember having a sugar high and massive crash afterwards?
If you’re taking part in a CrossFit style fitness event that has multiple workouts spread over a number of hours or a day then a faster digesting source of energy can be a good thing. If you only have a small window between events the last thing you’ll feel like doing is eating a big meal but some jellies will give a nice little energy hit but not put you in danger of seeing your lunch again once the burpees start!
On a regular day to day basis determining how much of your daily intake should come from carbs is really one of those “it depends” sort of answers. It depends on your level of training and where you are starting from. Someone training 5 or 6 times a week at high intensity will need more than someone who trains maybe twice a week and isn’t used quite to pushing themselves in training yet.
The aim is to fuel your training and activity needs, not take on more than your body needs. While you may consciously know that food isn’t as scarce as it was when we were running away from sabre tooth tigers, our bodies are still using the same mechanisms as we did back then and will store as much as it can of whatever isn’t used.
As with anything food related, finding that balance is key.