Glycogen- The Unknown Carb.

Most of us are familiar with sugar, starch and fiber but not glycogen. The reason for this is, it is not a carbohydrate we eat but it is how our bodies store carbohydrates. When we eat sugar or starch they are digested and absorbed into the blood stream causing our blood sugar levels to rise. Our bodies in turn sense this rise and produce insulin. The insulin tells our muscle cells to open their doors and let the excess sugar in where it is either burned or stored for later. The more active we are the sooner it is burned. Although this seems very simple and straight forward it has some problems. First, liver and muscle cells store most of the glycogen not fat cells so the more fat cells you have the less glycogen you can store making it harder to control your blood sugar. Second glycogen is less stable than fat so the body only uses it to store energy for a short period of time then it converts it to fat. If you have ever heard of an athlete “carbing up” for an event they only do it for about two days before the race this is because of the limited storage time for carbs in the body. Third and most important to most people is carbs by themselves weigh twice as much as fat per calorie. In addition they also attract water adding even more weight. This is why most diets start off so great then plateau quickly. When you lose 10 pounds in a week unfortunately it was not fat it was just water, glycogen, and some protein. In other words you’re not thin, you’re dry. So don’t get discouraged when you plateau on the second or third week of a diet, that’s where the real fat loss begins and fat loss is a slow business. On the bright side when the scales tell you that you gained three pounds last week it is glycogen and water as well. Gaining a pound of fat is almost as slow as losing one. (The average holiday weight gain is about one pound of fat.) In conclusion, if you are not an endurance athlete the reason glycogen is important to you is weight fluctuation. It is the source of most of our rapid gains and losses so just watch the trends in your weight and not the sudden changes.