Carbs get a bad rap. But the truth is our bodies need carbs. They give us the energy to do everything from thinking creatively to hitting the gym. Cutting out carbs can actually make it harder to lose weight. Still, that doesn’t mean you should consume them indiscriminately. Some carbs are better than others. Here’s what you need to know.

Simple carbs burn quickly
When you hear advice about staying away from carbs, these are the ones to avoid. Simple carbs like white bread and pasta break down quickly in the body. They give you instant energy but it does not last. Once your body burns through these simple carbs, your blood sugar takes a nose dive. You crash and, what’s worse, you’re likely to crave more (high-calorie) empty carbs for a quick pick me up. Simple carbs put you on the crash and burn path. Break the cycle by adding nutrients, like fiber or protein.

pasta-514893_640Complex carbs have staying power
Complex carbs contain protein and/or fiber, which slows their absorption. Think apples, brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole grain toast or yogurt. Your body has more time to benefit from the nutrients, and you enjoy sustained energy without blood sugar dips.

Carbs power your workout
Want a good workout? You’ve got to eat carbs. It would be tough to generate enough energy to sustain a hard workout without carbs. How much do you need? It depends on how hard, and how often you work out as well as other factors, like age, gender and weight. The Mayo Clinic recommends that 45 to 65 percent of your diet be comprised of carbs. On a 2,000-calorie diet that equals between 225 and 325 grams of carbs. Again, needs vary. For example, if you are very active you may need to exceed the upper limit. Marathoners often carb-load before a race. If you are preparing for a big event that will require a lot of energy, you may want to increase your carb intake by 100 grams or so daily a couple of days before. For everyday exercise lasting at least an hour reach for carb fuel of 200 calories (or less) about an hour before.

Carbs support post workout recovery
Carbs not only give you the energy you need for an intense workout, they also support recovery and muscle growth. Choose a small post-workout snack of protein and carbs to replenish glycogen stores. Doing so helps your body recover and prepare for the next workout session. It also gives you enough energy to do something with your day other than crash on the couch after a killer workout. Pack a non-perishable snack that you can ingest within 30 minutes of your workout for best results.

Carbs are not the enemy. They are good for your workout in that they provide the energy you need. Carbs also support your recovery and muscle growth. Skipping carbs can negatively impact mood and weight loss goals. Go ahead, enjoy complex carbs in moderation.