What Are Carbohydrates? Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is the primary source of fuel for energy in your body. Correct use of carbs avoids dehydration, increases energy, maintains strength, stamina, speed and power, allowing greater recovery, well being and most importantly, provides you with the important nutrients to help prevent muscle breakdown. Eat complex carbs for long lasting energy, ie: whole grains, oats, vegetables.

Key points for consideration

  • Carbohydrates are essential for energy and intense training
  • Eat more whole grains, oats, vegetables for sustained energy
  • Use simple ‘quick’ carbs, ie: energy drinks before & after training

You’ve probably heard of “simple” and “complex” carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide your body with its basic fuel. Your body thinks about carbohydrates like a car engine thinks about petrol.

The word “carbohydrate” comes from the fact that glucose is made up of carbon and water. The simplest carbohydrate is glucose. Glucose, also called “blood sugar” and “dextrose”, flows in the bloodstream so that it is available to every cell in your body. Your cells absorb glucose and convert it into energy to drive the cell.

The best times to eat a large amount of carbohydrate

  • After you finish exercise your body is needs a large amount of carbohydrate to help it recover more quickly in time for your next workout. A post-workout meal high in carbohydrate, and also containing some protein (this helps to force additional carbohydrate into your muscles) will help you recover more quickly in time for your next workout. In fact, this unique nutrient combination restores depleted energy levels 19% faster than conventional high-carbohydrate energy drinks
  • If you’re trying to gain weight, extra calories in your diet in the form of carbohydrate are vital
  • When you train hard, carbohydrates stored in your body (this is called glycogen) is used for energy. When you train hard on a regular basis, your glycogen stores start to run out. In the same way that a car only stores a limited amount of petrol, your body can only store a limited amount of glycogen. Once glycogen runs out, your body is then forced to burn valuable muscle tissue for energy

Simple carbohydrate

Glucose, fructose and galactose are known as monosaccharides and are the only carbohydrates that can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of your intestines. Lactose, sucrose and maltose are disaccharides (they contain two monosaccharides) and are easily converted to their monosaccharide bases in the digestive tract.

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are called simple carbohydrates. They are also sugars – they all taste sweet. They all digest quickly and enter the bloodstream quickly. When you look at a nutrition label on a food package and see “sugars” under the “carbohydrates” section of the label, these simple sugars are what the label is talking about.

Complex carbohydrate

There are also complex carbohydrates, commonly known as “starches”. A complex carbohydrate is made up of chains of glucose molecules. Most grains (such as wheat, corn, oats, rice) and things like potatoes are high in starch. Your digestive system breaks a complex carbohydrate (starch) into glucose molecules so that the glucose can enter your bloodstream.

One popular misconception (especially with the current popularity of low carbohydrate diets) is the notion that carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates, will make you fat. It’s true that when you reduce your calorie intake, it is vital to reduce not only the fat content of your diet, but your carbohydrates also. You should also try to limit your intake of processed and manufactured foods.

Complex carbohydrates, however, such as rice, pasta, vegetables, oats, and seeds contain lots of nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals and fibre) and should not be eliminated from your diet. In fact, there are times when a large amount of carbohydrate is essential.