Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that have a bad reputation in some nutrition circles. I can’t deny that for some people following a ketogenic diet, they’re seeing weight loss results, but there are a number of factors that are at play including sustainability, micronutrient consumption, and even physical activity. I’m here to say that I don’t believe carbohydrates are the devil and they can be part of a completely healthy lifestyle. (I mean, hello, vegetables are carbohydrates!)

Today I’ll provide a breakdown of the difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates and why each is needed in the diet. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Perfect, you’ll learn something today!

jelly, jam, fruit, milk, potato, bread, rice, carbohdyrates

The simple carbohydrates are mainly sugar and the complex carbohydrates are many times considered starchy.

We need both in our daily diets, but know that complex carbohydrates will leave you feeling more full and give you energy throughout the entire day. Complex carbohydrates are just that in their molecular structure, complex. This means it takes more time to break them down; therefore, the effect of the energy released is delayed.

Healthy, simple carbohydrates, like fruit, have a place in our diets, but contain more sugar and don't last as long when it comes to providing energy. Going back to the idea of molecular structure, these carbohydrates take less time to break down and can be used more instantaneously. Fruit has a number of other vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to offer that contribute to good health; please don’t cut out fruits just because they contain sugar!!

There are unhealthy carbohydrates out there, and these are often the ones that are meant to be demonized, but we say ‘carbs are bad’ and that statement is just too broad. So, the things we want to stay away from for the most part are the refined, processed carbohydrates like candies, sweets, and white bread. Many of these food items lack protein, other nutrients, and have added fat. The combination of fat and refined carbohydrates is a recipe for fat storage.

I would suggest a higher level athlete consumes simple carbohydrates close to training times and complex carbohydrates further away from training. By doing this, simple carbohydrates can readily fuel the work to be done and quickly replenish what is lost, while complex carbohydrates later and/or earlier set up success for future physical endeavors. To be honest, refined carbohydrates like white bread may be recommended over whole grains for athletes based on the need for a quick energy source.

This makes the need for carbohydrates individualized by person. A sedentary individual may not benefit from simple carbohydrates as much because they do not have the increased activity load to use them quickly. Another great example for the need of personalization in the diet!

Choose your carbs wisely. As a general recommendation, incorporate both, but focus on complex carbohydrates with 1-2 servings of simple carbs a day.