As you may know, energy is a vital element to sustaining normal bodily functioning and aiding performance during exercise. We obtain this energy from calories in macronutrient foods. Any budding fitness enthusiast or athlete probably knows that to ensure optimal performance during a workout, the correct fuel is required.

However, with the different types of carbohydrates available, to considering the gylcaemic index and nutritional timing, it can be a mind boggling task choosing the correct energy sources. Below we help you to identify the best pre-workout carbohydrates that will propel your body to peak levels during an exercise session, and also help enhance post-workout recovery with a list of carbohydrate foods.

Race track, sprint

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (also known as saccharides) are one of three macronutrients which provide energy to the body.

1g of carbohydrates equates to 4kcal energy.

They offer a quick source of energy, typically in the form of sugar; in contrast, starch offers a slow-releasing source of energy. They are typically the macronutrient associated with offering the body energy as carbohydrates are required in larger quantities than protein and fat. Many fad low-carbohydrate diets, such as keto diets or the Atkins diet, advocate the reduction or even worse, the elimination of carbohydrates in the body. Despite this, carbohydrates will always be integral to a healthy human diet.

Carbohydrates provide energy to support functioning of the central nervous system and other critical body systems. With regard to exercise, muscles utilise glucose (sugar source available from food) to fuel muscles during a workout. However, when glucose levels become depleted, the body then resorts to the reserve stock – glycogen, which is comprised of glucose, stored in the body. The muscle has limited quantities of glycogen stores available, and so when all the glucose and glycogen has been consumed, loss of energy and fatigue occur – you know the feeling when you feel like you’ve hit a wall? For this reason, it’s important to refuel your body with carbohydrates to maintain optimal glycogen levels. A common example of this is carb-loading where a person consumes a high portion of carbohydrates to maximise glycogen available.

Below we take a look at complex carbohydrates vs simple carbohydrates and debunk some facts surrounding good and bad carbs in addition to providing you with a list of healthy carbohydrates.

Types of carbohydrates

Not all carbohydrates are nutritionally equal. Some carbs are considered healthier than others. There are a number of ways to categorise carbohydrates. Firstly, they can be grouped based on their agility to offer energy:

Simple carbohydrates:

Generally speaking, these are digested and absorbed faster than complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are commonly known as a ‘bad carbohydrate‘. They are often used as a quick energy source, typically 60 minutes or less before or after a workout as they are quickly digested; however, they may leave you feeling hungry after a short period of time. While not all simple carbohydrates are considered unhealthy, the ones that are generally less healthy are commonly found in processed foods which have limited nutritional value, and often contain refined sugars.

Below is a list of simple carbohydrates that should have moderated intake:

  • Fruit juice concentrate, soda, table sugar, white bread, breakfast cereals with high quantities of sugar, sweets.

In the next section are a list of healthy carbohydrates which can be incorporated into most diets and used to replace the above sources.

Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugars and can be further categorised into:

  • Monosaccharides: Single sugars molecules
  • Disaccharides: Double sugar molecules

Cookies, refined sugar, carbohydrate

Complex carbohydrates:

Complex carbohydrates are a slow-releasing energy and tend to leave you feeling fuller for longer; primarily comprised of starchy foods, they are also less likely to cause a sugar spike, compared with simple carbohydrate sources. In addition, complex carbohydrates are commonly considered the healthier ‘good carb‘ of the two categories. They contain three or more sugars and are also known as disaccharides.

Complex carbohydrates are a valuable fuel source for athletes fuelling up 1-2 hours before a workout. They also are an excellent ingredient in post-workout recovery meals. A common trend observed is to incorporate a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates into your post-workout recovery foods, e.g oats and milk.

Porridge, blueberries, carbohydrates

Fibre:

While fibre doesn’t act as an energy source, it is an essential component required for healthy bowel movements and assisting in food digestion. The recommended daily allowance for an adult is 25-38g/day to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Carbohydrate food list

Simple carbohydrates: Bread, milk, raisins, bananas, yoghurts.

Complex carbohydrates: Potatoes, oats, peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, wholemeal pasta, starchy vegetables e.g. butternut squash, barley, brown rice, corn, quinoa, whole fruits such as apples, bananas.

Fibre: Whole fruit with skin on e.g. apples, vegetables, nuts, beans, chick peas, oats, barley, sweet potato, wholewheat pasta.

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Summary

  • Carbohydrates play a key role in achieving long-term health and reducing the risk of some chronic diseases
  • Simple carbohydrates offer a quick energy spike, which may result in energy dips
  • Complex carbohydrates provide a longer, more sustainable energy source while regulating stable sugar levels
  • Moderate intake of simple carbohydrates containing unrefined sugar is acceptable in most diets
  • However, the focus should be on including a greater ratio of complex carbohydrates into your diet
  • Avoid foods containing added sugar. Reading the ingredients helps determine if there is sugar added to a food
  • Simple carbohydrates can be a valuable fuel source <60 minutes before a workout
  • Use complex carbohydrates when eating a pre-workout meal >1 hours before a workout
  • Don’t forget to include fibre in your diet.

By now, you’ll possibly have read the previous articles regarding all 3 macronutrients. If you haven’t read these yet, you’re missing out on information regarding important nutritional components to a healthy body and enhanced workout, In these articles, we delve into the importance of pre and post-workout nutrition. I’ll just shamelessly leave the links here and you can take a look… pre-workout foods protein post-workout foods protein and is fat really bad for you?. Don’t worry, this article will still be here when you get back!

What are your thoughts and queries on carbohydrates? Leave a comment below.

Sources

Brazier, Y., 2018. Protein: Sources, Deficiency, And Requirements. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/196279.php#deficiency [Accessed 15 March 2020].

Brewster, J., 2018. Post-Workout Carbs: Best Choices To Grow And Recover!  [online] Bodybuilding.com. Available at: https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/post-workout-carbs.html [Accessed 15 March 2020].

EU Science Hub – European Commission. 2020. Dietary Fibre – EU Science Hub – European Commission. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/health-knowledge-gateway/promotion-prevention/nutrition/fibre [Accessed 15 March 2020].

Semeco, A., 2018. Pre-Workout Nutrition: What To Eat Before A Workout. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-before-workout#section1> [Accessed 15 March 2020].

Szalay, J., 2017. What Are Carbohydrates?. [online] livescience.com. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/51976-carbohydrates.html [Accessed 15 March 2020].

The Nutrition Source. 2020. Carbohydrates. [online] Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/ [Accessed 15 March 2020].

8fit.com. 2020. Glycogen Depletion: Signs and Symptoms [online] Available at: https://8fit.com/fitness/glycogen-depletion-signs-symptoms-and-working-out/ [Accessed 15 March 2020].

Categories: Blogs

22 Comments

Gediminas · 19/01/2020 at 8:59 PM

Hello, it is finally nice to find a good article about carbohydrates with lots of explanation about carbohydrates examples of needed food. As I do sports often this article will be my number one in dieting. Thank you!

    admin · 20/01/2020 at 8:05 PM

    Thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed it and that it’ll be of some value to you!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon 🙂

Eric · 19/01/2020 at 9:17 PM

This post was very informative to look over. I’m not that familiar with the different types of carbohydrates, so it was nice to learn about them from this review.

I love carbs. Over the years, I ate a lot of pure, complex, and fibre. But I’ve cut back on intake and eat a little healthier diet these days. I’m more into simple and fibre- I eat those kinds of foods daily. Every now and then, I’ll eat some complex carbs, especially pasta. Pasta is one of my favorite foods that I can never give up. So I have my list of carbs that I make sure to include in my diet.

Would you recommend a no-carb diet for some individuals? Particularly if they need to lose weight and on a strict diet?

Thanks for sharing- an excellent review!

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:15 PM

    Hi Eric,

    Yes, I think we all love carbs. I personally love sweet potatoes and bread!

    As you can probably imagine, it can be quite difficult to completely eliminate carbohydrates from a diet as they’re omnipresent in foods. That being said, there’s a lot to be said for using a low-carb diet. That way you don’t completely eliminate fibre from the diet, which can be valuable for feelings of fullness. If a person is interested in weight loss, fruit and vegetables are a great way of filling up your dinner plate while minimising calories.

    Hope that answers your question.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Patrick Foster · 19/01/2020 at 9:55 PM

This is our kind of article! My wife is a personal trainer, and I am going to send her a link to this article. We promote and practice this in our own daily diets. We believe that movement, nutrition and mindset all work together for total body wellness. Have you ever heard about the Dr. Mcdougall starch based diet? I believe there is really something to the science. We have even heard of type 2 diabetes reversal because of starch based diets. I have lost over 30 lbs from making changes like this, and becoming more aware of what I choose to eat. Thank you for sharing this information!

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:23 PM

    Hi Patrick,

    Great to hear I’m not the only one advocating the consumption of healthy carbohydrates! Yes, I have; it’s good from the perspective that it emphasises the use of healthy complex carbohydrates. It certainly has been linked to some tremendous weight loss journeys; saying that, I doubt I could personally stick to it. Congratulations on losing 30lb, you seem to be achieving phenomenal results!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

JoAnne · 19/01/2020 at 9:56 PM

Thank you I am so glad I found this post, as it is most informative and easy to understand.
Plus, I have learned something and will be following up on that in my daily diet from now on!
Thank you for putting this together.
Cheers
Jo

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:26 PM

    Hi Jo,

    I’m delighted to hear you’ve benefited from the post, if you’ve any queries along the way, do let me know.

    Best wishes,
    Sharon 🙂

Rami · 19/01/2020 at 10:37 PM

Hi,
A very well researched and most interesting read. You are obviously an expert and very knowledgeable in your choice of subject. Carbohydrates are not as bad as some dieticians would have you believe and I have learnt an amazing amount about them from what you have presented. I shall certainly be back to read the previous articles previously presented on food nutrition. Thank you so much for disseminating such essential information in a well structured and balanced way.

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:28 PM

    Hi Rami,

    Thank you for your kind words. I’m delighted that the article has been of some benefit to you. I think it’s so important to offer researched, accurate information, considering how much inaccurate data is present on the web. Stay tuned for more!

    Sharon 🙂

Tyler Hansen · 19/01/2020 at 10:52 PM

Hello. Great information! Thank you. Gotta get those carbs in! 🙂 Whhoooooo!!! 😉

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:29 PM

    Thanks Tyler,

    You sure do, no more guilt!

    Sharon

Michelle Otuke · 19/01/2020 at 11:58 PM

Hi Sharon, thank you for this valuable information. I have a lot of friends that tend to leave carbohydrates out of their diet in order to loose more weight, however from this I have learnt that they are not all bad and are actually useful to the body. Are those diets where you don’t eat carbs good for your health? I have always been curious, I know some of my friends mentioned that it helped but tend to add carbs back in their diet again.

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:33 PM

    Hi Michelle,

    You are most welcome. It’s unfortunate that carbohydrates are culprits to such negativity. Many low/no carb diets only last for a short duration before being reintroduced into the body. Long story short, there are pros and cons to adopting a low carb diet; however, long term issues may present themselves if it’s adhered to for too long.

    Hope this answers your question!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon 🙂

Rhonda · 20/01/2020 at 1:00 AM

This is a great article for anyone wanting to understand carbs and their benefits for weight loss, training, and overall health. Very detailed yet easy to understand. I especially like the detail of different types of carbs and their effects.

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:34 PM

    Hi Rhonda,

    Thanks for your kind words, I hope it aids you in choosing the types of foods to eat in the future.

    Sharon 🙂

Daniela · 20/01/2020 at 8:27 AM

Hey there!
Great article, I am really glad you made clear the difference between simple and complex carbs, I find it really useful to know which one of them to eat how much time before workout..Thank you!

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:35 PM

    Hi Daniela,

    Thank you so much. I hope it helps you choosing foods to fuel your workouts!

    Sharon 🙂

Virginia · 20/01/2020 at 12:15 PM

Well, I have to admit I’ve always been a lover of carbs! Pasta, bread, rice…. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject and since I do run, I guess I can indulge more than most, but my theory is “everything in moderation”. Eat carbs, but eat the right carbs and don’t gorge on lasagne 3 meals a day! Not that that doesn’t sound pretty good! This was a great article and very informative. Thanks!

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:38 PM

    Hi Virginia,

    Runners tend to love carbs, they are a great source of fuel. You’ve hit the nail on the head there, everything in moderation – even moderation 😛

    Sharon 🙂

John Platts · 20/01/2020 at 8:17 PM

Thank you for this clearly explained and practical guide to how we get energy from carbohydrates, and what are the most effective for sporting activities.

    Sharon · 20/01/2020 at 8:56 PM

    Hi John,

    Glad to be of assistance!

    Sharon 🙂

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