All about Carbohydrates, and their Importance in Sports Nutrition


Last couple of years carbohydrates are one of the most researched topics when it comes to nutrition. Low carbohydrates diets became very popular. As a result of that, people started to believe that carbohydrates are bad and start to avoid them. But that is far from the truth because carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the human body.

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the human body, and one of the most important nutrients besides fats and proteins. Name carbohydrates origin from its chemical compound that is consists of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen atoms (O). They can be found in a wide variety of natural ( healthy) and processed (unhealthy) foods. One gram of carbs gives up the energy of 4 calories. The primary function of carbohydrates is providing energy for brain function and for the nervous system. When carbs are ingested in the body, the liver turns them into glucose. From there needed amount of glucose is transported to the muscles and brain. The rest is turned into glycogen that represents reserves of energy. Excess of glycogen is stored as fat, If the reserves of glycogen are used, the body uses energy by burning stored fat.

Types of Carbohydrates

Most common separation of carbohydrates among nutritionists is separation on simple (bad) and complex ( good) carbs. The reason for this separation is to make the difference between “good” and “bad” carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates

Their name is “simple” because they consist of just one or two molecules. They are absorbing and digesting very fast. They can be found in milk, and fruits but also in candies, refined sugar, syrups, Simple carbohydrates are monosaccharides and disaccharides.

A monosaccharide is structurally simplest carbohydrates that can be found in nature. Monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, and galactose.

Glucose is the simplest sugar that existed in nature. Glucose is a basic source of energy and it can be found in: honey, rice, and some types of fruit.

Fructose or fruit sugar can be found together with glucose in honey and fruits. Fructose is absorbed faster than glucose and because of that it is very popular in sports nutrition. People with diabetes use fructose as a sweetener because it doesn’t increase blood sugar level as fast as glucose.

Galactose is milk sugar, it can be found in milk products and sugar beet.

Disaccharides are sugars built from two molecules of monosaccharides. Disaccharides are sucrose, lactose, and maltose. They can be found in many fruits, grains and vegetables.

Sucrose is common sugar, it is disaccharide a molecule composed of two monosaccharides: glucose and fructose. One gram of fructose release energy of 4, 1 calorie.

Lactose is milk sugar composed of galactose and glucose. Mother while breastfeeding producing this carbohydrate because it is very important for babies. A certain percent of people are lactose intolerant, they can’t digest lactose.

Maltose is formed from two units of glucose. It can be found in malt seeds from which it got it’s name.

Complex Carbohydrates (Polysaccharides)

Complex carbohydrates consist of long chains of sugar molecules (three or more). They need more time to digest. As a result conversion of complex carbohydrates into glucose is much longer, which affect the level of blood sugar to rise slowly. Complex carbohydrate has more essential nutrients such as fibers. They can be found in peas, beans, whole grains, potatoes, lentils. There are three types of polysaccharides: starch, cellulose and glycogen.

Starch consists of large number of glucose unit joined by glycosidic bonds. It is the most common carbohydrate in human diets. It can be found in potatoes, wheat, rice, corn.

Cellulose is a carbohydrate that doesn’t count as an energy source because a human can’t digest it.

Glycogen is animal based carbohydrate. It is multi-branched polysaccharide of glucose that serves as storage energy in animals. It can be found in all animal foods.

Benefits of Carbohydrates

Benefits of Carbohydrates

Fuel for Brain and Muscles

This is most important benefit of carbohydrates. Brain need glucose from carbohydrates to function properly. If the intake of carbohydrates is low it can lead to tiredness, depression and inability to focus.

Hearth Health

Eating food rich with dietary fibers (whole grain, fresh fruit, oats, vegetables, and quinoa) prevent cholesterol to accumulate in arteries and create blockages that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Improved Digestion

One of the benefits of carbohydrates is preventing digestive problems such as constipation and ingestion. Insoluble fiber doesn’t break down during digestion, it pushes other food along the digestive tract and speeds up the digestive process.

Satisfying Appetite

High-fiber food is generally low in calories, so eating rich fiber food creates a felling of fullness more quickly and satisfying appetite for a long time.

Importance of Carbohydrates in Sports Nutrition

Carbohydrates are very important in sports nutrition, because they are the best source of energy so they represent fuel for the body. Also, they are crucial when it comes to muscle gain and recovery. Glycogen is primary fuel that body uses in exercise. Low muscle glycogen stores result in muscle fatigue and body inability to complete the high intense exercise. As for muscle gain and recovery, with the correct amount of carbohydrates available to muscles, proteins can be free to do its main job of repairing and rebuilding muscles tissue which maximizes muscle growth. Athletes looking for maximal mental focus, physical performance and body recovery should base their diet on carbohydrates.

Disadvantages of Carbohydrates

Eating excess of carbohydrates can lead to several disadvantages. Eating an excessive amount of carbs lead to the caloric surplus that is turned into stored fat. Which means that eating too many carbs can result in weight gain.

Ingesting too many carbs put body blood sugar level into overdrive, and the body can’t produce enough insulin. This can lead to the danger of getting type 2 diabetes.

Food rich in carbs can be also rich in fats that can lead to thickened arteries. Which can help in developing heart diseases?

Brain fog is one of the disadvantages of ingesting too many carbohydrates. It leads to disrupting proper cognitive functioning.


Carbohydrates are one of the most important nutrients for the human body. It has it good and bad sides, but they must be included in everyday diet. Over intake and low intake can lead to many health problems. So everybody needs to find the right amount suitable for their own body and needs.