Simple carbs are sugars, further broken down into 3 categories: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and oligosaccharides. Monosaccharides are one single sugar molecule and are rapidly digested and utilized by the body. Disaccharides are two sugar molecules linked together that can easily be broken down with an enzyme and a water molecule. Oligosaccharides are slightly larger and range between 3 to 20 sugar molecules linked together. Many of which cannot be digested by the small intestine, so they travel to the large intestine and feed the beneficial gut bacteria. Generally speaking, athletes are relying on simple sugars (mono- and di-saccharides) to provide quick fuel during exercise. These sugars are easily digested and rapidly elevate glucose levels.
Complex carbs, also known as polysaccharides contain several hundred sugar molecules and must be heavily digested before they are absorbed. They are subdivided into non-starches and starches. Non-starches are composed of celluloses and hemicelluloses. Starches are broken down into amylopectin and glycogen and they maintain more consistent blood sugar levels. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver and it is broken down into glucose to meet energy requirements. It’s important for athletes to replenish glycogen reserves by eating a variety of low GI foods like oats, sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, green vegetables, and nuts.
Carbs are the best source of energy for endurance athletes. Consuming simple sugars during exercise is beneficial because they provide quick fuel for us to use. This is because simple carbs are easily digested thus providing the body with readily available glucose. After exercise, it’s important to consume good quality carbs with a low GI rating to replenish the glycogen stores in the muscles and liver.
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