Carbohydrates can be broadly classified into two types: simple carbs and complex carbs.
Carbs are macronutrients that can be found in the form of sugar, starch, and fiber. Sugar and starch yield glucose on hydrolysis, which is a type of energy molecule. Glucose is utilized by the body to synthesize ATP (the energy currency of the body) via a process known as glycolysis.
One gram of carbs yields four calories of energy. Refined carbs are known to be harmful to health, as they can trigger a spike in blood glucose levels.
Common lifestyle disorders, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), are related to the consumption of refined and processed carbohydrates. However, simple carbs have certain benefits when it comes to energy availability and athletic performance.
Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs
Simple carbohydrates are nothing but short chains of glucose and yield glucose molecules immediately on consumption. That can cause an immediate spike in blood glucose level. They can be easily broken down by the enzymes present in the intestine.
The list of simple carbs includes:
- refined sugar
- brown sugar
- corn syrup
- glucose, fructose, and sucrose
- fruit juice
However, complex carbs like amylose and amylopectin require more time to break down into glucose molecules. They also trigger a lesser spike in the level of glucose and insulin in the blood. Fiber and starches are the two most important complex carbohydrates found in food.
Complex carbs can be found in the following foods:
- whole grains
- whole wheat bread
These foods are among the fiber-rich foods. Fiber is the second most important complex carb after starch.
Learn more about the difference between complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates.
Benefits of Simple Carbs
Consumption of simple carbohydrates can provide the following six benefits:
1) Instant source of energy
Simple carbohydrates can provide instant energy, as they contain easily available glucose molecules.
They're widely used in the preparation of intra-workout drinks and sports drinks. Dextrose and glucose dissolved in water can provide energy for an intense workout session. While purchasing energy drinks, look for dextrose in the ingredients list.
You can also try out these healthy substitutes for sugar-heavy energy drinks.
2) Easily digestible
Simple carbs can be digested and absorbed easily in the gut. Unlike complex carbs, they don't form a gel inside the stomach and hence move towards the small intestine rapidly.
They do not require the action of amylase enzymes. Glucose being small molecules can be easily absorbed through the intestinal lining. Many oral rehydration drinks contain simple sugars like dextrose and glucose and are used in diarrhea and similar conditions.
People suffering from intestinal infections are often given simple carbs in hospitals for a speedy recovery.
Try out these simple home remedies to improve digestion.
3) Enhances athletic performance
A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science indicated that the consumption of fructose and glucose can improve exercise performance. Similar results were obtained in other studies as well.
The muscles require a lot of energy during workouts and deplete the glucogen reserves present in muscle cells. Simple carbs can recharge the energy reserves rapidly and thus improve athletic performance.
Check out this list of superfoods to eat for a quick energy recharge.
4) Does not cause bloating
Complex carbs often form a gel inside the stomach that can hold more water leading to bloating. Simple sugars get digested faster than complex ones and hence do not hold water for long.
5) Can reduce fatigue
Glucose drinks can instantly relieve you from fatigue. Simple carbs being available for energy production are transported to all the muscles rapidly, thus reducing fatigue.
Try out these methods to manage diet fatigue and stress.
6) Might help manage temporary hypoglycemia
Heavy activity can cause blood glucose to fall beyond safe levels for a short duration.
Hypoglycemia is characterized by dizziness, nausea, and fainting. Untreated hypoglycemia can be fatal for the brain. Simple carbs dissolved in water can prevent a dip in glucose levels and thus prevent any severe condition.
The benefits of simple carbs listed above are related to athletic performance and energy usage. It has to be kept in mind, though, that simple sugars can cause diabetes and fat gain when consumed beyond safe levels.