Carbohydrates, as we’ve discussed at length in a few articles, can be a polarising subject. While they’re undoubtedly the body’s favoured source of energy, they are also responsible for lots of weight-related challenges due to the wide variety of ‘types’ of carb.
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why there’s so much discussion about ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’. It’s worth noting that some diet choices have totally different views: considering the likes of keto who try to consume no carbs at all – or ‘high carb low fat’ veganism. However, it’s a good general rule that for most people, ‘good carbs’ refer to ‘complex’ carbohydrates whereas ‘bad carbs’ mean refined.
For those of you hitting the gym or completing workouts, understanding the role of carbohydrates in the body and the difference between ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’ is essential to staying energised for your workout and maintaining your weight goals in general. Let’s take a look.
Good carbs: complex carbohydrates
As we’ve talked about before, carbohydrates are the ‘fuel’ source of choice for your body. When you eat them, your body transforms them into sugar. The pancreas then releases insulin to transport the sugar from your bloodstream to your cells. Carbohydrates can be broken down as fibres, starches and sugars.
Complex carbohydrates are carbs that contain starches or fibre that forces the body to slow down digestion. This helps reduce the ‘spike’ of blood sugar that you would experience eating ‘bad’ carbohydrates. By slowing the process down, your body creates energy at a more measured pace and can sustain long term activity.
As a result, complex carbohydrates are the right move for energy generation and storage. If you consume too many simple carbs, the body can’t utilise all of the sudden spikes in blood sugar (glucose) and will begin converting unused glucose into fat cells.
Bad carbs: simple and refined carbs
‘Bad’ carbs are exactly what you’re thinking: candy, sweet treats and all of the good stuff. They are called ‘simple’ carbs due to the fact they don’t have the same fibre or starch content and instead provide mainly sugar. When you eat them, your body breaks them down quickly. This causes a spike in insulin release and any additional energy that isn’t used is wasted.
Bad carbs are dangerous for people with diabetes as their lack of natural insulin production, coupled with a sudden influx of glucose, can cause hyperglycemia.
It is worth noting, however, that consuming ‘bad’ carbs during or immediately following a workout can help replenish depleted blood sugar levels. That’s why there are so many leading sports nutrition brands offering glucose gels and drinks – they are designed to be rapidly digested and restore your glycogen balance.
However, the lack of other nutrients makes simple carbs hard to recommend. This lack of nutritional value also spills over into satiety – simple carbs don’t keep you feeling ‘full’ for long, so you’ll want to eat again in no time.
Why are complex carbs better for you?
Now that we’ve explored both types of carb, the answer is simple: complex carbs offer everything ‘simple’ carbs do, but in a more complete nutritional package. The only benefit of simple carbs is the rapid digestion they cause – whereas complex carbs provide longer-lasting energy packed with other nutrients that are vital for performance and wellbeing. Even fruit, which contains fructose (sugar), is a complex carbohydrate because it packs in starches and fibre.
When you’re choosing your meals, opt for complex carbohydrates. The added nutrients keep you feeling fuller for longer and their slower digestion gives your body longer-lasting energy reserves. Examples of complex carbohydrates include:
- Fibre-rich fruit such as bananas and berries.
- Vegetables, especially starchy ones like potatoes and leafy greens such as broccoli.
- Wholegrains such as rice, pasta, bread etc.
- Beans, which also contain potassium and iron.
Here at Oatein, our low sugar protein snacks like Millionaire Crunch focus on cutting down on simple carb sugars and providing protein and carbohydrate energy with the added bonus of wholegrain oats for fibre. Shop our range of gym-focused snack foods today.