Skip to main content

« Back

Ask The Trainer:"What are simple and complex carbohydrates?"

Feb 20, 2019

Christian Agudelo, ACSM - CPT

Carbohydrates are sugars that come in 2 main forms called simple and complex. They can also be referred to as simple sugars and starches. The difference between a simple and complex carb is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed. Simple carbs consist of raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup ,glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are turned to glucose (blood sugar) in the body and are used as energy. The remaining unused glucose is then stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen to be used later.

Earvin Bahena, NSCA - CSCS

-Simple carbohydrates are made up of either 1 or 2 sugar molecules as such, it doesn't take much to absorb them into your blood steam. This is why simple carbohydrates raise your blood sugar much faster and higher. Simple carbohydrates are found in processed foods like table sugar, soda and any sort of sweet drink. They do not offer any nutritional value.

-Complex carbohydrates are made of longer chains of sugar molecules which makes them harder to digest and thus take longer to raise blood sugar levels. Complex carbs are starches which include legumes, whole grains and potatoes. The healthiest type of these carbohydrates are the least processed and some examples are quinoa, barley and oatmeal.

Spencer O'Neil, NASM- CPT

When it comes to carbs it's important to understand that they are not all the same. Complex carbs are broken down slower and provide fuel for a longer period time. Starches like sweet potatoes and whole grain breads are perfect pre workout foods or kick starters for the day. Complex carbs also tend to be more filling which is also great for clients concerned with weight loss. Simple sugars like processed treats tend to be more suited for quick energy rather than a sustainable fuel source throughout the day. Introducing complex carbs early in the day allows us to have a great start mood and energy wise as well as better fuel for workouts.

Nikki Davis

It is recommended that 45-65% of your calories come from carbohydrates. This amount provides appropriate energy sources or fuel for the body. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are converted to glucose which is used as energy for the body during times of rest and in exercise. Generally complex carbohydrates are more beneficial to consume because they contain higher amounts of fiber,vitamins and minerals meaning they are packed with nutrients and taker longer to breakdown. This also means complex carbs are less likely to, quickly raise your blood sugar levels which in turn keeps the body balanced, and decreases the risk of chronic metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. The Glycemic index helps rank how complex or simple carbohydrates affect blood sugar.

Examples of low glycemic foods that are complex carbohydrates include: Most fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, strawberries, kiwis, Vegetables: such as carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens Legumes: such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, Rice: such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, Grains: such as whole grains, steel cut oats, minimally processed grains, Dairy: such as milk, cheese, almond milk.

Examples of High glycemic foods that are simple carbohydrates include: Bread: such as white bread, or bagels, Breakfast cereal: such as instant oats, corn flakes and other sugary cereals, Starchy vegetables: like white potatoes, Rice: such as jasmine, or white, other items such as rice crackers, cookies, waffles, Fruit such as watermelon, Dairy such as: rice and oat milk.


Schedule a complimentary fit evaluation so we can get to know you and your goals and build you a customized training program to reach them.