In-Depth Look at Carbohydrate

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p>Simple Carbohydrates:

Monosaccharides: which include Glucose, (also called dextrose) Fructose (also called levulose, or fruit sugar) and Galactose.

Disaccharides: which include Sucrose, Lactose, and Maltose

Simple carbohydrates or sugars may cause a fast rise in blood sugar, thereby stimulating excess insulin production, which causes a fast drop in blood sugar. Glucose and Maltose have the highest glycemic effect.

Complex Carbohydrates:

Oligosaccharides: (Partially digestible polysaccharides) Include Maltodextrins, Fructo-oligosaccharides, Raffinose, Stachyose, and Verbascose. These partially digestible polysaccharides are commonly found in legumes and while they may cause gas and bloating, are considered healthy carbohydrates. They are less sweet than mono- or disaccharides. Raffinose, stachyose, and fructo-oligosaccharides are found only in small amounts in certain pulses, grains, and vegetables.

Polysaccharides: (Digestible Polysaccharide and Indigestible polysaccharides). Digestible polysaccharides; include Amylose, Amylopectin, Glucose polymers. These complex carbohydrates should provide the main source of carbohydrate energy. Glucose polymers are made from starch and are often used in sports drinks and athlete gels.

Indigestible polysaccharides: these complex carbohydrates provide fiber, which is important for gastrointestinal tract health and disease resistance.

Other Complex Carbohydrates: These include Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xlyitol, Glycogen, Ribose. Mannitol, sorbitol, and Xlyitol (sugar alcohols) are nutritive sweeteners that do not produce tooth decay, they are commonly used in products because of their moisture retention and food-stabilising characteristics, but they are digested slowly and are known to cause gastrointestinal distress if consumed in high amounts. Glycogen is the main carbohydrate storage form in animals, while ribose is part of the genetic code.


To obtain glucose from our newly-eaten food, the digestive system must first render the starch and disaccharides from the food into monosaccharides that can be absorbed through the cells lining the small intestine. The largest of the digestible carbohydrate molecules, starch, requires the most extensive breakdown. Disaccharides, on the other hand, must be split only once before they can be absorbed.

Fibre, starch, monosaccharides and disaccharides enter the intestine. (Some of the starch is partially broken down by an enzyme from the salivary glands before it reaches the small intestine). An enzyme from the pancreas digests the starch to disaccharides. Enzymes on the surface of the intestinal wall cells split disaccharides to monosaccharides. Monosaccharides enter capillary, then are delivered to the liver via the portal vein. The liver converts Galactose and fructose to glucose.


After we have eaten a meal blood glucose rises, the pancreas is the first organ to respond. It releases the hormone insulin, which signals the body’s tissues to take up surplus glucose. From some of this excess glucose, muscle and liver cells build the polysaccharide glycogen. The muscles hoard two thirds of the body’s total glycogen and use it just for themselves during exercise. The liver stores the other third and is more generous with its glycogen; it makes it available as blood glucose for the brain or other organs when the supply runs low. When the blood glucose concentration drops and cells need energy, a pancreatic hormone, glucagons, floods the bloodstream. Thousands of enzymes within the liver cells release a surge of glucose into the blood for use by all the other body cells. Another hormone, epinephrine, does the same thing as part of the body’s defence mechanism in times of danger (the fight or flight theory).

Although glucose can be converted into body fat, body fat can never be converted into glucose to feed the brain adequately. This is one reason why fasting and low-carbohydrate diets are dangerous. When there is a severe carbohydrate deficit the body has two problems. Having no glucose, it has to turn to protein to make some, thus diverting protein from vitally important functions of its own such as maintaining the body’s immune defences. Proteins functions in the body are so indispensable that carbohydrate should be kept available precisely to prevent the use of protein for energy; this is called the protein-sparing action of carbohydrate. Also without sufficient carbohydrate the body cannot use its fat in the normal way. (Carbohydrate has to combine with fat fragments before they can be used for energy). The minimum amount of carbohydrate needed to ensure complete sparing of protein and avoidance of ketosis is around 100 grams a day in an average sized person. This has to be digestible carbohydrate and considerably more (three or four times more) than this minimum is recommended.


Glycogen is stored with water, in the ratio 1 gram of carbohydrates to 3 grams of water. During exercise, this glycogen is broken down into glucose, which, along with fat, supplies the muscle with energy. In short bursts of high intensity (anaerobic) exercise, such as sprinting and weight lifting, a large amount of energy is quickly required. Glycogen is the main fuel as only it can be converted fast enough. Very little fat is used. In longer periods of low intensity exercise (aerobic) such as cycling, swimming, long distance running, glycogen is the main fuel but as these stores are used up, a greater proportion of fat is used. Fat cannot be broken down quickly enough to continually meet high energy expenditure. Therefore, the ability to perform prolonged exercise is related to your body’s glycogen stores. Fatigue is an indication of low levels of glycogen in the exercising muscles. A high level of glycogen at the start of exercise can delay fatigue from taking place early. So, the amount of carbohydrate we eat determines the amount of glycogen stored, which in turn greatly affects our performance level. When we eat foods like fruit, cereal or bread, glucose goes into our bloodstream quickly, ready to provide immediate energy to the brain, muscles or other body tissues demanding energy. If you eat a low carbohydrate diet, it is less efficient for our bodies to store glycogen in your body. We may especially notice an energy drain if we do not take days off from our workouts routine. A glycogen drain will make us may feel listless and uninterested in exercising. You need to take a few days off from your work out to allow your body to recharge the glycogen stores. Glycogen stores are built up by the consumption of plenty of carbohydrate foods. Good sources of carbohydrates are bananas, bread, cereals, potatoes, rice, and pasta. Choosing whole meal varieties of these foods will also increase dietary fibre. Muscle glycogen must be replaced after training; otherwise you will not be able to train to your maximum at your next session. It can take up to 48 hours for muscle glycogen stores to be replenished. If your diet is low in carbohydrate, it will take even longer to do that. Therefore, it is also recommended that you should vary heavy and light training sessions to allow muscles to refuel properly.

In short, carbohydrates efficiently replace the glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. Glycogen is necessary for muscle contraction. If we do not eat enough carbohydrate or get enough rest, the level of glycogen steadily declines, leaving us fatigued and unable to perform effectively.

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