Simple Carbs vs. Complex Carbs

Good. Bad. Eat them, don’t eat them. Only eat simple carbs, only eat complex carbs.

Argh! If you’re like me, it seems like we keep getting updated, and unfortunately continuously changing information about carbohydrates. So today, I thought it would be good to clear up some confusion by taking a look at simple carbs vs complex carbs, and to do so we need to get a better understanding of the glycemic index (GI) and the role it plays.

simple carbs vs complex carbs

The glycemic index simply measures how easily and quickly your body can turn carbohydrates into glucose. It was originally intended to provide a measure for athletes looking to optimize their energy levels for competition.

A study was conducted where the test subjects were given 50g of carbs from various food sources, then monitored for three hours to determine the body’s blood sugar response. Once the results were found, the carbs were classified into groups: low glycemic and high glycemic.

Low glycemic foods

These are great for sustained energy because the body absorbs them slower, and they trigger a lower insulin response. Great before a long, strenuous workout. Also, since they absorb slower they’ll leave you feeling full longer.

  • Nuts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oats
  • Fruits high in fructose (apples, oranges, pears, grapefruits, etc)
  • Pasta
  • Milk & yogurt
  • Brown rice
  • Wheat
  • Most vegetables except for carrots, corn, and root vegetables

Notice the prevalence of things endurance athletes such as cyclists and swimmers like to load up on before races or meets?

High glycemic foods

Your body absorbs these quick and easy leading to a spike in your insulin levels.

  • Carrots and corn
  • Sugars (maltose is most effective, followed by glucose, then sucrose)
  • Honey
  • Candy
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Cereal

Learn more about what are good carbs and bad carbs in the video below:

Basically, a good rule of thumb is if you’ve been told they’re bad for you there’s a good chance it’s a high glycemic food. So, throw these completely out of the window and don’t let them near your diet right?

WRONG! Well, kind of. They should be avoided, except for immediately following your workout. One of insulin’s roles is to shuttle nutrients around your body wherever they’re needed, which following a nice lifting session you know your muscles are craving.

Eating a food with a high GI between 15 minutes to an hour after your workout will get your glycogen levels replenished and feed your muscles with the protein and carbohydrates it so desperately needs.

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of simple carbs vs complex carbs and the role the glycemic index plays. Eat complex, or low GI, carbs before a workout to give your body the fuel it needs to bust out those reps. Eat simple, or high GI, carbs soon after a workout to shuttle desperately needed nutrients to your muscles and get your body quickly on the road to recovery.