What is a Carbohydrate?

What is a Carbohydrate?

Get confused by what exactly carbohydrates (carbs) are, not sure what you should be cutting out or adding more of and what your body needs? Well, read on... 

On a molecular level, carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen; once absorbed and metabolized, carbohydrates yield 4 calories per gram. The main function of carbohydrates is to fuel the body, and because carbohydrates (especially monosaccharides) digest quickly, they can provide the body with energy within a few minutes of being consumed.


Starch is considered a complex carbohydrate because it consists of multiple monosaccharides, bonded together in a strand known as a polysaccharide. Food sources of starch include whole grains, bread, cereals, pasta and rice. Starches take longer to digest than simple sugars, but they still provide the body with energy like any other form of carbohydrate. Starches are an excellent source of energy for athletes that are looking for energy to be released from glycogen within the muscle. Once these have been consumed it can take up to 12 / 18 hours before they have been stored as glycogen in the muscle for readily available energy. This is often also known as a carb loading phase, popular for bodybuilders to make their muscle fill back up after a period of carb depletion.  This process creates an overcompensation and allows the muscle to store more glycogen for a period of time.


Sugars are often referred to as simple sugars because, on a molecular level, sugars consist of only a few carbon chains. Sugars digest fairly rapidly and are, therefore, absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. They provide the body with a quick source of fuel and are often consumed by athletes during endurance events. Sources of simple sugars include fruits, milk, yoghurt and sports drinks.

Dietary Fiber

Because humans lack the digestive enzymes necessary to break down fibre, this type of carbohydrate does not get absorbed. Instead, most fibre passes through the small and large intestines and is excreted in the form of faeces. The two types of fibre, insoluble and soluble, can be found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In particular, a soluble fibre found in oats is beneficial because it has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Scitec Nutrition Athlete Emi Roberti