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Carbohydrates (Part 1)

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

The role of dietary carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body. Many controversies exist regarding carbohydrates. Are they healthy and are they optimal for performance? Carbohydrates are often referred to as sugars and starches, or as simple and complex carbohydrates. Examples of starches include grains, corn, rice, barley, vegetables, beans, and wheat, whereas examples of sugars include sweets (candy), sugar (cane sugar), fruit, and milk.

Despite the fact that the terms "starches" and "sugars" may be familiar to the general public, professionals frequently refer to carbohydrates by their scientific names: monosaccharides, which are single sugar units, disaccharides, which are paired sugar units, and polysaccharides, which are longer chains of sugar units. As humans, we consume all these different forms of carbohydrates. However, our digestive system reduces the digestible complex carbohydrates we consume to their monosaccharides, which are then absorbed by the body:

Once absorbed, carbohydrates can be used immediately as a source of fuel or can be stored as glycogen in specific cells. In actuality, the muscle and liver cells are the biggest storage reservoirs for carbohydrates (glycogen).

Monosaccharides (1 sugar unit)

This category of carbohydrates is the only one that can be absorbed, consisting of single-sugar units. The three monosaccharides that are most crucial to humans' nutritional needs are glucose, fructose, and galactose. The orientation of these elements within the molecule makes them distinct even if they are built with the same number of elements. Contrast the similar molecular structures of glucose and galactose with the distinct molecular structure of fructose. This distinction aids in explaining why fructose and glucose are absorbed and work in the body in different ways. Galactose is only available in dairy products and is a component of the milk-sugar lactose, whereas glucose and fructose can be found in a variety of food sources.

Disaccharides (2 sugar units)

Disaccharides are characterized as simple sugars just like monosaccharides. However, disaccharides are made up of the crucial nutrients maltose, sucrose and lactose:


Two glucose molecules combine to form maltose. Brown rice syrup, molasses, and corn syrup are among examples.



Polysaccharides (10 or more sugar units)

Polysaccharides are also complex carbohydrates and comprise starches, fibers and glycogen. Each contain long-chain glucose structures of more than 10 units, but they can be as large as several thousand units. Polysaccharide chains are arranged as straight-chain structures called amylose, branched chain structures called amylopectin, and as a block structure called fiber.


This straight-chained is digestible and makes up approximately 20% of starches found in vegetables, grains, rice, and beans.



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