When a Carb Is Not a Carb

Carbohydrates are everywhere and are the cornerstone of most guys’ diets. They are absolutely irresistible. If you have ever tried to go on a seriously restricting diet, you will know what I am talking about. Carbohydrates are the first things you start craving. From bread to bagels, to chocolate and cookies, carbohydrates are like smack and it is only when you cut them out that you realise how addictive they are.

But when God created carbs, he did not create them all equal. Many gym-goers will be familiar with simple and complex carbohydrates. They may even know that we should be eating complex carbohydrates and that simple carbs are bad, but not many know why.



The term simple and complex refers to the molecular structure of the carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates have longer structures and simple carbohydrates are just that, simple. Many simple carbohydrates are lighter in colour, like white bread or rice, table sugar, milk, yogurt, honey, chocolate or sweets or anything else with refined sugar in it.

These simple carbs are broken down much faster than complex carbs due to their simple structure. They give us a burst of energy but won’t keep us full. So, eating simple carbs for breakfast or lunch will only leave you hungry again in an hour and on the prowl for a snack to satisfy your hunger.

When you consume simple carbohydrates, your body produces insulin to remove the excess sugars from your blood, but while your pancreas is secreting insulin, it reduces the production of glucagon. Glucagon is the hormone which allows stored body fat to be released and burnt as energy.

As long as your body is producing insulin to break down the sugar in your bloodstream, you are essentially keeping your body fat reserves locked away and unable to burn it off as efficiently.

That is not to say that we can’t ever have simple carbohydrates. They taste good, and everyone likes to indulge their sweet tooth from time to time. Timing simple carbs for after a workout will mean that you get the full effect of the workout with your body’s unhindered glucagon production.


Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down due to their complex molecular structure. Foods like brown rice and pasta, whole grain bread, oatmeal or porridge, legumes, are all examples of complex carbohydrates.

As your body breaks down complex carbohydrates, it turns them into glucose molecules, which can be burnt off immediately or stored as glycogen. Look out for complex carbohydrates which contain fibre, like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and spinach.

The fibre present will help to slow the digestion of the carbs and your blood sugar level won’t spike as much. This means that your glucagon levels won’t be reduced because your pancreas won’t be working in overload to produce insulin to bring your blood sugar levels down.

Once you get used to basing your carbohydrate intake on complex carbs rather than simple carbs, the whole process will become a habit. You might miss your white bread, but you can save it as a weekend treat or something.


Anthony Hill

When you put together the sum total of my 30 years of bodybuilding training, the contests, the vast array of diets I have experimented (tortured) myself with as well as the experiences I have been through with various training partners in the gyms I have trained in all over the world, it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to do lots of personal training for private clients alongside my day job. For a few years during my 30’s, I moved to Asia and worked as the Fitness Manager and head personal trainer at one of Thailand’s leading gyms in Bangkok. Learn More

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