What are simple carbohydrates and what is their role in the body? / NUTRITION

What are simple carbohydrates and what is their role in the body?

Olimp Sport Nutrition
What are simple carbohydrates and what is their role in the body?

Saccharides, along with protein and fat, are essential macronutrients which are a staple in our daily diet. However, every carbohydrate is not the same - what are simple carbohydrates and what is their role in the body? Which foods are the main sources of simple carbohydrates?

What are simple carbohydrates?

A single saccharide (or carbohydrate) consists of a carbon atom, an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom - this is the structure of the so-called monosaccharides, which are commonly referred to as simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are those carbohydrates which consist of two or more monosaccharides (called di-, oligo- or polysaccharides, respectively). Saccharides are mainly found in products of plant origin.


The most common representatives of simple carbohydrates include:

  • glucose - the basic form of carbohydrate, which is abundantly found in juices, fruits, honey; moreover, it is the main building block of all di-, oligo- and polysaccharides
  • fructose - is the main content of fruit juices and honey; it occurs in much smaller amounts in fruit
  • galactose - is a saccharide that occurs by combining protein and fat, as evidenced by its presence in lactose, the so-called milk sugar
  • mannose - a carbohydrate formed by the synthesis of proteins with fats, which is used in the manufacture of vegetable gums

Simple carbohydrates - what is their role in the body?

There is no doubt that carbohydrates are used by the body primarily as a source of energy. The extremely simple structure of monosaccharides means that after digesting them, the body gets a powerful boost in a very short time. This creates the right conditions for combating psychophysical fatigue, which is used by athletes, among others. Running and cycling enthusiasts often support themselves during workouts with e.g. isotonic drinks, energy gels or carbo supplements - all of those products are blends of simple and complex carbohydrates, which can be enriched with additives (e.g. electrolytes or caffeine).


However, it's worth remembering that a high intake of monosaccharides is bad for your health. The high glycaemic index of simple carbohydrates means that they cause rapid glucose spikes and sudden insulin release. In the long term, this may lead to the development of insulin resistance, which leads to obesity, increased body fat and cardiovascular diseases.


However, this does not mean that a daily diet should be free of simple sugars. Monosaccharides should make up about 10% of the daily energy intake. In addition, it is recommended to consume them during the day (especially before noon), which will allow the body to burn the calories supplied during the activities carried out.