Today I will explain the difference between complex carbs and simple carbs.

Carbohydrates are generally classified in three different types.  Sugars (simple), starches (complex), and fiber.  When your body breaks down carbohydrates, it converts them into glycogen. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose (blood sugar) and is stored in the muscles and liver to be broken down into A.T.P.( ATP is what allows every function of the body to take place from digestion to muscle contractions)  Simple carbs have an immediate effect on your blood sugar causing a sudden spike that quickly dissipates.  The problem with this spike in blood sugar is, your body will not have enough time to convert all of the sugar into glycogen.  Your body has no choice at this point other than to store the unused sugar as fat.  However, complex carbs are more difficult for your body to breakdown. This is important because it keeps your blood sugar levels stable for a prolonged period of time.   So to put it simple, think about a car.  If you know the gas tank can only hold ten gallons of gas, yet you try to putting in twelve gallons, what happens?

The excess gas spills out.  Now, when you consume carbs, your body converts it into glycogen to be stored as energy.  Just like a car, your body has a limit as to how much fuel it can actually store. (only 500 grams of carbs can be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen) The excess glycogen can not be stored as fuel, so your body will store it as FAT .  To avoid this, try consuming your simple carbs first thing in the morning, and as close to your workout as possible.  These are common times of the day, that your glycogen stores will be low.  Breakfast is called Break Fast for a reason.  During sleep your body goes into a state of catabolism.  This is due to the lack of macro nutrients being digested while you rest.  Any simple carb consumed first thing in the morning will most likely be used to refuel what was lost during sleep.   After training is another great time for simple carbs.  Your body is left depleted of glycogen and needs to be replenished.

Blood flow to the working muscle is increased at this time, and it is essential to supply the body with the proper protein and carbs needed to begin the anabolic (repair and rebuild) phase and the glycogen (replenish and re-fuel) phase.  So a quick absorbing carb such as fructose would actually be very beneficial during this time.  Here is a list of complex and simple carbs.


WHOLE GRAINS:  High in fiber with moderate protein levels, whole grains are a low fat source of complex carb:

  • millet
  • oats
  • wheat germ
  • barley
  • wild rice
  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • oat bran
  • cornmeal
  • amaranth
  • also some pasta, macaroni and breakfast cereals

FRUITS:  Fruits are low in fat, high in fiber and full of vitamins. Most fruit contains simplecarbs in the form of fructose, but there are types of fruit that contain mostly complexcarbs:

  • plums
  • pears
  • apricots
  • grapefruits
  • prunes

VEGETABLES: Are high in water, fiber and contain multiple vitamins and minerals.  They are naturally low in fat and calories and the majority of vegetables are complexcarbs sources:

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • spinach
  • turnip greens
  • eggplant
  • potatoes
  • yams
  • corn
  • carrots
  • onions
  • all types of lettuce
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • cabbage
  • artichokes
  • asparagus

LEGUMES:  Sometimes called “pulses”, these are characterized by seeds that have an exterior pod surrounding them.  Beans are a type of legume that is a complex carb, and also a great source of fiber.

  • pinto beans
  • soy beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • peas
  • black beans
  • kidney beans
  • lentils


FRUCTOSE:  A simple carb comprised of one sugar that is naturally found in fruit and contains many vitamins and nutrients.  However a processed form of fructose generally found in soft drinks is high fructose corn syrup.  Avoid this sugar if possible because studies have shown a negative health affect from consumption.

GALACTOSE AND LACTOSE:  A simple carb comprised of one sugar molecule that occurs naturally in peas and milk products.  It is more commonly found in lactose which is a double sugar made from glucose and galactose.

MALTOSE:  A double sugar formed by two glucose molecules.  Maltose is more commonly know as malt sugar and occurs least commonly in nature.

SUCROSE:  A double sugar made up of a fructose and a glucose molecule.  Most commonly found in table sugar but also found in brown sugar, powdered sugar, beet sugar and cane sugar.  These types of sugars are considered refined and add calories without any nutritional benefits.  Avoid these if possible.

Now  you know the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates.  Simple carbs are used for immediate energy, and are great for replenishing glycogen stores after training, and first thing in the A.M.  Complex carbs are broken down over a longer period of time, and are a great source of sustained energy.  In addition, complex carbs are great at curbing your appetite and will help you reach your daily recommended amount of fiber.

About the Author

Philip Dolgovin is a personal trainer who achieved amazing success by going from 260-lbs to 190-lbs with 10% body fat. He is passionate about fitness and now helps others accomplish the same success.

You can follow Philip on his website at and on facebook at