Are all carbohydrates sugar?

 Food, General

Are all carbohydrates sugar? And why all carbohydrates are not created equal

This will be a short blog post.

But it will be important.

I think that something odd has happened in the universe. A number of planets have misaligned and thrown out the cosmic order of things, making people say totally daft things.

Let me set the scene.

Normally my life chugs along at a steady and somewhat predictable pace. I have a great job, and I work with great people. I get to do all sorts of cool stuff, and I am grateful for all sorts of things.

And then within the space of one week two separate people ask me whether carbohydrates are sugar.


These two people are friends I would normally credit with significant intelligence.

I am currently re-assessing this situation, but only in relation to their intelligence. They will always be my friends, regardless of how stoopid they may be.

It was shortly after this that I realised that not everyone knows what you sometimes take for granted. Some important people who are busy being lawyers, police officers, plastic surgeons and rocket scientists probably don’t think about carbohydrates to any extent.

If you are (foolishly) wondering whether carbohydrates are sugar, let me assist.

carbohydrates and sugar


Are all carbohydrates sugar?

There are three species of carbohydrates.

These are sugars, starches and fibre.

So the shortest answer to the question “Are all carbohydrates sugar?” is no.

Is there a difference between the three types of carbohydrates? Yes.

The number of single carbohydrate molecules in a food’s structure determines what type of carbohydrate you’re consuming.

Those with one carbohydrate molecule are monosaccharides. Compounds with two carbohydrate molecules are dissarcharides, and those with more than two carbohydrate molecules are polysaccharides.

Sugars are in the monosaccharide and disaccharide camps. They are both water soluble, have a sweet taste and a crystalline structure. Examples are table sugar, maple syrup and honey.

Polysaccharides are insoluble in water, do not taste sweet and do not form crystals. These are either starches or fibre, and are the good guys in comparison to the villain that sugar is made out to be in the media.

Starches include potato, pasta, bread, cereal, and rice, while fibre includes the parts of fruit, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes that cannot be digested.

All are needed to keep you lifting.

Are all sugars carbohydrates?

Principles of carbohydrate and sugar consumption

If you haven’t already done so, you will likely be tempted at some point in your training life to think you can survive without carbohydrates.

This is just plain bunkem.

Carbohydrates are in almost all food and we need them for important functions like bloodclotting, fertility, brain and central nervous system function, and other things that ensure the continuation of the human race.

If you’re thinking of manipulating your carbohydrate intake to see the effects on your training, consider:

  • matching your carbohydrate intake to your individual activity levels, metabolic condition and performance goals: if you’re active you’ll need carbohydrates to fuel your training and help you to recover afterwards. Sedentary people don’t need this as much, because if you don’t empty the tank, you don’t need to refill it.
  • give yourself enough carbohydrates to fuel your brain and central nervous system, have good cognitive function, energy and mood.
  • time your high carbohydrate intake days for days you train hard, for example, leg day.
  • realise that when you eat carbohydrates, you’ll retain water.
  • decrease your intake of fat on high carbohydrate days: this is about maintaining your overall caloric intake. If you are taking in more calories from carbohydrates, you need to have less of something else, and it’s usually preferable not to reduce your intake of protein. So there’s only fats left in the macronutrient warehouse to choose from to cut back on.
  • nutritional labels for carbohydrates include all three types: the good, the bad and the ugly. So pay close attention to the breakdown. High carbohydrates due to fibre is obviously better than due to sugar.

While all carbohydrates may not be created equal, they do fill a purpose – to keep you alive and training.


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