Table of contents
1 What are carbohydrates?
How are carbohydrates formed? Are all carbohydrates the same? What types of carbohydrates are there? Are carbohydrates good or bad? Carbohydrates table: The different types of carbohydrates at a glance
2 Carbohydrates in the body
What functions do carbohydrates perform in our body? How many carbohydrates per day do I need? (Carbohydrate calculator) Do carbohydrates make you fat?
3 Carbohydrates on the menu
What carbohydrates should I eat? Which carbohydrates are contained in which foods? When should I eat carbohydrates?
4 Carbohydrates and sport (training)
Carbohydrates before training Carbohydrates after training Carbohydrates muscle building What does my body use as fuel when I eat too few carbohydrates?
5 Conclusion

As an important source of energy, carbohydrates are a central component of a balanced diet. Depending on their structure, a distinction is made between monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Everything else you need to know about carbs can be found in the article.

What are carbohydrates?

When you think of carbohydrates, you might immediately think of pasta, rice, cakes and the like. You're not wrong - because these foods are rich in the often demonized carbs. But that's not the whole story. Because carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients contained in most foods in varying proportions and forms. And that's a good thing - after all, they are an important source of energy for our body and the only fuel for brain and nerve cells. Carbohydrates (also known as saccharides in technical jargon) are therefore much more than just something you eat as a side dish or dessert. Find out what carbs can do, where you can find them and everything else you need to know about carbohydrates in this article.

How are carbohydrates formed?

Carbohydrates in their simplest form (= simple sugars) are formed by plants during photosynthesis. Simple sugars are formed from carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and water from the soil with the help of chlorophyll in the plant's leaves and sunlight. From these monosaccharides, plants subsequently form polysaccharides and polysaccharides, which serve as food for humans and animals.

Are all carbohydrates the same?

Yes and no. In their basic substance, all carbohydrates consist of carbon and water. However, depending on how many simple sugar molecules are combined to form a compound, they differ in properties and taste.1

What types of carbohydrates are there?

Single, double, multiple, short-chain, long-chain, complex, digestible, indigestible...? The terms used to describe the different types of carbohydrate are often more complicated than the nutrient itself. We bring clarity to the carbohydrate jungle. The truth is that there are only three types of carbohydrate: Monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides.

Simple sugars (monosaccharides)

As the name suggests, monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrate. They consist of just one sugar molecule. The best-known representatives of the monosaccharide genus are glucose (grape sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). They occur naturally in fruit and honey in particular, but also in some vegetables and taste very sweet. Simple sugars are water-soluble and easily digested. They are therefore rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and provide energy quickly.1 For this reason, they are often referred to as "fast carbohydrates".

Monosaccharides (disaccharides)

Disaccharides are formed by combining two monosaccharide molecules. They are also known as double sugars or short-chain carbohydrates. The best-known forms are sucrose (cane or beet sugar; also known as table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar).2 During digestion, disaccharides are first broken down into monosaccharides before they are made available as an energy source. They therefore enter the bloodstream somewhat more slowly and do not cause blood sugar levels to rise quite as quickly as monosaccharides.

Multiple sugars (polysaccharides)

Polysaccharides consist of a large number of monosaccharide molecules. If there are three to ten, they are also referred to as oligosaccharides or polysaccharides. Compounds consisting of more than ten monosaccharide molecules are called polysaccharides.

And what are long-chain carbohydrates? They are also polysaccharides. Due to their chemical composition, they are also called high molecular weight or complex carbohydrates. And polysaccharides are certainly complex. This is because polysaccharides can either be directly usable or not directly usable. In other words, they are broken down in the digestive tract by enzymes (= directly usable, e.g. starch in potatoes, cereals or pulses) or excreted undigested (= not directly usable, e.g. cellulose contained in fruit, vegetables and whole grains). Non-utilizable polysaccharides are also known as dietary fibres, which provide a lasting feeling of satiety and contribute to healthy digestion. Keyword digestion: multiple sugars need time. This is why they provide a steady supply of energy over the long term and stabilize blood sugar levels.3

Carbohydrate table: Overview of the different types of carbohydrates

Name Simple sugar disaccharides Multiple sugars
"Nicknames" Monosaccharides, simple carbohydrates, fast carbohydrates Disaccharides, double sugars, short-chain carbohydrates Polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, polysaccharides, long-chain carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, high-molecular carbohydrates, subcategory: dietary fibres (non-utilizable carbohydrates)
Most important representatives Glucose (dextrose), fructose (fruit sugar) Sucrose (cane and beet sugar / household sugar), lactose (milk sugar) Starch, glycogen, cellulose
Natural occurrence Fruit, vegetables, honey Sugar beet/sugar cane, fruit, cereals, dairy products Potatoes, cereals, pulses, fruit, vegetables

Are carbohydrates good or bad?

There is no general answer to this question. As explained above, carbohydrates differ in their structure and properties. Depending on physical composition and activity as well as individual goals, different types of carbohydrates are better or worse at certain times. But above all, they are one thing: necessary. Carbs are friends and an essential part of a balanced diet.

Carbohydrates in the body

Together with protein and fat, carbohydrates form the infernal trio of macronutrients. These are the nutrients that supply our body with energy and are necessary for the maintenance, development and smooth functioning of all bodily functions. Carbohydrates play a particularly important role in this.

What functions do carbohydrates fulfill in our body?

The main task of carbohydrates is to supply our body with energy. For some cells, saccharides (more precisely the simple sugar glucose) are even the only usable source of energy: a sufficient supply of carbohydrates is essential for brain and nerve cells, kidney marrow and red blood cells. They also serve as building materials for our connective tissue and cell membranes.

Indigestible polysaccharides (dietary fibres) are of particular importance. These stimulate our chewing activity and digestion, ensure a lasting feeling of satiety, are involved in binding bile acids and thus regulating cholesterol levels and ensure that carbohydrates are slowly absorbed into the blood. This balances our blood sugar levels, which leads to a constant energy level and long-term physical and mental performance.

However, carbohydrates not only provide immediate energy, but can also be converted into storage. In the short term, they are stored in muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. If the glycogen stores are full and we consume too many carbohydrates over a long period of time, these are converted into fat deposits for long-term storage of energy reserves.4 But how many carbohydrates are too many?

How many carbohydrates per day do I need? (Carbohydrate calculator)

How many carbohydrates you need per day depends on your general energy requirements. This in turn is made up of various factors such as height, weight, age, gender and activity level. It is generally recommended that over 50% of the daily energy requirement should be covered by carbohydrates.4 With a daily requirement of 2,200 kcal, that is over 1,100 kcal that should be consumed through carbohydrates. This corresponds to around 270 g. This calculator gives you an estimate of how much carbohydrate you should consume per day based on your individual body composition. For an exact calculation, however, you should determine your individual energy requirements. We explain how this works step by step in our article on fat burning.

Do carbohydrates make you fat?

In short: No. A long-term surplus of energy (= calories) causes us to put on weight, not a single nutrient. This means that if you eat more calories than you consume over a long period of time, your weight will increase. It is not the carbohydrates that are to blame, but an excess of energy.

Carbohydrate calories - what you need to know

Have you ever wondered how many calories carbohydrates contain? It's not as many as you might think: burning one gram of carbohydrates provides 17 kJ (that's 4.1 kcal). This means that carbs provide the same amount of energy per gram as protein and far less than fat (9.3 kcal).5 Carbohydrates - especially in complex form - are an important source of energy and an essential part of a balanced diet.

Carbohydrates on the menu

Here we explain everything you need to know about healthy carbohydrates in your everyday life.

What carbohydrates should I eat?

You should consume two thirds of the carbohydrates you need each day in the form of polysaccharides. You can find these in wholemeal products, potatoes, vegetables and pulses, for example. The remaining third can be supplied by single or double sugars from fruit and sweets. It is also recommended to cover a maximum of 10% of your daily energy requirements with industrial sugar and to consume at least 30 g of fiber per day.6 Fiber is mainly found in whole grain products, fruit, vegetables and legumes.

Which carbohydrates are contained in which foods?

Where are there a lot of carbohydrates, where are good carbohydrates and are there also foods without carbohydrates? In our carbohydrate list you will find an overview of the most important foods that provide you with carbs

Carbohydrate food overview

Rich in healthy carbohydrates (polysaccharides and fiber)
  • Wholemeal products
  • vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Fruit

You should cover at least ⅔ of your daily carbohydrate requirement with these products.

Rich in fast carbohydrates (simple and double sugars)
  • Fruit (especially dried fruit)
  • Milk and dairy products
  • honey

You should cover a maximum of ⅓ of your daily carbohydrate requirement with these products.

Rich in industrial sugar
  • sweets
  • Cakes and pastries
  • soft drinks
  • Ready meals and junk food

You should cover a maximum of 10% of your daily carbohydrate requirement with these products.

When should I eat carbohydrates?

That depends very much on your goals. If you want to maintain or gain weight, you should make all your meals as balanced as possible. This means: at least 50% carbohydrates, approx. 30% fat and 10-20% protein.7 If you want to lose weight or reduce body fat, it can be useful to reduce the "carbohydrate window". You can do this by avoiding carbohydrates either in the morning or in the evening. This empties the carbohydrate stores in your body and you burn fat if you are in a calorie deficit.

Carbohydrates and sport (training)

Here we explain the most important facts about the interplay between carbohydrates, sport, regeneration and muscle building.

Carbohydrates before training

Eating fast carbohydrates (= single or double sugars, e.g. in the form of fruit) shortly before training gives you quickly available energy. However, this is also quickly used up again. Before longer training sessions, we recommend complex carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen in your muscles and then used as an energy source. Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal (such as pasta, rice or potatoes) 1.5-2 hours before exercise provides you with optimal power for prolonged or intensive training.8

Carbohydrates after training

Immediately after training, your muscles start their regeneration. This primarily means that the glycogen stores are replenished. What do we need for this? That's right, carbohydrates - in a form that is available as quickly as possible. Monosaccharides and disaccharides are therefore the ideal post-workout snack. To speed up their absorption, you can also consume them in liquid form, for example as a smoothie or shake.9

Carbohydrates Muscle building

Protein is often cited as the most important macro-nutrient in connection with muscle building. This is justified, but it is by no means the whole story. In order to build muscle, all of the following three factors are necessary:

Positive energy balance + strength training

The basic prerequisite for building muscle is a positive energy balance. This means that you need to consume more calories than you burn. The surplus energy is then converted into muscle when combined with strength training. Carbohydrates are an important source of this necessary energy.

Adequate supply of protein

Yes, the highly praised protein plays a central role in muscle building. This is because the amino acids contained in protein are the most important building blocks of our body cells.10 Nevertheless, they alone are not enough to build muscle.

Adequate supply of carbohydrates

Carbs are friends! This is especially true for muscle building. They are not only an important source of energy, but also provide the glucose that is essential for building and regeneration. In addition, the insulin released during the digestion of carbohydrates is the most important anabolic (= muscle-building) hormone. This substance is what makes the transport of protein into the cells and the resulting muscle building possible in the first place.11

What does my body use as fuel when I eat too few carbohydrates?

With a balanced calorie intake, your body gets its energy from the food you eat. In addition to carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide energy. So if you reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet but continue to eat the same number of calories, you will replace the energy from carbohydrates with protein and/or fat. These then serve as fuel for your body.

The situation is slightly different with a calorie deficit. If you take in less energy from food than you burn, your body will draw on its stored energy reserves. In the short term, these are the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver. Once these are used up, the body begins to burn the long-term stores (= fatty tissue) to generate energy.12

Conclusion

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet. They fulfill important functions in the body and are the only source of energy for the brain and nerve cells. Carbohydrates are divided into three groups according to their chemical structure: Monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides and disaccharides provide quick energy, while polysaccharides ensure longer satiety and a stable blood sugar level.

Sbalitelný obsah

Sources

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