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Slow-Release Carbohydrates Vs Fast Release Carbohydrates - What's the Difference?

Updated on July 3, 2020
BodystrongBen profile image

I have a masters degree in sports science and around 10 years experience in personal training and sports research.

Carbohydrates Classification

There are three major macronutrients needed for optimal health and well-being and they are: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The problem with carbs, however, is that not all carbs are created equal. Some carbohydrates are in fact much better for you than others. You might have heard people talking about slow-release carbs and fast-release carbs, or complex carbs and simple carbs but what are the differences? Surely a carb is a carb, right? When actually, this is far from right. Slow release carbs and fast release carbs are completely different to one another. Here’s a brief overview to help clear things up.

Understanding Carbohydrates

Before we can begin looking at slow release carbs vs fast release carbs, we first need to get a basic understanding of what a carbohydrate is. In the body, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. When we consume carbs, our bodies break them down and convert them into glucose. Glucose is then used as energy by our cells, to fuel our bodies. When people refer to slow release carbs and fast release carbs, this is basically in reference to the rate in which carbohydrates are converted into energy by the body. Slow release carbs take much longer to digest and break down than fast release carbs.

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Fast-Release Carbs

We’ll now take a quick look at fast-release carbohydrates. Fast-release carbs or simple carbs, as they are sometimes known, are generally considered to be far unhealthier for us than complex carbs. They are found in a variety of foods including:

  • White bread
  • Fruit
  • Fruit juices
  • Candy
  • White pasta
  • White flour
  • Refined sugar

Simple sugars are less healthy for us because they elevate your blood sugar levels so quickly when consumed. Due to their molecular structure, they enter your bloodstream quickly and subsequently cause spikes in insulin. This can put you at risk of diabetes. Not only that but because simple sugars are used as energy so quickly, once they’re all gone, you experience a ‘sugar crash’ and you feel tired, lethargic and generally unwell. Despite fresh fruit and fruit juice being full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants because fruits contain natural sugars, health experts recommend that we try not to consume too much.


Slow-Release Carbs

Now we’re going to talk to you about slow-release carbs. Slow-release carbohydrates are also known as complex carbs. These are much healthier and far more beneficial and nutritious for us than simple carbs. Complex carbs are polysaccharides, which are starches that have been formed via far longer saccharide chains. This is why they take longer to digest and break down, so they provide a slow and sustained gradual release of energy, rather than an enormous burst of energy like simple sugars do. Some typical examples of slow-release carbs include:

  • Whole grains
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Brown rice
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Legumes
  • Barley

Complex carbs take longer to digest and to be absorbed by the body, they don’t cause a spike in insulin or a surge in blood sugar levels. They also undergo less processing than refined simple sugars, so they’re naturally richer in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, and other nutrients.

Bulking and Cutting When Bodybuilding

The one thing people associate with the different carbs is fast release carbs for bulking diets and slow release carbs for cutting diets. People believe that consuming fast releasing carbs will mean more will be stored in the body and therefore you will put on weight/size. On the other hand if you consume slow releasing carbohydrates it will have the opposite effect.

From my own experience, I would say that the above statement is correct. When bodybuilding I used to bulk up through the winter months and trim down for the summer months to look lean in competitions. When bulking I would concentrate on fast release carbs such as white pasta, white bread and white rice. Then when cutting down I would get my carbohydrate intake through sweet potatoes, oats and brown rice. I found this worked very well for me and would use this tactic in the future if I went back to body building. However, is it really that simple?

No, is the straight answer to that question. Not only do you need to change your carbohydrate type to put on mass or drop weight, you’ll have to watch your calories. It’s all well and good eating slow-release carbs to drop weight but you’ll need to make sure your calorie intake is less than your output. Basically put, you need to be burning off more calories than you’re eating to lose weight. You also need to keep your sugar intake low. Not only only will this be beneficial for weight loss but it will also have many other positive health factors.


Slow Digesting Carbs Before Bed?

A lot of people nowadays want to know which carbs or if any they should be eating before going to bed. In all honesty I would say not to eat any carbohydrates within 2 hours of going bed or it’ll just be stored as water weight in your body. If you’re wanting to seriously bulk up however, carbs before bed may help out with getting on them extra pounds.

A slow energy release breakfast on the other hand is very important. You want to digest the right carbs in the morning to set you up for the day. Slow release carbs are key as they will slowly give you energy throughout the day. Oats are the best carbohydrates to consume in the morning but whole grain bread can also be adequate.

Thank you for reading.

© 2019 Ben Smith


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