The differences between the different types of sugars

Azúcares y Rendimiento Deportivo
  1. What are sugars?
    1. What are the functions of sugars in sports?
    2. What are the types of simple sugars that exist?
  2. Sugars as an energy source for sports performance.
  3. How to apply the best nutritional strategy in competition?
  4. Bibliography

01 | What are sugars?

Sugars or monosaccharides are the simplest type of carbohydrate, which is why they are also called simple sugars. They have the very important property that they do not hydrolyze or break down into other simpler compounds.

This means that in their molecular form they are ready to be used by the body. At the same time, when grouped together, their combinations form the other complex carbohydrates, also known as carbohydrates.

Within the classification of sugars, two categories are accepted, hexoses and pentoses, referring to the number of carbons in their structure: hexoses have six carbons and pentoses have 5 carbons.

HEXOSES – Glucose, Galactose, Mannose, and Fructose which is a KetoHexose.

PENTOSES – Ribose, Deoxyribose.

Within the group of hexoses, specifically the aldohexoses, they have a very interesting property that converts them into a subgroup called diastereoisomers: changing their position of the carboxyl groups attached to their carbons can be transformed into one another.

That is, galactose, glucose, and mannose can be converted into each other successively, just by switching sides of a carboxyl group.

Their linear structure in the isolated state changes to a three-dimensional form when dissolved in water and thanks to this they can be converted into more complex sugars or carbohydrates.

It is important to know that sugars are a quick source of energy for the body and that they provide us with 4kcal per gram.

01.01 | What are the functions of sugars in sports?

Since glucose is the metabolic target of practically all our biological reactions, it is clear:

  • Energy function.
All the metabolic pathways of the body have in their energy function the ultimate goal of obtaining ATP, which is the molecule that will allow muscle contraction to occur, if we refer to the sports field. For this, the molecule to obtain is Glucose.

To obtain it, however, the carbohydrates that come from our diet or from the storage deposits of Glycogen (reserve carbohydrates) that we have in the muscles and in the liver must first be degraded.

This degradation or hydrolysis is aimed at obtaining Glucose molecules (H2C12O6). This is going to be the one that is going to become the main way of obtaining energy, also known as GLYCOLYSIS. The ultimate goal of this metabolic pathway is to obtain ATP.

The simple sugars that we have listed in the first section have the peculiarity that when ingested, they raise blood glucose levels almost immediately.

This implies that an intake of simple sugars is ideal during sports practice, since in these circumstances the energy demand by the muscles will not allow sustained hyperglycemia to occur and will not require a great use of the hormone insulin.

  • Post-training glycogen resynthesis.

The second function that we mention in this article has to do with glycogen resynthesis, the well-known need after any sports practice to ingest carbohydrates or sugars to “refill” the deposits that have been emptied during exercise. activity

It is mainly about not being in energy debt with our body continuously after doing our training sessions, as this can have adverse effects on our performance, not only in sports, but also in our daily lives.

  • Promote functions of the hormone insulin.

Also clarify that from a physiological point of view, there are other very interesting metabolic pathways to train the supply of extra energy to the Glycolysis pathway, and that in specific strategies our body is capable of performing and recovering without the need for eat carbohydrates in a timely manner.

01.02 | What are the types of simple sugars that exist?

Tipos de Azúcar y Deporte

In general, we could divide them into sugars of origin or direct source natural, or other sweeteners refined in an industrial way by man.

Those that are an integral part of food and not processed products are, as a general rule, natural. The fructose and glucose contained in fruits and vegetables are, without a doubt, essential for life and do not have, in a generic way, to be harmful at all.

Refined sugar is the pure extract of sugar, i.e. sucrose. A disaccharide composed of two molecules, one glucose and one fructose, from sugar cane or beet.


  • white sugar, which contains 99.5% sucrose,
  • refined sugar, which makes it 99.8%,
  • brown sugar that is crystallized but not refined,
  • Blonde sugar lighter than brown sugar and with more sucrose.

For its metabolization, the action of compounds such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin or pantothenic acid is necessary. Therefore, eating refined sugar is less healthy than doing it naturally, in more complete foods such as fruit or milk.

The usual and frequent foods that contain more sugar are: soluble cocoa, breakfast cereals, cookies, pastries, soft drinks, chocolate bars, white chocolate, dairy desserts, fried tomatoes, sauces such as kepchup, the trinkets and the candies.

There are many foods that naturally contain sugar but are healthy and nutritious. For example honey, which is a natural product rich in antioxidants, or coconut sugar, with fiber, minerals and vitamins and with a lower glycemic index.

That is why coconut sugar, sports-wise, is one of the best options as long as it is strategically combined with more complex carbohydrates to use the best of both worlds: quick energy from sugar and the release of energy delivered progressively by the hydrolysis of carbohydrates of different chain lengths.

02 | Sugars as an energy source for sports performance.

Rendimiento Deportivo y Azúcar

As we have seen, the main function of this macronutrient has to do with obtaining energy for our cells.But obviously it is not the only energy pathway available to our body, since evolutionarily we would not have prospered if we had always depended on the intake of energy foods continuously, since full pantries, supermarkets, and availability of food have not always existed. immediate

To continue existing as a species, our physiology created other mechanisms for obtaining energy in cases of famine or low availability of this energetic macronutrient.

Sugars intervene with different prevalence in all these energy pathways:

energy sources in sports:

  1. Use of stored ATP – very small reserves, will only last a few seconds.
  2. Circulating glucose – part of the circulating glucose is used in the first movements.
  3. Glycogen Hydrolysis – liver and muscle glycogen stores begin to break down into glucose, which passes into the blood and is used to obtain ATP.
  4. Replenishment of carbohydrates – the ingestion of gels or bars during sports activity is done to continue supplying glucose and storing glycogen so that processes 2 and 3 continue to occur.
  5. Use of other macronutrients – if you have trained, the body can supply energy through fat reserves and through these synthesize glucose or glycogen to be stored.

It is vitally important to understand that none of these energy pathways turn on or off at any time, all of them produce energy at different times with different prevalence depending on the demands of ATP/time, or what is the same depending on the intensity of the exercise we perform.

03 | How to apply the best nutritional strategy in competition?

As we have seen in the previous sections, sugars, often highly criticized due to their refined and non-natural origin, are very beneficial if used with the appropriate strategy.

A recommendation that would be interesting to take into account by athletes is that the gels contain simple sugars of natural origin, such as coconut, and the rest compound sugars or carbohydrates (see article) to not cause hyperglycemia and ups and downs in performance.


  1. Exercise intensity,
  2. Duration of the activity,
  3. Sports discipline,
  4. Optimal hydration status – hypotonic drink,
  5. Individual tolerance of each subject,
  6. Types of gels or bars chosen - with a formulation adapted to our physiology,
  7. Among others...

The most accepted amounts according to sports nutrition range from 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of physical activity, although there are athletes who have trained to have higher tolerances and others who need lower doses.

04 | Bibliography

MARINS, J.C., et al. Carbohydrate supplementation during exercise: Effects on electrolytes and glucose. International Journal of Medicine and Sciences of Physical Activity and Sport, 2018.

de Viñaspre, Pablo López. "Hydration and carbohydrates in intermittent esports Hydration and MACMILLAN, Norman. Usefulness of the glycemic index in sports nutrition.

Chilean journal of nutrition, 2002, vol. 29, no 2, p. 92-97.carbohydrates in intermittent sports." NOTES 31.37 (1994).

ZEVALLOS, Carlos Merino. Carbohydrates in physical activity. Systemic, 2010, no 5, p. 60-61.

Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez."Glycemic behavior during resistance exercise, applying two types of carbohydrate rations prior to exercise" Readings: Physical education and sports 85 (2005): 26.

Peinado, Ana B., Miguel A. Rojo-Tirado, and Pedro J. Benito. "Sugar and physical exercise: its importance in athletes." Hospital nutrition 28 (2013): 48-56.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.