May 2017

    Why You Should Eat Sugar



    You’ve been told to cut back and even eliminate it, but new science shows that for active individuals, ditching sugar has serious consequences.  Here’s why your body actually needs the sweet stuff.



    Sugar has become nutrition’s public enemy number one: eating too much is blamed for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, among other things, which is why everyone you know is going nuts trying to quit it.  But if you’re an active individual, the story is different, and ridding your diet of sugar isn’t just unnecessary, it can actually sabotage your fitness goals.  You can and should eat sugar before, during and or after your workout because your brain and muscles need it for fuel, especially if you’re doing intense or lengthy sessions.  Without it, you won’t be able to push as hard or go as long.  For active individuals, sugar is not the devil.  It’s something you can use to your advantage to become faster and stronger.


    Your body stores carbohydrate, including sugar, as glycogen in your muscles and liver.  When you exercise, the body breaks the glycogen down to give you energy (blood sugar or glucose).  If you’re working out for longer than an hour, especially at high intensity, those glycogen stores can dip too low, making you tired and shaky.  That’s when the easily digestible sugars can give you an assist.  The boost you get from sugar may also improve your skills, increasing accuracy.  But it’s not just athletes who score the benefit.    Eating sugar right before your exercise helps your routine feel easier.  Without the proper fuel, your workout will suffer, and so will your health.  When your carbohydrate stores get depleted, your levels of stress hormones like cortisol spike.  Over time, that will make you feel run down and can weaken your immune system.  A high-quality sports drink can help.  The bottom line: consuming sugar can keep you from getting sick and allows you to recover from exercise more quickly and effectively.  The trick is to schedule your sugar consumption for specific times to get the optimal benefit. 


    Here’s your game plan.  Before exercising: if you haven’t eaten in a few hours, your blood sugar will be a little low and you won’t be able to exercise as intensely.  Have something with easily digestible sugars, like a banana, or dark chocolate.  During your workout: if you’re exercising for 75-90 minutes or more (or going really hard, like in an hour-long race), aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.   Energy drinks or bars WITHOUT high fructose corn syrup or fructose as added ingredients are good choices.  Your cooldown: You know you’re supposed to eat protein for recovery, but carbohydrates are critical as well.  They replenish your glycogen stores and cause insulin to rise, which helps shuttle amino acids, the building blocks of protein, into your muscle cells.  Pair a food with sugar, like fruit, with a source of protein, such as eggs or nuts, and eat it within 30-60 minutes of cooling down.  Also effective for recovery: drinking chocolate milk (dairy, nut-based, or hemp) which contains protein and sugar.


    But no:  you can’t go whole hog.  And you must take great care in choosing your foods and drinks.  In between workouts and on your rest days, minimize sugar intake and always limit or eliminate processed foods.  It’s ok to have dessert occasionally, but sweets can crowd out important sources of antioxidants, healthy fat and protein, such as lean meats, fish, nuts, and fruits and vegetables.  These foods keep your energy levels stable and your immune system healthy.  It goes without saying, but opt for fresh, unprocessed foods whenever you can.

    M.S. Schwartz