Should Athletes Eat Sugar Free?

sugar free athlete?

Sugar has become the latest obsession in regards to our eating with more and more research pointing the finger at it being THE major player in our obesity levels and now overshadowing fat.

Low-fat eating (healthy fats are the go!) has now been replaced by limiting sugar due to the expansion in waistlines caused low-fat products being chock full of sugar (think low-fat yoghurt, muffins, sauces etc) and the said addition of high fructose corn syrup to many processed foods.

So, where does all this fit in if you’re an athlete/weekend warrior/avid fitness fiend who burns more energy than the average folk?  Should athletes follow a low/no sugar diet?

Having a moderate to a high level of fitness is said to have an advantage when it comes to how your body deals with sugar. Not only are you adapting your muscles to deal with fatigue and lactic acid dispersion but exercise also helps your body become more sensitive to insulin (the hormone that brings sugar into your muscles). This means your body can handle sugar more efficiently meaning less insulin to be able to utilize glucose. This is the No. 1 reason why diabetics are recommended to exercise. But this doesn’t mean athletes are immune from developing insulin-related problems.

Where does it start and stop if you’re active and burning lots of calories? Do you have the right to go gung ho with the sweets and drinks? Well, sugar is sugar and like anyone, the excess will turn into gained weight. Processed foods high in added sugar (doesn’t include fruit, vegetables, lactose etc) are usually low in nutrients that athletes require for wellbeing.  Vitamins, minerals and fibre are essential for athletes to help promote recovery and satiety. When you are voiding these in your diet you are sending yourself into a crash and burn phase which will not promote any improvements in fitness.

Carbohydrates do have their place in an athletes diet but this can be achieved through low G.I. foods such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, protein and dairy. This will sustain energy throughout the day rather than spikes in blood sugar levels from sugary snacks.

There is generally enough ‘sugar’ in a healthy, clean diet without eating ‘added sugars’.  Eating up to 1-2 pieces of fruit a day is the perfect way to see through a sugary craving.

In saying this though, during exercise the body requires the extra energy to fuel the work being completed (it’s important to note this is usually 2 + hours). Since blood flow is diverted from the gut to the working muscles, digestion is slowed. During this time, simple sugars ARE the recommended source of energy. Carbohydrates take little effort to digest are preferred because they enter the bloodstream quickly and can be used immediately for energy. When consumed at the right time, simple sugars are actually a good thing for endurance athletes.

To put it simply it’s not the fact that sugar is being eaten but the quantity consumed.  There’s a place in an athletes diet for sugar but eating as close as nature intended is the way to go.

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