Sugar is one of the worst things you can consume for weight loss purposes, but some of the leanest athletes in the world consume a lot of it. Why is it okay for one but not the other?
Let’s look at distance runners, first.
Marathon runners maintain some of the lowest body fat percentages. Why is this? They burn a lot of calories, of course, but what else allows them to eat so many tasty carbs and still stay so lean? It may sound unfair to those who are working at trimming up. The reality is that distance runners prioritize the importance of getting in consistent workouts. They know that fueling is essential, never starving themselves or skimping on fueling. For such endurance athletes as marathon runners, sugar is a key ingredient to fueling their energy tanks for long distance performance. But the biggest difference is that an athlete’s sugar consumption is balanced with healthy nutrition, high levels of activity and intensity, and appropriate use of sugars found primarily in healthy carbs and fewer refined sugars.
Healthy carbs (which some refer to as sugar) are an integral staple to any well balanced nutritional lifestyle but why are some types such as refined sugars and fast-absorbing sugars so bad?
Sugar is highly addicting, and it can debilitate people’s goals both physically and mentally. The main reason it sabotages so many people’s fitness success is due to the literal “happy” hormone, serotonin, which releases into your bloodstream when sugar is consumed. More sugar, more serotonin. More serotonin, more happiness. The majority of people simply overdo it. They don’t use sugar strictly as fuel; they mistakenly use it as their “happy medicine,” which it is not. A vicious cycle begins when we use sugar to comfort disappointments such as falling short of our goals, and it actually chemically backfires inside our bodies.
Long-term happiness in health and fitness comes from achieving reasonable health goals, and in order to do that, you need to eat right and work out at a high level in order to justify appropriate and effective sugar intake. Sugar is a critical component to success in strength training but mainly in cardio training. If you are an endurance athlete, like many of our Team All-American marathon runners, sugar is crucial to maintaining energy levels to power through workouts and races.
To facilitate healthy energy levels, sugar is best consumed immediately before, during and after long distance running or lengthy workouts. Try out different brands of energy gels available, and figure out what works best for you. Unless you are consuming a sugary product actually to enhance a workout such as sports gels, or something like that, stay away from sugar.
I know it seems very contradictory, if not confusing, but the sugar solution is simple.
- Eat healthy carbs such as fruits and vegetables throughout the day for meals and snacks, not sugary treats and processed snacks.
- Use minimally processed or unprocessed, fast absorbing carbs to fuel workouts and races.
- Consume sugar in proportion to your activity level and have the right sugar at the right time.
- Stay balanced. Don’t overdo things. For many, this means eliminating bad sugars from your lifestyle, unless it’s small amounts right before, during, or after cardio. Your trainer, your coach, your doctor or a nutritionist can suggest what amount is right for you.
When you fuel your performance properly and in proportion to your body’s needs, then you’ve won half the battle in both weight loss or weight maintenance and overall fitness.
Yours in training,
Coach Scott Fishman