Runners' Nutrition: How to Cut Back on Sugar
If you’re an endurance athlete it’s tempting to think you’re entitled to eat whatever you like, especially post workout. Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman World Champion is first to admit it. “My world record breaking…15 donuts after Ironman Arizona last November could have been deemed to be slightly excessive….”
Even endurance athletes need to beware of diabetes
However even endurance athletes have to watch what kind of sugar and how much is in their diets. An increasing number of runners are at risk of issues like type-2 diabetes diabetes due to the massive amount of sugar they often unwittingly consume through energy drinks and bars. In fact, this is also impacting dental hygiene too.
Apart from the risk of type-2 diabetes, too much sugar can lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, while increasing triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood). Both increase the risk of heart disease.
Convenience foods often contain much more sugar than you’d think
Part of the problem lies in the fact that many convenience foods contain far more sugar than you would imagine. The typical energy bar contains more than 20 grams of sugar. If you choose low fat foods, the sugar content is often higher than normal as food manufacturers sometimes add extra sugar to make low fat food taste better. It’s therefore not surprising that the average Brit consumes 3x as much sugar as is recommended, according to a 2018 study by Public Health England.
High GI foods will impact your speed and endurance
Even if you’re not concerned about the calorific content of sugary foods, the latter will make you slower and have less endurance than a runner who eats less sugary foods.
In a study the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports found that athletes ran significantly faster after eating a low GI meal rather than a high GI meal. Typical low GI foods are oats, wholegrain bread, fruit and peanut butter. Typical high GI foods include white bread, white rice, potatoes or sugary foods/drinks. Eating a high GI meal an hour before a run caused runners to experience a sugar crash, while low GI foods enabled athletes to keep running faster and longer.
Choose foods with a combination of fructose and glucose
In addition studies suggest that exercising muscles can absorb a combination of fructose and glucose almost 40% faster than glucose alone. This is where most endurance companies claim that their product is the best option for you before or during a run. What many people don’t realise is that whole foods – like oats and fruit – also contain a combination of fructose and glucose.
Time your snacks
While running doesn’t make you immune to the detrimental effects of sugar, runners do get two short windows of sugar-immunity: during and then immediately after a workout, when the body metabolises sugar for fuel and replenishes muscle glycogen for recovery. So if you plan to indulge, it's better to do it within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.
Opt for healthy snacks
A general rule is not to eat an energy bar to replace a snack, unless you are actually planning to run within the next hour or so. Most energy bars are very high in sugar. Good alternatives for snacking are an apple or banana with peanut butter. Or try hummus with carrot batons or other crudités.
Low sugar treats for the sugar junkie
If you’re still struggling with the idea of eating healthy snacks instead of sugary products, the good news is that we’ve discovered some foods that still taste great and are relatively low in sugar.
For breakfast substitute sugary cereals with Eat Natural low sugar granola.
For snacks substitute cereal bars with Kind or Rawmantic bars.
For dessert substitute ice cream with Oppo.
For chocolate substitute regular chocolate with 30% lower sugar Dairy Milk.
Sugar is highly addictive
The more sugar you eat on long run days, the more cravings you will have on rest days. Unfortunately sugar is highly addictive, so if you really want to reduce the amount of sugar you eat, you need to gradually wean yourself off it. Easier said than done!
Is natural sugar any better than artificial sugar?
In terms of calories, there is no difference between natural and artificial sugar. The benefits of some natural sugar products – such as maple sugar and molasses – is that they contain other nutrients. For example iron and zinc. In contrast honey and agave are much touted as better than sugar but actually has no other nutritional benefits.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog about sugar. Please let us know your view by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that Claire is not a nutritionist so these tips are based on tried-and-tested methods and may not work for everyone.