The term carbohydrate, broken down into prefix and suffix, reflects its composition of carbon (carbo-) and water (-hydrate) respectively. These molecules are often further classified as simple (sugars), Complex (Starches), and fiber. Carbs have gotten a bad rap. over the years, in part from diet regimens: Atkins, Paleo, etc; however, it is the opinion of this author, that carbs (sugars) are not a bad thing! They are actually a pertinent part of a healthy diet, given their role as the body's chief source of energy and regulation of digestion. The caveats, however, lie in the source of your carbs and how much you consume.
When Carbs Become an Issue
On average, Americans consume about 82 grams (19.5 tsp) of added sugar every day! That is about 67 pounds per year, per person! Crazy right!? Did you know the recommended sugar intake for women is 25 grams (6 tsp) and for men 38 grams (9tsp)? This means that only 100 (women) or 150 (men) calories of your day can come from added sugars!
An “added sugar,” simply put, is the sugar not naturally found within food. The most common culprits being table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. They deliver unnecessary calories and quick energy spikes without much contribution towards one’s health. Overtime, if consumed in excess, added sugars become damaging to your metabolism and can lead to serious complications (i.e., obesity, heart disease and type II Diabetes).
Where can you find added sugar?
Soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, candy/sweets, baked goods, fruits canned in syrup, low-fat or diet foods, condiments! In other words, EVERYWHERE! It is pretty astonishing how much added sugar can be hiding in these "everyday" items! Take a look below...
What can you have instead?
We all have foods we like, the ones we “can’t” go without. The transition can be a difficult road; find substitutions to help ease the emotional burden. To sweeten recipes, cut the sugar content with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, or lemon. Stevia is a great zero calorie alternative to sugar, but remember, you CAN over do it on this swap as well! For those soda addictions, tea, water, or coffee are healthy alternatives. When reading nutrition labels, look through the veil of sugar additives hiding under the pseudonyms: sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, cane sugar, raw sugar, or corn syrup. If a packaged food lists one of these sugar aliases in the first 3 ingredients or has more than one type of sugar, try to avoid it! A perfect diet, 100% of the time, is unrealistic. A splurge once in while is okay, though being mindful of your choices is essential.
How does Sugar affect your weight loss goals?
Even though we have been raised to believe a low carb diet yields weight loss, this is not necessarily the case. Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred source of energy. They add valuable nutrients and volume to your diet, constituting 45-65% caloric intake, to provide necessary fuel for energy and productive workouts. Though, not just any carb will do! Some carbs satiate better than others, and selecting those with a low to moderate glycemic index are preferred. (Glycemic index [GI] indicates how readily carbohydrates in food are digested and their subsequent absorption, upon after consumption. This is important because foods with a low GI tend to have a high satiating/nutritional value. Conversely, foods high with a GI have low nutritional value and are linked to diseases such as heart disease and Diabetes. See Examples of each below and work on filling up your diet with more Low Glycemic Index Foods.
In planning meals for the week, I try to mindfully incorporate foods from the low glycemic index category. Instead of French Fries, I will make sweet potato fries. Instead of white rice, I use Brown Rice. At the beginning of each week I buy Apples to have as my go-to when a sugar craving strikes (Although even I cave for chocolate sometimes)! Instead of buying flavored yogurt, I buy plain and add my own fruit. This is often a learning process, trial and error! It took me about a year to really grasp putting together well rounded healthy meals! I am still struggling from time to time with junk food, it’s completely normal!
Sugar and Sports Performance
As previously discussed, carbs are your body's preferred energy source. You know how at the end of a race you are usually given a banana, bagel, and some sort of bar? These together equal approximately 35 tsp of sugar! That is roughly 25 tsp over the recommended daily limit. I know you just ran a race and want something quick, but all too often we use our exercise as a free-pass to eat whatever we want. Many times runners start to battle weight gain, even with all the miles. We, as runners, need to is be mindful of food consumption as well. We assume that just because we are running that any food will do. The nutrients we are consuming still matter as they affect our recovery, energy, and overall performance. When consuming high glycemic index foods (cookies, pop, ice cream, chips, bars), studies show we fatigue more quickly. We are not invincible! Even though we need sugar to maintain energy on a run you must watch how much sugar is in your diet. Each year there are more health issues such as hypertension and diabetes reported from the runner community because of the giant amounts of sugar consumed #notallcarbsarecreatedequal. This includes energy gels, GUs, bars, drinks; I do support fueling on runs lasting more than 60 minutes with some sort of supplement if that is what you choose, but you must account for it in your daily sugar intake. Personally I prefer not to fuel on my runs. What I found works best for me is 8 ounces of coffee 30 minutes before my run. On hot days I will bring a water with 1 packet of stevia mixed in (accounted in my daily intake).
I realize that not every runner cares as much about nutrition, specifically added sugars, as I do, but for those of you who want to make a positive diet change to help your performance, I challenge you to track your daily sugar intake for an entire week! MyFitnessPal is an amazing app for doing just that! You may be surprised at just how much sugar you consume in a day! It is incredibly easy to overdo it because it is hidden in so many foods! If you struggle with cutting sugar from your diet, you are not alone. It is definitely a process! Sugar is addicting and depending on the severity of the addiction, cutting down can cause withdrawal symptoms such as migraines, mood swings, shakiness, anxiety, etc. With cutting down on your sugar intake though, you may lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, lower your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's, keep your skin looking young and clear, lower your risk of fatty liver disease, and you will have more energy!
Personally, I struggle with cutting sugar and have been working avidly for the past two weeks tracking my diet, specifically sugar intake, and am now working on documenting how I feel each day when I am eating as well as before and after workouts. Although tedious, these tasks can be very useful in determining the correct diet regimen for success! If you need advice on where to start or need recommendations on what foods to grab, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment below with your favorite run fuel. Do you struggle with cutting the crap? How do you stay on track with balancing a healthy diet for your goals?