If you are following my blogs on weight loss and running, you would know I am sharing inputs from the book– 'Run to Lose'- A complete Guide to Weight Loss for Runners compiled by Experts under Runner's World! If you haven’t seen the first article in the series on Carbs – then click here.
Firstly and very simply, let’s understand the meaning of Sugar. The internet will confuse the hell out of you and tell you that there are three main types of sugar – Monosaccharides ( found in carbs – eg. – glucose), fructose found in fruit and honey) and Galatose (found in milk). Let's not complicate this. You don’t need the definition of Sugar. You need to understand that refined Sugar is a diet demon because apart from diabetes and chronic diseases, it :
- Makes you even more hungry – It leads to a glucose spike and as soon as the glucose gets consumed you feel hungry again. You need real food when you are hungry and not something that gives you a high, bringing in the low soon enough. There’s no satisfying a sweet tooth.
- Is an enemy to recovery and your running performance - The refined sugar is highly inflammatory. In simple words it means that from an athletic point of view it is terrible. Sugar is nothing but chemicals that inhibits our body’s ability to burn fat, which is the basis of any endurance sport and hence no weight loss!
Do runners need sugar? Yes, runners need sugar for various reasons. We do hills and long runs and speedwork. It's a lot of hard work. By the end of it all the body craves and prefers a lot of sugar. However - a frequent ice cream or very high sugar energy bars actually lead to fatigue as they lead to sugar spike in the blood. Natural sugar is what changes the performance and weight loss game for runners. The right types of sugar can improve your performance and give you the energy you need to go the distance.
Eye -opening fact :A large banana will break down to 6 teaspoons of sugar, and the average plain donut will break down to 15.5 teaspoons of sugar in the body. Now you know what added, refined sugar finally adds up to!
Will running not help me avoid the bad effects of Sugar? Running will keep you fit and healthy in general. But excess of refined sugar will meddle with your running progress. After a while it will lead to weight gain and not help you be a better runner.
As a runner should I go off sugar? Go off refined and added sugar. But not natural sugars. Have fruits – loads of them. Chuck away the sugar dunked cakes and brownies! Or have them once in a while!
What kind of Sugars can I have or are good for me? Fruits and Dairy: Even though many low-carb and high protein diets discourage consumption of sugar found in fruits, but this is considered a big mistake. Natural sugars found in Yogurt, fruits and veggies are great! Sugar in bananas is great for runners – it has potassium which is great to prevent muscle cramping! Raisins have fiber and iron. Oranges are great for immunity.
The book takes the example of an Apple vs an Energy Bar. An apple has the perfect package of vitamins, fiber, enzymes. It cleanses your liver, the body’s main fat-burning organ and supports your whole metabolism. This is THE sugar you should have. The 100 calories of energy bar will give you fast sugar but you will definitely miss out on the benefits of the apple. And refined sugar is inflammatory for the body. Dairy products contain fat and protein, they wont make your blood sugar soar then crash the way the sugars in processed foods will. So go ahead get that hot soothing glass of milk before you enter the lala land.
How do I know what kind of added sugars are there on packaged foods? Sugar on labels comes in many names - brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, corn sugar, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup (this is the worst kind of sugar available), maltodextrin, molasses, sucrose, raw sugar, turbinado sugar.
How much Sugar should I have? As less as possible (don’t kill yourself, just go less) and don’t stress about amounts of sugar in raw fruits or milk. Have fruits at regular intervals through the day - keeps your mouth sweet enough.
What does it mean when a label says - NO ADDED SUGARS? This definitely does not mean that the product is sugar-free. It means that no sugars or no sugar -containing ingredients such as juice or dry fruit have been added. Any products in the product occur naturally.
What kind of foods are good for me to take care of my sweet cravings? I've stocked my kitchen with the following however remember moderation is KEY here. They also have sugar - but the good sugar. However the goodness of such natural sugar goes away once you start dunking your drinks or foods with two many spoons of the following:
- Dates Syrup
- Get herbs that lend sweet flavours to our foods - StarAnis, Cardamom, Cinnamon
- Raw Honey
- You can make banana muffins at home
- Home made Peanut Butter
- Oatmeal raisin cookies
How do I reduce my sugar cravings as a runner? First it's important to identify why you are eating? Emotional/ indulgent eating or are you genuinely hungry? Last month I featured a young girl who learnt to live on as little sugar as possible. She is a runner and continues to run well. Click here to read about how to go less on sugar. With all this factor in the time of the day you are at, the quantity and what you eat! For my sweet cravings - I usually have a spoon of peanut butter or a very dark chocolate. It's satiating, has fats and keeps me happy about making a good choice. Eat oats - they fill you up. They are naturally a bit sweet.
This book also makes a sincere request to runners to go slow on reducing the sugar by and by from her diet. Immediate and complete cut off from sugar can call for mood swings, severe drop in energy levels. So be careful about the transition phase of lots of sugar to less sugar.
Final Takeaway - Try a 3-day Detox from added sugar. Stock your fridge with three different pieces of fruits, eat them at regular intervals during the day and see how you feel at the end of the third day - reassess how you feel and whether you miss anything sugary. Don't take drinks with sugar - especially the mocktails, and dressed up coffee drinks. They have no nutrition to offer you. And most importantly make a conscious effort to check where can you cut the extra added sugar from your system on daily basis. Do it for yourself and do it a bit for your kids too - before it turns into a life long habit - take measures now. It may not be as simple but it's a lifestyle change for a lot of good!
Sources: Runner's World - Run to Lose and my own personal experience
Source for my featured image is - https://www.nytimes.com/well/guides/healthy-eating-for-runners
My understanding after reading a lot about sugar is that – even if you aren’t a runner – the only sugar you have got to stay consciously away from is the darn – Refined Sugar! Let your sugar come from carbs! Cut back on your sugar intake (but be realistic about your carb needs as a distance runner).