By Megan Turvey
What is sugar? Sugar is often labeled as evil or something to be avoided at all costs, but sugar can actually be our friend. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, the three types are sugar, starch, and fiber, but all contain sugar. In turn, carbohydrates are also something people seem to want to avoid. Before we dive in to sugar we need to remember that carbohydrates are not the enemy. Glucose, from carbohydrates, is the preferred source of energy in the body and used by the brain to function. Carbohydrates, like all the macronutrients, are something we don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) avoid.
So, what are the bad and good sugars? All “bad” sugar are simple sugars, but not all simple sugars need to be avoided entirely. Depending on the source, these simple sugars can be a part of a nutrient dense food. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain simple sugars. When these simple sugars are found naturally in whole food, they can also come with vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals and fiber. This naturally occurring fiber found in these foods slows down the absorption of sugar, which moderates its impact on blood sugar. These natural sugars in whole food are good sugars (remembering everything in moderation). The truly bad sugar is added to foods during processing or cooking. With added sugars, the calories taken in don’t have any nutritional value. According to choosemyplate.gov added sugars are, “sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.(1)” Major sources of added sugar would be:
- regular soft drinks and energy drinks
- candy, most fruit snacks
- pies and cobblers
- sweet rolls, pastries, and donuts
- MOST (not all!) fruit drinks, such as fruit punch (not pure fruit juice)
- dairy desserts, such as ice cream
So, try and get all your carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains because of their additional nutritive value.
What about low-carb diets? Temporary low carb diets CAN help you lose weight, but before you consider your next low carb diet, for any extended period of time, consider this: “…If you like to exercise regularly and enthusiastically, restricting your carb intake too drastically can lead to:
- decreased thyroid output
- increased cortisol output
- decreased testosterone
- impaired mood and cognitive function
- muscle catabolism
- suppressed immune function.
In other words: Your metabolism might slow, your stress hormones go up and your muscle-building hormones go down. You feel lousy, spaced-out, sluggish, cranky… and maybe even sick (2).”
When should I eat my carbohydrates then? Look to this advise from precision nutrition, “If you are lean and simply want to maintain your existing body composition, consuming more carbohydrates throughout the day will likely be fine. If you want to lose body fat, first control overall food intake, then aim to consume a majority of carb dense foods during and after exercise sessions (for about 3 hours after). Outside of the 3 hour window consume primarily protein and fat, while consuming fewer carb dense foods (25% or less of meal made up of carb dense foods). If you want to gain muscle, the nutrient timing principles are similar — simply add more calories overall. In all cases: Assess your progress and adjust as necessary (3).”
In fact, one study found that the intake of Amino Acids and carbohydrate prior to and during resistance training that post-exercise REE (resting energy expenditure) was increased ~7% above that of CHO (carbohydrate alone). Utilizing this simple strategy may increase energy utilization during the post-exercise period, which could facilitate reductions in body fat composition (4).” Another study found that having chocolate milk post exercise “can improve subsequent exercise performance and provide a greater intracellular signaling stimulus for PRO (protein) synthesis compared to CHO (carbohydrate) and placebo (5).” Chocolate milk contains added sugar! But in this case, the added sugar can actually benefit the body in conjunction with protein.
All in all, please remember that cutting any macronutrient out completely is never the best idea. In moderation, each macronutrient is beneficial to the body, even in the form of simple sugars.
Would you like to meet with Coach Megan for a Nutrition consultation? Contact us today to make an appointment.
- Hackney, Kyle; Kelleher, Andrew R; Ploutz-Snyder, Lori L Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 24():1, January 2010.
- Ferguson-Stegall, Lisa; McCleave, Erin L; Ding, Zhenping; More Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 25(5):1210-1224, May 2011.