Well, is it? - We all know that too much sugar is bad for us, and low carb diets are all the rage these days. So does this mean I should be reducing and eliminating sugar and carbs from my diet – it all seems pretty confusing!
The truth is – it all depends. It depends what your goals are, the types of carbs and sugars you eat, and also the timing of when you eat them.
Sugars are a form of simple carbohydrate. Examples are glucose, sucrose (table sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). Sugars in excess are particularly bad for virtually everyone. However sugars at the right levels and at the right time do have some big benefits to hard training athletes when used correctly.
Post Exercise Recovery
The first area to look at is exercise recovery. Intense weight training, or prolonged hard endurance training severely deplete your muscles of glycogen, the main fuel your muscles use for these sorts or activities.
Taking simple sugars immediately after hard training has a number of key benefits:
• The first thing to understand is that during a period of about an hour or so of your workout or exercise your trained muscles are much more sensitive to nutrient uptake. So ingesting fast acting sugars, as well as proteins as soon as you can will mean you will get an increased uptake of sugars into your muscle to replenish glycogen, and an increased uptake of protein to initiate muscle repair and growth.
• Simple sugars increase blood sugar levels quickly that in turn stimulates insulin release in your system. Insulin is a key storage hormone. Its job is to push nutrients into the tissues of your body that need them most, and in the post exercise window after a hard workout, insulin virtually “supercharges” your recovery. Simply put, ingesting simple sugars after hard training can dramatically improve your recovery and ability to train again sooner.
How much sugar should an athlete consume after workouts?
Generally if you are aiming to drop body fat we would recommend about 0.5g of sugar per kg of bodyweight (e.g. for an 80kg trainer, aim for 40g or sugar). If your goal is to build size and strength then aim for around 1g of sugar per kg of body weight (e.g. for an 80kg trainer, aim for 80g or sugar). For hard endurance exercise lasting more than around 2 hours, again aim for around 1g per kg of body weight.
Energy during Training
If you believe the advertising hype all over every sporting contest these days then you might think that you need to start downing sugary energy drinks as soon as you start training or playing sport. What is the reality? Well if you go into any training session or sport with relatively full muscle glycogen stores then you are generally good for about 1.5 – 2 hours of exercise or hard effort so you can get by with just drinking water or a sugar free Intra workout supplement. Anything longer than this and you should be consuming a sports drink with sugar throughout the activity to fuel your body. If you are engaged in this sort of activity you should be aiming to consume around 60g of fast absorbing sugars per hour in your sports drinks.
Bodybuilding or weight training workouts lasting less than an hour or so, which is about as long as most people usually train therefore shouldn’t require sugar ingestion. The exception here is if you are performing several hard training sessions per day, maybe a weights session followed by cardio or sports training. In this situation we would definitely recommend consuming a sports drink containing sugar during training.
Most good Intra workout formulas designed for weight training are sugar free but do contain amino acids like BCAA’s and Glutamine assist with energy production, muscle recovery, blood flow and mental focus – so these are great option.
Sugar Improves Creatine Absorption
Creatine has many benefits for hard training athletes that we won’t go into here. Suffice to say if you are seriously into weight training then you probably already use Creatine, and if not, you should be. Creatine transport into muscle cells is enhanced by insulin. So stimulating insulin when you take Creatine is a good thing. In fact a 1996 study showed a 60% increase in uptake when Creatine was taken with fast acting carbs. So another good time to ingest sugar is with your daily Creatine dose. Our recommendation is to take your Creatine around the same time that you would naturally be taking in sugar or fast carbs. For example if you are having a serve of Mass Gainer or a protein bar containing sugars, or having fruit or fruit juice, this would be a good time to have your dose of Creatine.
Sugar Replenishes Glycogen throughout your day
Hard weight training, brisk cardio, sport, physical work, in fact any activity that gets your heart pumping will deplete the carbohydrate stores in your muscles. If you train hard in the gym 3 – 5 days a week your carb requirements will be a lot higher than your average sedentary person. To keep your carb stores optimal you need enough carbs every day. These carbs should come from a variety of sources – vegetables, fruits, whole grains and cereals, and a moderate sugar intake, through a various foods and supplements. Hard training athletes need 300 – 400 grams (or more) of carbs per day just to meet their energy needs.
Protein and fats regulate sugar uptake and insulin response
While taking in pure sugar in the form of soft drinks, sweets, or sports drinks leads to a big insulin spike which can push sugars into fat storage, if you combine sugars with other foods including proteins, fats and fibre, you slow down the rate at which sugars can enter your blood stream. This in turn regulates insulin and keeps it within healthier levels to reduce fat storage and promote a more normal energy balance. So eating a balanced meal that contains foods like meat, vegetables and grains will allow you to consume some sugars (dessert, soft drinks, etc.) in moderation and not push everything into fat storage. The same goes with your protein supplements – consuming a protein shake or protein bar with protein, carbs and sugar, will moderate insulin response and contribute mostly to muscle gains and carb replenishment.
In part 2 we will go through the importance of carbs in training.