Sugar has been given a bad rap and rightly so, to a degree. It’s one of the main causes of obesity and a diet high in sugar can lead to diabetes. The dangers of sugar are spread all over traditional and social media so it’s hard to stay blind to the effects that sugar can have on our bodies. These articles or posts often oversimplify the details to allow the information to be easily consumed by the reader which isn’t always a good thing. Exaggeration and scare tactics are occasionally thrown into the mix to ward off people.
Here’s a couple of examples I found online;
Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Is Ruining Our Health
Sugar Makes You Fat
Sugar - The Root Of All Nutritional Evil
Sugar Is Killing Us
The titles of these articles alone would scare off most people! This is certainly one tactic to make people more wise about their food choices, however I’d rather present a relatively unbiased review of the pros and cons of sugar, and leave the choices up to you. I don’t believe that sugar is inherently bad, nor do I believe it is entirely good!
What Is Moderation? Will Sugar Make Me Fat? As I’m sure you know (because I bang on about it in every other blog post) you must be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. It doesn’t matter whether this is from a calorie restricted diet or a calorie deficit through exercise - if you are in a deficit you will lose weight. This means you CAN fit sugar into your diet, you just need to stay within your calorie allowances.
One of the KEY words to take into account when talking about sugar is ‘overconsumption’. Sugar doesn’t make you fat. OVERCONSUMPTION of sugar makes you fat. Sugar isn’t killing us. OVERCONSUMPTION of sugar is killing us. Going above your calorie allowance for that day or for that week will lead to unwanted weight gain. This leads us onto the topic of moderation. You always hear the phrase “everything in moderation” and sure, you can consume most things in moderation with no ill effects, but what is moderation and how much is it!? The answer is in the word itself. YOU have to moderate the amount of sugar that is in your diet based on your personal calorie allowances. The easiest way to do this is base it off a percentage of your calorie allowance. For example, if you’re eating 2000 calories per day, set yourself a limit of 10% calories from sugar. This equals 200 calories, or around 50g sugar. This can be reduced over time - you may wish to set a long term goal of reducing sugar from 10% to 5% over the course of 6 months or so.
Sugar For Performance Part of the reason that sugar is seen as evil is because people tend to add it into their diet on top of their usual daily calories, and of course this can lead to weight gain. This leads to sugar getting the blame for fat gain, rather than the real culprit which is a calorie surplus. If you’re sedentary, it’s hard to find a time to justify consuming sugar. If you exercise, eating sugar alone would ruin all your gains, so I don’t recommend this either! But like most things, there is a time and a place for sugar.
When high GI foods (sugar is included in this) are consumed around exercise, performance boosts are seen as fast acting carbohydrates are digested quicker and enter the bloodstream faster. The need for athletes to replete glycogen stores as quickly as possible can have a major impact on their performance especially in longer, more intense training sessions. Simple sugars have a less complicated chemical breakdown than complex carbohydrates, and this can refuel the athlete’s glycogen stores and send them on their way. By timing these higher GI carbs around workouts, performance is improved. It’s Not All Good...
Well done sugar, you have a purpose! We can eat it all day if we exercise and never have to worry! Nope, sorry. Some trainers and social media influencers will have you believe that you can get into great shape by eating McDonald’s and chocolate, as long as you fit these into your calories or macros. Whilst this holds some truth, performance in the gym will likely suffer, you’ll feel terrible on the INSIDE and more importantly, body composition will suffer. Yes you may lose weight, but if your protein intake is sabotaged by having too much sugar, it’s likely you’re going to see a potential decrease in lean body mass and start to lose what you’ve been working so hard for in the gym. Also, this just puts you at a huge risk of developing diabetes or other health issues! You CAN'T outtrain a bad diet. If you’re one of those people who just go to the gym all the time as an excuse for eating terrible food, start to have a think about where you’ll be health-wise in a few years! Another issue that some people struggle with is that the more sugar you eat, the more you crave. It is addictive and can easily derail your progress if you lose control! As sugar is a high GI carbohydrate it raises your blood sugar levels quickly and then they drop back down, leaving you hungry and desperate for more. Diets high in sugar just make dieting more tough than they already are, which is why it’s so important to moderate your intake. The Takeaway You can see why these articles have some truth in them when they say that sugar is “deadly”. If misused and over consumed, sugar is bad. If sugar is consumed in low quantities and at the right times to fuel performance, it can actually do some good. You can enjoy the odd Mars Bar every now and again if it fits into your calories - it can satisfy your cravings and keep you on track. It’s when one turns into two that the problems start to arise… Hopefully you feel a little more clued up on why sugar is both good AND bad. It’s now up to you to decide what you do with this knowledge.