The truth about sugar: Why is it important for athletes?
Say the word ‘sugar’ and it conjures up some common themes; there's a perception that sugar is bad for us, that it contributes to weight gain and increases risk factors for health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
But the truth about sugar is that it comes in many forms, it is not just the white stuff that people heap into their tea, and sugar itself is not the problem... It is all about timing.
Find your perfect sports nutrition
Simply complete our 2-minute quiz to find the perfect nutrition for you. Plus, receive a 15% off coupon code to spend right away.
Would sugar by any other name taste as sweet?
When we say sugar the image in our minds is most likely to be heaps of highly refined white granules, but sugars (in plural) is a catch-all name for a whole group of molecules with similar structures.
Sugars are made by plants using sunlight and water in a process called photosynthesis, the energy stored in sugar is used by everything from bacteria, to animals to humans.
Sugars occur in varying amounts in most foods (from bread to peas) and are absolutely essential for human life; they provide energy for our bodies and especially our brain, they even form part of our DNA.
Sugars come under the broader heading of Carbohydrates.
Sugars include glucose, fructose, lactose, as well as sucrose (table sugar) amongst others. These come from different sources and are absorbed by the body in different ways; lactose comes from milk, for example, and fructose comes from fruit.
Carbohydrates are split into two groups; simple and complex.
All sugars are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are sugar.
The more complex the carbohydrate the slower it is processed by the body resulting in a steadier release of energy. For example, starch and fibre are carbohydrates that release their energy very slowly.
Simple carbohydrates, such as sugars, are absorbed more quickly giving a rapid energy ‘spike’ quickly followed by a trough.
This is where our food timing comes in; sometimes we want energy that will release slowly and gradually over time, sometimes we need food that will give us a quicker energy boost. Food combining also makes a difference; a teaspoon of jam on its own will behave differently in your body to a teaspoon of jam spread on an oatcake which is rich in fibre and has a little fat.
Lots of us struggle with sugar cravings, we may even consider ourselves to be sugar addicts; the urge to reach for something sweet and sugary when we feel tired, down or lacking in motivation isn’t unusual.
This is often a sign that our overall diet needs to be looked at, as we aren’t managing the peaks and troughs of energy release and are instead lurching from one energy spike to the next.
We may feel that our sugar intake is too high and our sweet tooth is leading us to eat too much processed foods and sugary drinks.
This is the sugar pattern that many of us know to be ‘bad’.
Eating sugar as a crutch to get through the day can indeed lead to health problems such as obesity and insulin resistance but it isn’t sugar that needs to be looked at, the whole diet needs an over-haul, both in content and timing.
It is this though that makes many of us believe that sugars are always the problem, but in trying to totally eliminate them from our diets we are misunderstanding the different effects of sugar at different times and the many times when sugars are useful and beneficial to us.
When do athletes need to eat sugars?
Sugars are carbohydrates, they are a source of energy for our activities. Eaten mid-way through a long bike ride or intense run they are critical for fuelling and helping to maintain our exercise levels. Eaten just before an exercise session or just after they are also incredibly useful in preparing our body for activity and recovering afterwards.
Not all sugars are the same, they raise our blood sugar levels at different rates and are absorbed using different path ways.
Fructose, found in fruit, has a slower rate of uptake than glucose, and when glucose and fructose are combined together in foods or bars, it allows your body to absorb more carbohydrate per hour than either type of sugar can alone – very useful for those 100-mile century rides, Triathlons, Marathons and Ultras when your body needs as much carbohydrate as it is able to absorb.
Eating fructose, a natural sugar, in its real food, natural state, in dried or fresh fruit means you not only get the benefits of being able to absorb large amounts of energy to fuel your exercise, but you are also eating food that is full of nutrients and fibre.
This makes it good for your body, good for your energy levels during activity and good for your digestion... A much better choice than chugging down handfuls of sweets or sickly energy gels based on large amounts of highly-processed ingredients, courtesy of the mass-producing food industry. Veloforte Nectars are a much better choice – our natural, powerful & refreshingly pure energy gels contain the sought-after Glucose:Fructose mix, are gentle on your stomach, and offer the much needed power and electrolytes for all-day performance.
Real food fuelling
As with everything in life, it is all about balance; eating high energy foods sat at your desk is both bad for your health and your waist line, but those same foods eaten whilst on your bike or out on a run are an excellent source of energy.
Sometimes, the food we eat while cycling, running or during any endurance sport is simply described as ‘fuel’ but Veloforte bars are much more than that...
In order to function at any level our bodies require sugars so that they can create Glycogen. Produced in the Liver, glycogen is the primary source of energy that humans need to power every cell.
Once produced, Glycogen is stored in both the Liver (to transport energy around the body - to our organs, cells, nervous system etc) and also our muscles (so that they can function and perform as we need them to).
Liver glycogen is used up constantly in the functioning of our bodies, our muscle glycogen however is used more like a battery, ie: once each muscle is full of glycogen they use it up until they are eventually depleted.
The trick to getting your endurance nutrition right is to consume enough of the right carbohydrates, proteins & fats before, during and after your exercise so that your muscle glycogen remains as 'full' as possible.
To maintain energy you therefore want to use the food you eat to power your activity, keeping your muscle glycogen stores in tact. (Like a back-up battery).
We all only have approximately 90mins worth of muscle glycogen available to use, after that we're in a pretty bad way until we can replenish it. Therefore, making sure you fuel well, little and often, throughout your activities will help you to keep stored as much available energy as possible.
Whilst fat stores and protein can be honed and metabolised into providing energy, we can only produce enough effective power to perform well from the consumption of (or metabolisation of) sugars.
This is how Veloforte has been conceived and designed... 100% natural, powerful and delicious... the perfect real-food for performance sport.
Natural because that's what humans have evolved alongside and our bodies know how to digest and metabolise; Powerful because we use the optimal balance of performance enhancing carbs (fructose & glucose) alongside essential proteins and fibre; Delicious because when our bodies sense and consume great food (that they actually want to consume) we perform better.
Stuffed full of tasty, delicious fruits they help you make the most of your nutrition and energy needs whilst supporting your mind and body right from the moment you open the packet.
Having foods your mouth enjoys, and your body digests easily, is the best way to provide the energy you need during your bike rides, runs and active life.
(All our products come in Packs of 3 and Box sizes upto 24)