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The Truth About Sugar For Athletes

April 4, 2011

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Athletes of all shapes and sizes need to pay attention to what goes into their bodies, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what's being consumed.

Sugar is one of those sneaky substances that you might ingest too much of without knowing. One 12-ounce can of pop contains approximately 39 grams of sugar, amounting to a total of 140 calories. As you move from a can to a bottle, the sugar intake only gets disgustingly higher [65 grams]. And that’s assuming that you stop after one drink.

Given their complete lack nutritional value, soft drinks aren’t worth your time.

Another problem is that most people love the taste of sugar and often don’t care whether they consume an unhealthy amount. This presents a risk for the general population, but emphatically for young athletes looking to improve their game and get noticed by a college coach. Like many things in life, there’s a fine line between too much sugar and just the right amount. For those looking to take their athletic careers to the next level, regulating sugar intake is essential.

Dangers of Sugar
While some sugar is okay, many abuse its use to make their food taste sweeter. Abuse can lead to addiction, and an athlete addicted to sugar is not a pretty picture.

Every athlete is familiar with the “leave it all out on the field” speech. Athletes addicted to sugar might risk that literally, since sugar gives a rush that eventually leads to a crash, due to rapid rises in glucose and insulin levels. The world’s top athletes are able to maintain a high level of performance throughout every game of every season. This is impossible when experiencing sugar crashes.

The body has approximately five liters of blood. Only one teaspoon of sugar per day is needed to maintain normal, non-athletic activities. When sugar enters your bloodstream, your body releases insulin, which stimulates the blood cells to convert the sugar to energy. Excess sugar is converted into fat tissue, resulting in weight gain. If you consistently indulge in sugary foods, your body becomes resistant to insulin, leading to even more fat gain and a risk of diabetes. It’s hard to make it off the bench and into the starting lineup with a lot of newfound weight holding you down.

There is currently no definitive answer to how many grams of sugar per day is acceptable. Estimates range between 40 and 60 grams for normal levels of activity. The rule of thumb is to be smart. Leave the sweets out of your diet, don’t drink pop, try to avoid adding sugar to your food, and stick to non-starchy vegetables, like carrots, broccoli, onions and mushrooms.

But as mentioned earlier, sugar does provide energy. And sometimes athletes need a little extra boost to keep them at the top of their game in the fourth quarter [or third period for puckheads]. So in moderation, sugar can be your friend.

Fueling Athletic Performance With Sugar
Staying within the 40-to-60 grams per day range, athletes can use simple sugars to their advantage, fueling their normal levels of activity. Beyond that, intense physical activity requires athletes to increases their daily sugar intake.

Examples of simple sugars are glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose, which are easily converted into energy after entering the body. These performance-boosting sugars are found in all kinds of healthy fruits. That’s why NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony has embraced a diet filled with fruits to stay within his weight range of 228-230 pounds. Melo credits his diet as one reason why he achieved his goal of making the All-NBA team. He would not be the dominating force he is today if he didn’t pay attention to his diet, specifically his sugar consumption. He limits sugar intake to before and after workouts, both fueling his body and satisfying his sweet tooth.

Try some of the fruits listed below to fuel your body before, during and after your workouts.

Before: 15-20g about 15 minutes before your workout
During: 10-20g per hour of activity
After: 50g of sugar plus 16-20g of protein within 30 minutes of completion

In the chart below, compare the amount of sugar in fruits to the 39g of sugar found in just one can of pop. Use these healthier alternatives to reach your targeted sugar intake.

Fruit (One Serving) Sugar Calories From Sugar Total Calories
Grapes 20g 80 88
Cantaloupe 11g 44 46
Orange 23g 92 132
Apple 11g 44 57
Banana 17g 68 125
Peach 12g 44 60
Strawberries 7g 28 47
Watermelon 18g 72 86
Pineapple 9g 36 50

It’s always possible to have too much of a good thing, so be sure to monitor your fruit intake.

To continue giving your best effort in the weight room and in your sport, it's essential to keep a close eye on your sugar intake. Remember to keep your body filled with the vitamins and minerals your body needs, so you can maintain your desired weight range, like Melo.



Topics: DIET
Joe Baur
- Joe Baur is a certified personal trainer with a bachelor's degree in mass communication from Miami University [Oxford, OH]. He became certified with the National...
Joe Baur
- Joe Baur is a certified personal trainer with a bachelor's degree in mass communication from Miami University [Oxford, OH]. He became certified with the National...
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