While recognizing the global conversation around the sugar epidemic, the fact is that sugar is a carbohydrate. More specifically, it’s a carbohydrate that can efficiently fuel our bodies and optimizes fluid absorption, making it a helpful resource in your workout fuel plan (at the proper amounts). Not all sugar comes in the form of refined, white granular sugar that could immediately come to mind. Many nutrient dense foods provide a healthy dose of sugar carbohydrates needed for proper physiological functions and more specifically, endurance performance.
This is not to say that “more is better” when it comes to sugar and exercise. In fact, the near opposite is true. Too much sugar will stress your stomach and lead to GI distress (if you’ve been in this situation, you KNOW it’s not a good time). Additionally, too much sugar does have detrimental effects on your health. So, how much sugar is the “right” amount of sugar, and how should it be consumed with respect to exercise?
There is a healthy balance of the carbohydrates (sugars) intake from your food vs. carb intake through your fluids. Sugar in your fluids helps to move water and electrolytes through your system, so that they can quickly come to the aid of your working muscles. It also helps keep glycogen levels optimal (the energy source your body pulls from during exercise).
Different amounts of sugar are optimal for different levels of activity. For example, Nuun Vitamins provides 2 grams of sugar to aid in hydration during at-rest periods. Nuun Electrolytes includes 1 gram of sugar with a balance of electrolytes, intended to efficiently replenish your body with the minerals it needs during and after exercise. Nuun Performance is intended for activity levels over 90-minutes. The body needs more fuel during long, intense workouts, which is why you'll find higher amounts of sugar in Nuun Performance.
Sugars also play a role in post-workout fuel. Your body needs a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats for proper recovery. Carbohydrates and protein can be best absorbed (and are most effective for recovery) when consumed at the right ratios with one another. Incorporating sugars through nutrient dense food (for example, starchy sweet potatoes) provide nutrients that can aid in recovery when paired with proteins and fats.
While overall sugar consumption over the span of a day should be monitored, the carbohydrate plays a key role in keeping your body fueled and performing during exercise. The big takeaway: Make sure to check nutrition labels for excess amounts of sugar that will deter athletic performance, while also recognizing that there is a role for this nutrient in your long-term training plan!
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