How sugar can help during exercise

Benefits of avoiding sugar

Sugary foods, especially those with added sugar, should not make up the majority of carbohydrates in your diet for reasons most are familiar with, such as diabetes or potential heart problems. But from time to time, enjoying sugar will not interfere with your progress and will not harm your health. For example, if you eat sugar after a particularly hard workout, it can help your muscles.

Before we get to sugar and its role in exercise, it’s important to understand that carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy, play a key role in all body functions, including exercise. Simple carbohydrates are sugars that are quickly digested and provide the body with fast energy.

Ultimately, a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats will help any athlete achieve their goals, whether it’s weight gain or fat burning. But it’s especially helpful to make sure you’re getting carbs both before and after your workout, and eating simple carbs, also called sugar, during your workout can even be helpful if your workout is particularly intense.

If you work out hard, make sure that carbohydrates are part of your diet, because during an intense workout, your muscles literally depend on them. Whether you consume fast or complex carbs, the body breaks down all the carbs it digests into simple sugars, which are eventually converted into glucose, also known as blood sugar. In turn, some of this glucose is converted into glycogen, and some of this glycogen is stored in the muscles for further use as fuel.

For optimal performance, the muscles should have glycogen at hand. During a high-intensity workout, the muscles are almost completely powered by glycogen. Even during a moderately intense workout, the muscles get about 50 percent of their energy from it. And when an athlete hits the proverbial “wall” during a workout, it’s the result of glycogen depletion.

For this reason, it is recommended to eat food with slow-digesting complex carbohydrates 2-4 hours before training. This gives you time to digest and use these carbohydrates as a sustainable fuel as they are processed for longer. This is especially important if your workout lasts longer than an hour.

But even if you refuel properly, glucose and glycogen will eventually be depleted the longer your workout lasts.

And every athlete knows that after training, it’s time to eat. Countless old-school coaches have told instructive stories about the 30-minute “anabolic window” during which students are better off drinking a protein shake so they don’t lose their precious achievements. There is conflicting evidence on this point, but one thing is for sure when it comes to the depleted glycogen we discussed earlier: a high-carb meal or snack after a workout will make up for it.

In terms of carbohydrates, studies have shown that consuming about 0.5 grams per pound of body weight for 30 minutes to an hour after lifting weights maximizes glycogen recovery and slows down the breakdown of muscle proteins. Getting these carbohydrates while your blood is still pumping heavily can help glycogen get to the muscles that need it.

Many bodybuilders know this and make up their smoothies with simple carbohydrates and proteins to kickstart this recovery, and some take the opportunity to indulge themselves during this period by enjoying food that is not normally part of their diet. One of the popular options is marmalade bears or other candies, which are essentially simple sugar. Others may eat a small piece of cake or sweet porridge.

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