The Biggest Lies About Sugar

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Yes, too much of the sweet stuff is bad. But sugar is not evil – it’s essential. – By Selene Yeager

Photograph by Uwe Hermann/Flickr

How many times have you heard someone talk about how they stopped eating sugar? Next time you do, offer your condolences because they likely don’t have long to live. Though it’s been thoroughly demonised (and yes, too much added sugar is a serious public health problem), sugar is essential to life, especially an active cyclist’s life. “Cut down on sugar too dramatically and you won’t feel good when you ride; you won’t recover as quickly, and you might have more muscle breakdown overall because your body is pulling from your muscle stores to make the energy it needs,” says sports nutritionist Leslie Bonci.

With that, here is some of the most common sugar fiction circulating today—and the facts.

Sugar is bad.

Apples are high in sugar. So are beets. Oh, and plain yogurt. Those foods also contain fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that keep you healthy. Yet some people won’t eat these and other naturally sweet foods like sweet potatoes because they’re high in sugar. Bad move. Sugar is fuel. Glucose is your body’s prime energy source. You need at least 130 grams of total carbohydrates in your diet—more if you ride. So go ahead and skip fizzy drinks. But keep the carrots.

Eat sugar-free whenever possible.

Bzzz! Ironically, artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, glucose intolerance, and dangerous belly fat. Scientists are still teasing out the whys, but recent research suggests that artificial sweeteners don’t trip the neurons in our brain that tell us that we’ve eaten (which is why you can easily down a whole sleeve of sugar-free cookies and reach for more). They also may disrupt healthy gut bacteria that promote healthy insulin response and energy storage.

Shun all refined sugars.

This sounds like a great idea until you’re at kilometre 104 in a 160-kilometre ride. At that point your brain (and legs) are screaming for sugar. “In fact I do recommend honey sticks and even sugar cubes during a ride,” says Bonci. “Sugar is an immediate energy source that not only fuels your body, so you don’t break down muscle, but also helps fluids leave your gut more rapidly, so it assists with hydration. Plus, your brain only works on glucose, so it prevents brain drain on a long ride, which makes your ride safer and more enjoyable.”

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