How much sugar should runners eat? 6 ways to kerb your sugar addiction

Sugar is everywhere. It’s in practically every food we eat and though we know it’s not good for us in excess, it’s also hard to resist. That’s because eating sugar lights up our brains’ dopamine receptors (the same ones that trigger drug addiction), making us feel fantastic – and eager for another hit.

As runners, our sugar problem is even stickier, as we rely on gels and energy drinks (and sometimes just plain sweets) to fuel up for and recover from workouts.

How much sugar should runner’s eat?

Sadly, running doesn’t make you immune to the detrimental health effects of eating too much refined sugar. The nearly 30kg of sugar that each UK adult consumers a year increases our risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and sleep disorders. That’s true whether you exercise or not.

Related: 6 sugar rules that will change your attitude towards food 

This means even runners should trim their daily intake of added sugar to less than 25g per day, as recommended by the World Health Organization. There’s no need to avoid naturally sweet, while foods, which have water, fibre and/or protein that slow the sugar’s path into your system.


6 ways to kerb your sugar intake:

Quell the sugar flood and help break a not-so-sweet habit with these stratergies:

1. Go natural

Replace foods that have lots of added sugar (such as sweets or muffins) with ones that are high in natural sugar (e.g. apples and dates), which offer a hit of sweetness that’s lower in calories and higher in nutrients. Kristen Gradney, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says: “Sweet fruits and vegetables might not seem as appealing as a cupcake, but they’ll satisfy your physiological need for sugar and make those intense cravings fade away.”


2. Earn your treat

‘Earning’ your sweet treat can also help curb cravings, suggests researcher Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design (William Morrow). “You impose a trade-off, so that you’re not saying no to something, but you do make it harder to get”, he says. Want ice cream after lunch? Earn it by completing a chore you’ve been dreading, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. These negotiations cut down on impulse eating by delaying gratification. They can also replace your craving with self-satisfaction – you’re so pleased you cleaned out the garage that you no longer need biscuits to celebrate.


3. Dilute it

Mix the sugary stuff with something that is much better for you. Combine cranberry juice with soda water, mix hot cocoa with unsweetened coffee, swirl a scoop of ice cream into an equal quantity of berries and mix your honey-coated granola with Shredded Wheat (which contains almost no sugar per serving). “You lower the overall sugar content but don’t end up feeling deprived”, says Gradney.


4. Watch your portion size

Choosing single-serving packages of ice cream and biscuits can enforce a healthy-portion habit and keep you from devouring that entire pack of Hobnobs. One 2012 study, published in Health Psychology, found that people who snacked on portioned crisps ate 50 per cent less (translating to 250 fewer calories). Just be sure to read the labels, because some packaging contains more than one serving, and keep your cache of treats out of view, so you aren’t tempted to reach for seconds…or thirds.


5. Time your treats

The good news? Runners do get two short windows of sugar-immunity: during and then immediately after a workout, when the body metabolises sugar for fuel and replenishes muscle glycogen for recovery. All the other times? “the sugar that you eat when you’re sedentary is more likely to go to stored fat, once glycogen stores are full” says Pritchett. And yes, you will get more nutritional value from eating pineapple or chocolate milk, but if doughnuts are your guilty pleasure, it may be better to have that type of occasional indulgence within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.


6. Savour flavour

Studies have found that the first bite of any food yields the most pleasure – and that people who eat large servings of indulgent foods actually feel less satisfied than those consuming smaller portions. When you do crave something sweet, try taking just a taste. “We’ve found that total deprivation just isn’t sustainable, because many people may fall off the wagon and give up hope for healthier eating,” says Wansink. By granting yourself the licence to enjoy one or two bites of your favourite treat, you’ll get maximum enjoyment for minimal damage. This is especially true when it’s a high-quality food: one square of high-cocoa content dark chocolate can often deliver far more satisfaction than an entire bar of the poor-quality stuff.


The sugar shockers

Like we said above, runners should eat no more than 25g of added sugar a say. Processed foods can easily blow your quota for the day. Check out the estimated grams in these examples:

1. Kellogg’s Crunch Nut cereal

 

2. Snickers Bar 

3. Starbucks Tall Caramel Macchiato

4. 330ml can Coca-Cola