Is that six sugars or eight in your training cup?

energy bars

“We are a nation of lazy porkers”, I was reminded on switching on the radio recently, which is leading to an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in ever younger people. As a society we are addicted to sugar. And it’s getting worse.

Well not me, I thought smugly. Me and my cycling, running, skiing friends are about as far away from “lazy porkers” as you can get.  But does that mean that we don’t have a sugar problem?

Just last year, when I left the house to go for a longer ride on a Sunday morning I would have stuffed my jersey with three energy bars, a banana, and a pre-made isotonic drink.  Between them I could have counted not far short of 30 teaspoons of sugar.

Of course I was convinced I was burning it all off again in a 100-mile hilly ride. I’m no porker, I thought to myself. I have the lean frame of a road cyclist.

Then a pro cycling coach told me that a single piece of chocolate cake could undo the benefits of half a day’s training for his elite athletes. He was arguing for me to drop the pre-made isotonic drinks and stick with water/hydration tablets.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency says we should eat no more than 60g (about 15 teaspoons) of sugar a day, but the UK average is already 20 teaspoons and climbing fast. The problem for many (I include myself) is not realising how much sugar is in the foods they don’t think of as sweet – it is added to bread, ready meals, pasta sauces and breakfast cereals.

Even when, as an endurance athlete, you’re burning it off again, that doesn’t mean the sugar isn’t doing you harm. A constant intake of sugar forces your pancreas to work overtime, possibly increasing your likelihood of type-2 diabetes in later life. And it can play havoc with your cholesterol levels, raising the risk for heart disease. And most worrying of all, a Swedish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests drinking two or more sugary drinks a day can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by 90 per cent.

Research in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports found when a runner consumes high-glycemic (Gl) foods, like white bread, ice cream, or high-sugar energy bars an hour before a run, he or she may become fatigued more quickly. In the research, athletes performed significantly better 45 minutes after eating a low-Gl meal (like an apple with peanut butter and oats) than a high-GI meal. Eating the high-Gl foods an hour before a run was causing athletes to experience a sugar crash, while the low-GI foods were carrying the runners farther and faster into the run.

The answer for most cyclists and runners will not to be to embark suddenly on a crash no-sugar diet. But it is probably time to pay more attention to how much sugar and what kinds of sugar you do eat. Using sugar-free hydration tablets like nuun is a great place to start

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