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How to Cut Sugar Without Losing Performance – Dangers of Sugar

By Jiri Kaloc

Sugar is necessary for cycling performance but it can also negatively impact your health. Is there a way to cut sugar while maintaining high performance? In this series, we will explore how sugar consumption influences you on and off the bike. Let’s start with the dangers that added sugar poses.

Weight gain

Weight gain is an issue related to added sugar that affects most people, including cyclists. There is a lot of research showing that regular consumption of added sugar in foods and beverages very frequently leads to unwanted increases in weight. There are four reasons why this happens.

Increased palatability – Adding sugar usually makes foods tastier. Most packaged snack foods and even pre-made meals are filled with sugar to improve the overall flavour. Just try making porridge with a spoonful of sugar and without. Most people would spontaneously eat a lot more of the sugary porridge.

Increased calorie density – Adding sugar also increases the number of calories in a given food. This means that even if you eat the same amount of porridge as usual but it’s made with added sugar, you will be taking in more calories.

Low satiety – Sugary beverages are not very good at making us feel full. A very large soda may have as many calories as a full-sized meal but it certainly doesn’t make the hunger go away.

Lower compensatory intake reduction – Normally, when you eat a really big meal, you tend to eat a bit less in the next meal. When you take in extra calories by drinking sugary soda, your body typically doesn’t appropriately reduce your intake during the next meal. This is how soda can permanently increase your calorie intake.

Protein bar
Is there a way to cut sugar while maintaining high performance? © Profimedia

Dental issues

Research shows that eating too much sugar can cause cavities. Oral bacteria feed on sugar and release acid by-products that contribute to tooth demineralization. We know that elite athletes that regularly consume sugary gels, bars, and drinks often suffer from a high rate of tooth cavities despite brushing twice daily. You can read more about how to deal with that in our previous article.

Health risks

Excess sugar consumption has been associated with an increased risk of several serious diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. A study also showed that those who consume 67 g or more of sugar per day were 23% more likely to develop depression than those who ate less than 40 g. Another study showed that people who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily had a 56% higher risk of developing fatty liver compared to people who did not.

These are strong arguments to stick to the recommended limit for added sugar. The National Health Service in England recommends that adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day. The World Health Organization says we should reduce daily intake of free sugars to fewer than 10% of total energy intake. It also says that keeping added sugar as low as 25 g per day would have further benefits. But what if you need more sugar to fuel your hard rides or races? We will take a look at the impact of sugar on performance in the next article.

Next up in How to Cut Sugar Without Losing Performance series