We all know sugar tastes good and it’s hard to stop at just a small sample of anything deliciously sweet. But are you actually addicted? It’s certainly possible, as sugar activates opiate receptors in your brain to make you feel good emotionally, even if only in the short term. But once the sugar high wears off, you can be headed for an energy crash, headaches and fluctuating hormones which becomes a vicious cycle as you reach for the next quick ‘pick me up’. There are clear benefits of quitting sugar on performance for athletes, so it’s time to get real and look at what actually happens to your body when you give sugar the flick for good.
1. All Sugars Aren’t Created Equal:
Sugar in fruit is fructose, and it comes packaged up with nutrients and fibre, and without additives, colours, preservatives and other nasties. When you eat fruit, you get energy from the fructose plus all the other goodies your body needs daily. Processed sugar which is added to foods is devoid of these nutrients and just gives you extra calories without any real nutritional value. This is the type you need to quit.
2. Withdrawal is Real:
Even if you’re not having a supersize coke every day, sugar sneaks into many processed foods like sauces, muesli bars and yoghurts. If you are relying on these foods to get through your day then cutting them back could hit you hard. It’s possible to experience headaches, exhaustion, irritability and brain fog, all of which make it harder to stay the course.
3. Your Mood Could Get Worse… Before it Gets Better:
Sugar releases the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin, so without these your mood suffers and so can your training in the short term. In can take a week or so for you to start feeling energised and more vibrant.
4. Your Skin will Benefit:
If you are eating a lot of processed sugar the resultant insulin spikes can trigger inflammation in the skin which can cause breakouts, premature wrinkling, sagging and redness. After a period of reduced sugar intake, your skin can bounce back with strengthened elastin and collagen.
5. You Should Sleep Better Too:
High amounts of sugar can reduce your deep, restorative slow wave sleep and REM sleep. By reducing sugar, you will reduce the number of times you wake overnight which improves your sleep quality overall.
6. Lose the Sugar; Lose the Weight:
Let’s be clear, cutting sugar alone won’t make you lose weight, but it can help. By reducing calories and taking the strain off your body as it tries to balance glucose levels, your fat stores will also start to decline. The key to success here is not just cutting back sugar, but including adequate protein, a variety of nutrient dense vegetables plus healthy fats and following a regular exercise routine.
As athletes, we are always looking to improve our performance and too often the focus is on training harder and having the latest, greatest gear. But as we see here, by looking at one of the basics of nutrition and quitting sugar, we see athletes regularly make a big step up in performance.
By cutting sugar, you can benefit from:
- more energy and vibrancy
- better and more even moods
- clearer skin
- more restful sleep (and therefore improved recovery)
- weight loss