Breaking down sugar consumption

Here’s a scenario that you’re probably familiar with. It’s 3 in the afternoon and you’ve got the post-lunch lull. You need a quick “pick me up,” so you reach for a Red Bull or some Skittles. You know you shouldn’t but you do it anyway. Great, now I have guilt, you think. Well guess what, this happens to just about everyone, so don’t feel too bad. Let’s get started breaking down sugar consumption.

Many people count on a quick sugar high to get over the afternoon hump, but too much sugar can damper your marathon training plans. In this post, I’ll discuss sugar, the good the bad, and the delicious.

Sugar consumption cravings are for real

Sugar is addictive. Why?  As a chemical compound, sugar releases, the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which leads to feelings of joy and pleasure. In a study performed at the University of Bordeaux in France, Dr. Serge Ahmed and his research team discovered that sugar “is much more rewarding and probably more addictive than intravenous cocaine.”  Their findings, “clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and drug-addicted individuals.”

sugary foods

High sugar consumption leads to health issues

Sugar’s addictive properties and over-consumption are really hurting our health and well-being. Dr. Serge Ahmedconcluded, “when society finally discovers that refined sugar is just another white powder, along with pure cocaine, it will change its mind and attitude toward refined food addiction.” Refined sugars include all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods such as white bread, cakes, sodas, chocolate, ice cream, and anything else that tastes good. High consumption of refined sugars has been linked to obesity and a decreased intake of other essential nutrients.

Different kinds of sugars

When people talk about cutting out sugar in their diet, they are usually talking about refined sugars. Candy, donuts, sodas, are among a few in the refined sugar category, but there are differences in the type of sugar out there. On a molecular level sugar is made up of glucose and fructose.  Believe it or not, one type of sugar is not better or worse for you.  Excess of any type of sugar will lead to gain weight even if you are training for a marathon. The difference is that fructose and glucose affect your body differently and are processed differently.

Fructose sugar consumption

The primary sweetener in fruit juices and non-diet sodas can only be metabolized by the liver. Here’s the bottom line: When we consume more fructose than our liver can process, that fructose is turned into fat, which contributes to weight gain.


This can be metabolized by nearly every cell in the body and requires a release of insulin into the bloodstream in order to be completely processed.  There have been studies done that look at the effects of glucose and fructose.  They found that both kinds of sugars contributed to weight gain when consumed in excess, but fructose was commonly linked to a higher risk for other ailments like heart attack and stroke.

Refined and processed sugar consumption

Sugar straight from cane and beets is natural, but most of the sugars we consume today are known as refined sugars. This refining process removes the good essential nutrients from sugar which results in foods with nothing but calories.

The following are processed or added sugars:

White sugar  

Sucrose or refined white sugar is the stuff that is sold in bags that we put in homemade chocolate chip cookies.

High fructose corn syrup

This is a corn-based sweetener. This is one of the most common sweeteners in processed foods today mostly because it cost much less than white sugar. This change to HFCS is one of the most significant changes to our food supply in the past century.

Agave syrup

This comes from the agave cactus is often advertised as a healthier or natural alternative to white sugar. It has a lower GI or glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly food is broken down to glucose in the body. Although it is considered healthier, agave tends to be very high in fructose which means it goes immediately to the liver to be processed, and any fructose that isn’t needed will turn into fat.

Other sugars 

Those that are processed include fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, and maltodextrin. Read the labels on the foods you consume.

Natural Sugars

For your health’s sake, you should choose foods that contain natural sugars in their native forms, such as whole fruits and vegetables. But just because fruits and veggies have “good” natural sugar, you should still consume in moderation to prevent excess weight gain.

Higher Sugar Content Fruits – Grapes, Cherries, Mangoes

Lower Sugar Content Fruits – Raspberries, Strawberries, Avocados

Compare Snacks

1 Medium Apple = 19 grams of sugar   vs.   Milk Chocolate Bar = 23 grams of sugar

3/4 cup Grapes = 20 grams of sugar    vs.   20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew = 77 grams of sugar

Reasons excess sugar consumption is bad for runners

  1. Weight gain is one of the most obvious effects of excess sugar consumption. Bottom line, the more you consume, the greater your chances of health problems.
  2. Heart disease. Excess sugar consumption is also shown to correlate with a significant increase in cardiovascular disease.  People who consumed more calories from sugar were twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed less than 10% of calories from sugar.
  3. Tooth decay.  Every dentist will tell you that another downside of excess sugar consumption is tooth decay. Sugar causes acid to form on the teeth which can damage to your enamel. This leads to cavities.

How much sugar should I eat?

The “official” guidelines on sugar consumption come from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the FDA, you should limit added sugar consumption to no more than 10 percent of daily calories.   Let me break it down, for an adult, that means consuming no more than 50 grams of added sugar a day, which is the amount of sugar in a can of soda.

Final thoughts on sugar consumption

It boils down to moderation. If you want to keep your weight in check and live a healthier life, simply cutting down on added sugars can make a huge difference.