Brought to you courtesy of Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD.
We have all heard trendy comments about carbs: They’re a waste of calories, sugar is evil. Fact? No…
Are carbs a waste of calories, with little nutritional value?
The answer depends on your definition of “carbs.” Many athletes define carbs as sugar-filled baked goods and foods made with refined white flour, such as pasta, bagels, bread. In reality, carbohydrates include all types of sugars and starches. Carbs are in fruit, vegetables, beans (pinto, lima, garbanzo, etc.), grains (wheat, rice, barley, corn), and milk. These “quality carbs” add important nutrients to a sports diet.
Should athletes cut out sugar?
Sure, if that means cutting out EXCESS sugar. But if you plan is to cut out all sugar, technically speaking, you would need to stop eating any form of carbohydrate (fruit, veggies, grains), given those foods end up as sugar (glucose) in your body. That sugar fuels your muscles and brain. You’ll also need to cut out performance-enhancing sport drinks and gels.
Please judge a food based on all the nutrients that accompany the sugar, more so than just the sugar content. Some sugary foods are nutrient-rich. The natural and added sugar in chocolate milk, in combination with the milk’s protein, make chocolate milk an excellent recovery food. (The sugar refuels the muscles; the protein builds and repairs the muscles.)
If your goal is to cut out added sugar, you might want to think moderation, rather than all or nothing. US Dietary Guidelines say 10% of calories can come from added sugar. Eating a small sweet a day will not ruin your health forever.
Athletes who report a desire to cut out sugar commonly have a love-hate relationship with (too much) sugar. While they may believe sugar is addictive, a standard reason for overdosing on sugar relates to hunger. The body of a hungry athlete screams for quick energy: sugar. One way to curb sugar-cravings is to eat a satisfying protein-rich breakfast and lunch. By curbing hunger, you’ll enhance your chances of being able to choose quality carbs later in the day. Yes, eating enough breakfast can (and does) impact and improve your evening food choices. Give it a try?