It’s the year 2003. Baby Bash had just released Suga, Suga to the world. I don’t know
what Baby Bash is doing nowadays, but he gave us some early 2000’s bangers.
Anyways, this article is not about Baby Bash, but rather Sugar.
I, like many people on this planet, suffer from acute Sweet Tooth Syndrome. Which is just the inability to deny any sugar offered to me. That being said, Sugar has long been demonized by the Fitness Industry, to the point that in 2014, the Fed Up Documentary came out.
(Photo evidence of my ruthless sweet tooth)
Does sugar really deserve this bad rap, or is this just one other thing the fitness industry has overblown.
It’s Mythbustin’ Time!
As always, this article serves as the write up to the Made To Excel Fitness Podcast. The subject of this article is episode 12 - Mythbustin’ #2: Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Weight Loss? + Q&A. If you’re interested in listening, you can find the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and most other places you enjoy listening to Podcasts.
Anywho, this podcast topic was inspired by a post I saw scrolling through Instagram not too many moons ago.
This post came from a semi popular fitness coach with 90k followers on Instagram.
I won’t share the post word for word since I don’t want to blow up anybody’s spot, but the post was about Sugar, Carbs, and Hormones.
And the cliff notes version of this post as it pertains to sugar is that it spikes insulin, screws up your hormones, makes you dumb (they specifically said it shuts off the rationale driven parts of your brain leading you to make bad deecisions), it makes you lose muscle, and hold onto fat, so you should avoid sugar at all costs.
Suffice to say, it was a loaded post.
As a person who thrives on cracking open a pint of brand new Ben & Jerrys, or trying some extravagant new donut, this post felt like an ATTACK. (Not really, that’s just me being dramatic).
But in reality, this coach has 90 THOUSAND people following them, undoubtedly, many of which probably enjoy a sugary snack themselves from time to time. And now this person insists that sugar should be cut out entirely to make progress.
Are they wasting time trying to get more fit when they’re still eating cookies? Are YOU wasting your time trying to make progress when sugar is just going to tear it down anyways? Let’s find out…
Refined VS Natural Sugar
Lots of things in this world that are edible, contain sugar.
Fruits. Vegetables. Dairy. Seeds. Nuts. Grains.
All have sugar. This is what’s called Natural Sugar.
It’s just the sugar that’s already present in the food's purest, and natural form.
On the other hand, you’ve got refined sugars.
Refined sugars are natural sugars that have been extracted and chemically processed and added to foods.
Snickers clearly don’t grow from the ground, hence have refined sugar.
Typical rule of thumb is that when you’re walking around the grocery store, everything along the outside is usually relatively natural, and everything on the inside (the aisles) is probably chemically processed, and this is where you’d find a lot of your refined sugar foods. Unless of course, you go to a weird grocery store.
So the distinction between natural and refined sugars is usually relatively easy to spot in the wild.
Table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, are two of the more commonly found refined sugars you’ll find. Though sugar comes in many names (Dextrose, Fructose, Galactose, Glucose, Lactose, Maltose, Sucrose to name a few.
Some of the negative health effects that you could potentially come across with a high refined sugar diet are obesity, excess belly fat, diabetes, heart disease, depression, dementia, liver disease and certain types of cancer.
*this ain’t looking good for sugar right about now*
Some of the things that people may tell you to avoid are soft drinks (sodas), energy drinks, Vitamin Water, granola, breakfast cereals, baked goods, chocolate bars, candy, some breads, baked beans, canned vegetables and fruits, jam, low-fat yogurt, low-fat peanut butter, ketchup, salad dressing, pasta sauce, pizza, frozen meals, mc and cheese, etc. etc.
Now, this is a pretty damn extensive list.
Some of the things are relatively straightforward such as sodas, candy, chocolate bars, and energy drinks.
Some are things that seem like they could actually be healthy foods such as granola, canned fruits and vegetables, and low-fat yogurt and peanut butters.
And some things are downright bizarre and don’t seem like they belong on the list at all such as bread, baked beans, pizza, frozen meals, pasta sauce, salad dressing, and macaroni and cheese. Sure, some of these foods could probably be considered to be “unhealthy”, but in terms of sugar content are actually quite shocking.
And surely, you probably regularly eat at least one of the things from the list above. Or like myself, you’re closer to 75% of the items on the list.
So is it time to panic? Are you on the fast track to heart disease, or diabetes?
When going about Mythbustin’, step #1 to take is to see if there are any statistics that can prove either point.
In Mythbustin’ #1 about metabolism, we could look at different factors that positively or negatively affected the amount of calories you burned, and we could calculate exactly how much these numbers could make a difference. With these numbers we were able to deduce that *SPOILER ALERT* that metabolism didn’t actually have a profound affect. At least not enough to be the sole contributor as to whether or not a person lost weight.
In this situation, we don’t have as clear statistics.
The “Fed Up” documentary brings up many points and stats about sugar being the sole/main cause of the obesity epidemic, but scientists later refuted these claims with stats such as obesity levels continued to rise as sugar consumption decreased.
So stats don’t paint the best picture.
Without stats, it’s time to put the “logic hat” on.
If we were to have a case study where we took a healthy individual, who ate mostly healthy meals, was relatively physically active, and had their calories in control, and added sugar into their diet while keeping the same amount of calories they were consuming before, we would find that the individual would have no adverse side effects in terms of their weight, and most likely not run into any significant health problems if sugar consumption wasn’t done in excess.
If you’re a person who has contemplated cutting sugar from your diet (or any specific subset of food), think about the surrounding circumstances as mentioned above and evaluate if those things are in check.
If the answer is no, then odds are it is a combination of various circumstances that lead to your struggle with weight that go beyond just sugar.
If those factors above are in check and you’re still having trouble making progress, odds are you’re maybe just overdoing the sugar a bit.
At the end of the day, calories are the biggest driving factor in terms of weight management.
If your body only needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, and you eat 2,500 calories worth of fruit, veggies, lean proteins and healthy carbs, you’re STILL going to gain weight despite all those foods being extremely healthy.
So if you were to eat less than your body needs in calories, even if a Twinkie was a part of your diet for the day, you would still lose weight.
Does sugar make it more difficult to eat in a caloric deficit? Yeah, absolutely.
Refined Sugars are empty calories. Which is just a simple way to say they have lots of calories but very little nutritional value.
So if you have a calorie goal of 2,000 calories and you take out an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked (1,100 calories), it’s going to be really hard to not go over your calories for the day.
So if you can work in your favorite sugary treats without blowing your calories out of the water, you’ll be a-okay. In MODERATION of course.
If you’re a person who is diabetic (or pre diabetic) you probably abide by a different set of rules.
But for most out there, sugar is not the enemy if you lead a relatively healthy life to begin with, and you’re not overdoing it.
Most people who end up reading this article are going to say “look at this Personal Trainer telling people to eat sugar. He probably has a deal with Little Debbie to sell Zebra Cakes”. And to that I say, Zebra Cakes are delicious and Little Debbie should reach out to my people.
But all kidding aside, the science behind sugar and the negative side effects involved seems to be sound. You could potentially run into a myriad of health problems and weight issues if your sugar consumption gets to be out of control.
Would you be the healthiest version of yourself if you cut sugar from your diet? Yeah, probably.
But for a lot of people this is not feasible, and I know that I’m not willing to give up Ice Cream, so the next best option is consuming it in moderation while preserving fitness.
And at the end of the day remember that sugar is all around.
1 Twinkie = 33 grams of Sugar
1 Yoplait Original Lemon Burst 99% Fat Free Yogurt = 32 grams of Sugar
So if there are 3 things that are guaranteed in life, it’s…
Death. Taxes. Sugar.
Just be smart about it.