Role of Sugar in Athlete's Diet

By Michele Fumagalli, RD, LDN - Fit Plate Nutrition

There is a time and place for sugar in the diet, especially for athletes. So, what are the best times for athletes to consume sugar and in what form? Added-sugar is exactly how it sounds, products with sugar added in during processing. Even agave nectar or honey added to oatmeal or foods would be considered an added sugar. Natural sugar, on the other hand, are found naturally in foods like fruit, dairy products and starchy vegetables. When it comes to athletes, consuming natural sugars throughout the day and saving the added sugars for right before, during and after exercise or competition is ideal.

Natural sugars, although a healthier option, also have components that can give GI distress during exercise, primarily due to fiber. While sports nutrition used to be thought of what an athlete ate around training or competition, it has evolved into an athlete's entire diet, morning to evening. Just like hydration, an athlete cannot make up for poor nutrition 15-30 minutes prior to practice. It may help for a short period of time, but will diminish quickly. Consuming natural carbs/sugar throughout the day will, 'prime the pump' of the athletes energy stores, at the same time, providing essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Added sugars eaten in the four hour window of training/competition will top fuel sources and decrease chance of GI distress.

With adequate fuel in the tank going into training, athletes do not need additional sugars for moderate exercise lasting 60 minutes. It is important to note that practice may only be moderate to intense for 30-60 minutes due to warm-ups, cool downs and technical work. Hence, sugar during practice, most likely, will only occassionally be needed. For competition, half-time, timeouts etc. are perfect times to refuel carb and sugar stores for optimal second half performance. For moderate to intense training 60+ minutes 30-60g/hour is recommended. This can be in liquid or food form with…….

Recommended energy sources 60 minutes before warm-ups:

ClifBar, Banana with tbsp. Peanut Butter, Fig Newton Bar, Chexmix
Recommended energy sources <30 minutes before:
ClifBlocks, Apple Sauce, Nutri-Grain Bars, Fruit Snacks

Michele Fumagalli, RD, LDN
Fit Plate Nutrition
Michele is a professional and collegiate athlete turned Dietitian, CrossFit enthusiast and Mom. Her unique background offers clients a unique, realistic and goal-oriented approach to Nutrition counseling. As a Registered Dietitian, Michele is a food and nutrition expert focusing in Sports and Family Nutrition. Michele aims to enhance her client’s health and game through nutrition while being a voice of reason, encouragement, and guidance in the crazy chaotic world of food. She provides comprehensive client-centered nutritional therapy, partnering with each client in order to help achieve his/her goals.