Nature’s candy, also known as fruit, has gotten a lot of bad press these days. Some people believe fructose acts in a way similar to high-fructose corn syrup, and think it provokes high triglycerides and other unhealthy blood lipids that lead to metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
The truth is that you can eat fruit without going into a fructose overload, especially athletes who have a slightly higher threshold than sedentary folks. Fruit can become a healthy, satisfying, panic-free part of any athlete’s diet when you follow these seven rules.
1. Don’t eat fruit to fuel up.
Studies have found that for optimal training performance, muscle glycogen stores must be replenished daily. For the average athlete, this means a daily carbohydrate consumption of 500 to 600 grams. But that doesn’t mean you should load up on fruit before a workout.
Here’s the deal: While your liver can metabolize fructose into liver glycogen, fructose doesn’t raise muscle glycogen stores. To do that, you’ll want to choose glucose-rich foods like brown rice.
2. Though fruit is a good option for a post-workout snack.
Okay, so fruit doesn’t replenish your muscles' glycogen stores, it still comes loaded with nutrients ideal for post-workout recovery and repair. Throwing some berries into your protein shake provides vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and deliciousness.
3. Try to always buy organic fruit.
Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles an annual list of the most-polluted (The Dirty Dozen) and least-polluted (The Clean 15) produce. Keep this guide handy when you fruit shop. Buy organic if you can afford it; otherwise try to stick to buying the Clean 15 fruits and veggies with the lowest amount of pesticides.
4. Avoid fruit imposters.
Fruit juices, cleanses, jams, jellies and dried fruit don’t count towards your whole-fruit quota. Fruit juices contain loads of sugar — and it’s usually from concentrates and not from the fruit itself. Dried fruit can be full of chemicals like sulfur dioxide to preserve color or syrup to make it even sweeter. You should treat these other fruit products as candy for the amount of sugar that’s really in them!
5. Aim to consume low-sugar fruit.
Delicious as they are, fruits like grapes, mango and bananas are high in sugar, especially fructose, so treat them as dessert. Berries are a lower-glycemic fruit, and a better choice. Avocado, olives and coconut (all fruits!) also make fiber-rich, low-sugar options.
6. Pair your fruit with either protein or fat.
To avoid a fructose surge and better absorb its nutrients, pair fruit with some protein and healthy fat, which buffers out the sugar load and cranks up the yum factor. Smear some almond butter on apple slices, have a handful of raw almonds with your orange or throw blueberries into unsweetened Greek yogurt.
7. Stop demonizing fruit or making it an all-you-can-eat food.
Like all things, balance becomes key with fruit for athletes. A few pieces of lower-sugar fruit can boost your nutrient and fiber quota while providing delicious sweetness for very few calories.