Should You Be Eating More Sugar If You’re Getting More Exercise?

Founder of TMAC Fitness By Todd McCullough
Founder of TMAC Fitness
Todd McCullough is a Los Angeles-based, ACE-certified personal trainer, E-RYT registered yoga teacher, and founder of TMAC FITNESS.
Medical review by Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, INHC is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping people streamline their wellness routine and establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise.
Should You Be Eating More Sugar If You’re Getting More Exercise?

Photo by Vera Lair

While I’m all for the occasional indulgence—hey, sometimes you need to have that bowl of ice cream or that dark chocolate bar—by now, most of us know just how bad sugar is for us.

But straight-up desserts are hardly the only foods containing sugar, and many of you have questions about how much sugar you should actually be eating. Here’s some advice I've shared with clients who raise these questions:

I've been largely sugar-free for about 10 years. This means very few desserts, but I do eat a lot of fruit. Recently, I've taken up cycling in a serious way, riding 50 to 60 miles a week at a hard pace. Am I fooling myself in thinking that I can get by on so little sugar? —Mark from Bel Air, Maryland

Kudos to you for largely being sugar-free for 10 years! And yes, fruit is obviously a better sugar source than cookies or cake. That being said, you should not be having four or five apples a day—think of fruit as dessert. One to two servings a day is great. Also, keep in mind, many vegetables (and of course, grains) can provide carbs, which break down to sugar during digestion.

Should you increase your sugar intake due to the increase in your training? No, you want to increase your fuel source. Fats and complex carbs are amazing additions—try adding half an avocado or sweet potato and see how that goes.

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I've heard sugar can be used to your advantage while you're recovering from a workout because your body is depleted of glucose and glycogen. Is that true? —Jenny from Oakland, California

After your workout, I want you to think about a meal built primarily around protein and fat, like an omelet with avocado, steak, or a shake with full-fat siggi’s yogurt. That protein, along with one serving of fruit, if you’d like a little added sweetness, should suffice.

Are sugar alternatives like Splenda and diet soda bad for weight loss or weight management? —Shantall from Albany, New York

My answer to this one is simple: Do not drink diet soda, and avoid sugar substitutes for general health concerns. If you have a sweet tooth, consider drinking mint tea or sparkling water with lemon.

My personal go-to evening snack is two spoonfuls of siggi’s yogurt, a handful of raw almonds, and a handful of blueberries.

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What are some good protein options with no added sugar or sweeteners? Most protein powders seem to have some sort of sweetener. —Aileen from Washington, D.C.

I always suggest trying to get your protein sources from real whole food: fish, chicken, or yogurt. Quality sources, of course! If you’re plant-based, consider nuts, seeds, or legumes. That being said, we don’t always have time to sit down for a meal, and I totally understand the need for a quick meal replacement with a quality source of protein.

My rules for finding a good protein are pretty simple:

  • Less is more.
  • If you choose whey protein, try to find one that’s organic and grass-fed.
  • Choose supplements without added sugar. You can always add fruit to your smoothie for extra sweetness. Again, less is more.

Many people say naturally occurring sugars are the safest, best option when it comes to sweeteners. But when is natural sugar too much? —Sharon from New York

Natural sugar is a common mistake in the juicing industry. When you purchase a "green juice," what you don't know is that it took six apples to make that green juice. Definitely err on the side of moderation with natural sugar. Two servings of fruit per day should be fine for an active individual. I’m cool with the occasional dash of raw honey as well!

Todd McCullough
Todd McCullough
Todd McCullough is a Los Angeles-based, ACE-certified personal trainer, E-RYT registered yoga...
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