Sugar and running

The sugar needed for running will be achieved with the fair consumption of complex carbohydrates within a balanced diet and with good hydration


The sugar is highly questioned lately, as there are nutritionists and dieticians who believe that consume generally much more sugar than we need , warning that the added sugar is very bad for our health.

But what about the athletes, and more specifically, the runners ? Runners work hard in their sport, recording endless miles of speed work, slopes and long runs. Many runners work just as hard to maintain proper nutrition for sports performance, avoiding foods such as fat and sugar. However, sugar is the body’s preferred source of fuel for running. Consuming the right types of sugar can improve your performance and give you the energy you need to travel a distance.

Next, we will see the following points:

  1. Running requires sugar
  2. Sugars for better running performance
  3. When and how much to eat

Running requires sugar

The running predominantly uses carbohydrates as fuel. All the carbohydrates we eat are made up of sugars that are first converted into glucose in our blood and then stored in our muscles as glycogen . Glycogen provides fuel for aerobic activities such as running. To run long distances and achieve optimal performance, runners must complete muscle glycogen stores with a high-carbohydrate diet.

We must distinguish in the needs of sugar, according to the runner is in the preparation phase or in the competition phase.

During the preparation phase , the same amount of simple sugars is recommended for the runner as for the rest of the population, that is, a maximum of 5% of the total calories. 

In the competition stage, it can not be generalized, since the amount of sugar advisable, will depend on the type of running, the race that is practiced, and also the weight and physical characteristics of each runner.

Yes it is true that when it is a training or a competition of more than 90 minutes duration it is advisable to have an extra contribution of carbohydrates.

Sugars for better running performance

There are three main types of sugar: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides

  • Monosaccharides , including fructose found in honey and galactose found in milk.
  • Disaccharides , including sucrose, a combination of glucose and fructose that makes up table sugar; lactose, the sugar found in milk composed of glucose and galactose; maltose, a product of starch digestion;
  • Polysaccharides or starches . Simple carbohydrates high in glucose will give you energy before running, since glucose can be stored immediately in the muscles as glycogen.

Foods such as fruits , potatoes and cereals are high in glucose and provide runners with immediate energy before the start. While whole grains are an important part of a runner’s diet, fiber in whole grains may be difficult for some runners to digest before training. Therefore, runners may prefer to eat white bread, rice or pasta as a pre-meal. It is good to combine carbohydrates with a small amount of fat and protein, such as butter, for greater satiety and energy during the race. You have to avoid unhealthy sugars like cookies, or cakes with high fructose content, since these can negatively affect the performance of the race.

There are products such as yogurt and custard, soft drinks, ice cream , some desserts, etc., which contain a high amount of sugars that is negative for both an athlete and a person who is not.

When and how much to eat

The time and size of the snack before work will be slightly different for each individual, but a good rule of thumb is to eat 150 to 200 calories an hour before running. If you are going to run for more than an hour, you can choose to wear sports or chewable gels. These products have a high content of simple sugars so you can feed yourself while you run without disturbing digestion.

As we can see, the intake of sugar in its proper measure is indicated, but outside of the indicated cases one must be cautious and ask an expert to solve any doubt.

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