By Myprotein Writer
Sugar is an ingredient found primarily in a number of unhealthy foods and drinks, and arguably, it is this unhealthy little white crystal, that is responsible for giving them their fantastic tastes in the process.
For anybody watching their weight and looking after their health and well-being, sugar is an ingredient that seemingly may have to be cut out altogether.
But is sugar really that bad, and is it always bad for you all of the time?
Well, to help get a better understanding, let’s learn a little more about sugar, and let’s find out whether it is as bad as people would have you believe.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate available in many forms. If for example, it ends in “ose” I.E Glucose, Fructose, and Dextrose, then it is a sugar.
Sugars can be referred to as simple sugars, in which case they are monosaccarides, or they can be more complex forms, in which case they will be disaccharides. Monosaccarides include sugars such as: glucose and fructose, whereas disaccharides include sugars such as lactose and maltose.
Naturally occurring sugars
A lot of people argue that, due to the fact that so many forms of sugar occur naturally, they can’t be considered unhealthy as they are natural – but that is not the case. There as there are a number of natural fungi that are incredibly toxic and can be bad for us. Naturally occurring sugars include:
This form of sugar is found naturally in fruits, and whilst fruits are packed full of nutrients. However, it is advised to avoid consuming too many fruits, due largely to the fact that they contain, yep, you guessed it – fructose sugars! This type of sugar is extremely sweet tasting, and it is also found naturally in cane, and in honey.
Glucose sugar is found naturally in fruits and in plants, and it is created as a result of being a by-product of photosynthesis. What’s more, our bodies use glucose as an energy source, as they convert it into glycogen, which is the primary source of energy for the muscles. When required, the human body actually has the ability to naturally synthesize glucose, yet in too high a dosage, it can be extremely bad for you.
Sucrose sugar is naturally present in the stems of sugar canes, as well as in the roots of sugar beet, as well as being present in other plants and fruits, along with glucose.
Lactose is a form of sugar primarily found in milk. Our bodies can actually take milk and break it down using a special enzyme, into lactose sugar. Individuals who are lactose intolerant however, do not possess this enzyme and cannot achieve this.
What happens when we consume sugar?
Once sugar is consumed, the body can utilise sugar in one of two ways.
1) The first way is that it takes the sugar, and basically uses it as a source of energy, therefore allowing you to feel great – becoming more alert and packed full of energy!
2) The second way however, is that it takes the sugar and instead converts it into fat, where it then stores it in fat cells to be used as a source of energy at a later date.
How Sugar Is Absorbed By The Body
Once the body detects sugar in the body, the pancreas secretes a hormone known as insulin, which is designed to help deal with all of this sugar and encourage the body to use it as energy. Insulin shuttles the sugar out of the bloodstream and into our cells, where they can then utilise it as energy.
Too much sugar?
The problem however, is that too much sugar can result in too much insulin being secreted, or simply, the body won’t be able to use it all for energy, so more of it will be stored as fat anyways.
Overtime, if you consume too much sugar, it can cause all kinds of problems regarding insulin sensitivity, and it can potentially lead to diabetes, in which the pancreas cannot produce any/enough insulin to deal with sugars in the blood. Therefore medications, or injectible forms of insulin may need to be used instead.
What Sugars Are Healthy?
Complex sugars found in complex carbohydrates, I.E Rice, pasta, potatoes etc, are beneficial for energy production.
Simple sugars, including fruit, and baking sugar, cause spikes in insulin that can turn out to be detrimental to our health and well-being.
Benefits Of ‘Sugar’ For Athletes
If we speak to health officials, they’ll tell you to avoid simple sugars and to consume complex sugars, like those found in oatmeal, rice, pasta, and potatoes etc, and whilst these are beneficial, especially when it comes to blood glucose regulation, there are instances when simple sugars can be beneficial.
From a fitness perspective, anybody looking to build muscle effectively (whether to simply pack on more muscle mass or build a considerable amount of muscle to triggle fat burning) can actually benefit from simple sugars, if they consume the right sugars and at the right times.
When we finish lifting weights, our muscle cells are completely empty, meaning that they contain no glycogen, and no other nutrients essential for protein synthesis. What’s more, they have expanded slightly, meaning that, for a temporary time, they can actually absorb more nutrients than usual. This only lasts for around one hour after you exercise, and it is known as the ‘anabolic window’.
In order to force more nutrients into these muscle cells as quickly as possible, many bodybuilders will consume a simple carbohydrate such as dextrose powder, with their post-workout protein shake. This causes a spike in insulin levels, which then results in all of the proteins, all of the amino acids, the creatine, and any other nutrients contained in the protein shake, to be shuttled out of the bloodstream, and into the awaiting muscle cells in larger dosages.
This then allows means that glycogen stores are quickly replenished, and that the muscles can begin rebuilding and repairing themselves as soon as you finish training.
In simple terms, simple sugars mean that more nutrients can be absorbed by the muscles, and in a much shorter space of time.
Take Home Message
Sugar can indeed live up to its stereotype of causing negative effects on the body – yet it’s all about understanding what sugars to have, around what time and how they can benefit you. All things in moderation will always win!