Does Sugar Give You Energy Boosts for Runs?
Sugar that comes from eating carbs gives your body the energy it needs for fuel.
Distance runners often find themselves looking for ways to fuel their runs. When you consider how to do that or fuel before a workout, food items containing sugar are often the top of many runners’ lists.
The question is: are those the best choices?
You probably know that carbohydrates are the fuel most runners use. All of the carbs that we eat, everything from processed foods like frozen waffles to natural carbs like sweet potatoes, are composed of sugars. Those sugars turn to glucose in our blood and then become glycogen. That glycogen is stored in our muscles and provides the fuel your body needs for aerobic activities like running or swimming.
To achieve your optimal level of performance in distance events such as running, most runners eat a diet high in carbohydrates to top off the muscle glycogen stores.
The simple carbohydrates high in glucose give your body the quick energy it needs before running, as the glucose is immediately stored in the muscles as fuel.
Sugar as a Pre-Run Fuel
It can be tricky to fuel your body for endurance. There are some good tricks of the trade that are true for most runners. When you are planning your pre-run meal or snack, you should pick foods that are easy to digest. Choosing a carbohydrate and then adding a bit of protein to it seems to be a popular combination for most runners.
Personally, I am a huge fan of sticking to real food carbohydrate sources when I can, rather than relying on snack bars and processed foods.
Ideas for a pre-run meal:
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Banana with almond butter
- Turkey on whole wheat bread or bagel
- Oatmeal with almond butter
- Toast with avocado
- Toast with nut butter spread
I try to take in around 200 calories the morning of a long run or race, with the majority of those calories coming from carbohydrates.
Fuel for During the Run
If you will be exercising more than 60 minutes, you probably need to consider taking some fuel in while you run. If you fail to do so, you can hit that dreaded wall.
What that means is you hit a figurative brick wall while running and suddenly run out of gas. As we have discussed, you need to keep glycogen in your body to keep it moving.
Most of the fuels that runners take into their bodies during long runs are processed sugar sources.
Some of those options include:
- Energy Gels: These gels are small packets of sugar, electrolytes, and sometimes caffeine. They are made to be easy to carry, quick to ingest, and easy to digest.
- Blocks or Bites: Another option is the same type of product but in a chew or block form. Some runners prefer these to the gels.
- Waffles: Waffles such as those made by Honey Stinger are more like a real food, and some people would rather have that option.
- Energy Bars: Finally, there are energy bars. These can get bulky and harder to carry, so they are not as popular during runs. Some brands, such as Clif Bars, are small, portable, and easy to carry.
Other runners avoid getting their fuel from processed foods such as those.
Options that are considered real food include:
- Sweet Potato Bites
- Banana Chunks
- Applesauce Packets
- Dried Fruit
- White Bread with Honey or Jam
Post Run Sugar: Yes or No?
Let’s face it; if you don’t have an idea what you will eat post-run, you may find yourself elbows deep in a chocolate cake. As they say, if you fail to plan… plan to fail. And no one wants to see that happen.
Post-run, you should try to get a carbohydrate and protein into your body within 30 minutes of finishing your run. If you decide ahead of time what that post-run meal will be, you are setting yourself up for success. Not only will you be adequately prepping your body to begin the recovery process, but you may also avoid eating a bunch of junk.
My favorite post-run meal is a lean chicken breast with roasted veggies. It is simple, easy on the stomach, and has plenty of nutrition. Sure, I might treat myself to a sweet treat after I have eaten my recovery food. But that shouldn’t be your whole meal.
If I have done a small or not taxing workout, I might have a protein shake for recovery. Lucky for all of us, protein shakes come in a multitude of great flavors. This is a choice that can allow you to have a treat and take in quality calories at the same time.
Everyday Sugar Crash: The Truth
For a moment, let’s step outside of the world of running and examine the afternoon slump that many of us fall victim to. When you feel yourself suddenly feeling fatigued, what do you find yourself reaching for? If you find yourself taking a walk down to the vending machine or reaching into that candy dish on your desk, you are not alone.
Many people incorrectly assume that consuming sugar will give them the burst of energy that they need to get through the rest of the day. Actually, new research shows that while eating a sugary treat may improve your disposition, it does not help improve your energy level.
Please don’t take this to mean that you will not benefit from sugar while working out. That fact still rings true.
We bring this up in a running blog because if you are feeling tired mid-afternoon and are tempted to skip your afternoon workout, don’t turn to simple sugar, thinking it will give you the boost you need. Your best choice is always to take in quality calories.
Does Sugar Give You Energy?
Are you still asking yourself, “does sugar give you energy?” The answer is yes, but not the kind you are thinking of.
Sugar that comes from eating carbs gives your body the energy it needs for fuel. Sugar in a fast form ingested while working out gives you the energy to keep moving.
Simple sugar taken in a vacuum in the hopes that it will put spring back in your step? Well, that might actually backfire.
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