A big perk of eating a whole-food and plant strong diet is redeveloping your palate and breaking the sugar craving cycle. As your taste buds recover, your sugar cravings decrease. However, this doesn’t always come without side effects or setbacks. Using a few strategic foods and nutrients can help the transition.
Chia Pudding Breakfast Bowl: Low Sugar
For runners, sugar (the simplest form of carbohydrate) can offer some performance advantages, such as quickly digested fuel for working muscles. However quantity, type and timing are essential for any sugar intake to be classified as either: 1) Functional or 2) Indulgent.
Your intake needs on rest/recovery days will differ from active/training days. I personally try and stick between 30-40g of sugar per day (with most of this intake surrounding activity). Increases to this intake range are a result of longer duration activity (60mins plus). This is a key difference between eating to run…and running to eat. I use sugar functionally vs using it as a reward…
Functional sugars are consumed with purpose. For runners, the purpose is to supply glycogen to your muscles to prevent breakdown of muscle tissue, and to spend the least amount of energy and time absorbing your fuel (as sugars are “quick release”).
Because sugar is quickly digested, it is best consumed within the timing range of 30 minutes before your run, and up to 30 minutes after (based on the rate of digestion for sugar, and the needs of your working muscles). Beyond this window, your body will store versus utilize the sugars you consume. This would become non functional (indulgent) sugar intake, and is a threat to achieving your racing weight, or maintaining a good strength to weight ratio during the off-season.
Having said this-if your Mom makes you special cupcakes for your birthday, don’t stress about the occasional non-functional treat. I believe if you are going to indulge share the treat with friends and family, and celebrate a special moment. Just don’t find an EXCUSE to celebrate every day…
My biggest fan, my Mum. Race expo at the Rock n Roll Marathon in New Orleans
Fructose and glucose are two of the most common forms of sugar that runners will consume, and luckily both forms can be from minimally processed, natural, whole-food based sources. This means while you may be consuming sugar, you are also consuming additional nutrients, and it all has a purpose if you are using it to fuel your training. For example, raw honey contains enzymes helpful in digestion, and yacon syrup contains pre-biotics which are the primer for healthy bacteria in your gut (they are part of maintaining a healthy balance of intestinal flora which plays a role in immune function and nutrient absorption amongst other benefits).
Intake amounts will vary by athlete (metabolism, body weight, duration of activity), generally though carbohydrate consumption should be around 30g in the 30 min window before training, and consuming around 30g for each subsequent hour of exercise (i.e. consuming 30g of carbohydrate mid-way through a half marathon race). Sugar should be the primary form of carbohydrate consumed, especially mid workout, based on the rate of digestion (compared to fiber).
Some of the Eat2Run approved sugar and sweetener sources, best consumed functionally in pre/post run snacks and drinks, or mid-run gels and drinks, include:
- Maple syrup (primarily glucose)
- Raw-unpastuerized honey (glucose)
- Coconut sugar (fructose)
- Raw agave syrup (fructose)
- Yacon syrup (fructose and fructo-oligosacharidde prebiotic fiber)
- Natural jams, fresh or dried fruit (fructose)
- Whole grain brown rice syrup (glucose)
- Molasses (use sparingly as it is more refined than the above sources. A potential addition to a post run smoothie or granola bowl, as it contains iron)
Note: There are structural differences between fructose and glucose. We metabolize glucose in cells throughout our body and use it for energy (unless we are sedentary and then it is non functional). Fructose is metabolized by the liver and converts more easily to liver fat, which in excess can be a health threat. This reinforces why sugar consumption in relation to exercise is more beneficial than sugar consumption for indulgence.
When you are not gearing up or recovering from a run, it’s time to scale back our intake and manage our cravings (if we haven’t yet kicked them).
Eat2Run Tips for Reducing Sugar Cravings:
- Eat a whole foods based diet. As your taste buds adjust to less sugar intake, you will find whole foods begin to offer a greater complexity of flavors, and take on a natural sweetness. Especially root veggies! A carrot may just be your new best friend.
- Chromium: a 200 mcg supplement of this trace mineral plays a role in improving your bodies ability to metabolize sugars, improve insulin uptake (helping to normalize blood sugar levels), and aid in craving reduction. This mineral can be supplemented or found naturally in whole grains, seafood, vegetables and herbs.
- Cinnamon: one of my favorite spices, proven in several human trials to help stabilize blood sugar to decrease cravings, lower LDL cholesterol, and improve circulation. Concentrated cinnamon supplements are available, however adding to daily meals and snacks can also provide benefits.
- Oils and fats: Improve satiety and reduce the urge to binge eat with adequate intake of beneficial fats and oils. All oils are best when unrefined, cold pressed if possible, and stored in non-plastic containers. Increase your intake of inflammation reducing omega 3 oils such as: flax, hemp, walnut or pumpkin seed oils (not safe to heat), or incorporate the heat stable thermogenic coconut oil for light frying and sauteing. If you are craving something sweet, try a spoonful of almond butter!
- The art of distraction: Keep occupied as you wean yourself from a sugar addiction. Throw snowballs or a Frisbee (depending on your climate!), go to a yoga class, brush your teeth, call a friend, or write an email.
- Keep well hydrated. Hunger is often dehydration in disguise. Herbal tea is great for this purpose too, and teas which contain licorice root can actually offer you a sweet sensation while also supporting intestinal health.
- Adequate shut eye, to keep your energy and stamina (aka willpower!) high
- Stevia: If you still crave a sweet sensation, perhaps in hot cocoa or a (chia/avocado) pudding, try stevia. Based from a leaf with incredibly sweet properties (without any calories), stevia does not spike your blood sugar as true sugar would. Commonly crystalized for easy use, you can find the ground whole leaf in most natural food stores or through an online distributor.
Low Sugar Snack Ideas for Runners:
Roasted, seasoned cauliflower dipped in hummus makes a great snack!
- Gluten free crackers (read your labels to check for sugar content) and raw cheese, or goat cheese (lactose free)
- Celery sticks with almond butter, sprinkled with goji berries, sesame or hemp seeds
- Almond yogurt (unsweetened) with cinnamon, and walnuts/pecans (stevia if you need it)
- Baked veggies (beets, carrots, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts) dipped in hummus or baba ganoush (eggplant dip)
- Avocado/guacamole with Non GMO corn chips
- Small bowl plain oatmeal with cinnamon and mixed nuts (stevia if needed)
- Protein shake (natural whey or multi-source plant proteins) with unsweetened almond milk
- Smoked salmon on toast, or in between slices of cucumber or zuchinni (instead of crackers)
- Small portion of dinner leftovers
What has helped you lower your sugar intake?