Running on sugar: the facts

Sugar has a bad rep, but use it wisely and you could get the running results you crave.

Running on sugar: the facts

Long run elixir

Essential food for runners, carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. When you run for longer than 90-minutes your glycogen stores become depleted and your muscles hold less energy. If you don't top up your energy stores quickly, you will be at serious risk of hitting the wall. And if this occurs on race day, your PB dreams will fall by the wayside and you might find you have to drop out.

This is where sugar comes to the rescue. During a race, your body needs quick release energy to stay fuelled, so topping up your energy stores with a sugar fix is the key to going the distance.

Race day fuel

Gels, bars and drinks are a fast way to restore the energy in your system and provide a much needed boost. If you time it right, a quick hit should keep you going throughout your race. Eating a sugary substance every 45-60 minutes is recommended, but like anything within the world of running, what fuel you take and when will be individual to you.

Most runners opt for jelly babies, bananas or energy bars, so start experimenting and find out what works for you well in advance of race day. If you're offered any new gels or foods on race day, opt for a polite no thank you, unless you fancy playing a digestive gamble.

For more race day nutrition tips, click here

The sugar train

Sugar and simple carbohydrates can aid your athletic performance, but it's important not to go overboard. Stuffing your face with too much sugar can lead to nausea and potentially halt your race if you need to be sick at the side of the road.

Your body can only cope with a finite amount of glucose before it overloads, and when you exert yourself through high-impact exercise your stomach will either slow down or shut off completely while your blood pumps to your muscles, making digestion difficult. 

Stick to small handfuls of sweets, one bar, or one gel every 45-60 minutes and see how you feel. It's also worth noting that a sugar high is usually followed by a sugar low, so you need to ride the sugar train and keep your stores topped up throughout the race. 

For more marathon fuelling tips, click here

Post-run refuel 

After your race, it's important to replenish your glycogen stores within the hour. The simple nature of sugars makes them the perfect replenishment for your glycogen stores, especially when mixed with high GI foods. A healthy fruit smoothie is a quick, easy option you can prepare in advance and a good opportunity to provide your body with a mixture of both carbohydrates and proteins.

After your next long run, try our banana protein smoothie with an added 50g of oats. 

The 80/20 rule

Yes, sugar can help you to keep your energy levels up during a long run or race, but it's important to consider the affects on your health. Too much sugar can cause rapid weight gain, digestive problems, and can even lead to type 2 diabetes.

If in doubt, the 80/20 rule is a good one to follow, where 80 per cent of the time you follow a healthy diet, and the extra 20 percent is spent giving yourself a break from the diet, and long distance training can sit within this. So ride that sugar train when you need to, but try to keep a sweet-toothed balance.

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