Sugar, especially in the CrossFit world, gets a bad rap. For the most part, rightfully so: It’s an addictive substance that’s overused in many of the packaged products we consume. Just ask CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman for more.
However, simple sugars can have their time in the sun if consumed at the right time during a workout session. They provide a quick energy source and can prevent your body from breaking down muscle glycogen to release the energy it needs to keep pushing in your training.
You may have already seen fellow lifters and gym-goers downing jelly beans, gummy worms and even sugary drinks like Gatorade during a session. The reasoning behind this is that simple carbs (versus complex carbohydrates like those in oatmeal or potatoes), enter the bloodstream very quickly. Your body uses glucose (sugar) in the blood for energy. Simple sugars don’t have to be broken down as much as their complex counterparts. So, energy is readily available, and those exercising for at least an hour or intensely can experience a performance boost.
You may not have thought of it this way, but a strenuous workout puts your body under stress in the same way an illness or a scary situation would. Therefore, your immune system responds accordingly, sending out immune cells to your lungs and extremities. Holding steady blood sugar levels reduces this response, keeping your body regulated and better able to push hard in your training session.
While in the end, all simple carbs are processed similarly in the body, there are many options for intra-workout carbs. Ideally, you’re looking for 30-60 grams of simple carbohydrates in a 60-90 minute workout window. Grab a couple packs of your kids’ fruit snacks, a handful of jelly beans or, mix Gatorade into your protein powder. If you’re truly looking to avoid sugar, there are performance carbohydrate alternatives that come in a powdered form and are sugar free.
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Photo credit: @cpullphotos. Taken at the 2018 BoxLife Games