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How Does Sugar Affect Running?

by
author image Danielle DeSimone
Danielle DeSimone is a writer and sports nutritionist living in Point Pleasant, N.J. She holds a B.A. in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College and is currently a student of veterinary technology. As a freelance writer, DeSimone enjoys covering health, fitness and nutrition.
How Does Sugar Affect Running?
Not all sugar is created equal when it comes to sports performance. Photo Credit tycoon751/iStock/Getty Images

Runners work hard at their sport, logging endless miles of speedwork, hills and long runs. Many runners work just as hard to maintain proper nutrition for sports performance, avoiding foods such as fat and sugar. However, sugar is the body’s preferred source of fuel for running. Eating the right types of sugar can improve your performance and give you the energy you need to go the distance.

Running Requires Sugar

Running predominantly uses carbohydrates as fuel. All of the carbohydrates that we eat are composed of sugars that are first turned into glucose in our blood and then stored in our muscles as glycogen. Glycogen provides fuel for aerobic activities such as running. To run long distances and achieve optimal performance, runners must top off muscle glycogen stores by eating a diet high in carbohydrates.

Sugars for Best Performance

There are three main types of sugar: Monosaccharides, including fructose found in honey and galactose found in mik; disaccharides, including sucrose, a combination of glucose and fructose which composes table sugar; lactose, the sugar found in milk composed of glucose and galactose; maltose, a product of starch digestion; and polysaccharides, or starches. Simple carbohydrates high in glucose will give you quick energy before running, since glucose can immediately be stored in muscles as glycogen.

Prerun Fuel

How Does Sugar Affect Running?
Foods high in glucose, such as fruit, provide immediate glycogen to the muscles to fuel running. Photo Credit Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

Foods such as fruits, potatoes and grains are high in glucose and provide runners with immediate prerun energy. While whole grains are an important part of a runner’s diet, the fiber in whole grains may be hard for some runners to digest before a workout. Therefore, runners may prefer to stick to white bread, rice or pasta as a prerun meal. Pair your carbohydrates with a small amount of fat and protein, such as peanut butter, for added satiety to power through your run. Avoid unhealthy sugars such as cookies, cakes and high-fructose corn syrup as these sugars can adversely affect running performance.

When and How Much to Eat

The timing and size of the preworkout snack will differ slightly for every individual, but a good rule of thumb is to eat about 150 to 200 calories an hour before running. If you’re going to be running for more than an hour, you may choose to bring sports gels or chews. These products are high in simple sugars to fuel you on the run without upsetting digestion.

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