Sugar is everywhere in your diet, whether you recognize it or not. Some bodybuilders believe this is a good thing, especially during the bulking phase, as it is easily stored and adds calories to foods. In reality, there are healthier ways to gain weight, and eating too much sugar can affect your health and actually hinder your progress. Although it may bulk you up quickly, you'll regret your sugar addiction when the cutting phase rolls around. It's best to limit your sugar intake year-round and add weight with more useful nutrients.
Sugar as Energy Source
Sugar is a source of energy. In fact, the carbohydrates you eat get broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is your body's main energy source. The body depends so heavily on sugar that it is very adept at breaking it down, and any sugar that's not immediately needed for fuel gets stored instead of excreted. Sugar's ability to pack on the pounds is a big reason it's such a major ingredient in weight-gainer shakes -- it adds loads of calories, and you'll definitely gain weight. The problem is that a diet with adequate carbs provides all the sugar your body needs. The added sugar you get from sweet foods and beverages is extra, and it conveys no benefit besides calories.
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The American Heart Association recommends that men limit their sugar intake to 9 teaspoons per day, and women to 6 teaspoons. To put it in perspective, a single can of soda can contain eight teaspoons of sugar, and you'll get more throughout the day from condiments, packaged foods and beverages. Many bodybuilders think they can safely eat more sugar because they consume more overall calories, but the AHA's guidelines apply to everyone -- sugar is not a nutrient, so your intake is not weight- or activity-dependent.
Bodybuilders like to use the "restocking glycogen" excuse for drinking a sugary shake after a tough workout. While sugars do provide the insulin spike that helps speed protein and carbs to your muscles to initiate repair, the sugar itself is unnecessary. If you use a sugar-free shake with the right mix of carbs and protein for your particular situation, your body will produce all the sugar it needs from the carbohydrates. In fact, a turkey sandwich on white bread may just be a better post-workout snack than the most expensive protein shake. Although whole-grain bread is better for general use, the white bread provides simple carbs that digest quickly and that your body can immediately turn into the sugar it needs, while the turkey provides the protein.
Bodybuilders who eat clean generally don't suffer as much deprivation during a cutting phase. One of the main tenets of clean eating is avoiding sucrose, or table sugar. That means getting all your sugar from fruits and other carbs, and buying only foods that are either sugar-free or labeled "no added sugar." The more you eat sugar, the more your body wants it, so making a clean break is one of the best things you can do for your body. Sugar alcohols are fine, and are common in sugar-free protein bars and shakes, and zero-calorie artificial sweeteners -- although not technically considered "clean" -- can suffice without wrecking your diet when an incurable sweet craving hits.