Sugar and runners

It is no secret we have an innate preference for sweet foods, starting with all-natural breast milk. Kids, more than adults, enjoy sweetness. However, as we age, taste buds lose their ability to perceive sweetness. Perhaps you have noticed your parents adding extra sugar to their coffee to achieve a desired level of sweetness? These extra sugar calories can become problematic for unfit folks who might have (pre-) diabetes.

Sugar sends a positive message to our brain and excites our reward system. (That helps explain why ceasing to eat sugar can feel like withdrawal). Artificial sweeteners do not create a big "reward" for the brain; hence they feel less "addictive".

All living species - apart from cats - are attracted to sweets. Hungry athletes, in particular, tend to enjoy sweet stuff, too. While little is wrong with the occasional dessert, some athletes enjoy way too many sugar-laden foods, including those sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. The question arises: Is high fructose corn syrup health-erosive and to be avoided?

To date, research indicates that at normal intakes (research is often done with abnormally high intakes), high fructose corn syrup should not be of concern. It is not inherently fattening, nor inflammatory. Any inflammation associated with high fructose corn syrup can be traced to obesity. Obesity triggers the inflammation found in heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

If you are a lover of soft drinks, sweet tea and other high fructose corn syrup beverages, you might be left wondering if you should quit drinking the sugary stuff and opt for diet beverages instead? Controversy surrounds the topic of artificial sweeteners: Do they increase sweet cravings? Contribute to fat gain? Cause cancer? According to Dr. Jim Hill, of the University of Colorado and a principal researcher for the National Weight Control Registry (a study of more than 10,000 people who have lost more than 30 pounds and have kept it off for more than a year), the dieters who drank sugar-free soda reported it helped them manage their weight.

A review of all the research on diet soda and weight concludes:

1. Diet soda does not lead to weight gain in humans. Rather, the studies indicate diet soda is associated with either weight loss or weight maintenance (i.e., lack of weight gain).

2. Diet soda does not contribute to adverse health effects or inflammation. Even the American Cancer Society places no limitation on sugar substitutes. (Rather, they suggest a high sugar intake can promote obesity and that places people at a higher risk for cancer.)

3. To date, no scientific findings recommend against diet soda. (Science changes, as we know.) Hence, if desired, artificial sweeteners can be one tool in a dieter's weight-management toolbox and part of a healthy eating plan that preaches balance and moderation with all foods.

The bottom line: to add years to your life, and life to your years, eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants. You can balance in some sugary foods, as long as 85-90% of your calories are from nutrient-rich wholesome foods. While artificial sweeteners can save a few calories, the better bet, is to abate cravings for sweets by enjoying satiating, high quality meals earlier in the day that prevent afternoon and evening cravings for sweets.

Credits - would like to thank Nancy Clark for the permission to reprint the article "Sugar and artificial sweeteners: Aye or Nay?" by Nancy Clark. Text © by Nancy Clark. Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes in the Boston-area (tel. 617-795-1875). The updated 6th edition of her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook (2019) can help you eat wisely and well, and is available at For her popular online workshop, visit

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