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Gotta’ Run: Too much sugar?

Last week, I got several wonderful replies from people who plan to get more vitamin D, either by spending increased time in the sun or with a supplement. By doing so, it’s likely that their health will improve. That one is an easy fix. Here’s another related effort worth considering.

One of the very first things I did when starting running many years ago was to make a decision to limit sugar. I read a cult book of sorts called Sugar Blues and was scared of what sugar would do to my body. Prior to this, I didn’t think about sugar much and was slowly gaining weight. By today’s terms, I would have been overweight. One Saturday afternoon, after losing out of softball tournament, I looked at my body and decided to make a change. I had a diabetic dad and a mother with various health problems. It was time. Well past time.

My first wife sometimes brought home bags of out-of-date candy from her workplace. I looked forward to those days. I ate my normal dinner meal, then more than a day’s worth of calories from those bags. Often, I fell asleep watching TV, then finally stumbled to bed and it seemed like every morning I woke up feeling worse. Good thing running came along when it did.

Sadly, running doesn’t make us immune from the detrimental health effects of eating too much refined sugar. The nearly 152 pounds of added sugar that each American consumes a year increases our risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and sleep disorders. That’s true whether you exercise or not.

Refined sweeteners “go right from your lips into your bloodstream,” says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That forces your body to process high levels of sugar fast, getting less efficient at this over time, which is why we become more susceptible to problems like diabetes as we age.

The World Health Organization says even healthy people, and most runners qualify, should trim their daily intake of added sugar to less than 25 grams per day. No need to avoid naturally sweet, whole foods like fruit, which have water, fiber, and/or protein that slow sugar’s path into your system. FDA food labeling guidelines that took effect earlier in 2020 require labels to list added sugar, making it easier to track. But even if we know how much sugar, included any natural and added sugar, it still isn’t easy to give up.

I’m one of those who believe that I should earn any sugary treats. I tell others to do the same thing, to research what type of workout it will take to cancel out the added calories. This works to a point but may not be the best approach. I’ve read a good bit recently on the best times to consume a sugary treat and have worked hard to make it happen. Runners get a short window of when eating sugar isn’t so bad. During and immediately after a workout, the body metabolizes sugar for fuel and replenishes muscle glycogen for recovery. Glycogen is that magic word that powers us through muscle activity. Two Pop-Tarts immediately following the end of my run are a special treat.

As for all other times, go easy. “The sugar that you eat when you’re sedentary is more likely to go to stored fat, once glycogen stores are full,” said Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., a sports nutritionist at Central Washington University.

Being aware of sugar intake and balancing it out are a sign of progress. More reason to read labels and begin to break bad food habits. Better sleep, increased mood and focus, plus the likelihood of losing some extra pounds is worth the effort. And one more benefit, eating less sugar often means that a smaller amount satisfies much more.

Next Saturday’s Ed Dupree 5K at East Rowan High School honors a long time runner, coach and Salisbury Post sportswriter. Check out this event and more at salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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