by Dr. Ben Lerner
When it comes to the world of fitness, sugar may be the most overrated substance there is. Even in the presence of exercise, the basic rules of food and understanding its impact on your physiology still apply.
You’d be surprised how pervasive these nutritional misunderstandings are. In preparation for the 2012 Olympics, we worked with the U.S. weightlifting team. I went as one of their doctors to the U.S. Championships in Peoria, Illinois. Throughout my time with them, I saw Olympic-class weightlifters drinking “Powerade” and “Gatorade,” indulging in fried chicken sandwiches on white bread.
I was astounded. Sure, if you’re in the second hour of a marathon, then your body probably needs glucose. If you’re running a 10k or even working out intensely for a several minutes, you could argue for the need of carbohydrates in your system.
But as a weightlifter, eating this way can only hurt your performance and sap your strength.
In fact, in just a few seconds, I can show you how sugar can dramatically hinder your athletic performance. It’s something I’ve done hundreds of times when speaking, to everyone from amateur to Olympic-level and professional athletes.
Here’s how it works: grab anyone in your home, have them hold their arm out, and try to push their arm down as they resist. Note their strength. With elite, strength-trained athletes, you won’t be able to push their arm down. You might even be able to do some pull-ups off of their arms.
Next, have them put half a teaspoon of sugar in their mouth, and re-test their arm strength.
Their arm will practically flop down.
Sugar is an anti-nutrient.
It’s “kryptonite” to athletic performance. The idea that sugar is needed for any type of performance beyond solving glucose and glycogen depletion in endurance and intense, multi-hour training is simply wrong.
That’s why trying to make an Olympic team while loading up on sugar-heavy “sports drinks” is a good way to find yourself watching the event from home. Not only is the sugar unnecessary, but it is actively hindering your attempts to reach your goals.
This leaves us with some very important questions: how do you best fuel your body when you’re working out? How can you stay at your best when in the throes of athletic competition? How can you exercise without setting off all of the inflammatory, aging, and weight-gaining principles behind carbohydrates in the diet?
The answers to all of these questions rest on a number of factors, including:
- Type of exercise
- Your personal fitness goals
- How often you exercise
- The intensity of your exercise
Once you grasp the principles of training low, you’ll begin to see how nutrition can work to keep your body moving towards your health goals.
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