In the US, physical activity guidelines include getting at least 150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and doing muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. It takes dedication and planning in order to make this happen, but the mental and physical health benefits are immense. One thing you may be doing that undermines these goals, however, is eating too much sugar. Not only does sugar consumption undermine your weight loss goals, but it could also be impacting your exercise routine.
We know that blood sugar levels that are increased by eating refined sugars can cause energy crashes, and low energy equals low motivation. You need energy not only to sustain workouts, but also to sustain the desire to push yourself hard and actually experience progressive overload. Too much sugar in your diet can leave you without the energy to reach your exercise goals.
Kill Your Motivation Sugar addiction can be a vicious cycle of eating sugar to feel better, feeling worse instead, craving more sugar, eating it and feeling even worse, and spiraling downward unless the cycle is broken. This impacts your self-esteem, beliefs that you are capable and in control, and feelings of self-worth. It can also kill your motivation to even begin your workouts.
If you don’t feel good, getting up and following through with exercise goals is very, very difficult. If you’ve ever experienced the “gross” feeling of binging on too much sugar, you know that the last thing you feel like doing is moving and sweating. In the long term, this can result in decreased levels of physical activity and worsened health.
Eating Sugar Interferes with Proper Hydration
Proper hydration levels are necessary for effective exercise. Dehydration can lead to increased core temperature and heart rate and diminished mental function and physical performance. Sugar can impact hydration levels, both directly and indirectly.
High blood sugar can lead to dehydration, since it stimulates your kidneys to increase urination. The more simple sugars you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be, causing dehydration via excessive urination. In addition, people who reach for sugary sodas rather than water throughout the day are more likely to be chronically dehydrated and less optimized for regular exercise.
Fueling Endurance Exercise
For any endurance exercise (sessions of running, cycling, swimming, hiking, or other cardio that last longer than 60 minutes), you need to be fueled properly in order to maintain function. This includes the foods you eat a few hours before or during your exercise as well as the foods you eat over time that build up the stores inside your body. Simple sugars get digested quickly and contain very few vitamins and other nutrients, making them a poor source of sustained energy and less than ideal for building up your body’s nutrient stores.
Another major issue with sugar consumption is how it affects your digestive tract. Most sugary treats contain both high levels of refined sugars as well as fats in the form of chocolate, caramel, nuts, dairy, etc. This combination can wreak havoc on your gut if you exercise soon after consumption. Cramps, gas, bloating, and even constipation or diarrhea can result, ruining your workout (and your mood).
Flipping It Around
While eating sugar can have a negative impact on your exercise habits, exercise is an excellent tool for regulating blood sugar, curbing cravings, increasing energy and motivation, and otherwise counteracting many different health problems. Decreasing your sugar consumption and increasing your physical activity level is an excellent recipe for improved health, inside and out.