Chicken or the Egg?

I have had a few debates with people since my last post “What do you eat on race day”. I would like to thank people for the questions and comments I am always happy to debate my point of you and your questions help to keep me on my toes. Keep the questions and comments coming! So based on some of the questions I wanted to further elaborate my overall goals when it comes to both triathlon and overall health and fitness.

The majority of the debate/questions topics are related to race performance and those questions can be summed up as; is sugar a necessary evil for great race day results?  But for me this question I am after is a lot like the, “which came first the chicken or the egg debate”? So what I want to know is: Do we need to consume sugar to be able to train hard and reach our maximum potential? Or is the question really, Do our current training methods and nutrition plans make us dependent on sugar? Or in simple terms, do we need sugar to train? Or, are we trained to eat sugar?

When I wrote about current race day nutrition practices I left out one key piece of information and it is, that both the pros and weekend-warriors alike, not only eat a lot of sugar race day, but their daily training nutrition is very similar to that of their race day nutrition. For me this is the key part of the debate and will help you to better understand my point of view. If sugar consumption were limited to just race day, then maybe (and that’s a BIG maybe) it would be OK. But unfortunately that is not the case. A typical triathlete/endurance athlete is “carbo loading” daily, on oatmeal, pastas, and breads. They drink sports drinks before, during, and after training and it is not uncommon for them to put in long runs or rides while also consuming multiple gel packs or powerbars. Nutrition has often been called triathlon’s fourth event, so for the majority of the athletes their nutrition stays constant.

I believe that the way conventional triathletes train makes them dependent on sugar. Our body is designed to burn fat as its primary fuel source (been this way for hundreds of thousands of years) and even the leanest of people have more then enough stored fat (potential energy) to fuel the body for extended periods of time. The problem is that by constantly fueling with sugar and processed carbohydrates many athletes never even burn fat as energy because they constantly have glucose in their blood stream. Both carbohydrates and sugar are converted to glucose in the body. When you have glucose in your body, your body releases insulin, which then tells your body to burn glucose for fuel instead of fat. So by constantly eating sugar before, during, and after workouts, even the hardest-training athletes burn very little if any fat for fuel and just like anything else, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, thus they “forget” how to use fat for fuel, making glucose the bodies preferred fuel.

I agree eating sugar could help by providing an instant energy source, its absorbed instantly, which is why sports drinks and gels have become so popular. But where I think we went wrong is the whole methodology of “if a little is good, then a lot must be even better”. I relate this to “The Fast and the Furious” movie (a classic…right?). Remember how the nitrous oxide gas (NOS) was used?  It was only used at the last minute for that quick boost in speed needed to win. The cars were not fueled or dependent on NOS for 99% of its functions, it was just used for that last burst of speed. Maybe that’s where sugar fits into endurance races, use only if needed during the final stretch of the race?

All I know is that since making the switch to a primal/paleo diet I have never felt better or been healthier. My overall goal is and will always be, overall health and fitness. I am not so much worried about triathlon results. I believe sugar is a poisonous substance and at the end of the day I am not willing to sacrifice my health for results. Make no mistake, I am not making an excuses if in the future I am beat by a sugar consuming athlete. I still have every intention of performing my absolute best at each an every race. I am also not making this a me versus the sugar-fueled athlete, this is about one thing and that’s me and my health and well-being.


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