Sugar: The Healthy Truths

Determine how much sugar you’re consuming — and its impact on your workouts.

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Whenever I’m talking to someone about his or her diet, one of the first things I ask about is sugar intake. Many people have no idea how much they’re consuming daily.

An easy way to find out is to download any calorie tracker and input your food intake for the day. Ideally, your sugar intake number should be somewhere between 40 to 60 grams per day, depending on your sex, activity level and body composition goals. The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake even further: 25 grams or 100 calories per day for women and 35 grams or 150 calories per day for men.

Excess sugar can cause your body to hold onto fat (especially at your midline), leave you feeling hungrier because of a spike in insulin levels and lead to a barrage of chronic illness down the line (high blood pressure and heart disease).

When carbohydrates (aka sugar) enter your bloodstream, your body releases insulin, which stimulates blood cells to convert it to energy. Timing high-carb foods around the window of your workout can be beneficial in delaying fatigue, allowing you to exercise for longer and promoting recovery.

Unlike fat and protein, sugar is broken down by the body right away. Unless you are a competitive athlete working out six hours per day, there is no reason to increase your sugar intake. Time your high-carb snack or meal (30 to 60 grams) one to three hours before a workout to promote fat loss and body composition changes.

These macronutrients will be used by the body first, as glucose is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Some of my favorite high-carb snacks not mentioned on the list below include rice cakes with jam, oats, Kodiak Cakes and Ezekiel bread.

Next time you reach for a snack, think about these common items that could be bringing excess sugar into your diet and could be contributing to a performance plateau or regression.

Flavored Yogurt

Brands of yogurt that taste like dessert usually have enough sugar to be one. Read the labels, and opt for low-sugar versions or plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit.

Bowl of colorful fruit - Natural sugar in fruit


Natural sugar is much better for you than refined sugar — but sugar is sugar, the body knows no difference. One to two servings a day is more than enough. Your body will process natural sugar and store it as excess fat, the same way it would a candy bar.

Flavored Coffee Drinks and Coffee Creamers

You may not believe how much sugar is in the beloved coffee drink you consume every morning. Your brain and body is so much more satisfied when you eat your calories rather than drink them.

Also, be wary of flavored coffee creamers and serving sizes. One tablespoon (or 15 milliliters) isn’t that much — four cups later and unmeasured pours could be potentially significant.

Low-Fat Products

Any product that boasts the label of “low-fat” but still retains its flavor needs to be putting something back in to compensate. Usually, if something is lower fat, the compensation is higher sugar.

Also, don’t be fooled by low-fat milk products. These products are processed and can have upward of 15 grams of sugar per serving.

Bowl of dried fruit - sugar in dried fruit

Dried Fruit

To make dried fruit, all the water must be removed. For example, half a cup of fresh cranberries has 2 grams of sugar, whereas the same serving dried has 37 grams or 9 tablespoons of sugar. Historically, dried fruit has been labeled a “healthy snack” when realistically it’s more like eating candy. Opt for fresh fruit, or use it as a topping.

Granola or “Healthy” Trail Mix

One cup of generic granola can contain upward of roughly 30 grams of sugar — almost enough sugar for the entire day. Use this food as more of a topping rather than the base of your meal.

Also, pay attention to serving sizes. The serving size of granola is about 28 grams on traditional nutrition labels, or roughly a quarter of a cup. Anything more than that can cause you to grossly exceed your daily sugar intake.

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