Monday, 24 February 2014

Sugar Free Running

A New Year and a new trend to follow. Newspapers and popular science publications have recently been waxing lyrical about the "evils of sugar"

I have been officially “sugar free” since the 1st January 2014. 

That means no refined sugar in my food, no “sweet” foods made up of simple carbohydrates – like honey or maple syrup and drastically reducing my fruit intake (I miss mangoes the most) – oh and definitely no fruit juices!

There are two questions I guess I need to answer in this running blog:

1.       Is it difficult?

2.       How is it affecting my running?


First of all I find it incredibly hard to do. Giving up sugar has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever given myself and continues to be difficult. I have a sweet tooth and I love chocolate. Confectionary is both a comfort when I’m stressed and it gives me energy when I’m at work.

The first problem is the energy level one. As far back as I can remember I have survived on sugar going from one energy hit to another through the day. Some of them have been “healthier” hits of fruit while others have been donuts and chocolate bars. But sugar – in one form or another has been my crutch. And so when I gave up sugar I found my energy levels crashing all the time and nothing to pick me up. At this point I should also say I have limited myself to one coffee in the morning as I quickly realised I would just be able to get through the sugar deficit by replacing it with a caffeine overload. (Replacing one addiction for another is not the answer)

It took my body just over a week to adjust. I was definitely not my best at work and at the end of each day I would just collapse and sleep. I would recommend anyone doing this should make sure they have a work period that isn’t too demanding. My energy levels are now great throughout the day.

While the physical need for sugar has gone the craving is as strong as ever (if not more so). I look longingly at chocolate and would love a slice of cake. I eat natural peanut butter to get through some of my weaker moments. Knowing my weaknesses I have also consciously given up bread, as a marathon runner I need my complex carbohydrates – oats, brown rice, wholemeal pasta – but if I allowed myself bread I know I would just get all the sugar I’m missing from bread.


But is it worth it I hear all the runners ask? Does it make you a better and faster runner?

The answer is a resounding “yes”.

First of all the weight has just dropped off. I have lost 3kg (6.6lbs in American money) in just over six weeks and I started off as a relatively athletic guy (188cm 76kg). I’m lighter on my feet and I can feel that lightness when I run.

More importantly on my longer runs I used to fuel them on a combination of caffeine and sugar. I would have an espresso twenty minutes before a run and a handful of jelly babies just before I set off (popping jelly babies along the way). This would be great for the first 10k as I headed off on a sugar caffeine high and popping gels or candy along the way. After 10k my energy levels would eventually crash as my body was used to receiving a sugar hit every time my body was under stress in normal life.

Now I’m teaching my body to function without constant sugar hits it isn’t expecting one after an hour  and my longer runs have been a lot better. To be honest I won’t really know until I do my next marathon but I’m feeling stronger in my training runs.


I try not to write about training and the actual mechanics of running too much in this blog and so that begs the question why I am breaking my rule and writing about diet, exercise and how to be a better runner. The fact is as we head into the cold dog days of winter that are better known as February my resolve is weakening. I can feel my sugar cravings getting stronger and the novelty of being sugar free is wearing thin just as the demands and stresses of work are growing. A combination that would usually have me reaching for the sugary treats. By writing this blog post I am hoping that the peer pressure, and associated shame if I renage on my very public declaration of what I am doing will keep me on the striaght and narrow.

Being the best runner I can be is a challenge. It is a challenge I rise to four to five times a week when I lace up my running shoes Over the last month I’ve discovered to be a good runner my diet is also a challenge. What I put in my stomach can matter just as much as the miles I clock up.

(The picture today is of a giant 1lb Chocolate Reese's Peanut Butter Cup it has over 3,000 calories - or to put it another way the same amount of energy of running an entire marathon!)

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