Someone asked an interesting question the other day about sugar and more specifically, honey. They asked:
“I read that I should have some sugar before a workout to give me more energy and “fuel” for my muscles, is this true? This expert stated that I should have natural sugar, such as honey. This makes sense, but I wanted to get your opinion Dr. Sam”
Sure, I can understand how “fuel for your muscles” before a workout makes sense.
But, not when it comes in sugar. And it doesn’t make a difference if it’s artificial white table sugar or “natural” sugar such as honey, fruit, or fruit juice, or agave nectar or anything similar.
At the end of the day, sugar is sugar.
And whether your goal is to gain muscle, or lose fat, or simply be as healthy as possible, you MUST manage your blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Keep in mind that “natural sugars” such as Agave Nectar, similar to honey, contains high amounts of fructose – which is fruit sugar, which goes mainly into your liver.
Unfortunately, your liver has low amounts of storage capabilities. Only about 25 grams or 100 calories of fructose, before liver glycogen, has hit its “limit”. Then it “spills over” and gets stored as body fat.
Thus, you need to limit sugars, especially fructose because it can get stored as body fat quickly.
In fact, let me simplify things a little bit.
When you consume carbohydrates, they’re stored in the body in two forms or types.
- Liver glycogen – which is from fructose (fruit sugar, honey, nectars, etc.)
- Muscle glycogen – which is from starches (rice, bread, legumes, etc.)
Again, I’m oversimplifying things, but you get the point.
Now, the main difference is the AMOUNT of “carbs” you can store and thus, should eat.
As stated earlier, your liver can typically store only about 25 grams or 100 calories of fructose, before it “spills” over and gets stored as body fat.
However, muscle glycogen has a lot more storage room. You have a lot more muscle.
And the more muscle you have, the more starches/carbs you can consume, especially when compared to the small amounts of liver glycogen – which again, is about 25 grams / 100 calories.
So, you want to make sure your muscle glycogen has enough fuel for your workouts, which should come ideally from starches and complex carbs – such as rice, bread, and similar foods.
However, you also want to keep your blood sugar stable before a workout so that you don’t crash and get tired. So I suggest a solid meal about 1-2 hours before your workout – proteins, carbs, and small amounts of fats.
Something easy to digest. You don’t want to be bloated during your workout.
For example, chicken, white rice, and small amounts of fat – such as fish oil, coconut or MCT, flaxseed oil, and so forth.
By the way, this can be a small meal, it doesn’t have to be big. Of course, this all depends on your goals, your workout, metabolism, and so forth.
Way too many variables to list here. I’m just giving you a simple example.
Now, AFTER your workout, you also want to replenish and fill up your glycogen levels that were depleted from the exercise.
However, this time you want to do BOTH – muscle AND liver glycogen.
You may have a liquid shake/drink or another solid meal. Again, some starches and complex carbs and protein. However, NOW you can ALSO have small amounts of fructose, to quickly fill up your liver glycogen.
Now you can add in some fruit or honey if you prefer.
So you’re eating a larger amount of your daily carbohydrates before and after your workout. IF you’re trying to gain extra muscle, you can continue eating more carbs the rest of the day.
Or if your goal is to lose fat, then simply limit or avoid carbs the rest of the day.
However, in both scenarios, NO more fructose since you already filled up your liver glycogen with the fructose after your workout (fruit, honey, etc).
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrates – IF you know how much to take, what kind, and when.
Your goal is and should always be to improve your blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. This will result in:
- More muscle
- Less body fat
- More energy
- And a much healthier life!
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