How – and why – to bin the sugar

We explain why triathletes should ditch the processed sugar from their diet, and how to do it

Bin the sugar

Trying to clean up your diet by cutting out sugar? Read on for our experts’ tips on how to do it, both within meals (that is, what food to avoid) and within sports nutrition while training or racing…


Removing processed or refined forms of sugar is certainly beneficial to health and numerous research studies support this (says nutritionist Lucy-Ann Prideaux). Excess sugar intake has been linked to an increased risk and incidence of blood sugar disorders such as insulin resistance and diabetes, as well as metabolic syndrome and of course obesity.

The best place to start is to remove ‘noticeable’ sugars such as the sugar or syrups that you add to drinks such as coffees and shakes. This is the easy part as the sugar is visible. However, it’s not so easy when it comes to removing hidden sugars.

Firstly, choose more fresh food over packaged alternatives. Begin to get savvy about reading food labels, especially on packaged foods such as breakfast cereals, biscuits, yoghurts and ready meals.

Choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. Good examples include a homemade muesli instead of a commercial granola, or natural yoghurt and fresh fruit in place of commercial fruit yoghurts. Look more towards whole forms of carbohydrates, which will also help you turn your attention to healthy forms of ‘sugar’ or energy.

Move away from ready meals and think about foods such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, sweet potato, puy lentils, wild rice and vegetables as accompaniments to grilled fish or lean meats.

Try choosing fresh fruits in preference to fruit juices or fruit-based drinks and canned drinks, and supplement with some healthy snacks such as oatcakes, raw nuts, seeds and some dried fruits.


This is a tricky one because virtually all nutrition designed to be taken during training and racing is formulated with sugars or compounds that are closely related to sugars (writes sports scientist Andrew Hamilton). The reason is is that during exercise your muscles need a constant supply of glucose.

The easiest way of providing glucose is to consume drinks or gels that can be rapidly absorbed and which supply glucose or carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, which can be rapidly broken down into glucose.

Of course it’s possible to consume starchy, sugar-free carbs during exercise such as pasta, bread, etc. but they break down and release their energy relatively slowly. Also, if you’re exercising very hard, consuming whole starchy foods, even those that are virtually fat-free, may cause gastric problems such as cramps and bloating.

This explains why studies have consistently found that using carbohydrate drinks and gels based on simple sugars and related compounds produce the greatest performance gains during exercise.

So, while it’s true that sugar in your day-to-day diet is best avoided, this is not really an issue during (and immediately after) prolonged exercise. Having said that, some people who are very sensitive to blood-sugar swings find that quick-releasing energy products such as carb drinks and gels can cause energy spikes and crashes.

One solution is to select energy products that provide a more gentle release of energy, yet are still rapid enough to help fuel muscles during exercise. If this is something that’s an issue for you, look for products containing ‘waxy maize starch’ or ‘palatinose’, both of which can help avoid blood-sugar swings.

(Images: Lauri Andler / Remy Whiting /


Are you trying to cut sugar from your diet? How’s it going? Let us know in the comments!