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Sugar: The Good And Bad

If I could eat candy-corn dipped In maple syrup all day long, I would. I have a sweet tooth like you wouldn't believe. And once I have a bite I can't stop the next. And the next. And you know where that leads.

Why? Because sugar makes you crave more sugar even if you're full. Sugar is addictive. Literally. Sugar triggers the release of neurotransmitters and stimulates brain activity the same way that drugs do.

Sugar is a category of simple carbohydrates. Many types of sugar have been linked to Type-2 Diabetes, obesity, higher risks of cancer, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disorder and physiological changes.

My maternal grandfather was a professional baseball player who had diabetes and eventually had both legs amputated. Not much was known about Type-2 Diabetes at the time but the link to blood sugar levels was clear enough.

So naturally, I need to be careful.

There are a number of forms of sugar found in food. Here's a quick list:

  • Glucose (also known as dextrose)

  • Fructose -- Considered a “low glycemic" sugar because it is digested in the liver rather than triggering insulin. Nonetheless, fructose has been linked to metabolic disorders and increased obesity rates

  • Sucrose (table sugar) -- Composed of equal parts glucose and fructose molecules

  • Maltose and lactose

And then there's High Fructose Corn Syrup. High fructose corn syrup is made from naturally occurring corn syrup's primary sugar (glucose) which is then converted to fructose through an acid enzyme process. The result is a very sweet, very inexpensive sugar that has an extremely high glycemic index (meaning that it triggers a quick and immense physiological reaction including the release of very high levels of insulin) and often times provides unnecessary amount of calories simultaneously. Studies link this to diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, cancer and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that damage cells throughout the body.

I urge you to avoid high fructose corn syrup whenever possible!

But in the world of bodybuilding, some sugars are useful. In particular, glucose (also known as Dextrose) and glucosamine are important sources of speedy replenishing of energy in muscle-cells, which is why glucose is given intravenously in hospitals. Glucosamine is an amino sugar and a precursor in the biochemical synthesis of glycosylated proteins and lipids. That energy is needed for muscle repair/growth. Many people, myself included, find it helpful to have dextrose powder added to our post-workout protein shakes.

A quick aside on how our knowledge has changed through scientific research: Glucosamine was initially thought to be unhealthy for everyone. In fact, it was seen as having a negative impact on insulin sensitivity but in more recent scientific studies it was found that glucosamine is not dangerous for individuals who do not have diabetes, do not have insulin sensitivities, or have their diabetes under control. However, you still need to maintain control. You can't go hog-wild on glucose or glucosamine.

Here's what I do to keep myself on the straight and narrow:

  • Don't take that first bite of candy. If I need a sugar fix I eat a complex carbohydrate instead.

  • Fruit juice isn't healthy, despite what Joan Cleaver (and your parents) said. I don't give it to my kids even if it's "100% natural."

  • I take pride in reducing my sugar intake. And preach it. Yes, your friends and family may get sick of hearing it, but talking about how unhealthy it is will help to reinforce it with you, as well.

  • I use natural alternatives like Truvia and Splenda in my coffee.

And sorry to say, most "sugar free" soda isn't much better and in some cases may even be worse for you.

Read my article on artificial sweeteners.

I guess I'm a bit of a Debbie-Downer, but if you want to be healthy you need to eat healthy.

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