This is going to upset a hell of a lot of “bro-sciencers” out there – I mean, we all know sugar causes us to gain fat don’t we?
Now, standby for this to blow your mind a little bit and I’m going to do my best to show you the data to make this VERY clear.
This article was originally written by Dr Layne Norton PHD and I’ve done my best to arrange it into nice simple terms.
Firstly, Sugar has been associated with obesity, heart disease and cancer. Many fitness research pro’s actually recommend reducing sugar intake to lead a healthy lifestyle and improve body composition.
But what if we said, is it ACTUALLY the sugar itself, or more the extra calories it brings in to a diet?
See, this is the thing, people can easily consume 2 cans of coke on any given day, I mean, its pretty simple.
But what they don’t realise is they just added 300-400 calories in their diet that day, which probably won’t be accounted for, hence we now have an increase in calories to contend with.
Moreover, those calories are known as “empty” calories – basically, they provide minimal satiation or nutritional value. Essentially meaning you’re eating more calories and not feeling full up from them, you better believe that is a recipe for weight gain.
A 2001 study published in International Journal of Obesity followed overweight subjects whose diets derived either 10 or 5 percent of calories from sucrose. On a 2,000-calorie diet, this would be the difference between 50 and 25 grams of sugar per day.
The eight week study showed there were no significant differences in weight loss or BMI.
In fact, the high-sugar group lost about 1-1/2 pounds more, but this effect was almost irrelevant.
This finding triggered a huge six-month study on more than 300 people, in which the participants noticed no differences in weight loss or body composition with a diet higher in sugar versus a diet lower in sugar—as long as calories, protein, and fibre were the same.
A further study published in the University of Minnesota’s Journal of Nutrition then published another study. For the first 12 weeks of the study, the participants had every meal they consumed prepared by the university. After the 12 weeks, the subjects were told to continue the diet on their own for 24 more weeks on their own. Each group lost the same amount of weight and body fat—regardless of how much sugar they consumed
Ok, so it seems to not have much effect on weight loss, but what about gaining weight?
A year-long study in the International Journal of Obesity found no differences in post-diet weight regain with a low-sugar versus high-sugar diet.
So as mind-blowing as this may seem – all this data suggests that differences in weight gain or loss results more from an increase in calories overall, rather than sugar consumption specifically. If overall calories are controlled, there is no difference in fat loss. Even the most spoke about and hated of sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, has been demonstrated not to impede fat loss or improvements in blood lipids when calories are controlled.
Take home point – Sugar is not really to blame much at all, but the increased calories it brings in are!
But what about athletes?
One criticism that might be levelled at this data is that most of it is done in obese people and not athletes or body builders. OK fair point, except, wait a minute….
Obese people often have compromised levels of insulin sensitivity and lower glucose tolerance, meaning they don’t efficiently handle glucose compared to an individual with greater insulin sensitivity. If anyone would be unable to lose weight on a diet higher in sugar, it would be these individuals.
Athletes and active people generally have significantly improved levels of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance compared to the average population. Therefore, even if sugar was inherently more lipogenic—which it’s not, based on the data just presented—athletes and those who engage in resistance training would be the people best-equipped to tolerate it.
By now, I’m sure many of you are ready to scream and shout at me for my ruining of all your beliefs.
However, the data suggests that sugar isn’t the demon many of us have been led to believe. It can be incorporated into a healthy diet, and you can still lose fat and progress towards your goals. But it does come with several drawbacks.
First, it’s definitely not very filling, so it can be easier to overeat than more fibrous veg – I mean, I can eat 3 snickers bars in one sitting quite comfortably, but ask me to eat 750 calories of potato in one go, and that becomes more difficult. Also consider, if you are dieting quite harshly are low on calories, it’s going to be hard to make any sugary foods fit into your macro nutrient goals while still consuming enough fibre. Always keep this in mind!
Put another way, if you’re a 120-pound bikini competitor consuming less than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day, it’s probably not appropriate to get over half of those carbs from sugar. Sugar has a smaller impact on feeling full up, when compared to low-glycemic index carbohydrates, and when calories are low, hunger will already be high. This just makes things harder!
But if you have a good metabolism, you’re taking things steady, or you’re consuming a lot of calories, there’s no reason you can’t incorporate a reasonable amount of sugar into your diet and still progress towards your goals.
Overeating on sugar is the same as overeating on anything – it will always have an adverse effect. But if you can work things out, be rational in your decisions and make the right choices, there is no reason to treat sugar as the devil.