Endurance Athletes Need Not Fear Sugar

Probably the most exhausting questions I am frequently asked regarding endurance nutrition are related to the amount of sugar consumed during, and immediately after endurance exercise.

My response, although long and boring, always ends the same…


endurance athletes need not fear sugar

I understand the reason for the question, as there has been plenty of publicity on the negative health consequences of excess sugar at rest.  However, I’m always surprised when I receive questions and concerns from other ultra-runners about consuming sugar during or after endurance activity.

We’ve all heard it – “I can’t believe they drink Coke during a race!”  Or “you’re going to get diabetes taking in all that sugar.”  “That must be SOOOOO unhealthy.”  As an R.D. and ultra-runner, I’ve heard this stuff a bunch.  Yet, if an athlete reaches for a Gatorade, the same people often think, “good call.” But, both Coke and Gatorade are full of simple sugars, Gatorade simply has some electrolytes thrown in there as well.

Am I saying they are both bad?  Not at all.  I am saying that they are both fine.

Remember what context these things are being talked about – fueling endurance exercise OR replenishment immediately following endurance exercise.  We aren’t talking about eating junk food while binging on your favorite T.V. series.  I’m saying endurance athletes need not fear sugar during and immediately after endurance exercise.

So, what’s the rationale behind all this sugar in endurance sport?  The rationale is the science of optimal endurance fueling and recovery.

Added sugar is one of the main components of a good endurance fuel, it’s also one of the main components of a good endurance recovery formula.

The reason people are drinking that Coke during an ultra, long training session, or another endurance event is because those simple sugars are an effective way of preventing glycogen depletion.  Additionally, drinking a Coke after an endurance workout can be a very satisfying way of replenishing glycogen.  In both cases, I would recommend more, but that’s beside the point.  The point is the added sugar is not harming them, and is even helping them, because of the TIMING that the sugar is ingested.

The goal of endurance fueling is pretty obvious – fueling endurance activity.  Basically, delaying the total depletion of glycogen.low glycogen

The primary goals of recovery (for the endurance athlete) in the 30-minutes following endurance exercise (high intensity and/or 90+ minutes) are to 1) replenish glycogen, 2) halt muscle breakdown, 3) promote muscle synthesis, and 4) replenish what was lost (rehydrate, electrolytes, zinc, etc).

Many people fall into the “sugar is bad, mmmm k”, trap.  What most don’t understand is that your body processes and utilizes sugar much differently during and immediately after endurance exercise than it does at rest.  This is not a theory, it’s clear in the scientific literature, which is why practically every academic sports organization (ISSA, NASM, NSCA, etc.) recommends similar things when it comes to endurance recovery – a 3:1 – 4:1 carbohydrate: protein ratio – based on the weight of the athlete.

This is the also the reason you see basically every decent endurance recovery supplement using that ratio (Ultragen by First Endurance – 3:1 , Recoverite by Hammer – 3:1, Recover Elite by Endurelite – 4:1, and of course, Terminus by Ultraverse Supplements – 3.2: 1). There’s a lot more, but I believe these to be some of the best.  Of course, I believe Terminus to be the best of the best, but that’s beyond this post.  For more on that check out – https://ultraversesupplements.com/best-endurance-recovery-supplementTerminus - The best endurance recovery supplement

Anyway, not only does taking in the recommended amount of carbs/sugar after endurance exercise replenish glycogen, it promotes hormonal balance, helps to stop muscle breakdown, and actually PROMOTES a healthy blood sugar response post-exercise! Again, sugar is different during this time as compared to sitting on the couch eating ice cream.

There’s a lot that goes into it.  There’s a lot of good information in these blogs if you’re looking for more in-depth explanations, I highly recommend them;





Again, endurance athletes need not fear sugar.



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