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Sugared Drinks: Helpful During Exercise, Harmful When You Are Not Exercising

by Dr. Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

OBESE TEENAGERS who had bottled water and non-caloric drinks shipped to their homes for one year, gained half as much weight (3.5 pounds) as obese children not sent these drinks (7.7 pounds).

NORMAL WEIGHT CHILDREN, 4-11 years old, who drank sugar-free fruit-flavored drinks every day gained 13.9 pounds in 18 months, compared to 16.2 pounds of weight gain for those who drank sugar-sweetened drinks or 100 percent fruit juice from identical cans.

These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society in San Antonio, on September 21, 2012, and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Two-thirds of North American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. Officials with the American Beverage Association claim that obesity is not caused by any single food or beverage, but sugared drinks cause the highest rises in blood sugar, which associates them with obesity and increased risk for diabetes, certain cancers, and heart attacks (Circulation, published online March 12, 2012).

WHY SUGAR IS HEALTHFUL WHEN YOU ARE EXERCISING: Taking sugar during exercise helps you exercise longer and faster, which can help you lose weight, and prevent diabetes, heart attacks, certain cancers and premature death.

TAKING SUGAR DURING EXERCISE CAN MAKE YOU A BETTER ATHLETE. Taking sugar while you exercise increases the amount of training you can do and does not lessen the benefits of your increased training (Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2009). In this study, men trained one leg while ingesting a six percent sugar drink, and on the other leg while taking an artificially sweetened (sugarless) drink, two hours a day, on alternate days, five days a week. The legs trained with sugar had 14 percent more power and a 30 percent greater time to exhaustion.

Athletes in sports requiring endurance need to train in their sport many hours each day. They damage their muscles by taking a hard workout on one day, feeling sore on the next, and then taking less intense workouts for as many days as it takes for the muscles to heal and the soreness to go away. The more intense the training workout without injury, the more intensely they can compete. The longer they can go on their less intense recovery days, the tougher their muscles become to withstand the tremendous forces on them during their hard workouts and during competition.

Anything that can increase the intensity of your hard days or amount of work you can do on your recovery days will make you better in competition. Running out of muscle sugar makes you feel tired, so anything that continues to supply sugar during a workout will help you exercise longer and more intensely. This study shows that taking sugar regularly during workouts allows you to extend the amount of training without lessening the benefits that you receive from the extra work.

Some researchers thought that restricting sugar during training could enhance performance by teaching the muscles to get along with less sugar (Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2009). This is called depletion training. However, the enzymes used to convert sugar and fat to energy function just as well when sugar is taken continuously during exercise. The muscles trained on sugar can store the same amount of sugar and can convert food to energy as well as those trained without sugar.

WHY SUGARED DRINKS ARE UNHEALTHFUL WHEN YOU ARE NOT EXERCISING? A high rise in blood sugar causes sugar to stick to the outer surface membranes of cells. Once there, sugar can not get off. It is eventually converted to sorbitol which destroys the cell to cause every reported side effect of diabetes: blindness, deafness, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, impotence, and so forth.

Sugared drinks raise blood sugar levels much higher than sugared foods. When food reaches your stomach, the pyloric sphincter at the end of the stomach closes to keep solid food in your stomach. It permits only a soupy liquid to pass into your intestines. When you eat solid food such as an orange, it can stay in your stomach for up to 5 hours. On the other hand, orange juice passes immediately into your intestines and then into your bloodstream. So you get a much higher blood sugar level rise after drinking orange juice than you do after eating an orange.

Resting muscles are inactive and can draw sugar from your bloodstream only with the help of insulin. Contracting muscles remove sugar from your bloodstream rapidly and can do this without needing insulin. When you are exercising, contracting muscles remove sugar from the bloodstream so fast that you rarely get a high rise in blood sugar.

  • Your blood sugar rises
  • In response, your pancreas releases large amounts of insulin
  • Insulin converts sugar to triglycerides (HIGH TRIGLYCERIDES)
  • Then you use up your good HDL cholesterol in carrying the triglycerides from your bloodstream into your liver (LOW HDL CHOLESTEROL)
  • Triglycerides that are carried to your liver in large amounts cause a FATTY LIVER
  • A fatty liver can lead to DIABETES
  • Diabetes is the most common cause of HEART ATTACKS in North Americans.

HOW DO SUGARED DRINKS CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN AND HEART ATTACKS? When blood sugar levels rise too high, your pancreas releases extra insulin in an effort to lower blood sugar levels. Insulin acts directly on your brain to make you eat more. High levels of insulin also constrict arteries leading to your heart to block them and increase risk for a heart attack.

SHOULD YOU TAKE ARTIFICIALLY SWEETENED DRINKS INSTEAD? Probably not. A study following 2600 people for 10 years shows that those who drink diet sodas daily are at 44 percent increased risk for heart attacks and strokes. (Journal of General Internal

Medicine, published online January 2012; 27(2):135-263). Less-than-daily consumption of artificially-sweetened drinks was not associated with heart attacks or strokes. Other recent studies have shown that diet soda drinkers are more likely to have high blood pressure and blood sugars. Any sweet taste will turn on the pleasure center in your brain to make you eat more.

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