Sugar free sports drinks suck (as do all low sugar, no sugar and reduced sugar products)
This is because when the sugar is taken out, something else goes in otherwise the product in question will taste like cr*p. And the thing that goes in is always a lab-produced sweetener that's about as good for you as drinking bleach. That's before you get to the chemicals and processing required to get the sugar out in the first place. So, should you be using sugar free sports drinks and other low/no sugar products as part of a performance diet?
Absolutely bloody not.
While it's true that a bucketload of sugar is not good for us, some is no bad thing, and its demonising in the mainstream media has had a deeply unfortunate knock-on effect on the food and products lining our supermarket shelves from cereal to sports nutrition.
Because - in what can be glibly passed off as a fine upstanding piece of corporate responsibility - food manufacturers everywhere have rushed to remove sugar from their products and save lives the world over. Aww, bless their little cotton socks.
Want some sugar every now and again? Then eat some sugar. Just don't get mugged into scoffing sweeteners that are a lot worse for you
Yet instead of grabbing this golden opportunity to light a shiny new path to a healthier population, the dunces behind these new products have instead snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by replacing the sugar with cheaper, nastier and significantly less healthy sweeteners. Ingredients connected to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, arthritis and more.
And they have saved a ton of cash in the process.
First by swerving new government taxes on soft drinks like the UK's sugar tax, and secondly by slashing ingredient costs.
After all, sugar, as a natural product, is subject to nature's whims as harvests go up and down affecting supply and ultimately cost price, while the artificial sweeteners replacing the sugar are cheaper to start with and, being made in a lab, their prices don't fluctuate half as much, if at all.
All of which means that while food manufacturers look like angels and governments look tough on health, consumers instead get stitched up with worse products made even more cheaply.
Sugar-free sports nutrition and athletes - what to do?
So as a health and performance conscious athlete looking to max out your own racing and training, here's our ultimate three-point plan for dealing with low and no-sugar products in your diet:
- Always avoid them as they are worse than their full-sugar counterparts
- Some sugar is no bad thing - carbohydrates are a necessary part of our diets, and also a part of balanced athletic fueling. For more on perfecting carb use this post goes into much more detail
- Swap out soft drinks for water, and sweet treats for fruit - the fibre in fruit perfectly regulates how quickly the body absorbs the fruit's sugar meaning you get all of the benefits (steady carbs in the right amounts) with none of the downsides (sugar spikes, energy crashes) and no need to worry about sweetener side effects
Next time someone offers you a 'sugar-free' product, you know what to do ;)
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