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Sugar - Players friend of foe?

Tennis players need to know when and how to use added sugars to their advantage
By: Sally Parsonage


According to what you read, sugar can either be the elixir of life, or the “pure, white and deadly” substance that needs to be avoided at all costs! In reality, it is a little of both –what makes the real difference is where it comes from.

NATURAL sugars are the ones present in foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy produce. Chemically they are not the same as the white stuff we add to tea or coffee, so the body deals with them a bit differently, and it is harder to get a high amount of sugar from these sorts of food.

ADDED sugars are the ones that food manufacturers put in foods to make them highly palatable and to encourage us to buy more, and it is these that are causing concern, because the average intake of added sugars is now over 80gms a day – that’s the equivalent of 20 or more teaspoonfuls! That much sugar in your diet will increase your risk of high blood lipids, high blood pressure and even make it more likely that you will develop Type 2 diabetes, not to mention tooth decay and the high risk of over-consumption of “empty” calories that can contribute to an increase in body fat.

Sugary food
Tennis players need to know when and how to use added sugars to their advantage i.e. as part of a sports drink while they are playing, or as a post-workout strategy combined with protein to boost the recovery process. Used wisely, sugar can help support the blood sugar during long matches, and help to refuel muscles afterwards (and incidently, it also helps get the protein components into the muscle cell more quickly too!) But glug down a bottle of sports drink while you are drinking or watching TV is just adding extra calories and sugar at a time when your body does NOT need them!

How can you tell whether a food has added sugar? The answer is simple – read the label! The nutrition information will tell you how much sugar per serving, and the ingredients list will tell you whether it is natural or added sugar. For example, a packet of dried fruit like apricots will show a significant sugar content, but you will not find any form of sugar on the list of ingredients – it’s all natural fruit sugar already in the apricots! By contrast, a packet of Frosted Flakes cereal will also have a significant sugar content, and sugar will appear near the top of the ingredients list. A simple guide is that if sugar appears in the first 3 ingredients listed then the product has a high level of added sugar. Be aware that sugar can be listed under a number of names:

Sucrose – the chemical name, and also dextrose, maltose, malto-dextrins, high fructose corn syrup,corn sweetener,  raw or organic sugar (no advantage here!), molasses and so on ………….
So here are the foods to watch out for:
· Sodas, fruit “drinks” (not 100% fruit juices!), any sort of “-ades” , and commercial smoothies – some of which contain more sugar than a regular bottle of Coca-Cola which contains 27g added sugar!
· Breakfast cereals, especially the frosted or honey-nut coated sort which can contain more than 15gm sugar per standard serving (which is probably less than most of us eat!)
· Cookies, cakes, pastries and desserts – that blueberry muffin is yummy but contains 30 – 40 gms sugar!!
· Candy, chocolate and ice creams ……….. an average sized Snickers bar or serving of ice cream contains around 30gm sugar.

No sugar at all would make our diet boring, bland and not very palatable. But new guidelines issued by the American Heart Association suggest we should limit or intake of added sugars to 25 gms (or 6 tsps) for women, and 37 gms (or 9 tsps) for men – so get reading those labels!

Get your sugar from natural whole foods like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, both cooked and raw – the benefits of less processed foods is much greater than just less added sugar! Read labels and nutrition information and choose brands that have less added sugar and consider using foods marked low or reduced sugar – but take care that they do not contain a lot of artificial sweeteners instead!’And try making your own smoothies – you will find that the natural sugar is often enough, but if not a little honey (which has greater sweetening power than sugar weight for weight) will easily boost the taste.
And finally keep the sports drinks for when you are playing sport or working out to get the best use of their sugar content – and even consider making your own in a 1.5 liter bottle using 1/3rd  100% juice to 2/3rd  water plus 2-3 pinches of salt – that way even your sports drink will not be adding to your “added” sugar intake!Banana

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