At some point about a month ago, I looked in the mirror and realized I had let my bulking phase go a little out of hand. Thanks mom for pointing out I am chubby. Either way, I decided to resort to something I had already completed succesfully before: 30 days without processed sugars (=candy, chocolate, soda, cookies, …). Read all about how it went here.
Sugar= the devil
Recently, there seems to be a crusade against processed sugars. It is the cause of all evil in this world: poverty, war, the recent death of musicians and even the cause of a bad bench press. Too much sugars or even carbs in general will make you insulin-resistant, causing a ton of illnesses including increased fat storage and even pre-diabetes.
Now, I am not arguing that eating cookies and drinking soda every day will not help you and your fitness goals, but going absolutely cold turkey and not eating any sugars at all does not seem like the perfect plan to me either. This would not be a “my thoughts on” post if I wouldn’t have something to say on that.
I went 30 days without processed sugars for a second time, and here are my findings on that!
Week 1: pure awesomeness
Week 1 was absolutely great. I set a 5rm back squat PR, Filthy Fifty PR, felt energized, just great. No bad remarks whatsoever. Diet was on point: I ate a lot but all good things. My bodyweight stayed around the same as usual. I did not experience the headaches I had last time, but that was also coming after a period of way too much sugars, so the cold turkey effect hit me much harder.
Week 2: still going strong
I continued this trend in week 2, in which I set PR’s in the clean & jerk and clean. At this point, I started to notice some weight loss of around 0.5-1 kg. Awesome.
Week 3: where it got interesting
This is an interesting week. I started feeling less energized and less motivated to go work out. There were no notable PR’s but also no real opportunities. An important side note is that this was the first week in which I started running 2x/week with a new client. We run around 7-8 km at a low intensity pace. I did not adjust my own training volume for this, which might have been a big mistake and could have influenced the results of this experiment, since running at a low pace for long periods of time requires a lot of carb as fuel, and the lack of sugars was making me take in less than before. Bodyweight remained around 0.5-1 kg under my starting weight.
Week 4: and it continues
In week 4, I did a lot of heavy workouts, which went reasonably well, but by the end of the week, I noticed a drop in strength and bodyweight. Everything felt heavier than before. I found myself counting down the days till my deload week and simultaneously the end of the no sugar-period. My bodyweight had dropped another 0.5 kg, making it a total of around 1-1.5kg less than when I started.
To put it in short: I am not convinced that processed sugars are the devil, but eating too much of them is. I also think that in week 3 and 4, the lack of them even affected me in a negative way because of my lowered carb intake (all sugars are also carbs). In fact, I think saying all sugars are bad is a lazy, simplistic approach to nutrition. It’s very easy to say to your athletes: “just stop eating cookies and drinking soda” and yes, most people will actually lose some fat using this approach, but they also might end up in a shortage of carbs, creating a drop in performance.
The best approach in my opinion is to replace most of your processed sugars with healthy alternatives, not just drop them altogether. But if you have eat more carbs and sugars are somehow the only option, I’d take them.
Sugars are proven to be ideal to replenish glycogen levels (=ready to use sugars) in muscles right after sports. Therefore, I believe some sugars are fine right after sports, and they might still be ok if they are required to get to your daily carb intake (but obviously, there are healthier alternatives such as vegetables, rice, oats, …). I am however not saying you should eat candy and drink soda every day, not even close, but never at all might not be beneficial either.
The 30 days went very similar to my previous 30 days without sugars. After an initially great few weeks, strength and mood seems to be negatively affected, while longer lasting workouts involving more bodyweight exercises seemed to go better.
My explanation for all this is that the lack of sugars also diminished my total carb intake, creating a deficit while my demand for them was actually higher because of the extra running. My glycogen reserves might have been depleted. This could have made my body use protein as an energy source and cause the loss of strength. Carb intake is also linked to mood changes, possibly causing my lack of motivation to do my usual workouts.
Take home message
If you are looking to lose some weight and don’t mind losing strength, I would definitely recommend trying this. You could probably benefit from taking a little less sugars. If you don’t, consider slowly dropping your processed carbs and see how that goes. Make sure your total carb intake is still sufficient for your body structure and sport/activity level. Try going for cookies/chocolate/something containing processed sugars 2-3 times a week only and see how that goes.
To end it off, here are 2 interesting articles which also question the current sugar-shaming craze.
So don’t be afraid to grab that occasional snickers bar, just don’t go overboard. Personally, I will be aiming for weekdays without processed sugars and weekend with some occasional cookies/cake/chocolate.