bikerumor-experiment-no-added-sugar-header

What’s an athlete to do without sugar?  Or, perhaps more to the point, why would an avid cyclist want to take sugar out of their diet?

Welcome to my (although Sweetie’s getting dragged into it) February experiment: One month with no added sugar.

The inspiration for this experiment came from many things, but oddly enough the concept popped into my head as one of my friends recounted what a visiting revival preacher recently said while he was in the big tent. Amidst the proselytizing, he asked the congregation if they knew the number one addiction in America. His answer: Sugar.  Then, I was reading Esquire Magazine’s monthly column with Dr. Oz, who’s answer to the question “if you had to tell America to give up one vice what would it be?”  His answer: Smoking?  Drugs?  Nope, Sugar.

I’m also reading two of Dr. Oz’s books, You: The Owners Manual and You: Staying Young, and the latter in particular suggests cutting out refined sugar (FWIW, I highly recommend these books). On top of this, we get Hammer Nutrition’s monthly (or more) newsletters which absolutely bash sugar.

Given that I’d like to live as long and healthily as possible, I figured it’d be interesting to see:

  1. Would eliminating refined sugar make me feel better overall?
  2. How hard would it be to eliminate refined sugar from my diet?
  3. How would if affect athletic performance?

For clarification, sugar in its naturally occurring state (fruit, juice, etc.) is fine, at least for the purposes of this experiment.  For health reasons, too much of sugar in any form is bad, but the goal here is to eat and drink things that don’t have added sugar for the entire month of February.  If the ingredient list has Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Sucrose or the like, it’s out.

It’s reported that Americans consumed 95 to 100 lbs of caloric sweetener per person in 2008¹.  That’s more than a 1/4 pound per person, per day!

Wait, we’re cyclists, we measure everything in grams.  OK, that’s 124 grams of sugar per day (almost 500 calories).

This “caloric sweetener” is a combination of refined beet and cane sugar (generally just listed as “sugar” or “sucrose” on ingredient statements) and high fructose corn syrup.  And it’s everywhere.  Bread, cereal…heck, even the Salt-n-Pepper potato chips I had with my sandwich the other day had sugar listed as an ingredient.  Seriously? Potato chips?

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE:

My hunch is, if you’re an avid athlete that’s consuming sports and recovery drinks, gels and eating whatever because you think it’s offset by all the training, almost certainly you’re at or above the per-capita average.  Heck, I was close, and I was already fairly conscious of my sugar intake.  I’m not judgin’…just saying.

In order to still train effectively, ride hard and recover well, I had to find something for during and after riding to keep me fueled up.  While there are other products out there, and we’ll cover some of those throughout the experiment, Hammer Nutrition has by far the most extensive lineup of no-sugar-added sports nutrition products that are developed for endurance athletes.  There are plenty of body-building and diet products with no sugar, too, but being a cyclist, I wanted to focus on sport-specific products.  So, for the experiment, Hammer agreed to provide an assortment of their gels, sports drinks and recovery drinks:

hammer-nutrition-experiment-products

I’ll also be tapping some of their research and knowledge throughout the experiment, so look for an interview or two this month.

IS IT DIFFICULT?

I’ll report back frequently on this experiment.  While the “how I’ll feel” part of the experiment’s results will come only after time, the “is it difficult” part will be an ongoing story and, I suspect, somewhat of a challenge.

For example, what about things like Ketchup that are what they are because of added sugar?  And what about swapping for sugar substitutes…do I really want to start consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners?  Do natural sweeteners like Agave, Maple Syrup and Honey count as refined sugars?  If so, are they as bad?

Lots to cover this month, and as I do, I’ll share and adjust my diet accordingly.  But for the start, it’ll be as strict as possible in terms of not adding sugars.  Here’s my meals so far on this first day:

BREAKFAST:

My waffles (and pancakes, for that matter) are entirely homemade (recipe below!) and have no added sugar in the mix.  And I put Costco’s organic peanut butter on them, which has only two ingredients, peanuts and salt. It is absolutely the best peanut butter I’ve ever had.  I used Harris Teeter sugar-free syrup, which wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, but still not as satisfying as the real deal, and it uses artificial sweeteners.

Couple that with scrambled eggs (mostly egg whites) with Kraft fat-free shredded cheese and you have a no-added-sugar breakfast that’s delicious.  Oh, and coffee with skim milk…no sugar.

While I’m not doing this experiment for weight loss, I saved 100 to 150 calories versus the “light” syrup I normally use. That said, I’d like to find an alternative to sugar-free syrup without giving up waffles…I have them four or five days a week!

WAFFLE RECIPE:

  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (can mix in oat flour, etc., for variety)
  • 1 TBSP Baking Soda
  • 2 TBSP Baking Powder
  • 2 TSP Salt

Mix these ingredients into a large Tupperware, it’ll make enough mix for several days of waffles.  To make the batter for about 2- to 2-1/2 large waffles, mix the following:

  • 1-1/2 cups skim milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1TBSP olive oil (or whatever oil you want)

I put the milk in a blender with about 1/4 cup blueberries (or some apple or a banana, even goji berries occasionally, but they tend to make it taste a little like hay) and a spoonful of flax seeds and blend.  Pour that into a bowl, add the egg and oil, then whip it good.  Add about six or seven heaping spoonfuls of the dry mix and stir, adding more or less to achieve your desired consistency.  While Alton Brown says put the whisk down after 10 seconds and walk away, I stir it until no lumps remain and *surprise* it turns out just fine.  If you’re not starving, let the batter rest for a minute before pouring your first waffle.

LUNCH:

Lunch was leftover grilled chicken breast sliced on top of mixed lettuce.  Since every dressing in our fridge has sugar added, I made my own from OJ, balsamic and apple cider vinegar and olive oil (poured it all into a shaker and shook vigorously…it actually stayed mixed, I was expecting immediate separation).  Not too bad, but I ended up shaking a bit of Tony Chachere’s on it to liven things up.  Here’s another dilemma…does adding fruit juice to sweeten something count as added sugar?  We’ll see what the experts have to say.

AFTERNOON SNACK:

Almonds, a banana and a water bottle with ZYM’s no-sugar, caffeinated Catapult Berry flavor².  While I prefer ZYM’s lemon-lime flavor, it has a very small amount of sucrose added.

DINNER:

To be determined… Does Papa John’s or Domino’s pizza sauce have sugar in it?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Here’s where you come in.  Is there anything about this experiment you’re interested in?  Anything you’d like to contribute or have me research?  Leave a comment on this and/or any of the forthcoming posts and I’ll do my best to address them.  And if you’ve got a great recipe or product worth mentioning that would contribute to this experiment’s success, let me know! (don’t spam it though, we approve every comment manually, and salesy comments for diets, plans, etc., will not be approved. It’s a conversation, not a commercial.)

FOOTNOTES:

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2009 (PDF download)
  2. Throughout the experiment, I’ll mention products by name and brand where applicable.  Some products were sent in separately for review, others we have laying around and some, Hammer Nutrition in particular, were sent specifically for this experiment.  Some (likely most) were sent to us for free, however the mention of their names, products and brands are for informational purposes only and are not meant to imply endorsement.  If I/we like the product or it proves useful to the experiment, I’ll say so, and vice-versa.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not sure I understand the motivation here. Why give up sugar? It sounds like you’re a healthy, active person, so I guess I’m not clear on what sorts of changes you expect to occur with the elimination of added sugars from your diet.

  2. Well, that’s why it’s an experiment. From everything I’ve read up to this point, cutting out as much refined sugar as is practical is a good thing from an overall health standpoint.

    This experiment is a little more drastic by cutting out ALL refined sugars, but when it’s over, I’ll most likely allow myself normal ketchup when dining out and such. Plus, it’s not realistic to think one can avoid it all…salsa’s at Mexican restaurants may have some sugar added, and Lord knows I’m not going to give that up forever!

    Overall, the point is the same as any other experiment, which is to see what happens.

  3. My brain and stomach could never comprehend the absence of sugar in my diet. i’m so addicted, that I get headaches when I don’t have sugar for long periods of time. However, I am totally interested to hear how this experiment goes. Especially in regards to how you feel and tracking your weight.

    Good Luck!

  4. For the dressing, try adding a bit of Dijon mustard. Mustard is a great emulsifier, and you can do without the vinegar (there is plenty in the mustard). Which brings me to my next point… have you read about maintaining an alkaline diet? Sugar, while being PH neutral when metabolized leaves behind acidic levels (think about where how/why cavities are formed). Were foods rich in chlorophyll leave alkaline levels behind. There is a lot of research out there, I switched to this type of diet last year, and have had fantastic results. There are of course products out there that help (http://www.acidzapper.com/), but I think eliminating ‘acidic’ foods from your diet regardless of the effect of you body’s PH will help you achieve very rewarding results.

  5. Did you have any blood work done to see your numbers before and after? How about blood pressure? Numbers will paint the picture. If you didn’t perhaps you should stop the diet for a few days and get the blood test done.

  6. My kids and I just snarfed a half sack of candy conversation hearts – do those count? Even the new Spanish language ones? Tough month to go cold turkey. At least it’s the shortest month. Might be some unforeseen bonking in your future.

    Trader Joe’s has a pretty good maple-agave syrup blend that isn’t as heinous as Aunt Jemima’s log cabin.

  7. Agave is great, but I prefer pure ‘A’ maple syrup, the sucrose chain has been broken down during the boiling process and is therefore extremely sweet, yet has a low glycemic impact. Agave is mostly fructose which is not measured by the glycemic index, so on paper it looks amazing, however there are risks associated (like anything else) to large amounts of fructose, including but not limited to Hyperinsulinemia and elevated uric acid levels.

  8. Good luck with that.
    Actually I never use any sugar (additions)! So it is possible. Little hard on getting rid of the addiction I guess…

    Again, good luck

  9. I am interested to hear how you feel after a month. I know I feel the addiction and can only guess I would feel better myself by cutting out the refined sugar and it would free up calories so I could have thirds at all of my meals.

  10. Good start, but try dropping the Hammer stuff and all processed foods – you’re eating homemade waffle mix but Kraft processed cheese? ugh. And for that matter – less carbs! Banana (is sugar btw) and almonds good, ZYM unnecessary. Dry fruit and fruit juices have more sugar than the whole raw product (ie – blueberries ok, dried blueberries=sugar bomb)
    Look into healthier fats and oils – grapeseed or coconut oil instead of canola, goat butter instead of margarine. Spend the extra buck or two and get farm fresh eggs and cheese at the farmers market instead of cost-co. like peanut butter, try almond butter – it’s got more going for it.
    Watch the omega-6 content of your food and try for more of an omega-3 balance.
    Local source your produce (and meat and dairy for that matter), it supports small farms and puts cleaner fuel in your system.
    Good on ya for the experiment and spreading the idea of trying to eat healthier
    – and a note to Brian: the active and seemingly healthy athlete is the perfect body to tune with a clean fuel approach as we’re usually the ones who think we can eat whatever we want b/c we go pound it out on a 4 hr ‘training’ ride. Simply not true – you get out what you put in, no matter how many interval sprints you can rip out of your legs in an afternoon.

  11. This is an interesting experiment but I have to question the use of a product as heavily processed as Kraft Fat-Free cheese when you’re trying to cut out refined sugar because it’s vaguely “bad for you”.

    I’m no raw food guy but I think the best bang for your buck would be to steer clear of overly processed foods whether they contain refined sugar or not. Prepare the food yourself from ingredients as basic as possible and you never have to question what’s in them!

    Just food for thought! I’ll keep reading.

  12. Wow! Lots of great comments and questions, here’s my best attempt at addressing all of them in one reply:

    – Baby steps: There are a lot of great suggestions and tips, and much appreciated, but to somewhat control the experiment, I’m looking to just change one thing at a time.

    – Kraft F/F shredded cheddar: From the label, compared to other shredded cheese, it’s basically just made with skim milk and isn’t nearly as processed as American Cheese or cheese spreads, etc. And I don’t use much.

    – Alkaline diet: This is something else I’m intrigued by, and may be a future experiment, but haven’t had the time to fully research it. Oddly enough, the idea on this came from a cruise-ship massage therapist. She mentioned something about Seaweed, which I suppose matches up with the Chlorophyll subject.

    – Healthy fats: We use olive oil for virtually everything, very little butter (never margarine) to the tune of maybe three sticks per year including baking, and eat fish when we can. Almond butter is something I’d like to try, just never seem to think about it while at the store and, seriously, Costco’s peanut butter is organic and delicious. Very delicious.

    – Processed foods: As a whole, our family’s diet is pretty free of processed foods other than lunch meat and bread, and lunch meat is not something we buy a lot of. For bread, we always avoid HFCS, and for this month anyway, will try to find some without added sugar.

    – Maple Syrup: Looking into this to see what a few experts have to say since, technically, it would be adding sugar to my food even though it is naturally occuring.

    – The Numbers: I did not get any blood work done prior to, however recent life insurance docs show that my levels are well within healthy ranges even when consuming regular syrup almost every morning. Few sodas, though…especially since giving up the one-a-day 16oz energy drink habit. Pheww, that was 60g+ of sugar by itself!

    – Beer: My understanding is that the yeast eat the sugar to create the bubbles, and that the “sugar” is from the barley, etc., not added sugar, so no, I will not be giving up beer. Especially not this coming Sunday. Go team!

    – Waffle mix: Somewhat unrelated, but the original reason we started making our own waffle mix was a) it’s much cheaper than buying ready-made mixes, especially healthier ones like Hodgson Mill, and b) I couldn’t find any that used aluminum-free baking soda/powder, so it’s simpler and waaaayyyy cheaper to make our own.

    Look for another full update in a couple of days.

  13. This sounds like a small step towards a Paleo diet. I have relatively recently started using this, and have seen a pretty big improvement on the trail, both in endurance and muscle growth. Sorry to sound like an advertisement, but I feel like not enough bikers know about this Paleo diet. It is nicknamed the Caveman diet because you basically eat just food available in caveman days. It is limited to just meats, nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables. Do some research on it, but one of the bigger advantages is that it cuts down dramatically on sugar input, so your body instead uses it’s energy from sources other than the sugars it takes in.

    Good luck to you guys though!

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