Sugar and why it can be helpful in sports

As we were talking about hydration under another thread, the topic of sugar came up, so I thought it would be good to have a separate post on the topic.

Which drink is best for workouts and events - sweetened or sugar-free electrolytes?

It depends. When doing low-intensity or short workouts and rides up to 90 minutes, you probably only need water. However, if you are doing these in the heat/summer or indoors on a trainer and you tend to sweat a lot, it is recommended that you add electrolytes. The addition of sugar in this case is optional.

For high intensity workouts (threshold and above) and longer rides (2hs or longer regardless of pace), I have found that hydration drinks that include glucose make me feel much better overall. That is because they help maintain blood sugar and along with sodium can significantly improve the transport of water into the body. Plus, the addition of natural forms of sugar in a good-quality hydration drink isn’t detrimental and adds little calories - although you need calories in those scenarios anyway!

Examples of quality hydration mixes with all natural ingredients include Skratch, Precision Hydration, and Kramp Krushers.

Here is a great article as to why sugar in hydration drinks serves a good purpose. Check out this one as well. I know they are written by the companies that make the mixes, but they are based on solid science and explain the reasons in a reader-friendly way so you don’t have to dig through scientific papers.

A word about sugar

Sugar is not a villain. Of course it’s best to avoid processed sugar, because the human body evolved to metabolize natural sugars - those found in fruits/plants. This is also why, at a basic level, artificial sweeteners are not a good idea either.

Sugar is commonly associated with weight gain. While consuming excess sugar is detrimental to our health, excess “energy” in the form of calories - regardless of the source, sugar or otherwise - is what causes weight gain. There are a lot of theories out there about food and macro combinations, etc. but the reality is quite simple… because we can’t deny the law of thermodynamics: if energy IN is higher than energy OUT, weight gain occurs.

Sure, sugar by itself is not nourishment, and consuming lots of sweet foods will make you crave more sweet foods, and yes, it’s like a drug to your brain. But used wisely, sugar helps with sports performance without causing weight gain.


I have read these articles. I understand what it’s all saying and that the body needs theses things to function, perform, and recover. I feel I’m an anomaly. I tries Sratch in my bottle the other day. The next day I’m feeling the pains in my legs that I haven’t had in amp this, ive got the headache and just some fatigue. Scratch has cane sugar in it. It’s still processed. I think I’m going to stick to my fruit juice and dates and maple syrup during efforts. I fare better. The headache is the pits.


I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. I sweat out a ton of electrolytes when exercising- I have salt outlines on my bibs and jersey when I race. I also do a fair amount of longer distance riding and I definitely feel better using electrolytes with carbs. Right now, I use scratch, but I do try all different types just to make sure I tolerate others if I accidentally run out during an event. I do carry gels and blocks too.
The harder and longer I ride, I find nutrition, electrolyte and carb intake becomes more important.
For me, if I only drink water, I get leg cramps and migraines.
I do eat regular food in long distance events. I also carry salt stick tabs during hot weather events.
I agree, sugar is not an enemy.


I agree that it’s not an enemy either. I just need to do different forms and be diligent with my food consumption.
Being prepared is good. I’m using fruit juice that works for me and putting salt and sugar in my easily digested foods. :+1:t2:


I’m a huge fan of saying, “this is what works for me.” There are times to tinker and modify, and times to stick with a proven system.

I seem to have weird nutritional needs and have to both eat and drink my calories in order to not run short, especially on a ride longer than 2 hours. I’ve never been able to do the “hydration in your bottle, nutrition in your pocket” thing that Stacy Simms recommends in Roar.
I will sometimes do just electrolytes for a short trainer ride, but anything over an hour I seem to do best with drink mix. After some experimentation I use Vitalyte, usually with a little bit of BCAA powder added in. I use small ziploc bags and carry my own so that I am refilling my water bottles with my own mixture every time and I don’t have to worry about what is being served at events or what I can find at a gas station. I also like Skratch but Vitalyte works out to be cheaper and I go through a lot of it. I will say that the way I feel on long rides stabilized significantly once I quit drinking Gatorade.