ARTICLE: Sugar Spike–my contradictory advice

A few weeks ago I send an email to a group of runners with advice on how to eat leading into an important race. I mentioned that they should stay clear of energy drinks and other sugary sources from sixty to ten minutes before race start as failure to do creates a sugar spike in the blood fooling the liver into lowering the production of blood glucose. This creates an early “crash” as the liver realises what is happening during the early stages of the race and restarts production.

Taking the sugar in the last ten minutes avoids this effect as the body is already well into exercise mode by the time the sugar hits the blood stream. I then went on to contradict myself by mentioning that those using Orbana should take it twenty minutes before. One runner pointed this out and I did not have time to explain why no contradiction actually exists, so here goes the explanation:

Simple versus complex sugars

“Sugar” is just the colloquial term for simple carbohydrates (mono and disaccharides). Monosaccharides or “single sugars” are the most basic components of carbohydrates and you see them with names such as glucose (called dextrose in this context), fructose, galactose, xylose and ribose. When two sugars bond together they become “disaccharides”: glucose and fructose combine to form the common sucrose (found in honey, sugar cane and sugar beet), glucose and galactose form lactose (milk sugar), two glucose form trehalose (found in insects, shrimps, larvae and Accelerade!) and so on.

The mono and disaccharides are the carbohydrates you have to watch out for in the window from sixty to ten minutes before the race as they can create the blood sugar spike. The last two types of carbohydrate: oligo and polysaccharides or “a few sugars” and “many sugars” cannot and are therefore called “complex carbohydrates”. The common polysaccharides you know are starch (from potatoes, rice, wheat and similar sources) and glycogen (a complex molecule consisting of about 30000 glucose units used by your body to store its long-term energy).

Orbana avoids creating this spike because it relies on complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates compared to most other sports drinks. Let’s have a look at a comparison chart:

Orbana versus other commercial drinks

While looking at the below keep in mind that 39g of sugar is approximately ten teaspoons (the content of one can of coke).

image It is easy to see that the energy drinks you generally buy in the shop compare very poorly when ranked based on percentage of complex carbs and these are the most likely to cause sugar spikes. This also makes them the worst source of energy you could contemplate taking into you while at work or otherwise looking for nourishment while not engaged in strenuous exercise.

Accelerade does not look well in this comparison but the product is somewhat redeemed by an otherwise impressive ingredient list. Like Orbana and HI5, Accelerade contains significant amounts of other useful nutrients whereas the traditional over-the-counter energy drinks contain little or none.

The above figures are all per typical serving of the product, so you can easily see why you should not load up on the advanced products (Orbana, SIS, HI5) unless you are starving or very active – the caloric content, while healthier, is much higher. This is one reason these advanced products provide you longer term energy. For an active person, this is of no concern whatsoever as you can be reasonably sure your body will utilise the energy and nutrients for repair and recovery. Give the body something to use the nutrients for and it will.

I’ll look at a more in-depth comparison between the other ingredients of Orbana and HI5 in a later article.