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Does Sugar Increase Energy Levels?

Updated on June 19, 2013

Carbs Plus Water Equals Energy

Energy is what life is about. Without it, there is no life. It’s that simple. So in order to get the most out of life, you need to produce the most amount of energy possible.

The production of energy is about a complex array of systems in the body working together. Suffice it to say that if you are leading a relatively normal and healthy life, that array of systems is already doing their job and doing it well. That being the case, the focus for you as an individual should be on taking the nutrients that help to increase the body’s ability to produce higher levels of energy.

Carbohydrates and water are two important nutrients required by the body in order for it to produce energy. Unfortunately, carbohydrates have become synonymous with energy production by the body – in particular sugar. But carbohydrates alone are not the only nutrients that affect higher energy levels. The other energy producer that can make a big difference with how energetic you feel is water.

Water intake is just as important as carbohydrates for the body to function at peak performance. Without adequate amounts of water, the ability of carbohydrates to increase energy levels is limited. This symbiotic relationship between carbohydrates and water provides for the explanation as to why sugar is not the best energy food.


The Problem with Sugar

Sugar is not the best nutrient for energy production. In order for sugar to be digested, it requires a lot more water than most carbohydrates do. This is due to sugar being a concentrated (dense) carbohydrate. Making matters worse, it does not contain any water. It is also a simple sugar that raises the stress response of the body. Consequently, when you ingest sugar, the stomach will draw abnormal amounts of water from the body into the stomach to digest the sugar. In addition, when the stress response is elevated, the body also uses more water than normal. As the body's water stores are lowered, so are your energy levels.


Daedalus Project

This information was documented by Shaklee Corporation in their research report titled, "Daedalus Project: Physical Problems and Solutions", published in 1988. Shaklee collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop a human powered airplane to cross the Aegean Sea between the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini. MIT developed the airplane, and Shaklee provided the human power.

MIT produced an airplane with pedals that turn the airplane's propeller. Shaklee produced a hydrating drink (Performance) that contains fast, medium, and slow burn carbohydrates (no sugar) and electrolytes mixed with water to fuel the cyclist that powered the airplane. With Shaklee Performance, the cyclist was able to pedal the plane for approximately 4 hours across the Aegean Sea at 85% of his maximum physical output. You probably will not be pedaling your way across the Aegean Sea in a pedal plane any time soon. But you should consider using Performance or a similar sports drink for hydration if you engage in higher levels of activity.

In the case of the Daedalus Project, the cyclist needed a competitive edge. With the help of a sports drink that contains a proper balance of carbohydrates and electrolytes, and adequate amounts of water, the cyclist was able to set a world record for human powered flight.


Good Carbs

Just like the cyclist in training on the Daedalus Project, you also need to eat complex carbohydrates and drink adequate amounts of water every day in order to achieve and maintain high energy levels. Complex carbohydrates are: Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and breads. Adequate amounts of water have been determined to be 6 to 8 8-ounce glasses per day.


Bad Carbs

The foods that are high in sugar and therefore should be avoided or minimize their intake are: Pastries, pies, cakes, and cookies. In other words, any carbohydrate food that is prepared with sugar and has had its water content removed during preparation should be avoided.

Moderation is Key

Do I eat any of those energy reducing foods including sugar? You bet I do. But I enjoy them in moderation when I decide I need to indulge is such delights. However, the point is that when I do, it is in moderation. And be forewarned that when on occasion I do indulge in eating those sweet delights, I suffer the consequences becoming lethargic and irritable.

The Bad News and the Good News

In the past several years, as I approach the other side of 60, my lethargy is quickly followed by a slight blurring of my vision, my hair color goes grayer, and I experience joint inflammation (arthritic episodes). That's the bad news. The good news is these are temporary consequences that are quickly reversed once I go back to my healthier diet.

My less than best experiences with sugar intake have motivated me to find substitute foods that are just as enjoyable as starchy carbohydrates and sugar. For the most part, they are fruits, vegetables, and nuts combined with adequate intake of protein. The sugar substitute foods also provide the added benefit of helping me maintain high energy levels whether I am sitting in front of the television watching a favorite show on Netflix, or with the help of a sports drink, engaging in exercises that I enjoy and everything in between. And in so doing, I am getting the most out of life!


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