The Sweet Science

Recently, while I was assisting with the promotion of a local boxing card, a fellow fighter approached me.  He was sipping an energy drink from a well known brand and asked, “I heard that you know something about health and stuff? I need to make weight for a match this weekend. What can I do to drop it fast?” Gesturing to the can of liquid sugar he held in his hand, I jokingly said, “Stop drinking that.”  We went on to discuss why it was probably a major contributor to slowing his weight loss and the affect it could be having on his overall performance.

I know everyone hates to hear it, but that delicious white stuff packs on the pounds faster than you can imagine! The big bummer is that it’s hard to avoid. We’re surrounded by it in the media, inundated with it in the stores and, in one form or another; it’s hiding in nearly every thing we consume.  It is highly likely that the majority of the food that is a part of your diet right now contains more sugar than you know. Whether its sucrose, fructose, or any kind of “ose“, it’s in there…hiding.  There’s no need to fear though, because with a few tools and the knowledge of what to look out for, uncovering the sweet stuff can become second nature.

First off, just so you understand how epidemic our use of sugar has become, you may be surprised to know that in 2009 more than 50% of all Americans consumed one-half pound of sugar per day! That equates to 180 pounds of sugar per year. The average American consumes more sugar than a Light Heavyweight Champion weighs!  How can this be?  Well, when you take into consideration that sugar is packed into all of our processed, pre-made foods, fruit juice, sports drinks and especially sodas, it starts to add up. These sugar-laden foods (sodas, candy, refined white bread, pastas, white rice and potato chips) all break down to simple sugars in your body, and do so relatively quickly. When this happens you have a rapid rise in blood glucose. Your pancreas then secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream which lowers the level of glucose. However, insulin is a storage hormone, and will store any excess calories from these carbohydrates in the form of fat. It’s a natural human defense mechanism to protect your body against famine or starvation. Simply put, although it tastes good, over-consumption of sugar leads to an excess in calories, so instead of burning it as fuel, our bodies store it as fat.

So what can you do to curb the urge, combat this mechanism and yet, still live realistically? The first thing to look out for is the liquids you drink. They are your biggest enemy.  All sweetened sodas, fruit juices and popular energy drinks are empty calories.  They hinder weight loss. I know many fighters who argue that they need these energy drinks for workouts to maintain training intensity and keep their work rate up, but with all the sugar these drinks contain, you spend the whole workout burning off the calories. Instead, opt for a piece of fruit to provide you with some natural carbohydrates (fuel) that your body will burn as energy.  It will give you real substance to fuel your workout, but doesn’t contain more calories than you will burn. Vitamin B-12 is also another great choice to get an energy boost.  You don’t get more “natural” or “calorie-free” than that and most Americans are vitamin deficient anyway. There are some great B-12 products on the market today that are available in liquid form and can be taken with a dropper or spray.  These are both convenient and highly effective because, when they are consumed, you hold them under your tongue for faster absorption. This provides a fast delivery system to your body’s circulatory system, cells, and tissues. And for those of you who think “I need my Gatorade to replenish electrolytes.” Sorry, but you’re kidding yourself.  Coconut water will do a better job without all the added processed sugars, plus it tastes delicious!

The next step is to eliminate any refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, rice, noodles, etc. from your diet.  Although they don’t always contain “added sugars,” they are quickly broken down in your body and cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin. This ultimately results in weight gain. If you can at least limit your intake of these products it’s a smart move and one you’ll see and feel the effects in a short period of time. An even better solution is to opt for whole grain varieties. Whole grain bread, noodles, pasta, and brown rice are great substitutes and can be used in place of white bread, white rice and regular pasta noodles. These whole grain options metabolize much slower, pose less of a problem and will provide you with a longer lasting, more sustainable energy source. Look for what is most natural and highest in fiber.  You might be surprised to find that, in many case, you don’t end up sacrificing taste, but gain some great nutritional benefits.

The more you can steer clear of sugar altogether, the easier time you will have in losing weight. It’s true that a fighter’s lifestyle requires a level of commitment not asked of most people. He has to make sacrifices, do what is sometimes inconvenient or downright hard, but anything worth having requires some level of dedication.  Pay the price, push soda aside and, although initially it might be hard, the rewards will be worth it.   It won’t take long for you discover for yourself that without the burden of sugar weighing you down, the taste of victory is will be that much sweeter.