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Active Expert: Nancy Clark RD CSSD

7 Posts tagged with the sugar tag

Nancy, I can’t believe you recommend chocolate milk as a good recovery food for athletes after a hard workout. It’s filled with refined sugar!!!!

My response: Yes, chocolate milk (or any flavored milk, for that matter) contains added sugar. For hard-working athletes, sugar is a form of carbohydrate that refuels depleted muscles and feeds the brain. Like the sugar in bananas and oranges, the sugar in chocolate milk comes alongwith a plethora of nutritional benefits. That makes chocolate milk a better option that chugging a sports drink that offers just empty calories.

A reasonable guideline for an athlete is to limit refined sugar intake to no more than 10% of daily calories. That equates to about 200 to 300 calories a day. The sweaty, tired athlete who recovers with a quart of Gatorade consumes 200 calories of refined sugar— and misses out on positive nutritional benefits that could have been provided by chocolate milk. 

Despite chocolate milk's sugar content, the beverage remains nutrient-dense. When athletes refuel with chocolate milk, they get not just sugar that fuels their muscles, but also:

--high quality protein that builds and repairs muscles

--calcium that strengthens bones

--vitamin D that enhances calcium absorption

--sodium that helps with fluid retention and replaces sodium lost in sweat

--potassium that replaces sweat losses and helps maintain lowblood pressure

--B-vitamins such as riboflavin, that help convert food into energy

--water that replaces fluid lost with sweat

--a desirable balance of carbohydrate and protein. (The muscles recover will with three times more carbs than protein.)

I invite you to pay more attention to the nutritional value of the whole beverage rather than just the added sugar. Chocolate milk offers far more nutrients than the sports drinks that athletes commonly chug after a hard workout. Those sports drinks, as well as other commercial  “sports foods” (gels, chomps, sports beans, sports candies), receive little public criticism yet are generally 100% refined sugar with minimal, if any, nutritional benefits. In my opinion, those engineered sports foods are the bigger nutritional concern than the 40 to 50 calories of sugar added to 8-ounces of chocolate milk.






PS. Yes, a "perfect diet" would have no refined sugar .. but who said an athlete needs to eat a perfect diet to have a good diet?

For more information on how to choose a balanced sports diet, please enjoy the new 5th edition of my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

5,093 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: athletes, recovery, nancy_clark, chocolate_milk, sugar, refine_sugar, post-exercise_food, sports_nutrition+guidebook

You’ve seen the ads and have listened to the news with suggestions that (dark) chocolate is good for you. You may be wondering: What is the whole story on chocolate? Is it little more than an alluring form of refined sugar, saturated fat and empty calories? Or does chocolate (in moderation, of course) have positive qualities that might be beneficial for athletes?


The good news is chocolate is made from cocoa. Cocoa comes from a plant and is a rich source of health-protective phytochemicals, just like you'd get from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Two tablespoons cocoa power (the kind used in baking) offers the same antioxidant power as 3/4 cup blueberries or 1.5 glasses red wine.


Chocolate does indeed have health protective properties. In the Netherlands, elderly men who routinely ate cocoa-containing products reduced their risk of heart disease by 50% and their risk of dying from other causes by 47%. Impressive.


The bad news is, dark chocolate has a bitter taste, so most people prefer milk chocolate, like in a Hershey’s Bar with:

210 calories

24 grams sugar (46% of calories)

13 g total fat (55% of calories)

8 g saturated fat (equivalent to a tablespoon of butter).

At least, the sugar (read that “carbs”) in chocolate fuels your muscles. But so does the (natural) sugar in alternative snacks, such as bananas and raisins.


The trick is to enjoy dark chocolate as part of the 100 to 150 “discretionary” sugar calories that can be part of your daily sports diet. As for me, I'll enjoy my dark chocolate during a long hike or bike ride. Tastes better than most engineered sports foods and nicely fuels both my body and my mind!


Here’s a recipe that uses nutrient-rich cocoa. Enjoy it in good health!


Chocolate Lush

This low fat brownie pudding forms its own sauce during baking.

It’s  a tasty treat for when you are hankering for a chocolate-fix

and a yummy way to add a little dark chocolate to your sports diet.

Reprinted from: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th Edition.


1 cup flour,preferably half white, half whole wheat

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened dry cocoa

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons oil, preferably canola

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened dry cocoa

1-3/4 cups hot water


Optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts.


1.Preheat the oven to 350°.


2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, white sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, baking powder, and salt; add the milk, oil, and vanilla. Mix until smooth. (Add nuts.)


3.Pour into an 8x8" square pan that is nonstick, lightly oiled, or treated with cooking spray.


4.Combine the brown sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, and hot water. Gently pour this mixture on top of the batter in the pan.


5.Bake at 350° for 40 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly.



Yield: 9 servings

Total calories: 2,100

Calories per serving: 230



Carbohydrate                    46 grams          

Protein                               3                      

Fat                                    4

1,121 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: chocolate, sweets, sugar, dark_chocolate, heart_disease, health_food, cravings_for_sweets

How can you maintain good energy when you’re exercising for longer than 60 to 90 minutes? By eating enough calories of foods that settle well…!


The standard recommendation for fueling during endurance exercise has been to target 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of exercise (60 grams of carb per hour, the equivalent of 240 calories for a 150 pound athlete). The research, originally done with just glucose, indicated consuming more than 60 grams of glucose per hour offered no additional benefits. The body has a limited number of glucose transporters and can carry only 60 grams out of the intestines, into the blood stream and to the muscles.


Recent research indicates consuming a variety of sugars (that is, more than just glucose) allows more fuel to become available per hour. That's because different types of sugars (carbs) use different transporters. Generally, athletes consume more than just glucose. (Sports drinks, for example, tend to be glucose+fructose.) Let's say you eat a banana that consists of many different types of sugars and uses many different transporters. Your muscles will have access to more fuel (up to 90 g carb/hour; 360 calories) than if you consume just one kind of sugar (as might happen with some engineered foods).


Variety is a wise idea—as is practicing yoru fueling during long training sessions so you can learn what works best for your body. Some people like engineered sports candy and gels, others prefer dried pineapple and gummy candy. Take your choice--just experiment during training to determine if 200 to 300 calories per hour is the right amount for your body.

1,726 Views 5 Comments Permalink Tags: carbs, nancy_clark, intestines, sugar, endurance_exercise, fuel_during_a_long_run

Q. The label says 2 tablespoons of Skippy peanut butter has 3 grams of added sugar. Isn’t that bad?


A. Three grams of sugar equates to 12 calories of sugar. This is far less sugar than is in the jelly that comes along with a PB&J sandwich! It's also a fraction of the sugar in sports drinks, gels and jellybeans. I would not blink an eye at three grams of sugar for an active person (or even an inactive person, for that matter.)


A standard nutrition guideline is that 10% of calories can appropriately come from refined sugar. That equates to about 240 to 300 calories (60-75 grams) of added sugar per day for most athletes. You can choose how you want to spend those sugar-grams. Some athletes like frozen yogurt, others like sports drinks, and some like Skippy peanut butter along with some jelly. Take your choice! Sugar fuels your muscles; it is not bad for you nor will it negate the healthfulness of other food you consume.


If you prefer all-natural peanut butter with no added sugar, that's fine. But I wouldn't choose it because it has less sugar. You might just end up adding more jelly, jam or honey?


Nancy Clark

2,527 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: sugar, peanut_butter, refined_sugar, added_sugar

Q. Should I avoid orange juice because it has too much sugar?


A. All the calories in orange juice come from sugar, but along with that (natural) sugar, you get abundant vitamin C (to boost your immune system), potassium (to protect against high blood pressure), folate (to protect against birth defects) and numerous other health-protective nutrients. The sugar in orange juice (and any type of sugar, for that matter) fuels your muscles. The vitamins and minerals that accompany the natural sugar in orange jucie are like spark plugs and help your body’s engine run stronger.


Nothing is wrong with sugar. The problem is too many calories of refined sugar (from soft drinks) that are void of nutritional assets. While drinking quarts of OJ a day could add excessive calories to your sports diet (but also tons of vitamin C), a glass or two adds a nutrient-dense beverage that is far better than anything your might get at the calorie-café (a.k.a coffee shop).


I’m far less concerned about the sugar in orange juice than I am about athletes avoiding OJ. Orange juice is a quick and easy form of fruit. If you aren't going to make time to peel an orange, grabbing a glass of OJ for a morning eye-opener is a handy alternative—and is far preferable to grabbing just a coffee-to-go. While eating the whole orange is nutritionally preferable to drinking just the juice, any form of fruit is better than none. So don’t stop drinking orange juice because it has “too much sugar.”  Too many important nutrients come along with that natural sugar … nutrients that can enhance your performance.




For more information that can help you resolve your confusion regarding sugar and carbs, see Chapter 6 in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

2,833 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: carbs, sugar, orange_juice, refined_sugar, vitamin_c

Is sugar evil?

Posted by Nancy Clark RD CSSD Jan 28, 2009

Nancy, is eliminating all sugar (except for natural sugar in fruits) from your diet safe? In normal grocery stores, it's almost impossible to find anything outside of the vegetable section that doesn't have sugar. I switched to soy milk but even that still has sugar….


Answer: Why would you want to eliminate all sugar? Sugar is a source of fuel for active muscles. All fruits, veggies and grains digest into sugar, the fuel that feeds your muscles as well as your brain. Milk also naturally contains sugar (lactose).


The concern should  not be "sugar" but the source of the sugar. For example, sugar in soda pop is "empty calories" -- with no nutritional value. Sugar in oranges comes along with lots of vitamin C, potassium, folate and other health-promoting nutrients. Enjoying sweet oranges is a smart food choice, nutritionally preferable to drinking orange soda.


Processed foods often have a little sugar added. For example,  the sugar in jarred spaghetti sauce adds to an enjoyable taste -- but it does not negate the nutrient content of the sauce. Don’t worry about it! Nutrition guidelines say that 10% of calories can appropriately come from refined sugar. As an active person, you likely need at least 2,000 calories a day. That means, you could enjoy 200 calories of refined sugar, if desired. That's 50 grams -- a quart of Gatorade, or a ton of spaghetti sauce!


Rather than getting hung up on sugar, look at the balance of your whole diet. You want to eat a diet with 85 to 90% nutrient-dense foods. But you need not eat a "perfect diet" (for you, this sounds like a sugar-free diet) to have a good diet.


Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

1,708 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: sugar, nutrient_dense

“I have a SUPER sweet tooth. I am all about sugar…” writes a blogger on the Rookie Runners page. Many active people think cravings for sweets are a personality quirk. Not necessarily.


Sweet cravings are preventable.They are a sign you have gotten too hungry and your body is screaming at your for some quick energy. The solution is to eat double at breakfast and lunch (you won’t be overeating; you’ll just be trading the calories from sweets into quality food). You'll discover your sweet cravings disappear. If this turns out to be too much food, you will simply be less hungry at dinner and will eat a lighter meal. Might sound scary, but give it a try.


Both my Sports Nutrition Guidebook and my Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions offer info on how to manage snack attacks and cravings for sweets.


Have fun experimenting with bigger meals, smaller snacks.



1,253 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: sweets, sugar, cravings

Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Member since: Jul 8, 2007

Hi! I specialize in nutrition for exercise, and help active people figure out how to manage food, weight, exercise, energy and enjoyment of eating. Let me know if you have any questions!

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