Q & A: Sugar and Recovery

Q.  Okay steve got a good one for you here. Im watching sunday night baseball and they are talking about how Ryan Howard dropped weight and is watching his sugar intake claiming it helps him recover from games faster. Is there any truth to this or is announcer bubkis?

A.  The CliffsNotes answer to this question is "Yes, it should help him recover faster."  However, the extent to which it will help him depends on many factors. 

What does the REST of his recovery protocol look like???  Is he sleeping enough, training properly, keeping other (negative) stress factors at bay, and his sympathetic nervous system in check?  (You'll see sympathetic overtraining in athletes who perform excessive amounts of strength training and compete in explosive power/anerobic dominant exercises - such as playing baseball - without giving their bodies a chance to recover).

What type of sugar did Howard cut out (ex. processed sugars, or sugars found in whole foods ex. fruits)? 

What was his body composition before he began cutting out sugar from his diet?  Ex. did he have a significant amount of fat mass on him, or was he already relatively lean? 

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that (hopefully) Ryan Howard cut out processed sugar from his diet.  This alone will help anyone feel and perform better.  Also, if he cut out processed sugar, I'm going to guess that he is now replacing that refined sugar with real, whole foods.  So - instead of his daily sugar intake coming from cookies, bagels, and muffins - most of the sugar/starches/carbohydrates he intakes is now (hopefully) coming from whole foods like vegetables, berries, oats, legumes, potatoes, etc.

This shift in nutritional intake alone will help him recover by sending high-quality nutrients into his bloodstream to help repair damaged muscle tissue, restore cellular enzymes and substrates (essential to his performance as an athlete), rejuvenate the nervous system, and assist in a HOST of other favorable changes conducive to recovery.  

If Howard did need to lose some weight, then this will undoubtedly improve his insulin sensitivity.  Basically this means that his body will be able to shuttle glucose from the bloodstream into cells (primarily muscle and liver) more efficiently and effectively.  This will be stored as glycogen, which a critical energy source for anerobic activities (ex. baseball). 

The bottom line is ANYONE will benefit from replacing intake of refined/processed sugars (read: garbage) with foods of higher nutrient density.  Whether you're an athlete or not, this will help you feel better, think more clearly, and perform better - whether you're a professional baseball player or a corporate CEO.