Is Sugar Bad for Muscle Growth? What the Science Says

Is sugar bad for muscle growth? What a controversial topic that is! It’s one with emotional pros and cons and in people on each side of the issue. Some people believe that sugar helps muscles grow and athletes become strong. Other people on the other hand strongly disagree and say that sugar is bad for muscle growth. Let’s look at what the science says and you can choose for yourself.

Does sugar affect muscle growth?

White sugar cubes in bowl on wooden background

Sugar is often seen as the bad guy. It can make you sick, increase obesity, and give you a burst of energy soon to be followed by extreme fatigue. Often bodybuilders and gym-goers decide to limit or avoid sugar altogether, because of its bad rap.

On the other hand, many bodybuilders and gym-goers are increasing their consumption of sugar- following a claim that sugar promotes faster muscle recovery from workouts and increases muscle growth. There are many videos, reports, and articles online that advocate for eating a sugary candy bar or drinking chocolate milk right before or after workouts.

Both the claims about sugar (that it is bad or that it isn’t bad for muscle growth) have some truth in them. Eating sugar in the right way at the right time can be beneficial to your muscles. However, by eating too much sugar or not eating it in the right way, you could end up with an increase in fat. You need to find a middle ground.

Sugar types

Before we look at the effects of sugar and muscle growth, let’s consider what sugar is exactly. Typically when people talk about “sugar” they are talking about the white table sugar that comes from sugar cane and is in many baked goods, candy, and sugary juice.

However, there are different types of sugar, and each does different things to your body and your muscle growth.

Sucrose is common cane sugar- it comes from plants and is a mix of fructose and glucose.

Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruit, and glucose is found in honey and vegetables.

Then you have lactose and galactose which is sugar that comes from milk and dairy products, maltose from barley, and xylose from wood or straw.

Every type of sugar is converted into glucose for fuel when it enters your body but at different speeds. Glucose and sucrose are the fastest types of sugar to be converted, resulting in a quicker insulin spike.

Insulin, Sugar and Muscle

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. It allows glucose to enter into cells and stores excess glucose away as fat for later use. It is an anabolic hormone, which means that it builds muscle mass. Because of this, some bodybuilders take insulin to increase muscle size.

While there are some risks for taking insulin, it can help increase muscle size. And eating sugar that will metabolize and absorb into your muscles fast will start a quick insulin spike that will give the same results.

Sugar and muscle growth: What the science says

A man exercises using battle ropes in the fitness gym.

Studies have shown that sugar spikes your insulin hormone levels- which are very anabolic and help build muscle if you have worked out properly.  Sugar and other simple carbohydrates are really effective in providing adequate fuel for workouts and helping with post-workout recovery. Sugar is a fast-acting insulin spiker that can be great after a workout, (or during a workout if the workout is for a longer period of time.)

This is why one claim to eating sugar for muscle growth has some truth to it, especially if you consume sugar after a workout.

After a workout, your body is tired and depleted and it is breaking down muscles and fat in order to get more energy. By increasing your insulin spike using simple sugar, that sugar will be pumped to your muscles quickly and if timed right, not have any excess sugar that will be turned into fat.

For people who are mostly sedentary sugar can be a very bad thing and can increase fat gain. But, if you are someone who works out regularly, sugar may have some benefits.

Some bodybuilders eat sugar in the morning before a workout- claiming that since your body has been asleep for 8 or more hours you are depleted and your body has been burning off muscle through the night. By eating a small amount of sugar when you wake up you can pump up your muscles and revive your body from your night’s rest. This can have a good effect, but may also result in super high blood sugar and leave you cranky and tired all day.

How much sugar should you eat?

Eating sugar combined with protein immediately after a workout can increase muscle growth and recovery and restore carbohydrate stores. Eating sugar in balance and moderation is key.

Estimates of how much sugar someone should consume in a day range from 40-60 grams. Staying within a healthy limit, focusing on more natural sugars, and timing sugar intake to right after a workout is key. Don’t overdo it.

It’s also important to remember for protein to be in your post-workout snack as well as sugar, so the protein can reach your muscles too. Pair protein and sugar together.

Benefits of eating sugar for muscle growth

A man eating cupcake(sugar)

Here are some benefits that come from eating sugar for muscle growth:

  • Fast-acting insulin spike which can increase muscle glycogen stores
  • Helps with replenishing short-term body energy
  • Boosts nutrient uptake in the body
  • Contributes to muscle mass and growth
  • Helps with muscle recovery after a workout
  • Assists with creatine absorption

Possible risks for eating sugar for muscle growth

  • May cause fat gain
  • Fatigue after the sugar spike ends
  • Can be very addicting
  • Weakens immunity
  • Can be a contributing factor in diabetes, heart disease, or other illness

Final verdict: Is sugar bad for muscle growth

So, you’ve seen the pros and cons and you’ve heard about the risks.

What do you think? Is sugar good for muscle growth? Is it bad?

Sugar may be helpful for muscle growth and recovery, but also may have the opposite effect if not used right. It’s important to know all the risks involved and use sugar as a tool at the right time.

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