Athletes need sugars – by Kristen Arnold , RDN, LD, MS

Why do athletes need sugar during workouts, what types of sugar are best, and where it should come from?


Many athletes ask themselves how much sugar they should have, when, and from what sources.

Studies show that eating or drinking carbohydrates during workouts improves performance in endurance exercise1. This is because sugar is easily digestible (does not sit in your tummy for as long as other nutrients like protein and fat) and converted into glucose as a quick fuel source for the muscles and brain during exercise. Sugar is a natural compound in foods like fruit, grains, dairy, and starchy vegetables. It is also added to foods in forms such as table sugar, dextrose, maltodextrin, cane sugar, brown rice syrup, honey, coconut sugar, evaporated cane juice, and the list goes on. For this article, we are considering sugar as a nutrient and do not distinguish between sugars (natural versus added). Regardless of where the sugar comes from, endurance athletes need it during workouts.

Not all forms of sugar are created equal!

The best forms of sugars to consume during workouts are glucose and sucrose. Fructose is not recommended during workouts because it is the preferred fuel source for the liver and therefore not available for muscles as quickly.  It is also best to take in a variety of forms of sugar. Each type of sugar has a specific receptor in the body used to take it in as fuel (fructose has a fructose receptor, glucose has a glucose receptor). It is best to take in food and drink with a mix of sucrose and glucose.

Cocoa Elite Elite Endurance sports drinks contain sugar from organic unrefined coconut sugar and organic cane sugar. Coconut sugar is a mixture of 70-79% sucrose and 3-9% glucose and fructose. Organic cane sugar is 100% sucrose. Therefore, since sucrose is the primary source of sugar in Elite Endurance, it is a great product to provide a quick fuel source to the working muscles and brain.

Try pairing Elite Endurance with foods in your pocket that are rich in glucose and low in fructose. These include foods such as low-fructose fruits (figs or dates), cooked and salted potatoes, or rice balls.

Drink one serving of Elite Endurance and eat 15g of sugar in the form of food (figs, dates, potatoes, rice balls, gels, chomps, blocks, chews) per hour of endurance exercise to optimize training and racing.


1. Smith, J. W., D. D. Pascoe, D. H. Passe, B. C. Ruby, L. K. Stewart, L. B. Baker, and J. J. Zachwieja. “Curvilinear Dose-Response Relationship of Carbohydrate (0-120 g. h-1) and Performance.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 45, no. 2 (2013): 336-41.



Kristen Arnold is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. She has a Master’s in Human Nutrition from The Ohio State University. Kristen also owns a private practice nutrition counseling business focusing on performance nutrition for athletes.

In addition, she coaches for Red Kite Coaching. Kristen coaches entry-level to national elite-level cyclists in mountain, road, and cyclocross bike racing. Kristen is also a professional cyclist for Velo Classic p/b Stan’s NoTubes domestic elite women’s cycling team. She competes in national-level races across the USA and Canada.

In 2016, Kristen placed 4th overall in the Intelligentsia Cup powered by SRAM, top ten at the Professional Road Tour Goose Island Grand Prix and 7th in GC at the Green Mountain Stage Race.

Contact her here: Kristen Arnold.

All bloggers receive a small compensation for their contributions.*

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