Sugar-free running

Sugar is so passé – give your body healthy, natural fuels


I’ve been in Chicago this week which has been fun and a real trip down memory lane for me as it was here that I ran my fastest marathon in 2001.

Back then, whilst I used to think my diet was healthy, it was actually pretty awful in parts, full of refined carbs, all designed to give me the energy I needed to run. I used to eat lots of:

  • breads,
  • grain-based desserts
  • fruit juices
  • energy drinks

In other words:

  • Sugar
  • Sugar
  • Sugar
  • Sugar

Well everything changed for me in 2006 when I read a book called Slow Burn by Stu Mittleman.

That was the first time, I’d heard a different eating strategy. And given that Stu had run 3k miles across America, he knew a thing or two about long distance running! The essence of Stu’s advice was to forget loading up on sugar which is great for short-term bursts of energy; but to train your body to burn fat which is a more plentiful resource and can sustain you for much longer. So focus on eating and burning fat.

Though this approach was the complete opposite to the conventional ‘carb loading’ advice at the time, it made sense to me. Man has always eaten sugar, but traditionally it would have been in the form of fruit and honey. It’s only really during the last 30 years that the amount of refined sugars we’ve been eating has increased substantially.

The problem was that the ‘eat fat, rather than sugar’ was so different to what I was doing, that I didn’t quite know how to change.

But I did change over time and learnt how to eat to support my running and my longer-term health and wellbeing. It took a while, but I wanted to share five practical tips that you can start to consider which has kept me running well and given me so many additional health benefits such a stable weight and a clearer mind.

The overarching principle is to worry less about calories and focus more on giving your body the most nutritious foods you can find. In other words, it’s all about quality rather than quantity:

1. Drink Electroyte Lemonade. I replaced the orange juice and the energy drinks with Electrolyte Lemonade, a recipe I came across some years ago. It is very simple to make: lemons, water, salt, pear and honey and has far less sugar than many of the energy drinks on the market. For instance, a 380ml bottle of Lucozade has as much sugar as two packs of Jelly Babies which is huge, and fruit juice isn’t much better, with a glass of orange juice containing 21grams of sugar on its own!

You can find out the recipe for Electrolyte Lemonade on the Raw Energy website: click here

2. Eat seeds and nuts for healthy fats

To reduce the sugars in my diet, I started to eat healthy fats in the form of seeds and nuts including many beans which are packed with health-boosting compounds, including protein. Whilst I tend to eat more seeds than nuts, this has become my staple snack. Each day, I’ll prepare a trail mix containing pumkin seeds, sesame seeds and some dried fruits which is a great energy boost. There’s also some evidence to suggest that people who eat nuts and seeds have a lower risk for developing some chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

3. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

These will supply your body and your mind with so many vitamins and minerals, as well as the carbs it needs to fuel your running. When you really focus on eating vegetables and fruits, you realize how many wonderful fruits and vegetables there are to choose from. I try to eat what’s in season and also a range of colours to keep things interesting. Green is the key colour and I get my greens first thing in the morning by preparing an energy-boosting smoothie full of kale, spinach or any other leaves that are in season. I’ll also throw in some blueberries, apple and hemp protein. Even if the rest of the day is super busy, it’s great starting the day knowing that you have given your body so many fabulous nutrients to set yourself up for the day ahead.

You can find a couple of recipes for Green Smoothies on The Raw Energy website: click here

4. Maintain a healthy gut.

Our gut contains millions of microbes and many digestive disorders are linked to poor energy and other health issues, so it’s really important to maintain a healthy gut. One way of doing this is by eating and drinking fermented foods that contain live bacteria that are not only good for gut health, but also bolster your immune system. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, cultured milk, and kefir are very popular, but I don’t eat dairy products myself, so I drink Kamboucha that is made from different teas. If you’re new to fermented drinks, then go to a Wholefoods or health food shop near you and give them a try. The taste is sour and is definitely acquired, but the health benefits are huge.

 5. Upgrade your protein choices.

These days I get most of my protein from plant-based sources, following the Thrive Diet approach. That’s my choice, though, and if you chose to eat meat or fish, which are great sources of iron and zinc, try to eat the best quality meats from animals raised in open pastures that graze on grasses rather than grains. Also, whilst muscle meat is very popular, organ meat such as liver and kidney are packed full of nutrients.

So there are just a few tips to help you upgrade your diet to support your running and your general wellbeing.

• If you’re keen to find out more about how you can reduce your sugar intake, then go to and download the free guide: ‘Sugar: Sickly or Sweet’.

Links to further reading

The Thrive Diet:

Slow Burn:




Lawrence Mitchell

Written by Lawrence Mitchell | 7 articles | View profile

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