Oh, Sugar! What am I Drinking!?

Glucose Sugar Water BottleThis article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter March 2014

Have you ever taken a look at the ingredients in your sports drink and wondered what in the world you were putting in your body? I have, and I’m sure many of you have, as well! The goal of this article is to create a mini field guide to common sugars you may encounter in your quest for the perfectly-fueled bike ride. During endurance exercise such as cycling, sugars are a vital source of energy, however, not all sugars are the same! The intent of this article is to increase your familiarity with some of these sugars and how they end up in your water bottle, not necessarily to pass judgement on whether or not you should drink them… at least for now! I hope you enjoy this sweet little article!

Cane Sugar: This is the common name for sucrose which comes from the processing of sugar cane. It goes through a multi-step process to remove impurities and produce the crystalline product. “Cane sugar” distinguishes it from sucrose derived from sugar beets.

Complex Carbohydrates: This is a catch-all name that probably refers to maltodextrin or a similar compound.

Dextrose: This is a common name for glucose. Another is “grape sugar.”

Fructose: This simple sugar is found in tree and vine fruits, honey, and root vegetables, but commercially it comes from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn. Metabolically, it can enter the same pathways as glucose and be used as storage or fuel.

Glucose: A simple sugar that can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream in the small
intestine. Metabolically, it can be directed into storage (as glycogen) or used immediately as a fuel for our cells, including brain and muscles. Glucose is typically produced through the commercial processing of starches (corn, rice, wheat, etc.)

High Fructose Corn Syrup: This sweetener is produced by converting some of the glucose in corn syrup to fructose through enzymatic treatment (chemistry and heat!) The result is a mixture of glucose and fructose that can be produced in various concentrations.

Maltodextrin: This is an almost flavorless polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) that is produced from starches. In the U.S. the source is mostly corn, while in Europe, wheat starch is more commonly used. It is a chain made up of glucose molecules linked together by chemical bonds. It is easily digested and absorbed.

Sucrose: (common table sugar) Sucrose is broken down into glucose and fructose in the small intestine. There, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. In the U.S. sucrose comes from a mixture of sugar cane and sugar beets, unless specified as “cane sugar.”

Sugar: This a generic reference to sucrose.

Here’s where you might encounter these sweeteners in your next bottle:

Hammer Heed: Maltodextrin
Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix: Cane Sugar, Dextrose
Coca-Cola: High Fructose Corn Syrup
Gatorade Thirst Quencher: Sugar, Dextrose
Powerade: Glucose, Fructose
Endurox R4: Maltodextrin, Fructose, Sucrose
Vitamin Water: Fructose, Sugar
EFS: Complex Carbohydrates, Sucrose, Dextrose

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