Always fuel w/sports fuels (sugar only)?...a word of caution

I’ve debated whether to post this for a while because I’m only one person. I realize every individual is different and that my situation may not be close to the same as anyone else’s. However, I would like to caution against always fueling your workouts with 60 – 90+ grams of carbs/hr all the time primarily with sugar (i.e. gels, drink mixes, etc.).

This is in no way medical or nutritional advice. It’s simply an n=1 case study that I want to provide as a reminder to pay attention to your health as you strive to get faster on the bike.

I have been a TR subscriber for several years and have seen a lot of improvements using it…mostly mid-volume plans. A while back, I started following high volume plans and began subscribing to the podcast’s recommendation of fueling with at least 60 g/hr of carbs. I did this using primarily sports fuels. I quickly built up to 90 – 110 g/hr on all my non-endurance workouts and races. I would fuel with 60 – 75 g/hr during endurance workouts. I felt good and my bike performance improved. Although I did not feel immensely better like some on the podcast have reported.

Beginning in my early 30s (I’m currently 39), my cholesterol started to creep up. Last year during my annual wellness check with my doctor, he stated that he doesn’t typically start prescribing any medications for his patients for cholesterol until they’re in their 40s. However, after my results came back at that visit, he prescribed a medication for me due to the alarmingly high level of my LDL cholesterol. It increased almost 100% in 6 months! During that 6-month period, I had been fueling as described above. Other than being 6 months older, nothing else changed during that time. After discussing it with my doctor, he agreed that I could wait to start the medication to see if I could lower it through diet alone.

Since finding out about my startingly high cholesterol last year, I’ve reduced the amount of carbs I’m taking in from sports fuels on the bike and only use them for races and race simulation rides as I prepare for races. For my indoor workouts, which makes up over 80% of my rides, I’ve begun fueling with whole food sources (i.e. dates, bananas, etc.). I’ve begun checking my cholesterol every 3 months now and since making these changes it has come back down to the same range it was before.

I made the decision to post about my experience/results to remind everyone that just because it may be good for your performance, it could be detrimental to your long-term health. Always stay mindful of your overall health!


So I do understand that simple sugars and processed foods are associated with higher LDL and triglycerides but I wonder what you are doing for the 22-23 hours a day when you are not working out with the idea that it could have some impact on your overall health more so than taking in carbs during exercise.

A friend of mine is 52 and his triglycerides were over 1000! He doesn’t take in any simple carbs on the bike because he doesn’t exercise. Lots of drinking and barely any vegetables plus a ton of red meat and fried food, he also still smokes. He is now on two statins and hopefully on the next checkup he will be much lower. I got him a kitchen scale and a bathroom scale and have been struggling to get the dumb*** to put in the slightest effort to improve his numbers.

I’m 49 and fuel most of my non-Z2 rides at 60-90 (now experimenting with my own recipe) but I eat a lot of whole foods and rarely eat out. Any guess what my numbers look like? (hint - amazing)


I knew my experience would not be the same as everyone else’s and would likely be an exception. The other 22 hours in the day absolutely have an impact on overall health. My lifestyle could probably use some improvement, but I’d venture that it’s better than most. I have relatively low levels of stress, I get 7-9 hours of sleep, rarely drink alcohol, and my diet is pretty healthy. The only differences in my diet from before to now are the on-the-bike changes described above.


Could you expand on this? It seems you’re consuming (significantly?) fewer calories on the bike, but have not changed your diet off the bike at all - leading to a lower total caloric intake.

Of course…my meals off the bike are unchanged. We (my family) eat mostly whole foods at home and rarely eat out. I probably was consuming noticeably fewer calories on the bike immediately after I made the change. However, that isn’t the case anymore as I’ve begun consuming 80-90 g of carbs per hour from mostly dates during my workouts now.

1 Like

Hmm. I mean I’m not a doctor, but I don’t see dates as being dramatically different than spoonfuls of table sugar. A few grams of fiber might mitigate things a tad…but no other real difference…


Nothing else changed except removing sugar fueling from workouts?

My gut doesn’t have an issue slamming 90g/hour carbs on hard century rides.

However I didn’t ‘react well’ to trying to fuel every workout with 60g/hour or 90g/hour. React well = by feeling and controlling weight.

After trying the high carb fueling craze, I went back to my tried and true fueling for afternoon workouts:

  • lunch 2 hours before with a bowl of rice (70-75g carbs) and some veggie carbs
  • start of ride: 2 bananas (40-60g carbs)
  • 2 hour workout: fueling depending on last night’s dinner and morning breakfast… sometimes no additional carbs on bike, and sometimes a 43g carb Clif bar

No performance issues, I’m usually putting out more power at the end versus the beginning of the workout.

Winning in the kitchen, I’m not having any issues with eating most of my carbs off-the-bike. Doing a lot of endurance riding and a lot of 1300-1500kJ workouts. Don’t find any benefit from pouring sugar down my gullet on most workouts.


Did your Dr suggest the carbs were responsible for your high cholesterol?

I’ve never seen carb intake/sugar consumption linked. Some people do just have a natural propensity for high cholesterol. I had a mate who was a sub 30min 10k runner with a healthy diet who had to take medication in his 20’s.

1 Like

Was this increase in LDL present without and increase in fasting blood sugar or Tryglicerids, how about HDL ?

Thanks for writing about your case. It might help some people. Please don’t mind the sugar zealots that are showing up here.


No, he didn’t suggest it, but I plan to discuss it at my next appointment with him in a few weeks.

I’m not a scientist, and I don’t have links to any studies, but I do remember reading from a couple of different articles (one of them was from Hammer Nutrition) that referenced studies that said sugar intake could (or maybe had) lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol.

1 Like

Good questions. My blood sugar numbers have always been good, and there was no corresponding increase in my blood sugar levels with the increased LDL. HDL and triglycerides also increased over the referenced time period, but their increases were negligible…just a couple of points. The increase was almost solely in LDL.

1 Like

I am not a nutritionist. And agree simple sugars differ from real food/fruit.

But a carb is a carb. Maybe the type is different. Glucose vs fructose or galactose

If you fuel with dates or Gatorade still increasing blood sugar and your body is still getting carbs.

This is why you’re not a nutritionist. Plenty of different types of carbohydrates which have different effects. For instance look up complex and simple carbohydrates.


Which I said. No need to be rude brah! Lots of people here pretend to be doctors and physical therapists and I don’t call them out as a Monday morning quarterback. Let them live their wildly inaccurate truths.

To get the sugar in table sugar in date form you’d have to eat so many dates. Hence the fiber and why they’re complex and not broken down in their simplest form.

But ppl who hammertime bananas and dried fruit all the time would have similar sugar ramifications as ppl who eat simple sugars in the bike - if we are to believe that the high cholesterol of the OP is due to simple sugars only. And not MANY other factors.


The difference though is that fruits come with a certain amount of fiber. The sugars are the same, but the ones jn fruit effectively come with packaging that table sugar does not

My personal grossly uninformed opinion is that if the fruit you’re eating contains an amount of fiber needed to meaningfully slow down absorption, it would make it awfully tough to take in the necessary calories. Just speculating though.

You didn’t mention what volume ( hours per week) of cycling you’re doing? Also do you work? If so, is it an office job or an active job like construction?
My non professional opinion is if you’re slamming sugar riding 6 hours a week, while working an office job. That could be a cause of concern unless you get 8k + steps a day. Im not judging your life only speculating.

1 Like

That sounds like making a correlation into a causation, which is a frequent occurrence when you only consciously change one thing and then attribute the outcome to that. “I took in supplement X and did not get sick, hence supplement X helped me not get sick.”

Since you did not mention any weight loss, I am assuming your weight has remained relatively stable. A banana has about 20–30 g of carbs, depending on size, etc., so you cannot replace gels and drinks with dates and bananas. I’d double-check your nutrition off the bike. Thus, you must have changed your off-the-bike nutrition to account for the larger calorie deficit.

I’d double-check your off-the-bike nutrition and see how that has changed. Have you accounted for differences in training phase and volume/intensity? E. g. I crave more unhealthy foods when I do less sports.


Warning: crappy personal opinion that may be offensive to some.

I’m 52. I’m a cholesterol blood chemistry skeptic. At the request of my Doctor, I’ve now had 5 blood tests that show LDL, HDL and triglycerides and some other totals. It has gone from bad, to good, back to bad. No two consecutive tests have really matched at all. I have three that my doctor says should not require significant action.

I don’t work in medicine, and don’t really know anything about this topic. I wrote all this out simply to say, in my opinion, I would not make decisions based on one test. In my opinion I would also not base any conclusions on two differing tests.


Here is an interesting research link, but Coach Chad really ought o answer this:

Glycaemic index and optimal performance

P Walton 1 , E C Rhodes



It is widely documented that athletes should consume carbohydrates prior to, during and after exercise. Ingestion of carbohydrates at these times will optimise performance and recovery. In spite of this knowledge, there is a paucity of information available to athletes concerning the types of carbohydrate foods to select. Therefore, it is suggested that the glycaemic index may be an important resource when selecting an ideal carbohydrate. The glycaemic index categories foods containing carbohydrates according to the blood glucose response that they elicit. Carbohydrate foods evoking the greatest responses are considered to be high glycaemic index foods, while those producing a relatively smaller response are categorised as low glycaemic index foods. Athletes wishing to consume carbohydrates 30 to 60 minutes before exercise should be encouraged to ingest low glycaemic index foods. Consuming these types of foods will decrease the likelihood of creating hyperglycaemia and hyperinsulinaemia at the onset of exercise, while providing exogenous carbohydrate throughout exercise. It is recommended that high glycaemic index foods be consumed during exercise. These foods will ensure rapid digestion and absorption, which will lead to elevated blood glucose levels during exercise. Post-exercise meals should consist of high glycaemic index carbohydrates. Low glycaemic foods do not induce adequate muscle glycogen resynthesis compared with high glycaemic index foods.

1 Like