It’s a well-known fact in the fitness industry that dieting will slow down metabolism.
Assuming the dieter is diligent in their tracking, training sensibly, and sticking to their macros, then the only reason a fat loss plateau occurs is that their metabolism slowed down.
Metabolic downregulation is an inevitable part of reaching a lower bodyfat percentage. We should be grateful our bodies do this, otherwise humans would exist today; this capability has allowed us to survive through countless famines.However, it can be extremely frustrating when trying to get into the best shape of our lives.
The simplest and most effective way to speed up a slowed down metabolism is to eat at maintenance, period. But is there something you can do to prevent your metabolism from slowing down in the first place, or at least slow down the slow down?
Yes, of course! For starters, you ought to make sure you are eating at a reasonable calorie deficit, not doing too much training or cardio, and including refeeds at least once a week. There is one more nugget of knowledge that I recently came upon though… and you may freak out at what I recommend.
EAT SUGAR WHEN DIETING
(Oh shit really!? Don lost his mind!!!)
First, let me clarify what I mean by sugar. In the scientific sense of the word, sugar is a carbohydrate. These are molecules with 5-6 carbons arranged in a ring. Often, these single rings, called monosaccharides, are joined with other monosaccharides, forming disaccharides (like sucrose and lactose), and polysaccharides (like starch and glycogen). But in layman terms, sugar seems to refer to sucrose or fructose, so for the purpose of this article we will define sugar as sucrose and/or fructose.
A primer on relevant sugars:
Glucose: everyone who took high school biology knows that this is the main source of energy for our cells. Obviously it is beneficial, though many have reasons for excluding it from their diet. Unless a woke doctor tells you otherwise, or you are aware and accepting of the benefits/drawbacks of ketogenic (low/no-carb) diets, it may be in your best interest to eat glucose in some form.
Fructose: a simple carbohydrate found in fruit. This has a slightly different chemical structure than glucose, but otherwise is fairly similar.
Sucrose: a disaccharide formed between glucose and fructose. It naturally occurs in sugar cane and sugar beets. This is the devil, apparently. Woe to thee who eats this crap.
Second, I want to dispel they myth that sugar makes you fat. I’ve heard many justifications for sugar being the cause of fat gain like “its a fast carb that raises insulin and makes you fat” or “if you don’t go exercise the sugar off within an hour it gets stored as fat”. Both are bullshit and honestly make me feel queasy.
The only thing that makes you fat is eating more than you need. And If you’re concerned about sugar and diabetes risk, here’s some evidence that sugar is actually BENEFICIAL in the fight against insulin resistance.
Despite wanting to delve into the many interplays between sugar and health, I want to keep the focus of this article on how you can use sugar in your weight loss journey. I’ll have to talk about all the other health aspects of sugar another time. 🙁
But, If you have any concerns about sugar and health, let me know in the comments and I’d love to talk about it!
One thing i will say is that, although i am not a registered dietician, nutritionist, and whatnot, i do believe that very few things are harmful in moderation. moderation is key.
Before I jump into why sugar will be beneficial I have two cautions for deliberately increasing sugar in your fat loss diet:
You’re eating less calories, so you’ll want to eat filling foods (different from satiating/satisfying food, which satisfy you on a deeper, hormonal level). Filling foods tend to take up a lot of space with little calories. Fiber and water content are things to look for. Sugary foods tend to not have those two things (except for fruit); and
Sugar is an important component in hyperpapatable food, the type of food that tend to associate with addictions. I believe it is possible to have a few hyperpalatable foods that really satisfy you (for me, cannolis, organic chocolate and sometimes ice cream/froyo), but it is also possible to have foods that trigger a binge (I once ate a whole box of Oreos in less than an hour). Also, hyperpalatable foods tend to lack the vitamins and minerals that ‘healthy’ food provides, so if you eat a lot of hyperpalatable food it is more likely that you will have a nutrient deficiency. For more information on hyperpalatable food, addictive eating, and how it affects the brain, I highly recommend checking out Precision Nutrition’s two articles here and here.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into what I really want to talk about!
Sugar and Metabolism
Sugar has been shown to maintain resting metabolic rate during a very low calorie diet!
This study pitted sucrose, sucrose and protein, and fat and protein diets against each other in 23 obese women, all with a constant (and very low) 800 calories per day. Groups sucrose and protein, and fat and protein, experienced a slowdown in resting metabolic rate (RMR), while RMR *slightly* increased in the sucrose only group!
Another study showed that women who were injected with 100 grams of pure fructose over 7 days experienced no drop in metabolic rate and no muscle protein catabolism!
If you haven’t already shunned these findings due to the almost universal bias against sugar, then there are a few steps I would use when implementing sugar in your diet with the goal of helping metabolism.
Step 1: Track macros if you haven’t already
Tracking macros is already something I highly recommend doing anyway, and if you haven’t started now is the time! You won’t be able to gauge the effect of sugar on your metabolic rate if your intake as a whole is a crapshoot.
Step 2: Use your waking underarm temperature to measure metabolism
First thing in the morning (and I literally mean first thing) take a regular mouth thermometer and put it in your armpit. Do two trials per side. A hotter temperature means a faster metabolism. A range 97.5-98 degrees indicates that metabolism is at a fine speed, any lower and I recommend a maintenance break. Note that abnormally hot or cold sleeping conditions may have an effect, so use your best judgement here and keep the environment consistent. Use this metric to see if sugar is helping you.
Step 3: Start by making sure a quarter of your carbs are sucrose or fructose and gradually increase if desired
If you’re tracking macros already then this step should be easy. If you’re tracking your waking underarm temperature then deciding whether to increase sugar intake should come from your own interpretation of data.
Let me wrap up by reminding you of my disclaimer:
I am not a certified personal trainer, dietician, nutrition coach, and so forth. I am just a person who is passionate about health and fitness. All that I offer here is just advice, opinions based on independent research, and personal experience. I am not responsible for any adverse effects from practicing the recommendations, ideas, or acting on the information on this website. By practicing what I advise or the ideas I share here, you accept all pertaining risks and responsibilities. Always check with a doctor before starting any exercise or nutrition protocol.
It just seems relevant to do so because suggesting sugar can actually be good for you will likely make a few people shit themselves in anger. If/when people tell you of the woes of sugar, remember that moderation is key!
I hope you find nothing but positive results from this little diet hack! Let me know in the comments what you think. Don’t forget to subscribe!