Sucralose: a bad gut feeling for triathletes

Oct 4, 2018 4:09:59 PM
2 min read

It is no secret that in our Western society far too much sugar is consumed in the daily diet. The negative consequences are numerous and obvious, most notably the widespread growth of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart failure, elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease,...

As a result, different alternatives to sugar have been developed to give products a sweet taste, while at the same time dropping the accompanying calories and health disadvantages.

One of those alternative artificial sweeteners is sucralose, which is 650 times sweeter than sugar but contains only a fraction of the calories.

There has been a lot of controversy about sucralose, but it is considered safe for consumption, with migraine as the only recognized side effect.

What we should take a closer look at as a triathlete, is the effect of sucralose (and other artificial sweeteners) on the intestines.

The microbiome: an athletic organ

More and more research is emphasizing the importance of the bacteria in our intestines (the 'microbiome') for optimal health and performance.

The number and type of bacteria in our intestines have a great influence on how the body breaks down carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy production, and on inflammation, the immune system and a whole range of other physiological processes.

Here lies the problem.

Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, but also Acefulsame K, aspartame and saccharine have a negative influence on the bacteria in our intestines.

For the average person this might not be such a big deal, but for a triathlete, whose performance depends among other things on the good digestion of carbohydrates, this is a tremendously important fact.

Intestinal discomfort is high on the list of unwanted effects for a triathlete. Sucralose seems to have a negative impact on the number of intestinal inflammations worldwide.

A study (1) showed a dramatic increase in the number of irritable bowel syndrome cases after the commercialization of sucralose:

 

Further studies (2) (3) showed that artificial sweeteners not only have a negative impact on the intestinal bacteria, but also cause glucose intolerance. Bad news for triathletes who must be able to optimally digest carbohydrates, but also a general health risk that can cause diabetes.

So what's the big deal?

These are important findings. We would recommend to drastically reduce the amount of artificial sweeteners, just like we would advise limiting your sugar consumption.

For a triathlete, this is even more important. The role of the gut on performance cannot be underestimated. Athletes therefore even have a different kind of microbiome than non-athletes (4), suggesting that the intestines adapt to deliver top performance, just like your muscles do.

Research of Asker Jeukendrup confirms these findings (5).

Conclusion

Even though artificial sweeteners such as sucralose are considered "safe", we believe that they have no place in the diet of a triathlete, and not even in the diet of any health-conscious person.

Therefore, you will find no artificial sweeteners in our Hiddit Triathlon Nutrition range. We are always going to prefer using natural sweeteners such as stevia in our supplements.

 

Resources: 

  1. Etiology or inflammatory bowel disease: a unified hypothesis, World J Gastroenterol. 2012 APR 21; 18 (15): 1708 – 1722.
  2. A bitter aftertaste: unintended effects of artificial sweeteners, Cell Metabolism 20, Nov. 4, 2012
  3. J. Suez et al, artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota, Nature, doi: 10.1038/nature13793, 2014
  4. The microbiome of professional athletes differ from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particular at The functional metabolic level
    Wiley Barton1, 2.3, Nicholas C Penney4, 5, Owen Cronin1, 3, Isabel Garcia-Perez4, Michael G Molloy1, 3, Elaine Holmes4, Fergus Shanahan1, 3, Paul D Cotter1, 2, Orla O'Sullivan1, 2
  5. Jeukendrup AE. Training the gut for athletes. Sports Medicine.

 

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