Why Does Sugar Make My Energy Crash?
The dreaded sugar crash! It always happens right before you need to do something important, like deliver a presentation.
Sugar crashes are very real, and they are not good for you, although they don’t necessarily signal a bigger problem such as diabetes.
Since processed sugar is a relatively modern invention, this isn’t a problem that humans developed to deal with. But it also means that sugar crashes are easily avoidable, especially if you can avoid sugar.
Which is, unfortunately, harder and harder these days.
What is sugar, really?
Technically, sugar is something your body needs. All carbs count as sugar, and your body uses carbohydrates as its primary energy source.
Remember the old cellular respiration equation from high school? It explains how your cells turn carbs or sugar into energy.
When we talk about sugar though, we usually don’t mean bread or pasta. We’re talking about the sweet stuff: cookies, ice cream, candy, and more.
This stuff is usually made out of table sugar, a highly processed, factory made substance. Table sugar dissolves in water, and is a simple carbohydrate, which means your body digests it quicker.
What is a sugar rush (and crash)?
When you eat a natural, healthy carb like whole wheat, it takes a long time for your body to convert it into energy. You feel satiated and stable.
When you eat something sweet like a candy bar, your body breaks down its sugar much, much faster. This gives you a rush of energy, and it feels great!
Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. Your body burns through all that energy quickly, and then it’s gone, but you are still in “rush” mode. You wind up burning even more energy, and wind with with less than you had before.
A big part of the problem here is that the amount of sugar in modern junk food is way, way more than our ancestors would have ever been able to eat at once.
A human 5000 years ago might have gotten a mild sugar rush from eating a piece of fruit, which would have been great for running from a tiger or something.
But today it’s more likely you will have a massive rush from a candy bar, and then go back to typing at your computer, only to feel a crash 20 minutes later.
How to avoid sugar crashes:
The best way to avoid sugar crashes is simple: don’t eat sugar.
To be fair, that is really hard to do. Cravings are real, and we are constantly surrounded by sugary junk food. Don’t feel too bad if you find you just can’t help yourself.
Eat whole foods and whole carbs. Brown rice and whole wheat bread are better than white rice or wonder bread. They make you feel satiated and help regulate your blood sugar, reducing cravings for sugar.
Time your meals with your circadian rhythm. Ever notice that you feel sleepy in the afternoon? This is actually natural, as your body produces some melatonin at this time. But eating sugar will just make it worse.
Use alternative sweeteners. There are actually several sugar free sweeteners that will make your food taste sweet without actually adding any carbs. These include stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol.
You can also eat smaller and more frequent meals. Your body will have an easier time managing its sugar intake if it is stretched out throughout the day, instead of all at once.
What to do if you are in a sugar crash?
If you have the time and the option, the best thing to do is to just wait it out. Lie down, and your blood sugar levels should stabilize on their own in a few minutes to an hour.
You can also eat a small amount of carbohydrates to try to bring your blood sugar levels up a little bit. Fifteen grams is a good amount to start with. Just be sure to eat a healthy carb, like whole wheat bread, not more sugar!
One sugar crash is not likely to be a sign of a bigger problem. However, if you find you have frequent sugar crashes over and over again, this could be a sign of diabetes or hypoglycemia.
What does a sugar crash feel like?
Common symptoms include:
All of these symptoms can also come from other problems. The surest sign that you have a sugar crash on your hands is if you have any of these symptoms and ate a lot of sugar in the last hour or so.
Note that hunger is, unfortunately, a symptom. This frequently makes people eat even more junk food, trying to get their energy back. This creates a vicious cycle of sugar highs and lows.
Conclusion: You don’t have to have sugar crashes
Sugar crashes are largely a modern invention. The human body is simply not built to handle as much sugar as modern diets can give it.
The simplest way to avoid this problem is to avoid sugar entirely, yet in our modern environment, this is nearly impossible. Sugar is everywhere.
One thing you can try to do is substitute healthier options in place of sugar. For example, CanDo offers sugar free protein bars, made out of alternative sweeteners like stevia and xylitol. Our protein bars are also low carb and gluten free, making them a healthy snack for any situation.