We love them for watching calories, but what exactly do artificial sweeteners do?
This love-hate relationship we have with sugar is a constant battle for many of us, especially when it comes to weight loss and working towards a shredded physique. When artificial sweeteners first rolled around, everyone thought that was it. The cure for our sugar cravings were no more. And while artificial sweeteners do have all the taste of sugar, minus the calories, it seems as though we’ve found our solution.
Artificial sweeteners, while a healthy alternative to sugar, do not come without their fair share of controversy. Many false claims and theories float around the Internet and now the rhetoric surrounding artificial sweeteners appears to be that of clarity for some and skepticism for others. The truth is that many of the products we consume have at least sugar or artificial sweeteners of some kind in them. That is what makes them taste good and provides for flavor where naturally it doesn’t exist.
Sports supplements are those which we should be concerned about, especially as a bodybuilder or athlete looking for an all natural product. While you still receive the benefits of a pre-workout supplement for that boost of energy and muscle pump, or that BCAA supplement to provide for intra-workout support, many do contain artificial sweeteners. Even whey protein powders will contain artificial sweeteners to offer a solid taste for that post-workout recovery routine of yours.
While artificial sweeteners are not the end of the world for your overall gains, if you are someone who wants to seek more natural supplements, then knowing about artificial sweeteners is something to consider.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners & How Do They Work?
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are chemicals added to food and beverages to give them a sweet taste without the added calories. While some do have calories, the amount is incredibly small. They tend to be incredibly sweet, much more sweet than sugar, which is why people have latched onto these sweeteners so hard (1).
Artificial sweeteners work very similar to sugar in that the taste receptors find the molecule to send the signal to your brain. This then allows the brain to identify the sweet taste and give you the pleasure of something tasting good. While artificial sweeteners can fit into the taste receptor, the body cannot break most of them down, so you get all the benefits of taste without the calories.
Benefits Of Artificial Sweeteners
The benefits of artificial sweeteners, in particular on those who seek the best for their health and fitness, will work to eliminate the need for so much sugar, especially if you crave it. An easy solution to keep weight off and aid in the fat loss process will ensure a more healthy diet. Of course, some sugar here and there will not hurt your overall goals, but eliminating it where necessary is always a great idea. Some studies have shown that replacing sugary foods and beverages with artificial sweeteners could actually lead to a feeling of being less hungry so you don’t consume more calories (2).
By controlling the sensation of tasting something sweet, you are able to then eat healthier in order to aid in weight loss while also tasting something good. Many of those supplements that taste great contain artificial sweeteners, but if they didn’t, you would be drinking the original flavor of BCAAs which is probably not too delicious. Even adding them to coffee or tea at least provides a healthier alternative to sugar and will keep your dental health high as well.
Side Effects Of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners cannot be broken down like natural ones so they offer no benefit to your energy stores or in the processes of protein synthesis and recovery. Some can reduce blood glucose levels which can effect the maintenance of those levels (3) which have effects on performance and cognitive function. Without the proper maintenance, these can decline and your workout may suffer. Low levels also impair the recovery process and muscle growth by impeding on the insulin response after a hard workout (4).
It is observed that some artificial sweeteners can impair sensitivity to certain signals and actually promote food intake which would have the adverse effect for your weight loss goals. While much of this is fueled by the controversial studies and debates surrounding artificial sweeteners, everyone is different and it matters how you feel and how your body reacts (5). While artificial sweeteners and the effects on diseases and other potential harms have been studied and debunked, or at least were decided on to need further investigation, seeking a more natural product is always a solid first step with anything.
Types Of Artificial Sweeteners
When looking at the nutrition labels for your supplements, any good and reputable company will list all of the ingredients with no hidden formulas or ingredients. Here are some artificial sweeteners that may appear on those labels.
Sucralose (Splenda): Derived from sugar in a multistep chemical process. A popular sweetener, it is debated among people as to the exact benefits and side effects.
Acesulfame Potassium: Highly versatile, it is in many foods and beverages. Claims that it disrupts metabolic processes and interferes with weight control exist but have not been proven.
Aspartame (Equal): Made from aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Claims of headaches, depression, weight gain, and a host of others have been reported by those opposed to aspartame, but more research needs to be done on the actual validity of these claims.
Saccharin (Sweet’N Low): One of the oldest on the market, it is stable and has a long shelf life. The effects on blood sugar levels are unclear since it does not metabolize in the body.
Artificial sweeteners have been around for a long time as a way to give people a substitute for sugar so they don’t have to deal with all the pressure of weight gain when it comes to those sugary cravings. The truth surrounding artificial sweeteners remains unclear. While they do have the benefits of limiting the amount of sugar you eat, which has its own risks attached, the side effects of too many of these artificial aids is dependent on the individual. Always seek the natural approach if possible and be cautious about the ingredients in what you consume, especially your supplements, because they should always help you, not hurt your overall goals.
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*Images courtesy of Envato
- Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. “Low-Calorie Sweeteners”. (source)
- Rolls, B. J. (1991). “Effects of intense sweeteners on hunger, food intake, and body weight: a review”. (source)
- Purohit, Vikas; Mishra, Sundeep (2018). “The truth about artificial sweeteners- Are they good for diabetics?”. (source)
- Richter, E. A.; Mikines, K. J.; Galbo, H.; Kiens, B. (1989). “Effect of exercise on insulin action in human skeletal muscle”. (source)
- Pearlman, Michelle; Obert, Jon; Casey, Lisa (2017). “The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity”. (source)