Counting Macros

Sugar Grams and Flexible Dieting

By Ted KallmyerUpdated June 14, 2022
flexible dieting and sugar

Sugar has been painted as the nutritional villain for many years, so it’s no wonder why many flexible dieters are worried about, afraid of, or hung up on this submacro.

I was anti-sugar for many years too, until I discovered flexible dieting and was able let go of my food phobias.

I would avoid added sugar, avoid too much fruit, and never allow myself to have dessert during the workweek. But, even when I was so strict about not having sugar, I still wasn’t able to reach my diet and fitness goals.

The reason, you ask? I wasn’t fully aware of how much I was eating, how many calories my body truly needed, and how much of each macro I was consuming.

Sugar, when consumed within this context, is no longer the enemy, but actually something that makes life more pleasureable!

Here’s why.

The Problem with Sugar

I would not begin to refute the overwhelming amount of research that links excess sugar consumption to all kinds of diseases including type 2 diabetes1, heart disease2, and obesity3.

But, the key word in all of this research is EXCESS.

In general, people do consume too much sugar in their diets because it is in almost everything lining our grocery store shelves. What’s worse, sugar has an addictive nature and people crave it.

While sugar does deliver calories or energy to fuel people’s bodies, in many cases, it is devoid of vitamins and minerals, and otherwise known as an empty calorie source.

So yes, sugar can be “bad”, but only when it is consumed in excess beyond what your body has the ability to use or process efficiently.

Flexible Dieting and Sugar

The flexible dieting philosophy states that you can eat anything as long as it fits your macros and this is true regarding sugar as well.

Technically, a nondiabetic person could consume all of their allotted carb grams as sugar and it wouldn’t prevent them from reaching their weight loss goal. This was proven by the professor who conducted the twinkie diet experiment.

Your body essentially runs on sugar in the form of glucose. All of the carbs you eat are broken down by enzymes into this simple sugar. Therefore, 150 grams of carbs (non-fibrous carbs) is essentially the same energy-wise as 150 grams of sugar.

However, for the sake of good nutrition and disease prevention, refined sugar and added sugar should be consumed in moderation.

iifym and sugar amounts

How much sugar is moderate?

I recommend a healthy approach to flexible dieting because I think good health is more than just numbers on a scale or how much you can bench press.

I advocate the 85% – 15% healthy eating guideline and this applies to refined sugar as well. 85 percent of your carbs should come from healthy sources that deliver plenty of fiber and nutrition, while 15 percent of your carbs can be from refined sugar sources.

This means that if your daily carb macro goal is 200 grams, you could consume 30 grams as refined sugar. Note that I’m not including whole fruit in this number, but refined sugar sources like fruit juice, table sugar, corn syrup, soft drinks etc.

But, I stress that this is for overall better health and not because eating sugar will prevent you from reaching your flexible dieting goals.

Total Sugar Intakes

It’s probably a good idea to aim for less than 80-100 grams of total sugar from all sources a day. This includes fruits and dairy, which are the leading sources of natural sugar in the diet.

Complex carbs take longer to break down and thus release sugar into your bloodstream more slowly. This is better for your insulin levels and helps you avoid the dreaded sugar crash often associated with eating large amounts of sugar.

By focusing on consuming complex carbs, you’ll feel fuller longer, you’ll have more sustained energy, and you’ll easily meet your daily fiber goal.

As a flexible dieter, don’t be afraid to have that treat AND to make room for it in your daily macros. Enjoy that piece of chocolate or that cup of frozen yogurt because life is too short to not ever enjoy the foods that bring us so much pleasure.

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    Scientific References:

  1. Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E. W., Flanders, W. D., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA internal medicine, 174(4), 516-524.
  2. Malik, V. S., & Hu, F. B. (2012). Sweeteners and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: the role of sugar-sweetened beverages. Current diabetes reports, 12(2), 195-203.
  3. Qi, Q., Chu, A. Y., Kang, J. H., Jensen, M. K., Curhan, G. C., Pasquale, L. R., … & Qi, L. (2012). Sugar-sweetened beverages and genetic risk of obesity. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(15), 1387-1396.
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, author, and macros coach. He has helped hundreds of clients reach their body transformation goals.


  • Anna M.

    Thanks for your reply!
    I also assume that, even if you go way over your appropriate intake one day but make a mindful adjustment of sugar intake the next, such fluctuations (if not too frequent, and not part of a binge-restrict pattern) will not be detrimental to your health and fitness level. Is that correct?

    • Ted

      yes, I would agree. Some days it is fine to have a big piece of cake and celebrate!

  • Anna M.

    Great article, thank you!
    What about the WHO recommendation of 25 g per day of added sugar?
    In your example it is shown that, if appropriate for the particular person’s intake, it can be more than that.
    Do you think their guideline is quite arbitrary?

    • Ted

      The WHO and other heath organizations always use an “average” human for recommendations. This would be average height, weight, activity level etc. So yes, people could get away with more if they don’t fit their definition of average. If you’re pretty physically active you can definitely get away with more added sugar and still be very healthy.