Drop the Drag Wednesday: Athlete Diets Too High in Refined Carbs
To drop the drag this week, drop any notion that you should consume a diet high in refined carbs throughout the day, just because you’re an endurance athlete. Today, we’re talking about Daily Nutrition, not Training Nutrition. For Training Nutrition (immediately before, during, or after training), refined carbs are appropriate and used efficiently by the body. But, for your daily meals and snacks, refined carbs, and even an over-consumption of all carbs is a problem. Here’s why:
For decades, a low-fat, high-carb diet was recommended to everybody. This has gotten us nowhere in terms of health, weight, energy, or performance. In fact, I believe that most of our problems with body-fat-related-diseases, overweight bodies, and obesity stem in large part from diets too high in carbs.
To start, think about refined carbohydrates’ digestion journey. First, they begin to break down in your mouth – that’s right, they don’t even have to wait to get to your stomach to begin digesting. Then, they are the first ones to be broken down and to exit your stomach. In fact, from this point forward, refined carbs from grains and sugar act essentially the same way in your body – you should consider them equals as far as wellness (so, the next time you’re looking at a big plate of white spaghetti noodles, think sugar). These carbs exit your stomach, enter your small intestine, are quickly and completely absorbed to your portal blood stream which carries them to your liver, and then out into your blood again as blood sugar.
They can hit your bloodstream in as little as 30 minutes…15 minutes if they’re in liquid form (soda, hot chocolate, etc)! Again, perfect for Training; horrible for Daily Nutrition. And, contrary to what you’ve been told, whole-grain products are not much better. They may have a slightly slower digestive route, but they end up as blood sugar. And, since many whole grain products are not truly whole grains (a product such as bread, where the wheat grain has been disassembled and used is no longer really a whole-food whole-grain; a whole grain is old-fashioned oats, where the whole grain is eaten intact), their fiber has been broken down and does not provide all the same benefits as it would naturally, or in whole grain form.
Once blood sugar is spiked, your pancreas sends out insulin which acts like a key and “opens” your cells so that the glucose will leave the bloodstream (where it does damage) and enter your cells (where it’s stored as fat). Now, your pancreas constantly sends out a steady stream of insulin as it’s necessary to handle any small increase in blood glucose throughout the day – this is called “basal insulin.” But, when you are sedentary and eat refined carbohydrates and sugar, it must additionally send out a “bolus” of insulin to take care of the blood glucose. The more insulin sent out in this situation, the more fat stored. The more insulin sent out, the less fat metabolized and burned. The more insulin sent out over and over, the less sensitive cells become to insulin, so they begin to require more and more insulin sent out, and you’ve guessed it, more fat is stored.
This is a vicious cycle.
Back to the stomach. Protein, fats, and fiber take much longer to leave the stomach and get through digestion. They have different paths, but all share a common theme: they have little negative impact on blood sugar and insulin. They don’t contribute to the negative cycle. Instead, healthy fats, protein, and fiber, all work to make cells more sensitive to insulin, which helps reduce the need for it. See where I’m going with this? Our diets need to be lower in carbohydrates (all carbs), and higher in protein, fiber, vegetables, and healthy fats. And, not just to keep us lean, but to keep our cells’ healthy and the metabolism of our foods in proper working order.
One of the biggest offender I see are “sports foods” consumed for Daily Nutrition. To be perfectly clear, again, these are appropriate immediately before, during, and after training. But, your mid-morning snack should not be a sports bar and sports drink if you don’t train until 5:00 pm – these carbs will stored long before you begin. Sports Nutrition foods are designed to break down quickly, digest easily, and hit your blood stream fast! The opposite of what you want for wellness. Daily Nutrition should be slow; Training Nutrition should be fast.
This week, decide if your diet is too high in refined carbohydrates for Daily Nutrition. Drop sports nutrition foods that you use for everyday meals and snacks. In their place, use whole food carbs (whole fruits, beans, lentils, yams, oats, whole rice, quinoa, plain dairy, etc) as up to a third of your meal. Then, balance your meals out with a protein source (vegetarian or meat), a healthy fat source (such as avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts, coconut oil, seeds, etc), and LOADS of colorful vegetables. You’ll keep your cells healthy, the energy up, and the Drag Dropped!SHARE