By Brain Maslach
When it comes to performance, one of the most important things you can do is eat to maintain a consistent blood sugar level. Certain foods cause your blood sugar to quickly skyrocket and then come crashing back down, resulting in low energy and the craving to eat again. You can avoid the crash (and get healthier in general) if you make the right choices. I created Enduro Bites to make the choice easy when it comes to fueling during physical activity.
Before we go further, a bit of background science. Blood sugar concentration, also known as blood glucose level, is a measure of sugar in the blood. Glucose is a simple sugar, also known as a monosaccharide, and is often labeled as dextrose in foods. In most cases, blood glucose is the primary source of energy for the body.
When the carbohydrates we consume are digested, they are converted (at varying speeds depending on their source and quality), to blood glucose. Since the body wants to maintain a fairly consistent blood sugar level, it will release insulin, a hormone that helps blood glucose get absorbed by muscle and fat cells. Lots of sugar equals lots of insulin (often referred to as an insulin spike) which can channel the majority of your blood sugar away.
The resulting low blood glucose concentration makes you feel like you need to eat again; you’ve probably experienced this “crash” after eating something excessively sugary. It also makes fat loss difficult; once glucose is shuttled into fat and muscle cells, it’s harder for the body to use.
Which foods cause this blood-sugar roller coaster? Anything high in processed sugar, which often masquerades as sucrose, dextrose, or glucose. Additionally, foods high in processed complex carbohydrates, such as maltodextrin or even wheat and other flours, can have the same effect. Such foods are often marketed as “low sugar” or “no sugar” despite the fact they can have the same effects as foods loaded with the processed stuff we mentioned above.
Unfortunately, the majority of sports nutrition is also in this category. Think gels, chews, and other glorified candies loaded with processed sugar, which can wreak havoc on your energy levels. They also tend to cause gastrointestinal distress, especially when not consumed with enough water. There’s nothing worse than suffering through a stomach ache and low blood sugar while trying to perform your best.
Don’t worry, carbohydrates aren’t evil. To the contrary, carbohydrates are crucial for optimal performance and limiting them too much can have detrimental effects -- it’s just the processed ones you want to avoid. Fortunately most of us also don’t need to go overboard to eliminate processed carbohydrates from our diets. The key is to learn which foods will be the best fuel to help us reach our goals, and to practice moderation when we do indulge.
With this in mind, one of the best dietary changes we can make is to trade processed, high-carb foods for fruits and vegetables. Aside from being packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, the fibers in fruits and vegetables slow the rate their natural sugars are converted to blood glucose.
The focus in developing Enduro Bites was having a highly nutritious food that would maintain consistent blood sugar while being easy to eat and digest. It needed to be something which could be used for healthy snacking as well as fuel for high-energy activities. We tried every ingredient available and tested recipes with local elite athletes until even those with the worst food sensitivities were satisfied. The result was a nutritionally balanced bar made with real fruits in place of fast-burning sugars.
If this is the first time you’ve tried tuning up your diet, keep things simple and pick just one meal per day where you substitute fruits, vegetables, and minimally processed grains for all those processed carbohydrates. If you’re an experienced food guru, take it a step further and try for 2 or 3 meals daily. And remember -- your workout isn’t exempt from the principles of blood sugar management.
Implement these recommendations, and you’ll get leaner and perform better. You’ll most likely feel better and function at a higher level cognitively as well. This season could be the one you break that PR or ride that century -- isn’t it time you started stocking up on fruits, vegetables, and healthy sports nutrition?