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Sugar Balance for Athletes: Tips

Sugar intake in endurance sports
Fitness / Health / Everything / Body

Sugar Balance for Athletes: Tips

Maximising Performance with Controlled Sugar Intake

Certain athletes can have glucose dysregulation issues, which could lead to fluctuations in their blood sugar levels. We will look at how they can find the right balance between having sufficient amounts of sugar to power their optimum performance and eating too much sugar, which can be unhealthy.

Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. This is something that has been well researched over the years. It has been shown that higher sensitivity to exercise showed double the genetic expression in three genes involved in energy metabolism, which is all a good thing in terms of our chosen endurance sport. Or alternatively, if we want to get a hold of that insulin and lose some weight.

It’s important for athletes to be careful when it comes to the carbs and supplements they consume, in case this means that all their potential benefits might be compromised in the process. In this article, we will explore how excessive sugar can affect performance and provide some practical advice on how to avoid it.

Glucose Metabolism

Glycolysis and gluconeogenesis are two metabolic pathways of glucose. Glycolysis first breaks down glucose in the presence of oxygen, which can create pyruvate in the presence of oxygen or lactate without it. Gluconeogenesis is one of the ways your body can turn protein into energy. This is a very useful pathway that needs to be trained so that you can create energy when there is an absence of carbohydrates. I would use fasted training to help train this in the off-season. You can also do what I call “Protein Rides” and fuel the ride only with a protein shake or BCAA’s. That will really help to train this pathway to increase endurance. I’ve included a couple of products you could use for this below:

Bulk Pure Whey Protein Isolate, Protein Powder Shake

Bulk Pure Instant Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) Powder, Unflavoured, 100 g

When sugar gets into your blood, the pancreas releases insulin. This hormone triggers the cells to take the sugar in and use it as fuel or store it if they need more. When glucose is introduced into the cells, this tells the pancreas to stop producing insulin.

Eating too many processed carbs and sugars can cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, but you can avoid this by eating plenty of moderate carbs to maintain blood sugar level stability. Other things that can improve this spike are resistance training, fasted training, a low-carb diet, or adding vinegar or cinnamon to food. You can also eat fat with your carbs to help stunt the spike that simple sugars produce. This would all be beneficial in resting metabolism, but after training, you want the spike to take place to aid in the recovery process. Conditions of high insulin resistance and low insulin sensitivity can cause problems with blood sugar and increase the body’s likelihood of other complications. They also reduce the body’s ability to clear extra glucose from the bloodstream, which may cause more serious complications in the long run.

A single bout of exercise can help with post-exercise recovery for up to two days. And that makes sense, since exercise boosts insulin sensitivity for a long time afterward. However, it’s important to remember that too many simple sugars can cause negative effects in the long term. Due to the risks, it is important not to go into any diet or health regime on your own but to find a qualified individual.

Keeping Blood Sugar Stable

If someone is taking in too many carbs or at the wrong time, they might experience bloating and nausea from not being able to absorb the sugars in their gut. Something I have noticed a lot is what we call ‘getting on the rollercoaster’, where we have energy levels rise and crash over and over due to a lot of carbs pre-workout, followed by a crash, and then the need to overfeed again to get the blood sugar back up. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been using the Supersapiens Biosensor to track this data, and it has been super interesting to learn more and see it via live data. More of this later!

Despite being experienced with refined sugar, athletes still have to be careful about monitoring their food intake. Diet training for athletes is one of the most important aspects of their career and it should always be high on the priority list. The number of carbohydrates and their glycemic index should be different depending on the training session you are about to undertake. For example, racing, for example, has a higher demand for simple carbs than, say, a base ride in winter.

If you’re training for less than 60 minutes or racing for up to an hour under good conditions, water alone will be enough with some electrolytes if it’s hot or you are a heavy salter. If you need more carbohydrates, try a carb mouth rinse. It’s important to eat healthy and balanced meals at other times, but before race days our focus shifts to a carb-dominant diet, with no fibre and little protein or fat. In events going over 2.5 hours in duration, it can be good to get some protein, especially if it is a multi-day race, as this helps with muscle recovery. Add BCCA’s to your drink bottle along with the carb solution and salt. This is a perfect long-distance endurance mix.

Make sure you take on enough carbs when riding, anywhere from 30–100g per hour, since they are the body’s preferred source of energy when going hard. Spread them out to avoid blood sugar spikes, and drink plenty of water during exercise to aid in carb digestion and to keep your muscles hydrated. 45g of carbs per 500ml of water seems to be an optimal mix for absorption.

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all when it comes to sports nutrition, and this is why it is important to find a balance of nutrition that works well for you. This means constant testing and training of the gut, and developing a nutrition guide for each different ride that you have on your training plan so that you are fuelled appropriately. Although it might take some experimenting before you find the best option for your body, it’s worth taking the time to see if fructose, glucose, a mix of the two, or maltodextrin is good for you personally. Using the Supersapiens app and biosensor is an awesome way to monitor this and develop the optimal fuelling strategy.

Let’s look at snacks and meals in a different way.

To start, assess your diet to make sure that you’re getting all the essential nutrients. Once you have a good idea if you need supplements or not, try supplements such as probiotics and prebiotics to repair and restore your gut. This will help with the body’s ability to use the meals that you eat in a meaningful way, absorbing the much-needed nutrients for growth and recovery. One of the best all-around supplements I have found is the four essentials from Aliment Nutrition. You can check it out here.

When athletes don’t have access to full meals, they can also make their snacks count. Rather than reaching for sugary snacks like chocolate, You are better off going for something like peanut butter on toast or a banana and nut butter of your choice. The fat, along with fruit, helps to stunt the initial glucose spike, which will help with body composition and prevent rushes and crashes.

To help yourself stay healthy and balanced with sugar, only use it when you need to during training to fuel or recover. It is important that the athlete takes personal responsibility first for their nutrition and accepts that there are changes to be made. At this point, a nutritionist or a coach like myself can step in and see what areas need improvement.

In forthcoming articles, I will be going into more detail about some guidelines you can use to start and build a framework for your own nutritional programming. For now, a simple sentence to remember is, “Fuel The Effort, Feed The Recovery.” This just means using carbs when needed depending on the efforts involved with training and feeding your 30-minute recovery window with carbs and protein (the building blocks).

Can fasting help us stimulate our liver and pancreas?

So much of our time as athletes is spent training the body to produce more blood or create a higher force or tension in the muscle fiber. One thing that I have found lacking is the knowledge of how we can better fuel our bodies for the endurance event of our choice.

Our bodies get super efficient at the things we tend to do over and over again, so when we are taking on simple sugars, we get better at doing this but lose our ability to break down protein and fats that are so important for our health and performance.

Some athletes have an unhealthy relationship with carbs and simple sugars, so it’s important that they lay off them for some time when training is not the major focus. At times, we want to replace them with vegetables, sprouted grains, and high-fat foods like avocado, oils, and nut butter. When it’s ok to do so, we could try some intermittent fasting or a fasting day once a week. This isn’t normally that practical for the racing season but can be applied at certain times of the year.

Fasting has a whole host of health benefits, but for the purpose of this article, we are looking at the impact on energy. With fasting or “fasted” training, you can increase the ability to burn fat as an energy source and increase the efficiency of the body to produce and use ketones. This gives a much more balanced and steady energy flow with little peaks or troughs. You can also use exogenous ketones at intervals to help drop you into ketosis much quicker, which will get the benefits much quicker.

This is just scratching the surface of glucose metabolism and fuelling in general for endurance sports. If you would like to follow and subscribe to more Or check out our membership for training plans and the chance to join in on monthly Zoom meetings. Then check out Coach McKinney’s membership HERE.

If you are interested (and you should be) in fuelling your ride with a good source of carbohydrates, then check out some of my recommendations below:

Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel 30 Serving Orange Flavour

Science in Sport SIS GO Electrolyte, High Carbohydrate Energy Drink Powder

If you have any questions, be sure to get in touch!

Coach McKinney


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