To keep your energy sustained for sessions regardless of your training time, it is important to maintain your blood sugar levels. When athletes do not fuel themselves properly, they may experience reactive hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or dysglyceamia (abnormal blood sugar levels) with an exaggerated insulin response.. As a result, there is a subsequent dramatic drop in blood glucose, causing physical and emotional symptoms (see below). When blood glucose levels become unstable athletes can feel like they are on an energy roller-coaster throughout the day. Symptoms can mimic other common issues such as anxiety or even menopause.
Symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation may include:
- Seeing flashes of light
- Moodiness and “hangry” relieved after eating
- Negative attitude/ irritability
- Exaggeration of relatively minor problems
- Feeling emotionally flat or depression
- Light headedness or dizziness
- Sweating and flushes
- Sugar cravings
- Heart palpitations
- Cold/clammy skin
- Poor concentration and memory
Thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances or high training demands can exaggerate these symptoms, especially with inadequate fueling in between multiple training sessions.
There are a number of simple steps that may help stabilise blood sugar.
1. PROTEIN is essential to blood sugar stabilisation and should be included in every meal including breakfast. Quality protein can be found in lean animal meats (kangaroo, lamb, beef, chicken) and fish. Vegetarian options include tofu, tempeh, legumes, eggs, dairy, high protein grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. Vegans and vegetarians must practice protein combining to obtain all the essential amino acids.. For example: consume chickpeas with brown rice.
Athletes should ideally consume 1.2-1.6 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight which equates to 60-80 grams of protein for a 50kg female and 90-128 grams for an 80kg male athlete per day. It is beneficial to have 20 grams of protein with carbohydrate within 30- 60 minutes of completing a training session. A good option is a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder (pea, brown rice or whey if tolerated), a small can of tuna or 2 eggs.
2. Adequate CARBOHYDRATES
Intake of low GI (Glycemic Index) carbohydrate will help keep blood sugar levels more sustained, and energy levels consistent. A high GI carbohydrate will cause a surge in blood glucose, triggering a response from the pancreas. This can contribute to the symptoms described previously.
Good sources of complex carbohydrates for athletes include porridge, Bircher muesli, brown, basmati or wild rice, barley, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, teff, rye, sweat potato, root vegetables with skins on, sourdough bread, corn on the cob, bananas, fruit smoothies with protein powder, homemade muffins using wholemeal flours such as hemp, chia or buckwheat. Consuming carbohydrates with quality fats and soluble fibre also reduces the GI of foods.
Assists with blood sugar control by assisting with normal insulin secretion.
Magnesium is abundant in amaranth (a grain), pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and raw cocoa, wholemeal bread, quinoa, tofu (hard) and dark leafy vegetables. It is also found in oat bran, brown rice, cooked spinach, avocado, coconut water, kale, legumes, sesame seeds and cashews.
Chromium deficiency reduces your body’s ability to use carbohydrates for energy and raises your insulin needs. Chromium may enhance the effects of insulin or support the activity of pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Chromium is found in meats, fish, poultry, wholegrains, dairy, broccoli, cheese, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, apples, bananas, grape juice and potato.
Probiotics especially those containing more than one species of beneficial bacteria may help regulate blood sugar by influencing the way the body metabolises carbohydrates through reducing inflammation and preventing the destruction of pancreatic cells that make insulin.
ADDITIONAL HELPFUL TIPS
- Have regular meals throughout the day eating every 2 hours
- Consume protein at every meal. Aim to make up at least 1/3 of your meal from protein
- Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly (2-3 litres per day minimum)
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, stevia and ginger can all be used instead of sugar to add sweetness to food.
- Carbohydrates higher in fibre and from unprocessed sources are better
- Consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes of completing a session
- Fat reduces gastric emptying time and as a result slows down the absorption of glucose from the meal. Consume beneficial fats with carbohydrates from raw nuts and seeds, fish, avocado and cold pressed oils.
- Increasing the acidity of a food or meals will slow gastric emptying time. A simple tip is to add vinegar dressing to salad or vegetables.
- Short term supplementation of magnesium, chromium, probiotics or cinnamon and other blood sugar stabilising herbs and nutrients may be recommended for some athletes.
Always seek help from a healthcare practitioner if your symptoms persist.