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Improving Metabolic Health as an Athlete

You've likely heard the staggering statistics regarding metabolic health and type 2 diabetes in the United States. Around 90 million Americans are now prediabetic and many may not even be aware. And a staggering 88% of Americans are now considered metabolically unhealthy. The main drivers behind these metabolic dysfunctions are deviations of the glucose response and insulin production.

Many athletes believe that they are exempt from these statistics due to an increased amount of exercise performed on a regular basis. While exercise is indeed an important factor in lowering your risks, the truth is as we age, even athletes can be at risk for poor metabolic health, pre-diabetes and ultimately the development of type 2 diabetes.

Remember--being an endurance athlete isn’t exactly “normal" for a modern human being. You need more food, different types of foods at different times, and careful surveillance of energy intake. Without some level of attention to nutrition, things can go really wrong when your fueling doesn’t match your training. This is certainly magnified as you age.

So what can you do?

  1. Match your carb intake to your training load. This means you will need to periodize your carbohydrate levels depending on training. Simple sugars are great (and preferred) while working out as the insulin response is down-regulated and simple sugars are quickly and easily diverted to your working muscles. However, the rest of your non-exercise carbohydrates should be comprised of mostly complex carbs and whole grains. During periods of high activity, you will need to increase carbohydrates.

  2. Make sure your overall daily energy balance is in a good place. This also means you need to avoid under-fueling your workouts and then binging in the evenings because you ran or exercised earlier in the day.

  3. Aim for high-fiber intake outside of exercise. Fiber is often overlooked, but constitutes one of the most powerful agents in helping our glucose-insulin pathway stay in optimal limits. Fiber alters the rate of carbohydrate absorption, slowing the process which then limits spikes in blood glucose, which can help to regulate insulin production. You should aim for about 14 g of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed.--but the higher the better as long as your G.I. tract can handle it. The added bonus is that fiber is also fuel for your gut microbiome and helps maintain healthy lipid levels.

  4. Replace some of your non-exercise carbohydrates with healthy fats. Studies have shown that doing this can increase your insulin sensitivity, helping to regulate that all-important glucose-insulin pathway.

  5. Watch your sedentary time. I know this one seems counter intuitive to most athletes… We run, lift weights and move a lot. Why should we worry about sedentary time? The research is pretty clear, however, that it's actually much more beneficial to be someone who moves a lot during the day rather than someone who works out for one hour and then sits the rest of the day. Even as an athlete, do not neglect daily non-exercise movement.

At the end of the day, we are all individuals and our genetics do play a role in how our body responds to exercise and carbohydrate intake. As we age, it's not uncommon to develop some level of insulin resistance. Post menopausal women are also at higher risk of this happening.

The bottom line is that matching your energy and carbohydrate intake to your training load is extremely important not only for performance, but to maintain a healthy metabolism as you age.

Need more nutrition help? Book a free zoom chat with me today!

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