It has become a familiar scene at athletic events: sugar and carb-fests before and during marathons, triathlons, swimming competitions, and other sports among amateurs and professionals, even high school athletes and grade school soccer players. They do it for energy and enhanced athletic performance, having been told that loading up on carbs is the ticket to winning.
This common practice is based on decades-old flawed studies that reported that athletes experienced reduced performance when deprived of carbohydrates, performance restored upon restoration of carbohydrates. Thus was born the notion of “carb-loading” (i.e., consuming large quantities of grains and sugars prior to exercise to improve performance). That simple observation has since become a universal practice. It means runners have pasta feasts the night prior to a marathon in the United States, South African triathletes eat bananas and drink sugary energy drinks during workouts, and even aerobic-exercising mothers in Sydney, Australia, load up on energy bars prior to putting on their Spandex. It is common to see participants in athletic events gorging on pasta, fruit, desserts, and a mind-boggling variety of “energy” bars and drinks from sponsors. They then deal with the “wall” of low blood sugar that results after high blood sugar, as well as abdominal distress and diarrhea from the osmotic load created by the exceptional intake of sugar. (This is why dozens of Porta Potties are familiar fixtures along the route at these events.)
Contrary to popular perception, athletes are not impervious to all the problems presented by overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugars; they are just as prone to all the problems associated with both grain consumption and carbohydrates, such as provocation of autoimmune diseases, impaired digestion, high blood sugars, and the phenomena of glycation, and they are not necessarily spared the visceral fat–provoking effects, either, though their extreme exercise habits blunt it. (Go to any athletic event and you will see it: Easily a third of athletes, including serious athletes, are overweight.) The phenomenon of glycation alone can be responsible for prematurely deteriorating joints from cartilage glycation and cataracts from lens glycation, among other health problems.
A fundamental mistake was made in the studies that purport to prove that carb-loading is beneficial for athletic performance: If athletes who have relied to a moderate degree on grains, carbohydrates, and sugars are deprived of them, there will indeed be a decrement in performance upon their removal: reduced endurance; slowed running, biking, or swim times; and a premature feeling of fatigue. This is due to reliance on glycogen stored in the liver as a source for glucose sugar for energy. The glycogen supply in the liver is depleted after 40 to 60 minutes of high-intensity physical effort, and then the athlete will experience a marked reduction in energy and performance unless sugars are made available to replenish glycogen, accomplished via ingesting carbs and sugars. This phenomenon has been observed over and over again after depriving athletes of carbs and sugars for up to a week. Here is a review of the studies.
What was not appreciated in these studies is that if carb and sugar deprivation is extended to 4 to 6 weeks, performance is restored and then exceeds that achieved during carb/sugar-consuming days (yes, athletes do better without carb-loading, though the effect is delayed due to peculiarities of human physiology). This obligatory delay is due to the slowed conversion from glycogen-dependence to an increased capacity to mobilize energy stored in fat. While liver glycogen can provide less than 1 hour of energy for high-intensity exercise and forces the athlete to continually seek more sugars, body fat—even in a slender person with little excess body fat—provides energy for weeks. And the energy derived from body fat stores involves no loading up on energy drinks, energy bars, or pasta. It means just eating healthy and living off the, well, fat. And that’s how humans have done it for millions of years, running for hours without such modern carbohydrate crutches. The capacity for long-distance running is built into human evolution without the need for sugary drinks or energy bars (though hydration and electrolytes are necessary).
It means that someone who expects to run, bike, swim, or engage in other prolonged, intensive physical activity will need to endure an obligatory 4- to 6-week period of reduced performance before things get better again, and often better than before. But it also means that you will no longer be exposing yourself to the destructive health consequences of carb-loading before and during demanding physical exertion, including fewer visits to the delightful Porta Potti.
I’ve never been an athlete, but I’ve noticed drastic changes in my energy level, from when I was consuming high carbohydrates and now that I’ve reduced a lot. my energy has improved a lot and my health has improved.
My husbands daughter has been sending us a lot of anti – gluten diet info. She spoke with her internest and was told that the internest stated that if you are not intolerant to gluten you should not be on a gluten free diet and she is seeing more patients who have been on it come in with heart problems and diverticulitis. My husband and I have have been gluten free for quite a while now and he was recently diagnosed with diverticulitis and had to sweat out a powerful drug antibiotic to get it to calm down. I found the corelation strange and wondered . I went onto the internet and also saw many articles against going completely ten free if you don”t have intolerance to gluten. Soe by heart specialists such as your self. So I would like to hear from you as I am quite concerned about continuing this with my husband who is a healthy 80 minus the divo which is in complete remission but no nuts or seeds or popcorn .
annie wrote: «She spoke with her internest and was told that the internest stated that if you are not intolerant to gluten you should not be on a gluten free diet…»
That’s an internist who has not been following the literature. Gluten-bearing grains cause leaky gut (and leaky blood-brain-barrier, via zonulin) in everyone. Only a few also get a prompt and exaggerated immune response to the gliadin per se.
All grains are high glycemic, and at other than condiment portion sizes, provoke BG (blood glucose; the starches are rapidly cleaved glucose polymers). The vast majority of people on gluten-free diets are still on a full-time high-glycemic diet, easily low in prebiotic fiber, and with typical nutrient deficiencies. You can see this by examining Nutrition Facts labels on the Gluten Free aisle at the TrendyMart. Non-gluten grains abound (corn, oats, rice, quinoa). Blood sugars change not at all when people, lacking wider insight on diet, simply go GF. The GF aisle is frankly little different from the rest of the store, where over 98% of what passes for food is actually unfit for routine human consumption.
re: «…and she is seeing more patients who have been on it come in with heart problems and diverticulitis.»
Doing just “gluten-free”, sure, that can happen. People following the Wheat Belly/Undoctored program, on the other hand, see exactly the opposite. Any chronic non-infectious non-injury ailments present, slow, arrest, reverse, and often vanish. On heart disease, there are specific meaningful markers that we can track, showing exact cardiac status. Of those you might have, for example, what are the present readings for fasting BG, HbA1c, TG (triglycerides) and HDL?
re: «My husband and I have have been gluten free for quite a while now and he was recently diagnosed with diverticulitis and had to sweat out a powerful drug antibiotic to get it to calm down.»
Just gluten-free? Or following some named nutritional program (and if so, which one)?
The WB/Undoctored program includes several core elements with direct bearing on intestinal health: grain-free, very-low-net-carb, high-specific-fat, specific prebiotic fiber target, correction of key micronutrient deficiencies, and specific attention to gut flora. That antibiotic course is no cure. On the contrary, it’s likely to have now aggravated a dysbiosis already present, by wiping out both beneficial and adverse gut microbes.
re: «…no nuts or seeds or popcorn…»
Popcorn is always worth avoiding, but what’s the theory on the nuts and seeds?
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Just wanted to mention we don”t buy the gluten free this or that that contain corn and tapioca starch and who knows what else… we are on his Wheabelly Diet and make our own reads etc ….yes we fallout once and awhile but that is the basics diet we are on everyday
annie wrote: «…we are on his Wheabelly Diet and make our own [b]reads etc…»
For anyone following WB, circa, 2014 or later, diverticular problems simply should not arise, and if present would be expected to remiss.
How much prebiotic fiber are you consuming per day?
re: «…yes we fallout once and awhile…»
That’s part of why I asked about the metabolic markers. What are these doing:
• fasting BG (target: under 90 mg/dL most of the time, under 100 at all times)
• HbA1c (target: 4.0 to 5.0%)
• TG (target: 30 to 60 mg/dL)
• HDL (target 60 to 240 mg/dL)
There are others we could consider as well, but if any of those are out of range, it suggests that your program is not fully aligned with WB. If they are all in range, then we have other areas to explore.
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Thyeoretically undigested foods such as nut and seeds get stuck in the small diverticular pocket causing “stasis” which leadsto infection and inflammation.. A low residue diet was often prescribed for someone subject to attcks of diverticulitis.
Theoretically undigested foods such as nust and seeds get stuck in the small diverticular pocket causing “stasis” which leads to infection and inflammation.. A low residue diet was often prescribed for someone subject to attcks of diverticulitis.
Your husband could try the SCD diet or low FODMAP’S which would restrict his food options but may clear up diverticulitis (specifically on SCD) or any remaining intestinal issues
Could athletic carb loading be why athletes battle depression, like the recent story about Michael Phelps?
I read Dr Ede’s blog about diet and brain. Very interesting.
Also read that there are studies being done about athletes in UK, Germany, and US. Don’t really see diet being studied though.
Read that NCAA male athletes have a significantly higher rate of suicide compared with female athletes, and football athletes appear to be at greatest risk.
Would be interesting to see how primal or paleo athletes compare to carb loading athletes in depression.
Bren wrote: «Could athletic carb loading be why athletes battle depression, like the recent story about Michael Phelps?»
A quick web search suggests that there was a whole lot going on in Michael’s diet other than just carbs, at “…8,000-10,000 calories like it once was” as he was recently quoted. With any athlete, dietary details are always worth a look when contemplating outcomes.
In the specific case of water sports, I have to wonder about the exposure to water treatment chemicals, especially the non-native halogen compounds. These probably do quite a number on various human microbiomes: skin, nasal, oral and intestinal. The halogens are a threat to both gut flora and thyroid. Is anyone even attempting to catalog the risks?
re: «…and football athletes appear to be at greatest risk.»
Contact sports introduce an entirely different category of risk: TBI (traumatic brain injury). TBI can occur without obvious concussion, and TBI alone appears to explain a lot about unhappy retired players. Correcting diet can be therapeutic in that — not sure about how protective it might be for those still active.
re: «Would be interesting to see how primal or paleo athletes compare to carb loading athletes in depression.»
Indeed, but the effects of carb-loading would take some effort to isolate, given that multiple other hazards can be present. In addition to those mentioned above, there might also be circadian risks from travel, unwise supplements and abuse of meds.
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