Pancreas…Insulin…Body Fat! Ohh My!!

Posted: May 31, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Insulin can be a double edge sword, it’s arguably the most anabolic hormone in the body.  At the same time, insulin also has the ability to become the body’s “fat storage hormone” so to speak.  Insulin is a peptide hormone released by the pancreas in response to an increase in blood sugar upon ingesting carbohydrates.  Most of the cells in the body have insulin receptor sites which bind to circulating insulin as it travels throughout the body.  Once attached to the binding receptor on the surface of a cell(s), the cells then activate other receptors designed to absorb glucose (as well as other macro/micro nutrients) from the blood stream into the cell itself.
    With a cliff-note explanation of insulin, the next critical factor is to understand why and how controlling it applies to a trained athlete.  Carbohydrates are measured by the Glycemic Index or GI(link to pull up chart).  The Glycemic Index is a numerical index that ranks carbs based on the conversion to glucose within the body.  For example, straight glucose which is sugar in it’s simplest form has a glycemic value of 100.  Where as an apple has a glycemic value of 38.  Therefore a food item with a lower GI number is going to breakdown at a slower rate than an item with a higher GI number (Note: I mention the glycemic index because it’s commonly known about, what’s less known about and in my opinion a far more important factor when discussing carbohydrate intake is the “Glycemic Load!”  This refers to the quantity of insulin released vs. the rate at which carbohydrate breakdown into glucose or shorter starch chains…an article about the glycemic index vs the glycemic load is in the works).  Choosing carbohydrates with a lower GI number requires less insulin to be released by the pancreas at one time allowing for more sustained energy.  This is important to know as an athlete for maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the entire game or training session.  It’s imperative as an elite athlete to learn and understand how certain foods, particularly carbohydrates affect your body in terms of energy, energy crash, digestibility, and performance to harness the mind and body to achieve peak performance levels each time stepping in the gym or on the field of play.
    Here’s a scenario… remember Thanksgiving dinner?  Afterwards, everyone becomes tired and lethargic while Uncle Larry snores away in the old recliner.  Chances are we’ve all heard or been told this happens because high amounts of the amino acid L-Tryptophan is contained in the turkey meat.  Well… more likely it’s due to the mass amount of carbohydrates and the drastic spike in insulin coupled with the amount of blood that rushes to the gut to start the digestion process.   As I said before it’s important for athletes to know how foods affect them as individuals, as there are a variety of factors that come into play, such as insulin resistance, the sport, body type, basal metabolic rate, food combinations etc.  This is why I feel it necessary for all athletes to keep a food journal with specific attention and note taking as to how the body feels day to day, and meal to meal.  In regards to insulin, it’s proven that a high fiber diet will have a positive effect on insulin control.  I also believe that combining a protein and green vegetable with a starchy carbohydrate will give an individual much better sustained energy levels over a longer time even under intense training conditions and games.  Now that’s not to say that glucose-fructose drinks like Gatorade don’t have their place during strenuous activities.  Remember how important hydration and electrolyte replenishment is.  I prefer to use Pedialyte in a performance based activity because it’s lower in sugar and higher in sodium than typical sports drinks.  Keep in mind that sodium is the most abundant electrolyte in the  human body and is excreted in large quantities during perspiration as well as respiration.  Consider this information when selecting foods, it can be especially important in planning meals that fall prior to a workout or game!

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