Are You Headed for Performance Burnout?

August 6, 2014
Categories: Sports Nutrition
  • Have you been suffering from low energy, or frustrated with your athletic performance?
  • Do you need to eat every 2-3 hours or you get “Hangry” (angry-hungry)?
  • Do you find that you are constantly craving sugary foods?
  • Do you rely on excesses of caffeine, sugar or need daily naps to keep you going?
  • Do you get frequent stress fractures?
  • Suffer from performance anxiety?

Your metabolism could be in sugar-burning mode, which means you could be headed for performance burnout, or worse.  Not good for an athlete, or anyone else for that matter.
Surprisingly, it is actually quite common for athletes to be hiding a “dirty little secret”….sugar addiction.  Sugar addiction is very common and is a slippery slope. It is pretty easy see how and why it can happen:

  • Because it sneaks in & athletes tend to rely on it. Yes, you do need to replenish lost glycogen after a hard workout, but many athletes aren’t regularly balancing out their bloodsugar with some protein or fat too.  A lot of sports nutrition products have a lot of sugar, so athletes get used to relying on sugar before and after workouts, and get on what I call “the sugar rollercoaster.”
  • Because they carbo-load. A lot of carbs convert right into sugar in the body, so eating too many high glycemic carbs will spike the blood sugar. In fact, some carbohydrates (like pretzels, breads) spike blood sugar even higher than a candy bar!  Having a serving of starchy carbs (like sweet potato, or rice) with dinner the night before/after a big workout is a good idea, but a giant portion is not needed (and the excess will only get stored as fat).  And snacking on simple carbs all day long will put you on a sugar rollercoaster. Balance out the carbs with some blood sugar leveling protein and healthy fats (see the Rule of Three below).
  • Because they can. People who workout a lot might be able to eat lots of sugary junk foods and not gain weight (but too often they are replacing nutrient dense choices for empty ones). It can often drive an athlete’s less active friends crazy exactly how much junk food an athlete can put away and not gain an ounce! Yes, one of the benefits to working out regularly, is that you do get a little more leeway in your diet for splurge foods than the average couch potato.  So why not reward ourselves with a treat after a hard workout? Just because you can swing by 7-11 and drink a large blue Slurpee or polish off a whole box of Little Debbie cakes every day after your long workouts and still have less than 14% body fat does not mean you should.  Splurge foods should not be used to replenish the body after a hard workout.  Unfortunately, you can not truly “exercise off” the impact that excess sugar, chemicals, and trans fats has on the body.

Even though endurance athletes might “burn” off the calories; the impact of the sugar, chemicals, additives, colorings, and trans fats will not support recovery, performance, or overall health. And although you might be able to get away with it for a while, relying on refined sugar and processed foods for energy is going to come back to bite you eventually.  Take Dwight Howard of the LA Lakers for example. Addicted to sugar, Howard reportedly was eating the “equivalent of 24 Hersey bars per day.” And even though he “looked the part,” and had a low body fat percentage, Howard was not “feeling the part,” and his blood glucose numbers were showing that he was running on sugar, and could be headed for trouble even off the court – read Nutrition in the NBA to learn more. Also read: Lochte Ditches Fast Food to Go for Gold.

Here is the thing, if you are eating too much sugar for a long period of time, your metabolism becomes kind of “lazy,” it learns to rely on sugar, and gets less effective at converting fat into energy. This can negatively impact an athletes’ performance.  When this happens to non-active people, it amounts to weight gain – with a lot of it in the midsection.  Even athletes can end up with weight gain, especially off season.  Over a long period of time, repeatedly spiking the blood sugar can lead to a dangerous condition called insulin resistance where the body is no longer able to effectively process the sugars. When this happens, the sugar is not effectively being delivered to the cells (resulting in low energy/fatigue), and the sugar stays in the bloodstream longer.  Elevated blood sugar over several years raises the risk of most major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimers and dementia.  And kids are not immune to the dangers of excess sugar.  We are seeing a rise in diseases affecting kids (like diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) that were once thought to hit only in adulthood.

  • Worried if your sugar intake is impacting your health?  Ask you doctor for a fasting glucose test, A1c test, and also consider having your your liver enzymes checked – non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is rising in this country, largely in part to excess soda and HFCS intake.

So how do you get out of sugar-burning mode, into fat-burning mode?  One of the biggest reasons that so many of us are hooked on sugar is because we have been led to believe that fat is bad for us. The truth is, most people who eat too much sugar are simply not getting enough healthy fat in their diets.  I am not talking cupcakes here – I am talking about healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, nuts, chia or hemp seeds, fatty fish, and olives.  Did you see the cover of the June 12 Time Magazine titled, Ending the War on Fat? It had a curl of butter on the cover. Yes, butter (go for grass fed) is a healthy fat! Grass fed butter contains something called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is well-known in the bodybuilding industry to burn fat and make you lean.  Yep – pretty ironic that all those years we were told to eat margarine instead of butter. Margarine is loaded with trans fats, the worst kind for our health!!

One of the keys to a strong metabolism, good energy, disease prevention, and balanced health is to keep the blood sugar under control throughout the day – so I recommend following a “rule of three,” which means you should always get at least one of the three each time you eat:

  • Healthy Fat (coconut oil, chia, hemp, fatty fish, nuts, olives, avocados) – too much fat is not good right before a workout however. My favorite fat for athletes is coconut oil – because it is easy on the digestion and as a medium chain fatty acid, it converts quickly into energy.  Add a teaspoon or two to your morning smoothie and see if you feel more energized, level, and less “hangry” after your workout.
  • Protein (seek high quality grass fed proteins, fish, nuts, or plant proteins like hemp)
  • Fiber (such as that found in plant-based foods, chia seeds), even better if you can pair the fiber with some protein or fat too!

Another key factor for avoiding performance burnout is allowing the body to recover properly.  Read The Yin & Yang of Sports Recovery for more info.

Struggling with sugar issues?  I have been there too. Most Americans are just getting too much of it.  That is why I created my One Week to Break Up with Sugar eCourse – offering tips and suggestions for helping people to get it out for good!!

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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