Once upon a time, athletes used to chow on meat and potatoes. That changed when red meat got categorized as bad, "a heart attack on a plate." (That is, until the Atkins Diet came along.) Next, potatoes got the bad rap. Potatoes, after all, have a high glycemic index. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a rating system that assigns a numerical value to carbohydrate-rich foods, based on their impact on blood sugar. The rumor goes like this:
- Potatoes quickly elevate blood sugar (i.e., have a high glycemic index).
- This stimulates the release of insulin.
- Insulin causes the blood sugar to drop.
- Low blood sugar stimulates hunger and the desire to (over) eat ...
- Potatoes become "fattening."
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The truth is, athletes have a different biochemistry than unfit people. Athletes are unlikely to experience an insulin surge that leads to overeating and "getting fat" from enjoying potato with dinner. Athletes' depleted muscles readily take up carbs and store them as glycogen. Also, most athletes eat potato with meat or other protein foods; this slows the release of glucose and the insulin response.
Never the less, many of today's active people have somehow ended up eschewing meat & potatoes (or beans & rice, if they are vegetarians) and instead are choosing purified protein and carbs. That is, they slug down protein shakes for breakfast, choose protein bars for mid-morning and late afternoon snacks, and refuel with carb-protein supplements for recovery. The sports food industry leads us to believe these commercially prepared, purified carbs and protein are indispensable for superior performance. Not the case; real food has worked well for years!
While there is a time and place for sports supplements, many of my clients mis-use them. For example:
- Does the high school athlete really need a sports drink at lunch?
- Will the lawyer/runner benefit from a protein bar for an afternoon snack?
- Will the body builder gain mass with yet-another protein shake for a mid-morning meal?
Doubtful. But these engineered foods have become so mainstream that athletes have forgotten about the meat-and-potatoes of sports nutrition: meats (and beans) and potatoes! If you are over-consuming engineered foods, here's some food for thought about meat, potatoes and your sports diet.