Non-Diabetic Hypoglycaemia in Endurance Sport
Low blood sugar levels are a common ailment among endurance athletes, due to high training volumes and intensities. This comes as no real surprise as up to 90% of all glucose oxidation is due to fuel productions in the body’s muscular system. Endurance activities also have an effect on hormones such as Glucagon and Insulin that can also impact on blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of this can be varied, however the most commonly experienced would be muscular fatigue, light-headedness and exhaustion. If you do not fuel yourself correctly then you can leave your body open to exercise related hypoglycaemia.
If you understand how blood sugar levels are regulated by your body processes, you will be better equipped to prevent such eventualities.
Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars, which are stored in both the blood and liver as Glycogen. Glycogen is mobilised and converted to glucose by gluconeogenesis when the blood glucose concentration is low. Glucose may also be produced from non-carbohydrate precursors, such as pyruvate, amino acids and glycerol, by gluconeogenesis. It is this process that maintains blood glucose concentrations, for example during starvation and intense exercise. Two hormones (Insulin and glucagon), work synergistically to keep blood glucose concentrations normal.
Exercise puts a high demand on this process as there is an increased demand for fuel in the muscles. Overtraining in conjunction with improper nutrition can lead to imbalances in this process which can make blood sugar regulation even harder to control.
What can we do?
The best way to prevent exercise induced hypoglycaemia is to organise your nutrition. By controlling your timings better and adjusting the make-up of your meals. The main focus of your nutrition should be on Complex Carbohydrates. These can be found in the forms of Whole grains, Oats, Sweet Potato, Wholemeal Rice etc. These are lower Glycaemic Index (G.I), so release their sugar more slowly in a more sustained way. If you have a meal approximately 2-3 hours prior to performance, which is high in Complex Carbohydrates, your glycogen stores will be fully stocked and ready for action.
It is beneficial to eat little and often rather than few large meals, and avoid fast acting sugars and baked goods. This will allow a more constant breakdown of nutrients which in turn can speed up your metabolic rate. This will also prevent your insulin from spiking which in turn will bring about a crash in blood sugar levels.
Please be aware that if this problem is occurring often, you should discuss it further with your GP to look further into your specific situation.
I hope this has broadened your understanding on this subject and has better prepared you for the season to come.
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