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High carbohydrate/low fat diets, usually consisting of polysaccharides (starches & fibers), protect against heart attack & strokes and provide key nutrients & energy (longer term). Athletes should consume foods with a high glycemic index at least 1 hour before exercise because it increases muscle glycogen storage. Find out in more detail about advantages and disadvantages of high carbs/low fat diets for athletes and people suffering from heart disease. 

Advantages

  • Diets consisting of polysaccharides (starches & fibers) protect against heart disease and stroke because such diets are low in animal fats and cholesterol but high in fibers, vegetable proteins, and phytochemicals, which all are associated with lowering the risk of heart disease.
  • Also, foods rich in viscous (gel-like) fibers lower blood cholesterol levels by binding to bile acids in the small intestine, thereby increasing their excretion. Because of this, the liver needs to use its cholesterol reserves to produce more bile acids. Additionally, the bacterial by-products of fiber fermentation in the colon also inhibit cholesterol synthesis in the liver!
  • Athletes should consume complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides; starches & fibers) and refrain from simple sugars (monosaccharides & disaccharides; e.g. sodas) because complex carbohydrates provide key nutrients and energy (longer term) whereas simple carbohydrates provide a quick energy burst (but also a rapid decline) and lower nutrient value.
  • The complex carbohydrates are critical because they replenish a 4-carbon compound, known as oxaloacetate (Krebs Cycle), which is critical in providing energy aerobically. Oxaloacetate is primarily made from pyruvate (carbohydrates; glucose provides pyruvate during glycolysis) and to a lower extend from amino acids (protein), but it can NOT be made from fat! It is optimal to obtain less than 10% of daily carbohydrates from simple sugar or processed sources.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of a high carbohydrate diet are particularly evident for individuals with a small appetite. Because of the fact that fibers absorb water from the digestive juices, they (the fibers) swell, hence creating a feeling of fullness and satiety, delaying hunger. Therefore, people with small capacity for food might not be able to eat enough to satisfy their energy and/or nutrient needs. It is advisable to start increasing fiber intake over time while increasing fluid intake. The increase in fluid will soften the fibers, which will increase the rate of excretion.

Since digestion takes longer, athletes should refrain from eating high-fiber foods prior to exercise or training to prevent bloating and discomfort.

Food Sources

It is recommended to choose foods based on their glycemic index, which classifies foods according to their potential to raise blood glucose levels. One can search for foods based on their glycemic index or get a book, such as:

For Athletes

Athletes should consume foods with a high glycemic index at least 1 hour before exercise; it increases muscle storage. If food is consumed within 1 hour, it can cause an insulin surge, which, if present at the onset of exercise, may cause a rapid decline in blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) and early fatigue, which will cause a decrease in performance.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner most likely will not provide enough calories for the athlete, which is why supplements become a convenient and cost-effective solution:

 

One can estimate how many calories the athlete requires each day but any dietary recommendations must come from a registered dietitian (not your doctor, coach, or hair stylist) because they are the only ones who can legally prescribe nutrition! The American Dietetic Association helps you to find a registered dietitian in your neighborhood.

General Population

People suffering from high cholesterol or other symptoms that increase the risk for heart disease should choose foods low on glycemic index because they enhance lipid metabolism and hence have a positive effect on preventing heart disease.

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