How to Balance Your Blood Sugar for Better Performance

As an athlete, we invest a significant amount of time into training and playing, but we neglect what fuels our performance – our nutrition, the food we are putting...

As an athlete, we invest a significant amount of time into training and playing, but we neglect what fuels our performance – our nutrition, the food we are putting into our bodies.

Have you ever gone into a training session or a game and felt like you didn’t have the energy to push hard? Have you ever grabbed a quick snack before a session, but then found that halfway through you were so hungry you didn’t have the motivation to finish? More often than not, that drop in energy stems from a drop in blood sugar.

When most people hear the term blood sugar they think Diabetes, but every human experiences fluctuations in their blood sugar on a daily basis.

  1. The body of an Individual with diabetes can no longer regulate blood sugar on it’s own for various different reasons. However, a healthy body regulates it’s blood sugar naturally all day long with the hormone insulin.
  2. It does not require blood work or self-testing to learn how to balance blood sugar; with just a basic understanding of how your body digests macronutrients, you can learn to eat for sustained energy and better performance.

As an athlete myself, one of the things that frustrates me more than anything, is having the mental motivation to push hard but not feeling like I have the physical energy. There are many things that contribute to our physical energy but one of the main contributing factors is the foods we eat. And with just a little bit of intentionality, we can learn to put the right combination of food together to give us balanced blood sugar and sustained energy through a training session or game.

First, you need to have a basic understanding of macronutrients. Yes, most of you know what your macronutrients are, you may even be counting them, but let’s take that to the next level of understanding.

Carbohydrates: (Think: grains, bread, fruit, potatoes etc) Are quickly and easily processed by the body for energy. When you eat carbohydrates by themselves they will increase the amount of sugar circulating in your body, also known as a blood sugar spike. Carbohydrates alone cause the most significant spike in your blood sugar. (2)

Protein: (Think: Meat, Egg, Cottage Cheese etc.) It takes your body a little more time and energy to digest and process protein, however, our bodies are still pretty efficient when it comes to digesting protein. So, when protein is eaten alone, you will still experience a spike in your blood sugar. It won’t be as significant as carbohydrates but you will still find yourself hungry shortly after eating protein alone.

Fat: (Think: Avocado, Olives, Coconut, Nut/Seeds) Digesting fats takes a minute. Fats have to run through a longer conversion process to be turned into energy. Because of the length of this process, fats hardly impact your blood sugar at all. Making them the real key in keeping your blood sugar balanced and giving you sustained energy.

There is a great way to combine these nutrients for better performance. Just grabbing a carbohydrate, like a granola bar or an apple is going to give you a quick surge of energy but halfway through your training you will still find yourself hungry and lacking energy. Grabbing a few slices of turkey isn’t going to get you very much further and just eating an avocado might give you stomach trouble because your body needs to focus on digestion. So, what is a good option to eat before your training session or game?

A combination of all three. When you eat carbohydrates, with protein and fat you will get long sustained energy and a balanced blood sugar. The carbohydrate will give you that burst of energy you need to get going and the protein and fat will help sustain your energy throughout the entire training session or game.

What are some great combinations you can put together to balance your blood sugar for better performance? Here are a few of my favorite options. (I suggest you eat these 60-90 minutes before starting).

Fruit (carb) + Nut/Seed Butter (fat & protein)
Toast (carb) + Avocado (fat) + Turkey (protein)
Baby Carrots (carb) + Olives (fat) + Hard Boiled Egg (protein)

Everybody’s metabolism and body are different, so when it comes to the “correct” amount of each of these nutrients, doing some experimentation or working with a nutrition coach can be extremely helpful to determine what is ideal for your body. Eating your macronutrients in combination every meal and snack is going to help keep your energy (blood sugar) stable throughout the day. But it is critical to eat your macronutrients in combination to keep your energy up to help you push hard through your next training session or game!

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1. Wasserman DH (January 2009). “Four grams of glucose”. American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism. 296 (1): E11–21. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.90563.2008. PMC 2636990. PMID 18840763.

2. Daly ME, Vale C, Walker M, Littlefield A, Alberti KG, Mathers JC (June 1998). “Acute effects on insulin sensitivity and diurnal metabolic profiles of a high-sucrose compared with a high-starch diet” (PDF). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 67 (6): 1186–96. doi:10.1093/ajcn/67.6.1186. PMID 9625092.

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Abby Housefield has her degree in Nutritional Science and Dietetics and is an online nutrition and fitness coach. She coaches in a group setting to create community and accountability. She is an active mom of three, has completed an Ironman, run a few marathons and plays ultimate frisbee every summer. You can find her on Instagram @simplypracticing, on Facebook @simplypracticinghealth or email her at ahousefield@gmail.com.

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