How to eat for energy and strength

The idea of “dieting” serves nobody since it usually implies that there is an end in sight. Ask yourself, “Do I see myself eating this way a year from now?” and if the answer is “no”, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and sketch a way of eating that can be maintained as a lifestyle, while also jumpstarting the path to optimal health.

Eating for Energy

A low-carbohydrate diet may produce an initial excitement in dieters who experience a quick 5-10 pound weight loss during the first week. However, any regular exerciser who has followed a diet like this knows that energy levels dwindle with the corresponding weight. The first 2-4 weeks of a low-carb diet are plagued with low energy levels cravings for sweets and a generally somber disposition.

There is something to those carbohydrates, and the answer lies in carbohydrates’ ability not only to supply energy for exercise, but also to facilitate the amino acid tryptophan’s availability in the brain to make the neurotransmitter, serotonin (“the feel-good neurotransmitter”).

First off, glucose found in carbohydrate foods is the body’s most favored substrate to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy in not only the muscles, but all the cells of the body, including demanding brain cells that will only accept glucose for energy. When carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down into small glucose molecules and absorbed into the blood, where they’re transported to tissues for energy; or, the glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.

High blood glucose levels stimulate insulin to be released into the blood by the pancreas, where it mops up all the excess glucose and begins lipogenesis – or the making of new fat from glucose. Thus, the goal of any sustainable nutrition plan that incorporates carbohydrates should be to consume just enough to use in daily workouts and replenish glycogen stores. Any more will result in an increased likelihood of fat production.

Secondly, although insulin has gotten a bad rap, it can be useful in its action at the brain and its facilitation of serotonin production. At the blood-brain barrier, there exist many amino acids that are vying for a chance to get into the brain to perform their specific action. Tryptophan is one such amino acid, and its action in the brain includes the production of serotonin.

When a high carb meal is consumed, insulin is released into the blood and affects the competition at the blood-brain barrier. Most of the competing amino acids are forced into cells due to the presence of insulin, leaving the unaffected tryptophan relatively unchallenged, and thus it’s easily able to move into the brain, where serotonin production follows.

You may hear people say that they are “addicted to sugar”, and given the hormonal effects involved, they may be right! Likewise, this may be why many low-carb dieters report feeling subdued, melancholy or even depressed. Pair that with low energy levels and is it any wonder why many people cannot maintain a low-carb diet for very long?

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