The Gylcemic Index, Part 2

Complex carbohydrates are absorbed and digested more slowly, rating a low glycemic index. There is a more even insulin release; so more glycogen reaches storage sites in the liver and muscles. Athletes need complex carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen stores following exercise and be ready for the next time.

Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, contain one (monosaccharides) or two (disaccharides) sugar units. Monosaccharides occur naturally as fructose and glucose, commonly found in fruits and honey; and disaccharides as lactose, maltose and sucrose. Lactose is milk sugar. Maltose is made up of two glucose units and occurs in sprouted grains and malted cereals. Sucrose is table sugar made up of one unit of glucose and one unit of fructose.

Complex carbohydrates are found in cereal grains, fruits (e.g. bananas) and starchy vegetables (e.g. beans and potatoes). Polysaccharides are composed of multiple sugar units. They occur in plant and animal starches (e.g. amylose and glycogen). Maltodextrin is a member of a family of sweeteners derived from a starch-conversion process of corn and includes high fructose corn syrup.

Critics of processed foods will point out that these products cause some consumers to experience headaches, dehydration and stomach upsets. Be sure to sample a product in training before purchasing it in bulk or depending upon it during a long event, such as a marathon or century ride. Quantities of fruit will also cause gastrointestinal distress in most people! Nutrition expert, Dr. Ellington Darden, has put nutritional advice in a wonderful “nutshell”: “Eat a little of everything but not too much of any one thing.”

It is now possible to take charge of your own sports nutrition (and budget as prices increase by the syllable)! You can decipher the polysyllabic technical jargon and identify the food product on your supermarket or health food store shelf. Thus an awesome stack of different chemicals is reduced to food items like: bananas, honey and corn syrup! (See Table 3.)

These recommendations translate into 500-600 grams of carbohydrate daily (2,000 – 2,500 calories. While this sounds like a lot of food, it constitutes 70% of a fairly routine day (3,000 – 3,500) by athletic standards.

Bicycle riders in the Tour de France, or the Race Across America, require up to 12,000 calories. It is not just a humorous jibe to question the potential of a rider in such events who does not have a gargantuan appetite!

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