May 13, 2020

NUTRITION     |     DEIDRE BLOOMQUIST     |     05/12/20

At a glance

Missing meals is a bad habit. But many of us just assume we can 'push through' and still work or train on an empty tank. Think low energy or hunger is the only side-effect of pour meal planning? Read on...

We've all been there

You get busy with the day and work sucks you in. You miss breakfast because you’re running behind or have your mind on work, or you work straight through lunch because you’re knee deep in a project with a looming deadline. You forget to eat on the way to the gym even though you’re hungry, and you feel like you got hit by a freight train mid-way through your workout. 

This might not seem like a big deal in the day to day occurrence, but these types of inconsistencies in your nutrition can lead to heightened cortisol levels, muscle catabolism, dysfunctional sleep, decreased ability to absorb nutrients from food, blood sugar dysregulation, and decreased immune function. 

What's happening in your body?

When we delay having a meal, your blood sugar crashes. When this happens frequently enough, especially when combined with a diet that is higher in carbohydrates, you might experience things like:

● Sugar cravings

● Shakiness and/or irritability between meals

● Headaches

● Insatiable appetite, especially in the evenings

● Sleepy in the afternoon

● Frequently thirsty

● You wake up in the middle of the night 

So what’s happening here? This is what blood sugar issues look like, and they aren’t only for those who struggle with diabetes. These types of symptoms are often things looked over by normal people as “just the way they feel throughout the day.” 

When we eat food, especially carbohydrates, our pancreas releases insulin to help shuttle the sugar molecules to our cells. When we eat foods that register high on the glycemic load index, our body naturally releases more insulin to help fuel cells. As this happens, insulin continues to be released until a negative feedback loop turns it off. This often happens to the point that excess insulin is released, dropping our blood sugar to low levels. 

Our adrenal glands, located on top of our kidneys, come to the rescue by releasing cortisol, our stress hormone. During this drop in blood sugar, our brain perceives this as a stressor, and relies on cortisol to help bring our blood sugar levels back to a normal, healthy level. 

This is the body’s natural system to keep us safe, but when our diet is largely composed of carbohydrates without the balance of protein and fats, this response happens during every meal, which can lead to adrenal dysfunction if not addressed. 

When this happens at night, while we are asleep, our adrenal glands are unable to release cortisol. Instead, they release epinephrine, better known as adrenaline, to wake us up in hopes that we will eat and regulate our blood sugar levels through food. 

Why it matters

When your body is regularly releasing cortisol as a response to normal eating, it means that you have excess cortisol in your system which should be reserved for real stress situations. In ancient times, this really was the mechanism that helped us flee from predators, but it’s now being utilized several times a day. 

This internal stress and excess cortisol in the bloodstream means that your muscles become catabolic. In other words, they rely on breaking themselves down for fuel. 

The stress response is dependent on minerals like zinc, magnesium and calcium, which play a vital role in several bodily functions. If a stress response is happening several times a day, it means you may be unintentionally becoming mineral deficient, and experience more muscle cramping as a result. 

If your sleep is being interrupted in the middle of the night, you’re breaking down the complex functions of our sleep such as detoxification of the brain and body, muscle recovery, and allowing your immune system to function properly. It means you’ll be sore longer and you’ll be sick more frequently. 

The solution?

Prioritize your health and stop trying to pour from an empty cup. Fueling your body with balanced meals and the right supplements for you to fuel and recover properly for your workouts will result in significant performance gains, as well as overall quality of life improvements. 

Nutrition on the go

Deidre Bloomquist 

Functional Nutritionist based in Denver, Colorado. Certified L3 CrossFit Trainer who loves working with athletes on performance and health goals.  

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