Nutrition Tips for Athletes: Sweets and the Holidays

When discussing diet with friends, one may admit to experiencing sensations of feeling shaky between meals because of irregular eating habits. Other symptoms may include sweating, feeling anxious, slight nausea, mood swings or feeling tired after eating. Sound familiar? If this is happening to you or anyone you know, a diet evaluation is recommended to prevent diabetes in the future.


Nutritional information specialized for athletes
is provided by registered dieticians
at Sansum Clinic of Santa Barbara.

For your good health

What might be happening is the pancreas, the organ responsible for insulin production, could be overreacting and releasing too much insulin producing symptoms of low blood sugar or reactive hypoglycemia. If a person has the ability to check their glucose, it might be “normal” (less than 70 is considered low), however the change in glucose may be producing symptoms. Usually eating foods with concentrated sugar such as candy, fruit juice or soda will make them feel better and temporarily fix the problem.

Correcting the problem and preventing the symptoms of hypoglycemia is the ultimate goal. The culprit to reactive hypoglycemia is diet; eating an excess consumption of sweets, like cookies and candy, or refined carbohydrates such as cereal, fruit juice, white rice or bagels can produce these symptoms.

It might be the holiday season, but excessive amounts of foods containing concentrated sugar may change your moods and actually prevent you from feeling your best. Sweets and refined carbohydrates increase blood sugar and require insulin to regulate the amount that stays in the blood and the amount that goes to the brain and muscle cells for energy. When there is too much sugar in the blood, you may feel tired – this is known as hyperglycemia. Exercise can mitigate the spike in sugar since physical activity is comparable to “healthy invisible insulin.” (For competitive athletes without diabetes, there may be a temporary increase in glucose with exercise.)

There are strategies to incorporate into your daily routine to reduce the effects of insulin spikes. It is especially important to incorporate cardiovascular and resistance exercise during the holidays. Another strategy includes combining sweets or refined carbohydrates with healthy fats (avocado, cheese, nuts) and protein which help minimize insulin response. Enjoying a dessert after a meal is preferred to eating cookies and candy alone. Chocolate desserts may be preferable to sugary candies and cookies because the fat in chocolate may delay stomach emptying. Plain dark chocolate is best because it contains less sugar and more fiber than other candies.

There are other factors that can also contribute to hypoglycemia and minimize the positive effects of exercise. These include excessive stress, lack of quality sleep and caffeine.

This time of year is notorious for change which can be stressful for many people (family visits, decision making, financial pressures, etc). Stress hormones are released when we experience true danger or simply by worrying. Excessive anxiety increases resistance to proper functioning of insulin which encourages the body to produce more insulin. This can lead to weight gain, with fat storage in the mid-section since insulin’s other job is to store fat. Excessive intake of caffeinated beverages can exacerbate the stress response and also create sleep disturbances, both of which can change our hormonal responses.

Ultimately, the ongoing need for increased insulin response can lead to early depletion of insulin which contributes to Type 2 Diabetes. Exercise is known to reduce anxiety and depression as well as increase moods. Incorporating exercise such as yoga is a great way to achieve this goal because it encourages diaphragmatic breathing, which can be a powerful stress reducer. The holiday season is a special time to enjoy family and friends. It might require being creative with balancing meals and fitting fitness into your schedule. A registered dietitian can help brainstorm ideas with you and help create simple, practical and balanced meal plans.

For additional information regarding nutrition counseling at Sansum Clinic, please visit


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