Can very active people tolerate a higher glycemic diet?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 14:38
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Q. How important do you think the glycemic load is for someone who is very
active? I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and therefore have a very
high glycemic load by the end of the day (about 170). The website says
to try and keep it below 100, but in order for me to do that, I would
have to restrict fruit intake to the point where my diet would be
deficient in many vitamins and minerals, not to mention the fact that I
wouldn't have enough energy to do many of the things I love to do.

A. In order to help orient people who aren't familiar with the concept of glycemic load, we include a note next to the eGL display saying that "Typical target is 100/day or less."  But if you click on the "what's this?" icon, you'll get a slightly more expansive comment:

"Experts vary on their recommendations for what your total glycemic load should
be each day. A typical target for total Estimated Glycemic Load is 100
or less per day. If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, you
might want to aim a little lower. If you are not overweight and are
physically active, a little higher is acceptable."

In other words, this is yet another illustration that, when it comes to dietary recommendations, one size does not fit all.

Who needs to worry about glycemic load?

The main reason to be concerned with glycemic load is that a high glycemic diet can promote insulin resistance (sometimes called "pre-diabetes") and obesity.  But people who are very active are much less likely to suffer from insulin resistance, in part because vigorous exercise is a great way to improve insulin sensitivity.  Athletes have far less to fear from carbohydrates than sedentary people.

A glycemic load of 170 is fairly high.  But a lot depends on the context.  If you are quite physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and body composition, have normal blood sugar levels, meeting your nutritional requirements, and the lion's share of your glycemic load is coming from whole fruits and vegetables, a daily glycemic load of 170 may be okay.

That's an awful lot of "If's."  

You say that in order to reduce your glycemic load, you'd have to restrict your fruit intake to the point where you'd be deficient in many vitamins and minerals. But couldn't you be getting those nutrients from vegetables, instead? A yellow or red bell pepper, for example, has as much as much vitamin C as an orange (plus lots more vitamin A) with a much lower glycemic load.

In terms of having enough energy, you can get energy (i.e., calories) from any number of foods with a lower glycemic load. A hard-boiled egg or small serving of edamame provide as many calories as an apple but half the glycemic load.

Thoughts? Comments?

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