Knowing why food quality is essential to health and performance is important because it gives you a purpose to eat well. We’ve talked about how the type of food you eat affects the health of your digestive system. Happy tummy means a happy body! And we also talked about how food has such a profound impact on your mental health. But there are two more important factors that are central to why food quality is so important.
“Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (CHO)” is a statement you’ll see frequently on our platforms. That has everything to do with controlling the hormone known as insulin.
- It increases glucose transport into fat cells and skeletal muscle.
- Insulin stimulates the use and storage of glucose. It activates enzymes that are used in the use of glucose for energy, and enzymes that are necessary for the synthesis (development) of glycogen (stored glucose) and fat. Yes, insulin enhances the synthesis of fat. At the same time, insulin inhibits (stops) enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of glycogen and fat. Yes, insulin prevents fat from being broken down for energy.
- If a meal contains protein, insulin also activates enzymes for protein synthesis. This is why, especially in the exercising public, it’s important to consume protein (and fat) when you consume CHO.
So, insulin is an essential hormone. Your body needs it and needs to be efficient at using it in order to stay healthy. But, just like all other hormones, chronically elevated levels of insulin causes problems.
What causes insulin to stay elevated? There are some diseases that cause this, but the general root cause is the consumption of refined and processed (man-made) carbohydrates, sugar, sweeteners and cocaine. No, my mistake. Cocaine just elicits the same response in the brain – those good feels – as these “foods” do.
CHO & Blood Glucose
The fate of absorbed nutrients in the body depends on the type of macronutrient it is, carbohydrates (CHO), fat or protein (PRO). Fats are stored for energy. Our fat storage capacity is unlimited and use of fat for energy is dependent on activity levels. Proteins are used for protein synthesis and it’s not just the musculoskeletal system that requires protein. Excess ingested protein is stored as fat, and if CHO intake is too low, protein can be used to create glucose*.
CHO are absorbed primarily as glucose for energy for physical activity and for energy for the brain and other organ and tissue function. The body’s ability to store glycogen is limited, so excess glucose is stored as fat.
Blood glucose is the most closely regulated of these three nutrient pools because it’s the brain’s fuel and because of the harmful effects of excess or insufficient blood sugar.* Insulin removes glucose from the blood for energy or synthesis, and all excess glucose (CHO) is stored as fat. Refined and processed CHO cause chronically elevated levels of insulin, and that causes too much fat storage and a myriad of other disease states.
Hyperinsulinemia simply means chronically elevated levels of insulin. Excess and habitual consumption of refined and processed CHO causes hyperinsulinemia. Hyperinsulinemia causes obesity, glucose intolerance, hypertriglyceridemia and hypertension – the deadly quartet. The deadly quartet, either alone or together, are direct causes of atherogenesis and coronary heart disease.
You need to keep insulin levels in check. Fortunately, doing so is relatively simple: You need to eat good quality protein, vegetables including roots and tubers, some fruit, healthy fats, little to no sugar, and avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (CHO). Eat an amount of food that supports your levels of activity but not body fat.
The effect of nutrition on physical performance is arguably the simplest nutrition why to understand and it also ties the previous three whys in. If your body is unhealthy due to poor nutrition then you aren’t going to be able to perform optimally at any physical task. It’s a simple analogy.
Consider your petrol vehicle. It needs petrol in the tank to fuel movement. If you put diesel in the tank you might get it to fire up once and move a little bit, but that’s it. If you keep trying to drive with the diesel you’ll end up needing a new engine. If you get it towed to a mechanic you’ll have to endure the cost of having the diesel flushed out before replacing it with petrol again. This is a costly and painful mistake, but an avoidable one.
The food you eat is your petrol, or diesel. You first need the correct type of fuel. The better the quality of the fuel the better your body will perform. You can put yourself in a positive circle of health and performance. Eat good quality fuel – perform well in training – eat good quality fuel to recovery quickly from training – become fitter and therefore healthier – train better – become healthier.
To wrap up the nutrition whys, you need to eat quality fuel for digestive and psychological health, for insulin control and therefore the management of fat stores and disease states, and to be able to perform optimally at physical tasks.