Hypoglycemia and Contest Prep
What is Hypoglycemia?
Let’s break it down…
Hypo = Low
Glyc = glucose
Emia = blood
So, Hypoglycemia refers to a condition in the body where blood glucose levels drop too low and you experience some side effects as a result. In normal, healthy individuals with no medical conditions, the body is usually pretty good at regulating blood sugar levels throughout the day by either a) using glucagon to convert stored glycogen (in muscle and liver) into glucose to raise blood sugar or b) using insulin to store glucose in the blood in the cells (muscle, liver, fat cells) to lower blood glucose.
Normal fasting glucose levels are in the range of 4-7 mmol/l, which you can have assessed during any routine blood analysis screening or physical. It’s important to note that it isn’t too uncommon for healthy, fit athletes to experience the occasional episode of hypoglycemia, particularly when under the demands of a strict contest prep diet and intense training protocol. This can typically happen in the final phase of a prep or whenever your coach has made a recent change to your diet. The good news is that it is a temporary condition and can be resolved using appropriate measures.
What are the common side effects of Hypoglycemia to look out for?
-Sweats / cold sweats
-Irritable and grumpy (significantly more than normal…lol)
-Extreme hunger (or Nausea)
-Confusion / disoriented
-Elevated heart rate
If left untreated….
-Loss of consciousness
How to fix Hypoglycemia (immediate)?
If you are experiencing an episode of hypoglycemia, I do NOT recommend trying to fight it or ‘ride it out’. As described above, this can have serious consequences. It will usually start with a little light headedness with weakness, then will progress into the more intense things like shaky hands, cold sweats, disoriented and rapid heart rate. If you’ve progressed into this more serious second stage, I would recommend the following:
1. Consume a fast-acting carbohydrate with about 15-20 grams of carbohydrates. Some options would be:
-Candy (jelly beans, life savers, skittles, starburst)
-2 rice cakes (chocolate or caramel)
-1/2 cup pineapple juice
-1/2 cup coke or regular pop
2. Then wait about 15 minutes for the carbs to absorb and balance out blood sugar.
3. Then if you are due for a meal, have your next scheduled meal which would contain a balance of protein/carb/veggie or protein/veggie/fats.
3b. If your next scheduled meal is a few hours away, have a small snack of about 15-25 g protein, 15-30 g carb, because the quick fix carb intake may not carry over to your next meal.
How prevent/minimize Hypoglycemia episodes from happening?
-Regulate meal frequency. Eating at regular 3-4 hour intervals will help to provide a steady supply of nutrients which can be used to maintain blood glucose levels better then having long gaps or periods fasting between meals.
-Try to space out your carbohydrate intake a little better. It is possible to keep your macros the same, but spread your carb intake around a little better to help your body keep a steady flow of glucose circulating in the blood. While this may not be best for those trying reap the muscle building benefits of things like carb backloading, it will help to resolve the hypoglycemia episodes.
-If your hypoglycemia episodes are happening frequently (i.e. most days of the week), speak to your coach about the option of bumping up total carbohydrate intake or increasing healthy fats to preserve limited glycogen stores. If you are lean enough, increasing carbs can be an option.
-If your episodes are happening during weight training, consider using an intra-workout carb drink such as Karbolyn that will help provide an immediate source of energy during workouts and help to maintain blood glucose to prevent any drops during your training session. (note: some clients that are very susceptible to hypoglycemia will do better on more of a sustained-release carbohydrate powder such as ATP Lab Pentacarb, which provides more of a steady supply of glucose, rather then a rapid delivery. Although things like Karbolyn and Vitargo have their benefits for muscle building purposes, they can occasionally cause a drop in blood glucose in the 1-2 hours afterward if you’re not careful and don’t eat.)
-If your episodes are happening during your cardio workouts, speak to your coach about switching over to a steady state cardio protocol, as it is typically HIIT cardio that is notorious for causing drops in blood glucose. You can also consider doing cardio 2-3 hours after a meal, instead of morning fasted if that’s typically when you’re experiencing the symptoms. You’ll still get plenty of fat burning benefits doing cardio this way.
-If your episodes are happening in the 2-3 hours after a large carbohydrate meal, you may need to adjust the macros for that meal or the type of carb used. Speak to your coach about planning this.
-Emphasize lower-glycemic rated carbohydrates that burn slower and will provide a more steady supply of glucose, as opposed to a rapid influx followed by a drop.
-Never have your carb metabolism supplements (i.e. chromium, r-ala, vanadyl, etc.) if you aren’t consuming many carbs in that meal. Even natural supplements can act to lower blood glucose levels.
-Don’t use insulin if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is one of the most dangerous drugs available and could put you in the hospital if you’re not careful and haven’t properly calculated everything out (dose vs. carb intake and timing).