By Christopher Cudworth
Favorite style of toast? Cinnamon toast. Liberal butter. Sugar and cinnamon mixed in a shaker. Shake it out and get the layer just right. Then eat.
Sugar. Butter. Carbs. That is toast in a nutshell.
Good for you? Maybe not. In the long run.
Comfort food? Most certainly. But comfort food does not necessarily make you faster.
And that means your toaster could be making you slower in both the short term and the long term.
How your liver enters the picture
You may not know this, but one of the most important organs in your body relative to exercise efficiency may be your liver. This is how the Canadian Liver Association describes the process of how your liver affects your energy stores.
Carbohydrates (sugars), absorbed through the lining of the intestine, are transported through blood vessels to the liver and then converted into glycogen and stored. The liver breaks down this stored glycogen between meals, releasing sugar into the blood for quick energy to prevent low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). This enables us to keep an even level of energy throughout the day. Without this balance we would need to eat constantly to keep up our energy.
I learned the hard way how much your liver can affect athletic performance. Last summer during a fitness test at XSport, the trainer walking me through the test warned me that the leg lifts I was about to do would tax the ability of my liver to release enough glycogen into my body. I might faint.
Not really believing what he said, I pushed hard in the first set of leg lifts on an inclined leg press, and felt a bit faint right at the end of the set. Then I embarked on the second set and almost lost consciousness during the 8th rep.
He sat me down and explained that the specificity of the exercise sucked all the energy out of me, especially the liver. So those Canadians are right. The liver performs a really important function in metabolizing energy for athletics and even our daily functions.
(Read about liver disease here.)
Carbs and Sugar Crash
There’s really nothing in a breakfast of waffles to help your body store energy, it seems. All that sugar in the syrup and the weak-assed, over-processed carbohydrates in the waffles is like shooting a rush of fast energy into your body. Your liver doesn’t have much to work with. It’s like the Platte River; an inch deep and a mile wide. It won’t float your boat.
As noted in an earlier blog, I did not tell him that I’d downed a six pack of small Oreos before coming over to the club. Talk about your sugar rush double-whammy. Crap for breakfast and more crap for snacks equals a crap diet.
What to do about it
A breakfast with more balanced food choices would be much better. For example, I love oatmeal, which is generally more about whole grains. Then you add milk, some fruit, and perhaps a banana and orange juice for balance and you’re a little closer to something healthy to start the day.
So here’s the scoop: If we could stick a monitor in our livers we might know a lot more about how we’re monitoring our body’s intake of foods, and how they are impacting our energy and its release into our bodies.
I had never thought about the liver that way before but it makes sense. On the opposite end of health we can examine the causes of liver damage and one of them is alcohol. But the worst enemy is fatty liver disease, and guess where that comes from? Eating too much, especially foods that lead to fat deposits.
The leading culprit in that category? Carbohydrates.
A great article title “Eat Right to Help Head Off Diabetes” by Melissa Healy in the Tribune Newspaper today explains it so succinctly. “Even without weight loss, adhering to a diet rich in fresh produce, fish and olive oil is 40 percent more effective in heading off the development Type 2 diabetes than following a low-fat diet, a new study has found.”
It turns out a Mediterranean diet really fits the fill. As Healy describes: “A diet that minimizes red meat (including liver) and sweets but incorporates plant-based fats may be a sustainable way to improve health–even if permanent weight reduction proves elusive.”
Getting on the right road
So, what’s the perfect combination? Perhaps it is a Mediterranean diet and…exercise! Yeah, baby! You’re on the right road now.
So whether you cycle, run or swim, the answers are pretty logical on what to do.
1. Push the toaster away on most days. Protect your liver from sugar surges by managing your intake of sweets and carbs.
2. Shift to a Mediterranean Diet.
3. Avoid sodas and other foods that throw quick fat-building carbs into your diet.
You’re likely doing many of the right things if you are already exercising regularly, watching your diet in terms of too many fats and carbs, and adding strength work to sustain bone health and prevent injury.
But we all have chinks in our healthy armor. Mine has always been toast. But it’s interesting to consider that for all its early comfort in my childhood and high-mileage training years, perhaps the toaster is not so much a friend as it is a guilty pleasure.
Fortunately my new toaster really sucks at making toast. It is the slowest toaster on the planet in terms of cooking anything. It takes about 5 minutes just to put a brown on my English Muffins.
And I love English Muffins. That butter sinks into those little holes and then you add some honey or Nutella and you’re on your way to toasty goodness.
But my slow toaster has slowed down my toast consumption drastically. As it turns out, that’s a good thing.
Funny how life works sometimes. It’s almost like the tortoise and the hare. (1934 Disney Video, great!) Slow and steady really does “win the race” when it comes to how many carbs you eat, and how often you eat toast.
It’s the tarsnake of dietary reason: What you eat and how you handle it can make you faster or make you slower.
So Aesop was right. Imagine that.