Can You Just Burn It Off?

Aug 24, 2010


Many endurance athletes believe that they can burn off the carbohydrates that they consume without causing any damage to their health. Well, they're not entirely wrong – let's break it down: 

Carbohydrates once digested do one of four things: 

  1. They are immediately used as energy
  2. They are stored as glycogen to be used as energy at a later time.
  3. They are turned to triglycerides and used as energy or stored as fat
  4. They are converted to cholesterol

As you can see, it's true that we can burn off excess sugar as energy however we can't burn off insulin that has been released in response to the amount of sugar that has entered the portal vein. Eating high amounts of carbohydrates will increase insulin which leads to metabolic damage, setting up a chain reaction of hormone disruption and biochemical cellular reactions. This leads to increased inflammatory responses, cellular growth, blood clotting and insulin resistance (even if you burn off the carbohydrates as energy.) 

The reality is that even if you go for a long run after your carb load, you may burn off the sugar but the insulin has already created damage to your health. A better solution would be to skip the carb load and to have regular balanced meals of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fibrous vegetables throughout the day providing a low insulin response but a 3/4 full tank of carbohydrates. Then a few days before a run you taper down your activity level to help fill up glycogen and provide yourself with a full tank of gas for the race.     


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