Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Do I Crave Sugar?

Sugar cravings are a real problem for many including runners. When we “cave” to temptation we self inflict frustration and feelings of low self-worth. One reason we crave sugar (or caffeine) is because of low adrenal function. The adrenals are hormone glands that sit above the kidneys.

Amongst other things, one of their jobs is to secrete epinephrine (better known to some as adrenaline) which provides us with energy. They also secrete cortisone when there is inflammation present in the body (heavy training). Thirdly, they replace the function of the ovaries in the production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone when women get close to their menopausal years. When everything is functioning well and everything is being nourished properly, there is no problem.

What can interfere with this? Stress, first and foremost. When we’re stressed the adrenals secrete adrenaline as if we were preparing to fight tigers in the jungle. They don’t know the difference between the stress of facing a tiger and the stress of facing an irate boss, rush-hour traffic, or a two year old. They just jump into gear and adrenaline flows.

Inflammation can be caused by many well-known factors such as injury and diseases but also new training or exercise programs. Marathon training definitely increases inflammation over the whole body for weeks at a time. The adrenals are consistently under pressure to produce cortisone to keep the inflammation under control as much as possible.

What happens?
-Lack of energy
-Need naps
-Cravings for sugar or caffeine to compensate for the energy that is lacking
-Menopausal symptoms can also kick in if the adrenals are not up to par

So what to do? First, develop a stress relief plan of action. Exercise is great; however, if you have repeated (daily) stressful situations stimulated by the same source then you need to develop a stress relief plan. You know it is coming, you know what triggers it, you know the feelings that lead up to it and you know the downward spiral. In a way, knowing the step by step play will help you develop a plan that can be intersect at any step to divert you from choosing something sweet to eat.

Second, keep a food dairy and noting what you eat and how you feel an hour or two later. Note the types of carbohydrate mostly eaten and their portion size. Eliminating excess sugar from the diet (even if it fits into your calorie range) will decrease the cravings and weight. Be very mindful that you are not getting a large dose of carbohydrates at one time in one meal but spread them evenly throughout the day. This helps balance blood sugar and decrease cravings and improve insulin sensitivity.

Third, rest and recover!! Without proper rest (sleep and off days) and recovery (nutrition and stretching) our body can not keep up with the endless miles and exercise induced stress.  Train smart… run healthy.

 Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian and certified sports specialist in dietetics and founder of Runner’s FUEL. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RunnersFuel. For more information visit www.runner-fuel.com or email at a runnersfuel@gmail.com You can also find Rebecca here on SCAN: http://www.scandpg.org/dietitians/15186/