WHAT ARE GLUCOSE SPIKES AND ARE THEY HARMFUL TO YOU? - Australian Sports Nutrition

WHAT ARE GLUCOSE SPIKES AND ARE THEY HARMFUL TO YOU?

Written by: Chandler Milligan

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Time to read 10 min

Has the term ‘glucose spikes’ caught your ear? If you’re looking for an easy guide on what glucose spikes are and if they are good or bad, we’ve got you covered. No nonsense, just facts. Let’s jump in!

What is glucose?

Let’s start at square one. You’ve probably heard the word ‘glucose’ thrown around at the gym, by your PT, or in general dietary conversation without ever considering what it actually means. Basically, glucose is a simple sugar that acts as an important energy source in living organisms and is a component of many carbohydrates (we stole that straight from the dictionary itself).


What is a glucose spike?

You may have heard of glucose spikes without even realising it. Glucose spikes are commonly referred to as blood sugar spikes or insulin spikes, and they describe when your blood sugar rises and falls quickly after you eat. This occurs when glucose builds up in your muscles, and your blood sugar levels rise as a result (Rowles, A. 2023).


What causes glucose spikes?

Short-term glucose spikes can lead to symptoms like lethargy and hunger, but you’ve probably heard it associated with something else. Type II diabetes is a rising health problem that can be triggered when your body cannot lower blood sugar levels effectively over time. However, it usually affects more than just this group of people though (Rowles, A. 2023).


So, what causes glucose spikes? It’s not just sweet foods that spike your levels; it’s actually ALL carbohydrates as carbohydrates break down into glucose (simple sugars) which enters the bloodstream. And we should mention, there is nothing wrong with this by default. This is completely normal and what should happen. Your diet can be a primary cause of glucose spikes, and what you eat plays a vital role in how you control your blood sugar. The main reason is due to the impact that carbohydrates can have on your body. Eating them in moderation is fine, but consuming too many carbs (and the types of carbohydrates) can cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket (Bazemore, N. 2022).


Other causes can include a lack of sleep, which can affect how well your body can control and break down food while reducing the efficiency in which your body utilises insulin. Not exercising enough or, in contrast, exercising TOO much (yes, that is possible) can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. As you can probably imagine, stress can put you under pressure by provoking your body to release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Other provocative causes include medication, smoking and dehydration (Bazemore, N. 2022).


Are glucose spikes bad?

Now, don’t stress. One or two spikes here and there aren’t reason to raise the alarm, but it is important to be wary that they have the potential to lead to short-term and long-term complications. This can cause uncontrolled oxidative stress in the body, which in the long term may lead to some health complications. We’ll touch on those complications shortly.


High glucose levels can also initiate the glycation of various structural proteins, including plasma and collagen. While molecules naturally glycate in the body (which contributes to normal processes like ageing), advanced glycation can lead to complications and is one of the most prominent pathways related to the development and growth of various diabetic complications (Singh, V et al. 2014).


If you’re striving towards specific weight goals, glucose spikes may slow you down. That excess glucose your liver and muscles don’t need goes to fat. The only time your body will go into fat-burning mode is when our glycogen stores are diminished. To explain this better, let’s define some things. Firstly, your body has two fuel sources: carbohydrates & fats. It will usually opt for carbohydrates. When you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose, which your body’s cells use for immediate energy. When your body has used the glucose it needs, the rest is converted into glycogen. Glycogen is stored in your liver and muscles, but they can only hold so much. Overwhelming amounts of glycogen will lead to excess, and that excess is converted into a type of fat called triglycerides. These are either used for energy or stored in your body as fat (Boyers, L. 2019).


Potential short-term:

Tiredness and sluggishness

Constant hunger

Cravings

Poor sleep

Acne

More colds

Problems with memory and concentration

Potential long-term:

Ageing and arthritis

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Type II diabetes

Cancer risk

Depression

Heart disease

PCOS and infertility

Non-alcoholic fatty liver

Are there different types of glucose spikes?

As we know, spikes in glucose levels can happen for various reasons. But did you know that there are different types of glucose spikes? Among them, monophasic and biphasic glucose spikes are the most common.


Monophasic glucose spikes are characterised by a single period of elevated glucose levels, typically seen after a meal. On the other hand, biphasic glucose spikes have two peak periods of elevated glucose levels, one shortly after eating and the other typically 90 to 120 minutes later. Understanding the differences between these two types of glucose spikes is crucial in managing blood sugar levels. By identifying the type of glucose spike, it becomes easier to take effective measures to lower blood sugar levels and minimise the risk of serious complications associated with high glucose levels (Stearns, L).


What foods spike glucose?

When it comes to monitoring which foods can impact the regulation of blood glucose, there is no tool more reliable than the glycemic index, also known as the GI. The glycemic index makes it far easier to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Foods high on the glycemic index rank various foods on how they will affect your blood glucose levels. For instance, foods high on the GI release sugar at a faster rate, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. At the other end of the scale, lower foods release their energy more gradually, meaning your blood glucose levels remain more balanced (UCLA Health. 2018).


Typically, a savoury option is often preferred to a sweet option because usually, sweet foods have sugars, which break down into glucose and fructose and get stored as fat, not as energy.


How to avoid glucose spikes:

Diet, diet, diet. “You are what you eat” rings true here. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways that you can stabilise your blood sugar levels, including foods that don’t spike your glucose levels.

Eat a savoury breakfast

Switch out your cereal (which is pure carbs/sugar) or toast for something a little more enjoyable, like eggs or avocado on toast (this delivers a combo of healthy fats/protein with carbs).

A savoury breakfast can manage your blood sugar levels more effectively because it limits the sugar spike and relieves you of the vast energy crash and sugar cravings. This can improve the stability of glucose readings for the next 24 hours (Chang, M et al. 2019).

Eat your veggies first and sequence your food


It may sound random, but eating in the correct order matters. Coat your intestine with vegetables first, as they are rich in fibre—for example, broccolini, asparagus or tomatoes before your carb-heavy meal like pasta.


This is called ‘clothing your carbs’ by Biochemist Jessie Inchauspé, also known as the Glucose Goddess. So, veggies first, then protein and fats, then carbs. Ideally, 30 minutes before your carb meal, you should ‘preload’ your fibre. How does meal sequencing work? The benefits include weight management (because of satiety) and can help you avoid damage to blood vessels (Nutrisense. 2021)
 

Move after you eat

A walk after your biggest meal of the day is important and can significantly reduce blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours. This can be just ten minutes of movement. Literally anything will do; this can be as simple as making the bed, putting on the washing, light vacuuming, and putting away clothes. Basically, don’t be a couch potato after a carb-heavy meal (Rice, C. 2018).

Consume vinegar before a meal

This one might sound weird, but hear us out. Consuming vinegar before a meal slows down the breakdown of starches into glucose and can reduce the glucose spike of a meal by up to 30%. This can be apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or balsamic vinegar, just as long as it’s not a sugar-based vinegar dressing like a balsamic glaze or store-bought dressing (West, T. 2022).

Consume fats, fibre or protein with your carbs

Protein - Consuming protein with your carbs can go a long way in stabilising your blood sugar levels. Consuming lean protein slows digestion, which can provide you with a longer spell of energy without the blood sugar spike or energy crash that carbs alone would create. Protein supports this by stimulating a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 or GLP1, which helps mop up glucose in the blood (Iliades, C. 2021).


One of the best ways to incorporate protein with carbs is to consume foods like Greek yoghurt, almonds, meats and tofu. Alternatively, protein shakes make for a convenient solution. Rule 1 WPI and ON Gold Standard are fantastic options. Otherwise, Switch Nutrition Protein Switch can fuel you if you’re looking for a plant-based protein.


Fat - Full fats are better than no fat-free, so consider incorporating foods like ghee, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, almonds, flax seeds and nut butter into your diet. Similar to protein, fats slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, which can help to prevent glucose spikes (Joslin Education Team. 2021).

Fibre - You need fibre. Adding foods like spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, sauerkraut, lentils, peas, collard greens or butternut squash to your diet can help you fortify yourself against glucose spikes. Fibre helps you control your blood sugar because your body is unable to absorb it and break it down, meaning that it doesn’t cause a spike the way other carbohydrates might. Better yet, it protects your heart and digestive health, keeps you fuller for longer and helps you maintain weight due to the low calories in fibre-rich foods (CDC. 2022).


Glucose disposal agent

If you’re struggling to maintain normal glucose blood levels, a glucose disposal agent may be able to provide the solution. The purpose of a glucose disposal agent is to decrease the amount of insulin secreted by the body when you consume carbohydrate-rich meals, and it acts as a transport system to shuttle glucose into the muscles’ cells. As a result, less insulin is needed to be released by the body.

The key ingredients often found in glucose disposal agents are alpha-lipoic acid, berberine and cinnamon. Alpha-lipoic acid plays a key role in enhancing energy metabolism and improving insulin release by decreasing blood glucose levels to promote better utilisation of carbs. Both berberine and cinnamon bark are found in most glucose disposal agents. They are used to regulate glucose uptake while creating a better blood glucose profile to support carb transportation into the muscles. These formulas are most effective when taken 15-20 minutes before any carbohydrate-rich meals (Cardiff Sports Nutrition. 2020).

Normal blood sugar ranges vs. abnormal blood sugar ranges

Maintaining normal blood sugar ranges is crucial to good health, so it is important to monitor the regulation of your blood glucose levels to keep them at normal levels. While fluctuating blood glucose levels are common, staying in the over-normal blood sugar ranges can be dangerous when it happens consistently. Your body can only handle so much sugar in the blood, so when levels exceed normal ranges, damage can occur, or long-term complications can arise as a result.

The normal glucose blood level may differ for everyone, but the ADA generally recommends trying to stay within the blood sugar range of 80-130mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) before meals and less than 180mg/dL two hours after a meal (Fetters, A. 2023).

The bottom line

At the end of the day, one or two glucose spikes aren’t going to drastically damage your health, but while they may not seem dangerous at first glance, they can lead to serious health complications in the long run if left unchecked.

Monitoring your glucose levels can significantly minimise any potential risk, and adopting different measures, including a healthy diet and lifestyle, can help you prevent continued excessive glucose spikes.

If you want to learn more, our friendly and expert team at ASN can help you. Just head in-store or reach out online.

References

Rowles, A. 2023, ‘How to Prevent Blood Sugar Spikes’, Healthline, accessed July 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/blood-sugar-spikes#:~:text=Blood%20sugar%20spikes%20occur%20when,is%20a%20rising%20health%20problem.

Bazemore, N. 2022, ‘Common Causes of Blood Sugar Spikes’, WebMD, accessed 13 July 2023, https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/causes-blood-sugar-spikes

Singh, V et al. 2014, ‘Advanced Glycation End Products and Diabetic Complications’, The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology, accessed 13 July 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951818/#:~:text=High%20glucose%20levels%20may%20induce,proteins%20and%20collagen%20%5B6%5D.

Boyers, L. 2019, ‘Burning Fat Vs. Glycogen’, LiveStrong.com, accessed 13 July 2023, https://www.livestrong.com/article/331651-burning-fat-vs-glycogen/

Illiades, C. 2021, ‘Diabetes and Meal Planning: Does Eating Protein With Carbs Help Blood Sugar?’ LiveStrong.com, accessed 13 July 2023, https://www.livestrong.com/article/496414-why-diabetics-need-to-eat-protein-with-carbs/

CDC. 2022, ‘Fibre: The Carb That Helps You Manage Diabetes’, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 7 July 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/role-of-fiber.html#:~:text=Specifically%2C%20fiber%20can%20help%3A,sugar%20in%20your%20target%20range.

Cardiff Sports Nutrition. 2020, ‘What Are Glucose Disposal Agents?’ CSN Supplements, accessed 13 July 2023, https://www.cardiffsportsnutrition.co.uk/blogs/articles/what-are-glucose-disposal-agents#:~:text=A%20GDA's%20primary%20function%20is,be%20released%20by%20the%20body

Fetters, A. 2023, ‘What Are the Signs of High and Low Blood Sugar?’ Everyday Health, accessed 13 July 2023, https://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/high-and-low-blood-sugar/

UCLA Health. 2018, ‘Ask the Doctors - Which spikes blood glucose more? Sugar in fruit or food?’ UCLA Health, accessed 14 July 2023, https://www.uclahealth.org/news/ask-the-doctors-which-spikes-blood-glucose-more-sugar-in-fruit-or-food#:~:text=The%20glycemic%20index%2C%20or%20GI,blood%20glucose%20levels%20remain%20steady.

Stearns, L. ‘What Is a Biphasic Glucose Curve and What Does It Suggest About Metabolic Health?’ Veri, accessed 14 July 2023, https://www.veri.co/learn/biphasic-curve-metabolic-health

Nutrisense. 2021, ‘Meal Sequencing: Food Order And Blood Sugar Control’, Nutrisense, accessed 17 July 2023, https://www.nutrisense.io/blog/meal-sequencing-and-blood-sugar

Joslin Education Team. 2021, ‘Carbs, Protein and Fats - Their Effect on Glucose Levels’, Beth Israel Lahey Health, accessed 17 July 2023, https://www.joslin.org/patient-care/diabetes-education/diabetes-learning-center/carbs-protein-and-fats-their-effect#:~:text=Because%20the%20combination%20of%20fiber,in%20glucose%20levels%20after%20eating.

West, T. 2022, ‘The Glucose Goddess’s Guide To Blood Sugar’, Sheer Luxe, accessed 17 July 2023, https://sheerluxe.com/life/health-wellness/glucose-goddesss-guide-blood-sugar

Rice, C. 2018, ‘A Short Walk After Meals Is All It Takes to Lower Blood Sugar’, Healthline, accessed 19 July 2023, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/aging-walking-after-meals-to-control-blood-sugar-spikes-061213

Chang, M et al. 2019, ‘Restricting carbohydrates at breakfast is sufficient to reduce 24-hour exposure to postprandial hyperglycemia and improve glycemic variability’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, accessed 17 July 2023, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916522031756