Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Zombie Effect

Ever feel like a zombie at the gym, no energy, sleepy and just don’t feel like being there? I feel your pain and it happens often to me.   Of course, once I get going the “zombie” effect goes away, that is why I like to start off with a run, but I digress.  There may be several reasons why we may lack energy or enthusiasm at the gym, what we eat or drink before a work out may make the difference.  Eating before exercise may cause cramping or nausea to some, but in order to maximize your potential the body needs fuel, so try to find something that works.


For the most part when it comes to gathering up energy for a run or a workout, a long duration energy source would be ideal as oppose to a short term energy source.   How many times have you heard someone suggest that loading up with carbohydrates before an event will provide you with energy?  Carbohydrates are chains of sugars (Strand, 2005).  Long chains are said to be complex carbohydrates and short chain carbohydrates are said to be simple or simplex.  The body breaks down the carbs and extracts the glucose; complex carbs provide a longer steady source of energy, simplex carbs will give you a quick charge but with that comes the crash.  It is very tempting to down an energy drink or take some sort of powder drink to pump you up before a workout, be aware of what the body has to go through to adjust.

When choosing a good energy source, use the Glycemic Index for assistance.  The GI is a numerical system that rates how fast carbohydrate foods break down into glucose and enter the bloodstream (Strand, 2005).   The GI index is based on a scale of 1 to over 100, the lower the number the slower the food will raise the sugar level of the body.  A rapid rise in sugar level will trigger a rapid release of insulin in order to neutralize the high sugar levels.  For example, if you eat food(s) with a high GI, the rapid rise in sugar levels will trigger the release of insulin, but often times the level of insulin released is too high.  This will often cause the “crash” effect and leave you feeling like a “zombie”, compelling you to eat a sugary snack or caffeine for a quick pick up, therefore starting the roller coaster ride!


Insulin is a fat storing hormone produced by the pancreas and has the primary duty of controlling the rising blood sugar.  Another role of insulin is to shut off the breakdown of fat, therefore causing the body to hold on to the fat like a sponge holds on to water (Strand, 2005).  Glucagon is a fat burning hormone released by the pancreas; the release of this hormone is stimulated by the intake of protein and suppressed by carbohydrates.  So eating a high-glycemic carbohydrate meal will release high levels of insulin causing the glucagon levels to drop.  Foods made from white bread, white flour, rice and potatoes are absorbed faster than a spoon full of sugar.  Glycogen is a readily available fuel source stored in the muscles and liver and is needed for any short, intense or immediate energy needs, so try to fuel up before exercising (Strand, 2005).

Knowing how the body processes energy and how to provide the best sources of energy can make a difference on how you perform and feel before exercising.  Reference the GI Index Table for a list of foods and their GI Index.

  • Depending on what foods you eat, it may take 1-2 hours before energy is available.
  • High fiber foods draws more blood to the stomach for processing.
  • Stay away from processed foods and white flour foods.
  • If you’re out of time, try baby food, it will digest faster.

Strand, R.D. MD. (2005). Healthy for Life. Rapid City, SD: Real Life Press.

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