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Eating for Energy

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[hr]We often hear the virtues of eating a good breakfast. But, a good breakfast for some, might be zapping the energy of others. Dietitian Jennifer Elliott shares her knowledge on how we can make sure we are getting the best start to our day by eating the right food.[hr]

Low GI breads and cereals, healthy fruits and low-fat dairy are suggested as the best choices to provide us with the energy to kick-start our day. And maybe as a Sunday treat we let ourselves go a little and indulge in the guilty pleasure of a cooked breakfast. In my role as a dietitian, I’m used to the look of disbelief on the faces of clients when I advise them to do the opposite of this if they want to lose weight and get their energy back.

A breakfast based on carbohydrates such as cereal, toast and low fat dairy can make some of us feel tired, hungry and leave us craving carbohydrates for the rest of the day. For others, such choices provide sustained energy for hours. This disparity is due to the way different people process or metabolise food, particularly carbohydrates. Some of us are carbohydrate burners and others are carbohydrate storers. We all know people who fit in these categories. Carbohydrate burners are the ones who can eat what they like without gaining weight and may be the same size at 60 years of age as they were in their 20s.

Carbohydrate storers struggle with weight, gain weight easily even when being careful with their diet and have often had a life-time of yo-yo dieting. The difference between the two types comes down to how carbohydrates such as bread, rice, cereal, milk, sugar and fruit are metabolised. During digestion, these foods are broken down to sugars, which end up in the blood. Carbohydrate burners are very proficient at getting these sugars into their muscles where they are burnt for energy. Our burner has lots of energy and doesn’t gain weight easily. Lucky them! Carbohydrate storers, however, are not able to get the sugars from carbohydrate foods into their muscles easily. As a result, these sugars go to the liver and are converted into fat for storage, the preferred storage site being around the tummy.

But that’s not the end of the story for carbohydrate storers. When they process carbs in this way, a number of other changes are triggered.

Changes to levels of hormones such as insulin, serotonin and cortisol result in feeling hungry, tired, depressed and anxious. Some people feel like going back to bed after breakfast or get sleepy in the afternoon. They are also likely to snore or have sleep apnoea. With little energy being produced in the muscles, people can feel fatigued. They haven’t got the energy to exercise and are more likely to sit and think about what they should be doing rather than have the energy and motivation to get up and going. The hormonal changes also have effects on appetite and satiety. Hunger is increased, particularly a craving for carbs. Many say that they haven’t got an off switch when it comes to eating and can eat large amounts without feeling full. Others have a need to eat something sweet after a meal to finish it off, even though they are not hungry.


“Many would agree with the observation that we are what we eat but the degree to which this is true is underestimated.”


Many would agree with the observation that we are what we eat but the degree to which this is true is underestimated. Carbohydrate storers are unlikely to be aware that the lethargy which hits after breakfast, the hollow, sick feeling mid morning that prompts the need to eat to feel better and the low mood that comes out of the blue triggering comfort eating, may all be the result of the toast, cereal, fruit and yoghurt that was eaten at breakfast.


Consider The Effects Of A Breakfast Consisting Of The Following:

  • This is an excellent choice for a carbohydrate burner, providing fuel for muscles and the energy to keep them going until lunch. However, the 14-16 teaspoons of sugar from the breakdown of carbohydratess in this meal will most likely cause problems for a carbohydrate storer by triggering hunger, lethargy, mood swings and cravings.Juice from 1 ó oranges
  • . cup wholegrain cereal with milk & ó banana
  • Slice of toast with tomato and avocado

An alternative of eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, cheese, avocado etc will provide energy, reduce hunger, keep moods even and change the storer’s metabolism to start burning off the weight around the tummy.

Carbohydrate storers and burners have different dietary needs that best suit their metabolisms. Carbohydrate burners need to eat carbohydrate foods regularly during the day to fuel their muscles and give

them energy. Carbohydrate storers can eat any foods they enjoy, including all carbohydrates, but need to know how to get the balance right.

There is not a one-size-fits all approach to healthy eating. Identifying if you are a carbohydrate burner or storer is the first step in finding an eating plan that provides the energy you need to get the most out of your day.


Jennifer2Jennifer Elliott

is a community dietitian and author of Baby Boomers, Bellies and Blood Sugars: How to lose inches, lower blood sugars and get your energy and life back!

Baby Boomers, Bellies and Blood Sugars is an easy to read, step-bystep guide on diabetes and insulin resistance and teaches readers how to recognise the symptoms and manage these disorders. The book also includes a diet plan and recipes to get people started on their new life. The book aims to help people understand how food affects them, both physically and emotionally and how they can improve their health and wellbeing with the right advice.

About the author

Alana Lowes

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