Eating Low-Carb Meals After Exercise Increases Insulin Sensitivity

Participants experienced increased insulin sensitivity after each of the three exercise sessions. However, the low-carb meals produced “significantly more” insulin sensitivity.

| Feb 17, 2010

A university study says that aerobic exercise, a known means of increasing insulin sensitivity, is most effective if the meals following it are low in carbohydrates. The study also revealed that consuming a low-calorie meal after exercising does not increase insulin sensitivity any better than eating a low-carb meal after a workout. In addition, it found that the beneficial effects of exercise are immediate and do not build up over time or last very long. Improvements in metabolism, including insulin sensitivity and lowered blood pressure, occur directly as a result of the latest exercise session, but taper off within hours or days. There is no "storing up" the benefits of exercise.

The study, which appears in the online edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, was conducted by the University of Michigan. It looked at the effects of post-exercise diet on nine sedentary men, all healthy and in their late 20s. The men, who fasted beforehand, participated in four different study sessions, each lasting almost 30 hours. 

The sessions differed in terms of what the men ate after exercising (or not exercising) on a treadmill and stationary bicycle:

  • In a control session, the men did not exercise and ate meals that matched their daily calorie expenditure (approximately 12 calories per pound of weight).
  • In another session, the men did 90 minutes of moderate exercise, followed by a meal that matched the calories they had just expended. The meal had balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • In a third session, the men exercised at moderate intensity for 90 minutes, then ate a meal with enough calories to match their energy expenditure, but with relatively low carbohydrate content. In this case, the amount of carbohydrate was 200 grams, less than half the carbs in the balanced meal.
  • In a fourth session, the men exercised for 90 minutes at moderate intensity, then ate a low-calorie meal (about one-third fewer calories than the other two meals) that did not have enough calories to match what they had expended in exercise. This meal had a relatively high carbohydrate content.

The participants experienced increased insulin sensitivity after each of the three exercise sessions. However, the low-carb meals produced "significantly more" insulin sensitivity. That finding, said the researchers, indicates that even without dieting or losing weight, sedentary people who exercise and then eat a low-carb meal can gain an immediate metabolic benefit.

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Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Exercise, Fitness, Glycemic Index & Carb Counting, Insulin

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Posted by cde on 19 February 2010

Wow! Who ever knew that a low-carb meal is one with 200 grams of CHO?! In a person with DM, that amount would raise BG by about 1000 mg/dL.

In the second "session" or group, "The meal had 'balanced' amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates." What does "balanced" mean? 200 grams CHO, 200 grams protein, 200 grams fat? Or does it mean "balanced" as in diabetes association lingo: 55% CHO, 20% protein, and 25% fat?

This article, among MANY others, suggests that we have a definitional problem. What exactly is a "low-carb" meal? What exactly is a "balanced" diet? The words mean one thing, but their use signifies other things than the obvious. I guess I'll go to my grave not understanding a "balanced" meal or diet as 33% CHO, 33% fat, 33% protein. In regards to diet or food, that definition of balanced has nothing to do with a "real" balanced diet as promoted or understood by large numbers of people (dietitians, for example).

If 200 grams of CHO at one meal is "low-carb," what is the unreduced, standard, non-low-carb amount of CHO in one meal?

Dr. Stan De Loach
México, Distrito Federal

Posted by Anonymous on 20 February 2010

I have to wonder about the 200 gram "low carb" meal, too. 200 grams of carb = 850 calories. If you add in the same amount of protein (800 calories) and fat (1,800 calories) you have a meal with about 3,450 calories - way more than enough for the whole day. Is the 200 a typo? Should that be a 20?

Posted by cde on 22 February 2010

Good idea...a typo might be the answer that we need. Tried to download the .pdf free article...BUT it doesn't work for some reason, so I can't check if the original article gives 20 or 200 grams.

You'd have to run from here to Hawaii to burn 3400 calories. Actually, each gram of CHO is 4 kcals, each gram of protein is also 4 kcals, and each gram of fat is 9 kcals (each gram of alcohol brings 7 kcals, but I guess they weren't drinking in any of the 4 sessions).

So maybe the "850 cals" in your calculation is also a typo?

The whole meal, if 200 grams of each nutrient is correct, would be worth 3400 kcals or calories, not 3450.

Sounds like a typically recommended meal for persons with DM! But certainly not low-carb.

Dr. Stan De Loach
México, Distrito Federal

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