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In case you haven't heard, high carbohydrate diets are out. Gone are the days of pasta and pancakes before the big race. The old strategy of "carbo loading" has been replaced by a new dietary regime called The Zone.

Many athletes are finding that the Zone diet gives them more energy and sustains this higher energy level for a longer period of time. Essentially the peaks and troughs of a high carbo diet are smoothed out by the Zone. Additionally, several studies have shown that the Zone diet can increase lean body mass and lower body fat. These changes help to enhance athletic performance.

The problem with a diet or meal high in carbohydrates and low in proteins and fats is that it increases your blood sugar level. Consequently, your body releases the hormone insulin. Elevated insulin levels prevent you from accessing stored body fat and actually lower your blood sugar level. Thus youŝre left feeling lethargic and youŝve stored much of the carbohydrate as fat.

The Zone diet is designed to stabilize your blood sugar level, thus preventing an elevated insulin response. You therefore can access more of your stored body fat for energy. When you use fat for fuel, you are able to lose body fat and increase your endurance.

The Zone diet is based on a regime of moderate carbohydrate (40% of total calories), moderate protein (30% of total calories), and moderate fat (30% of total calories). Thus, the diet program is often referred to as 40/30/30. Foods that induce a rapid rise in blood sugar levels are to be avoided. These foods include (brace yourself): pasta, bagels, rice, cereal, popcorn and, worst of all, beer. Bummer.
In The Zone

Meal sizes are relatively small, because eating more than 500-600 calories will induce a rise in blood sugar and set off the insulin response (ever wonder why that bomber burrito puts you into a coma?) And you canŝt go for more than five hours without eating because doing so will cause your blood sugar to fall.

And that's the biggest problem with the Zone diet... itŝs a hassle to follow. You have to eat many small meals throughout the day. Further, learning to put together a meal based on the 40/30/30 ratio is no easy matter either.

Fortunately some of the nutrition bar companies have designed products based on 40/30/30 nutrition. Probably the best tasting and most popular is Balance Bar (Madonna's energy bar of choice). These products make staying in the Zone much more user friendly.

Unlike some of the other diet programs that have come and gone over the years, the Zone seems to have a fairly solid scientific foundation. As well, many accomplished athletes have given testimonials that their performance markedly improved once in the Zone. And with evidence mounting that high carbohydrate, low-fat diets can actually make you fatter, more athletes may start to Zone.

Keep a written logbook of your diet. - Deano

Dean Constantine Karnazes is an International leader in nutrition and excercise. Dean holds guiness book world records in distance running and is a highly accomplished wave rider. Dean earned a Master's degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California Polytechnic.

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