Half vs. Full Marathons: Fueling differences?

Q. I am new to running and am training for my first half-marathon. Is there a difference between fueling for a half-marathon vs. a full 26.2-mile marathon?
A. One difference relates to burning about 1,300 calories (half-marathon) vs. 2,600 calories (full marathon). The marathoner also has an easier chance of becoming dehydrated, might need more sodium, and perhaps wants a caffeine-boost along the way. Continue Reading

How much junk food (if any) is OK to eat?

While some people try to avoid any form of a sweet treat, salty snack or other form of so called “junk food”, others wonder how much they can eat without creating nutrition and health problems. For my clients, I suggest they enjoy a healthful sports diet that targets 85 to 90-percent of calories from quality foods and, if desired, 10 to 15-percent from “whatever.” Some days “whatever” might be carrots and other days it might be (guilt-free) carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. If you have trouble with eating too much junk food, the problem is not sugar and sweets but rather, you have likely gotten too hungry. You can resolve afternoon junk-food cravings by eating heartily at breakfast and lunch.

Given that you can ingest the recommended intake of all the vitamins, minerals, and protein you need within 1,500 calories from a variety of wholesome foods, a hungry athlete who consumes 2,000 to 4,000 calories a day has the opportunity to consume LOTS of nutrients. For example, 8 ounces of orange juice offers 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C. A thirsty runner who chugs the whole quart can consume 4 times the RDA in that one snack. OJ is better than an all-natural vitamin pill! Hence, a few hundred calories of “junk food” has little negative impact in the context of the whole diet.

Should athletes try to avoid refined sugar?

Refined white sugar is a nutritional zero, void of any vitamins, minerals or protein. Yet, the calories in sugar come from carbohydrates. Muscles welcome these carbs to fuel depleted glycogen stores. Muscles don’t know the difference between carbs from juice, candy, and sports drinks vs. apple, sweet potato, and banana. The difference shows up in health, immune response, and ability to fight off colds and flu. Continue Reading

How to Help Your Overweight Child

Q. “My son is chubby. What can I do to help him lose weight..?

A. How to help an overfat child lose weight is a complex topic of debate among parents and pediatricians alike. We know that restricting a child’s food intake does not work. Rather, restricting food tends to result in sneak-eating, binge-eating, guilt, shame–the same stuff that adults encounter when they “blow their diets.” But this time, the parents become the food police—an undesirable family dynamic.

The following tips are based on information from books by family feeding expert Ellyn Satter: Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.

Food restrictions cause problems

Despite your best intentions to prevent creeping obesity, do not put your overfat child on a diet. Diets for children disrupt a child’s natural ability to eat when hungry and stop when content. Instead, the child overcompensates and doesn’t stop when he’s content (binges) or stuffs himself with “last chance eating.” You know, “Last chance to have birthday cake so I’d better eat a lot now because when I get home, I’m restricted to celery sticks and rice cakes.”

If you are a parent of a chubby child, note that children commonly grow out before they grow up. That is, they often gain body fat before starting a growth spurt. Instead of putting your daughter on a diet (which damages self-esteem and imprints the message she isn’t good enough the way she is), get her involved in sports and other activities. If your child expresses a desire to learn how to eat better, arrange for a consultation with a registered dietitian who specializes in pediatric weight control. (Use the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ referral network at

Is your child really overfat?

Often, the child’s weight problem is really the parent’s issue. You may want a “perfect child.” Talk to your pediatrician to determine if your child’s weight is indeed a health issue.

Be sure to love your overfat child from the inside out–and not judge her (or him) from the outside in. Just little comments (“That dress is pretty, honey, but it would look even better if you’d just lose a few pounds…..”) get interpreted as “I’m not good enough.” Self-esteem takes a nose-dive and contributes to anorexic thinking, such as “thinner is better.”

Weight management tips

So what can you do to help fat kids slim-down? Work together as a family to change your food and exercise habits. This could mean watching less TV, planning enjoyable family activities (unlike boot camp), and perhaps even creating a walking school bus with the neighborhood kids. As a family, you might want to sign up for a charitable walking or running event

Food-wise, provide your kids with wholesome, nourishing foods, as well as semi-regular “junk foods.” (Otherwise, they will go out and get them). Encourage them to eat breakfast. Plan structured meals and snacks; take dinnertime seriously. Your job is to determine the what, where and when of eating; the child’s job is to determine how much and whether to eat. (That is, don’t force them to finish their peas, nor stop them from having second helpings.) Trust them to eat when hungry, stop when content—and have plenty of energy to grow and enjoy an active lifestyle.

Sports dietitian Nancy Clark, MS, RD has a private practice in the Boston area, where she counsels both casual exercisers and competitive athletes (617-795-1875). Her best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook is available at See also for online education.

Struggling with constipation?


I have one of those embarrassing questions to ask: How can I resolve my struggle with constipation? Four or five days can go by without my having a bowel movement. Needless to say, I feel very “clogged up” and uncomfortable. Do you have any dietary suggestions to help resolve this problem? Continue Reading

Does that bathroom scale ruin your day?

Q. I recently bought a really good scale and I weigh myself every morning. Some days, when I think I should have lost weight, the scale says I gained two pounds and that ruins my mood….

A. The scale reports not just changes in body fat, but also changes in body water and intestinal content. Hence, your weight can fluctuate one or two pounds daily. Many factors affect weight. These include:

– Are you constipated? Or do you have diarrhea?

– Are you experiencing pre-menstrual bloat?

–Did you eat a salty Chinese meal the night before?

–Are dehydrated from hard workouts?

–Did you overeat carbohydrates?

Your muscles store carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, grains, sugars, and starches) as glycogen. You rely on glycogen to fuel hard exercise Your body stores about about three ounces of water along with every ounce of carbohydrate. Hence, you might notice you “gained weight” the morning after a big pasta dinner, but that’s water-weight that gets released during your next exercise bout.

You should not expect your body to consistently weigh, let’s say, 120 pounds — but rather, vary within a range between 118 and 122 pounds, depending on the kinds of food you eat. Water weight quickly comes and goes. It is not permanent. You should not let this normal fluctuation depress your mood for the day.

Rather than weigh yourself every morning, I suggest you not weigh yourself (or if you must, then just once a week, like on a Wednesday). If you feel thinner, if your clothes are looser, and if people  comment that you look leaner, then you have lost body fat–despite the number on the scale.

Better yet, rather than start each day by weighing yourself, how about starting it by smiling at yourself in the mirror and appreciating your body for all the wonderful things it does to for you? That sounds more fruitful to me!


For more information on how to attain your desired body weight, refer to the weight management section in:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

The Gift of Education: What, when & how to eat for performance

There’s no harm in giving yourself a gift – the gift of education! Whether online or in person, here’s your chance to enjoy an information-filled workshop on Nutrition for Sports, Exercise and Weight Management. You will learn what really works—and why—and boost your sports nutrition confidence when counseling active clients and/or choosing your personal sports diet.

I am co-leading this workshop with exercise physiologist John Ivy PhD. John is respected for his research with carbohydrates, protein, meal timing, sports supplements, and exercise.

This 1.5 day program is designed to help registered dietitians, athletic trainers, coaches, exercise physiologists, personal trainers, and sports medicine professionals — as well as athletes themselves — learn how to effectively teach the sports nutrition and training messages (as well as get tips for growing the business of their dreams).

PHOENIX                                     Jan. 23-24, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO                         Feb 6-7

LA – LONG BEACH                        Feb. 27-28

LA -NORTHRIDGE                         Feb 28-Mar 1 (Sat-Sun)  

ONLINE                                    Every day, at your convenience

For more information and to register:


“I was surprised to learn new information on a topic I thought I knew so well. I left with tips I could put right into practice. I am so glad I came!”

                                                    –Registered dietitian and personal trainer

Dreading the food-filled holidays?

I received this holiday letter from Carolyn Costin, the director of Monte Nido Eating Disorders Treatment Centers ( Her thoughtful words capture all that I want to say to my readers who struggle with food, weight, and finding a peaceful balance with exercise. Perhaps this will give you a few tips to enjoy the season, not dread it.

Here are Carolyn’s suggestions… Continue Reading

What happens when you overeat?

From Thanksgiving to New Years Eve, most of us try hard to maintain weight. But sometimes we just overeat. What is the fate of those excess calories? Do they all turn into body fat?

Dr. James Levine PhD of the Mayo Clinic designed a study to look at the biological mechanisms associated with overeating. Dr. Levine studied 16 non-obese subjects (12 males and 4 females), ranging in age from 25 to 36 years. They volunteered to eat 1,000 excess calories a day (above what they needed to maintain weight) for 8 weeks. The subjects were healthy, did not do purposeful exercise more than twice a week, and maintained a stable weight. Prior to being overfed, the researchers monitored the subjects for two weeks to learn how much food they regularly consumed to maintain their weight.

During the study, the subjects lived at their homes but ate supervised meals at the research center. The food had been carefully prepared and measured in a metabolic kitchen. The weight-gain diet was high in protein (20% of total calories) and fat (40% of calories), and low in carbohydrate (40%). The researchers accounted for almost all of the excess 1,000-calories a day. On average, ~430 of the 1,000 calories were stored as fat and ~530 were dissipated via increased energy expenditure. The researches even measured 3 days of poop before and at the end of the study to be sure the subjects did not excrete calories during overfeeding. Only 38 calories a day got flushed down the toilet during overfeeding — 13 calories more than during normal eating.

Here is the fate of the 1,000 excess calories the subjects ate:

Energy stored as fat ranged from 60-685 calories per day

Energy stored as muscle ranged from 15-80 calories per day

Additional calories burned by organs: about 80, on average

Additional calories used to digest the extra food: about 135, on average

Additional calories burned via NEAT ranged from none to 690.

The researchers used highly accurate methods to measure changes in body fat (DXA). Some of the subjects gained 10 times more fat than others, ranging from 0.8 to 9 lbs (0.36 – 4.23 kg). The overall weight gain ranged from 3 to 12 lbs (1.4 -5.5 kg), some of which was additional muscle. Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT; your daily activity apart from your purposeful exercise) explained the big variation in weight gain that occurred with the subjects in this overfeeding study. The subjects who gained the least weight were fidgety and puttered more than the other “mellower” subjects.

The average increase in NEAT was 336 calories a day, but this actually ranged from burning 98 calories less than baseline to burning 690 calories more than baseline. The subject who burned the most calories strolled around the research facility (or did equivalent movement) about 15 minutes more per hour than the other subjects.

The moral of the story: If you are going to overeat and want to suffer the least weight gain, stay active. You don’t have to start fidgeting, but you do need to get off the couch, turn off the TV, take some walks and be more active.


For more information on how to manage weight, enjoy the chapters about weight and body fat in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

What to do with all that Halloween Candy…

As I am writing this blog, ghosts and goblins are getting dressed for Halloween–and many parents are getting concerned about how to handle all of their kids’ candy-haul. Do they—

–let their child have just five pieces and then toss the rest?

–send the excess candy to soldiers in Afghanistan (as if it is good for their teeth and waistlines)?

–let their kids eat as much as they want, with fear the kids will eat and eat and only eat candy for the next week and this will ruin their health and make them fat? (Note: Kids certainly are not obese because of Halloween!)

If you want my suggestions on how to manage Halloween (and other holiday) treats, keep reading….

Sugar is a hotly debated topic. Yet, a few days of Halloween candy will not ruin your children’s health. You can use the Halloween candy stockpile as an opportunity to observe how your kids can self-regulate.

Before my kids embarked on the rigors of trick or treating, I’d feed them a good dinner. And then, I’d let them eat as much candy as they wanted. After all, Halloween is a holiday (of sorts) and indulging in treats is part of normal eating. After two days of Skittles and M&Ms, they got “sugared out.” Their candy sat untouched. They’d had enough. No big deal.

in comparison, if you plan on restricting your kids’ candy, notice how this can easily backfire into a major conflict.

–Will your kids end up having to sneak candy if they want to enjoy some of their Halloween haul?

–Do you really want to be the food police?

–And, please, don’t even try to define the “healthiest” Halloween candy. That’s absurd.

Just let you kids enjoy the holiday, and observe how your fears are unlikely to become facts.


Once, your kids have gotten tired of their Halloween candy, what can you do with their leftover stash? Maybe you could….

• enjoy the candy corn or red licorice instead of gels during extended exercise if you are a runner or endurance athlete?

* use it when making gingerbread houses at Christmas time?

• put some in the freezer (out of sight, out of mind) so you can have little treats all year long?


For more information on how to manage sugary sweets, please read the chapter on snack attacks in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

Apple Crisp Recipe: Perfect for tailgating!

It’s apple-picking season, so pick a few extra to make this yummy Apple Crisp. This recipe will be a big hit when tailgating before a game, or for players who want to refuel after game.

This just one is one of many popular sports-food recipes in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Enjoy it! Continue Reading