Your Future: It’s In Your Gut!

Your Future: It’s In Your Gut!

When I think about eating, I think about the yummy taste of food and the pleasure of feeling satiated. But after attending a Harvard Medical School conference on Gut Health, Microbiota and Probiotics Throughout the Lifespan, I now realize I am not feeding my body but rather the 100 trillion bacteria that live in my gut – my microbiome. We have about 3 to 4.5 pounds of microbes that outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1.

The microbiome is a signaling hub. Gut microbes produce neurotransmitters that talk to the brain. This ultimately impacts our immune system, brain, weight, and mood. Genetics, diet, and environment influence these microbes.

Gut microbes can be our best friends or our worst enemies. Thanks to antibiotics, we no longer suffer from infections and illnesses such as pneumonia. But, the antibiotics that kill the bad bacteria also kill the good guys. Animal studies suggest antibiotics can kill off 80% to 90% of the total microbiome. Does this have a lingering effect? For example, in humans, is the overuse of antibiotics related to the dramatic rise in autism, anxiety, diabetes, asthma, Crohn’s disease , MS, and yes, obesity? (The highest rates of obesity are seen in the states with the highest use of antibiotics.)

We have much to learn about the microbiome. Perhaps these conference highlights will encourage you to eat well to invest in having the healthiest possible gut. That, ultimately, will help you be the healthiest athlete you can be.


  • Babies born via cesarean section are not exposed to the microbes living in the mother’s birth canal. As a result, their microbiome differs from babies born vaginally. Will this have an impact on their immune system (more allergies, asthma) and future health?
  • Research with mice indicates a maternal diet high in saturated fat (think “junk food”) affects the microbes that will live in her infant’s intestinal tract. These microbes affect behavior, particularly the behavior of the males (both male baby mice and humans). They become more anxious, and less social. Tips for pregnant women: Eat less junk food—and breast-feed your babies—to help create a healthy gut for a happier babe!
  • Gut microbes seem to affect genders differently. Do these bugs explain why five times more males than females have autism? And why, when a male mouse’s microbiome is transplanted into a female mouse, does the female generate more testosterone?
  • When microbes from a fat mouse are transplant into a lean mouse, the lean mouse gets fat – and vice versa. Lean microbes transplanted into a fat mouse help the fat mouse lose weight.
  • Firmicutes and Bacteriodes are two prevalent types of microbes. Having a high amount of Firmicutes is associated with obesity. Obese women who altered their gut microbiota, lost fat, improved their blood sugars, and reported less hunger. Questions arise: Does this imbalance explain why some people gain weight easily more easily than others, and why others stay lean? Does the microbiome contribute to obesity? Or does obesity change the microbiome? Stay tuned.
  • Intestinal motility (think constipation, diarrhea) is controlled by the brain via microbes that send signals to the brain. While many intestinal issues start in the gut, others start in the brain. For example, the mental stress that occurs pre-event (more so than microbes) explains to the long lines at the porta-toilets before a competition.
  • Mice fed Bifidobacteria became less anxious and were better able to solve problems (such as get out of a maze) compared to the control group. Humans fed Bifidobacteria had lower levels of morning cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and perceived themselves as being less stressed. Does this mean, in the future, we might be taking psychobiotics instead of drugs?
  • Processed foods tend to be low in fiber. This results in a less diverse microbiota and can lead to inflammation and pre-diabetes. Emulsifiers such as Polysorbate 60 are found in some processed foods (such as coffee creamers). They can change the microbiota and create a low-grade inflammation that can be associated with colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases.

What to do

Much more research is needed to determine if the results of microbiome studies with animals hold true for humans. We also need to learn about proper use of probiotic supplements. In the meanwhile, the probiotic industry is booming—and it is unregulated by the FDA. Hence, a note of caution: The quality of a probiotic is not guaranteed.

Your best bet is to feed your gut microbes (and your muscles) generous portions of quality carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and whole grains. You’ll naturally do this when you eat, for example, fewer cookies and instead snack on dried fruit. Yogurt, kefir, blue cheese and miso are also smart choices.

In the future, dietitians will be able to offer personalized nutrition based on your microbiome. Until then, stay tuned, and know that a high-quality sports diet is the same diet that will support your good health as well as top performance.

Recipe for No-Bake Peanut Butter Bites

Recipe for No-Bake Peanut Butter Bites

Here’s a tasty treat that’s easy to make — and popular with athletes who don’t like to cook. These no-bake peanut butter bites fit nicely into an afternoon snack. They are perfect for hungry kids coming home from school, or hungry athletes after a workout. I’ll bet you can’t eat just one! This recipe is just one of many family favorites in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

1/2 cup (130 g) chunky peanut butter

1/3 cup (30 g) powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup granola cereal

1/4 cup (30 g) graham cracker crumbs (1 sheet of graham cracker, crushed

Optional: 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

  1. In a medium bowl, using a spoon, combine the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Mix well.
  2. Stir in the granola (and chocolate chips).
  3. Shape into a large ball. Pinch off pieces and shape into 15 balls, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.
  4. Crush graham crackers and place the crumbs in a shallow bowl. Lightly coat the balls (and discard any remaining crumbs).
  5. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield: 15 peanut butter bites

Nutrition information: 1,125 total calories; 75 calories per peanut butter bite; 6 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 5 g fat

Developed by Smart Balance, this recipe is one of many at Reprinted with permission from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

Getting Older — Like It or Not

Getting Older — Like It or Not

Like it or not, every one of us is getting older day by day. Both athletes and fitness exercisers alike commonly wonder how aging impacts performance—and what they can do to retain youthful fitness. Exercise physiologist William Evans PhD offers this information to help you chart a healthy course into your golden years. Continue Reading

 Upcoming Sports Nutrition Workshops Dec-March

 Upcoming Sports Nutrition Workshops Dec-March

Want to boost your sports nutrition confidence so you can effectively build a winning sports diet?

Here’s your chance to update your knowledge of sports nutrition and exercise physiology, while enjoying an information-packed 1.5 days with two internationally respected professionals:

  • Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS, RD, CSSD
  • Exercise physiologist John Ivy PhD

This practical workshop on NUTRITION for SPORTS, EXERCISE & WEIGHT MANAGEMENT: What Really Works and Why

  1. addresses the questions and concerns of avid exercisers and competitive athletes.
  1. Offers a sports nutrition update for dietitians, coaches, personal trainers, fitness leaders, health educators and sports medicine professionals who work with active people.

Is it time to give yourself the gift of education, enjoy meeting your peers, and learn practical tips on how to effectively fuel and train for sports, exercise, and weight management?  If the answer is YES, sign up today.

Upcoming workshops:

COLUMBIA, SC                   Dec 2-3, 2016

NASHVILLE, TN                  Dec 9-19, 2016

ATLANTA/Duluth                Jan 20-21, 2017

JACKSONVILLE, FL            Jan 27-28, 2017

MIAMI/Ft. Lauderdale          March 3-4, 2017

ONLINE HOME STUDY      If you cannot attend in person

For more information and to register:


Athletes are welcome, as well as health professionals needing CEUs (AFAA, ACE, ACSM, AND, NSCA, NASM and CHES)

What’s new in nutrition for athletes?

What’s new in nutrition for athletes?

More than 3,000 research studies were presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting in Boston, 2016 ( Here are just seven nutrition-related highlights that might be of interest:

Protein and muscle

  • As we age, we lose muscle. Eating protein prior to sleep is a nutritional strategy that helps curb overnight muscle loss. When healthy 71 year-old men added resistance exercise in the evening, and then consumed 40 grams of bedtime casein, the overnight muscle-building response increased 31% compared to men who did not do evening exercise. Sounds like we should lift weights at night and then eat casein-rich cottage cheese?
  • Soldiers who ate a protein-rich diet but not enough calories lost muscle during 4 days of hard military training. If you are training hard, you want to be sure to consume not only adequate protein but also adequate calories if you want to maintain your muscles.


  • If you think the more you exercise, the more weight you will lose, think again! Overfat middle-age adults who participated in a 12-month study saw no additional weight loss if they exercised for 250 minutes/week, as compared to those who exercised for 150 minutes. This suggests a compensatory response that thwarts fat loss.
  • Do you burn many more calories by standing at a desk instead of sitting at your desk? No. Just standing increases energy expenditure by less than 10 calories per hour. But you might be less likely to gain weight if you include a brief 2-minute walk every 30 minutes. For example, you could walk to a printer down the hall, or take the stairs to use the upstairs bathroom.
  • If you plan to go “on a diet,” you want to focus not only on eating less and exercising more, but also getting adequate sleep. Being sleep deprived can reduce your desire to exercise and eat well.
  • The hulky body valued by football linemen may predispose them to sleep apnea—with the associated risks of heart disease and diabetes. If you are a heavy athlete who thinks you might have a sleep disorder, you might want to get a sleep assessment…
  • A survey with college women reported exercise helped them feel strong, energized, more powerful, determined, balanced, content, inspired, and unstoppable. Yes, those are the right reasons to exercise—as opposed to exercising just to burn off calories.
Chipotle, Panera or McDonald’s?

Chipotle, Panera or McDonald’s?

Chipotle and Panera are popular quick-service restaurants for many athletes. Their menus offer several items that fit well into a sports diet and are a step in the healthier direction than, let’s say, a burger & fries meal. But the “killer” with even Panera and Chipotle is the portion size.

If you are an athlete who eats three meals a day, you can appropriately fuel your body with 1,000 calories of a Chipotle burrito for lunch; it fits into your day’s 3,000 to 4.000- calorie food budget. But if you are a sedentary desk worker or petite fitness exerciser who might need only 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day, be cautious. You might want to split that burrito and enjoy half for lunch and the other half for dinner.

Hungry athletes who want to eat well commonly cannot afford to fill their tummies with the healthiest options because those items tend to be lower in fat, hence lower in calories. One solution is to plan ahead. If you know you will be eating on the road, pack into your gym bag or backpack some supplemental calories to fill out the meal: trail mix, fresh or dried fruit, Fig Newtons, pretzels, an energy bar or two.

The following chart identifies some popular fast food lunches, their calories, and some pointers on fitting them into your food plan. While a male athlete may require 1,000 calories for a lunch, an active female may need only 700. Your body is your best calorie counter, so be sure to stop eating when you feel content; no need to finish the whole meal. Just save the rest for later in the day. Don’t let it go “to waist”!


Restaurant Menu item Calories Comments


Good choice

Burrito made with tortilla, chicken, pinto beans, guacamole, cheese, salsa, lettuce 955


With 2,400 mg sodium, you’ll have no need for extra “electrolytes” from sport drinks!

Good choice

Burrito Bowl made with same ingredients as above, except brown rice instead of the tortilla 855


The tortilla is 300 calories; the rice is 200. Not a huge calorie savings.

Poor choice


Salad with chicken, black beans, vinaigrette dressing plus side of chips and guac




Yikes! The calories and fat equal 3 Bacon McDouble burgers. A burrito (with carbs for fuel), is preferable to filling up on high fat salad dressing and greasy chips.


Good choice


BBQ chicken flatbread



Both flatbread and regular sandwiches have similar calories from the bread. Cut calories by cutting fat (mayo).

Good choice


Black Bean Soup Bread Bowl



A healthful way to get 28 grams of protein to build muscles, along with adequate carbs to refuel muscles.
Fair choice 33% calories from fat Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich on Sesame Bread 700 Mayo easily jacks up calorie & fat content, but preferable to a burger and fries.

Poor choice for athletes


Chicken Caesar Salad (420 cals) plus dressing (170)



Protein and fat don’t fuel muscles for hard workouts. Add bread — or choose a sandwich with a side salad.

Poor choice for athletes


Macaroni & Cheese, large



Pasta sounds like a wise choice to fuel muscles, but only 30% of the calories are from energizing carbs.

45% calories from fat

Big Mac (540 cals) + medium fries (340 cals) 880 Trade the fries for a grilled chicken sandwich? Wise Goal: only one fatty food per meal.

Even more fat! (50%)

Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (780 cals) + medium fries (340 cals) 1,110 Bigger burgers = more fat = a dubious investment in today’s performance and your future health.
Good choice but too few calories Grilled chicken sandwich (380 cals) + Fruit & yogurt parfait (150 cals) 530 Not enough calories for most athletes. Buy a second sandwich or supplement with trail mix brought from home.
Bring from Home


Best choice

1 or 2 PB&B sandwiches: Whole wheat bread (200 cals) + 3 T peanut butter (300 cals) + banana (100) 600 – 1,200 Nutrient-rich calories that are quick and easy to prepare, inexpensive, portable and a smart choice for athletes on the go!
Wishing for the perfect body?

Wishing for the perfect body?

Too many athletes spend too much time complaining about their bodies: I feel too fat.  •  I’m too thin.  •  I want a six-pack ab.  •  I hate my spare tire.

Without a doubt, you will perform better if your body is the correct size for your sport—not too fat, not too skinny. If you have excess flab to lose, you will run faster if you are lighter. If you are scrawny, you will be more powerful if you can build some muscle. Agreed. Continue Reading

True or False: Having dessert with breakfast can help you lose weight?

True or False: Having dessert with breakfast can help you lose weight?

Believe it or not, the answer can be true – at least, according to research with about 200 healthy (non-diabetic) people with excess body fat. The study compared half the subjects, who had a 300-calorie high protein breakfast (egg whites, tuna, cheese, milk), with a second group who ate the same breakfast but followed it with 300 calories of dessert (cake, cookies, chocolates).

The total calories per day were limited to 1,600 for men and 1,400 for the women — but divided into different sized meals. That is, one group of women ate 300 calories for breakfast, 500 for lunch and 600 for dinner, while the other group ate 600 calories for breakfast, 500 for lunch and 300 for dinner.

Four months later, both groups had lost about 30 pounds per person. But in the next four months, when the subjects were in the “maintenance phase” of the study, the 300-calorie-breakfast group regained 22 pounds, while the dessert-with-breakfast group continued to lose, on average, another 15 pounds

The dessert-eaters reported they were less hungry throughout the day. Plus they reported they were better able to resist sweet temptations later in the afternoon. They didn’t crave sweets because they had already satisfied their sweet tooth.

So what does this mean for you, a hungry athlete? It does not mean you should stuff your face with donuts and Danish pastries at breakfast-time! Trans fat and excess junk food is not conducive to optimal health. But it does mean, if you enjoy a sweet treat, you can balance it into your front-of-the-day food plan, accompanying it with a meal balanced with protein and other quality foods. This could offer you weight management benefits over succumbing to an (out-of-control) sweet-treat at night.

Makes sense to me, given the brain has limited energy to make wise food decisions. By the end of the day, low energy can easily overpower your best intentions to eat, let’s say, only one or two cookies …Give it a try?

Taking Your Diet to the Next level

Taking Your Diet to the Next level


Some athletes are still on the “see-food diet”. They see food and they eat it. Others are a bit more mindful about how they nourish their bodies; they put thought into selecting high-quality foods that invest in good health, quick healing, and top performance. They commonly report they have taken their diets to the next level. For some disciplined and dedicated athletes, the next level is a perfect diet with no sugar, no processed foods, no desserts, and no “fun foods.” Continue Reading

Sports drinks, sodium & steamy summer sports

Sports drinks, sodium & steamy summer sports

Staying well hydrated is key to being able to survive steamy summer exercise. Athletes who fail to drink enough end up feeling needlessly tired, grumpy, headachy and irritable. The goal: Drink enough so that you need to urinate at least every four hours. That means, you should need to go to the bathroom before each meal (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner).

Should you drink water or sports drink to maintain proper hydration? Here’s what you need to know: Continue Reading

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