Sustainable sports diet

What I learned on my trip to the cranberry bog…

What I learned on my trip to the cranberry bog…

The friendly folks at Ocean Spray recently invited me (and a group of registered dietitians who were in Boston for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo) to take a tour of a cranberry bog. Mind you, I have lived in the Boston-area for many years now, but have never trekked to the bogs. I learned a lot about cranberries — and how they offer health benefits that are unique to this tart little red berry.

. • Cranberries can help prevent recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)— a problem commonly encountered by women. Components in cranberries (proanthocyanidins) make the bacteria less able to “stick” to the surface of the infected tissues. This can significantly decrease bacterial adhesion and reduce the frequency of recurrent UTIs.

• Fewer UTIs means we use fewer antibiotics to treat the infections. Reducing use of antibiotics is very important because antibiotics kill not only the “bad guys” that cause infections but also the ”good guys” that live in our gut (our microbiota) and contribute to optimal health.

• Reducing the intake of antibiotics also reduces the risk of creating antibiotic resistance and the fear of “super bugs” that antibiotics do not kill. Cranberry compounds might reduce the “stickiness” of these drug-resistant “super-bugs.” Fingers crossed that forthcoming research will uncover a positive answer.

But aren’t cranberry juices loaded with sugar? Most cran-juices do have added sugar; it’s needed to counter the tart flavor and make the juice more palatable. Keep in mind that dietary guidelines suggest that 10% of your calories can come from added sugars. Consuming that sugar in the form of cranberry juice and craisins is a far more nutrient –rich way than to spend your sugar-budget on sweetened iced tea and jelly beans.

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy that once-a-year dollop of cranberry sauce with the turkey dinner. Rather enjoy cranberry products frequently as a smart investment in your good health. Ocean Spray offers many cranberry products. How about some craisins (dried cranberries) in your spinach salad?

Meal Timing: Does It Matter When You Eat?

Meal Timing: Does It Matter When You Eat?

 

Meals and snacking patterns have changed over the past 40 years. You have undoubtedly noticed that many of us are eating fewer calories from meals and more calories from snacks. As a result, I get questions from both athletes and non-athletes alike about how to best fuel their bodies: Should I stop eating after 8:00 pm? Which is better: to eat 3 or 6 meals a day? Does it really matter if I skip breakfast? Because meals can be a central part of our social life—and busy training schedules can contribute to chaotic eating patterns—many athletes disregard the fact that food is more than just fuel. When (and what) you eat impacts your future health (and today’s performance). Continue Reading

Carbohydrates: Yes? No? Friend? Foe?

Carbohydrates: Yes? No? Friend? Foe?

 

Ever since I stopped eating carbs, I’ve been feeling so much better.

The keto-diet works fine for me. It keeps me from having cookie binges!

I tried giving up carbs and my workouts tanked. I had no energy and felt horrible.

Athletes’ opinions about carbohydrates range from evil to essential. Some anti-carb athletes rave about how great they feel; others complain about weakness and fatigue. Abundant research supports eating a sports diet based on grains, fruits and vegetables—the wholesome kinds of sugars and starches that feed the brain and fuel the muscles during hard exercise. If anti-carb anecdotes leave you wondering what’s best for your sports diet, keep reading.

Continue Reading

The Bathroom Scale: Friend or Foe?

The Bathroom Scale: Friend or Foe?

Dear Nancy,

   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. This puts me in a really bad mood … what’s going on? Continue Reading

Four wishes for you for the Holidays—and Beyond

Four wishes for you for the Holidays—and Beyond

In this day and age of nutrition confusion, I have four wishes for you, my sports-active readers. May these wishes help guide any New Year’s Nutrition Resolutions you are pondering…

  1. Be as nice to your body as you are to your car. Fill up with premium nutrition before you embark on a busy day. Be sure to notice the benefits that come with eating a dinner-like breakfast: plenty of energy, highly productive all day, no obsessing about food, able to walk past the office candy jar, feeling happier, and not overeating at night. When you live well-fed (and not feeling hungry all the time), your body functions better. And fear not: if you eat a dinner-like breakfast, you will want just a breakfast-like dinner. Trust me.
  1. Make time to properly fuel your body. You might want to think twice about why you have time to work, workout, watch TV, etc., but “no time” for breakfast or lunch. You can make time to do what you truly want to do. The majority of my clients who have “no time” to eat well commonly believe that by skipping meals and snacks, they will lose weight. False! Skipped meals lead to extreme hunger, which then leads to over-eating. If weight loss is your goal, you want to fuel by day, and then diet by night. Lose weight when you are sleeping, not during the busy part of your day.
  1. Think twice before going on a diet that might interfere with your quality of life. Paleo? Ketogenic Diet? No Carbs? Intermittent Fasting? Only start a food plan that is sustainable for the long term. Do you really never want to enjoy a piece of birthday cake ever again? Or eat pizza with your pals? Your better bet is to learn how to eat (not how to diet). Talking with a sports nutritionist can help you create a sustainable food plan. Check out the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org to find a local food professional. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  1. Do not feel guilty if you enjoy an occasional treat: a chocolate chip cookie, some birthday cake, fried clams. There is not a bad food, just a bad diet. Eating a little nutrient-poor food will not negate all the nutrient-rich foods you put in your body. Eating is not cheating.

Best wishes for a nourishing 2017,

Nancy

Fruit Juice for Athletes: Yes or No?

Fruit Juice for Athletes: Yes or No?

Many athletes and sports-active people shy away from fruit juice, believing it has “too much sugar.” Can 100% fruit juice fit into a sports diet? For certain!

True, almost all of the calories in juice come from sugar, but that sugar

1) fuels the muscles and replaces depleted glycogen stores.

2) is accompanied by a multitude of health-protective vitamins (such as C), minerals (such as potassium) and bioactive compounds. Continue Reading

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.

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 (www.ACSM.org). 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.

Weight

  • 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
Chipotle

 

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

 

1,370

 

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.
       
Panera

 

Good choice

 

BBQ chicken flatbread

 

750

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

Good choice

 

Black Bean Soup Bread Bowl

 

750

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)

 

590

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

 

980

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

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!
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?

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