Sustainable sports diet

How to gain weight healthfully

How to gain weight healthfully

 

 

Although two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, a handful of skinny people—including many athletes—feel very frustrated by their seeming inability to gain weight. Their struggle to bulk up is on par with that of over-fat folks who work hard to lose weight. Add in rigorous training for a marathon, soccer team, or other sport, and scrawny athletes can feel at a disadvantage, fearing that no matter how much they eat, they’ll get even skinnier. Continue Reading

Weight: Is It Simply a Matter of Will Power?

Weight: Is It Simply a Matter of Will Power?

Is weight simply a matter of willpower? You might think so, given the number of dieters who add on exercise, subtract food, and expect excess fat to melt away. But it does not always happen that way. Older athletes notice the fat that creeps on year after year seems harder to lose. And others who have slimmed down complain how easily they regain lost body fat.

The Endocrine Society (www.EndocineSociety.org) took a close look at why we can too easily accumulate excess body fat, as well as why it’s so easy for dieters to regain lost fat. (1) They describe fat-gain as a disorder of the body’s energy balance system, not just a passive accumulation of excess calories. They highlight many factors other than food and exercise that influence body fatness, including genetics, the environment, and evolution. Continue Reading

Female athletes without monthly periods: Be concerned!

Female athletes without monthly periods: Be concerned!

Hey ladies, has your monthly “visitor” stopped coming? Some active women feel relieved when they no longer get a monthly menstrual period. (Yes! More freedom, less discomfort, no more cramps.) They may believe having no period is a sign they are training hard, like a real athlete. Others believe they have stopped menstruating because they are exercising too much or have too little body fat. No. Many very thin athletes who exercise hard have regular menses.

Absence of periods (called amenorrhea) can be linked to serious health problems, including loss of calcium from the bones, almost a three times higher incidence of stress fractures today and long-term problems with osteoporosis in the not-too-distant future. If you should want to start a family, amenorrhea interferes with the ability to conceive easily, and can also contribute to future problems with infertility (even though normal menses may have returned).

Amenorrhea is not sport-specific. Sports that emphasize lightness (ballet, running) have the highest prevalence. Up to 44% of these athletes may experience amenorrhea (as compared to 2% to 5% of women in the general population).The question arises: among a team of female athletes, why do some of the women experience menstrual problems and others don’t? The answer may relate to nutrition. Woman with amenorrhea commonly under-eat. Their bodies have inadequate fuel to support the menstrual process, to say nothing of nurture a baby. Under famine-like conditions, menstruation can stop to conserve energy.

If you among the estimated 20% of active women who have missed three or more consecutive menstrual periods and are experiencing amenorrhea, please stop rejoicing and go see your gynecologist. Amenorrhea is abnormal. It can be a red flag for body image problems (i.e., claiming to feel fat even when emaciated), an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and restrictive eating. Amenorrhea is part of The Female Athlete Triad, along with low bone mineral density (which leads to stress fractures) and restrictive eating patterns (including eating disorders). Amenorrhea can create undesired health issues.

Resolving the problem

If you no longer get regular menstrual periods and feel as though you are struggling to balance food and exercise, please get a nutrition check-up with a sports dietitian as well as a medical check-up with your doctor or gynecologist. To find a sports dietitian in your area, use the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics referral networks at www.SCANdpg.org or www.eatright.org.

The most important change required to resume menses includes matching your energy intake with your energy output, so you eat enough to support both exercise and normal body functions. Historically, doctors gave the birth control pill to women with amenorrhea; this forced menstrual bleeding. But taking the birth control pill is a “Band-Aid approach” and does not resolve the underlying problem.

You are likely eating too few calories if you are hungry all the time and think about food too much. You can achieve energy balance by exercising a little less (add a rest day) and by eating a little more (add a healthy snack or two). Your goal is to consume about 15 calories per pound of body weight that you do not burn off with exercise. That means, if you weigh 100 pounds, you my need to eat ~1,500 calories to maintain your weight PLUS another 500 to 800 calories to replace the fuel you burned while training. That totals 2,000-2,300 calories for the entire day, a scary amount of food for some women.

Tips for resolving the issue

If eating this much sounds overwhelming to you, the following tips may help you get “back on the healthy track.”

  1. Take a vacation from dieting.

If you cannot let go of your compulsion to lose weight, at least be less restrictive. Cut back on your eating by only 100 to 200 calories at the end of the day, not by 500 to 1,000 calories during the active part of your day. Small deficits can result in losing excess body fat and are far more sustainable than the food chaos that accompanies starving-stuffing patterns.

  1. Throw away the bathroom scale.

Rather than striving for a certain number on the scale, let your body achieve a natural weight that is in keeping with your genetics.

  1. Eat adequate protein.

When you under-eat, your body burns protein for energy. Some of the protein comes from your diet; for example, the protein in your omelet gets used for fuel instead of building and repairing muscle. Some of the protein comes from your muscles, hence, you experience muscle wasting and that can lead to weaker bones and stress fractures. A 120-pound athlete should target 60 to 90 g protein per day. If you think your diet might be low in protein, track your food intake at www.supertracker.usda.gov.

  1. Eat a calcium-rich food at each meal to help maintain bone density.

Exercise alone is not enough to keep bones strong. Enjoy milk on cereal, low fat cheese on a lunchtime sandwich, a decaf latte in the afternoon, and a yogurt after dinner.

  1. Get adequate vitamin D to help with calcium absorption and bone health.

Sunlight on the skin helps make vitamin D. If you are an “indoor runner” (a “treadmill rat”) who gets little sunshine, be sure to choose foods fortified with D (milk, some breakfast cereals), fatty fish like salmon, eggs, and mushrooms. In the winter months, you may need to take a vitamin supplement.

  1. Eat at least 20% of your calories from (healthful) fat.

While excess calories from fat are easily fattening, a little fat at each meal (15 to 20 g fat per meal, or 45 to 60 g fat per day) is an important part of a sports diet. You won’t “get fat” by eating fat. Your body uses fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K; these vitamins are important for good health. To boost your intake of healthy fats, sprinkle slivered almonds on cereal, snack on a banana spread with peanut butter, enjoy salmon for dinner, drizzle olive oil on steamed veggies, and add avocado to your turkey sandwich.

Is there long-term damage?

Loss of bone density can be irreversible and lead to early osteoporosis. The younger you are, the better your chances of recovery. My advice: nip this problem in the bud now!

Nancy Clark, MS, RD CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels active people at her private practice in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). For more information, read her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners and new runners. The books are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. Also see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com for online education and CEUs.

Are You Training Your Gut?

Are You Training Your Gut?

 

Athletes tend to do a good job of training their muscles, heart and lungs. But some of them (particularly endurance athletes and those in running sports) commonly fail to train their gut. As one marathoner reported, “I was so afraid of getting diarrhea during long training runs that I did not eat or drink anything beforehand. I really struggled after 14 miles…” A high school soccer player admitted, “I’m so afraid I’ll throw up if I run with food in my stomach.” He ate only a light lunch at 11:00 and then practiced on fumes at 3:30. No wonder he had a disappointing season.

An estimated 30-50% of endurance athletes (including up to 90% of distance runners) have experienced gastro-intestinal (GI) issues during and after hard exercise. They fear bloat, gas, nausea, stomach cramps/pain, side stitch, diarrhea, vomiting, and urge to defecate. These issues arise during long bouts of exercise because blood flow to the gut is reduced for an extended period of time. When combined with dehydration, elevated body temperature and high levels of stress hormones, normal intestinal function can abruptly end.

If you are an athlete with a finicky GI tract, restricting your diet before and during exercise will not solve the problem. You want to learn how to train your gut to accommodate performance enhancing carbs and water. That way, you can train better—hence compete better—without stressing about undesired pit stops.

Thankfully, the gut is trainable. Competitive eaters have proven this point. Google Nathans’ Hot Dog Eating Competition and watch the video of a champ who stuffed 72 hotdogs into his stomach in 10 minutes. Clearly, he had to train his gut to be able to complete that task.

Competitive eating is unlikely your goal, but you may want to be competitive in your sport. That means you need to fuel wisely in order to perform optimally. While some “keto-athletes” choose to train their bodies to rely on fat for fuel (fat is less likely to cause GI distress), training the gut is a far easier alternative for most of us.

The following tips can help you exercise with digestive peace.

 

  • Drink enough fluids. Dehydration triggers intestinal problems. Your goal is to drink enough to prevent 2% dehydration (sweat loss of 2 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight from pre- to post-exercise). If you are a “big guy” who sweats heavily, this can be a lot of fluid. For example, a 200-pound football player could easily lose 4 pounds (a half-gallon) of sweat in an hour of exercise. He needs to train his gut to handle fluid replacement during training. He could need as much as 12 to 16 ounces every 15 minutes during a two-hour practice.

 

  • Feeling “full” and “bloated” during exercise indicates fluids (and foods) have not emptied from the stomach. This commonly happens during really hard exercise, when reduced blood flow to the stomach delays stomach emptying. Hot weather and prolonged exercise in the heat can also reduce stomach emptying.

 

  • You want to dilute highly concentrated carbs (i.e., gels), so be sure to drink enough water during exercise (i.e. 16 oz. water per 100 calories gel). This will help speed up gastric emptying.

 

  • If you plan to eat a peanut butter on a bagel before you compete, you want to routinely eat that before important training sessions. This helps train your gut to accommodate fat (sustained energy) as well as carbs (quick energy).

 

  • Once carbohydrate (such as sport drink, gel, banana, or gummi bears) empties from the stomach, it enters the small intestine and is broken down into one of three simple sugars (glucose, fructose, galactose). These sugars need “taxi cabs” to get transported out of the intestine and into the blood stream.

 

  • Too many gels or chomps without enough transporters can lead to diarrhea. By training with your race-day carbs, you can increase the number of transporters.

 

  • If you typically eat a low-carb Paleo or keto-type diet and then on the day of, let’s say, a marathon, you decide to fuel with carb-rich gels and sports drinks, your body won’t have the capacity to optimally transport the sugar (carbs) out of your intestines and to your muscles. You could easily end up with diarrhea.

 

  • When planning what to eat during extended exercise, choose from a variety of carbs with a variety of sugars (i.e., sport drink, gum drops, and maple sugar candy). This helps prevent the glucose transporters from getting saturated. Too much of one kind of sport food can easily create GI problems.
  • “Real foods” such as banana, raisins and cereal, have been shown to be as effective as commercial sport foods. Your body processes “real food” every day and has developed a good supply of transporters to deal with the carbohydrate you commonly eat. By experimenting and learning what works best for your body, you can fuel without anxiety about undesired pit stops.

 

  • For exercise that lasts for up to two hours, research suggests about 60 grams (240 calories) of carb per hour can empty from the small intestine and get into the blood stream. Hence, that’s a good target. For longer, slower, events, the body can use 90 g (360 calories) carb per hour from multiple sources, as tolerated. Again, train your gut!

 

The bottom line  

  • Train with relatively large volumes of fluid to get your stomach used to that volume.
  • Routinely eat carbohydrate-based foods before training sessions to increase your body’s ability to absorb and use the carbs.
  • During training, practice your race-day fueling. Mimic what you might eat before the actual competitive event, and tweak it until you find the right balance.
  • If you are concerned about diarrhea, in addition to preventing dehydration, limit your fiber intake for a few days pre-event (fewer whole grains, fruits and veggies).
  • Reducing your intake of onions, garlic, broccoli, apples, and sorbitol might help reduce GI issues during exercise.
  • Meet with a sports dietitian to help you create a fueling plan that promotes intestinal peace and better performance.

 

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875). She helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer are available at nancyclarkrd.com. For online workshops: www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

References:

Jeukendrup, A. Training the Gut for Athletes. Sports Med 2017; 47 (Supple 1): S101-S110

Prado de Oliveira E., Burine, R, Jeukendrup A. Gastrointestinal Complaints During Exercise; Prevalence, Etiology and Nutritional Recommendations. Sports Med 2014 (Supple 1): S79-S85.

Food & Health: Updates from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Food & Health: Updates from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

 

Nutrition misinformation and food confusion surrounds today’s health-conscious athletes. To arm myself with knowledge to better educate my clients, I (along with 10,000 other registered dietitians) attended the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics annual convention (FNCE) to learn the latest food and nutrition updates. Here is some information that might help you on your health journey.

  • Stress fractures are a common sports injury. Among 42 Division-1 cross-country runners, 35% of the male and 41% of the female runners reported having had a stress fracture. Inadequate nutrition could have contributed to the problem. Their diets tended to be low in calories, calcium and/or vitamin D. If you are going to push your body to the limits, at least fuel it optimally!
  • If intestinal distress sidetracks you during exercise, try reducing your intake of apples, onion, garlic and broccoli —particularly for 2 to 3 days before a competitive event. These are just a few commonly eaten foods that are high in fermentable (gas-producing) carbohydrates; they might contribute to undesired pit stops. You could also meet with a sports dietitian to help you systematically discover triggering foods. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find your local sports food expert.
  • Exercise increases harmful free radicals within muscles that can lead to oxidative damage and inflammation. Should athletes supplement with anti-oxidants to counter this? No. The better bet is to let the body adapt to these higher levels (and eat abundant anti-oxidant rich fruits and vegetables). Adaptation creates a change for the better in an athlete’s physiology.
  • Alcohol contributes to hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) by suppressing the release of glucose from the liver into the blood stream. If an athlete hasn’t eaten much food (as can easily happen after an event), alcohol in an empty stomach can easily lead to hypoglycemia (a lack of glucose for the brain) and a drunken stupor. The same happens when a person with diabetes has low blood glucose; he or she can get mistaken for being drunk (when the brain just needs food).
  • In contrast to recreational marijuana, which is used with the intent to impair normal functioning, medical marijuana (MM) is used to relieve pain, reduce nausea and vomiting, and to overcome loss of appetite (as with cancer). If you have parents or friends who are new to using MM, caution them about using edibles. When MM is eaten, its pain relieving benefits are delayed for 30 to 120 minutes, as opposed to smoked MM, which offers immediate benefits. The problem with the delayed response with edibles is that a patient can easily overdose while waiting to feel an effect…
  • Meal timing affects circadian rhythms —as well as weight management. A study (Garaulet, 2013) with 420 subjects who ate an early lunch or a later lunch reports the early lunch eaters lost more weight, despite consuming the same number of calories and getting the same amount of sleep. Your best bet is to eat more food earlier in the day. As you have undoubtedly heard before: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.
  • We compromise our well-being every time we have a mis-match between the environment and our internal biological clock. (Think jet lag, shift work, sleep apnea, and watching late-night TV.) Every cell has a biological clock; all these cellular clocks need to be synchronized. If not, bodies become unhealthy. For example, shift workers experience more high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes than people who work 9:00 to 5:00. For athletes, jet lag means poorer performance. Sleep is restorative and helps synchronize cell’s biorhythms. If you have trouble sleeping well: Avoid caffeine at least 4 hours before bedtime and limit it to 2 mugs (400 mg. caffeine) a day. Turn off your computer screen/TV an hour before bed.
  • Consumers are self-defining “healthy food.” It needs to be organic, natural, non-GMO, free of dyes/additives/ colors, and have a “clean” label with no strange words. Will this trendy definition lead to unintended health consequences as food producers try to meet consumers’ demands? Likely yes. If you make your food decisions based on trends rather than science, you might want to take a step back and look at the whole picture. For example, enriched foods offer added nutrients that can make a label look “dirty” but the extra ingredients are good for your health. Added iron reduces your risk of becoming anemic; folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects; iodine reduces the risk of goiter. Preservatives that have been generally regarded as safe help bread stay fresh for longer, reduce the growth of mold on cheese, and reduce the amount of food you waste. These ingredients can be beneficial for you and for the environment.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of dietary sugar in the US diet. Hence, research on sugar and health has focused on soft drinks. The question remains unanswered: Is sugar added to nourishing foods a health hazard? That is, is sugar added to spaghetti sauce (to make it less acidic) bad for you? What about the sugar added to bread (to help make the dough rise) — Is that a cause for concern? Doubtful. Yet, too many consumers freak out when a product lists sugar on the food label. Please note: sugar is just one of many nutrients listed on the label. Please look at the whole nutrient package. For example, chocolate milk has sugar (that refuels muscles) but it also offers protein (to repair muscles), sodium (to replace sweat loss), calcium & vitamin D to enhance bone health.

Dietary guidelines say 10% of total calories can come from added sugar. That’s 200 to 300 calories a day for athletes. Do you really need to freak out about a little sugar that makes that spaghetti sauce taste better? I think you can find bigger things to worry about.

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she counsels both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes, teaching them how to eat to win. Her popular Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. For online workshops, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

Tips for Binge Eaters

Tips for Binge Eaters

Athletes get hungry. Sometimes they need to devour very large portions to satisfy their appetite. Sometimes they binge eat in a way that feels out of control. There’s little doubt that dieting athletes who deny themselves of their favorite foods can easily end up “eating the whole thing.” Emotions also contribute to binges; smothering your feelings with ice cream and chocolate sauce can quickly distract you from pain and sorrow. Fatigue plays a role as well; a tired brain is unlikely to make smart food choices.

If you find yourself routinely binge eating, you want to work with a registered dietitian (RD) who can help you find peace with food. Put aside your shame and embarrassment (RDs have heard this all before), and use the referral network at www. SCAN dpg.org to find a local sports dietitian. This health professional can help you stabilize your eating so you will enjoy better sports performance as well as sanity and less time thinking about food.

If you want to try to resolve binges on your own, here are a few tips gleaned from the book Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It by Rachael Rose Steil.

• Keep notes about your binges. Write down some of the reasons for your binge. Are they emotional? Psychological? Physical (due to extreme hunger)?

• Have you ever tried to find a “cure” for your binge eating? Make a list of everything you have tried. How well did it work?

• If you are binge eating “quality foods” that are nutrient-rich, your body is probably hungry and needs fuel. Give yourself permission to eat these foods—and enough of them to resolve hunger. Don’t stop eating just because you “think you should.”

• Think about a food you desperately wanted but didn’t allow yourself to eat. Could you have enjoyed a small amount of that food when you first craved it—and then observed how it made you feel? (Maybe that donut wasn’t as wonderful as you had thought?)

• Is your “perfect diet” contributing to food obsessions? Write down your fears about eating certain foods? Separate fears from facts.

• Draw a horizontal line and write binge eating on the far left and restricting on the far right. Where do you think you are along this spectrum? How close are you to the middle (eating in a balanced way)? What can you do to work towards that happy medium?

• What would your life look like without thinking about and obsessing over food? Is your binge-eating life consuming? Is your drive for eating a perfect diet actually taking you down the path to self-destruction?

• Write down what you learn from each binge. The binge is not a failure but rather an event you can use as means to better understand yourself and your body, and to move forward.

With best wishes for finding peace with food,

Nancy

www.NancyClarkRD.com

Chocolate and Hungry Athletes: A Dangerous Duo?

Chocolate and Hungry Athletes: A Dangerous Duo?

“Between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, I feel surrounded by chocolate. It’s everywhere!!!” reported a self-proclaimed chocoholic. “I try so hard to not eat it, but I inevitably succumb, and I inevitably gain weight. Thank goodness for January First!!!” If you share the same love-hate relationship with chocolate, keep reading. And be thankful this so-called “bad food” offers benefits. Continue Reading

Talking About Food…

Talking About Food…

 

Food is fuel and food is medicine. Food brings people together and is supposed to be one of life’s pleasures. Shared meals are a vehicle for building relationships, enjoying conversations, and nourishing the soul.

Unfortunately in today’s society, too many athletes and fitness exercisers alike report they have no time to enjoy meals. Sports parents struggle to gather their student athletes for a family dinner; practices and games inevitably interrupt the dinner hour. And even when seated at the same table, some family members may be eating just salad while the rest of the family enjoys steak. So much for eating out of the same pot.

Today’s food conversations commonly refer to good food, bad food, clean food, fattening food. We all know athletes who don’t do sugar, gluten, white flour, or red meat, to say nothing of cake on birthdays, ice cream cones in summer, or apple pie on Thanksgiving. We live with abundant food, but we have created a fearful eating environment with our words. This article invites you to pay attention to how you think and talk about food. Perhaps it is time to watch your mouth, so you can start to change the current culture that makes food a source of fear for many athletes.

Continue Reading

Why am I not getting leaner…

Why am I not getting leaner…

“I religiously track my food and exercise. I’m eating 1,300 calories (the number my tracker told me to eat if I want to lose 2 pounds a week). I’ve been following a strict diet and the scale hasn’t budged. My friends tell me I am eating too little. I think I must be eating too much because I am not losing weight. I feel so confused… What am I doing wrong?”

I often hear this complaint from weight conscious people who don’t know if they are eating too much or too little. They believe fat loss is mathematical. Exercising 500 calories more, or eating 500 calories less, per day will result in losing 1 pound (3,500 calories) of fat per week, correct? Not always. Weight reduction is not as mathematical as we would like it to be. Continue Reading

If you believe butter is back, think again

The American Heart Association closely follows the vast amount of research related to heart disease and provides authoritative and evidence-based information on dietary patterns that reduce cardiovascular risk. Here is a brief summary of 4 key points from their newly released advisory on Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease (Circulation, June 2017). Continue Reading

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