athletes

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.

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

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

Alcohol and Athletes

Alcohol and Athletes

Athletes are competitive. Unfortunately, too many competitive athletes are also competitive drinkers, not to be outdone by their teammates. Excessive alcohol intake is associated with injuries, poor grades in school, arguments, sexual abuse, loss of memory, driving under the influence, and trouble with the law—to say nothing of vomiting, hangovers and poor athletic performance. Continue Reading

Hydration Update: Sports drinks, Sweat Rate & Caffeine

Hydration Update: Sports drinks, Sweat Rate & Caffeine

I always like to attend (and present at) sports medicine conferences. Before the Boston Marathon, I enjoyed the American Medical Athletic Association’s sports medicine meeting and particularly liked the hydration talk presented by Brendon McDermott PhD ATC, assistant professor at the University of Arkansas.  Here are some key pointers:

• The main audience for sports drinks is not athletes but the average person, especially kids. The selling of sports drinks is a big business, targeted to a much larger audience than athletes to get many more sales. Yet, proper hydration is indeed an issue for athletes. McDermott, who is chair of the upcoming National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Position Statement on Fluid Replacement for the Physically Active, reported that 65% to 85% of athletes come to a game or practice underhydrated.

• Athletes, particularly those who sweat heavily, learn their sweat rate by weighing themselves (nude) before and after a one-hour workout. Any weight loss reflects water (sweat) loss. Normal thirst prompts athletes to replace only 2/3 of what gets lost during exercise.

• If your weight drops two pounds during a workout, you have lost 32 ounces (one quart) of sweat. Some athletes may lose only half a quart (16 ounces) of sweat during an hour-long workout; others may lose four quarts. Your goal should be to lose less than 2% of your body weight during exercise (three pounds for a 150-pound athlete). Weighing IN and weighing OUT is a good way to learn how well you balance your fluid intake.

• The problem with inadequate fluid replacement is, as you get dehydrated, you feel worse, slow down, and perform worse. While many people think that dehydration causes internal body temperature to rise, McDermott said that is not always the case. The intensity of exercise is the main predictor of body temperature. You can be well-hydrated but still get over-heated.

• Caffeine is not dehydrating. Yes, caffeine increases short-term urine production, but it does not lead to dehydration. Here’s why: Caffeine stimulates the bladder to contract; this increases the urge to urinate. This water (urine) in your bladder has already been used by your body. Hence, coffee stimulates the bladder to empty sooner —but you do not need more fluid than if you had consumed a caffeine-free beverage.

 

For more information, read the chapter on Fluids in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook and my Food Guide for Marathoners; Tips for Everyday Champions

Post-workout beer….?

Post-workout beer….?

Nancy, I work hard, train hard, and want to enjoy a post workout beer. Can I enjoy it guilt-free?

Answer: I am not concerned about a post-workout beer (or two), as long as you consume them responsibly. That means:

–First drink some water to quench your thirst and replace sweat losses. (Beer has a dehydrating effect.)
–Consume some carbohydrates with the beer (pretzels?) to refuel depleted muscles. (Beer is a poor source of carbohydrates: only 50 calories of carbs but 100 calories of alcohol per can of beer)
–Consume a balanced meal either with, or soon after, drinking the beer (to buffer the alcohol and to offer protein to repair the muscles).

While I have few concerns about your enjoying one post-workout beer alongside a wholesome sports meal, I do not recommend you drink beer for your post-workout meal! Moderation is always the best policy.

Drink wisely, fuel your body well, and win with good nutrition.

Much Ado About…Peanut Butter and Jelly?

Much Ado About…Peanut Butter and Jelly?

Professional athletes have been making headlines a lot recently, and for something other than their slam dunks.

Athletes have been changing their eating habits in an effort to improve performance. A few weeks ago, Tom Brady’s diet went viral. Last week we heard about the ban on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and the battles that ensued!) for the Golden State Warriors. Spoiler alert: the Warriors won, and their beloved PB&Js are back. Continue Reading

Is sugar bad for athletes?

Most athletes can metabolize sugar without problems. That’s because exercise enhances the transport of sugar from your blood into your muscles with far less insulin than needed by the body of an unfit person. The unfit body contributes to the rise in blood sugar that triggers the need for excess insulin and leads to the “crash.”

The most common reason for “sugar crashes” (hypoglycemia) among athletes relates to running out of fuel. The shakiness and sweats are because the athlete did not eat enough carbs to maintain normal blood glucose levels and the brain is now demanding sugar. One marathoner thought the 100-calorie gel he took at mile 16 caused him to “crash.”  More likely, he needed 200 to 300 calories to meet his energy needs, not just 100 calories.

Regarding health, some sugars are better for you than others because they offer more nutrients. For example, the sugar in sport drinks provides “empty calories” with no nutritional value (unless they are fortified to give a healthier appearance). The sugar in orange juice is accompanied with vitamin C, folate, potassium, and many other vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that contribute to good health.

While juice offers slightly less nutritional value than you’d get by eating the whole fruit, most anti-juice hype is targeted at overfat people. Liquid calories from juice, soda and sports drinks do not contribute to satiety (fullness). Hence, drinking sugary beverages with meals adds extra calories that can contribute to undesired weight gain. Yet, for active people who want to gain weight, juice can help a skinny athlete easily boost calorie intake while simultaneously adding carbs for fuel that enhances muscle-building workouts.

Even though refined sugar adds “junk calories” to a sports diet, you need not eat a sugar-free diet to have a good diet. A fit and healthy person’s menu can accommodate 10% of calories from refined sugar (World Health Organization’s guidelines). Yet, if you frequently consume sports drinks, gels, and sports candies—as well as other sweets—you can easily consume more than 250 to 350 calories (10% of calories) from refined sugar. Please don’t displace too many fruits, veggies and whole grains with empty calories from sugar…

For more information:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

 

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