If you endure an intense workout and want to optimize your recovery, pay attention to what you eat beforeyou exercise. According to research presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before lifting weights may enhance recovery better than consuming a protein recovery drink afterwards. That’s because your body digests the pre-exercise protein into amino acids (yes, your body can digest food during exercise) and puts those amino acids into action repairing damaged muscles.
Both your pre-exercise diet as well as your recovery diet should include some protein -- but with a foundation of carbs. That’s because protein builds and heals muscles, but carbs are needed to refuel the muscles. Don’t consume just protein, as in a protein shake or protein bar. Rather, enjoy a protein-carb combination: yogurt + fruit, bagel + peanut butter, cereal + milk, chocolate milk, apple + cheese, pasta + meatballs. There are lots of yummy food combinations that do an excellent job of both repairing and refueling your body. You need not buy engineered protein to enhance recovery. Save your money and spend it instead on real foods that offer far more than health value, if not good taste.
If you like the convenience of protein shakes, at least add carbs to them. That is, blend in some banana and frozen berries, or enjoy some graham crackers along side the shake. You’ll recover better if you consume three times more carbs than protein. That’s contrary to what many well-intentioned athletes consume when they snack on pre-exercise protein bars, drink post-exercise protein shakes, and then dine on three chicken breasts for dinner. Excess protein does not turn into a bigger bicep by breakfast! Exercise builds muscle, and your muscles need carbs for fuel to do the muscle-building exercise.
For help finding the right balance for your diet, consult with a sports dietitian. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find someone local.
I talk with too many athletes who are confused about how to best recover after they exercise. Many are obsessed with rapid refueling immediately after they stop exercising. Here are a few tips to clarify the confusion.
First of all, rapid refueling is most important for athletes who will be doing a second bout of intense, depleting exercise within six hours of the first bout. You want to rapidly refuel if you are, let’s say, a triathlete who does double workouts or a soccer player in a tournament. Your muscles are most receptive to refueling within the first hour after a hard workout, so the sooner you refuel, the sooner you'll be ready to roll again.
If you have a full 24 hours to recover before your next training session, or if you are a fitness exerciser who has done an easy workout and have lower recovery needs, you need not get obsessed with refueling immediately after your workout. Over the course of the next 24 hours, your muscles will be able to replenish their depleted glycogen stores as long as you provide them with adequate carbohydrates. Never the less, having something to eat within the hour after you exercise is a wise habit to develop.
If you are a dieting athlete who wants to shed some undesired body fat, I encourage you to refuel soon after your workout because this food can help curb your appetite. This post-exercise snack can ward off the Cookie Monster that might visit in 45 minutes. As you know, a few unplanned post-exercise cookies can quickly wipe out in 3 minutes the calories burned in 30 minutes of exercise!
Keep in mind that recovery calories “count.” That is, I’ve counseled many frustrated dieters who complain they are not losing weight despite their hard workouts. They snarf down 300 or so “recovery calories” and then go home to enjoy a big dinner. To avoid over-indulging in recovery-calories, plan to back your training into a meal. For example, eat dinner soon after your 5:00 p.m. workout. Or, it that is not possible, eat part of your dinner right after the workout. For example, have a recovery bagel at 6:00 pm on your way home from the gym instead of potato with dinner at 7:30 pm.
If you’ve always wanted to attend a workshop that presents the latest sports nutrition research and offers tips to help you fuel better, perform better and invest in a long and healthy life, here’s your chance!
Exercise physiologist and protein researcher Dr. William Evans PhD and I will be teaching a two-day workshop on Nutrition & Exercise: From Science to Practice:
Sept 24-25 – Nashville, at Lipscomb University
Oct 1-2 - Durham, NC at the Duke Center for Living
The workshop is geared towards health professionals but serious athletes are also welcome.
CEUS are available for ADA, ACSM, NATA, NSCA, CHES, AFAA, ACE and NASM.
Athletes of all sports and abilities commonly ask me what they should eat before, during and after a competitive event:
When should I eat the pregame meal: 2, 3 or 4 hours beforehand?
How many gels should I take during a marathon?
What’s best to eat for recovery after a soccer game?
The same athletes who worry about event-day fueling often neglect their day to day training diet. Hence, the real question should be: “What should I eat before, during and after I train?” After all, you can only compete at your best if you can train at your best.
As you prepare for each workout, remember you should be training your intestinal tract as well as your heart, lungs and muscles. To get the most out of each workout, you need to practice your pre-, during- and post-event fueling as well as your sports skills. Then, come day of the competition, you know exactly what, when and how much to eat so you can compete with optimal energy and without fear of bonking nor intestinal distress.
For help with personalized advice on optimizing your training diet, find a local sports dietitian by using the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org. (SCAN is the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition Dietary Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.) Alternatively, many active people have found my Sports Nutrition Guidebook to be very helpful.
Fuel wisely and enjoy training faster, stronger and longer.
Most weight reduction diets are targeted towards women. What are the keys to weight loss success for men? Does the same diet advice apply to men as for women? That question was addressed by research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting in June.
In a study with 65 overweight or obese men (average age, 36 years), the keys to weight loss success in men were:
• choosing smaller portions of foods
• eating fewer high fat foods (particularly snacks and take away foods including meat pies, hamburgers, chocolate, chips, potato crisps and ice cream).
* cutting back on sugary soft drinks
• consuming less alcohol.
By making these small changes, about one-third of the men lost more than 5% of their body weight within 6 months. (That means, a man who weighed 200 pounds lost about 10 pounds, or about a half a pound a week.) They did not deny or deprive themselves of their favorite foods, they just ate less of them.
Although the dieters knocked off some “junk food’, they did not increase their intake of fruits and vegetables. This contrasts to dieting women who tend to munch on lots of salads and eat fruits for low-calorie snacks. This means you can lose weight even if you don’t want to eat like a rabbit! You can still eat your “man food” – just less of it!
Losing weight does not depend on eating more fruits and veggies. Yet, the goal of weight loss should be to invest in health and not just reach a lower number on the scale. That’s where food choices that include fruits and veggies offer the winning edge.
Too many of my clients stay clear of bananas. They perceive them as being fattening. As one runner said “I love bananas but I don’t eat them. They are soooo fattening.”
False! While a banana is less watery and more calorie-dense than, let’s say, an apple, 100 calories of a banana is no more fattening than 100 calories of an apple. Both are excellent sources of carbs to fuel your muscles, as well as health protective vitamins and minerals.
What does 100 calories of a banana look like? It’s a medium-sized banana that’s about 7-8 inches long (peeled) and weighs about 4 ounces (peeled).
Now mind you, the same people who avoid bananas tend to eat large apples. That apple could easily weigh half a pound (8 ounces) and cost you 120 calories!
As with every food, there is a “small portion” that offers fewer calories than a “large portion.” Be aware, the calories in all fruits can add up quickly. Yes, fruit is a healthy source of calories, but the calories still count if you are watching your weight. So enjoy medium bananas and large apples -- and rest assured, you will not "get fat" from the banana.
Nancy, I eat a vegan diet, hence I do not drink cow’s milk. Which is a better source of protein: soy, almond or rice milk?
There’s no debate: Soy milk is a far superior source of protein compared to almond or rice milk. That’s because soy, like cow’s milk, contains complete proteins and offers all the essential amino acids needed for building muscles and healthy bodies. Almond milk and rice milk, on the other hand, are protein-poor. Their labels even say, “Not to be used as an infant formula”. That says to me the products are not life sustaining. That is, a little baby can thrive on soy (or cow) milk, but not rice or almond milk. Note: the term “milk” can be misleading. A preferable term is “beverage”, “drink” or “dairy alternative.”
When comparing the food labels, you can see that:
• Soy milk offers about 7 to 11 grams of protein per 8 ounces (depending on the brand).
• Almond milk offers only 1 grams of protein per 8 ounces. Almonds are expensive, so not much ends up in the beverage. You’d be better off eating a handful of whole almonds.
• Rice milk offers 1 gram protein —or less—per 8 ounces. Rice milk is mostly carbohydrate and is “watery.”
Most almond, rice and soy beverages are fortified with calcium, but be sure to read the label because not all are fortified. For example, Nature’s Promise rice milk has 30% of the RDA for calcium whereas Rice Dream offers only 2%.
You want to buy a product that is not only calcium-fortified but also fortified with (at least) vitamin D and B-12.
In terms of taste and acceptability, you’ll want to sample several brands; they can vary greatly in taste and texture. The most popular options tend to be sweetened with rice syrup, evaporate cane juice or some other natural sweetener.
Here’s how some popular brands compare (8 ounces per serving):
Almond Breeze 60 calories 1 g Protein 2.5 g Fat 30% calcium
Nature’s Promise 100 calories 0 g Protein 2 g fat 30% calcium
Rice Dream 120 calories 1 g Protein 2.5 g Fat 2% calcium
Silk 100 calories 7 g protein 4 g Fat 30% calcium
EdenSoy 130 calories 11 g protein 4 g Fat 20% calcium
About 60% of active people know what a side stitch is. It’s an exercise-stopping, stabbing pain in the abdomen that can bring you to a standstill. Because getting a side stitch is unpredictable—that is, one day you might get one, and the next day you don’t—they are hard to research.
While we aren’t 100% sure what causes a side stitch, the popular theory is exercise creates stress on the ligaments that connect the abdominal organs to the diaphragm. That’s why wearing a tight belt might help the problem; it supports the organs from getting jostled. Eating lots of food or drinking lots of water might contribute to a side stitch, but each athlete’s body responds differently to food and exercise.
If you are plagued by side stitches, you might want to record your food and beverage intake. Perhaps you can detect triggers such as too much pre-exercise water or too large a pre-exercise meal. Then, with repeated efforts, you can hopefully determine a comfortable dose of pre-exercise fuel for your body.
What should you do once you get a side stitch? Many athletes bend forward, stretch the affected side, breathe deeply from the belly, push on the affected area, tighten the abdominal muscles, and/or change from “shallow” to “deep” breathing. (Pretend you are blowing out candles while exhaling with pursed lips.)
Have you found a solution that diffuses side stitches in your body? I’d love to hear your tips!
What about energy drinks…??? That’s the Big Question I get asked by high school kids, coaches, parents and other active, under-thirty year olds. They want to know if guzzling drinks such as Red Bull and Full Throttle are OK for energy boosters.
My response to being asked “What about energy drinks?” is to reply, “Why are you lagging on energy? Did you consume an adequate sports diet earlier in the day?” Undoubtedly not.
Generally, the desire for an energy drink is the symptom of a bigger nutritional problem: skipping breakfast, barely eating lunch and now at 3:00 p.m. needing help to get through the afternoon, including a workout.
You’re naïve to think that a can of caffeinated sugar-syrup will optimize performance. While it may stimulate you enough to make the workout seem easier, it will not replace a health-promoting, energy enhancing foundation of wholesome meals and pre-exercise snacks. No energy drink will compensate for poor nutrition.
Energy drinks should really be called “stimulant drinks.” They are the equivalent of a small cup of coffee (energy drinks typically contain between 80 to 140 mg of caffeine) with two heaping tablespoons of sugar (or 7 packets of sugar @ 110 calories). That’s enough to get anyone wired!
Many athletes also question if energy drinks are bad for their health. While I have less concern about the occasional energy drink, I am concerned about over-consumption, especially in small children. I read a medical report about a teenage basketball player who drank four cans of an energy drink and died, likely due to heart problems. The dose is the poison.
Fuel wisely, play well.
For information on how to choose a high energy sports diet:
Here's your chance to learn from two highly regarded sports nutrition experts:
NASHVILLE, TN Sept. 24-25, 2010
DURHAM, NC Oct. 1-2
ATLANTA, GA Dec. 3-4
FT. LAUDERDALE, FL Jan. 14-15, 2011
TAMPA, FL Mar. 4-5
ONLINE as home study Every day!
This intensive workshop by Nancy Clark MS, RD CSSD and exercise physiologist William Evans PhD is designed to help sports dietitians, coaches, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists, sports medicine professionals and serious athletes find answers to their questions about--
-eating for health, enhanced performance and longevity
-balancing carbs, protein and sports supplements
-managing weight and eating disorders.
Exercise physiology, exercise and aging, sports nutrition, protein, ergogenic aids, creatine, weight control, counseling tips for eating disordered athletes, case studies and hands-on information.
“Nancy Clark and Bill Evans present a nice balance of science and practical information in their Nutrition & Exercise Workshop. I got what I wanted—plus more!”
“I was surprised to learn new information on a topic I thought I knew so well.”
More often than not, I talk with novice marathoners who assume they will lose weight once they start training for a marathon. After all, if they are running for miles and miles, how could they not lose weight???
Well, guess again, according to a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting. In a survey of 64 participants in a three-month marathon-training program, only 11% of the runners lost weight and 11% actually gained weight. (The rest remained at a stable weight.) Of the 7 who gained weight, 6 were women. They got hungrier and ate more!
Among the entire group of runners, three-quarters of the women reported eating more while training, as compared to only half of the men. It seems that Nature works hard to defend women from losing weight! After all, in terms of evolution, a woman’s job is to be fertile.
Hence, if you are a woman who decides to run a marathon, be sure the primary goal of your training is to improve your endurance, not to lose weight. If you want to do both, you have to carefully manage your appetite. All too often, marathoners can convince themselves they deserve to eat several extra cookies because they just ran a few miles…
If you are a gym rat who reads-and-exercises at the same time, be aware: the kind of magazine you read can influence your state of mind after you leave the gym. That is, if you read National Geographic, you will likely feel better about yourself after you finish your workout. But if you are a man who reads magazines such as Men’s Health or a woman who reads fashion magazines such as Glamour, you will likely end up feeling worse about your body.
Yes, the media has a powerful effect on your self-image! All those lean and beautiful models can make you believe you are fat and frumpy. Please remember, in real life, we rarely see people who look like models. That’s because the photos with models are air-brushed and convey false images of humanity.
Rather than compare yourself to a model, your better bet is to appreciate your body for all the wonderful things it does for you and be grateful for your good health. Your body is likely “good enough” the way it is. Stop comparing and stop despairing!
There’s an interesting (to me, at least) debate going on at the FoodNetwork.com Healthy Eats blog (http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2010/06/22/14-foods-experts-do-not-eat/). Toby Amidor RD interviewed several registered dietitians (RDs) and then wrote a blog about what foods dietitians do NOT eat. The blog has generated a lot of responses: fake foods, high fructose corn syrup, margarine, frozen dinners, fried chicken....
While some RDs stay clear of, let’s say, artificial sweeteners, others respond the American Dietetic Association’s Position Stand says they are well tested, safe and a fine alternative to sugar….even professionals disagree on many topics! For me, the debate points out food is like a religion. You want to believe in the healthfulness and/or healing powers of what you put into your body. The placebo effect can also comes into play. That is, if you believe a food is good for you, it will (hopefully) conjure up positive health benefits.
My message to you, the confused consumer, is to take all the nutrition information that comes your way, digest it thoughtfully, and decide which foods fit into your value system—and which “nutrition religion” you want to follow. FYI, all the conflicting information also confuses me! I struggle to separate out the political leanings of the “food conservatives” vs. the “food extremists.” You know: “the commercial food supply is safe” vs. “eat only organically grown foods.” I do know we will unlikely go wrong with “home cooked, locally grown.” On that parting note, I encourage you to support your local Farmer’s Market this summer!
For athletes on the go, the best breakfast is something that’s fast, easy, nutritious and delicious. Here’s a super sports breakfast idea from Nina Marinello, PhD, Coordinator of Sports Nutrition at the University at Albany. So good, you might want to enjoy two of ‘em! Thanks, Nina, for the tasty idea.
Whey to Go English Muffins
• Toast a whole wheat English muffin.
• Top each half with part-skim ricotta cheese.
• Sprinkle on cinnamon and add sliced bananas, your favorite fruit or fruit spread.
This breakfast has just what the sports nutritionist ordered: carbohydrates for energy and protein to repair and build muscle. As a matter of fact, ricotta is a good source of whey protein which is essential for repairing and building muscle.
To add more energy-providing carbohydrates, muscle-building whey protein, and health-enhancing vitamins and minerals, top this breakfast off with a glass of low-fat chocolate milk. You’ll have a breakfast that’s a real winner!
“Since I’ve given up meat, I’ve been eating lots of nuts and peanut butter for protein” reported my client. She thought she was eating TONS of protein, but the reality is, nuts and peanut butter are not as protein-dense as many people think.
While nuts do offer protein, only about 5 to 10% of their calories come from protein and about 70% of their calories come from fat. (The good news is, the fat in nuts is health-protective so is a positive addition to a sports diet.)
Most athletes need at least 60 grams of protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter offer only 8 grams of protein for 180 calories. You could get three times more protein—26 grams of protein—in the same amount of calories of Greek yogurt!
Beans (as in kidney beans or hummus) are also lower in protein than many vegetarians realize. Beans offer about 6 grams of protein in a half-cup. While they are a smart choice for athletes because they offer a hefty does of carbs and can both fuel the muscles and heal/build muscles, they only offer about 12 grams of protein per 180 calories.
You also have to eat big portions of tofu and garden burgers…
The trick to getting enough protein as a vegetarian is to read the food labels for protein information. You'll discover you need to consume generous amounts of plant proteins at each meal and snack. Yes, you can successfully consume a balanced vegetarian diet; you just need to educate yourself about the protein content of the foods you choose. More information is readily available in the protein chapter of my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.