The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is the nation’s largest group of registered dietitians (RDs). This year, over 12,000 RDs convened in Boston (Oct 15-18) to learn the latest food & nutrition news. Here’s a taste of some topics of discussion that might be of interest to hungry athletes.
- If you want to lose weight, should you count calories? While learning about calories can be helpful, an alternative and equally effective weight loss method can be to choose primarily wholesome foods. Subjects who reduced their intake of processed food, refined grains, and foods with added sugar simultaneously reduced their intake of calories. They lost the same amount of weight as the calorie-counting dieters.
- A survey of ~1,600 college students suggests those with higher stress reported having fewer healthy behaviors than their less-stressed peers. The five healthy lifestyle behaviors they measured included: eating a healthy diet, not smoking or binge drinking, having a healthy BMI, and being physically active. In general, the females had more healthy behaviors than the males. Good thing regular exercise is stress relieving!
- Many sports parents offer their budding athletes nutrient-poor snacks after, let’s say, a soccer game. Is it counterproductive to encourage kids to exercise for fun and fitness, and then enable them to eat for bad health? Offering sports snacks that are both yummy and healthy gives a consistent message. Apple and peanut butter anyone?
- Some soldiers, like some athletes, are more fit than others. Results from an Army Physical Fitness Test indicated that soldiers with the highest fitness test scores made healthier food choices than those who got lower scores. The fittest soldiers consumed more fiber and whole grains, and fewer fatty foods and refined grains. The top performers reported their food choices helped them feel energized all day (50% vs. 32% of the soldiers with lower fitness scores), be sharp mentally (45 vs. 35%), have improved response to stress (40% vs. 29%) and sustain fewer injuries (37% vs. 21%). They reported that good nutrition played a role in their ability to perform well.
Tip: If you want to improve your diet and your sports performance, consider consulting with a sports nutritionist who is a registered dietitian. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find a local expert.
Eating disorders and athletes
- What predisposes some athletes to developing an eating disorder? In a survey of women with eating disorders (12 athletes, 17 non-athletes), predisposing factors shared by 75% of the women included: low self worth, poor body image, and issues with peers. Additional predisposing factors included depression and anxiety. Among the athletes, getting injured triggered disordered eating behaviors.
Tip: If you are an injured athlete who is panicked by the threat of “getting fat” while you are injured, seeking guidance from a sports nutritionist (www.SCANdpg.org) can be very helpful.
- Perfectionism is a trait common to many athletes. It can contribute to high levels of achievement, but it can also lead to the pursuit of a perfect but biologically unrealistic body type. Among dancers, many of whom are perfectionists, eating disorders are prevalent. A survey of 245 dancers from one collegiate dance program and four professional dance companies suggests both collegiate and professional dancers scored similarly on tests that diagnose eating disorders. Dancers with eating disorders reported more anger, depression and physical discomfort. If only the dancers had gotten help in college (or earlier), they might have been able to enjoy better quality of life as a professional.
Tip: This same advice applies to all athletes who struggle with food, weight and body image. The sooner you get help, the quicker you’ll be able to recover. And yes, you can eat well and still remain lean.
- Food packaging strongly impacts food purchases. A survey of 6-year old kids indicates packaging influenced their food choices 9 of 12 times. Fifty-eight percent of parents reported they purchased what their child wanted. Yikes; we need more appealing packaging for healthy foods…!
* Color-coded food cues are often used to guide healthy food selection. Researchers taught students about foods that are Go (green), Slow (yellow) or Whoa (red). They placed signs on snack vending machines and created a food marketing campaign via Intranet, email, and posters. Two months after the campaign ended, food-purchasing records indicated the students chose better quality snacks. Marketing healthy foods is a worthwhile effort.
- As part of a marketing research study, Dunkin Donuts employees asked the customers who ordered a latte, “Would you like to make that a lite latte?” With this nutrition nudge, sales for lite lattes increased from 19% to 52% during the 10–day experiment. In the 20 days afterwards (with no prompting), sales of lite lattes dropped by only 1%. If this choice were to be maintained on a daily basis, the consumer could save 60 calories per drink, for a total of 4,550 calories per year. This would potentially help curb a pound or two of weight gain.
Tip: Small food changes can make a big difference.
- Adding calorie information to a menu can alter food choices if you pay attention to it. Students who were instructed to make meals from food photos created lower calorie meals when calorie information was provided. Traveling athletes who pay attention to the calorie information provided at chain restaurants can use the information to help them make better food choices.
- If you have ever wished for a health-enhancing ice cream, stay tuned. Raspberry-Beet might be on the horizon…!
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where 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 www.nancyclarkrd.com. For workshops, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.