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Waste Not, Want Not

In 32 years (2050), we will be dealing with major food issues. By then, the global population will have grown from today’s 7.6 billion people to 10 billion people (not due to lots of new babies, due mainly to longer lifespans related to better health care and nutrition). We will need 60% more food than is available today. To do so, farmers will need to increase crop yield, use water more effectively, and feed animals more efficiently. The agricultural industry is working hard on that—and climate change complicates it all.

As athletes, we like having plenty of food to eat and clean water to drink. Hence, we want to think about how we can invest in a sustainable future with our food and lifestyle practices. While we may suffer less from food shortages than will the people and athletes in less developed countries, we won’t be able to escape these environmental problems:

  • oppressive heat that not only damages crops but also drains the fun from playing outdoor sports, like soccer and tennis;
  • storms that disrupt plane travel for sports teams, as well as the flights of thousands of recreational athletes going to, let’s say, New York City for a marathon;
  • floods that ruin farms and crops, as well as playing fields;
  • droughts that kill crops, golf courses, and gardens.

The timely topic of sustainable diets and animal agriculture was prominent at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Convention & Expo (#FNCE). The message was clear: We are facing the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) to reduce our carbon footprint and invest in our future well-being. Here’s some of what I learned from speakers Frank Mitloehner PhD, professor and air quality specialist at the University of California-Davis, and Amy Myrdal Miller RD of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting. Perhaps this information will nudge you to think more about how your food and lifestyle choices impact the climate—and inspire you to make some changes.

Waste less food.

Up to 40% of the food we produce gets wasted. About 16% of that happens at the farm (e.g., sick animals not treated with antibiotics, unharvested crops due to labor shortages or “ugly” produce); 40% happens in food service and restaurants, and 43% in our homes. Who among us hasn’t tossed out “ugly” apples, over-ripe bananas, and perfectly good leftovers?  A huge contributor to food waste is the “best used by” date on food packages. Please note: the “best used by” date is not a “don’t eat this” expiration date, but rather a marker for quality and freshness.

Wasted food required energy to be produced and then transported to your supermarket (and landfill). Wasted food takes up 21% of precious (and limited) landfill space; this represents the largest percentage of all waste in US landfills. As it rots, creates the greenhouse gas methane.

To reduce food waste, you want to shop carefully, use leftovers, and compost food scraps. Restaurants, colleges, and other quantity food producers need to figure out how to find a meaningful home for leftovers, such as by donating to food pantries, if permitted.

Eat less animal protein.

Farm animals produce methane, so reducing the demand for meat is another way to help the environment. Yet it is not the biggest way to help. That’s because meat/food production is not the leading cause of GHGE, despite what you might have read repeatedly in the recent past. Hence, you do not need to become vegan unless you truly want to do so. If everyone were to eat a vegan diet every day, GHGE might drop only 2.6%. But you do want to eat meat less often and in smaller portions. If all Americans honored Meatless Mondays, the drop in GHGE in the US would be 0.5%. While not the cure-all for carbon emissions, every little bit helps!

Instead of blaming farm animals for being methane producers, the far bigger sources of GHGE are from the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas (fossil fuels). The environmental benefits of eating less animal protein of any type pales in comparison to the benefits from reducing fossil fuel use. Using fossil fuels to create electricity accounts for 30% of all GHGE. Transportation accounts for 26%, and industry, 21%. Agriculture contributes to only 9%, and animal agriculture alone, about 4% of all GHGE in America. (This number includes the carbon footprint of animals from birth to being consumed.) To put this in perspective, a recent study showed that switching from a meat-based to a vegan diet for one year equates to the GHGE of one trans-Atlantic flight from the US to Europe.

Educate yourself about the pros and cons of grass-fed beef.

With conventional agriculture, corn-finished cattle are generally raised on pastureland first for about 10 to 12 months, and then finished on a corn-based diet for the last 4 months to optimize marbling. Grass-finished cattle spend a total of 26 to 30 months on pastureland before they are slaughtered. All of that time, they are making manure, belching from the high fiber grass diet, and releasing methane. Corn-fed cattle produce far less methane and are content to eat the corn when well-balanced into their diet. (Yes, I know there are other reasons you might want to choose grass-fed cattle. I’m just talking sustainability here.)

Another way to reduce GHGE might be to start considering the possibility of eating protein-rich insects. I admit, I’m not there yet—but they are a sustainable source of protein. We just need more research to learn about the digestibility and bioavailability of insect protein—and how to make it yummy.

Solving the world’s impending food (and water) crisis is a huge global issue. We need governments around the world to look holistically at the complex interplay between the environment and food production systems. While we need to work together globally, each of us can act locally. How about biking more, driving less and wasting less food, as well as eating less meat? The next generation will thank us.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for cyclists, marathoners, and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

almonds bowl

Testing Your Almond Knowledge: Can you pass this quiz?

Almonds are a popular snack not just because they are nutrient-rich, but primarily because they are crunchy and taste yummy. In this day and age when snacks are replacing meals, you want to reach for good tasting, health-promoting snacks. Almonds can fit that bill!

I learned a lot of almond information while on a tour sponsored by the California Almond Board. Here’s a quiz to share what I learned—and for you to see how much you know about this popular sports snack.

True or False: Eighty-percent of worldwide almonds are grown in California?

True. The Mediterranean climate and rich soil in California’s Central Valley is one of only 5 places in the world that is ideal for growing almonds. The majority of these almonds stay in the US, with exports going primarily to Spain, India, China/Hong Kong, and Germany.

True or False: Growing almonds requires a lot of water?

True. Almonds, like all nuts, need more water per serving than fruits and vegetables do. That’s because making the protein and fat in nuts requires more energy and water than does making the carbohydrate in fruits and veggies. The amount of water required by almonds is similar to other nut trees. Because water is limited and expensive, the almond industry has created innovative ways to improve water usage. For example, the vast majority of almond growers have installed new drip irrigation systems that water the roots of the tree instead of the whole grove. By using automated moisture sensors, the trees do not get over-watered. These better irrigation practices have led to almond growers being 33% more efficient with water usage than 20 years ago. Plus, the water actually grows four products: the edible almond, shells for livestock bedding, hulls for cattle feed, and skins for beer. Nothing gets wasted!

True or False: The average American eats about a quarter of their calories from snacks?

True. People are eating more snacks and fewer sit-down meals. The typical American consumes about 24% of daily calories from snacks. Most snacks eaten before lunch tend to be selected mindfully, with an eye to nutritional value. Evening snacks, however, tend to be more about reward and comfort (think fewer fruits and vegetables; more sweets, salty snacks, and baked goods). Obviously, making smart snack choices are key to having a good sports diet.

True or false: An ounce of roasted almonds (23 almonds) contains 160 calories, but the body can use only 130 of those calories?

True. The official portion size for almonds is 1 ounce (28 grams). That equates to about 23 almonds, one large handful. Count them out to learn how many fit into your palm! A one-ounce portion offers 160 calories, but due to digestibility, one-ounce of roasted almonds actually contributes only 130 calories of good nutrition to your daily intake. Almond butter, however, is more digestible and contributes the full 160 calories.

True or False: Almonds are fattening

False. Almonds are not inherently fattening. That is, almond eaters are not fatter than almond abstainers. A study with overweight and obese adults who ate about 1 to 1.5 servings of almonds daily for 12 weeks reports they lost more body fat (and more belly fat) than those who did not eat almonds as a part of the reducing diet. (1) Because almonds are satisfying, they can actually help you save calories. That is, a handful of almonds will curb hunger for a lot longer than a handful of Skittles.

True or False: Almonds are an excellent source of protein.

False. While a one-ounce handful of almonds offers 6 grams of protein, I rate that a good source of protein­—but not an excellent source. You could get three times that protein from 160 calories of chicken.

If you are a vegetarian, the protein in an ounce of almonds is the same amount you’d get in a half-cup of pinto beans. Along with the protein in the almonds comes other important nutrients: fiber, health-protective monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, potassium, and yes, even a little calcium (25-percent of what you’d get in a glass of dairy-milk).

True or False: For vegetarians or people who are lactose intolerant, almond milk is an equal swap for dairy milk.

False. While almond milk is a vegan alternative to dairy milk, it is nowhere near as nutritious as dairy milk, or for that matter, soymilk. I consider almond milk as really being “almond juice” with minimal nutritional value (other than the calcium the producer adds to the product). An 8-ounce glass of almond milk offers only 1 gram of protein, as compared to 8 grams in the same amount of dairy milk. (Read labels to compare brands of almond milk; some might have added pea protein or other nutrients.) Young children, in particular, do not get the protein they need from almond milk. If you choose to avoid dairy, the smarter choice, nutritionally speaking, is soymilk.

True or False: Almonds contain monounsaturated fats that reduce your risk of heart disease.

True. Almonds are a heart-healthy snack. By trading traditional snacks (chips, cookies, candy) for almonds, you can not only reduce your intake of salt, sugar, and saturated fats, and also boost your intake of healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, vitamin E and many other vitamins and minerals. Research suggests almonds help people lower their bad LDL cholesterol when they swap their “junk snacks” for almonds.

True or False: Almonds appeal to today’s health-seeking consumers.

True. If you are looking for a satisfying snack that is vegan, gluten-free, preservative-free, GMO-free, lactose-free, and health promoting, look no further than a packet of almonds. Crunch away!

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

Disclaimer: While the California Almond Board sponsored the trip to observe the almond harvest and processing of the almonds, the opinions are my own.


1. Dhillon J, Tan SY, Mattes RD. 2016 Almond consumption during energy restriction lowers truncal fat and blood pressure in compliant overweight and obese adults. Journal of Nutrition 146(12):2513-2519.

sugar cubes

The Debate: Is Sugar Evil or OK for Athletes?

Sugar is a total waste of calories. I don’t touch the stuff.

I have such a sweet-tooth. My day is grim without some sugar in it.

Before I compete, I eat a spoonful of honey to boost my energy.

If you are like most of my clients, you are confused about the role of sugar in your daily sports diet. The anti-sugar media reports sugar is health-erosive, yet sports nutrition researchers claim sugar is performance enhancing. That might leave you wondering: Should I eat sugar or avoid it?

To address this conflict, I’ve summarized a sugar debate published in 2018 in the Journal of Progressive Cardiovascular Disease. The article, critique, and editorial do a good job of examining the question: Have the ill effects of those toxic white crystals in your diet been over-emphasized? Here is some information to help you better understand the two sides to the Sugar Wars debate.

Sugar is Evil(1)

Sugar is not an essential nutrient. Our bodies can make sugar (glucose) from the dietary fat and protein that we eat, or by breaking down our body’s muscle and adipose tissue.

• The average American eats about 100 pounds of sugar per year; that’s 2 pounds a week and contributes abundant empty calories.

• Populations with a high intake of added sugars tend to have health issues. Reducing added sugar to less than 10% of total calories reduces risk of overweight, obesity, and tooth decay.

• Dietary sugar drives up blood sugar. Routinely consuming 150 sugar-calories each day (i.e., one can of soda) increases the risk of developing diabetes by 1%. Much of this sugar is hidden in packaged foods.

• Metabolizing added sugar (with no nutritional value) requires vitamins and minerals. With very high sugar consumption (and low intake of other nourishing foods), one could become nutrient depleted.

• Trading empty sugar calories for nutrient-rich calories is a no-brainer. Limiting sugar intake does not harm anyone.

Sugar is OK for People Who Are Fit(2)

• Sugar consumption increased from less than 10 lbs. per person per year in the late 1800’s to about 100 pounds per person per year by World War II. Consumption remained relatively flat until 1980. Our health also improved between 1880 and 1980—so is it fair to say that the increase in sugar hurt our health?

• Sugar (and starch—a string of sugar molecules linked together) is in breast milk, dairy foods, fruit, honey, potato, wheat, corn, quinoa, and all grains. People around the globe have consumed these “carbs” for years. So why now do sugar and starch suddenly become responsible for creating human obesity and diseases?

• The fear-mongering terms of unhealthy, toxic and poisonous are simply unscientific. People who lack knowledge about physiology accept this disease-mongering, anti-sugar rhetoric. But the fact is no one food is healthy or unhealthy.

• Our present state of poor health is not because our diets are unhealthy or that we consume sugar, but because we are physically inactive. Low levels of physical inactivity reduce our ability to metabolize sugar optimally, and that explains the true cause of obesity and metabolic diseases.

• In terms of diabetes, blood sugar, not dietary sugar, matters. The rise in blood sugar that occurs after eating is not pathological but rather the failure of the muscles and liver to take up the sugar. That is, it’s not what you eat, but what your body does with what you eat.

• Physical activity affects appetite and energy intake. If we are too inactive and live a sedentary lifestyle, energy intake gets dissociated from energy expenditure. We can easily eat more calories than we burn. Lack of physical activity negatively impacts metabolic health.

• A maternal effect impacts both pre- and post-natal development. Children of inactive mothers are born increasingly predisposed to inherited childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes. This increases with each passing generation.

Concluding comments(3)

Lack of physical activity, more so than sugar, is the greater threat to our health. Given that so many people are overfat and underfit, a diet low in sugars and starches is likely a good idea for them. But for sports-active, fit people—who are at lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity—sugar and carbs are not toxic but rather a helpful way to enhance athletic performance. The one size diet does not fit all.

No one is suggesting that athletes should eat more sugar, but rather understand that, as an athlete, you can embrace a sports diet that includes an appropriate balance of carbohydrate (sugars and starches) in each meal. Strive for a healthy eating pattern that includes 85% to 90% quality foods and 10% to 15% whatever. Some days, whatever might be an apple; other days, it might be a slice of apple pie.

Addendum: If you are fearful sugar will harm your health, note that fear-mongering relies on cherry-picked scientific information that can prove what the messenger wants to prove. Fear-mongering messengers have created a general distrust of Big Food, and have shaped opinions that support raw foods, super foods, whole foods, organic foods, and clean eating. While a plant-based diet based on unprocessed foods with no added sugar is ideal, I commonly see athletes who take the advice to the extreme and eat “too clean” (orthorexia). That is not healthy, either.

My suggestion: Enjoy a balanced variety of foods, in moderation. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugar to less than 10% of your total calories (about 250+ sugar-calories per day for an active woman who might require about 2,500+ calories a day) Enjoying a daily small sweet seems better than routinely “cheating” with sugar-binges. Does the age-old advice to enjoy a balanced variety of foods—with a sprinkling of sugar, if desired—seem a reasonable goal?

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.


This article is based on information from the Journal of Progressive Cardiovascular Disease (August, 2018)

  1. DiNioloantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH. In critique of “In Defense of Sugar: The Nuance of Whole Foods. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2018.07.006
  2. Archer E. In Defense of Sugar. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2018.07.013
  3. Lavie CJ. Sugar Wars -Commentary From the Editor https://doi.org/10.1016/j. pcad.2018.07.007
ahtlete running

Sports Nutrition Questions

Athletes have many questions about how to fuel for top performance. The Internet abounds with answers—but how do you what’s valid? Here are some trust-worthy answers, based on research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting (May 2018; www.ACSM.org).


Do elite athletes, such as professional soccer players, consume the recommended 30 to 60 g carb (120 to 240 calories) per hour during moderate/high intensity training?

Likely not. A soccer study indicates the players barely consumed half that amount (17 g carb (~70 calories)/hour of moderate intensity training and only 14 g (~55 calories) per hour during high intensity training). Soccer players—and other athletes in stop-and-start sports—want to experiment with consuming the recommended amount of fuel. They’ll likely learn they can have greater stamina and endurance at the end of their games—and that can be their winning edge.


Does enjoying a recovery snack after training actually impact on the next day’s exercise session?

Yes, according to 8 female collegiate tennis players who enjoyed 680 calories of recovery food (an apple, a banana, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, and a bagel) daily for 4 weeks after high intensity strength and power training. They reported being able to train hard the next day with 10% less perceived effort compared to sessions without the recovery snack. No one “got fat”; there were no differences in body composition. Knowing that the food was available contributed to better-quality training sessions. Whether psychological or physiological, eating within an hour post-exercise made a positive difference. Perhaps you want to make refueling a consistent habit?


When training in summer heat, what’s best to drink?

In a simulated heat wave study, trained athletes exercised lightly for 3 hours in each of 4 trials. They drank either 1) room temp water (20 degrees C) as desired, 2) cold water (4 degrees c) as desired, 3) no fluid replacement, or 4) full replacement of sweat losses with programmed drinking. Obviously, those who drink nothing suffered the most heat strain. Those who drank ad libitum (as desired) consumed enough to prevent dangerous levels of dehydration. The athletes drank more of the room-temperature water. Preliminary findings suggest the cold 4°C water blunted thirst. Be careful about how much ice you put in your water bottle?

I’m afraid of becoming dehydrated when I train hard in the heat. I plan to push fluids. How much is too much to drink?

While drinking an extra-large volume of fluid before endurance exercise might seem advantageous, the question arises: would doing so actually trigger a diuretic effect and, thus, not provide the desired benefit (hyper-hydration). To test that theory, subjects drank 5, 10, 15 or 20 ml/kg of a sodium-containing beverageThat’s  about 12 to 50 ounces (350 ml to 1,400 ml) for a 155-lb (70 kg) athlete. The data suggest that the athletes retained about half of what they drank, regardless of the volume consumed. Thus, if you will be exercising in the heat, tank up as tolerated.


How much harder do you need to work when exercising in the summer heat at altitude?

In order to meet the combined demands of increased blood flow to the skin (to dissipate body heat) plus transport of adequate oxygen to the exercising muscles, the heart has to work about 17% harder than at sea level during 30 min of moderate intensity exercise. If you are a fit, healthy person who is just exercising at altitude or just exercising in the heat, the heart works about 10% harder. No wonder exercising at altitude and/or in the heat is tiring! Programmed eating and drinking can help provide the extra energy and fluids needed to support the extra effort. Hikers and skiers, plan ahead…


As a soccer player, I am fearful of getting a concussion. Can I do anything with my diet to help protect my brain from damage?

An effective way to reduce the harmful response to traumatic brain injuries is to routinely consume oily fish (omega-3 fats) during training. Unfortunately, a study with 112 football players (none of whom took fish oil supplements) indicates only 1% of them consumed adequate dietary omega-3s. They would be wise to enjoy more tuna sandwiches, grilled salmon, and other oily fish, as well as take fish oil supplements.


What can I do to reduce my risk of getting injured?

You want to eat well on a daily basis and stay in peak physical condition. Fit individuals have a lower injury risk. A study with Navy SEALs suggests having good knee strength and flexible hamstrings, as well as strong leg muscles, are important factors to reduce the risk of lower-leg muscle & bone injuries.

You also want to maintain an appropriate body weight—not too thin! Among female collegiate athletes, those with components of the Female Athlete Triad (amenorrhea, stress fractures, and/or restrictive eating) experienced more injuries than those who ate enough calories to support normal menses and strong bones. Eat enough!


I eat less than my teammates but I am not losing weight. How can that be???

The less you eat, the more the body down-regulates to conserve energy. A study with collegiate female athletes reported those eating ~1,600 calories a day, as compared to their peers who ate 2,100 calories, conserved energy via a lower resting metabolic rate and reduced thyroid (T3) level. Try getting out of “hibernation” by eating a bit more and enjoy better energy? Consulting with a sports dietitian can help guide this process. To find your local sports nutrition professional, use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org.


I’ve heard that beets, arugula and nitric oxide supplements can enhance athletic performance by improving blood flow to muscles. Could they also help my grandpa who gets tired when walking?

Likely yes. A promising pilot study in older adults (average age, 78 years) showed that chronic nitric oxide supplementation (40 mg, 3 times/day) was well tolerated and associated with increased ability to walk more efficiently. We need more research to better understand the impact of dietary nitrates and nitric oxide supplements on physical activity and health among elderly people. Till then, we can all enjoy more beets, arugula, celery, and other foods rich in dietary nitrates. They help youthful athletes as well as their grandparents.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, visit www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

man with food  rich in protein showing thumbs up

Sports Nutrition Update from the American College of Sports Medicine

Staying on top of the latest sports nutrition information is a challenge. That’s why I attend the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). ACSM is a professional organization for sports medicine doctors and health-care providers, sport dietitians, exercise physiologists and sport science researchers. More than 3,000 ACSM members gathered in Minneapolis (May 2018) to share their knowledge and latest research. The following summarizes a Sports Nutrition Update session presented by many leading exercise scientists from around the globe.

Fat vs. Carb

Gareth Wallis PhD, Univ. Birmingham, UK

Which will better enhance athletic performance: A high carbohydrate or a high fat sports diet? Despite growing interest in a high fat sports diet, research does not support it for athletes who exercise at high intensity. Rather, research supports consuming 3 to 4.5 grams carbohydrate per pound  (7-10 g carb/kg) body weight per day to be well fueled for hard training and competitive events.

Grains, fruits and veggies are obligatory if you want to exercise hard. Some athletes eat a high fat diet for training and then switch to carb-loading before a competitive event. Bad idea. The enzymes involved in metabolizing carbohydrate become less active, so the muscles are less able to access carbs for fuel when it is needed for winning sprints and surges.

Protein for Athletes

Nicholas Burd PhD, Univ Illinois and Trent Stellingwerff  PhD. Canadian Sport Institute

If you want to build muscle, when is the best time to eat protein: before, during or after you lift weights? It might not actually matter because resistance exercise stimulates a muscle-building effect that is most robust within the first 4 hours but lasts for 1 to 2 days. You need not carry a protein shake around the gym! More important is to pace your protein intake evenly throughout the day.

Resistance exercise is far more potent than a high protein diet for increasing strength and muscle gains. That said, most athletes could expect to see only a gain of about 2 pounds (1 kg) of muscle in 13 weeks. That’s not very much compared to what they really want to see.

Maximal anabolic (muscle-building) effects are seen with about 25 to 30 g protein per meal. More precisely: 0.75 g protein per pound of body weight per day, or 0.1 to 0.2 g protein per pound per meal in young men. More than that has little or no further benefit. However, these recommendations do change with age. If you are >50 years old, you should target an additional 10 grams of high quality protein (milk, egg, fish, soy) per meal. That’s just a little bit more: a glass of milk or 1.5 ounces of meat-fish-chicken.

Despite rumors, protein does not damage the kidneys nor cause a decline in kidney function. Even people with chronic kidney disease should consume the RDA for protein (0.8 g/kg). A high protein diet also does not cause bone loss. Bone is 40% to 50% protein (collagen).

Over-consuming protein is not only a waste of money but it also stresses the environment. As athletes, we need to take a holistic and whole-foods approach to our diets. Natural protein-rich foods, as opposed to processed supplements, are best (if compatible with your training schedule) because they offer a complex and complete matrix that is more effective than processed proteins. One example of the benefits of whole foods can be seen with eggs. A whole egg promotes 40% greater muscle protein synthesis in the 5 hours post-exercise as compared to eating just the egg white (van Vliet AJCN 2017). Nutrient interactions seem to facilitate a more robust response when compared to eating isolated protein.

Sport Supplements

Eric Rawson PhD RD, Messiah College

There is no one single sport supplement that works for all athletes. To better understand why, we need a more specific scientific approach to studying supplements based on age, sex, body size, training status, and genetics. That would help us give better advice to target groups of athletes, rather than simply make population-wide recommendations. Many athletes take multiple supplements, so research with “stacked” supplements would also be helpful. Here’s some of what we do know:

Creatine enables an athlete to lift harder in the training room—and build more muscle. But not everyone is a responder. For example, 3 of 11 subjects in a research study had a strong positive response, 5 had a slight response—and 3 did not respond at all (Syrotuik, Bell 2004). Why not? Maybe their daily diets impacted their baseline creatine levels?

Creatine is found in meat and other animal proteins.  When a meat-eating athlete goes on a meat-free lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (milk, eggs, beans) for 26 days, his or her creatine levels will drop. (Lukaszuk, 2005). To normalize the level, athletes could take creatine monohydrate supplements (the most effective form of creatine).

Caffeine is a known energy-enhancing sport supplement. Your response to caffeine will depend on your genetics. Caffeine works best when you are starting to fatigue. Athletes can consume it in coffee, tea, soda, gels, gum, and pills, preferably consumed with carbs.

Sodium bicarbonate is used by some athletes to buffer the lactic acid that builds up during intense bursts of exercise. Research suggests peak response times can vary widely, from 40-165 minutes. (Jones 2016 ISSN). This variability makes it hard for exercise scientists to offer firm recommendations; hence, outcomes vary. Sub-elite athletes seem to respond better then elite athletes. Because sodium bicarbonate easily causes nausea and vomiting, a solution it to take it in gastro-resistant capsules.

Fluids and Hydration

Linsday Baker, R&D Principal Scientist, Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Pepsi Co.

When you sweat, you lose proportionately more water than sodium, hence sodium levels in the blood increase with dehydration. The amount of sodium you lose in sweat varies from a lot to a little, related to both sweating rate and how well you are acclimated to exercising in the heat, among other factors. A high concentration of sodium in your blood stimulates thirst.

Thirsty athletes have three ways they deal with replacing fluid losses: hit-or-miss ad lib drinking as desired; drinking to quench thirst; and drinking on a set schedule. The effectiveness of these strategies depends on the individual athletes, availability of fluids, the weather, and exercise intensity and duration. If you happen to have a lot of tattoos, take note: tattooed skin may sweat less and excrete saltier sweat.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

beer in glass

Alcohol in Sport: How Bad Is It for Athletes?

Alcohol has a strong link with sport, be it with sponsorship, beer consumption after a hard workout, or teams enmeshed in a culture of heavy drinking. To address what is known—and not known—about the impact of alcohol on athletic performance, members of Professionals In Nutrition for Exercise and Sport (PINES) organized a session at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 2018 annual meeting in Minneapolis. Respected researchers answered some questions athletes commonly ask regarding alcohol and sport performance. Here’s what you might want to know.

What effect does a big night of drinking have on sports performance the next day?

Dr. Louise Burke, Head of Sports Nutrition for the Australian Institute of Sport, reported heavy drinking is common after many athletic events. For example, research with rugby players suggests they consumed an average of 13 units* of alcohol post-game, with a range of 1 to 30 units (*One unit equates to 10 grams of alcohol; 5 ounces (150-ml) wine equates to 1.5 units; a 30-ml nip of hard (40%) alcohol is 1 unit; a 375 ml (13 oz.) bottle of 4.8% alcohol beer is 1.4 units.)

What does heavy post-exercise alcohol intake do to rehydration and refueling goals?

Dr. Ron Maughan, visiting professor at St. Andrew’s University, acknowledged a modest amount of alcohol, consumed along with a balanced meal, is unlikely to have a negative impact. Alcohol impairs glycogen resynthesis only a little bit. But in the real world of sports drinking, athletes who drink a lot tend to make high fat food choices—and that can hinder optimal muscle glycogen replenishment a lot! Consuming a balanced meal before embarking on heavy drinking is probably a good idea.

Alcohol is a diuretic. One unit (10 g) of alcohol stimulates the formation of 100 ml of excess urine. The alcohol content of beer is low—and beer has a lot of water—so dehydrated athletes can effectively rehydrate with beer. Whiskey and other spirits, however, cause more water loss than they contribute.

What impact does pre-exercise alcohol have on heat tolerance/dehydration during exercise?

According to research presented by Dr. Doug Casa, professor at the University of Connecticut, pre-exercise alcohol contributes to slower running across a wide range of distances. Anecdotes, more so than much-needed research, link pre-event alcohol with poor sleep, under-hydration, reduced heat tolerance, and decreased mental function. Dr. Casa reported that one major summer road race had 20 to 25 heat injuries one year. The common denominator among those heat-stricken runners was pre-event alcohol consumption. Don’t drink excessive alcohol before an event—especially in the summer heat!

What does heavy alcohol after exercise do to weight and body-fat goals?

Dr. Barry Braun, professor at Colorado State University, said for most athletes, alcohol is a source of unwanted calories. For example, just five Heineken Light Beers add 500 calories—and that’s not counting the pepperoni pizza or nachos that you can easily overeat when alcohol lowers your inhibitions.

What effect does heavy post-exercise alcohol intake have on muscle recovery?

Dr. Stuart Phillips, professor at McMaster University, noted bad things happen during exercise and good things happens during recovery when athletes rehydrate, refuel, and repair (by consuming protein) their muscles. Adding alcohol to the recovery diet slows down muscle repair, protein synthesis, and adaptation processes. Heavy alcohol intake is not on Phillips’ list of best recovery practices for athletes to follow! Yet, he doesn’t begrudge anyone a glass or two of wine. Moderation is the key word.

What does heavy alcohol intake do to sleep?

Dr. Shona Halson, Senior Physiologist at the Australia Institute of Sport, reports that alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, but it disrupts your sleep cycles so you get less restorative sleep. Alcohol alters body temperature, which can affect how well you sleep. It also aggravates snoring (due to relaxed muscles and a lower breathing rate), so your bed partner also gets sleep deprived. Plus, you have to get up to go to the bathroom more often in the middle of the night. None of this enhances athletic performance.

What does heavy alcohol intake after exercise do to muscle soreness, injury, and inflammation? Matthew Barnes of Massey University in New Zealand noted when athletes perform exercise to which they are accustomed, alcohol’s negative effects are less pronounced compared to doing a new form of exercise. That is, after getting battered up in a game, a 200-lb rugby player who is experienced with both sport and drinking could have perhaps 20 standard drinks and still effectively perform a vertical jump! As for inflammation, players who are conditioned to both their sport and to drinking alcohol do not have a significant inflammatory response. But if you are a weekend warrior, watch out…

Why isn’t alcohol & performance better researched?

Indeed, more research would be very helpful, but few research institutions approve studies that involve alcohol + heat. The alternative is to study athletes who have already been drinking. For example, they can track the number of runners in the medical tent who consumed alcohol the night before.

Any words of wisdom?

When asked, Is beer good for runners?, running legend Jim Fixx’s answer was “Sure, if it’s the other guy drinking it.” If you stay sober, you can take advantage of other athletes’ poor judgment!

Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

Bananas is good way for healthy carbs

Sports Nutrition: #ScienceNotOpinion

Performance starts with fueling, not training! The best way to fuel for top performance seems to be a debatable topic these days. To keep on top of the science regarding food, exercise & performance, I look to SCAN, the Sports & Cardiovascular Nutrition practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Here are some tidbits of  information from this year’s 35th annual meeting in Keystone CO, May 2018.

In your search for sports nutrition information, Leslie Bonci RD CSSD wants you to find #ScienceNotOpinionand #FactsOverFallacy. Here’s some of what science supports:

—Exercising in a fasted stated leads to muscle breakdown. Think twice before eating nothing before morning exercise.

—The keto diet does not enhance performance, but rather leads to a down-regulation of the enzymes needed by carbohydrates to fuel a surge or a winning sprint at an event.

—Whole30 and Intermittent Fasting are just two more fads to add to the list of unsuccessful diets. You never want to embark upon a diet you won’t maintain for the reset of your life. Otherwise, diet backlash (binge eating, weight gain) takes it toll. Learn how to eat smarter, not diet harder!

—Carb-phobia refuses to go away, despite the plethora of research supporting the performance benefits of a carb-based sports diet. #Don’tDreadTheBread.

  • Omega-3 fats (DHA, EPA) found in oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) are related to brain health. Animal research (rats, mice) suggests giving intravenous DHA within an hour after brain or spinal cord injury contributes to better outcomes regarding recovery. Would the same help athletes? Could DHA help with reducing the damage done by brain injuries? According to Michael Lewis MD, athletes, war fighters and others at high risk for getting concussed should consider taking 3,000 mg. EPA + DHA per day as a protective strategy.Omega-3s can also help treat depression, and that might help reduce suicides. Among soldiers with adequate levels of omega-3, the suicide-rate was 62% lower than soldiers with low blood levels of DHA.
  • Should athletes take anti-oxidant supplements? Likely not, according to exercise physiologist Scott Powers PhD of the University of Florida in Gainesville. The body has a natural balance of pro-oxidants and anti-oxidants. An imbalance can lead to muscular fatigue and molecular damage. Anti-oxidant supplements can down-regulate the body’s natural production of anti-oxidants, and that can blunt the training response. Athletes can ingest a performance enhancing balance of anti-oxidants (including vitamins C & E, zinc, carotenoids, and polyphenols) via all sorts of colorful fruits and vegetable: blueberries, strawberries, tart cherry juice, grape juice, broccoli, spinach, carrots….
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, along with the American College of Sports Medicine and Dietitians of Canada, have created guidelines on nutrition for athletes. But what about nutrition for fitness exercisers and weekend warriors? If that’s you, exercise physiologist Asker Jeukendrup, PhD, of www.mysportscience.com suggests you match your nutritional guidelines to your athletic goals. That is, are you exercising to lose weight? build muscle? finish an Ironman Triathlon? or just to invest in better health?

When it comes to fueling during extended exercise, Jeukendrup stated the recommendations are similar for both athletes and less fit people: For exercise that lasts from 60 to 90 minutes, you want to maintain high energy by consuming from 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate (120 to 240 calories) per hour of exercise. If you are a weekend warrior who exercises hard for more than two hours, you want to target 60 to 90 grams carh (240 to 360 calories) per hour. You might have to start at the low end of the calorie range while you train your gut to tolerate that much fuel. (The gut is trainable!). You’ll discover that exercise is much more fun when you have high energy!

  • An estimated 35 million Americans are older than 65. By 2030, 70 million Americans will exceed the age of 85. Unfortunately, as we age, we lose muscle strength. That loss is associated with frailty and falls. Because the daily diet of an estimated 25% to 40% of older people lacks adequate protein, muscle loss gets exacerbated.

Research suggests that older people, including athletes, should increase their protein intake to 1.4 g to 1.6 g/kg per day, and up to 40 grams after hard exercise. Exercise physiologist Robert Murray, PhD,(www.sportsscienceinsights.com) reports this could help boost the muscle-building response to exercise. If you are an older athlete who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg), this means. 95 to 110 gram protein per day. That’s about 25 grams, four times a day—much more than in a bowl of oatmeal or a handful of nuts!

  • The health risks of yoyo dieting are more harmful than the (short-lived) benefits of weight loss. Julie Duffy Dillon RD (host of the Love Food podcast) reminds us that weight cycling (yoyo dieting) contributes to malnutrition, muscle loss, reduced metabolic rate, and feelings of deprivation. The binge-eating that occurs upon “blowing the diet” is linked to fat gain, inflammation, elevated blood pressure, and insulin resistance—to say nothing about disordered eating. Dieting is the #1 predictor of who will develop an eating disorder.
  • According to sports dietitian Nanna Meyer PhD RD of the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, climate change is here. It’s time for athletes to think more about how we can be good Food Citizens and take better care of the earth that we enjoy. This could be by eating locally grown foods, choosing more plant foods, buying sustainably farmed fish, using fewer plastic water bottles, eating less food in wrappers, and buying from local farmers. Eat with integrity and with respect for the planet!

Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.


Sports Supplements: Buyer Beware?

Definition of Sports supplement: A food, food component, nutrient, or non-food compound that is purposefully ingested in addition to the habitually consumed diet with the aim of achieving a specific health and/or performance benefit.

The global sports nutrition supplement market (including sports foods, drinks and supplements) accounted for $28+ billion in 2016 and, with the help of rigorous advertising, is expected to almost double by 2022. How many of the products are moneymaking ploys marketed to uninformed athletes? Unfortunately, too many.

Due to the plethora of products that have infiltrated gyms, fitness centers and professional sports teams alike, I get questioned by fitness exercisers and aspiring Olympians: Which of these supplements are actually effective?? Hands down, the most effective way to enhance sports performance is via your day-to-day sports diet, coordinated with a consistent training program. Eating the right foods at the right times creates the essential foundation to your success as an athlete.

That said, specific sports supplements could make a minor contribution to small performance improvements for certain elite athletes. If you wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of your sports diet’s fence, here are some facts from the 2018 IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete (1).

  • Supplement use varies across sports. It increases with the athletes’ training level and age, is higher in men than women and is strongly influenced by perceived cultural norms. (For example, “Everyone” on my team takes creatine, so I do, too.)
  • Before making any decisions regarding sports supplements, you want to get a nutritional assessment to be sure your diet supports your performance goals. No amount of supplements will compensate for a lousy diet. To find a local sports dietitian who is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org.
  • Despite the ads you see for a zillion sports supplements, very few have strong proof of directly enhancing performance. These include caffeine, creatine, specific buffering agents, and nitrate. Period.
  • Very little research with supplements offers definitive evidence, in part because the research is rarely done with elite athletes under real life conditions. Real life includes 1) multi-day tournaments, competitions or events, 2) “stacking” supplements (such as mixing caffeine and nitrates) and 3) determining if an elite athlete responds the same way to a supplement as does a Division-3 collegiate athlete. Real life also includes your unique microbiome (the bacteria in your gut that influence your overall health and well-being). We do not yet know how much a microbiome, which varies 80% to 90% between individuals, influences the effectiveness of a sports supplement and contributes to different responses.

Supplements are used for many different reasons. Here’s a breakdown of supplements by categories.

  1. Supplements used to prevent/treat nutrient deficiency. Nutrients of concern for athletes include iron (to prevent anemia), calcium and vitamin D (for bone health), as well as iodine, folate and B-12 for specific sub-groups of athletes, including vegans and women who might become pregnant. The basic supplement question is: If you are deficient, what led to that deficiency and what dietary changes will you make to resolve the issue so that it doesn’t happen again?
  2. Supplements used to provide energy. Sports drinks, energy drinks, gels, electrolyte replacements, protein supplements, energy bars, and liquid meals are commonly used to help meet energy needs before, during and after exercise. They are a convenient, albeit more expensive alternative to common foods. They aren’t magical or superior to natural food. They are just easy to carry, standardized and eliminate decisions about which foods would offer, let’s say, the “recommended ratio” of carbs, protein and fat.
  3. Supplements that directly improve performance. Caffeine, creatine monohydrate, nitrate, sodium bicarbonate, and possibly beta-alanine are the very few performance enhancing supplements that have adequate support to suggest they may offer a marginal performance gain. If you choose to use them, be sure to test them thoroughly during hard training that mimics the competitive event. Choose a brand that is NSF Certified for Sport to minimize the risk of inadvertent doping due to contamination. Every year, athletes get suspended for failing a drug test after they unknowingly took a supplement with an illegal ingredient…
  4. Supplements that indirectly improve performance. Some supplements claim to enhance performance indirectly by supporting the athlete’s health and limiting illness. “Immune support” supplements that have moderate research to support their health claims include probiotics, vitamin D, and vitamin C. Supplements that lack strong support for their immune-enhancing claims include zinc, glutamine, Echinacea, vitamin E, and fish oil. Tart cherry juice and curcumin show promise

A supplement with strong evidence to indirectly improve performance by helping build muscle is creatine monohydrate. Questionable supplements without strong evidence for athletes include gelatin and HMB.

Adverse Effects

If some supplements are good, would more be better? No, supplements can cause harm. Too much iron can lead to iron overload. Too much caffeine increases anxiety. Supplements are linked to liver toxicity, heart problems and seizures. In the USA in 2015, dietary supplements contributed to about 23,000 emergency department visits. Manufacturers are not required to show safety or assure quality of a supplement. Athletes beware— and try eating better to perform better?

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathon-ers, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.


Maughan R, Burke L, Dvorak J et al. IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete Intl J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab 2018, 28: 104-125.



Breakfast is for Champions

I don’t have time, I’m not hungry in the morning and I’m on a diet are three common excuses for missing breakfast. Unfortunately, athletes who skip breakfast generally suffer needless fatigue. They tend to have trouble concentrating later in the morning, and they work or study less efficiently. They can easily overeat at night and gain undesired body fat. Clearly, breakfast is a very important meal of the day!

If you are a breakfast skipper and routinely miss this energizing meal, try this experiment: Eat breakfast for three consecutive days and observe the benefits: more energy, less hunger, better nutrition. You’ll quick­ly discover breakfast is a key meal for champions!

Here are solutions to some breakfast barriers:

I don’t have time

You really do have time to do what you want to do. If you can make time to exercise, you can also make time to enhance your exercise program by appropriately fueling your muscles. You’ll discover:

  • you can think, work, and recover better if you eat breakfast within an hour of your morning workout.
  • you’ll have much more energy during an afternoon workout if you have eaten a substantial breakfast.

If you won’t eat breakfast at home, then simply eat breakfast on the run: a bagful of raisins and granola at the bus stop, a bagel with peanut butter on the way to school, or a yogurt and almonds at work. You don’t have to eat breakfast immediately upon getting out of bed. Your morning break can be more than just coffee!

I’m not hungry in the morning

Most often, athletes who lack a morning appetite ate their breakfast at bed­time, the night before. Too many evening snacks can easily ruin your morning appetite and also contribute to weight gain (if you overeat), dietary deficiencies (if you displace healthful breakfasts with “junk food” for snacks) and muscle fatigue (if you eat high-fat evening snacks—such as chips, chicken wings, ice cream—that inadequately refuel your muscles). Plan to rearrange your meal pattern so you eat a heartier breakfast, fewer evening snacks—and wake up hungry.

I’m on a diet

The most successful diets start with a substantial breakfast and end with a lighter dinner. A wholesome, carb-protein breakfast both fuels and builds your muscles and also prevents you from get­ting too hungry. When too hungry, you are less likely to care about what you eat and more likely to indulge in sweets and treats. Research suggests athletes who under-eat during the day have more body fat than those who eat adequately during their waking hours. Remember: You are going to eat the calories eventually; you might as well enjoy them in the morning in the form of quality food that keeps you feeling well-fed.

What’s best to eat?

Any breakfast is better than no breakfast, but some choices are better than others for your sports diet. You can easily boost your energy with some of these breakfast foods that fuel your muscles and your brain: oatmeal, whole grain cereal, whole-grain waffles, French toast, bagel, English muffin, banana bread, grits, fruit, juice, or whatever carbohydrate-based foods that might be readily available. Add some protein to build and repair muscles: eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, nuts, and peanut butter.

One quick and easy “breakfast of champions” is iron-enriched cereal with lowfat milk, banana, and orange juice. This simple meal provides important nutrients that support your athletic program:

  • Carbohydrates: the best source of muscle fuel. Carbs should be the foundation of every sports-meal. A breakfast with whole-grain cereal, milk, fruit, and juice is an easy way to help meet that goal!
  • Iron: a mineral important for carrying oxygen from the lungs to your working muscles. An iron-rich diet reduces your risk of becoming anemic and experiencing needless fatigue during exercise. By enjoying orange juice along with iron-enriched cereals, you can absorb more iron. Note: the “all natural” cereals such as granola or Kashi, have no additives, hence no iron added. Combine them with enriched brands.
  • Calcium: from milk or yogurt eaten with the cereal. Calcium is important for strong bones, as well as for helping muscles contract properly.
  • Potassium: a mineral (electrolyte) lost in sweat. Bananas, OJ, whole grain cereals are potassium-rich.
  • Fiber: to promote regular bowel movements and reduce the risk of unwanted pit stops during exercise. If plagued by constipation, select raisin bran, bran flakes, All-Bran, or any type of bran cereal. If diarrhea is a problem, reduce fiber intake!


A carbohydrate-based breakfast that also includes some protein is a critical energy booster that helps athletes fuel and repair their muscles. Without this morning meal, you are likely to run on fumes, per­form less effectively, and reduce your intake of nutrients that contribute to health and top performance. Try these meals for a high energy day:

  • Bran cereal, banana, chopped almonds, and lowfat milk.
  • Whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, and a latte.
  • French toast, ham, orange juice, and Greek yogurt.
  • Greek yogurt with granola, almonds, and berries.

Reprinted with permission from Nancy Clark.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.