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Winning the War Against Snack Attacks

“I wish I didn’t have snack attacks. I eat way too much chocolate…”

“I eat only healthy foods during the day. My snacking problem starts the minute I get home from work. Chips are my downfall…”

“I try hard to not snack after dinner, but I have a bad habit of getting into the ice cream…”

Day after day, I hear athletes complain about their (seemingly) uncontrollable snacking habits. Some believe they are hopelessly, and helplessly, addicted to chocolate. Others believe eating between meals is sinful & fattening; snacking is just plain wrong. Some equate snacking to doing drugs. They bemoan they are addicted to sugar and can’t eat just one cookie. Snacking is all or nothing.

Despite the popular belief that snacking is bad, the truth is that snacking can be helpful for active people. Athletes get hungry and need to eat at least every three to four hours. That means, if you have breakfast at 7:00, you’ll be ready for food by 10:00 or 11:00, particularly if you exercise in the morning. By 3:00 p.m., you will again want more food. For students and others who exercise mid to late afternoon, a pre-exercise snack is very important to provide the fuel needed to have an effective workout.

The trick is to make snacks a part of your sports diet—preferably with an early lunch at 11:00 that replaces the morning snack. (Why wait to eat at noon when you are hungry now?) and a second lunch instead of afternoon sweets, to energize the end of your work or school day. A planned wholesome meal is far better than succumbing to sugary snacks or stimulant drinks.

Snacking problems commonly occur when athletes under-eat meals, only to over-indulge in snacks. Inadequate breakfasts and lunches can easily explain why snacks can contribute 20 to 50 percent of total calories for the day. Fingers crossed those snacks are nutrient-rich!

To easily and painlessly resolve nutrient-poor snack attacks, eat before you get too hungry. Hungry athletes (and all people, for that matter) tend to crave sweets (and fats) and can easily eat too many donuts, chocolate chip cookies, candy bars—foods with sugar (for quick energy) and fat (for concentrated calories).That honking big muffin can easily win out over a piece of fruit, hands down!

Athletes who report they “eat well during the day but get into trouble with snacks at night” need to understand the problem is not the evening snacks but having eaten too little during the active part of their day. Snacking is the symptom; getting too hungry is commonly the problem. One way to eliminate a mid-morning snack attack is to have a protein-rich, satiating breakfast (such as 3 eggs + avocado toast + a latte for 500-600 calories) as opposed to just a packet of oatmeal (only 100-150 calories). Enjoy soup + sandwich for lunch (500-700 calories), not just a salad with grilled chicken (only 300 calories).

Identifying hunger

Do you spend too much time thinking about food all day? If so, your brain is telling you it wants some fuel. Thinking about food nudges you to eat. If you were to never think about food, you’d waste away to nothing.

Other hunger signals include feeling droopy, moody, cold, bored (I’m eating this popcorn just because I’m bored), unable to focus, and easily irritated. If you fail to honor these hunger signals, they will escalate into a growling stomach (too hungry) and an all-out snack attack. Prevent hunger; eat enough during the active part of your day.

Please remember that hunger does not mean “Oh no, I’m going to eat and get fat.” Hunger is simply a request for fuel. Just as a light on the dashboard of your car signals when your car needs gas, your brain sends you hunger signals when your body is low on fuel. To not eat when you are hungry is abusive to your body (and mind) and puts your body into muscle-breakdown mode, which is counter-productive for athletes.

Losing weight without daytime hunger

Even if you want to lose undesired body fat, you should eat enough to feel satiated during the active part of your day. You can lose weight (“diet”) at night when you are sleeping. This is opposite to how most athletes eat: They diet by day, then attack the snacks at night. They eat the whole pint of ice cream, too many chocolates, and/or non-stop chips. Winning the war against hunger requires white knuckles. Not sustainable and not fun. The better bet is to fuel by day and diet at night by eliminating high-calorie evening snacks.

Dieting athletes commonly report the most concerns about snack attacks. As one rower complained, “I’m hungry all the time.” If that sounds like you, and you feel hungry within the hour after you eat a meal, experiment with eating heartier meals. For help figuring out a food plan that works for you, I encourage you to meet with a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in sports nutrition. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find a local sports nutrition professional.

Winning the war against snack attacks

I encourage my clients to convert snacktime into mealtime. Instead of reaching for cookies, candy, caffeine, and other typical snack foods, they opt for a peanut butter & banana sandwich for an early lunch at 10:00 or 11:00ish. (As long as they have a flexible eating schedule, no need to eat a donut just to bridge the gap to the more traditional eating time of noon.) They then can enjoy a later second lunch at 2:00 to 3:00ish, which gives them energy to be productive throughout the last hours of the workday.

By enjoying two lunches instead of snack foods + one lunch, they generally end up eating more quality calories and fewer sweets. If their meal schedule is inflexible, I nudge them to at least snack on mini-meals instead of sweets:

  • Whole-grain English muffin + nut butter
  • Oatmeal cooked in milk + dates
  • Hummus + baby carrots.

The benefits of being well-fed are fewer snack attacks, more energy, and easier weight management. Give it a try?


Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875). The new 6th edition of her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook offers additional information on how to manage snack attacks. Visit NancyClarkRD.com. For her online workshop, visit NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

Nutrition concept in tag cloud

Sports Nutrition Updates

Sports nutrition was a hot topic at this years’ annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Exposition (FNCE), hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s largest group of nutrition professionals. Here are a few highlights, to keep you up to date with current sports nutrition recommendations.

Performance enhancers

  • Sport supplements that promise improved performance are always tantalizing. If they make as little as 0.5 to 1% improvement, the supplement is deemed to “work.” While scientists want well-controlled research studies to prove effectiveness, athletes respond very quickly to anecdotes—and often spend lots of money on what might be just a glimmer of hope. (In the four months leading up to the Olympics in 2000, one athlete spent $3,480 on supplements!)
  • The Australian Institute of Sport is creating a website for grouping supplements according to effectiveness: Group A (proven to enhance performance), Group B (deserves more research), Group C (little proof of meaningful benefits) and Group D (Banned).  Check it out at www.ais.gov.au/nutrition/supplementsThe helpful information can help guide your supplement choices.

Vitamin Zzz, aka Sleep

  • Sleep is one of the best performance enhancers. Lack of sleep has detrimental effects on performance. Athletes with good sleep quality are able to train harder, recover faster, and perform better. And take note:  if you think you can drink coffee at night and still sleep fine, think again. Brain wave studies suggest otherwise…
  • How much sleep is enough? More than 6 hours a night. Very few athletes can perform well with less than that. Top athletes commonly strive to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each day, including a nap between 1:00 and 4:00 pm. (A later nap results in poorer sleep that night). Teens should target 8 to 10 hours and adults 7 to 9 hours. Lack of sleep can significantly impact your diet. After two nights with only 4 to 5 hours of sleep, the appetite increases about 20%. You’ll likely find yourself snacking more than usual (on fatty foods), eating fewer fruits and veggies, and consuming ~385 additional calories. Yikes!
  • For good sleep information, visit centreforsleep.com and take the Athletes’ Sleep Screening Questionnaire. Athletes who understand the benefits of sleep tend to sleep about 20 minutes more. I hope this holds true for you!

Muscle building tactics

  • When it comes to building muscle, you want to surround your workout with food, so you can get the most benefits from your efforts. Intermittent Fasters, take note: if you lift weights in a fasted state (without having eaten any pre-exercise fuel), the muscle-building effect of exercise is not enough to out-weigh the muscle breakdown that happens in a fasted state. Eat before you train!
  • Many athletes assume if they fail to eat within 45 minutes of lifting weights, the anabolic  (muscle-building) window slams shut. Wrong. Refueling either 1 or 3 hours post-exercise generates a similar gain in muscle protein synthesis. For the average exerciser, the effect of post-exercise protein timing on muscle growth is relatively small. For competitive body builders, the gain is also small but perhaps meaningful, so most prefer to err on the side of caution.
  • Consuming post-exercise protein stimulates insulin secretion, as does carbohydrate. (Did you know that whey protein stimulates more insulin than white bread?) Insulin reduces muscle breakdown and enhances glycogen replacement. Refueling with a combination of protein + carb is best for athletes who do two-a-day workouts, to optimize glycogen replacement. Athletes who do only one workout and refuel with a sports diet based on grains, starchy vegetables and fruits can replenish depleted glycogen stores over the course of 24 hours.
  • Does eating extra protein build bigger muscles? The body incorporates only a limited amount of protein into new muscle tissue. Spacing out protein intake by consuming 20 grams of protein every 3 hours (four times a day) is preferable to eating 80 grams in one dose. More specifically, athletes want to target 0.2-0.25 g pro/lb. body weight (0.4 to 0.55 g/kg) four times a day. This target varies from person to person. Vegans, for example, will want to consume a higher amount to get adequate leucine, an amino acid that triggers muscle growth.

Eating disorders in male athletes

  • Eating disorders (EDs) are not just a female problem. About 9% of male athletes—as compared to about 21% of female athletes—struggle with food issues and restrict their food intake to lose undesired body fat. The lack of fuel available to support normal bodily functions impacts bone health and reproductive function in men, just as it does in women. In men, low energy availability can lead to low testosterone, poor semen quality, reduced sperm count, and slower sperm motility. In women, it shows up as loss of regular menses (amenorrhea), hence infertility.
  • Compared to female athletes, male athletes can withstand more of a severe deficit before the appearance of symptoms such as low testosterone, bone stress injuries, and reduced bone density/poor bone health (osteoporosis). To reverse the energy deficit, athletes need to boost their energy intake, which can be easier said than done for those struggling with eating issues and fears of “getting fat.” One way to consume the recommended 350 additional calories per day is to break two energy bars into small bites, and nibble on them over the course of several hours. Men seem to be able to reverse the hormonal imbalance within days, while women can take months. Reversibility of bone density is not guaranteed.

Keto diet

  • A ketogenic sports diet (moderate protein, very low carb, very high fat) appeals to some athletes. Yet, we need more research to understand the fine details of adaptation to the keto diet and the role of keto supplements. (Supplement sales vastly exceed the science!) Stay tuned; perhaps we’ll have more answers from next year’s FNCE!

Reprinted with permission from Nancy Clark.


Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). The new 6th edition of her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook addresses today’s questions and concerns about what to eat. For more information, visit NancyClarkRD.com. For her online workshop, visit NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

vegan plate

Can Vegan Athletes Become Elite Athletes?

Fact or Fiction: The vegan diet is unlikely to support optimal performance in athletes? 

Fiction! No evidence suggests a nutritionally balanced vegan diet impairs athletic performance (1,2). Google vegan athletes; you’ll find an impressive list of Olympians and elite athletes from many sports (football, basketball, tennis, rowing, etc.). That said, vegans (and vegetarians) could choose a diet that helps them be powerful athletes, but do they?

Some vegans eat too many salads, sweet potatoes & berries (or chips and candy), but not enough beans, nuts, and seeds. They eliminate animal protein but fail to replace it with enough plant protein. Weight-conscious vegan athletes who restrict calories often reduce their intake of protein and other nutrients. Hence, dieting vegan athletes need to be extra vigilant to consume a menu supportive of their needs.

Two keys to thriving on a balanced vegan (and vegetarian) sports diet are to consume:

  1. adequate vitamins and minerals (in particular iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, vitamins D and B-12) as well as omega-3 fats, and
  2. adequate protein from a variety of plant foods that offer a variety of amino acids (the building blocks of protein).

The amino acid leucine is of particular importance for athletes. Leucine is an essential amino acid your body cannot make, so you need to get it from food. Leucine triggers muscles to grow. It also can help prevent the deterioration of muscle with age. When you lift weights, you stimulate the muscles to take up leucine (and other amino acids); this triggers muscular growth. Hence, leucine is a very important component of an athlete’s diet!

The richest sources of leucine are animal foods, such as eggs, milk, fish, and meats. When a meat-eating athlete swaps beef for beans and other plant-proteins (hummus, quinoa, nuts, tofu, etc.), the swap commonly reduces leucine intake by about 50%. Hence, vegan athletes need to pay attention to getting enough high-quality plant-proteins that offer the optimal amount of leucine (about 2.5 grams per meal or snack). That means, vegans want to consistently enjoy soy, beans, legumes, seeds and/or nuts regularly at every meal and snack. Don’t have just oatmeal for breakfast; add soy milk and walnuts.  Don’t snack on just an apple; slather apple slices with peanut butter. Enjoy it with a swig of soy or pea milk instead of almond milk.

This table compares the leucine content of plant and animal foods. Note that when you swap animal-based protein for plant-based protein (such as trade eggs for peanut butter, or dairy milk for soy milk), you’ll likely need to eat more calories of plant-foods to get the same amount of leucine as in animal foods:

Animal food Leucine

(g)

Calories Plant food (swap) Leucine

(g)

Calories
Eggs, 2 large 1.1 155 Peanut butter, 2 Tb 0.5 190
Milk, 8 oz 1.0 120 Soy milk, lowfat 0.5 105
Tuna, 5-oz can 2.3 120 Black beans, 1/2 c 0.7 110
Chicken, 3 oz cooked 2.1 150 Tofu, extra firm, 6 oz 1.4 140
Cheese, 1 oz 0.6 115 Almonds, 3/4 oz. 0.3 120
Beef, 5 oz ckd 3.8 265 Lentils, 1 cup 1.3 225

 How much protein and leucine do you need?

A 150-pound vegan athlete who seriously wants to build muscle should plan to eat about 20 grams of protein with 2.5 grams leucine every 3-4 hours during the day. (If you weigh more or less than 150 pounds, adjust that target accordingly.)  Here’s a sample 1,800-calorie vegan diet (read that, weight reduction diet for most athletes, both male and female) that offers adequate protein at every meal —but not always 2.5 grams leucine. To be a dieting vegan athlete requires some menu planning. Some dieters choose to be “mostly vegan.” This flexibility allows for leucine-rich milk, eggs & fish.

Sample 1,800 calorie Vegan Diet Leucine Protein Calories
B.     2 slices whole wheat toast 0.5 g 10. g 200
         2 tablespoons peanut butter 0.5 8 200
         1 cup soy milk 0.5 7 100
Sn: 1 medium apple trace 0.5 100
L:     Salad: greens plus vegetables 0.3 4 50
         1/2 cup chick peas 0.8 6 100
         1/4 cup sunflower seeds 0.9 12 350
         1 tablespoon oil 100
Sn:   1/3 cup hummus 0.2 3 100
         10 baby carrots trace 0.5 50
D:    1/3 cake tofu 1.1 12 100
         1 cup cooked brown rice 0.4 6 250
         2 cups broccoli

 

0.5 7 100
Total for the day: 10 76 1,800
 

Target for the day:

 

2.5 g /meal

 

65-108

 

1,800

Note: I have not included fake meats such as the Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger in this menu. Those are ultra-processed foods that have a questionable place in any diet. I have also not included almond milk (a poor source of protein) nor supplements with leucine. You want to choose whole foods; they come with a matrix of nutrients that boost protein synthesis and can better invest in your health, recovery and overall well being.


Nancy Clark MS RD counsels both casual & competitive athletes at her Boston-area office (617-795-1875). The new 2019 edition of her best selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook is available at www.NancyClarkRD.com, as is info about her popular online workshop.

For additional information about a vegan sports diet:

1) Wirnitzer, K. et al. 2018. Health Status of Female and Male Vegetarian and Vegan Endurance Runners Compared to Omnivores—Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2).  Nutrients 11(1):29  doi: 10.3390/nu11010029 (Free access)

2) Rogerson, D. 2017. Vegan diets: Practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14: 36  doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9 (Free access)

Carbs-Bread

Sports Nutrition: Carbs in the News

Too many of today’s athletes believe carbohydrates are “bad.” If that’s true, what does the latest sports nutrition research say? The following studies, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 66th Annual Meeting (Orlando FL, May 2019) indicate sports scientists agree that carbohydrates (grains, fruits, veggies; sugars, starches) can be health- and performance-enhancing sport foods. As you may (or may not) know, ACSM is a professional organization for sport science researchers, exercise physiologists, dietitians, doctors, and health-care providers for athletes (www.ACSM.org).  Here are some answers to questions posed by ACSM researchers.

Does sugar cause diabetes?

No. The problem is less about sugar, and more about lack of exercise. Most fit people can enjoy a little sugar without fear of health issues. Muscles in fit bodies burn the sugar for fuel. In unfit bodies, the sugar accumulates in the blood. Fitness reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

In a 6-week training study to boost fitness, 35 middle-aged men with over-weight or obesity did either endurance cycling, weight lifting, or high-intensity interval training. Regardless of the kind of exercise, all types of training improved the bodies’ ability to utilize glucose with less insulin.

These subjects had blood glucose levels within the normal range at the start of the study; their glucose levels improved with exercise. While we need more research to fine-tune the types of exercise that best manage blood glucose, rest assured that living an active lifestyle is a promising way to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Can natural foods replace ultra-processed commercial sports drinks and foods?

Yes, standard (natural) foods can be fine alternatives to commercial sport fuels. Look no farther than bananas! In a study, trained cyclists who enjoyed bananas (for carbs) plus water (for fluid) during a 46 mile (75 km) bike ride performed just as well as those who consumed a sports drink with an equivalent amount of carbs plus water.

Natural foods offer far more than just fuel; they contain abundant bioactive compounds that have a positive impact on health and performance.  For example, after the ride with bananas, the cyclists had lower levels of oxylipins (bioactive compounds that increase with excessive inflammation) compared to the sports drink ride. Athletes who believe commercial sports foods and fuel are better than standard foods overlook the benefits from the plethora of bioactive compounds found in real foods.

Are potatoes—an easy-to-digest sports fuel—a viable alternative to commercial gels?

Yes. In a study, trained cyclists ate breakfast and soon thereafter competed in a 2-hour cycling challenge that was then followed by a time trial. For fuel, the subjects consumed either potato puree, gels, or water. The results suggest 1) both emptied similarly from the gut, and 2) potatoes are as good as gels for supporting endurance performance.

The cyclists completed the time trial in about 33 minutes when they ate the potato or the gel. This is six minutes faster than with plain water. Any fuel is better than no fuel!

Is fruit juice a healthful choice for athletes?

Yes, fruit juice can be an excellent source of carbohydrate to fuel muscles. Colorful juices (such as grape, cherry, blueberry, orange) also offer anti-inflammatory phytochemicals called polyphenols. In a study, subjects did muscle-damaging exercise and then consumed a post-exercise and a bedtime protein recovery drink that included either pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice, or just sugar. The protein-polyphenol beverages boosted muscle recovery better than the sugar beverage.

Does carbohydrate intake trigger intestinal distress for ultra-marathoners?

Not always. During a 37 mile (60-kilometer) ultra-marathon, 33 runners reported their food and fluid intake. They consumed between 150 to 360 calories (37-90 g carb) per hour, with an average of 240 calories (60 g) per hour. This meets the recommendation for carbohydrate intake during extended exercise (240-360 calories; 60-90 g carb/hour). The majority (73%) of runners reported some type of gut issues. Of those, 20% of the complaints were ranked serious. Interestingly, the GI complaints were not linked to carbohydrate intake or to gut damage. In fact, a higher carbohydrate intake potentially reduced the risk of gut injury. (More research is needed to confirm this.) Unfortunately, runners cannot avoid all factors (such as jostling, dehydration, and nerves) that can trigger intestinal problems.

We know that consuming carb during extended exercise enhances performance, but does it matter if endurance athletes consume a slow-digesting or a fast-digesting carbohydrate prior to extended exercise?

Likely not, but this can depend on how long you are exercising, and how often you want to consume carbohydrate. Well-trained runners consumed 200 calories of carbohydrate in UCAN (slow-digesting) vs. Cytocarb (fast-digesting) prior to a 3-hour moderate run during which they consumed just water. At the end of the run, they did an intense sprint to fatigue. The sprint times were similar, regardless of the type of pre-run fuel.

That said, the slow digesting carb provided a more stable and consistent fuel source that maintained blood glucose concentration during the long run. Hence, endurance athletes want to experiment with a variety of beverages to determine which ones settle best and help them feel good during extended exercise. A slow-digesting carb can help maintain stable blood glucose levels without consuming fuel during the run. Fast-digesting carbs need carbohydrate supplementation throughout the exercise to maintain normal blood glucose.

Concluding comments: These studies indicate carbohydrate can help athletes perform well. To be sure your muscles are fully fueled, include some starchy food (wholesome cereal, grain, bread, etc.) as the foundation of each meal. Consuming carbs from just fruit or veggies will likely leave you with inadequately replenished muscle glycogen. Think twice before choosing a chicken Caesar salad for your recovery meal.


Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her newly updated Sports Nutrition Guidebook is now available in a new sixth edition. For more information, visit NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, visit NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

A man having question

Sports Nutrition Myths: Busted!

Keeping up with the latest science-based sports nutrition recommendations is a challenge. We are constantly bombarded with media messages touting the next miracle sports food or supplement that will enhance athletic performance, promote fat loss, build muscle, and help you be a super-athlete. At this year’s Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org), a sports nutrition myth-busters session sponsored by the global network of Professionals In Nutrition for Exercise and Sport (www.PINESNutrition.org) featured experts who resolved confusion with science-based research.

MYTH: Protein supplements build bigger muscles.

Protein needs for a 150-pound (68 kg) athlete average about 110 to 150 grams of protein per day. (More precisely, 0.7 to 1.0 g pro/lb. body weight/day; 1.6 to 2.2 g pro/kg./day) Hungry athletes can easily consume this amount from standard meals. Yet, many athletes believe they need extra protein. They consume protein shakes and bars in addition to protein-laden meals. They are unlikely to see any additional benefits from this higher-than-needed protein intake. Resistance exercise is a far more potent way to increase muscle size and strength than any protein supplement.

MYTH: Eating just before bedtime makes an athlete fat. 

While it is true the body responds differently to the same meal eaten at 9:00 a.m., 5:00 pm, or 1:00 a.m., an athlete will not “get fat” by eating at night. The main problem with nighttime eating relates to the ease of over-eating while lounging around and watching TV. When your brain is tired from having made endless decisions all day, you can easily decide to eat more food than required.

That said, bedtime carbohydrates to refuel depleted muscles and bedtime protein to build and repair muscles can optimize recovery after a day of hard training or competing. For bodybuilders and others who want to optimize muscle growth, eating about 40 grams of protein before bed provides an extended flow of amino acids needed to build muscle. (This bedtime snack has not been linked with fat gain). Cottage cheese, anyone?

MYTH: A gluten-free diet cures athletes’ gut problems.

If you have celiac disease (as verified by blood tests), your gut will indeed feel better if you avoid wheat and other gluten-containing foods. However, very few gut issues for non-celiac athletes are related to gluten. FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) are often the culprit. These are types of hard-for-some-people-to-digest carbohydrates found in commonly eaten foods such as wheat, apples, onion, garlic, and milk. For example, the di-saccharide lactose (a kind of sugar found in milk) creates gut turmoil in people who are lactose intolerant. The poorly digested and absorbed lactose creates gas, bloat and diarrhea.

For certain athletes, a low FODMAP diet two or three days before a competition or long training session can help curb intestinal distress. If you live in fear of undesired pit stops, a consultation with your sports dietitian to learn more about a short-term FODMAP reduction diet is worth considering.

MYTH: Athletes should avoid caffeine because of its diuretic effect

With caffeinated beverages, the diuretic effect might be 1.2 ml. excess fluid lost per mg. of caffeine. That means, if you were to drink a small mug  (7 oz./200 ml.) of coffee that contains 125 milligrams of caffeine, you might lose about 150 ml. water through excess urine loss. But you’d still have 50 ml. fluid to hydrate your body—and likely more if you drink coffee regularly. Athletes who regularly consume caffeine habituate and experience less of a diuretic effect. In general, most caffeinated beverages contribute to a positive fluid balance; avoiding them on the basis of their caffeine content is not justified.

MYTH: Athletes should be wary of creatine because it is bad for kidneys.

Creatine is sometimes used by athletes who want to bulk up. It allows muscles to recover faster from, let’s say, lifting weights, so the athlete can do more reps and gain strength. A review of 21 studies that assessed kidney function with creatine doses ranging from 2 to 30 grams a day for up to five and a half years indicates creatine is safe for young healthy athletes as well as for elderly people. Even the most recent studies using sophisticated methods to assess renal function support creatine supplements as being well tolerated and not related to kidney dysfunction.

Reading a nutrition label on food packaging with magnifying glass

MYTH: The vegan diet fails to support optimal performance in athletes.

Without a doubt, vegan athletes can —and do—excel in sport. Just Google vegan athletes; you’ll find an impressive list that includes Olympians and professional athletes from many sports (including football, basketball, tennis, rowing, snowboarding, running, soccer, plus more.)

The key to consuming an effective vegan sports diet is to include adequate leucine, the essential amino acid that triggers muscles to grow. The richest sources of leucine are found in animal foods, such as eggs, dairy, fish, and meats. If you swap animal proteins for plant proteins, you reduce your leucine intake by about 50%. For athletes, consuming 2.5 grams of leucine every 3 to 4 hours during the day optimizes muscular development. This means vegan athletes need to eat adequate nuts, soy foods, lentils, beans and other plant proteins regularly at every meal and snack.

Most athletes can consume adequate leucine, but some don’t because they skip meals and fail to plan a balanced vegan menu. Vegan athletes who are restricting food intake to lose undesired body fat need to be particularly vigilant to consume an effective sports diet. Plan ahead!


Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). The newest 6th edition of her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook is being released in July 2019. For information about readymade handouts and PowerPoint presentations, visit www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.