Hide

Error message here!

Lost your password? Please enter your email address. You will receive a link to create a new password.

Error message here!

Back to log-in

Close
Concept healthy food and sports lifestyle. Vegetarian lunch.  He

Sports Nutrition: Elite vs. Recreational Athletes

Nancy, do you offer different nutrition recommendations for elite athletes as compared to recreational exercisers? I am highly competitive, work out intensely, and often wonder if I am eating to be the best athlete that I can be.

Answer: Sports nutrition recommendations are based on the assumption we all want to get the most benefits from our workouts so we can perform to the best of our abilities. Because each elite athlete and casual exerciser is unique, a one-diet-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Rather, all exercisers want to be curious and experiment with a variety of fueling practices to learn what works best for their bodies. The following compares recommendations I might make for competitive athletes vs. recreational exercisers.

Note: Sports nutrition is a new science. In the near future, with the refinement of personalized nutrition based on genetics, sport dietitians will be able to offer individualized advice. Some athletes might perform better with more fat than carbs, or more beef than beans. Until then, here are today’s science-based recommendations.

Carbohydrate requirements

In this era that pushes fat and protein, carbohydrate deficiency is common. All exercisers can improve their performance (and health) by consuming adequate “high quality” carbs (grains, fruits, veggies) to fuel muscles and prevent needless fatigue. While elite athletes might want to strategically withhold carbs before specific training sessions to trigger performance-enhancing cellular adaptations, recreational exercisers want to focus on fueling well each day in order to have enjoyable workouts. A sports dietitian can help both elite and recreational athletes reach these carbohydrate goals:

Amount of exercise/day gram carb/lb. body wt. gram carb/kg body wt.
1 hour moderate exercise 2.5 to 3 5-7
1-3 h endurance exercise 2.5 to 4.5 6-10
>4-5 h extreme exercise 3.5 to 5.5 8-12

Example: For a 140-lb fitness exerciser who trains moderately hard for an hour a day, carb goals are 350 g (1,400 calories) For the competitive athlete who trains harder and longer, a good goal is 630 g carb (2,500 calories) a day. Divide that into 3 meals (400 to 700 calories from carb per meal) and 2 snacks (100 to 300 calories from carbs per snack). Start reading food labels to see how well you do. You’ll discover a spinach-cheese omelet doesn’t hit the goal.

Protein requirements

A well-fueled competitive athlete with trained muscles requires a little less protein than a novice exerciser who is building new muscle. The range of protein needs (0.6 to 1.0 g protein per pound body weight; 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg) tends to be moot, given most hungry exercisers and athletes consume plenty of protein.

Most competitive athletes can easily meet their protein needs by targeting about 20 to 30 grams protein per meal (a can of tuna) and 10 to 20 g protein per snack (a Greek yogurt). The protein in natural foods is preferable to protein supplements. Natural foods offer a complex matrix of nutrients that interact with a synergistic effect. Plus, they are unlikely to be spiked with illegal drugs and compounds that can lead to a failed drug test.

Fluids

Competitive athletes lose lots of sweat when exercising for hours on end. But so can recreational exercisers who are out of shape and working hard. That’s why everyone who sweats heavily wants to learn his or her sweat rate. You can learn this by weighing yourself (without clothing) before and after an hour of exercise without drinking anything at X pace and in X degrees of heat or cold. For each pound lost, you are in deficit of 16-ounces of fluid. Drink enough during exercise to minimize this deficit. Throughout the day, drink enough to urinate every 2 to 4 hours. (Peeing every half-hour is excessive; no need to over-hydrate!)

Fueling during exercise

For competitive athletes, a sport drink or gel is a convenient and precise way to boost energy during extended exercise over 90 minutes. With a target intake of 60 to 90 g carb per hour of extended exercise, an elite athlete generally prefers drinking a beverage than eating solid food. A casual exerciser might want some tastier orange slices or a granola bar.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes (potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium) are readily available in standard pre- and post-exercise foods. Most recreational exercisers don’t sweat enough to lose a significant amount of electrolytesHighly competitive athletes, however, train and sweat for 2 to 3 or more hours in the heat. They should add extra salt to their pre-exercise food (helps retain water and delays dehydration) and consume sodium-containing foods and fluids during extended exercise (endurance sport drinks). Afterward, chocolate milk beats Gatorade for an electrolyte-filled recovery drink. Most sweaty athletes intuitively seek salty chips, soup, or salted foods in for their recovery meal. If you are craving salt, consume salt!

Recovery

Recreational exercisers who train 2 to 3 times a week can easily recover by backing their workout into a balanced meal that contains carbs (to refuel) and protein (to build and repair) muscles, such as oatmeal + eggs; yogurt + granola; sandwich + milk; chicken + rice. Competitive athletes who train twice a day should more rapidly refuel by eating soon after working out. The key is to plan ahead to have the right recovery foods and fluids ready and waiting. While a commercial recovery drink can be handy, a fruit smoothie (made with Greek yogurt) or some chocolate milk does an excellent job. Real foods work well for everyone.

After lifting weights, no need for anyone to immediately slam down a protein shake. Muscles stay in building mode for the next 24 to 48 hours. Regular meals, with protein evenly spaced throughout the day, do the job.

The bottom line

Every exerciser and athlete can win with good nutrition. The key is to be responsible, and plan ahead to have the best foods and fluids available at the right times. Here’s to satisfying results from your hard work!


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 good guide for soccer, marathoners and cyclists offer additional information. Visit NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

oatmeal

Fueling Tips for Early Morning Exercisers

Many athletes train in the early morning. Rowers commonly meet at 5:30 a.m. Hockey players might get rink-time at 5:00 a.m.. Athletes who need to be at work at 7:00 often train at 4:30 a.m. Many of these athletes report eating nothing before their training session. My stomach isn’t awake. … It’s too early to even think about food. … I get reflux if I eat. Others report they have better workouts when they eat something simple. The question arises: What’s the best way to fuel for early morning workouts?

Before answering that question, let’s first address the physiological goals for fueling before morning workouts.

1) To change the stress-hormone profile. Cortisol (a stress hormone) is high in the early morning. This puts your body in muscle-breakdown mode. Eating carbs + protein can switch to muscle-building mode.

2) To provide energy and prevent low blood glucose with the consequences of feeling light-headed, dizzy, and needlessly fatigued.

3) To be adequately hydrated. Dehydration slows you down.

If you are making the effort to get up early to train, you might as well get the most out of your workout! In a fueling study, athletes had dinner the night before and then a 60-minute exercise test the next morning. They performed 6% better in the 10-minute sprint to the finish when they had some fuel (carb) compared to having had nothing;  6% better when they had adequate water (compared to minimal water), and 12% better when they had both fuel + water (a sport drink). (1) Twelve percent better means running an 8-minute mile in about 7 minutes. Powerful, eh?

Your body can digest pre-exercise food and use it to energize your exercise as long as you are exercising at a pace that you can maintain for more than 30 minutes. (If you do stop-and-start exercise, you can still digest the food, but at a slower rate.) In another fueling study, athletes ate dinner and than nothing for the next 12 hours. Those who ate 180 calories (sugar) just five minutes before an hour-long exercise test performed 10% better in the last 15 minute sprint compared to when they ate nothing (2). Grab that granola bar or swig of juice!

If you are tempted to skip pre-exercise food so you can lose weight by burning more fat, think again. Yes, pre-exercise food will contribute to burning less fat at the moment, but that is irrelevant. The issue is not whether you have burned fat during exercise but if you have created a calorie deficit by the end of the day. Eating excess calories after a fat-burning workout gets you nowhere.

All of this means consuming some food and fluid on your way to the gym, spin class, or boot camp will enhance your workout—assuming you have trained your gut to tolerate the food and fluids. If you are worried about intestinal distress, start small (a few crackers) and work up to a handful of crackers, and then add, let’s say, a latte. For workouts longer than 60 minutes, the recommended intake is about 200 to 400 calories within the hour before you train. That recommendation obviously varies according to body size, exercise intensity and duration, and personal tolerance to food.

If you have been exercising on empty, you will likely discover you can exercise harder, feel better, and get more enjoyment from your workouts. Research subjects who ate 400 pre-exercise calories were able to exercise for 136 minutes until they were exhausted, as compared to only 109 minutes with no breakfast (3). Big difference! After learning this, one of my clients reported he was done with skipping pre-exercise fuel in the name of intermittent fasting. “Not eating is slowing me down and taking the fun out of my workout.”

Early morning options

Here are some options for fueling your early morning workouts so you are adequately hydrated and fueled.

Eat a quick and easy snack with about 200 to 400 calories (depending on your body size and workout intensity). Some popular options include: English muffin, toast, bagel or banana (with peanut butter); oatmeal, a smoothie, Fig Newtons, or granola bar. Coffee is OK; it’s a functional fluid that boosts performance and yes, helps with hydration.

Wake up 4 hours before important training sessions/events, eat a simple breakfast (bread + peanut butter), then go back to bed. This is a common practice among elite athletes. As one marathoner explained, “I don’t want to have food in my stomach when I’m racing. If a race starts at 8:00 a.m., I’ll get up at 4:00, eat a bagel with peanut butter and a banana, and then go back to bed. At 6:00, I’ll get up, have some coffee (to help me take a dump and wake me up), and then get to the race start. Because I never really sleep well the night before an event, getting up at 4:00 isn’t terribly disruptive.” In comparison, a rower reported she used to wake up two hours before practice to eat. She became too sleep-deprived and decided she needed sleep more than food. She started eating a bigger bedtime snack.

Eat your breakfast the night before via a bedtime snack, such as a bowl of cereal, or yogurt with granola. If you have dinner at 6:00, you’ll be ready for a bedtime snack by 9:00. Choose quality calories; this is your breakfast that you are eating the night before. Limit the cookies and ice cream!

Fuel during your workout.If your stomach isn’t awake when you first get up, it may be receptive to fuel when you are 30 minutes into your bike ride, run, or row. Be sure you have some fuel with you: sport drink, dried pineapple, gels, chomps, gummy bears—whatever is easy to carry and simple to digest. You want to target about 30 to 60 grams carb (120 to 240 calories) if the workout lasts 1 to 2.5 hours, and 60 to 90 g carb (240 to 360 cal) if the workout is longer than that..

What about “training low”?

If you are highly competitive and has mastered the sports nutrition basics (eat a diet with 90% quality foods; fuel evenly during the day; have no disordered eating behaviors), you might try training low (with depleted muscle glycogen and/or low blood glucose) once a week or so. To do this, eat primarily protein for dinner after a late-afternoon workout. The next morning, train without having eaten carbs. Exercising depleted like this is not fun, but it stimulates cellular changes that can be performance enhancing if you need to get to the next level (4). Novice and recreational athletes, however, first need to work on the basic ways to improve performance—by surrounding their workouts with food, and fueling wisely the rest of the day.


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 inform-ation. They are available at NancyClarkRD.com. For her online workshop, visit NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

References

  1. Below, P. et al. Fluid and carbohydrate ingestion independently improve performance during 1 hour of intense exercise.Med Sci Sports Exerc27:200-210, 1995.
  2. Neufer P. et al. Improvements in exercise performance: effects of carbohydrate feedings and diet. J Appl Physiol62(3):983, 1987
  3. Schabort, E. et al. The effect of a preexercise meal on time to fatigue during prolonged cycling exercise.Med Sci Sports Exerc31(3):464-471, 1999.
  4. Hawley J and Burke L. Carbohydrate availability and training adaptation: effects on cell metabolism. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 38(4):152-60, 2010.
whole grain

Five Reasons Why You Want to Eat Carbohydrates

As the New Year starts, I hear way too many athletes vowing to “knock off carbs” for their nutrition resolution. Most intend to eat less sugar (OK). Some plan to cut out bread, pasta, potato and starchy foods (not OK), and others plan to also limit fruits and veggies (bad idea). The reality is, carbs should be the foundation of your sports diet.

Carbs 101

By carbs, I mean primarily fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. But little is wrong with a sprinkling of added sugar (less than 10% of your total daily calories) or enjoying a meal with refined white flour (as long your other meals include whole grains). To be sure we are all on the same page, let’s define this much-maligned word “carb.”

  • Carbohydrates include both sugars and starches. They are biochemically similar. For example, green peas (and other veggies) are sweet when young; their sugar converts into starch as they mature. Unripe bananas (and other fruits) are starchy when young and become sweeter as they ripen. Their starch converts into sugar.
  • Both sugars and starches are equal sources of muscle fuel. Whether you eat a starchy potato or sugary candy, the digested end-product is the same: glucose.
  • Glucose feeds your brain, gets stored as glycogen in muscles (for fuel during hard, extended exercise) and also in the liver (where it gets released, as needed, into the bloodstream to prevent your blood sugar from dropping).
  • Some carbs are more nourishing than others. Added sugars (white sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, gels, chomps, sport drinks, etc.) lack the vitamins and minerals that invest in good health. Fruits, veggies, beans, and dairy, however, are health promoting sources of carbs. Obviously, you want to eat more of the best and less of the rest.
  • Physically fit athletes easily metabolize sugars and starches. Unfit people, however, often end up with high blood sugar and pre- or Type II diabetes.Note: Most messages to cut out carbs are targeted at unfit people, not athletes.

Reasons to keep carbs in your sports diet

Here are five reasons why you, a physically fit athlete, want to include carbohydrate in your sports diet.

  1. Carbohydrates fuel muscles. Athletes who restrict carbs pay the price: “dead legs” and inability to exercise at their best. If you routinely train hard 4 to 6 days a week, carbs should be the foundation of each meal. Here are the International Olympic Committee’s research-based carb recommendations for an optimal sports diet:
Amount of exercise/day gram carb/lb. body wt gram carb/kg body wt
1 hour moderate exercise 2.5 to 3 5-7
1-3 h endurance exercise 2.5 to 4.5 6-10
>4-5 h extreme exercise 3.5 to 5.5 8-12

For a 150-lb athlete who trains hard 1 hour a day and remains somewhat active the rest of the day, the target intake should be 375 to 450 grams carb/day. That’s at least 90 g (360 calories) carb per meal and 50 g (200 cals) carb at each of two snacks. This is more carbs than in the ever-popular (low-carb) breakfast protein shake with a few berries, a lunchtime spinach salad, and a dinner with a pile of broccoli but no rice. Here’s what 375 grams of carbohydrate looks like (without the protein and fat that balances the diet):

Breakfast: 1 cup dry oats (50g) + 1 banana (25g) + 1 T honey (15g)

Lunch: 2 slices whole wheat bread (46g) + 1 can Progresso lentil soup (60g)

Snack:  1/3 cup raisins (40g) + 1 Tbsp dark chocolate chips (10)

Dinner:  1.5 c cooked brown rice (65g) + 14-oz bag frozen broccoli (20g)

Snack: 8 ounces vanilla Greek yogurt (20) + 1 Nature Valley Granola Bar (30)

While I am sure many of you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, “I could never eat that many carbs without getting fat,” this is an appropriate carb intake, believe it or not, and these 1,500 carb-calories can fit into your day’s 2,500+ calorie budget. I invite you to be curious and experiment. How much better can you train with an appropriate carb intake?

  1. Carbohydrates are not fattening. Despite popular belief, carbohydrates are not inherently fattening. Excess calories at the end of the day are fattening. Excess calories of carbs (bread, bagels, pasta) are actually less fattening than are excess calories of fat (butter, salad oil, cheese). That’s because converting excess calories of carbohydrate into body fat requires more energy than does converting excess calories of dietary fat into body fat.
  2. Avoiding carbs can lead to food binges. By routinely including carbs in your daily sports diet, you take the power away from them and will be less likely to binge. That is, if you “cut out carbs” but then succumb to eating the entire breadbasket and the mountain of pasta when at a restaurant, you are doing what I call last chance eating. You know, last chance to eat bread and pasta so I’d better stuff them in today because my no-carb diet restarts tomorrow. (Ugh.)
  3. Quality carbs (fruits, vegetables, grains and beans) promote a healthy microbiome, which reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Fiber-rich carbs feed the zillions of microbes that live in your gut. These microbes have an incredible influence on your mood, weight, immune system, and overall health. Every major medical association recommends we consume a strong intake of fruits, veggies and whole grains. Do athletes on a low carb diet miss out on these health benefits? TBD.
  4. Carbohydrate adds pleasure to your sports diet. Is something wrong with eating some yummy foods, like pasta and bagels? How about chocolate milk for a fun recovery food? Given that 10% of daily calories can come from refined added sugars, most athletes have about 240-300 calories (60 to 75g) of added sugar a day in their calorie budget. You can easily ingest that sugar via sport drinks, gels, and sweetened protein shakes. You can also enjoy one or two cookies or a slice of birthday cake—guilt-free.

Carb abuse is the bigger problem than carbs in moderation. The easiest way to prevent carb abuse is to eat satiating breakfasts and lunches (with carbs + protein) that fill your tummy, prevent afternoon hunger, and curb cravings for sugary sweets later in the day. Preventing hunger minimizes the cravings that give carbs a bad name in the first place. Give it a try?


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.

Energy Bars: Which ones are best?

Athletes have many questions about energy bars:

Which ones are best?

That depends on your taste buds. The best energy bars are the ones you enjoy eating, settle well for a pre-exercise energy booster, and fulfill your dietary needs.

Are they better than Fig Newtons or other traditional foods?

Like Fig Newtons, they are a source of carbohydrate to fuel your body and nutrients to invest in your health. They are pre-wrapped and convenient to toss into a gym bag or backpack without crumbling.

Are they just glorified cookies?

For the most part, yes. For athletes, little is wrong with a few (sugar-containing) cookies/energy bars when balanced into an overall healthy eating pattern. Sugar (carbohydrate) in a sports diet fuels muscles. As a fit person, your muscles take up the sugar and use it to power your workouts. Please focus more on what comes with the sugar: whole grains? protein? fiber?


Today’s overwhelming assortment of energy bars offers an option for every dietary niche, be it vegan, kosher, low FODMAP, nut-free, etc.. Below is a list that categorizes the bars and might help you find ones that suit your dietary preferences.  The key is to remember that energy bars are not meal replacements, but rather emergency food that comes pre-wrapped. Be sure there are some banana peels and apple cores in your wastebasket, and not just wrappers.

Additive-free (that is, no added vitamins or minerals): Clif Mojo & Nectar, Epic, Good Greens, Gnu, Honey Stinger Waffle, Kashi, KIND, Larabar, Optimum, Peak Energy, Perfect 10, PowerBar Nut Naturals, ProBar, Pure, Raw Revolution, Red Square Power-flax, RX, thinkThin, Trail Mix Honey-bar, Zing

Budget friendly: Nutri-Grain, Nature Valley Granola, Kashi Chewy, Quaker Chewy

Caffeine-containing: Better than Coffee, Clif CoolMint Chocolate, Clif Peanut Toffee Razz, Honey Stinger Caffeinated, Peak Energy Plus, Picky Bar Game-Set-Matcha, Verb

Dairy-free (see also Vegan): Bonk Breaker, Bumble Bar, Clif Builder’s & Nectar, Enjoy Life, GoMacro, KIND, Larabar, Perfect 10, Picky, RX, thinkThin Crunch, Vega Endurance

Enriched/Fortified with added vitamins: Balance, ZonePerfect

Fiber, high (grams fiber): Fiber One Chewy (5-6g), Gnu Flavor & Fiber (12g), NuGo Fiber d’Lish (12 g), Oat-mega (7g), Quest (13-14g), thinkThin Protein and Fiber Bar (5g)

GUT-Friendly, Low FODMAP: Fody, GoMacro Peanut Butter Protein Replenishment, EnjoyLife Dark Chocolate (and some other flavors), GoodBelly, Happy

energy bar nutritionGluten-free: Bonk Breaker, BumbleBar, Elev8Me, Enjoy Life, Enjoy Life, EnviroKidz Rice Cereal, Fody, Good Belly, GoMacro, Hammer, KIND, Lara, Picky, PowerBar Protein Plus, Pure Protein, ProBar, RX, Quest, Raw Revolution, That’s It Fruit, thinkThin, Truwomen, Zing, 88 Acres Seed and Oat.

Low-carb: OhYeah! One, Pure Protein, Quest, Keto

Kosher:  GoMacro, Extend, Larabar, Pure Fit, ReNew Life Organic Energy, thinkThin, Truwomen

Nut-free: Don’t Go Nuts, Enjoy Life, Freeyumm, Go Raw, Honey Stinger Waffle, Jumpstarter Bodyfuel, Luna Bar Lemon Zest, That’s It, 88 Acres Seed & Oat

Organic: Cascadian Farm, Clif, Pure, GoMacro, Red Square Powerflax

Peanut-free: Clif, Truwomen (some flavors), Enjoy Life

Protein Bar (Your choice of soy, whey, egg, or blended protein source) (grams protein): Clif Builder (20g), Gatorade Whey Protein Bar (20g), GoMacro Protein Replenishment (10-12g) Honey Stinger Protein (10g), Lenny & Larry’s Muscle Brownie (20g), NuGo (10-12g), Oatmega (14g), PowerBar ProteinPlus (30g), PowerCrunch (13g), Pure Protein (20g), Quest (21g), RX (12g), thinkThin Protein (20g)

Raw: Good Greens, Pure, Raw Revolution, Vega Whole Food Raw Energy Bar

Recovery bar (3-4 g carb to 1 g protein ratio): Clif, KIND Breakfast Protein, PowerBar Performance, Picky, RX

Soy free: BumbleBar, Clif Nectar, Enjoy Life Chewy, GoRaw, KIND, Larabar, NuGo Fiber d’Lish, Oat-mega, Picky, ProBar, Pure, Quest, Raw Revolution, Vega Endurance, Zing

Vegan: (grams protein): Clif (most flavors; 11g), Clif Builder’s (20g), Go Macro (11g), Good Greens (10g), Hammer Vegan (15g), Larabar (5g)  Picky (7g), Pure Organic (4g), ProBar (8-11g), thinkThin High Protein (some flavors are vegan; 13g), Truwomen (12g), Vega (10g), 88 Acres Seed & Oat (6g)

Women’s bars (fewer calories; added calcium, iron, and folic acid): Healthwarrior Chia, Iron Girl Energy, Larabar, Luna, PowerBar Pria. Truwomen

40-30-30 Bars: Balance, ZonePerfect

My suggestion for the best bars

Google homemade energy bars and you will see many yummy, healthy, cook-free and simple-to-make options. These are likely the best bars, in terms of taste, positive ingredients, and lack of litter. Enjoy!

Recipe for Homemade Energy Bar from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Sweet and Crispy Nut Bars

These bars can be made with almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, or other chopped nut or seed of your choice. Whether eating them for breakfast on the run, a preexercise snack, or an afternoon treat, you’ll enjoy these crispy bars.

When measuring the honey, add a little more than the 1/2 cup, so the mixture sticks together better. You’ll need to pack the ingredients firmly into the pan; otherwise the bars will fall apart (but the crumbs are tasty—especially in yogurt or sprinkled on top of your morning bowl of cereal).

  • 2 cups uncooked oats
  • 2 cups Rice Crispies or puffed brown rice cereal
  • 1 cup peanuts ((preferably chopped briefly in a food processor)) or slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup (heaping) honey
  • 1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cooking Instructions

  1. Lightly coat a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, Rice Crispies, and peanuts or slivered almonds.
  3. In a medium microwavable bowl, combine the honey and nut butter. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Slowly pour the nut butter mixture over the cereal, stirring until all the ingredients are well coated.
  5. Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly while still warm. (Butter your fingers so the mixture does not stick to them.) Cool to room temperature.
  6. Cut into 20 bars and store them in an airtight container. (If you keep the bars in the refrigerator, they will be sturdier because the nut butter hardens.)

Yield: 20 servings
Nutrition information: 3,400 total calories; 170 calories per serving; 24 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 6 g fat

Article reprinted with permission from Nancy Clark.


Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes in the Boston area (Newton, 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: www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

apple-world

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.

Reference:

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.

References

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).

FUELING DURING 

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.

FUELING AFTER 

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?

HYDRATION

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.

ALTITUDE  

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…

CONCUSSIONS

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.

INJURIES   

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!

WEIGHT

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.

NITRATES  

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.