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muesli with fresh fruits as diet food

To Eat—or Not to Eat: The Pre-Exercise Question

What should I eat before I exercise?

That’s the question athletes of all ages and abilities most commonly ask when I’m presenting a sports nutrition workshop. While most people expect a simple response, such as “Eat a banana” or “Have a slice of toast,” the answer is actually complex and depends on many factors. After all, we are each an experiment of one.

The following information can help you figure out the best way to fuel your body before you exercise.

Does what you eat within 30 minutes of exercise offer performance benefits?

Your body can actually digest and use the food you eat before you exercise as long as you are exercising at a pace you can maintain for more than 30 minutes. Research also suggests that eating a snack just five minutes before moderate exercise can improve performance compared to exercising on empty. Yet, if you will be doing intense exercise—an erg test, track workout, or heavy weight lifting session, you should experiment to determine the best time to eat. You will likely feel more comfortable allowing two or three hours for your pre-exercise food to digest and empty from the stomach.

Will pre-exercise food cause heartburn or nausea?

While many people can comfortably tolerate pre-exercise food, others experience stomach distress. If the food you eat within the hour pre-exercise “talks back to you,” figure out:

  1. Does the discomfort happen if you allow two or more hours for the pre-exercise food to be digested?
  2. Does the type of food cause the problem? That is, do a few pretzels settle well but a cup of yogurt feels acidic?
  3. Did you eat too much? Would half a bagel with a skimming of peanut butter digest better than the whole bagel?
  4. Are you doing very high intensity work? If so, your stomach will shut down and your body will want to get rid of the contents….

What if I exercise in the early morning, before my stomach is awake?

If you drag yourself out of bed to exercise at early o’thirty, before your body and your mind are fully awake, you might not want to eat much of anything. I know of chocolate-breakfastmany rowers, runners, swimmers, and ice hockey players who eat their breakfast the night before. That is, instead of eating a bowl of cereal at 5:30 a.m., they enjoy it at 10:00 pm, before going to bed. This food helps them wake up in the morning with a normal blood glucose (blood sugar) level, and provides energy for an enjoyable and effective workout.

What if pre-exercise food contributes to diarrhea and undesired pit stops?

Food generally takes one or two days to travel through the intestinal tract. Hence, an undesired pit-stop during a long run on Sunday might relate to food that you ate the day or two before. That is, if you ate an unusually large bowl of high-fiber bran cereal on Saturday when carbo-loading for the Sunday long run, you might end up wishing you’d carbo-loaded on low-fiber corn flakes or Rice Chex. Or maybe that bean burrito on Friday night caused the problem? You can try tracking your food and fiber intake, looking for suspicious patterns.

In general, exercise speeds up intestinal motility. With time, most bodies can adjust if you train your intestines to handle pre-exercise food. For example, one runner started by nibbling on one pre-exercise pretzel, and then two, and gradually built up his tolerance to the suggested 100 to 300 calories of carbs consumed within the hour pre-exercise. He enjoyed the benefits of feeling stronger at the end of his runs.

Should I purposefully not eat before I exercise because I want to lose weight while I exercise?

towel, dumbbells, apples and water bottle isolated on whiteOne client reported she didn’t eat before she went to the gym because she was exercising to burn calories. Why would she want to add calories to her diet? Wouldn’t that defeat the main purpose of her workouts?

Think again: If you consume 100 to 300 calories before you workout, you will be able to exercise harder, at higher intensity and burn more calories than if you schlep through the session on fumes, with little enthusiasm or enjoyment. (Plus, you will not be as hungry afterwards and will be able to refrain from over-indulging.) Trust me, the plan to exercise-on-empty is hard to sustain; it is not fun. Just notice the drop-off in attendance at the gym between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1…

Food is fuel. As an athlete or a fitness exerciser, you need to fuel your body appropriately—including pre-exercise. Just as you put gas in your car before you take it for a drive, you want to put fuel in your body before you embark on a busy day. Be as nice to your body as you are to your car, please!

By eating nothing before my morning workout, won’t I burn more fat?

You may have heard you can burn more fat during low-level “fat burning exercise” if you do not eat beforehand. Yes, you might burn more fat than carbohydrates, but burning fat differs from losing body fat. You lose body fat when, at the end of your day, you have created a calorie deficit. That is, you will lose body fat (weight) if you have eaten only 1,800 calories by bedtime, even though you burned off 2,200 calories during the day. By fueling pre-exercise, you can have a better workout—and perhaps burn more calories than if you were to run on fumes.

To lose body fat, I suggest you fuel adequately by day, so you will have energy to enjoy an active lifestyle, and then lose weight at night by eating a lighter dinner. Fueling by day and dieting by night (so you lose weight when you are sleeping), is far preferable to restricting by day only to over-indulge at night due to extreme hunger.

Can training on empty enhance endurance?

Some recent research suggests that highly competitive athletes might be able to enhance their performance if they train under-fueled a few times a week. These depletion workouts can alter muscle metabolism so that the muscles are able to compete better when fully fueled.

If you want to “train low,” be sure to do your important high intensity workouts when you are well fueled. You cannot (enjoyably) exercise hard when you are running on fumes. Your performance will suffer unless you do some high quality hard workouts when you are well fueled.

From The Athlete’s Kitchen; Copyright: Nancy Clark, September 2014

wheatiesBoston-area sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD offers one-on-one consults with both casual and competitive athletes. Her private practice is in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). For information about her Sports Nutrition Guidebook (2014) and food guides for runners, cyclists and soccer players, see www.nancyclarkrd.com. For online education, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com

Todays Dietitian1

Freezing Blueberries Improves Antioxidant Availability

Blueberries pack a powerful antioxidant punch, whether eaten fresh or from the freezer, according to South Dakota State University graduate Marin Plumb. Anthocyanins, a group of antioxidant compounds, are responsible for the color in blueberries, she explains. Since most of the color is in the skin, freezing the blueberries actually improves the availability of the antioxidants.


ADHD, Athletes & Appetite Issues

Many teens and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are great athletes. In elementary school, they may not have been good at sitting quietly, but they certainly could excel at sports. Many found exercise had a calming, centering effect. With maturation, exercise still helps them get through their school/workday.

Athletes with ADHD often have trouble organizing an effective fueling protocol, including the basic tasks of shopping for and preparing food, as well as having the right foods available at the right times.  This can create problems with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and hunger that gets disguised as inability to concentrate, stay focused on a task, edginess, hot temper, and reduced athletic performance. Athletes with ADHD often disregard these symptoms, thinking they relate to their ADHD diagnosis, not hunger and poor diet.

ADHD medicationsDiet and healthy food

Athletes with ADHD often take appetite-killing meds that easily disrupt normal fueling cycles and contribute to fluctuations in energy. Athletes need steady energy to be able to concentrate and perform at their best. Hence, athletes with ADHD need to vigilantly monitor their bodies for early signs of hunger, including feeling fatigued or moody. Some may seek an energy drink such as Red Bull or some coffee, but the solution is not caffeine. They need fuel!

When athletes with ADHD miss meals due to lack of planning, they often end up craving sweets—a sign the body is too hungry and wants a sugar-fix. They can then easily succumb to overindulging in cookies, candy, and other so-called “junk foods.” This may happen at 10:00 pm, after their appetite-suppressing meds have worn off, and this can disrupt normal sleep patterns, as well as kill their appetite for their breakfast and that perpetuates a bad eating cycle.

What’s an athlete with ADHD to do?

The information below is helpful for any athlete – not just those with ADHD…

  • Take mealtimes seriously. If you can find the time to train and compete, you can also find the time to fuel right. In fact, all competitive athletes who don’t show up for meals might as well not show up for events. Everyone loses his or her competitive edge with hit-or-miss fueling.
  • Fuel your body on a regular schedule by eating even-sized meals at least every four hours. If meds curb your appetite, plan to eat by the clock, and not by (non-existent) hunger. If necessary, set the alarm on your watch or cell phone. If the sight or small of food makes you nauseous, try cold beverages such as a fruit smoothie with additional protein powder.
  • Organize your eating into four “food buckets.” Consume the contents of a bucket every four hours, either as a meal (Breakfast, Early Lunch, Late Lunch, and Dinner) or as smaller mini-meals based on wholesome foods, not sweets.

For most athletes, each meal/food bucket should be the caloric equivalent of two or three slices of pizza. That’s about 500 to 800 calories per bucket (or 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day), depending on your body size, sport, and energy needs. For athletes on appetite-curbing ADHD meds, the breakfast bucket should be the biggest bucket and incorporates some of the lunch calories that will otherwise get left uneaten.

The following sample menu has 4 food buckets that offer a steady supply of energy for an ADHD high school athlete:

Time Bucket Sample meal
7:00 Breakfast Bagel + peanut butter + tall glass milk + banana
OR 3-egg omelet (lowfat cheese,veg) + toast + fruit
Better bet if unable to stomach all of lunch:
Bagel & peanut butter + omelet + milk + banana
11:00* Lunch #1 Tuna sandwich/whole wheat bread + string cheese  + milk
3:00* Lunch #2 Pre-exercise: Energy bar + apple
Recovery: Dried fruit & nuts + pretzels
7:00 Dinner Chicken + brown rice + veggies + milk

* Remember: If you take ADHD meds, you may not feel hungry but your body still needs fuel. Figure out what you can eat, regardless!

• Eat BEFORE your appetite-killing meds kick in. Again, figure out how to front-load your calories. For example, one athlete with ADHD started eating a hearty sandwich for breakfast. Another enjoyed “planned overs” from dinner the night before. By front-loading, they felt calmer during the day, had better workouts in the afternoon, and were better able to focus on the task at hand.

nutrition-coach-foundations• Plan to fill your food buckets with foods in their natural state, and limit your intake of highly processed foods. Some health professionals believe additives and food coloring in processed foods can trigger hyperactivity in certain people. Plus, highly processed foods often offer less nutritional value and fewer health benefits. Shop for fresh foods along the outside aisles of the grocery store: fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats, low fat dairy, and whole grain breads.

• Include a protein-rich food in each food bucket, such as eggs, cottage cheese, peanut butter, lowfat cheese, Greek yogurt, turkey/cheese roll-ups. Again, nothing is wrong with having dinner for breakfast; enjoy that cheeseburger and oven-baked “French fries” and then roll the scrambled eggs and cheese into a wrap for lunch. Protein is satiating and helps stabilize blood sugar. A trail mix made with nuts and dried fruit is another option with compact calories for easy nibbling.

Make a shopping list before you go to the grocery store, and shop after having eaten a meal. That enhances your chances of choosing more of the best sports foods, and less of the rest. Examples include: orange juice rather than sports drink; oranges instead of orange juice; oatmeal (served with a little honey) instead of frosted flakes (with a lot of sugar); whole-wheat bread rather than white bread; scrambled eggs instead of Eggo waffles; baked potatoes in place of French fries; plain yogurt sweetened with maple syrup instead of pre-sweetened yogurt; trail mix rather than M&Ms; protein bars rather than candy bars.

Not only for athletes with ADHD

If you find yourself edgy and unable to focus in the afternoon, experiment with reorganizing your meals and snacks into four (calorically-equal) food buckets and notice the benefits: better focus, fewer cravings for “sweets”—and better performance.

For more information about management of ADHD in kids and adults: http://www.additudemag.com

Reprinted from The Athlete’s Kitchen, August 2014
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD 

Boston-area sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes. Her private practice is in Newton, MA; 617-795-1875). For information about her new Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 5th edition, see nancyclarkrd.com. For online education, also see sportsnutritionworkshop.com.

Prominent MS Blogger Features Interview with MFN Founder

Matt Cavallo is one of the top bloggers in the Multiple Sclerosis community. Having been diagnosed in 2005, Matt has worked to turn his disease into an inspirational story for others with MS and other chronic illness. Through his blog, books, and motivational speaking engagements, Matt has not only worked to raise awareness for both patients and providers with his deeply personal journey, but has inspired people to take control of their illness and begin the journey to living well.

Arthritis & Physical Therapy

The Mayo Clinic defines “Arthritis” as inflammation of one or more joints, whose main symptoms are joint pain and stiffness. The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) is typically caused by wear and tear, and is often termed “degenerative change.” Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder.

Nearly all of us will have OA as we age and wear down our joints. That does not mean, however, that we must have pain. There are plenty of folks who have significant evidence of arthritis but zero to minimal discomfort. If we can avoid aggravating our arthritic joints, (i.e. minimize inflammation), we can often limit our misery.

The goal of arthritis treatment is primarily to reduce symptoms of pain, inflammation, and swelling. Physical therapists accomplish this in various ways, including manual (hands-on) techniques, exercise (painfree gentle movement, often in gravity-reduced or eliminated situations like on a stationary bike or in water), and modalities (ice, heat, electrical stimulation, etc.). PTs also educate patients re: prevention and management of symptoms, joint protection (with splints, braces, etc.), and use of assistive devices (crutches, walkers, canes). Exercise consists of range-of-motion exercise to maintain joint mobility and strengthening exercises to improve joint stability.

Each patient may respond differently, so the key is to find out what works best for each individual and go from there.

References: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research