Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is Beetroot Juice the Answer to Your Performance Woes?

In the sports world, many supplements come and go - some are food-based and others...not so much. A recent food-based player is beetroot juice or beetroot powder. Companies such as Beet Elite and Beet Boost sell powdered beetroot that can be mixed into water and taken like a shot 30-60 minutes before exercise. But what is beetroot juice, why all the hype and does it really improve performance?

Nitric Oxide
Beetroot juice or powder is a source of nitrate, which is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide regulates blood flow and muscle contraction within the body. Higher levels of nitric oxide equals more oxygen to flow to the muscles. This can be beneficial for athletes because better blood flow means better oxygen supply to working muscles, allowing the athlete to push harder for longer instead of hitting the wall too soon. However, beets are not the only food source of nitrates. Other vegetables considered high in nitrates (over 250 mg/100gm fresh weight) include celery, arugula, rhubarb, butterhead lettuce and spinach.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Runner’s Cramps: Why You Get Them and How You Can Prevent Them

runner's cramps: how to prevent them
Thanks to Jessica Bratko from Athletico for the interview and writing of today's blog post!

Most runners have experienced it: your run is going smoothly and you’re feeling great, then all of a sudden you succumb to the dreaded side stitch, calf cramp or that feeling of “having to go.” Muscle and stomach issues can stop a runner dead in their tracks. With varying spring temperatures, muscle cramps are more common, as there is little opportunity to adjust to the change in weather.

Even with all advances in modern science, the true cause of exercise-induced cramps is still widely misunderstood. Kate Davis, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, consultant sports dietitian/nutritionist and owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition in Naperville, Illinois provides great insight regarding why cramps may occur while running. Kate has had numerous experiences working with institutions like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, as well as the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO and IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. Check out what she had to say below to learn how to minimize, prevent, and act quickly when cramps occur.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to plan and grow a performance-enhancing garden

In the Midwest, it is almost outdoor vegetable garden time! Those who start seedlings inside have already begun the process; outside planting generally begins around Memorial Day Weekend. While you wait, now is a great time to plan your garden. Here are some tips to help you plant a successful and performance-enhancing garden.

1. Determine your garden location
Here is a great resource for choosing a smart site for your garden. In short, choose a spot with plenty of sunshine and with access to a water source. Don't plant next to a large tree or shrub, as the plant will not only create shade but also take nutrients from the soil. Once you have determined your spot, the soil quality makes a huge difference. However, to best know what to add to the soil to make it great for planting, do a soil test. Soil testing is the best way to know where your soil falls short in nutrient content. It also will make the actual gardening part easier since you have already perfected the soil.

2. Find your planting zone calendar
To know when each vegetable can be planted or transplanted, find a planting zone calendar for your location. A quick internet search for "garden planting zone" will bring up many links that allow you to enter your zip code to find your zone number. Once you have your zone number, you can find a planting zone calendar like this one

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Does coconut oil improve athletic performance?

As coconut oil has gained in popularity, articles written on the possible health benefits of this oil have skyrocketed. Coconut oil has been labeled as everything from a weight loss supplement to a cure for cancer and facial moisturizer. Yet, the numbers of reliable clinical trials to back up these claims are scarce. In this post I am going to focus on a claim targeted towards athletes: “coconut oil improves athletic performance”… doesn’t it?

Coconut oil is primarily made up of saturated fats. There are three categories of saturated fats: short chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids, and long chain fatty acids. The length of chain refers to the number of carbon atoms present, 6 or fewer (short), 8-10 (medium), or 12 or more (long). Coconut oil contains 63% medium chain saturated fatty acids, 30% long chain saturated fatty acids, and 7% long chain unsaturated fatty acids. Primarily made up of saturated fats, this composition sets coconut oil apart from other oils, especially in the oil’s medium chain triglyceride (MCT) content. Many researchers believe the MCT content is what gives coconut oil health-boosting properties.

The abbreviation, MCT, may sound familiar. Like coconut oil, MCT oil has emerged as a dietary supplement. While MCTs are naturally present in coconut oil, palm oil, human breast milk, and full fat cows or goats milk, pure MCT oil is hydrolyzed from palm and coconut oil.

Medium chain triglycerides are more readily absorbed in the intestines compared to long chain triglycerides. For this reason, MCT supplementation is commonly prescribed to cystic fibrosis or epilepsy patients, and those with conditions that affect nutrient absorption in the intestines.

Some scientists claim that replacing long chain triglycerides with MCTs in one’s diet can aid in weight loss through fat oxidation and improved thermogenesis. Compared to LCTs, a meta-analyses published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found a diet including MCTs over an average of ten weeks reduced total body fat, subcutaneous fat, and visceral fat as well as waist and hip circumferences. However, no significant difference in blood lipids was found between diets containing LCTs or MCTs. While a diet high in MCTs may actually help with fat loss, MCTs are just as high in calories as other fats. Therefore, if not consumed in moderation, MCTs can cause weight gain. 

With easier absorption plus increased fat oxidation and thermogenesis, can MCT oil improve athlete performance? Many internet articles claim MCT oil to be beneficial to endurance athletes. Websites such as want to convince you that MCT oil supplementation is a must for athletic performance; however, four published clinical trials say otherwise.

The first study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism measured the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) and maximum aerobic capacity (VO2) in eight ultra-endurance cyclists. The cyclists performed at timed intervals on two separate occasions. During the first set of timed intervals, the cyclists were given either 75g of carbohydrate or 32g of pure MCT oil, followed by 200mL of a 20% carbohydrate solution or a 4.3% MCT + 10% carbohydrate solution every 20 minutes during the intervals. Results found no difference in RER or V02 between the MCT and carbohydrate trials. GI symptoms occurred in 50% of the MCT trials.

The second study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included seven cyclists that performed four separate exercise trials while consuming either a 10% carbohydrate solution, 10% carbohydrate-electrolyte + 5% MCT solution, a 5% MCT solution, or a placebo. Results found no differences in performance between the carbohydrate, carbohydrate + MCT, and placebo solutions. However, the MCT solution had a negative effect on performance with a 17-18% lower rate than the other solutions. Plus, the carbohydrate + MCT and MCT-only solutions did not raise the rates of fat or carbohydrate oxidation or utilization. GI symptoms occurred in association with MCT solutions.

The third study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness assessed trained runners that performed a maximal and endurance treadmill test after consuming a dietary supplement containing either 56g of corn (LCT) oil or 60g of MCT oil for two weeks. After the tests, the runner’s blood was taken to measure blood concentrations of lactate, glucose, beta-HBA, free fatty acids, glycerol, and triacylglycerols. Respiratory exchange rate (RER) was measured during exercise and performance was measured by length of run before exhaustion.  Results found no difference in blood concentrations between the LCT and MCT trials. No significant difference in RER or performance was found between the two trials.

The fourth study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition measured blood concentrations of free fatty acids and beta-HBA, and exercise performance in 9 cyclists consuming either a 10% carbohydrate solution, 10% carbohydrate + 1.72% MCT, or 10% carbohydrate + 3.44% MCT solution. Cyclists consumed 400ml at the start of exercise and an additional 100ml every 10 minutes. Results found the consumption of MCT solutions raised blood concentrations of free fatty acids and beta-HBA. There was no difference in performance between the carbohydrate and carbohydrate + MCT groups. No gastrointestinal symptoms were reported.

The bottom line: coconut oil is a 90% saturated oil with a high MCT content. MCTs have potential health benefits, and can be hydrolyzed from coconut oil to produce pure MCT oil. Currently, research does not support that coconut oil or pure MCT oil supplementation enhances athletic performance.

This post written by: Ellen Wittneben, RDKate Dietetic Intern

Your Nutrition Coach,


Did the low-fat era make us fat? PBS. 2008. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2016.

St-Onge, M-P, Bosarge, A, Goree, LLT, Darnell, B. Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil Consumption as Part of a Weight Loss Diet Does Not Lead to an Adverse Metabolic Profile When Compared to Olive Oil. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2008;27(5):547–552.

Goedecke, JH, Clark, VR, Noakes, TD, Lambert, EV. The effects of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion on ultra-endurance exercise performance. International journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2005;15(1):15–27. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2016.

Jeukendrup, AE, Thielen, JJ, Wagenmakers, AJ, Brouns, SF, Saris, WH. Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998;67(3):397–404. Available at: Accessed March 17, 2016.

Misell, LM, Lagomarcino, ND, Schuster, V, Kern, M. Chronic medium-chain triacylglycerol consumption and endurance performance in trained runners. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2001;41(2):210–215.

Goedecke, JH, Elmer-English, R, Dennis, SC, Scholss, I, Noakes, TD, Lambert, EV. Effects of medium-chain triaclyglycerol ingested with carbohydrate on metabolism and exercise performance. International Journal of Sports Nutrition. 1999;9(1):35–47.

Mumme, K, Stonehouse, W. Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;115(2):249–263.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sleeping your way to better sports performance

We all know we need more sleep. Whether it is a gentle reminder at our yearly doctor visit or that daily rush of fatigue at 2pm, sleep is something we should all prioritize just a bit more. But in a world of too many things to do and not enough time, I often see athletes push sleep to the back burner, slowly decreasing how many hours they will dedicate to getting that shut eye. However, athletes need to understand that sleep is imperative to not only improve athletic performance, but also help reach body composition goals. Here are three reasons why adequate sleep (an average of 7-9 hours nightly if you are 18 or older - more if you are younger) is so important:

1. Recovery
Sleep is when the body performs the majority of recovery from the day. This could be recovery from the high intensity workout you had that afternoon or recovery from the high pressure meeting you had that morning. Giving your body that recovery time is imperative to help your muscles adapt (which means that training actually improves your performance) and to protect your immune system function (which means you don't get sick as often). This allows you to wake up feeling rested and ready to work out again the next day.