Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Complete protein combos: Why vegetarians/vegans should care

When I have vegetarians or vegans come see me, most are concerned that they might not be meeting their overall macro- and micronutrient needs not only for general health, but for athletic performance as well. When assessing their intake, one topic we often discuss is complete protein combinations at meals and snacks. But what are complete proteins and why does it matter?

What are complete protein combinations (the science)?
Protein is made up of amino acids (you probably learned that these are the "building blocks" of protein in high school). There are 9 essential amino acids. An amino acid is essential if the body does not make it on its own, meaning you must consume food that contains these 9 amino acids. Most animal proteins naturally contain all 9 essential amino acids in enough amounts that they can stand alone as good quality protein options for meals and snacks. However, many plant sources of protein have what is called a "limiting" amino acid, or an amino acid that is in a relatively low amount. The idea behind consuming complete protein combinations means combining foods that together provide an adequate amount of all 9 essential amino acids. So together they "complement" eachother's limiting amino acid, bringing the total between the two foods to an adequate amount for all 9 essential amino acids.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Muscle cramps cramping your performance?

I often have athletes in my office who complain of muscle cramping. They wonder what they can do to ward them off. If only the answer was clear. Unfortunately it's not always apparent what might be "cramping your style"....

What are muscle cramps?
The exact reason why muscles cramp is unclear. It’s difficult to distinguish a single culprit, but improper training, stretching or carbohydrate intake techniques are sometimes the source. However, another common reason is an imbalance of electrolytes in the muscle may predispose the muscle to cramping. Electrolytes are present to help muscles contract and relax appropriately during exercise. You have probably heard the term “electrolytes” in sports drink or recovery drink advertisements. This is because during exercise the body can lose a substantial amount of electrolytes in sweat (mainly sodium). If these are not replaced in the right amounts, it creates an imbalance within the muscle, locking the muscle in a painful spasm.

Why would someone have problems with cramping?
If due to a nutritional imbalance, poor hydration habits can lead to muscle cramping. The most common is an infatuation with drinking only water during exercise. While this is fine during moderate or even semi-intense short-term (lasting <60 minutes) exercise, athletes completing prolonged vigorous exercise – especially more than 90 minutes at a time – need more than just water because they are losing more than just water. There can also be a substantial amount of electrolytes lost with water during sweating. Athletes who are particularly heavy sweaters or exercise for long periods of time need to be cognizant of this fact. Other hydration-related habits that can increase the likelihood of developing muscle cramping is exercising in hot and/or humid environments when the athlete is not acclimated or simply not drinking enough of anything during exercise – water or not.

How does one prevent muscle cramping?
Plan ahead and don’t drink just water during or after heavy exercise. This will assure that you are replacing your body’s electrolyte losses. During exercise, use a sports drink or diluted 100% fruit juice (half water, half juice) with added salt. Particularly heavy sweaters may need something with extra electrolytes such as Gatorade Endurance, or may choose to add a separate electrolyte supplement to their regular sports drink, such as Nuun tabs. Read my blog here for more information.
After exercise, you may need to continue that sports drink or instead use a recovery drink such as low-fat chocolate milk. Assure you are also getting enough potassium in your daily diet from foods such as pinto and kidney beans, bananas, tomatoes, spinach, cantaloupe, and milk. To maintain sodium levels, some athletes may need to use the salt shaker liberally at meals or eat salty foods such as pretzels, pickles, or canned foods. But remember, these types of recommendations are very individual and don’t apply to every athlete or even every day of the training year.

If you are having problems with muscle cramping during or in the hours after exercise, it’s important to re-evaluate your hydration plan before, during, and after exercise. Muscle cramping may be COMMON in athletes, but it is not smart and it IS preventable.

Be Extraordinary,


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Eating Fast Food: Meals that Work

Try as we might, there just comes a time when fast food may be the only option. Perhaps it is when you are running from one practice to the next with only 15 minutes to eat or when you have 20 minutes to eat dinner before a late-night meeting. Knowing what to order can ease your confusion, worry and stress. Fast food doesn't have to ruin your training, provided you choose wisely and stick to only one time a day only once in a while. So here are some options.............

McDonalds: Egg McMuffin, snack-size fruit & walnut tray, black coffee [510 Kcal, 61gm carb, 21 gm protein, 20 gm fat (6gm saturated)] 

Starbucks: Turkey bacon and white cheddar classic breakfast sandwich, 16 oz. caffe latte with nonfat milk and sugar-free syrup (if desired) [460 Kcal, 63 gm carb, 30gm protein, 7gm fat (2 gm saturated)]

Panera: Steel cut oatmeal with strawberries & pecans, 16 oz. cappuccino [440 Kcal, 57 gm carb, 14 gm protein, 18.5 gm fat (4.5 gm saturated)]

McDonald's: Premium grilled chicken classic sandwich, fruit & yogurt parfait, side salad with oil-based dressing on side (i.e. Balsamic Vinaigrette), water [520 Kcal, 75 gm carb, 33 gm protein, 11gm fat (3 gm saturated)]

Subway: 6" roast beef on 9-grain wheat with Swiss cheese, plenty of veggies and olive oil blend; pair with 1 pkg apple slices, water [455 Kcal, 54 gm carb, 28 gm protein, 14 gm fat (5 gm saturated)] 

Einstein Bagels: Tuscan chicken pesto bagel thin sandwich, fruit and yogurt parfait, water [510 Kcal, 66 gm carb, 32 gm protein, 14 gm fat (4.5 gm saturated)] **this place has terrible food from a nutritional perspective; it was hard to find a meal that worked here!

Noodles & Co.: Small Bangkok Curry with sauteed shrimp, side salad with fat-free Asian vinaigrette, side of edamame, water [475 Kcal, 60 gm carb, 28 gm protein, 13 gm fat (5 gm saturated)]

Chipotle: Burrito bowl with chicken, brown rice, tomato salsa, fajita veggies and lettuce; water, and bring a piece of fruit from home... [395 Kcal, 56 gm carb, 37 gm protein, 11 gm fat (3 gm saturated)] **Do not recommend eating here if you are watching your sodium intake!

Wendy's: Large chili, side salad with pomegranate vinaigrette dressing and no croutons, 1 pkg apple slices, unsweetened iced tea [430 kcal, 53 gm carb, 27 gm protein, 13 gm fat (4 gm saturated)] **Again this is also relatively high in sodium compared to other choices listed above!

In order to keep the macronutrient and sodium levels reasonable, notice that overall total calories often is low at only 400-500 Kcal. Your needs per meal are dependant on your body weight, current training regimen and performance goals. So, only use these meal options as a guideline. What I often tell my athletes is to keep healthy sides with them - in the car or office - so that they can start with one of the base meals above and then add things like fruit, veggies or unsalted nuts to increase the overall caloric intake without overdoing it on sodium and saturated fat.

Be Extraordinary,