Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The most effective way to eat protein

Athletes need protein for a variety of reasons, but muscle recovery and muscle building are the two most important. Unfortunately, athletes can get so fixated on just "eating more protein" that they hurt their exercising body more in the process. To most effectively meet your body's protein needs, follow these steps....

1. Choose well
The first rule of protein intake is choosing great sources of protein. Athletes need to focus on lean proteins that offer the body clean protein without extra sodium and saturated fat. Some examples include:
-skinless chicken or turkey breast
-broiled or baked pork or fish
-non-fat or low-fat dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese
-nuts and nut-only nut butters
-beans and lentils
-protein-rich grains such as quinoa
-when needed: pure whey protein powder (nothing else added)

2. Time well
The key to muscle recovery or building is timing of protein intake. Most athletes need to take in from 10-20gm protein within the first 30 minutes post-workout depending on their workout. In addition, the muscle thrives on a constant supply of protein. So separate your protein intake throughout the day - or every 3-4 hours. Athletes often struggle with getting adequate protein at breakfast and need to cut down on too much protein at dinner. A deck of cards worth of animal meat is already 25-30 gm protein, so be weary of portion size. Around 20-30 gm of protein at meals and 10gm protein at snacks is typically a good rule of thumb, though individual needs vary.

3. Combine well
While protein is important for muscle, view carbohydrate as the key that opens the door to the muscle and assists with the process. Therefore, avoid eating protein alone if your goal is muscle recovery or building. For example, instead of a pure protein powder shake post-workout, add a large banana. Instead of a snack of just almonds, add a handful of dried fruit. Think of eating about twice as much carbohydrate as protein at each sitting.

4. Don't overdo it
I mentioned the importance of portion size in point #2, but I will emphasize to not overdo it when it comes to protein intake. I have had multiple athletes who - in an effort to build muscle - started downing protein shakes and bars throughout the day, thinking that would lead to muscle gain. After body composition assessment, it revealed that their weight gain was mainly fat instead of the muscle they were hoping for. Appropriate protein is good but too much is just too much. Extra calories to an extreme lead to fat storage. If you are not sure if you are overdoing it with protein, it is time to see a sports RD who can evaluate your body's needs for your activity level and goals and get you on track.

Be Extraordinary,


Photo source:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The ABCs of Pre-Training Eating

Eating before a workout is something not all athletes do. While most realize its importance, many are worried about experiencing stomach pain or other symptoms that will affect their training. Remember that pre-training eating is key to having a successful workout, where you can push your body 100% throughout the session and fully reap the benefits of that training. The solution to successful pre-training eating is to follow your ABCs.....

1. Allow enough time
Often athletes guzzle down a bottle of sports drink or nosh on an entire banana five minutes before their workout. For most, this is not enough time for the body to adequately begin the digestion process before training starts. This can result in stomach pain, exercise-induced GERD, gas, bloating or even diarrhea. During training, the body pulls fluid from the intestinal track in order to send it to the extremities. That means there isn't enough fluid for digestion if a large amount of food remains in the stomach. Therefore, allow enough time before training. Begin with 1 hour before. If you tolerate this, move up to 30-45 minutes before. The bare minimum you need to allow is 15 minutes before training to assure that the energy you eat actually makes it to your muscles for your training session. But what do you choose? Funny you should ask because point #2 is.........

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Should I see a sports dietitian nutritionist?

Most athletes who want to be the best will do whatever it takes to get there. So why is my office not overflowing with athletes waiting for nutrition advice? I  - like most health professionals - have found that athletes don't come to me until there is a problem to be solved. This is great if an issue is actually recognized as a nutritional problem or if an issue has not progressed to critical. However, sometimes athletes don't realize that what they are feeling or experiencing might not only be caused by poor nutrition but also be solved (sometimes rather quickly) with good nutrition. Instead of accepting aches, pains, tweaks and twinges as "normal", review this list to see if proper nutrition might be your answer.

Are you fueling correctly? You may not be if you.......

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Four Warm Foods to Fight the Never-Ending Cold

As I sit here in my office in Chicago-area, it is snowing outside. Last I checked it was March. So, Mother Nature...what gives?! Two can play at this game. Here are four warm foods to combat this cold weather.

1. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are not only delicious but full of immune-enhancing nutrients (a good idea in the cold weather). Whether baked, microwaved, pan-fried in slices, or baked wedge-style in the oven, they make a warm, sweet treat full of Vitamins A and C and fiber. Here is one of my personal favorite recipes that involves sweet potatoes. I make this at least 3 times a month because it is easy, fast and super healthy...not to mention delicious.

Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup
Source: All Recipes...with a few modifications
Yield: 6 Servings