Monday, March 31, 2014

I Dare You to Eat More Whole Grains

As athletes our nutritional needs are higher. We need overall more calories than the sedentary person, so we need more carbs, protein, fluid, and vitamins. Sometimes we lose sight of this and slip into the old adage that because our metabolic ovens burn hot, we can eat whatever we want and more of it. In reality, we should be hyper-focused on what goes into our bodies to efficiently fuel our sport.  In a two part-series, I’m going to challenge you to take a closer look at your food. First, we’ll aim to eat more whole grain sources of carbohydrates. Next week I’ll help you trim out added sugars. So without further ado….

  • Lower the risk of chronic disease
  • Prevents leaky gut and food intolerances
  • Provides us with more antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins
  • Protects cognitive function
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Control weight

Benefits of whole grains to your performance:

  • Longer lasting energy. Whole grains have more fiber and take longer to break down (aka complex carbs). Therefore, they provide you with more sustainable energy.
  • More vitamins. Whole grains are less processed than their “white” counterparts. The refining process strips grains of their endosperm (aka fiber) and vitamins. These vitamins (vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, selenium, phosphorus) help keep our immune systems fighting and help convert our food into energy.
  • More protein. Although not our best source (and not a complete source) of protein, grains do provide us with some. As athletes our needs are higher for recovery and repair, so the added bonus is great. We also know the protein/carb combo helps us recover and keeps us full. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8g protein versus 4 grams from a cup of white rice. 


The bread and cereal aisles are even confusing to me, so I thought I’d give you a few tips. First off, you need to pick up the food, turn it over, and look at it before placing it in the grocery cart. Look for the first ingredient to be 100% or look for the whole grain stamp on the box.
Here is a review and list of best bets for bread. Some of the options may have been updated (the list is from a few years back), it will still be a great starting place.

Here is a similar review and list for cereal. I’ve also posted on the cereal aisle before, so make sure to check out that.

An even better bet is to skip the bag or the box and go for the real thing. Instead of bread at lunch, go for brown rice or quinoa (and if you’re really feeling edgy, millet or buckwheat) with some lean meat and veggies. Or have a hot or cold version of the hot cereals at breakfast. If you soak grains overnight in milk, yogurt or other non-dairy beverage, you can eat them cold. I’ve mentioned before that my daughter is really into the Bob’s Red Mill 8 Grain Wheat-less cereal. I don’t like a lot of variety at breakfast and find myself reaching for the cereal bag (I buy those giant, compostable bags of Nature’s Path GF cereals) or some buckwheat frozen waffles so I too need a good nutritional kick in the butt. I am writing it for everyone to witness and hold me accountable: my goal this week is to eat the 8 Grain cereal three times. And I’m going to try overnight oats at least once. Who’s with me? Come on - I dare you! And if you’re already doing oatmeal, explore other hot cereals or mix it up with a combo.

If you are gluten free, it can be more challenging to find whole grains but it’s definitely possible if you put your mind to it. By incorporating grains like amaranth, quinoa (my favorite, as you know!), millet, buckwheat, teff, stone ground corn (polenta, grits), sorghum, and oats*, you can incorporate some hearty starches and not miss out on fiber or vitamins. *Oats are inherently gluten free but are usually processed or farmed with wheat. Gluten free oats are available; Bob’s Red Mill, my favorite whole grain and gluten free product line, offers a variety. You can also substitute some wholesome flours by using a bean or nut flour. We made falafel last night and used garbanzo bean flour instead of AP flour. I had a GF pizza in NY City that was made out of garbanzo bean flour. I think about that pizza all the time and wish I could remember where I got it. I would drive up there this weekend if I could figure it out….Before I diverge any more, you can check out more on whole grain and gluten free by visiting the Whole Grains Council web page. 

Check back later this week to see how my cereal challenge is going. If my 19-month old can do it, so can I!


Nutrition Action Healthletter by the Center for Science in the Public Interest
Whole Grains Council

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Toddler Made This Dinner

Tonight we had a dinner that tasted good and was fairly nutritious, which usually makes my little dietitian heart swell. This did happen, but what made me more proud was the accomplishment of cooking it with my 18-month old's help. This is a post about parenting more than sports nutrition, but for those of us who are trying to juggle both, you'll understand my perspective.

Tarala was not only engaged the entire cooking process, but she had fun and learned about cooking, cleaning, and healthy eating. Plus her helping me entertained her as we fixed dinner.

Tonight's menu:

  • "Fried" brown rice with edamame, onion, carrots, mushrooms, and egg
  • Marinated tofu
  • Sauteed sesame broccoli 
We don't have tofu very often in my house because it usually leaves me hungry and unsatisfied, but tonight
was a different story. I finally took the time to prepare it right and it was worth it. I gave it the same love and devotion I would meat by marinating it and prepping it correctly. First I pressed the extra firm tofu in
between two cast iron skillets to get rid of excess water. Then I soaked it in this delicious marinade which later doubled as the sauce for the fried rice. 

Here's how my little helper assisted:
  • Measured and poured rice and water, added the lid to the pot
  • Got the carrots out of the bag and discarded the peels
  • Washed the broccoli, threw the stalks away and placed the trees in the bowl
  • Wiped the dirt off the mushrooms
  • Measured and stirred the marinade 
  • Put the tofu in the marinade 
  • Put the leftover vegetables back in the fridge 
  • Poured the rice into the stir fry pan 
Not as proud that my child climbs on the counters, but we're working on getting a Learning Tower. I promise she was sitting in her high chair for the majority of our cooking experience. She munched on the tofu bits and raw mushroom as we cooked. As most of you know, not all Tuesdays-at-home-with-the-munchkin end in celebratory blog posts so with a successful dinner and successful entertainment, looks like I scored two points today. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shakin' Things Up

Today while I was making my dinner, I came up with a solution for helping you eat better. My theory for why we crave unhealthy foods is that we get bored. Then our mind wanders to foods higher in fat, sugar and salt to satisfy the boredom. These foods excite more of our palate. But guess what else does? Something new! Something different! FLAVOR! Spice! New ingredients!

For example, instead of buying the pre-made turkey burger patties, buy ground turkey and make your own patties. Add spices, flavorings, and herbs. Tonight we had cilantro, sauteed onion, jalapeno, and applesauce burgers with a splash of Worcestershire. Other times we've added mushroom, thyme, and cumin. Or instead of regular old grilled chicken, make a new marinade. My go to is lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of sugar, and garlic. Next time you plan to make chili, think of taking it for a spin with Thai flavors. Add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, cilantro, and peanut butter (add the PB right at the end to keep the flavors). Make a new spice rub for pork chops or fish with ground ginger, cumin, cayenne, white pepper, ground sage, salt and pepper. Marinate your pork chops in orange juice, garlic, olive oil and soy sauce. Take regular old rice or quinoa and add flavor with lime and cilantro. Mix leftover grains with frozen peas, chopped carrots and onions, scrambled egg and soy sauce to make a fried rice on the fly. Make a pasta sauce by pureeing grated onion and butternut squash or mix Greek yogurt and Parmesan with Italian herbs for a healthier spin on an Alfredo sauce.

All this excitement doesn't even touch salads. If there was a salad award, I would win it. I have an uncanny ability to turn a salad into an entire meal by adding a protein, beans, grain, specialty toppings, and of course vegetables. My salad tomorrow is grilled chicken thighs, kale, arugula, olives, grapes, goat cheese, chickpeas, broccoli, and guacamole with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper for a dressing. Another great dressing is using different salsas. I had black bean salsa last night and it was amazing. I will have it with these awesome Doctor Kracker flatbreads that are more wholesome and filling than bread or crackers. Usually my
salad as some leftover quinoa on top but we didn't have in made. I also like to add cottage cheese and peas, but didn't tonight because I did last week. When a salad has all these ingredients and is paired with some crackers, bread, and/or fruit on the side it can be hearty and delicious. So next time you're packing your lunch, try a salad with a bean, mixture of cooked and raw veggies, cheese/nut/avocado, meat or cottage cheese, different types of lettuce, and fruit. Trust me on this one - every time I bring a salad to work or eat one in public, I get jealous stares and comments. I will make you a salad if you offer a good price.

My challenge to you the next time you go to the grocery store is to buy a new 1) vegetable, 2) fresh herb, and 3) spice. If you need some more guidance, start with 1) butternut squash, 2) thyme or cilantro, and 3) smoked paprika. If you don't have ideas about how to use your new ingredient off the top of your head, search for a recipe or post to collaborate with other readers and me. I'd love to hear about your new experiences!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ammonia Smell Post-Run

Reader Question:

Sometimes when I go for a long hard run-- I smell ammonia. I know this is my muscles (protein/amino acids) breaking down actually making ammonia. I thought (erroneously) by drinking a protein shake before running this would help the prevent my muscles from breaking down.  Never again (GI probs) I did also take a goo and water during the run.
Was I just not getting enough gels/carbs? How do I prevent myself from breaking down my muscles into ammonia?

Dietitian Answer:
Ammonia is part of protein's chemical structure.
When we break down protein for energy,
ammonia is deaminated
(cleaved off the rest of the protein structure)
and produces a smell.  

I've heard of this problem from other athletes I counsel so I am glad you asked! You are on the right track with your thoughts: you are likely breaking down muscles and protein to be used as energy. Ammonia is component of protein and the smell is created from the breakdown. Instead of eating more protein, you'll likely do better and feel less ill effects GI wise if you go for carbohydrates. Protein takes longer to digest, so that is why you likely didn't feel good on your run. Carbs our the body's preferred source of fuel and fastest source of fuel. Although we can use fat and protein for energy, It takes longer and isn't as efficient. Plus, it would be nice to keep our muscles! 

If it's a morning run, try some peanut butter and banana toast or oatmeal made with milk 1-2 hours before running. If you don't have that much time, go for a sports bar and/or piece of fruit. Then make sure to get in 30-60 grams of carbohydrates from your preferred source, probably a combination of sports gels or sports drinks. Pick something that you'll likely to eat during the run. If you don't like the pre-made sports foods, raisins or even candy would work. 

Let me know how that goes! If you're interested in some more ideas or more specific suggestions for your training, I am happy to arrange a time for us to sit down. 

Nutritionally yours, 

Monday, March 3, 2014

NRG (aka Energy)

We all want more of it. I can’t tell you how many times my clients and patients have asked what they could take or what they could eat for more energy. The funny thing is, they’ve really answered their own question; EAT for energy. Food provides us with calories (kilocalories actually, food labels should actually read kilocalories) so just by eating we are increasing energy. What we eat can influence our energy, but there’s no superfood or magic pill to take. Instead, quantity, quality, and timing are key.

Quantity – The majority of athletes I have worked with don’t eat enough. If you’ve ever felt very tired, eaten a meal and felt better, than you know what I mean. A few arguments for eating more: you’ll have more energy to workout more intensely, your body won’t go into “starvation” mode and use your muscles as fuel, and you’ll recover faster. Carbohydrates are especially important when it comes to recovery and energy. Carbs are your body’s preferred source of fuel and should make up about 60-65% of calories depending on training. When we run longer and harder, we
use more energy from our stored carbohydrates, glycogen, and have to eat enough carbs to refuel the muscles. Next time you find yourself reaching for caffeine, eat a piece of fruit first and let me know how you feel. If you’re not sure if you under-eat, reach out to me for a personalized comparison of your input (food) and output (exercise).

Quality – From those athletes who do eat enough overall calories, the calories come from the wrong food group. Fat is the easiest food group to get calories from because high fat foods are the densest; fat carries twice as many calories as protein or carbs (9 kcals/g compared to 4 kcals/g). Although fat provides calories, it does not aid as easily in energy. It takes more work for the digestive track to breakdown fats often leading us to feel sluggish as we wait. Fat also does not help us recover or provide easy to use energy for workouts. Fat can actually impede carbohydrates and protein from doing their job in recovery because of slower digestion. Additionally, fat eaten too close to a run might give you the runs. Not how I want to use my energy, I don’t know about you…

Timing – Too many athletes “backload” their day. They eat a small breakfast, quick lunch, and don’t snack. If you workout in the morning, refueling throughout the day is crucial for not only
recovery but for energy. We are most active during the day, so spreading calories evenly throughout the day just makes sense for energy. Also, it’s not great to eat a big meal before bed and waste all those calories overnight. It’s not great for our waste line either. That 20 minute window of opportunity to get a snack in after a long run or workout aids in recovery but also energy. You’ll find yourself crashing later if you wait too long. Focus on carbs but add in a little protein to aid in muscle repair and/or growth. Think back to quality when you are planning snacks aiming for mostly carbs balanced with some protein. Aim to eat every 2-4 hours depending on your exercise load and weight goals (again, talk to me about more specifics). Another huge argument for snacking is a lower body fat. Athletes who snacked were leaner (had less body fat) than their 3 meal a day counterparts even when both set of athletes ate the same amount of calories. I personally find this last stat fascinating. If you’re interested in reading more on this particular topic, see my resources.

All of these components can be fine-tuned to help not only energy but performance. If you’re interested in getting more specific guidelines for your training, please schedule a time to talk to me!

1.      Iwao S, Mori K, and Sato Y. Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 1996 ; 6(5): 265-272.
2.      Hawley JA and Burke LM. Meal frequency and physical performance. British Journal of Nutrition 1997; 77: S91-S103.
3.      Jenkins DJA et al. Nibbling versus gorging: Metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency. New England Journal of Medicine 1989; 321 (14):929-934.
4.      Metzner HL, Lamphiear DE, Wheeler NC, Larkin FA. The relationship between frequency of eating and adiposity in adult men and women in the Tecumseh Community Health Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1977; 30: 712-715.
5.      Steen SN, Oppiger RA, and Brownell KD. Metabolic effects of repeated weight loss and regain in adolescent wrestlers. Journal of the American Medical Association 1988; 260(1):47-50.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Protein Waters During a Run?

A while back I was asked the question whether drinks like Cytosport or Accelerade with protein added are of any benefit. The verdict: NO. As athletes, protein helps us recover quicker by rebuilding and repairing muscle. We also need more protein because of urine losses, some protein used as energy (especially in endurance sports), and increased muscle mass. BUT, we do not need it before or during exercise. Protein has a longer gastric emptying rate so it can increase GI complaints during exercise. The protein may actually take the place of what we need the most DURING exercise: fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. There is no evidence that additional protein in a sports beverages aids in performance or recovery. Therefore, eat some protein after working out, as little as 6g (the amount in one egg, a sports bar, or 1.5 Tbsp peanut butter) within 45 minutes of working out (preferably within 15 minutes) and stick to water or a sports drink during exercise.

1. Benardot, D. Advanced Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006.
2.  Clark, N. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook 3rd Edition.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003.