What’s the best food plan for eating to win? What fruits are best for health? Any tips for managing runner’s diarrhea? Is iron deficiency anemia the reason you feel so tired? These are just a few of the sports nutrition concerns addressed at the American Dietetic Association’ annual convention (Anaheim Calif., October 2-5, 2004). Below are some highlights that might be of interest to active people.
Many athletes exercise as a means to enjoy guilt-free eating. But the faster, stronger athletes eat to enjoy better performance. That is, they view food as fuel, not just as fun. According to sports dietitian Bob Seebohar M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S. of Denver, the purpose of your daily eating should be to support your training program (eat to train, not train to eat) and not simply be the reward at the /files/storyimages/of your busy day. You know, the “I-deserve-to-eat-cookies-because-I-survived-the-day” scenario. Seebohar believes too may athletes eat backwards. Instead of fueling appropriately before and during their workouts, they overeat afterwards. They train on fumes, and consequently fail to perform at their best. Seebohar encourages athletes to view the daily exercise sessions as important times to train the intestinal tract. By learning during training which foods and fluids taste best during exercise, settle well and enhance performance (as opposed to cause intestinal problems), you'll be able to perform well on the day of the event without fear of running out of energy or suffering from undesired pit stops and stomach cramps.
Bowel movements are rarely a topic of conversation among athletes, but the topic is certainly worthy of conversation! Numerous athletes eat and then run-to-the-bathroom – if not the bushes! If you are among the many athletes plagued by pit stops during exercise, you might want to experiment with this advice from sports dietitian Leslie Bonci R.D. of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Buy a package of Certo or Sure-Jell in the cooking ingredients section of the supermarket. (Certo and Sure-Jell are pectins, used to thicken jelly and jam.) In the half-hour before you run (or exercise in a way that triggers the trots), drink a cocktail of one tablespoon of Certo mixed in 1/4 cup of water (plus some sweetener and a teaspoon of lemon juice for flavor; bottled lemon juice is quick and easy). Experiment with this cocktail during training--to be sure it doesn’t backfire during an important competitive event.
No matter how many times you’ve been told to “eat your fruit,” the chances are you are among the majority of athletes who fails to consume the recommended three or more servings each day. That is a big mistake, according to James Joseph, Ph.D. from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston. Joseph researches the impact of blue-purple fruits on the brain. Blue-purple fruits, such as blueberries, purple grape juice and Concord grapes are especially rich in health protective compounds that enhance communication within the nervous system. His rat research indicates powerful improvements in brain activity patterns that reverse the deleterious effects of aging.
Joseph is optimistic his rat research will hold true with humans. If so, eating more blueberries and drinking purple grape juice could potentially prevent the onset of symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzeihmer’s diseases. But rather than wait until he proves this health benefit in humans, Joseph suggests we start now consuming these foods more frequently. For athletes, grape juice is carbohydrate-rich and an excellent recovery food. Frozen blueberries are a tasty topping for breakfast cereal; dried blueberries are available at most whole foods stores – delicious as snacks by the handful!
EXCESS ANTIOXIDANT VITAMINS
Whereas adequate vitamins are good for your health, the question arises: Are too many vitamins bad for your health? Perhaps yes, at least with the antioxidant vitamin E in Ironman triathletes. But unfortunately, many endurance athletes are popping megadoses of E, believing it will counter the stress of hard exercise and enhance recovery. According to David Nieman, Ph.D., professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, high doses of vitamin E actually create a harmful effect. In Nieman’s study with 38 Ironman Triathletes who took 800 IU E for eight weeks before the Hawaii Ironman, the high dose created an inflammation response. Nieman believes too many antioxidants can convert into pro-oxidants. This generates an undesireable imbalance that exerts pro-inflammatory effects; the opposite of what is desired. (This research has been published in Med Sci Sports Exerc, August 2004)
Ever wondered how many calories you burn while simply breathing, pumping blood and existing? Many health clubs are now measuring resting metabolic rates using the BodyGem. But how accurate is this measurement? A study by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centers in Maryland and California suggests the results are similar (within 10 percent) to a very expensive research method using doubly labeled water, the gold standard for determining calorie needs. The BodyGem measurement (done at many health clubs) can be helpful for athletes who believe they gain weight by simply smelling cookies, or who wonder how much is OK to eat to have energy to exercise yet still lose weight.
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide – and is particularly common among women. A study of 25 female nutrition students at Utah State University indicates 12 of the 25 women—that’s almost one half—had serum ferritin concentrations less than 20 ng/ml, indicative of depleted iron stores. Of these women, 10 were outright anemic, a sure way to hurt performance due to needless fatigue. Compared to the women who had normal iron levels, the deficient women were more likely to report heavy bleeding during menstruation (a source of iron loss). They complained about feeling cold and weak and had pale-colored skin. None took an iron-containing vitamin-mineral pill. If your iron losses are high (via heavy menstrual periods) and iron intake is low (because of eating little or no red meat), be sure to get routine blood tests and consume an iron-rich diet (via iron-fortified breakfast cereals).
With so many doctors prescribing cholesterol-lowering medications, consumers may forget that food is one of the most powerful drugs around. One example is walnuts (as well as other nuts). Forty-two subjects with high cholesterol consumed two ounces (about 400 calories, 30 halves) of walnuts daily for 6 weeks. This “walnut diet” lowered total cholesterol by 5 percent and the “bad” LDL cholesterol by 9 percent.
This is just one example of how nutrition can be a fundamental treatment for heart disease, not drugs. While you may not enjoy eating 400 calories of walnuts every day, you can certainly enjoy a portfolio of health protective foods: oatmeal topped with walnuts and blueberries; spinach salads with chopped walnuts and purple grapes; banana bread with nuts.
Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D. counsels both casual exercisers and competitive athletes at her successful private practice in Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Third Edition ($23) and her Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions ($20) are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com or by sending a check to Sports Nutrition Services, PO Box 650124, W. Newton MA 02465.