The environmental and health concerns of eating meat have been in the news lately, and meatless burgers seem to be the next new fast food craze.
Many of us like eating meat, but is it really necessary for our health? And is plant-based food the answer?
There are many delicious-looking alternatives to meat on the market, and the food industry is quick to catch on. But let’s stop for a second and think before we take advice from marketers on what is best for our health.
Each person should make their own decision about what is right for them, but below are few things to consider when making choices to benefit both your health AND the environment.
Do I Have to Eat Meat to Get Enough Protein?
Actually, ‘meat’, or ‘red meat’ as it is commonly called due to its appearance, refers mainly to beef, pork, and other land mammals, but there are many other types of complete protein. Protein, along with carbohydrates and good fat, are the three main food groups (macronutrients) we need on a daily basis to stay healthy. However, red meat actually makes up only a small subset of the category of foods labeled as ‘protein’.
Other commonly known categories of protein include poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey, duck, quail), seafood (fish and shellfish), game (e.g. venison), and vegetable sources (e.g. beans combined with rice). So the good news is, there are many other ways to get enough protein from animal sources besides red meat!
For athletes, there are many known benefits of eating red meat as an important source of iron, B12, zinc, and other nutrients (1, 2, 3). If you are making any changes to your diet, see a nutritionist or your doctor to help you determine what changes are right for you.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
To be a quality protein source, the food has to contain all 20 of the essential ‘amino acids’, the building blocks of all cells. This is important because our bodies only make 11 out of the 20 essential amino acids required on a daily basis, and we must consume the other 9.
This food is then referred to as complete protein source. Our bodies digest those foods and use what is left over to produce molecules then called proteins, which then become the building blocks of cells and tissues. It is important for your health to get enough of this food source in your diet on a daily basis to support essential functions such as build muscle, respond to stress, and maintain the immune system.
The amount of protein we need on a daily basis varies depending on your age, height, weight, and activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends between 10-35% of your diet as protein, or about 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men (4). For food conversions, there are about 7 grams in 1 ounce (in contrast to the weight conversion, which is 28g=1 ounce) (30). This translates to about half a pound (~8 ounces) per day for men and ~6 ounces for women.
If you are more active, the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends between 1.0 and 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, per day. A good way to estimate your protein needs is about your body weight in grams (e.g. 140 grams if you weight 140 pounds) if you are less active. For an athlete, multiply 1.5x your body weight in grams (e.g. 225 grams if you weigh 150 pounds).
What Foods Have Complete Protein?
All mammal sources of meat, poultry, fish, and game are solely made up of complete protein and are quality sources for this nutrient group. In addition to the easily digestible protein they contain, they also have a variety of health benefits, such as contributing to proper brain function and building muscle (1, 2, 3, 4, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27).
In contrast, most vegetable sources like beans and rice also contain carbohydrate, as well as a fibrous casing. While vegetables can provide an added benefit of fiber and carbohydrates and an important and essential nutrient group, overeating carbohydrates at one sitting or as a ratio of your overall calorie intake (e.g. more than 70%) can spike blood sugar and lead to fat storage, which is associated with obesity and diabetes. In contrast, complete proteins from non-vegetable sources do not contain any carbohydrate. In addition, although eating the combination of beans and rice at some point in the day could meet your needs, the casing on the plant proteins takes energy to break down, and there is a net loss of grams of protein for that food.
It is also important to consider both the pros and cons of eating vegetable sources. Many vegetables do contain nutrients, fiber, and protein, and a plant-based diet has been shown to be associated with lower risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol (9,17, 18, 19, 20, 21). However, these studies have more recently been found to be associated with the healthier lifestyles of plant-based eaters rather than with the plants themselves (22, 23).
However, many vegetable sources lack some important vitamins and minerals such as heme for red blood cells, and Vitamins D and B12 (2, 3, 4, 5). Most vegetable sources also need to be combined at some point during the day to provide the complete amino acid profile (REF). Plant products that are exceptions to this rule include quinoa, soy, tofu, and tempeh. Due to the important individual factors in meeting nutrient needs, vegetarians and vegans should see a nutritionist to decide the best foods for them. See Table 2 below for some common complete vegetable protein combinations.
If you do eat beef, sourcing from local, organic, or biodynamic farms will be more likely to ensure both the quality of the food and considerate use of land. Eating high quality meat is important because the fat in conventionally raised beef and pork can be dangerous to our health due to contaminants such as antibiotics, toxins, hormones, and heavy metals (29, 31, 32, 33). In contrast, the fat contained in organic beef and pork is an excellent source of good fat and keeps you full longer.
Table 1: Food Sources of Complete Proteins.
· Meat (e.g. beef and pork)
· Poultry (e.g. turkey, chicken, duck, quail)
· Seafood (fish and shellfish)
· Game (e.g. venison, wild boar, bison, caught while hunting)
· Rice and beans (e.g. black, pinto, chic peas)
· Refried beans (pinto) and corn
· Black beans and flour (e.g. tortilla)
· Tofu, soy, and tempeh products
· Hummus (chic peas) and pita (a grain)
· Grain (e.g. bread, crackers, or pasta) and nuts or nut butter
Protein Sources to Avoid.
Conventionally-raised beef, chicken, and pork. These animals are typically higher in fat, hormones, and heavy metals usually due to unnatural living conditions and a high-fat diet. Eating these foods often can increase cholesterol and weight gain for the general population, but will be less likely to affect athletes since they will burn off the fat. However, bacon and deli meats often contain preservatives. They should be consumed as condiments (a side) in their nitrite-free versions if possible. Since the fat in this meat contains many hormones and additives (e.g. heavy metal residues), be sure to trim the fat off conventionally-raised meat (12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
Chicken is a leaner animal with less fat overall, so the toxins in the fat are not much of a risk. However, the animals are often kept close together and have a higher incidence of disease. Both antibiotics and growth hormones are often included in their diets. These substances then appear in the food and in our bodies and pose a number of personal and public health concerns (8). Choose ‘free range’ chicken and organic meat when possible.
Processed Red Meat: Not all red meat is created equal. Processed meats have been cured or salted to preserve color and/or flavor and include sausage, salami, ham, smoked or canned meat, cured bacon, corned beef, hot dogs, and beef jerky. These foods have known health risks, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (see 8 for review). These risks are due to the carcinogens or their pre-cursors used in the preserving process, as well as the likelihood of the presence of hormones and heavy metals in these processed meats. Sliced, fresh, or frozen red meat is ‘unprocessed’ and considered generally healthy (10, 11, 12, 13).
Farm-raised fish. These animals are typically higher in fat, usually due to an unnatural, high-fat diet. Look for ‘wild caught’ whenever possible.
Excessive dairy. Dairy contains two types of proteins (casein and whey), but it also contains carbohydrate (the lactose) and fat. Although the healthy part of dairy is the fat (for review, see 36), similar to the health concerns of red meat, products from conventionally-raised animals often contain hormones and toxins and heavy metals in the fat (32,33). For full fat dairy products, choose organic. For conventionally raise products, choose skim or low-fat, but try to avoid the added sugar in many products used to increase fullness (35). Dairy as a main food group has a variety of negative health effects from weight gain to digestive problems and lactose intolerance (34).
Table 2:Pros and cons of vegetable sources
Provide protein and fiber, nutrients
No hormones or toxins
Need to be combined to make ‘complete’
Contain carbohydrate, pesticides
Have a net loss of protein available
Protein Sources to Eat Often.
Lean meats like free range chicken and eggs. One study found a 27% lower risk of stroke by replacing 1 serving of red meat per day with 1 serving of chicken per day (14). Another study found eating eggs at breakfast is associated with reduced weight gain and increased fullness throughout the day (27).
Organic beef. Organic red meat has benefits for health and weight loss, as well as many nutrients not found in vegetable sources (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 24, 29, 31, 32,33).
Fish and seafood. Studies show a reduced risk of heart disease with consumption of fish and seafood (25), even up to 15% (26).
A mix of animal and plant-based proteins. Eating protein from animal sources has the added benefit of increasing muscle mass even in older individuals. Both plant and animal sources have important benefits to health while minimizing the risks of consuming only one or the other (28, 29).
“Sugar is everywhere, and it makes sense, because it tastes great! Food flies off shelves when there is even a little sugar added, and a few sugary pecans can make a bland salad go down that much easier.
A little sugar here and there will not hurt anyone. A small sweet morsel at the end of a meal, even with a meal, will not spike blood sugar as much as a box of candy or large piece of cake all by itself. A small amount can even tell the body and brain that the stomach is full and help signal the end of a meal. For athletes, sugar can be a useful tool in regulating blood sugar in and around competition and grueling practices, travel, and unpredictable meals.
But for many of us, sugar can quickly become addictive, activating many of the similar pathways in the brain. If we eat it every meal, we ‘train’ ourselves to be less sensitive to sugar. It gets easier and easier to consume more and more, and then cravings set in. Then the guilt.
But if you are struggling with this, there are a few simple solutions you can try RIGHT now to start kicking the habit today. Avoiding sugar will have positive effects on your health, and help you look and feel better and younger! Read on for more tips to avoid sneaky additives and stave off the cravings.
Eat at home more
This is a simple solution we can all use to avoid sugar and many other additives. If we are putting others in control what we are putting into our bodies, it becomes much more difficult to know exactly what is causing us to feel bad or gain weight.
There are challenges to this, and adding in more time for grocery trips and cooking may take an adjustment. But the long list of benefits to your health should motivate you, including lower salt consumption, risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and more!
Buy Whole Foods
Since you are already going to the grocery store more often, while you are there, choose the whole foods rather than packaged versions whenever possible. Just buying them at the grocery store is easy, but sticking to this can be much easier said than done.
Whole foods go bad more often, so it takes more effort and time to prepare them when you get home. You have to have a plan and know what to cook ahead of time, and you may be busy or stressed or not like to cook or know how.
As with anything, the key is to start slow, and start with foods you know and like and are easy for you to prepare. Gradually start to expand your horizons by trying one or two new recipes per month and then freezing them if you liked what you prepared.
Another good way to keep up foods fresh is to always buy some frozen, some fresh, and prepare some of each type of food every month (i.e. protein source, veggies and fruit, and sauces, oils, and good fats). Whatever you choose, you will get better at it with practice and develop your own healthy eating system.
Avoid Packaged Food
While you are at the grocery store, avoiding packaged food becomes essential to a healthy lifestyle. Not only is it a billion dollar marketing industry designed specifically to pray on your addictions and cravings, but there is actually very little regulation and many work-arounds for additives to food.
In 1994, the The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act was passed, which allows any claim to be made on a food or supplement package regardless if it is actually true. For example, it can say ‘low fat’ on the package, but when you look at the food label they are allowed to claim ‘0g trans fat’ as long as the amount is less than 0.5 grams. So there are still trans fats in that food you cannot avoid consuming.
For supplements, there is no FDA regulation on what is actually in the bottle, and the only way to know if a supplement has been tested is by using consumer websites like USP.
The safest thing to do is to control what goes in your body by choosing whole foods like fruits and veggies, meat and fish, and whole food sources of good fats like olives, nuts, and avacados, and consulting a doctor or pharmacist when deciding whether certain supplements are right for you.
Avoid ‘Skim’ or ‘Low Fat’ Dairy Products
Many of these products have been processed so the nutrients and good fat have been removed, leaving only the lactose (carbohydrate that causes fat storage) and protein (whey and casein). The process continues by adding sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup to make it takes good again. This applies to many yogart and milk products, as well as cottage cheese, sour cream, and imitation butter products.
As a surprise to many of us, the fat in dairy is the healthy part. So you want the higher fat, lower sugar versions of dairy to get the nutrients and not the blood sugar spikes. Spikes in blood sugar lead to more cravings, weight gain, and less nutritional value in the food.
Gradually Decrease Consumption at Home
The body will not notice more than 20% decrease in something. So, you can apply this rule to sugar in your diet however it makes sense for you. For example, if you are eating sugar 5 times per day, cut it down to 4 times per day. Or, if you are eating 2 tablespoons of sugar with your coffee, cut it down to ~1.5 tablespoons.
Try this for 1-2 weeks, and you will be amazed at how much less you are using on a daily basis.
Good luck with kicking that sugar habit, and you’ll start feeling better right away!”
How long does it take to start a new habit? If you have ever tried or done your homework, you know it typically takes about two to four weeks.
Learning or starting a new habit is a complicated process, similar to a group of people in a company working together to produce a product. The first time you learn something, every ‘department’ is working with the task for the first time, determining what is needed and streamlining action items and timing to complete it more efficiently the next time.
Similarly, a deadline may require many departments to be working in concert and then producing an action at exactly the right time. The next time the group or company is presented with this task, it will be more efficient – the leader will know what to expect and be able to direct workers efficiently, and workers will be able to work together to quickly produce the result.
Your body works the same way, becoming more and more efficient with practice. Repeating the task or action on a daily basis will increase efficiency even more.
The good news is that this means you can pick any time that works for you throughout the year to start making healthy changes. There are health benefit to losing even a few pounds and adding even one day per week of exercise!
You can identify an outcome goal, such as ‘lose 5 pounds’, or you can focus on the behavior that you need to accomplish that goal. Either way works, but to be successful, your focus must be on the behavior you can control each day. You will gain confidence each time you finish that workout, do your yoga, or take the time to cook your next healthy meal.
So good luck starting your new habits. Every day is the first day of your New Year!
It has happened to all of us at one time or another: waiting too long to stop on a road trip, being stuck traveling with no food and no time or place to stop and even grab something small. So by the time you make it to a restaurant, you are starving and end up making a poor choice or have too much to drink before dinner. It can also happen in everyday life, where we are busy during the day at work and struggle with how to eat when we have to try to squeeze in a workout before dinner and life takes over. Sure, we all try to be smart about our choices, but some of us are better at it than others.
Many athletes struggle with figuring out what snacks they should have on hand, what will help them perform best and how to eat healthy in large groups. Keep in mind that your strategy is unique – no one else will be quite like you. But since fueling is so important for athletes, especially for recovery while traveling or competing, or during periods of heavy training or stress, figuring out a routine that works for you is imperative. During these periods, it can make the difference between feeling fast and unstoppable or feeling one step off.
COMMON CHALLENGES AND HEALTHY TRAVEL TIPS
Many of us face similar challenges. In daily life, we hurry from meeting to meeting or to our next obligation (which can include workouts), barely allowing time to eat, let alone cook or go grocery shopping. Traveling also presents the additional challenges of not knowing where your next meal will come from; limited and mostly unhealthy choices; long, unknown periods of time without food; and group decision making. The best we can do is try to prepare ahead of time and make good choices on the road, but it can help to have specific strategies.
Particularly when traveling, there are sometimes long or unpredictable times between meals, it is hard to always get all the food groups, and food quality is usually poor. In order of importance, eating at the right times is the top priority. Second is getting all the food groups, and third is nutrient quality. You can usually find all the nutrient groups, but the quality and timing may suffer. Just remember that eating as often as needed is the highest priority. These common challenges are explained in more detail below, along with some ideas for travel snacks and eating healthy at restaurants.
Challenge #1: Long Periods without Food or Meals
Tips: Plan meals ahead of time, bring snacks, focus on caloric fluid intake.
Athletes may face this challenge while training and working as well as during travel and competition. We can all try to be prepared with pre-made food, but a lunch box is not always practical or possible. It can be difficult to maintain the recommended frequency of food intake on the road, especially when you are not always in control of the circumstances. Groups are a specific challenge for some of us, so when traveling with a group, it is important to stick with people who have similar routines to yours or people who will make sure your needs are met during a grocery-store run.
A few basic healthy snack ideas are outlined in Table 1, but first it is important to understand the overall goal. For athletes, the goal is to stay fueled – getting enough calories when you need them – so timing is most important, rather than worrying about quality when choices or time is limited. The exception to the rule is if you are trying to lose weight, but you still never want to starve yourself, or you will not feel good or perform well. In general, planning ahead means preparing healthy snacks as well as thinking ahead while on the road. Be prepared to fuel every two to three hours, and always have fluids with you: water and fluids with some calories but no added sugar.
What makes snacks healthy is their ingredient quality, as well as having good protein content. Healthy snacks have more good fat, fewer processed carbs and complete protein combinations. Common complete protein combinations include grain and seeds or nuts (e.g., bread with seeds or pretzels and nuts), beans and grain (e.g., hummus and pita) and some legume and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice, black beans and flour, refried beans and corn).
Challenge #2: Lack of All Food Groups
Tips: Prioritize going to a grocery store as soon as possible, choose meals at restaurants that include all the food groups, choose snacks with all food groups represented.
Missing out on food groups is frequently a problem on the road since meals are not always served in proper proportions, and you have to try and make good choices about what to buy and what to order when you’re out of your normal routine. This can be solved by being prepared and thinking ahead. Prepare well-thought-out snacks that are lightweight and sturdy. Pick foods that are fresh but won’t go bad within a day or two (e.g., pretzels and nuts, dried fruit). When you arrive at your destination, make it a priority to get to a grocery store as soon as you can. It can sometimes be difficult in large groups, but this is an obvious and useful solution. At restaurants, try to think ahead to the next meal, and order some food to go or take leftovers.
When shopping at a grocery store, convenience and taste are often more of a concern than healthy ingredients, but make sure you plan for all nutrient groups. Complete protein can be the most difficult since there is rarely pre-cooked meat available, but in these situations, you can make exceptions if needed and choose Italian dry sausage, the least processed pre-cooked meat possible or hard-boiled eggs. Some people can also eat canned tuna and sardines, which are good ways to get seafood on the road. The nut and grain combinations mentioned in Challenge #1 also make complete proteins and can suffice for most protein needs between meals.
Challenge #3: Healthy Options while Traveling and at Restaurants
Tips: Be as prepared as possible, snack and fuel between meals to help yourself make good choices later, choose the healthiest ingredients available as often as possible.
Hint: Use the activities below to practice making healthy choices!
Making healthy choices is often the biggest challenge facing athletes on the road. Always try to be as prepared and thoughtful as possible using the snack ideas and restaurant meal choices in Tables 1 and 2, but you will likely have to make some exceptions to your personal rules to get the calories you need. When faced with choices at restaurants, healthy snacking before
The more you can snack and stay fueled during the day, the easier it is to make healthy decisions when eating out at a restaurant.
arriving can help improve your choices when browsing the menu. But sometimes the food being appetizing is more important than nutrient quality. After going long periods without nutrients, just getting calories is a top priority for the body.
At restaurants, start with a healthy appetizer if possible, then make the healthiest choice you can based on the ingredients and meal composition. If you do not eat out very often, enjoy yourself, and do not over-analyze every decision. But if faced with these challenges regularly, the healthy meal versions above can help you make better decisions. The more often you can snack and stay fueled and the more often you choose the healthy versions, the better you will feel and the better you will perform!
Activity #1: Healthy Snacks
Instructions: Write down three snacks you could make out of your fridge if you had to go on a trip tomorrow. Make sure to include some of each nutrient group! A snack = half a meal.
Activity #2: Healthy Meals at Restaurants
Instructions: Choose three menus and pick a healthy meal from each. Jot down any modifications you could make to be healthier.
Even though athletes can typically get away with not eating healthy and stay at a healthy weight, we should all admit to ourselves that bad foods still harm the body and can decrease performance. If you typically eat healthy, and every once and a while at a tournament you gorge on fruit snacks, you are probably not going to suffer any harmful consequences longterm. But even during a tournament, the body will perform better when the foods we are consuming are working for us and not against us.
Foods that are bad for you are typically bad because they require more processing than the calories are worth, overwhelming the body with stress hormones (i.e. cortisol) and free radicals (particles that can damage cells) and eventually inflaming the body. This is not only detrimental to your health, but can lead to serious health consequences (e.g. having a heart attack during marathon even though at a healthy weight). Below are the top 5 things you should know to help decrease inflammation and increase performance. Incorporating this knowledge will also increase your overall health. See Tables 1 and 2 for lists of the healthiest, mostly healthy, not very healthy, and foods to avoid in each nutrient group on a regular basis.
Even though every athlete is different and has a variety of other health factors to consider at one time, diet is one aspect of our performance we can control to a certain degree. The knowledge that exercise and training is inflammatory should translate to engaging in behaviors and eating foods that reduce inflammation. This will in turn increase performance and overall health, and could be the edge you need for the championship.
Tip #5 – Avoid Dyes
Dyes are not always harmful when derived from natural sources (e.g. betacarotene, paprika, beet juice, turmeric), but many companies find cheaper, brighter, and more stable sources by deriving them from petroleum (they were originally derived from coal tar when first developed). There are dyes in many foods, including everything from gatorade, to candy, cereals, fruit snacks, cosmetics, and dog food. Although dyes are tested by the FDA for levels determined to be safe, there are many studies that show links between dyes and kidney, thyroid, and bladder tumors, and cancers in mice or rats, and ADHD in some children. Limit or avoid US these dyes if possible due to their lack of need in the diet and potential harmful effects.
Tip #4 – Avoid Sugar and Fake Sweeteners
Sugar spikes glucose levels in the blood and is highly inflammatory. Sugar also feeds unhealthy bacteria in the gut, further contributing to inflammation. A small amount of organic sugar on some grapefruit every once and while or honey in your tea is not necessarily harmful, but regular consumption of sugar in breads, cereals, dairy products, salad dressings, jellies, etc., can elevate the blood sugar too much on a regular basis, leading to higher than normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream, leading to insulin-resistance and eventually diabetes. Fake sweeteners are two to seven times sweeter than table sugar and can also interfere with the normal blood sugar response6 . In addition, if the body is always full from sugar and then is not getting needed nutrients from whole foods, protein, fruit and vegetables, etc. that help decrease inflammation. There are many healthier ways to get a sweet taste after a meal, such as dark chocolate, coconut ice cream, and fruit with natural chocolate syrup, that are not full of sugar (also desserts made with nut flour, eggs, and smaller amounts of sugar). Look at your food labels, and if sugar is in the first three ingredients, that food should be avoided or eaten as little as possible. You will gradually lessen your taste for sweet foods, and you will naturally eat more of the foods you need like protein, fruits and veggies, and good fat.
Tip #3 – Avoid Partially-hydrogenated Oils
These oils are other highly processed oils that are added to foods to make them less perishable (e.g. margarine, baked goods, potato chips). They have an extra bond between the molecules, making them very difficult breakdown, both on the shelf and in the body. They sit in the fat cells of the body and increase the LDL (bad) and decrease the HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as increase inflammation, and they are associated with insulin resistance and obesity. Light-colored oils that are processed and unstable to begin with are high in free radicals, and avoiding consuming foods fried in these oils and will help decrease inflammation.
Tip #2 – Limit Dairy and Wheat
Dairy and gluten may be included in the diet as a useful sources of calories if desired, but they are best used as condiments to meals and not the main course. Athletes should be aware of the inflammatory properties in both the lactose (milk) and casein (cheese) in dairy. Wheat proteins, including gluten, can be inflammatory to the gut, as they mimic certain foreign substances and can cause an immune response (i.e. inflammation). Gluten is found in much higher concentrations now than in the past, leading to more frequent gluten allergies (called Celiac’s disease).
As for dairy, most of us lose the ability to digest lactose after weaning, so it can be slightly inflammatory for everyone. Greek yogurt contains bacteria that have already digested the lactose for you, making it less inflammatory and easier to digest. Many dairy products also contain hormones and added sugars and have had the fat removed (the healthy part from an organic source). Lactose-free milk, coconut milk, and full fat almond milk are good alternatives. Full-fat dairy sources from organic and grass-fed cows, e.g. cottage cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese, and butter are also healthier choices.
Tip #1 – Eat Up!
The foods we should be eating more of to fight inflammation include fruits and vegetables, probiotics for the gut (available in pills or formulated dairy-like drinks), and more Omega 3 fatty acids from olive oils, fish, shellfish, walnuts, and avocados. The type of fat in olive oil (monounsaturated) turns into anti-inflammatory molecules that help prevent asthma, arthritis, and protect the heart . Other spices like ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and basil, can be anti-inflammatory. Ginger acts like an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aleve), suppressing inflammatory molecules, but with no side effects. Turmeric, the yellow colored spice in curry, contains curcumen, which blocks inflammatory chemicals in the body. Fruits and veggies specifically known for their anti-inflammatory properties include broccoli (vitamins C and K, beta-carotene, and calcium), pineapple (contains bromelain that helps break down proteins, aid in digestion, reduce swelling, and aid in circulation), and sweet potato (contains lots of vitamins B6 and C, manganese, beta-carotene, and fiber).
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a condition that affects many women in their 20s and 30s hoping to have a child. The exact cause is not known, but symptoms include an irregular menstrual cycle, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, developing hair in unwanted places, acne, thinning hair, darkening skin, and skin tags. It may also be difficult to conceive, as regular ovulation (when the egg is released from the ovaries) may not occur.
CAUSES & EFFECTS:
The causes of PCOS can include a combination of factors, including genetic, higher levels of androgens (male hormones) than estrogens (female hormones), and being overweight. PCOS can also cause Insulin resistance, which prevents the body from being able to process food and sugar properly. Other health problems may also arise, include diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety, and an increase in the likelihood of developing endometrial cancer.
STRESS & DEPRESSION:
Hormonal imbalances, as well as increased stress and the inability to conceive, can exacerbate the physical effects on the body. If you are unsuccessful with either weight loss or fertility or both, you may experience an increase in stress and depression, both of which can lead to unhealthy behaviors.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
To help with the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS, medications such as birth control for androgens and/or Metformin for insulin resistance can be effective. Weight loss can also reduce many of the symptoms, but many doctors may not be able to provide the help and support you may need in achieving your weight loss goals. Simply reducing calories may not have worked in the past, and exercise is often unrealistic and can be counterproductive under these conditions.
TO HELP YOU IN THIS JOURNEY, WELLLIFE PLANSCAN HELP
We will provide weekly coaching, support, and education that will guide you toward the foods and habits that are under your control. Through working with your counselor, you will identify your goals and motivations and begin your journey to a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle. You have the motivation, but you also need the knowledge and the skills to be successful. You do not need killer workouts – you will benefit the most from someone who understands what you are going through, listens to your experiences and concerns, and guides you through healthy eating strategies that will work for you.
THE WAY WELLLIFE WORKS
Our program works by personalizing a nutrition plan that will help your body heal from stress and hormonal imbalances. Since everyone processes energy in a different way, you will work with your counselor to address your stressors and discover the foods that will work with your body instead of against it. WellLife plans help you not only reduce calories, but also help you get the right kind of calories, at the right times. You will also work with your counselor to stay accountable to making time to prepare and eat those foods. When you follow the plan successfully, the result will be reduced weight, fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure. At the same time, you will also start to feel better, have more energy, and increase muscle, mood, and motivation as you see results. This will also all help your body increase the chances of ovulation and conception. And all this is possible with NO drugs, diet pills, or surgery! All you need is a commitment to your health and to work with your doctor and counselor to find the right combination of foods, medications, and/or supplements that will work for you.
With the club season and championship series now behind us for another year, are you already hungry for more and thinking about next year? Ideally, the off-season is where most of your fitness, strength and power gains should occur. You will likely be doing many different types of workouts throughout the year, and each type of workout and training has its own nutritional demands.
BACK TO BASICS
Because there is no one specific diet or calorie requirement for all athletes in any given sport, it is up to us as individuals to see how our bodies react to training. What we do know is that ultimate is a demanding sport, requiring both cardiovascular and muscular fitness, strength and power. Similar to determining when to eat, the simplest way to determine what to eat is to go back to the basics and decide 1) what type of workout you are doing (e.g., strength, agility, endurance, etc.), 2) how intense the workout is going to be (e.g., how hard you will be working on average, on a scale of from zero to 100 percent), and 3) how long the workout will be. Then you decide what to eat and when. Done.
Well, okay, maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you can answer those three questions, you can use the resources below to choose your foods and decide when to eat them.
The next step is to understand each type of workout and what kind of energy you are using for the workout, so you know what you’ll need to replace. Below are two tables describing each type of workout and the foods needed to fuel each of those workout types before, during and after. All recommendations are based on starting exercise three to four hours after a meal (so you basically have an empty stomach) and are assuming individuals are at their goal weight. Carbohydrates refer to healthy grain-based sources (e.g., dense bread, pasta, flour products, etc.) with no added sugar. Protein sources include meat, fish or eggs and some vegetable and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice), and sources of good fats are high in Omega 3s, including nuts and nut oils; coconut and coconut oil; olives and olive oils; avocados; and whole-fat, organic dairy sources.
DETERMINING FOODS BASED ON TYPE OF WORKOUT
Keep the five tips listed below in mind when planning what to eat and when for your workouts. Then use the tables to determine what energy source is used and how to refuel after the workout.
Things to Remember when Planning Meals and Snacks around Workouts
1. Blood starts to leave your stomach and go to the muscles once you are exercising at approximately 70 percent of your heart rate max (HRM), about when you start sweating.
2. Leaving undigested food in the stomach when you start your workout can leave you with a bad stomachache a few hours later, and your performance may be affected due to a delay of energy and blood flow to the muscles.
3. One handful of carbs takes about one hour to digest.
4. One handful of protein takes four hours to digest.
5. One handful of good fat can take up to nine hours to digest!
Using the tables above can help you determine which foods are best at supporting your workout. For example, you can see that if you eat a meal within three or four hours of an endurance run, you probably won’t need a pre-workout snack. But if you are a little hungry, you can follow the instructions in the table to determine that, for an endurance run, you would only need about one handful of carbs within an hour of the run, then liquid carbs about every 30 minutes during the workout, and some carbs (one or two handfuls) and good fat (about half a tablespoon) after the workout. If this is how you work out most often, your normal diet would only require about one handful of complete protein per meal.
The requirements for an ultimate tournament are quite different. As an extreme example, during a tournament, ideally you would have a small meal an hour or two before playing and continue fueling during and between games with liquids and carbohydrate beverages, handfuls of carbs and protein. Then you would have a snack – two or three handfuls of carbs, one or two handfuls of protein and some good fat – right after playing AND a normal meal a few hours later.
FOODS TO FUEL WORKOUTS
As an ultimate player with a defined season and pre-determined tournament competition dates, you should ideally be following a periodized workout cycle. This means you will rotate through different types of workouts to 1) build an endurance base in the off-season, 2) focus on strength and speed during the pre-season, then 3) focus on power and agility during the season. Your dietary and caloric needs will need to cycle as well, which can sometimes catch us off guard. Using these simple guidelines and charts can help keep you healthy and performing well all year long!
Carbs are bad for you. Fat is bad for you. A high-protein diet is bad for you.
So what is left to eat? It seems like no one can agree. There are so many mixed messages and fad diets and changes in the science, we are all dizzy from being pulled in every direction. Of course, there are many important things we have learned from years of research about what foods are good for us and why, but the most important lesson of all is that what may be healthy can mean very different things for different people.
Health and performance are tied to a complex variety of factors, including body weight, stress levels, activity, muscle composition, body mass, psychology, etc. Each individual is so different that it becomes very difficult to make sweeping generalizations about whether one food is healthy or not. To break down all these complex messages, below are several questions many of us have had about what we hear in the media every day regarding what foods are ‘healthy’ and what is bad for us. Ultimately, each athlete should decide what is healthy for him or her based on knowledge and experience. Following the ‘myths’ of the media can have dangerous consequences, and any changes to your diet should be supervised by a physician or nutritionist. Health and performance cannot be separated, and myths can lead to mirages if you are not careful to listen to your body and continue to search for credible sources of information.
MYTH: GLUTEN-FREE MEANS THE FOOD IS HEALTHIER.
Answer: Sometimes, but not usually. Although some people have an actual allergy to gluten and tend to avoid bread products all together, those of us with no allergy do not necessarily need to avoid bread any more than other non-nutritive calories like sugar, juice, fake sweeteners, etc. While an allergy to gluten is now common (there is 20 times more gluten in wheat products now than there was 25 years ago), eating gluten-free products is not necessary unless you have this allergy. Gluten is just ONE of the potentially harmful proteins in wheat, and even gluten-free wheat products still contain many of the other harmful proteins. So eating gluten-free crackers, Cheez-its or cookies is no better for you and is just putting money in advertisers’ pockets. Products made of other substances and labeled gluten-free (i.e., rice crackers, soy or tofu) are not made of wheat and are therefore gluten-free. But these foods are mainly empty calories as well, since they provide carbohydrates and immediate energy but not much other nutritional value. The carbohydrates and antioxidants in these foods, however, may be useful to athletes with higher caloric needs, but altering the food to be gluten-free takes away most of the calories and fiber, making the food less healthy when consumed for that purpose.
MYTH: DAIRY – IT DOES A BODY GOOD.
Answer: Sometimes, but most of the time, not really. Dairy is unusual in that it is a single food source that contains all three macronutrients: carbohydrates (the lactose), protein (casein and whey) and fat. The good part about dairy is the fat, and it’s even better in organic dairy products. Since the harmful toxins, hormones and heavy metals are contained in the fat, organic milk is a better choice. The same is not necessarily true of the proteins and the lactose. Cheese is mostly casein and fat, which are both good for athletes – fat for energy and casein as the only slow-digesting protein available in a food source. However, cheese, especially aged cheeses like blue cheese, can cause a histamine response (meaning inflammation). These chemicals are also able to slip past the blood-brain barrier, causing morphine-like effects. Wine and cheese anyone?
Since most of us lose the ability to digest lactose at weaning, the carbohydrates in dairy (particularly milk) are also not so good. Not only does milk fill you up with quickly-releasing sugars, but the whey contains insulin (a fat-storing hormone). Fitness and marketing professionals have promoted the whey in protein powders since it is filtered and has been associated with a quicker uptake of carbohydrates post-exercise due to the insulin (and thus increases in performance).
However, this effect is only possible under certain training conditions in some people, and most of the time, excess insulin leads to weight gain, bloating and high blood sugar and replaces the desire for healthy, more nutritive foods.
MYTH: FOODS WITH FAT ARE BAD FOR YOU.
Answer: It depends on what type of fat and whether your diet has an imbalance one way or the other. You need some of each type of fat, including saturated fat from animal sources, and other types of fat from oils and foods like nuts, olives, avocados, fish and shellfish. The typical American diet is overloaded with seed oils and saturated fat and does not include enough nut, olive and fish oils, since fried foods, animal fats and potato chips and French fries are so frequently consumed (McDonald’s, anyone?). Seed oils are unstable to begin with, and when exposed to high heat, light and refining chemicals, the oils become very unstable and release free radicals into the body. Salad dressings and foods fried in vegetable oils (e.g., potato chips) should be avoided in a normal diet so as not to disrupt the balance of healthy saturated fats and fats from oils, nuts, olives, avocados, organic butter and dairy. Olive and nut oils are slightly more stable, but again make sure it is in a dark container and store in a cool, dark.
Since we are highly exposed to animal, seed and vegetable oil fats and are lacking in those from other sources, it is important for us to take every opportunity to have fish and fish oil and be aware of the balance of fats in our diets. Since the fat is the healthy part, try to get organic, high-fat dairy sources like butter, cottage cheese and ghee (Indian clarified butter without the milk proteins). Hydrogenated oils, a very unhealthy type of fat mistaken for a normal one and used to create faulty cell membranes (as well as many other dysfunctions), should be avoided whenever possible.
MYTH: ATHLETES EAT JUNK FOOD ALL THE TIME AND STAY HEALTHY.
Answer: Although it is true that the food athletes typically eat during games and competition (e.g., animal crackers, juice, Gatorade, cookies, etc.) is not technically healthy since they are higher in carbs than nutrients, healthy here is a relative term. If by junk food we mean potato chips, fried foods, high amounts of animal fat, then no, that athlete would likely not be healthy. Even if they were thin, these individuals are likely to have ‘silent’ inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., even at a healthy weight. However, carbohydrates in the form of whole foods with little to no added sugar are a very useful and necessary source of energy during competition where athletes are expending large amounts of energy in a short period of time. Carbohydrates are the only quickly accessible source of energy, as protein takes between one and four hours to digest, while fat can take up to nine.
Ideally, each athlete should experiment with what sources they like and tolerate best and have these foods accessible throughout the day. Animal crackers, Wheat Thins, bread, juice and fruit are all possible options. Liquid calories in the form of 100 percent juices and coconut water mixed with juice or water are also good alternatives for quickly digesting calories. Things like crackers, Fig Newtons, and fruit are best between points or during halftimes. Protein should be consumed during a break, with fat consumption in the early morning and after playing. These whole foods are better alternative to many foods contrived by the marketing and food industry, as more processed foods typically require more energy to break down and store than the benefits are worth.
MYTH: EATING AT NIGHT OR WHEN YOU ARE STRESSED IS BAD FOR YOU.
Answer: Sometimes, but most of the time, eating when you are hungry is the healthiest option. If you are hungry, it’s 10 p.m. and you are going to bed within an hour, a small snack of one or two handfuls of carbohydrates and some fat and protein is best, perhaps half a handful of each, since you don’t want to go to bed on a full stomach. If you are going to bed in two hours, eat something with mostly carbs and a little more protein and fat. These guidelines are the same that apply to activity, so think about timing your meals and snacks before bed the same way you would before a workout. You may wake up not feeling so well if you eat a full meal late at night and go right to bed. This habit can also disrupt your normal hormonal response, so you could wake up starving as well.
There is a real concern that stress eating carbohydrates can lead to unhealthy eating patterns and binge eating, but the body is under breakdown when you are under stress. Cortisol is being released and telling the body, “Please eat, I’m breaking down here; I need some calories!” So it is actually important to increase your protein and good fat intake, as well as that of carbohydrates under certain circumstances and when under more stress, to replenish the proteins being broken down. This is exactly what happens during a workout, and you wouldn’t starve yourself during or after a workout, right? The concern comes if you are continually using food to feed a negative thought or feeling. So make sure not to get so hungry that you turn to bad foods. Instead, eat a balanced meal or snack, and you will be much less likely to develop an unhealthy stress relationship with food.
MYTH: IF YOU ARE AN ATHLETE TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT, YOU SHOULD EAT FEWER CALORIES AND CONTINUE TO TRAIN AS HARD AS YOU CAN.
Answer: Please never do this! Retaining fat is common when the body does not get enough protein or fluids and gets too many empty calories. It can also be a result of too much stress (high cortisol release) or too many artificial sweeteners and/or sugar. If the body is low in necessary nutrients like good fat and protein, it will tell you to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods to satisfy excessive hunger. But an hour later, all that energy is gone, and there is still not enough protein or good fat, so your body tells you it is hungry again. So getting adequate calories from protein and good fat (see MYTH: Foods with fat are bad for you) is step one. Step two is actually addressing excess stress in your life, and/or REDUCING high-intensity exercise if you have a lot of stress. If you need to lose fat, you have to ‘burn’ it off with tough workouts and sprints, right? But actually the muscle burns fat most efficiently when you are at rest, but only if there is enough protein and good fat in the system to support your brain function, organs, tissue, immune system, stress and activity. Being under-nourished can lead to cortisol release, so exercising and creating more breakdown when the body is already low in nutrients is just going to release more cortisol and have the opposite of the desired effect. Low-intensity exercise is best under these circumstances to help release cortisol in small amounts over time and build the body’s ‘immunity’ to cortisol for when it is released in response to real stress in everyday life.