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    Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category

    Hershey’s: When In Doubt, Hype and Deflect

    For my penultimate post relating to the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (fun wrap-up post tomorrow!), I want to focus on the rhetoric one often hears at Big Food booths.

    Whereas companies that sell real, whole food products focus on what they are actually selling (be it hemp seeds, green tea, or snacks made from whole, non-GMO ingredients), Big Food tends to rely on hype and deflection.

    Continue Reading »


    Guest Post: Intense Workouts Need Fuel

    photoAndy’s “You Ask, I Answer” posts are some of my favorite Small Bites reads, so I’m thrilled the nutrition guru has turned the tables with questions of his own.  Because there is no substitute for Bellatti, I’ll file my first guest blog post as “Andy Asks, I Do My Best to Answer.”

    What’s the best thing to eat before a workout?

    That depends on another question- what are you doing? I recently spoke to Roberta Anding, sports dietitian for the NFL’s Houston Texans, and she says duration and intensity determine fuel needs. If you’re walking on the treadmill at 3 mph for 20 minutes, pre-workout fuel isn’t necessary.

    Continue Reading »


    I Didn’t Know PepsiCo’s CEO Did Standup!

    14273237_indra-nooyi_01I just came across this CNN interview from late April with PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.  Apparently, she’s quite the comedienne.  Move over, Kathy Griffin!

    “If all consumers exercised, did what they had to do, the problem of obesity wouldn’t exist.”

    Really?  Obesity levels have exponentially increased over the past three decades, but gym memberships haven’t taken a sudden plunge.  Similarly, surveys and polls don’t show that Americans are exercising any less today than they were in the ’80s or ’90s; quite the opposite, actually!

    This is the basic “personal responsibility” argument on steroids.  It surpasses the usual “well, our foods aren’t meant to be eaten all the time” message to now completely discredit nutritional approaches to obesity.  Apparently, chips and soda every day are a-okay as long as you hit the treadmill (for, what, six hours?).

    Ms. Nooyi also falls prey to the fallacy that health is only about weight.  One can be at a healthy weight but subsist on highly-processed, minimally-nutritious junk that increases blood pressure and heart disease risk, to name a few conditions.

    “If I look at our portfolio, I think you can classify them into three groups: “fun-for-you foods” like Pepsi, Doritos, Lays, and Mountain Dew, “better-for-you” products like Diet Pepsi, PepsiMax, Baked Lays, Sobi Life Water, Propel, all of these products, and “good-for-you” products like Quaker, Tropicana, Naked Juice, Gatorade.”

    “Fun-for-you foods”?  I understand she’s not going to bash her own product line, but why not call a spade a “kinda-sorta” spade and at the very least classify those foods as “occasional treats”?  Besides, we all know there is nothing “fun” about your breath after you eat a few Cool Ranch Doritos.

    Diet soda a “better-for-you” product?  News to me!  An absence of calories and sugar does not automatically make a food healthier, especially when the calories and sugar are replaced with a long list of chemicals (most of which have no studies demonstrating that long-term consumption is safe).

    Referring to Quaker and Gatorade as “good-for-you” is also a stretch.  Gatorade is essentially sugar water (its electrolyte values are a joke), and while the Quaker line does include straight-up, unsweetened oatmeal, many of their products contain a hefty amount of added sugars.  The mere presence of oats does not make a product healthy, especially if the oats are accompanied by sweeteners and/or oils loaded with omega-6 fatty acids.

    “The longevity in parts of China is very, very high because there’s a lot of traditional Chinese medicine that is based on herbs that really help lifestyle management, that really help body mass index down, that really help the longevity of the person.”

    You know why else longevity in certain parts of China is very high?  Residents eat whole, unprocessed foods.  They aren’t munching on “fun-for-you” foods like Doritos or chugging 20-ounce bottles of sugar water with a pinch of potassium Gatorade.

    Herbs that help keep body mass index down?  Wait a minute, didn’t she just say that the only way to not be obese was by exercising?

    I’m also surprised — and disappointed — that someone of Asian heritage would play into the stereotypical exoticization of East Asian cultures (“they don’t stay healthy just by watching what they eat, they also ingest magic and secret herbs!”)

    “Now, I’m not talking about “pixie dust.” I’m talking about real science-based stuff.”

    Ah, of course, the ever-popular “herbs aren’t REAL science” argument.  Long live narrow-mindedness!  You would think that if Ms. Nooyi was such a “real science” buff, she would have some appreciation for nutrition science and acknowledge its importance in weight management.


    Grading the Gurus: Walter Willett

    0901p88c-walter-willett-lWHO IS HE?

    Dr. Willett is the Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition in the Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and has been chair of the Harvard Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology since 1991.

    He is also the author of 2005’s Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy and 2007’s Eat Drink, and Weigh Less.


    Dr. Willett’s main points are:

    • Healthy fats should not be feared; they are an important part of a healthy diet.
    • A diet that gets more than 30 percent of calories from fat is perfectly okay as long as those fats are plant-based.
    • Potatoes and table sugar are essentially the same thing.  Potatoes should be limited, much like refined grains.
    • Nuts and legumes are preferred sources of protein.
    • Many dietary recommendations are based on politics (i.e.: “for calcium, eat dairy”) rather than a comprehensive understanding of science.
    • Exercise and physical activity are the foundation of health.

    Dr. Willett created his own version of the food pyramid, which perfectly illustrates these — and a few other — viewpoints.


    Dr. Willett is not afraid to think outside the box and, armed with substantial research-based evidence, question standard dietary advice (i.e.: “dairy is the best source of calcium.”).

    I greatly appreciate his strong defense of healthy fats, emphasis on whole grains and plant-based protein, and the importance he places on daily physical activity.

    Compared to other well-known male doctors who delve into nutrition matters, Dr. Willett is in no way gimmicky, does not endorse or partner up with questionable famous “experts”, and, in my opinion, is the one who most stays true to his convictions.  Refreshing — and admirable!

    His research experience is substantial; throughout his career, he has published approximately 1,100 articles dealing with nutrition and health matters in various peer-reviewed science journals.


    I wish Dr. Willett were more specific with his fat recommendations.

    For example, he groups all plant-based oils (including soy, olive, and peanut) in the “healthy fats” group.

    This troubles me because there is a clear hierarchy.  Soybean, safflower, and sesame seed oil are very high in omega-6 fatty acids and therefore not as healthy as olive and peanut (high in monounsaturated fat) or flax oil (high in omega-3 fatty acids).

    Similarly, Dr. Willett classifies all saturated fats equally, even though those in coconuts and cacao are healthier than the ones in full-fat dairy and red meat (especially from cows that subsist on corn).

    My main gripe with Dr. Willett’s dietary advice, though, is his view on potatoes.

    Per his food pyramid, potatoes are placed in the same “use sparingly” category as white bread, white rice, white pasta, soda, and sweets.  I find this to be grossly inaccurate and misleading.


    Dr. Willett is very familiar with — and knowledgeable about — nutrition issues.  Like Dr. Marion Nestle, his epidemiological background enables him to analyze and apply clinical studies appropriately, and his consideration of the relationship between food politics and dietary advice adds a powerful “oomph” to his message.

    Although I find his views on potatoes unnecessarily alarmist and extremist, his overall nutrition message is interesting, multi-layered, and scientifically solid.

    GRADE: A-


    You Ask, I Answer: Post-Workout Nutrition

    aquatic_weight_roomI really enjoy working out at the gym, trying to build some muscle.

    Therefore, I would like to ask you a question about how a proper recovery meal should look after an intense workout.

    How much protein is enough?  There seem to be so many self-proclaimed nutrition experts on this area.

    Maybe you could clear up the confusion?

    — (Name Withheld)
    (City Unknown), Sweden

    I would be more than happy to.

    To help your body complement your strength-and-muscle-building workouts, this is what you should be consuming ideally no more than an hour after leaving the gym:

    • 300 – 400 calories
    • 25 – 30 grams of protein
    • 50 – 80 grams of carbohydrates
    • 12 to 16 ounces of water

    As you can see, low-carbohydrate meals and shakes after a workout are absolutely senseless.

    It is important to provide the body with enough carbohydrates to fully restore glycogen stores and encourage as much protein synthesis and muscle repair as possible.

    That is not an excuse to eat nutritionally empty foods like donuts, french fries, or candy bars.  After all, you also want to make sure to nourish your body with important minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

    Here are some post-workout meals that fit the bill:

    • Cup of plain yogurt + 1 large banana + 1.5 ounce almonds
    • Tuna sandwich: One can tuna + 2 tablespoons hummus + squirt of lemon + 2 slices 100% whole-grain bread
    • Vegan burrito: 1 small whole-wheat wrap filled with half cup brown rice, half cup black beans, 1 Tablespoon salsa, and 1 Tablespoon guacamole or 1/3 cup sliced avocado
    • 3 ounces sauteed beef/chicken/salmon/shrimp/tofu/seitan over 1 cup cooked quinoa and 1 cup cooked vegetables

    Although food should be your main goal, this is one of those instances where an appropriate protein shake is useful, mainly for convenience and transport.  Here is what I mean by appropriate:

    • Meets — and does not exceed! — calorie, carbohydrate, and protein requirements.  Outrageous amounts of protein are completely unnecessary and will not provide any additional benefits.
    • Is minimally processed.  Most ready-to-drink protein drinks and bars are nutritional horrors!  I recommend making your own at home if possible.  For example, mix no-sugar-added 100% whey protein with water (or your milk or dairy alternative of choice), a piece of fruit, and some healthy fat (almond butter, ground flaxseed).  PS: Add in some cocoa powder, cinnamon, or vanilla extract for a healthy flavor boost.

    I want to emphasize these post-workout guidelines are for people who are looking to build muscle and completing intense strength-training workouts.

    This is a completely inappropriate meal after a 25-minute brisk walk or jog.


    In The News: Misleading Nutrition Story Number… Oh, Please, I’ve Lost Count!

    White male on treadmillAs I sorted through my mail earlier today, I got excited at the sight of a magazine nestled between various bills and advertisements.

    The giddiness turned to disappointment when I turned the magazine (Time) over and saw the cover story:

    The Myth About Exercise: Of course it’s good for you, but it won’t make you lose weight.  Why it’s what you eat that really counts.

    I immediately flashed back to physicist Gary Taubes’ 2002 New York Times Magazine cover article where he “made the case” (a rather feeble case, actually) that carbohydrates (and not excess total calories) were guilty for the increasingly prevalent obesity epidemic.

    The article — and Taubes — eventually retired to the nutrition fad-dom Hall of Shame Fame, but the media salivated over that non-story for a solid year.

    Much like Taubes’, this particular article — titled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” and penned by John Cloud — makes odd leaps of logic, wrongly places blame, and is ripe for misunderstandings.

    The author begins by lamenting that after years of intense physical activity — including personal-training sessions where he is “work[ed on] like a farm animal,” he has maintained the same weight for most of his adult life.

    Has he ever considered that, perhaps, it is precisely this physical activity that is allowing to maintain his weight (rather than gain weight) as he traverses through adulthood?

    He then goes on to say:

    Like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don’t.  Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?”

    Leap of logic, anyone?

    First of all, a small amount of calories (roughly 150) directly after engaging in intense exercise are recommended to replenish glycogen stores and help with muscle repair.

    Secondly, if Mr. Cloud knows he gets hungry after exercising, why can’t he schedule his other meals accordingly?  If he, for instance, works out at 6 PM most days, he can simply have a lighter breakfast and lunch to accomodate for a more substantial snack after working out.

    His experience is also unlike that of millions of people who achieved faster weight loss once they added consistent exercise to their daily routines.

    Additionally, regular exercise makes many people more conscious of their dietary choices.  After all, if you just spent 45 minutes at the gym giving it your all, the last thing you want to do is sabotage your efforts with a 400-calorie muffin.

    It gets more interesting:

    While it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger.  That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we accrued.  Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight.  It may even be making it harder.”

    Well, at least he isn’t prone to Taubes-ish delusions that calories don’t count!

    The author’s conclusion is as silly as someone claiming staying up late is bad for their oral health because after a certain hour they are so tired that they go straight to bed and are too tired to brush their teeth and floss.

    Would THAT observation warrant a “staying up late gives you cavities!” article?  Absolutely not.

    A more sensible line of thought would be “when you know you’re having a late night, brush your teeth before you reach a certain level of tiredness.”

    In any case, I demand to see a study which shows that people who regularly exercise lose weight if they stop doing so for a period of several weeks (this obviously can’t be done with people actively seeking to gain muscle mass). Then, maybe, just maybe, I’ll buy into all this hype.

    The real problem here is that a lot of people often overestimate their physical activity levels.

    I often see, for instance, gym members head to Jamba Juice for a smoothie after their 45-minute yoga class.

    While yoga is wonderful in many ways (for flexibility and destressing), it is not a calorie burner.  A small Jamba Juice smoothie, meanwhile, can pack in anywhere from 320 to 400 calories!

    The article does make the good — and necessary — point that physical activity does not necessarily mean time at the gym.

    Anything from surfing to hip hop classes to taking the stairs at every chance you get (instead of the elevator) can also have a significant impact on health and calorie-burning.

    However, it’s hard to take an article seriously when the author attempts to bolster his argument by claiming that not working out is better for him from a weight-loss perspective because then he won’t be too tired to walk home or make a healthy meal.  Sounds to me like all he needs to do is slightly lessen the intensity of his workouts (or get his iron levels checked!).

    Also, I can’t help but nitpick at his ‘earth-shattering’ conclusion that it is “what you eat that counts.”  No, Mr. Cloud, it is also how much you eat that counts.

    Is this really worth a cover story?  Did anyone really think that as long as they jogged for 20 minutes a day they had free reign over what they ate every day?

    We come back to the concept I repeat almost every single day — focus on overall dietary patterns.  One isolated variable — whether it’s exercise or eating celery sticks or chugging down some repulsive snake oil supplement — is not going to make you thin or healthy!

    I weep for the poor trees that sacrificed their lives for this article.  Rest in peace.


    You Ask, I Answer: Exercise

    Is exercise enough?

    I know plenty of long distance runners that subsist on ice cream and candy bars, even well into their middle-age, and have perfect health.

    Can exercise overcome poor dietary choices? If so, to what degree?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Exercise in itself is NOT enough.

    Sure, exercise can help with cardiovascular heath, respiratory health, and musculoskeletal maintenance, but you also need proper nutrition to keep all systems running properly.

    Exercise does not provide Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, monounsaturated fats, or phytonutrients.

    How do you know these long-distance runners who subsist on junk are in perfect health? Have you seen their blood labs?

    Just because someone is thin and has a six pack does not necessarily mean they are in perfect health. They could have high blood pressure, low bone density, and low intakes of most vitamins and minerals.


    You Ask, I Answer: Muscle Milk

    There is a supplement drink called Muscle Milk that everybody at my gym (including trainers) seem to be raving about.

    It contains protein of course, but focuses more on it’s revolutionary fat content (which they coin as Lean Lipids).

    [They claim] they help burn fats more efficiently. Being an avid reader of your site, I’m sure this is just another gimmick but is there any truth to the types of fats ingested and improving fat burning?

    — Bexx
    Via the blog

    Muscle Milk has been the darling of protein supplements for many years.

    Can’t say I’m surprised, given the aggressive marketing, the taste that closely mimics a milkshake, and the scientific-sounding hype about “fat burning”, “lean muscle-promoting” properties.

    Before I address my issues with the product, let me say a word about personal trainers.

    I have met many personal trainers who are knowledgeable about nutrition and have studied the science appropriately, but also met a fair share who consider themselves experts simply because they subscribe to muscle magazines (most of which, by the way, take generous amounts of advertising dollars from protein-supplement manufacturers).

    Before you take nutrition advice from a personal trainer, find out what their credentials are.

    Onto Muscle Milk.

    The claim that Muscle Milk “burns” fat rather than store it is inaccurate.

    Downing three Muscle Milk shakes a day (as the company recommends) in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle will undoubtedly result in weight gain and stored fat.

    Remember: excess calories that are not burned off are stored as fat no matter what their source is.

    I do not deny that liquid calories can be helpful for building mass in conjunction with weight lifting, since it is easy to add hundreds to your day with just a few gulps.

    However, rather than spending money on powders filled with artificial sweeteners and various chemicals, opt for real food. Blending skim milk, peanut butter, a banana, and some ice cubes provides an appropriate balance of nutrients for a post-workout snack.

    I am even more baffled by Muscle Milk’s boast that it is a “low-carb” formula. If recovering from a workout is the goal, you need equal amounts of protein and carbohydrate, which is why you are better off having a glass of skim milk and a slice of whole wheat toast or fresh fruit with some cottage cheese.

    Restricting carbohydrates after a workout makes no sense.

    Remember, too, that muscle growth is ONLY achieved by stressing a muscle. People would benefit more from learning proper weight-lifting techniques and movements than chugging down hundreds of grams a protein per day which simply get excreted in urine.

    It is products like this that inspired my recent “Enough is Enough!” posting.

    People who claim to see “results” from Muscle Milk don’t realize that the credit should simply be given to efficient workouts and excess calories, not “magic ingredients” in a supplement.


    You Ask, I Answer: Swimming & Digestion

    Since I know you like to tackle myths, I have one I’m curious about.

    Should you really wait an hour after eating a meal before you go swimming to prevent cramps?

    — Heidi Conprisi
    New York, NY

    Ah, one of those old wives’ tales that will not go away.

    Every Summer I still come across news articles warning beachgoers and pool enthusiasts to avoid the water for at least an hour after enjoying their lunch.

    Let’s lay this one to rest with some Human Physiology 101.

    After a meal, blood is mainly “dispatched” to the digestive area to aid in nutrient absorption.

    The “don’t swim within an hour after eating a meal” assumes that getting in the water while this is happening leads to cramping.

    Not quite. If you are simply immersing yourself in the ocean or engaging in some light swimming in the pool, your body can most certainly handle digestion all while providing blood to the muscles.

    Unless you are planning on starting a 10 mile swim as you swallow your last morsel of lunch, there is absolutely no need for concern.

    The only thing you may experience if you push yourself too hard — as with any vigorous physical activity performed minutes after eating — is an unpleasant queasy feeling.


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein Bars

    I eat Zone Perfect Dark Chocolate nutrition bars, mainly for the protein intake but also because compared to most other Zone bars, they seemed to be less plentiful in sugar content and higher in protein.

    However, I am now wondering if these are not the best option for me? I eat one about an hour prior to walking/running.

    Sometimes I follow up my walks/runs with some light weights, so I feel like I need the protein more on those days.

    Are there other nutrition bars that I should be eating for protein instead?

    — Annemarie F.
    (location withheld)

    I would much rather you choose a different pre-workout snack, for a variety of reasons.

    A Zone bar is basically a candy bar with a little extra protein as well and a variety of vitamins and minerals tacked on so it can be advertised as containing “19 vitamins and minerals.”

    In theory, the same could be said for Doritos if Frito Lay decided to fortify their nacho cheese flavored chips.

    I much prefer you get nutrients from foods that naturally contain them.

    Keep in mind, too, that a single dark chocolate Zone bar has as much sugar as three Oreo cookies.

    As far as pre-workout foods go, they should be high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. Hence, a Zone protein bar isn’t the best choice.

    The key is to choose high-quality carbohydrates. Refined varieties that offer little nutrition (pretzels, Skittles, animal crackers, etc.) are not the best options.

    However, something like an apple, a tangerine, a handful of baby carrots, some plain oatmeal prepared with water, or a toasted slice of 100% whole grain bread are good snacks to eat 45 – 60 minutes before exercising.

    Even if you do some weight training, protein is a nutrient that better suited after exercise, not directly before.

    Ideally, a post-exercise food should contain a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

    Some examples here would be two or three celery stalks with a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter or one low-fat mozarella string cheese accompanied by a handful of grapes.

    The important thing is to always keep caloric intake in mind.

    Too many times I see people doing light exercise (i.e: walking at a fast pace on a treadmill for twenty minutes) and erroneously thinking that has to be followed up by a high-calorie protein shake that doesn’t accomplish much (other than tack on a few hundred calories).

    When it comes to optimal nutrition, think “real food” first.

    As far as I’m concerned, Zone bars belong in the “sweet treat” category.


    You Ask, I Answer: Weightlifting Supplements

    I keep hearing from fellow women weight-lifters about supplements like creatine, branch chain amino acids, ZMA [zinc monomethionine aspartate] and the role they play in muscle gains and repair.

    I have my concerns about their long-term health effects, especially on women.

    Do you think a casual weight-lifter like me (I lift 2 to 3 times a week to stay in shape) should stay away from them?

    — Mandy [last name withheld]
    Halifax, Canada

    It depends on which particular supplement you are talking about.

    Creatine phosphate is one of the most well-known lifting supplements.

    Creatine monohydrate and creatine citrate are also available; for all intents and purposes, they are the same thing (think of one as white sugar, another as brown sugar, and the other as cane juice crystals.)

    It seems that any college student moderately interested in gaining muscle mass has a container of it in their dorm kitchen.

    Although it may sound foreign, creatine is an amino acid produced by our bodies. It is also naturally found in significant quantities in all animal proteins — particularly red meat, poultry, and fish.

    Creatine serves as a backup reserve for short bursts of energy (no more than 8 to 10 seconds).

    When you’re banging out that last rep, it’s creatine that comes to the rescue to give you a final jolt of strength.

    Some people erroneously think that simply taking creatine is enough for adding muscle mass. Not so.

    All creatine does is allow your muscles to work a little harder for a little longer. In other words, you still have to put in consistent time at the gym.

    Keep in mind that although creatine is the best researched of the three supplements you ask about, none of them are regulated.

    This is quite a problem, as it means that manufacturer A’s creatine can differ greatly (i.e.: contain fillers and other useless ingredients) from manufacturer B’s.

    Although creatine can be helpful for bulking up, some of the accomplished results have more to do with muscular water retention than actual extra mass.

    Branch chain amino acids can help delay muscle fatigue, but its effect has only been considered significant in very long endurance situations, like marathons.

    For someone who works out two to three times a week to stay in shape, I find BCAA’s to be a complete waste of money.

    As for ZMA, there is very little literature on it. The only study I know of that has found it to be helpful was, not surprisingly, funded by its manufacturers.

    I also find it rather comical ZMA is advertised as some “amazing breakthrough” when it’s simply a combination of three minerals — magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B6.

    As far as long-term health effects of these supplements, there isn’t enough information to truly know.

    What we do know is that creatine appears to exacerbate dehydration. A few studies have also mentioned an increased risk for kidney problems, but that appears to only affect individuals who already have compromised kidneys.

    I’m of the belief that the best thing you can do for your health — and your training — is eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, heart-healthy fats, whole grains, and lean protein.

    No supplement is going to override a poor diet.


    You Ask, I Answer: Carb Loading

    With the New York City marathon happening tomorrow, I thought this would be a good time to ask you this.

    What is “carb loading”? I know runners do it before a race, but how does it work, and why do they do it?

    — Alice Hanover
    New York, NY

    Carb loading is about optimizing glycogen stores in muscle tissue (glycogen is the biochemistry way of saying “stored energy.”)

    Depleting these stores and then providing the body with an extreme amount of carbohydrates makes an enzyme known as glycogen synthase store the incoming carbohydrate (which is converted to glucose and then, ultimately, glycogen) very effectively.

    Think of this as equivalent to a master suitcase packer who can fit in one suitcase what most people would need three for!

    Why do this? Well, the higher the glycogen stores, the longer athletes can last in extended aerobic exercises (that is why long-distance runners — as opposed to bodybuilders — practice this.)

    Carb loading can double the amount of glycogen stored in muscle tissue, so it can potentially provide marathon participants with significant advantage, provided it is done correctly.

    There are two ways to do this (both methods take place over the course of seven days prior to the athletic event.)

    The traditional way (developed in the 1960s) had athletes sharply decreasing their carbohydrate intake to Stage 1 Atkins levels (no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates — what you find in a slice of bread — a day) while vigorously training for three days.

    FYI: Putting a long-distance runner on a low-carb regimen is pretty much the most cruel thing you can do.

    The next three days, carbohydrate intake would skyrocket to approximately 80% of calories while physical activity continually decreased.

    On the seventh day (the day before the race), carbohydrate intake would remain extremely high and physical activity was not to be performed.

    Newer methods are less extreme.

    For the first three days, athletes consume roughly 60 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. Once that stage is complete, they take in approximately 80% of their calories from carbohydrates for the next three days.

    In this method, exercise is on a constant decline (from very intense in Day 1 to absolutely none in Day 6.)

    Since carb loading asks for high amounts of carbohydrates, this is one of the few times you will hear Registered Dietitians recommend low-fiber foods.

    This serves two purposes — it allows athletes to fill up less quickly and also prevents stomach complications (80 percent of calories from high-fiber foods could get rather uncomfortable.)


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein/Abs

    One of my friends wants to lose some excess weight from his stomach and have visible abs, so last week he started eating pretty much nothing but lean protein, protein shakes, and steamed vegetables.

    He doesn’t work out or eat any kind of carbs (apart from the steamed vegetables.)

    He says he is already seeing results.

    What do you think?

    — Tom (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I think your friend is absolutely misguided and approaching the situation with very little thought.

    While it is true that abs “are made in the kitchen” (meaning that your diet must be very carefully managed, since visible abs are the result of low body fat, rather than endless crunches), eating nothing but protein and steamed vegetables is not the answer.

    I don’t know what your friend’s diet was like prior to this, but it is very likely he will lose weight with this particular way of eating, as I am sure his total daily caloric intake has decreased.

    Remember, though, that low-carb diets get rid of water weight in the first few days, which is what I think he refers to when he claims he is “already seeing results.”

    The fact that he does not work out is a significant problem.

    Building muscle tone helps speed up metabolism, thereby facilitating weight loss while maintaining muscle mass (this way, you are losing mostly fat.)

    These kind of ultra low-carb diets are also impossible to sustain for more than a few weeks.

    If your friend wants to have visible abs, he has to keep a few things in mind:

    1) Genetics play a role. Some people have an easier time achieving a six pack, while others can “only” show off a “four-pack” with that same amount of effort.

    2) We all have abs. They are invisible, though, when they are hidden by a layer of fat. If you’d like to proudly display them, you must get your body fat down to approximately 6 or 7 percent. That absolutely requires vigorous physical activity several times a week.

    3) In order to engage in vigorous physical activity several times a week, he certainky needs to take in more carbs than he is now. Otherwise, he will not have sufficient endurance, and his body will start breaking down muscle to provide him with sufficient energy!

    His goal should be to increase physical activity, eat as few processed foods as possible, and maintain a pre-determined caloric range.

    Otherwise, I see him lasting two more weeks and then simply going to the other extreme — declaring this “too difficult” and “not worth it.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein and Weight Training

    Using your calculation I should be getting 54 grams of protein a day, which is not a problem.

    I have started strength training, [so] should I up my protein intake?

    If so, by how much?

    — Chris (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    As you have figured out, protein requirements are extremely easy to meet.

    A three ounce portion (as large as the palm of your hand and no wider than your pinky) of salmon or chicken provides 27 grams, a sandwich consisting of two slices of whole wheat bread and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter adds up to 24 grams, a cup of milk delivers 8 grams, half a cup of lentils packs in 9 grams, and 23 almonds (one ounce) clock in at 6 grams.

    Since the 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the minimum requirement, you you can safely double that intake – in your case, I would suggest not surpassing the 110 – 120 gram point.

    As far as strength training is concerned, I’m assuming you want to know if upping protein intake will help you gain muscle mass.

    The answer is both “yes” and “no.”

    Acquiring muscle mass is achieved by shocking muscle groups and eating additional calories.

    Some of these calories will surely come from protein, but also fats and carbohydrates.

    Many people make the mistake of concentrating solely on protein, missing out on excess calories. Without more calories, you will not put on muscle mass!

    Let’s say you currently eat 2,000 calories and 90 grams of protein a day.

    A 1,700 calorie diet with 160 grams of protein is a lot less effective at helping you gain mass than a 2,500 calorie diet with 95 grams of protein.

    The best suggestion I can give you is in regards to timing.

    Be sure to eat a snack that contains complex carbohydrates and protein no later than 45 minutes after your workout for optimal glycogen refueling. A glass of skim milk and a tablespoon of peanut butter on whole wheat toast is one good example.


    You Ask, I Answer: Exercise, Whey Protein

    I am a “semi” vegan (I eat eggs and fish, I know there is an official term for that, but I can’t remember it!)

    I avoid processed food [and] exercise in the morning approximately 6 days a week, walking briskly for an hour. I [recently] added cycling 3 times a week (approximately 20 miles.)

    With the additional exercise I was feeling a little sluggish and headachy in the afternoon.

    I felt like I needed more protein in my diet, so I bought, and have been using, whey protein in a soy milkshake for breakfast.

    Am I falling back into the trap of “Franken foods” by using whey protein?

    — Barbara (last name withheld)
    Carmel, IN

    As far as technicalities go, your diet (lacto-ovo vegetarian who also eats fish) qualifies as pescatarian.

    You will find, though, that it’s often easier to describe yourself as “vegetarian”, since “pescatarian” is often met with puzzled looks.

    The symptoms you are experiencing are completely unrelated to low protein intake.

    I don’t know your specific medical history, but assuming you are a “normal”, healthy adult, I am leaning towards one of the following: low caloric intake, low carbohydrate intake (headaches are often a symptom of not consuming enough carbohydrates), or dehydration.

    Remember that protein needs are not as high as advertisers want us to believe.

    To determine how much YOU need, take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2.

    Then, multiply THAT number by 0.8.

    Whatever number you get as a result of that calculation is the minimum amount of protein you should be getting on a daily basis. You can get up to 200 or 250% of that number with no problems.

    Protein deficiency in the United States — and other developed nations — is extremely, extremely rare.

    I am suspecting you need to increase your carbohydrate intake, particularly after exercising.

    Your glycogen stores need to be replaced, and a snack combining complex carbohydrates and some protein is the best way to achieve that.

    Something as simple as a toasted slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter or a piece of fruit accompanied by a glass of dairy or soy milk should do the trick.

    I don’t consider whey protein in itself to be a “Franken” food, but many of the ready-to-consume shakes and bars can be heavily processed.

    I just don’t think extra amounts of protein will provide much relief.

    NOTE: If your symptoms persist, please consult your physician. This answer should not be seen as a diagnosis.

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