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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pasta Alternatives for Pre-Endurance Fueling

During marathon season, fellow runners ask what they should eat the night before to fuel a long training run.  Most runners automatically assume the answer is pasta. While pasta is a great choice, it can cause gastrointestinal troubles for some, and it can simply get old and boring for others.

Runners with Celiac disease simply cannot eat a wheat-based pasta (regular pasta made with wheat contains gluten, a wheat protein that triggers digestive problems in Celiac disease patients).  Runners suffering from non-Celiac gluten sensitivity also may find pasta to be a poor pre-race choice.  Runners in neither of these categories simply may be eating too much pasta, or choosing a sauce that may cause gastrointestinal issues.  Cream sauces (think penne a la vodka) are heavy in fat and digest slowly, which can cause race day stomach issues. A simple marinara sauce, while having little or no fat,  may be too acidic and cause acid reflux.

Picture: Thinkstock Source: National Features

Training season is the best time to test-drive your pre-race meal vs. trying something new the night before race day. Why not try some of these carbohydrate-rich alternatives to pasta the night before a long run:

·         White rice:  Cook up a bowl of white rice, toss with vegetables, and a tablespoon of teriyaki or soy sauce for flavor. Or, eat rice as a side dish with a lean protein like chicken or fish.
·         Sweet potato: Cut sweet potato into pieces, cut up an apple, grab some golden raisins, toss them all together in a light drizzle of olive oil, season with paprika and garlic powder, and bake.
·         Breakfast for dinner: What about a batch of blueberry pancakes? Cut back on sugar and use a small spread of jam on the pancakes with some peanut butter vs. traditional pancake syrup.  Even a bagel with jam and peanut butter for those lazy, no-cook nights.
·         Rice-based pasta: For those with Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, cook up a rice-based (gluten-free) pasta. As with regular pasta, be careful of your sauce choice. Try tossing it in olive oil, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. Or try a balsamic glaze with veggies mixed in.
·         Healthy pizza: Buy a pre-made thick pizza crust (thick crust = more carbs). Use a thin layer of pizza sauce, and approximately ½-3/4 cup (depending on size of crust) of a low-fat shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle whatever toppings you crave: black olives, broccoli, slices of turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, or chopped grilled chicken.  You may omit cheese and use only veggies and pizza sauce.

Race training is not just for logging miles, but for testing out what makes your gut happy. A big bowl of rice and veggies may be just what you need to power you through your long run, while another runner may feel best eating a large baked sweet potato and baked breaded chicken. Fine tune your pre-race fueling during training months and never try something new the night before or morning of a race.

Alison Barkman, MS, RD, CDN is an adjunct professor for nutrition undergraduates at LIU/Post in Brookville, NY. An avid runner and gym rat, she is asked questions daily about nutrition and exercise. Her love for all things sports nutrition has driven her to begin a sports nutrition practice in Garden City, NY (Long Island). She can be reached at or 516-220-9320. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Feast on Beets!

Picture Source  
It’s no secret that vegetables are good for us. But the humble beet may have a little extra to offer. Beets are high in inorganic nitrates which may exert an ergogenic – or performance enhancing – effect. In fact, consuming beetroot juice may have the ability to improve running performance and reduce the oxygen costs of exercise.1

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at whether eating 200 grams of whole beetroot, which is about 500 mg of nitrates, prior to exercise would improve running performance during a treadmill time trial.2 The study used a double-blind crossover design in which subjects ate either baked beets or a placebo consisting of cranberry relish 75 minutes prior to completing a 5 kilometer treadmill time trail test. It turns out that those who consumed the baked beets significantly improved their running times by three percent. While this difference may not seem like much, a three percent faster time translates to a 41 second faster finishing time. This increase in performance is most likely due to the conversion of nitrate to nitrite and finally to nitric oxide in the body.
So how does dietary nitrate get converted to nitric oxide?

The breakdown and use of dietary nitrates actually begins in your mouth. The bacteria on your tongue help reduce about a quarter of the dietary nitrate from foods – such as beets – to nitrite which is then swallowed and reduced to nitric oxide when it mixes with the acid in your stomach. Nitric oxide regulates vasodilation, relaxing blood vessels and increasing blood flow, which reduces the oxygen cost of exercise. This means, your muscles can use less energy to produce the same amount of work.3

From a practical standpoint, this study indicates that consuming 200 g of beetroot, or two medium sized beets – equating to approximately 500 mg of nitrates – an hour or two before exercise could improve your running performance. Different methods of cooking techniques – such as baking or pureeing – do not appear to reduce the nitrate content. Therefore, don’t be afraid to get creative even though drinking beet root juice may be more palatable. Try smoothies, bake them into chips, or try other recipes from the web!

Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a NANBF Natural Competitive bodybuilder, a nutrition columnist for “The Collegian,” and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential.
1.       Ormsbee MJ, Lox J, Arciero PJ. Beetroot juice and exercise performance. Nutr Diet Suppl. 2013:5 27-35.
2.       Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heuertz, R., Weiss, E. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012; 112(4):548-552.
3.       Larsen FJ, Sschiffer TA, Borniquel S, et al. Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans. Cell Metab. 2011; 13(2): 149-59.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to help your team win with nutrition: One Coach’s Report

Below is a letter I received from a soccer coach whose team has embraced proper fueling as a way to get to the winners’ circle.  I hope it will inspire you to get your team on the Good Nutrition bandwagon!

Dear Nancy,
I wanted to give you an update on what's happening with our boys’ high school soccer team. Inspired by your Food Guide For Soccer, we've slowly gone from giving only very basic nutrition advice other than "hydrate and eat carbs" to a full-fledged nutrition "battle plan.”


 Pre-season, the head coach asked if I would talk to the players on nutrition, explaining he wanted to make nutrition education a big part of this years’ season.  I agreed and have talked to the players, sometimes several times a week. The information I give them comes almost exclusively from your Food Guide for Soccer, Sports Nutrition Guidebook, website, and other articles you have written. The players are being taught, to the best of our ability, the what, when's and why's of nutrition and how it impacts them and their game. 

Our official high school season began on Aug 31 with two games against two very tough opponents.  We ended the day with two wins.  3-0 and 5-0. We are about half way through our regular season with a record of 7 wins, 1 tie and two losses.  We are one game away from first place in our division and the team has their sights set on a county championship as well as a district and state title.

The players are engaged and believe in the nutrition improvement effort. They've felt and seen the results and most (dare I say all?) of them get it.  I had to chuckle as some of the boys told me that that about a half hour before their first game this season they saw most of the opposing team line up at the snack bar and walk away eating hot dogs, burgers and fried chicken.  Our nutrition guide (something I prepare for each game) for that game advised them to avoid those items. We offered them alternatives.  Fresh fruit, thick-crust pizza, soft pretzels, and a choice of chocolate milk, water or sports drinks.  We beat the opposing team 5-0.  First time in 3 years!

For critical evening games, we'll often keep them at school and feed them before they board the bus at 4:30. They have all trained their bodies to accept pre- and mid-game fueling. We've just started to include an additional "emergency" bag of gummies to be used if we find ourselves in overtime situations. We offer them low fat chocolate milk within 15-20 minutes of the end of each game.  They all enjoy it and they all know WHAT it's doing for them. They've made their water bottle their best friend. This season leg cramps are extremely rare. 

I keep reinforcing my doubt that any team we face will be as well prepared nutritionally. While some teams we'll face may be technically better, most of them will hit the wall by halftime.  The “good nutrition advantage” as you know is both physical and psychological. That's powerful.

The players now consider proper fueling to be their secret weapon.  The gummy bear bag is passed around discretely during halftime and the post-game refueling never takes place within view of the opposing team.  FUNNY!  It shows me they believe!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the helpful information in your books!

With appreciation,
A happy high school soccer-nutrition coach

Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
Sports nutrition counselor, consultant, speaker (Philly 1/24; Pitt. 2/7; online 24-7) (books, handouts, PowerPoint talks)

Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook NEW Fifth Edition
Food guides for soccer, new runners, marathoners, cyclists   iPhone app: Recipes for Athletes

1155 Walnut St, Newton Highlands, MA 02461

Phone:  617.795.1875  Fax: 617.963.7408

Monday, October 6, 2014

Keeping Your Youth Athlete Hydrated…Even in the Fall

Q. I’m the coach of both a youth football team and a youth baseball team in the summer, I’ve have noticed that the kids ask for water breaks during baseball more often than in the fall. Since the weather is typically cooler in the fall, should I schedule less water breaks or should I give the football players the same drinking opportunities as the kids in the summer?

Yes, you should indeed schedule as many water breaks! For youth football players, the weather can become tropical inside their uniforms. They can sweat a lot, even if the weather feels cool for the coaches and parents. Yet, because the weather is cool, the kids may not think to drink as often.

If the kids become dehydrated, they will be cranky, tired, and have less fun. One goal of youth sports is to have FUN! So please do offer your team frequent drinking opportunities. You can use the breaks as a time to educate the kids about the importance of staying well hydrated so they feel better and prevent needless fatigue.

As for what to drink, water is generally fine for youth sports. As long as they have had a pre-practice snack, they will have the energy they need to perform well and will not need sugar-based sports drinks. They will not be sweating enough to require the little bit of sodium (electrolyte) that is in a sports drink. Sports drinks are designed to be taken during endurance exercise that lasts for more than 1.5 hours, such as marathons; sports drinks generally are not essential for youth sports.

While many kids enjoy sports drinks before, during and after practices and games, I’d encourage wholesome foods before exercise (banana, bagel, orange, graham crackers), water during, and chocolate milk afterwards (if the kids will not be eating a meal soon thereafter). Chcolate milk for recovery contains both carbs to refuel the muscles, as well as protein to build and repair muscles – as well as calcium for growing bones.

With best wishes for a rewarding season,

Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
Sports nutrition counselor, consultant, speaker (Philly 1/24; Pitt. 2/7; online 24-7) (books, handouts, PowerPoint talks)

Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook NEW Fifth Edition
Food guides for soccer, new runners, marathoners, cyclists   iPhone app: Recipes for Athletes

1155 Walnut St, Newton Highlands, MA 02461
617.795.1875  Fax: 617.963.7408

Monday, September 29, 2014

Endurance Athletes: Don’t Forget About Protein

Refuel, rehydrate, and repair. These three interrelated approaches should be the focus for all competitive athletes engaged in endurance-based training. Your fuel stores, body fluids, and electrolytes can easily become depleted following a long sustained endurance training session. This makes replenishing fuel stores and rehydrating essential for optimizing training performance. 

However, many endurance athletes tend to overlook the importance of dietary protein and only focus on carbohydrates and hydration. It’s time to change that, here is a quick review on the importance of dietary protein for endurance athletes.

Amino acids – specifically leucine, a known regulator of muscle protein synthesis (Norton 2006) – are oxidized during endurance training. The degree to which amino acids are oxidized is based on several factors such as exercise intensity and low muscle glycogen availability to name a few. None the less, these lost amino acids do not contribute to muscle protein synthesis and should be replaced through your dietary intake.

The current population requirement for protein is set at 0.8 g/kg per day or 0.36 g/lb. per day. This recommendation is not sufficient for athletes involved in strenuous endurance or resistance training. The general protein recommendation for endurance athletes is 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg per day or 0.55 to 0.64 g/lb. per day. (Rodriguez 2007) For example, a 150 lb. endurance athlete should consume in the range of 83 to 96 grams of protein per day. But, the majority of endurance athletes are likely meeting or exceeding this range when their daily energy needs are met. (IOC, 2010) 

Meeting the recommendations for protein, however, may not be as important as the type of protein and the timing of intake for maximizing recovery and adaptations. (Tarnopolsky 2004).

The amount of protein consumed is an important nutritional consideration. After resistance training, even small (5 to 10 g) of protein increases muscle protein synthesis (Moore et al. 2009). Muscle protein synthesis is further increased after the ingestion of a larger (20g) dose of protein, but plateaus with a bigger dose. (Witard et al. 2014) Therefore, it seems practical to recommend similar amounts of protein – that is 20 to 25 g – after endurance training to facilitate muscle remodeling processes.

The quality of protein you consume is also an important factor. Dietary proteins differ in amino acid concentrating and the rates at which they are digested and absorbed. As mentioned subsequently, leucine serves as a substrate for muscle protein synthesis. Therefore athletes who wish to enhance muscle protein synthesis during their early recovery phase may benefit more with the ingestion of rapidly, leucine-enriched proteins like whey (Breen et al. 2011). Other high-quality sources of protein include eggs, dairy, lean meats, and soy.

While little attention has focused on the ability of dietary protein to enhance skeletal muscle remodeling and promote adaptations for the endurance athlete, the fact that dietary protein is the building blocks for muscle makes protein an important – and perhaps underappreciated – nutritional component for endurance athletes. 
Always seek advice from a sports dietitian to optimize dietary protein intake as every athlete is different.

Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a NANBF Natural Competitive bodybuilder, a nutrition columnist for “The Collegian,” and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Once Gavin becomes an RD, he will aim to achieve the distinguished Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) credential.

Breen, L., Philip, A., Witard, O.C., Jackman, S.R., Selby, A., Smith, K., et al. 2011. The influence of carbohydrate-protein co-ingestion following endurance exercise on myofibrillar and mitochondrial protein synthesis. J. Physiol. 589(16): 4011-4025. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2011.211888.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Consensus Statement on Sports Nutrition, 2010.
Moor, D.R., Robinson, M.J., Fry, J.L., Tang, J.E., Glover, E.I., Wilkinson, S.B., et al. 2009. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 89(1): 161-168. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26401.
Norton LE, Layman DK. Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise. J Nutr 136: 533S–537S, 2006.
Rodriguez NR, Vislocky LM, Gaine PC. Dietary protein, endurance exercise, and human skeletal-muscle protein turnover. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2007; 10:40-45.
Tarnopolsky, M. 2004. Protein requirements for endurance athletes. Nutrition, 20(7-8): 662-668. doi.10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.008.
Witard, O.C., Jackman, S.R., Breen, L., Smith, K., Selby, A., and Tipton, K.D. 2014. Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 99(1): 86-95. doe:10.3945/ajcn.112.055517.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mindless Weightloss

How about a diet that you don’t know you’re on?  That sounds too good to be true.  Brian Wansink, of Mindless Eating and soon to be released, Skinny By Design has a research lab dedicated to environmental cues that lead to over eating.  This could explain why you always reach for the Hershey Kisses on your desk.  Their research shows that if you move it at least 6 feet away, you’ll be less inclined to munch.  Simple tricks like these can save Calories daily and result in gradual weight loss without deprivation.

Here are a few tips:
Personalize your diet danger zone. 
Do you eat without abandon every afternoon?  Do you find yourself eating out of boredom?  Can’t pass a candy dish?  Wansink discusses how everyone has a meal script.  To avoid mindless eating you need to figure out a plan to change the “script”, if you eat compulsively in the afternoons when not hungry take a walk instead, take a different route home bypassing the fast food restaurants.
There is no one perfect diet. 
 Each person needs to evaluate what their road blocks are and how to bypass or detour them.  

Watch less TV. 
People who watch a lot of television are known to exercise less, weigh more, and eat more than people who watch less TV. Wansink’s studies show that people watched 60 minutes of TV ate 28% more than those who watched 30 minutes of television.  Think of how much more you’d eat during a Netflix binge.

Cut down on portions or servings without knowing it. 
Serve yourself 20% less on a plate.  This can be a gradual calorie reduction of 100-
200 Calories per day that your body won’t notice; you’ll end up with a gradual
weight loss over a few months.

Other great (and free) resources can be found at


Gina (Lesako) Volsko is a Columbus, Ohio based RD and the SCAN blog coordinator.  Contact her at to be a SCAN blogger.  You can find her blogging at Sport2Fork and Food and Nutrition Magazine's Stone Soup Blog.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Natural Bodybuilding Recommendations Cheat Sheet

Interest in bodybuilding or improving one's own physique is gaining popularity with Facebook pages and #fitspo all over Instagram.  In a recent article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Helms, et al. provided science backed guidelines for natural body building.

Here's a summary of the report:

Gradual reduction in Calories should be set so that the athlete loses 0.5-1 lbs. per week to maximize muscle retention.

Recommendations are set at 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass (not all competitors will respond to this but the majority will).

Keep within 15-30% of Calories from fat and the remainder of Calories from carbohydrates.

Meal frequency:

3-6 meals per day with a meal containing 0.4-0.5 g/kg of bodyweight for protein prior and subsequent to resistance training to maximize benefits of nutrient timing and frequency.  Alterations in timing appear to have little effect on fat loss or lean mass retention.

Additional considerations:
The practice of dehydration and electrolyte manipulation in the final days and hours prior to competition can be dangerous, and may not improve appearance. Increasing carbohydrate intake at the end of preparation has a theoretical rationale to improve appearance, however it is understudied. Thus, if carbohydrate loading is pursued it should be practiced prior to competition and its benefit assessed individually. Finally, competitors should be aware of the increased risk of developing eating and body image disorders in aesthetic sport and therefore should have access to the appropriate mental health professionals.

Find the full article here: