Alcohol celebration

Drink Up (Alcohol) and Shortcut Muscle Growth and Recovery

After making the game winning catch, a leaping single-handed snatch with just a few seconds left on the clock, its time to celebrate and drinks are on the house.

Before you reach for that second (or third) drink, read this: drinking alcohol can interfere with muscle growth and delay recovery from training. In a recent study, men completed a leg workout followed by cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes and a set of 10 intervals (the study design was developed to mimic playing a team sport). Immediately and 4 hours post exercise they consumed whey protein, whey + alcohol or whey + carbohydrate. Alcohol plus whey protein reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis (muscle protein synthesis correlates with muscle growth over time) by an astounding 24% compared to drinking the whey protein without any alcohol. When alcohol was consumed without protein (as is often the case when athletes go out and party after a game), there was a 37% reduction in muscle protein synthesis. So what’s the bottom line? Alcohol interferes with muscle repair and recovery.

Here’s a breakdown of what alcohol can do to your performance and recovery:

  1. Alcohol interferes with the muscle growth and repair.
  2. Drinking alcohol can affect the way an athlete eats after a workout or game. Think about it – how often do you make healthy food choices after you’ve had a few drinks? “I’ll have another Long Island Iced Tea alongside the chicken and steamed vegetables platter with a side of mashed sweet potatoes.” Yeah right.
  3. Alcohol decreases blood testosterone levels in men in a dose dependent manner. The more you drink the more your testosterone decreases.
  4. Alcohol makes you dehydrated. That pounding headache you woke up with the last time you drank too much? Part of that is the result of dehydration.
  5. Alcohol impairs memory, focus, reaction time, accuracy and fine motor skills.

Drinking alcohol before a competition certainly won’t help your performance. And, by affecting your fine motor skills, alcohol can increase your risk for injury (poor motor patterns = greater likelihood of getting injured). Drinking alcohol after a training session or game can also impair memory, which may affect the way that you remember training strategies or game plans.

Overall, drinking alcohol before or after exercise is not a good idea. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes avoid alcohol 48 hours before a game or performance. Additionally, they recommend drinking plenty of water and eating well after a game. And though it’s tempting to go out and party to celebrate, think before you drink and drink responsibly.

References:

Bianco A, Thomas E, Pomara F, Tabacchi G, Karsten B, Paoli A, Palma A. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014;11(1):26.

Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PloS one 2014;9(2):e88384.

Kozir LP. ACSM current comment: Alcohol and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine. Internet: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/alcoholandathleticperformance.pdf?sfvrsn=5 (accessed 13 November 2014).

eye drops

Helping Dry Eyes with Better Nutrition

Tears protect your eyes from dust, infections and pollution. And therefore, those with chronic dry eye, caused by either a decrease in tear production (the prescription drug Restasis helps this) or tears that evaporate too quickly, may notice their eyes are frequently so dry they hurt, sting or feel gritty. In addition, chronic dry eye can lead to blurred vision, heightened sensitivity to light or smoke/pollution, excessive tearing, or like someone took sandpaper and rubbed it on them. There are a number of causes of chronic dry eye including Lasik surgery, thyroid disorders, and certain autoimmune diseases (including Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes drying of the mucus membranes including the eyes, mouth and sinuses). If left untreated chronic dry eye can lead to irritation, inflammation, blurred vision, increased risk of developing an eye infection, and scarring of the cornea.

How can you soothe chronic dry eyes? Follow these steps:

  • First and foremost – see an ophthalmologist.
  • Drink plenty of fluid every day.
  • Eat fatty fish at least twice per week or consider a fish oil supplement (always tell your physician about any dietary supplements you are taking). I typically recommend at least 1 gram of EPA + DHA combined (check the label to see how much EPA and DHA the product contains per serving; EPA and DHA are the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish). I like EZ Tears by Zeavision – this supplement contains omega 3s plus other ingredients and seems to help more than omega 3 supplements alone.
  • Consider caffeine in moderation. One study found that caffeine may help increase tear production.
  • Cut down on antihistamine use if possible. Allegra, Zyrtec and other antihistamines can increase dryness. Decongestants also increase dry eye so weigh the benefits versus side effects before using them.
  • Use eye drops for dry eyes (not those for redness).
  • Put warm compresses on your eyes for 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Cut down on diuretics unless they are prescribed by your physician.
  • Talk to your physician about all of your medications. Certain blood pressure drugs, birth control pills and other prescription medications can increase dryness.
  • Take breaks from the computer, TV, iPad and other electronics. Starring at these for hours may further decrease tear production.
Salmon

Feast on Fish for Your Heart

By Collier Perno

If you’re among the 60% of Americans with elevated blood pressure I’m sure you’ve heard your doctors say these things: “lower your sodium intake,” “increase your physical activity,” and “decrease your alcohol consumption.” While these are all great recommendations, new research has shows there is an alternative treatment that may be even better at lowering blood pressure: the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA)4.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential (the human body can’t make them) polyunsaturated fat. There are three main types of omega-3s, EPA, DHA and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in cold-water fish, fish oil, and algae and are crucial for brain development, reducing inflammation, protecting structural cell integrity, and they may help decrease muscle soreness in athletes1.

In March of 2014, the American Journal of Hypertension released a comprehensive meta analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies) that examined 70 randomized controlled trials studying the effect EPA and DHA on blood pressure (BP). Participants were adults with normal BP and adults with high blood pressure who were not taking BP lowering medications. Subjects were given EPA and DHA omega-3s in the form of seafood, fortified foods, or dietary supplements. The results of the study showed a decrease in both systolic and diastolic BP in all adults. The most significant effects were found in those with existing high BP. There was an average 4.51 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was reduced by an average 3.05 mm Hg4.

The analysis also compared common lifestyle recommendations and their effects on BP to EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids effects on BP. The findings were astonishing. When looking at SBP (the top number – this reflects the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 had an average decrease of 4.51 mm Hg, while reduced dietary sodium had an average reduction of 3.6 mm Hg, and decreased alcohol consumption had an average 3.8 mm Hg decrease. The only lifestyle recommendation shown to have a greater decrease in SBP was increased physical activity, which lowered SBP by 4.6 mmHg.

Still not sold on the benefits of consuming omega-3? There’s more! Over the past two decades, some research has linked the consumption of omega-3 fish oils to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. killing about 600,000 Americans each year (that’s 1 in every 4 deaths)2. As previously discussed, omega-3s reduce BP levels (a major risk factor for heart disease) and lower triglyceride levels. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded consumption of omega-3 fatty acids creates a significant cardioprotective effect in non-hypertensive individuals3.

How do I get my omega-3 fatty acids?

  • The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to increase omega-3 dietary intake
  • Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, sardines, herring, albacore tuna, and salmon are all great sources of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Eating walnuts, flax seeds, soy beans, kidney beans, and tofu are other great ways to increase your omega 3 consumption. These provide Alpha- Linoleic Acid (ALA) form of omega 3s.
  • When looking for omega 3 supplements choose nordic naturals or any supplement that is USP certified. Costco’s Kirkland brand is a great option!
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids | University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 Fat. Acids. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  2. CDC – DHDSP – Heart Disease Facts. Am. Heart Dis. Facts. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  3. Key Messages for JAMA/Annals of Internal Medicine Studies. Journal of American Medical Association. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  1. Cid, Martha. Omega-3s Can Significantly Reduce Blood Pressure, Study Finds.     Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Accessed November 12,20
ICBINB! Image

Eat Real Food

While in the midst of writing about the debate on dietary fats, I stumbled across this article, which advises us to “eat real food” and “avoid anything that didn’t exist 100 years ago” (ugggg but I like broccolini! and, you might find me kicking and screaming if I have to give up frozen food). The “eat real food” advice is something I’ve seen over and over from fitness people and journalists alike and each time I wonder what on earth are they talking about and what the h%^# is ‘real food’? 

First of all, the advice to eat “real food” is useless because there is no definition for it. Is it real if it came out of a ground? What if it came out of a ground, was chopped and found in the frozen foods isle? Clearly this means it’s not real because frozen vegetables didn’t exist 100 years ago! And, in this particular article, the author suggests we trade in oil-based spreads (he named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter in particular) because he is an advocate for a diet high in saturated fat (I’m guessing because he hasn’t read the actual studies on saturated fat). And I’m left wondering if I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (non-GMO sourced ingredients: water, plant oils, salt, monoglycerides & diglycerides* – part of oil that is used as an emulsifier, lecithin* – another emulsifier, vinegar, natural flavors, vitamin A and beta carotene – an antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A, for color) his example of ultra processed food and butter (ingredients: cream, milk and salt) is real food? What makes one real and the other not real? I wonder if he’d approve if I made my own spread at home with ingredients from my kitchen cabinet?

Second off, one of my colleagues recently brought up an excellent point – telling people to “eat real food” is a statement full of judgement. And how do you expect people to change their behaviors when they feel like they are being judged and feel shamed about what they are eating? As a dietitian, I’m not here to judge you or your diet. I’m only here to help people move in the right direction. And if you aren’t my client or  one of my parents, the chances of me even noticing what you are eating or what you put in your shopping cart are slim to none.

So please, unless the FDA comes up with a concrete definition for “real food,” let’s stop pointing fingers and telling people to eat a category of foods that is so ill-defined.

* an emulsifier helps blend oil and water and therefore makes a spread a spread

Businessman eating lunch

When You Should Eat if You Want to Lose Weight

As adults we are taught to eat when it is time to eat – first thing when we wake up before leaving for work, during our lunch hour, at dinnertime. And, if you’ve ever been on a diet you probably followed specific rules regarding  when you should eat and when you should put your fork down. And though all of these time-based schedules for eating contradict intuitive eating – eat when you are hungry (hello simplicity!) – there may be something to meal timing if your goal is weight loss…

Animal studies suggest when we eat may be just as important as what we eat. And, a recent human study examining the timing of meals and weight loss while on a Mediterranean diet + physical activity intervention provided support for this meal timing theory. Study authors found those who were described as “late lunch eaters” (before 3 pm) lost significantly less weight than “early lunch eaters” (after 3 pm) though reported calorie intake was similar between both groups. Another pattern that is important to note – those who ate lunch late also ate dinner late compared to the early lunch eaters.

Though you may want to start setting your alarm clock for mealtime, keep in mind that this study showed an association, not causation (they didn’t intervene and change meal times and then analyze the results). And therefore, it is possible that those who ate lunch early had specific lifestyle characteristics, genetics or sleep patterns that contributed to their changes in weight while on this diet and exercise intervention. Plus, they didn’t report changes in body fat (though they did take these measures) so it isn’t clear if the early eaters lost more fat or muscle or both. But, here’s how you can take this new study and additional research (plus my observations) on this topic and figure out what is best for you:

  • If you have disordered eating/an eating disorder, follow the advice of your RD regarding meal timing.
  • Shift your food intake to earlier in the day because, eating earlier may prevent bingeing or overeating later on. Clients who have a skewed eating pattern – dieting during the day and eating as little as possible – tend to overeat at night (and make less than wise choices). So, make sure you actually eat meals (at least 3 per day).
  • Eating more often seems to decrease hunger and improve appetite control.
  • Eating multiple times per day will not make you burn more calories.
  • Eat a good amount of protein at each meal to preserve muscle during weight loss (30 grams or about the size of your palm; more than this if you have little hands). The more calories you cut the more protein you need to hold on to your muscle.
  •  If you hate breakfast, skip it. But, eat a meal as soon as you are hungry (I don’t care if it isn’t “mealtime”) and eat your lunch whenever you are hungry after that.
  • Eat your meals when you are hungry (or a snack to hold you off if you are eating with others at a set time). There’s something to be said for paying attention to your body. If you just ate lunch and you are hungry an hour later, than eat. Have a little faith in your hunger cues.

References:

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2011; 8: 4.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2013;37(4):604-611.

Freshly baked bagels

Do Carbohydrates Make You Fat?

When I was in college I would often eat 3-4 bagels per day (free from the cafeteria and portable), along with cream of wheat in the morning, fruit and/or starchy veggies at lunch, heaping quantities of brown rice at dinner, and a bowl (or two) of Raisin Bran with milk after dinner. I wasn’t on an all carbohydrate diet, I ate all of this in addition to regular meals . As a cross country runner, I was just plain hungry. Despite my high carb diet, my body fat via underwater weighing (the benefit of being an exercise physiology student) was very low, as in elite distance runner low. So when I hear people suggest carbohydrates are a surefire path to obesity for everyone, I shake my head and think “no, clearly they are not.”

Carbohydrates have taken a hit in recent years because 1) they taste good and are therefore easy to overeat (Which one tastes better: a jumbo size blueberry muffin or grilled chicken breast?) and 2) carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin from our pancreas, a hormone that increases carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) uptake by muscle and fat cells while also suppressing the breakdown of fat tissue. Sounds like a double whammy right? It definitely can be if you chronically overeat. But, if you only eat the amount of calories you need each day or less than you need over time, you’ll maintain or even lose weight (in the absence of Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance). And that is why the weight loss research shows that over time higher carbohydrate diets result in similar weight loss as low carbohydrate diets in healthy individuals. However, there are two big caveats to this “total calories” approach to weight loss:

1) If you don’t eat enough protein each day (and I recommend a minimum of 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner) – 0.55 – 0.91 grams per pound of body weight per day, you will lose a good bit of muscle during weight loss.

2) If you have insulin resistance, PCOS or Type 2 diabetes, a lower carbohydrate diet combined with exercise is the most effective way to take off weight (work with your MD to adjust any glucose lowering medications or insulin you are on based on your change in diet and/or drop in weight).

If you want to read more on this topic including the design of an exciting upcoming study, check out this thorough overview I wrote for FitnessRx.

In the meantime, remember there is no one perfect diet for all people. Are there times I ask my clients to cut down on their intake of carbs (particularly the junk food carbs)? Yes, absolutely. But, I take their overall diet, goals and what they will realistically do into account. And you should too. Because adherence, the ability to stick with a diet program, is the biggest factor that will predict weight loss success. So don’t jump on your neighbor’s diet detox 2 shakes-per-day bandwagon or let yourself be dragged to Weight Watchers meetings while kicking and screaming.  Instead, take into account your current food intake (what do you like to eat?), lifestyle, cooking skills, medical history, diet history and physical activity and come up with a plan that works for you.

Healthy grains and dried fruit

Snacks that Won’t Set You Back

By: Gisselle Marie Rosa

Healthy grains and dried fruit

Have you had those days where your stomach feels like it is going to eat itself at any moment and you realize that it is only ten in the morning? Even after eating a good breakfast, having hunger pangs before lunchtime can be frustrating and really decrease concentration and productivity. That’s why many people turn to snacks – to tie them over until their next meal. According to recent studies, 97% of male and female participants over the age of 20 reported eating a snack1, with most individuals eating 2 to 3 snacks a day2. However, having a snack that is high in fat and sugar can make you feel sluggish and put you over your calorie budget for the day. So, before running to the vending machine and grabbing a candy bar, indulge in these healthy, tasty snacks that will fuel your body through your midmorning tasks:

  1. Nuts & Seeds

All nuts and seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy plant based compounds (including antioxidants) and therefore, you should mix and match your nuts and seeds so you get a diverse array of nutrients (since each nut/seed has different nutrients) and tastes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Almonds – These power-packed nuts are sure to fuel your work day with plenty of protein and heart-healthy fats. A one-ounce serving (about 23 raw almonds) will only set you back 164 calories and provide you with 6 grams of protein.

Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili

Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili

In Shell Pistachios – Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili*.

Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili – the secret is in the spices. Salt and pepper has just the right touch of spices to deliver a peppery bite.

If you are worried about the calories in nuts, fear not. Read more about how nuts can help you live longer and lose weight. 

  1. Ants on a Log

A childhood favorite, this snack not only brings out your favorite memories, it also gives you a great protein-packed snack to keep you satisfied ‘till lunchtime. Cut a small stalk of celery in half, then lengthwise to give you four halves of celery. Divide one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of raisins into each of the celery halves. This tasty, fun snack stacks up to only 124 calories and 4 grams of protein!

  1. Turkey and Cheese Roll-Up

Looking for a more savory snack? Pack a 1-oz slice of deli turkey and a slice of your favorite low-fat cheese for a dose of 12 grams of protein to keep you full, 200 mg of calcium for bone health, and a measly 145 calories!

  1. Edamame

Ever heard of edamame? Don’t worry, it is just a fancy word for green soybeans. Steam ¾ cup of these shelled soybeans with a sprinkle of garlic powder for a tasty treat that only sets you back by about 140 calories. And don’t worry, with 13 grams protein and 6 grams of fiber, this snack will be sure to keep your belly happy!

5.  Hummus Dippers

Hummus is a food trend that is really sticking; it is a great, healthy snack that is inexpensive and flavorful. So, what exactly is it? Hummus is a Mediterranean dip made of ground chickpeas and spices. Try dipping your favorite vegetable in it, such as baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, or sliced bell pepper for a nutrient-dense snack. At about 100 calories, 2 tablespoons with a handful of your favorite dip-able veggies are a fresh way to keep you going. Also check out edamame hummus – it’s simply amazing (Trader Joe’s has one or make your own).

  1. Peanut Butter Toast

This rich, creamy snack will help quell your stomach and hold you over. Toast one 100% whole wheat slice of bread and top with 1 tablespoon of your favorite peanut butter for 160 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

  1. Popcorn

Popcorn is a fun, easy-to-eat snack that gives you more bang for your calorie “buck”. For a whole 3 ½ cups of plain popcorn, you’re getting 4 grams of fiber and only about 100 calories. Word of caution: try to avoid the buttery or sweet popcorn flavors as those have more calories and sodium in them!

  1. Strawberries and Cream

Want a change from a plain cup of strawberries? Dip some berries or 1 cup of your favorite fruit in ½ cup of low-fat or fat-free Cool Whip for a light and fresh 100-calorie snack. Or try mixing higher protein cream cheese with a little cheesecake flavored cream cheese and spread this on sliced strawberries or pipe it into hulled strawberries.

  1. Yogurt Parfait

Fuel up with this creamy treat that won’t weigh you down. Top ½ cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt with 2 tablespoons of your favorite low-fat granola and ½ cup of fresh blueberries (or ½ cup of your favorite fruit). This fun snack is nutrient-packed with 7 grams of protein, plenty of calcium for strong bones, and only 200 calories.

Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!

Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!

10. Cabot snack size*. Individually pre-wrapped cheeses can be kept out for hours and they are a great nutrition-rich (protein, calcium and more) snack to tie you over until your next meal. Find them at Wegmans, Costco and Acme.

* Clients

References

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Percentages of Selected Nutrients Contributed by Food and Beverages Consumed at Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Distribution of Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Supertracker. Internet: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx (accessed 5 November 2014).