Thursday, January 30, 2014

How The Heck Do I Eat?

A new client of mine wrote to me today asking about meal frequency.  There's so much information out there, and not all of it's good.  As I wrote back to her, I realized I'd just written my next blog post.  So here's what I wrote.  Hope it helps some of you, too:

Eating several small meals throughout the day:
Everyone has something that works best for them.  The eating small meals throughout the day plan, if you like it, can work as long you are able to control portion sizes and manage total energy intake. This has nothing to do with the frequency of meals, but rather the total calories consumed.  Several studies have concluded that there is no real weight loss advantage to this style of eating:
It is important to consume plenty of fiber.
On Very Low Calorie Diets:
Eating too few calories can lead to problems as well-- diets like these often do not provide substantial nutrients, are not sustainable, and break down muscle as energy rather than fat.

On Intermittent Fasting:
Intermittent fasting has many benefits.  Basically, it provides just enough stress on the body to instigate positive change without causing an overreaction of stress mechanisms within the body (like cortisol, adrenaline response, inflammation, etc).  Most people are able to sustain it because it is not overly restrictive, and nutritional requirements are easily met.  

There are two basic methods of intermittent fasting.  In one scenario, once a week, a person will go 24 hours without eating (so, for instance, from 7:00PM Monday to 7:00PM Tuesday).  In the other scenario, which is the method I personally use, you fast 12-16 hours each day (essentially, I only eat between the hours of 1PM and 9PM).  I'm not overly strict-- if I'm super-hungry in the morning (I'm usually not, but it happens), then I eat.  But for the most part, this is the regimen I have been following for the last two years, and it works very well for me (and has worked for my clients who have tried it).

Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, and in the end, you need to follow the plan that works best for you.  Whatever method you choose, I highly recommend the following guidelines:

-cut out processed/white foods as much as possible
-cut down added sugars as much as possible
-go VERY HEAVY (at least 70% of your daily intake) on veggies, particularly dark green and orange ones
-allow yourself one cheat meal every week so you don't feel deprived (this actually can do good things for your metabolism, too)
-monitor your nutrient intake-- it's important to make sure you're getting everything you need!

Questions?  Comments?  What eating method do you you use?  Post yer thoughts below!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Great Supplements for Athletes

Be top dog at your sport.
There are a lot of supplements out there that make promises.  Few of them deliver.  There are, however, some that really do a body good.  I'll be posting a series on supplements for various benefits.  Just in case the title didn't give it away, today's post is about supplements that have been shown to give a boost to athletes.

Creatine.  Creatine is an acid that is produced in the liver and that helps supply the body with needed energy (particularly within the brain and skeletal muscle).  I have sung the praises of creatine supplementation before, and I will gladly do it again.  As far as I'm concerned, everyone should be taking creatine, including your grandmother.  But in the case of strength gains, creatine monohydrate supplementation is quite useful.  Several studies have shown that creatine supplementation increases strength significantly greater than placebo or resistance training alone.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)  Tthere is some evidence showing that taking creatine immediately post-workout may be superior to other times, although there needs to be more research before we can come to a true conclusion.  (1) (2)  It's important to note that there seem to be responders and non-responders to creatine supplementation.  (1) (2)

Beta Alanine.  Beta Alanine is a non-essential amino acid.  In the body, it helps to raise carnosine concentrations, which an antioxidant that plays a role in reducing muscle fatigue (meaning that you can theoretically train longer and harder with more of it in your system).  Beta Aanine is a very popular supplement for athletes, and with good reason:  it does seem to have a positive effect on muscular performance, particularly where muscle acidosis (i.e. that super-burny, gasping-for-air effect of intense exercise) is a factor.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)

Fenugreek.  Fenugreek is an herb often used in Indian cooking.  In addition to being a great cancer-fighter, initial studies show that it also may increase muscular strength and improve body composition.  (1) (2)* (3)*
*The starred studies were sponsored by Indus Biotech, which was making a fenugreek supplement.  Therefore, there is a conflict of interest in these two studies, and results should be evaluated as such.

Betaine.  Betaine is an amino acid that helps boost protein synthesis in the body.  It seems to improve body composition, muscle size, power, and work capacity.  (1) (2) (3) (4)  Betaine might raise total cholesterol levels, so it's important to check with your healthcare professional before trying this one out. 

L-Carnitine.   L-carnitine is an amino acid-like chemical that helps transport fat into cell mitochondria where it can be burned.  This means that it does play a role in fat loss.  In addition there is evidence that it increases nitric oxide in the body.  What that does is helps relax blood vessels so that more blood can flow through them, which means muscles can work longer and recover better.   (1) (2) (3) (4)

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA).   BCAA's are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which are three of the body's essential amino acids (meaning the body cannot produce them on its own and needs to get them through diet or supplementation).  They help to carry nitrogen and increase protein synthesis in the body.  BCAA's have been found to be important in muscle recovery and immune function, and there is some evidence that it increases exercise capacity as well.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Nitrates.  Nitrates are a precursor to nitric oxide in the body, which is a chemical produced to help communication between the nerves and the brain, reduces inflammation, regulates blood pressure, and yes, increases endurance and strength.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)  However, the effect does not seem to be as significant for elite athletes. (6) (7)  Beets are a rich source of dietary nitrates, which is why beet juice is a hot commodity amongst endurance athletes these days. 

Taurine.  Taurine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning our bodies can produce it (although some people lack the ability to produce taurine naturally).  It's found in large quantities in the brain, retina, heart, and platelets.  Scientific evidence suggests that it decreases muscle damage and oxidative stress due to exercise and improves exercise performance.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)