Monday, January 31, 2011

Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates

Also known as carbs or starches carbohydrates are the main food group eaten and enjoyed but the most misunderstood and abused.  Carbohydrates are vital to human survival because they are packed full of disease preventing and fighting vitamins and minerals, essential energy and dietary fiber.  Endurance athletes should appreciate that carbohydrates are a major source of fuel.  If carbohydrate intake does not provide a sufficient amount of fuel for your training and recovery, you will not perform at your best. However, if carbohydrate intake exceeds the necessary amount for fueling training and recovery, your performance will be hindered and pack on unwanted pounds.
Carbohydrates’ number one purpose is to fuel our mind, body and spirit. 
  • Mind: The human brain runs exclusively off of glucose (carbohydrates in simple form). When the brain does not have enough glucose on board it begins to panic:
1. The brain causes us to crave foods high in sugar to replenish its fuel quickly.
2. If the brain goes long enough without adequate glycogen intake it will begin to break down muscle and convert it to glucose for fuel! A process called gluconeogenesis. This process causes very bad breathe...
  • Body: Think of the human body as a Mercedes Benz and carbohydrates as the gas that runs our engine... A Benz would not be able to operate on an empty tank. If we deprive our bodies of its natural fuel (carbohydrates) we become fatigue, tired, weak and unmotivated resulting in loss of muscle tone and mass.  
  • Spirit: Happy people eat carbohydrates... Irritable people do not...Since our brains desire glycogen as fuel it rewards us for keeping it satisfied. We actually get a since of euphoria from eating carbohydrates along with a burst of energy that keeps us going all day long. This feeling of euphoria can also lead into an unhealthy relationship with sweets.
Most endurance athletes will not deny that carbohydrates are a vital part of their training success however; some do not give much consideration to the choice. Your carbohydrate choices should be of the highest quality possible. 
Not all carbohydrates are created equal.  Although there are many classifications of carbohydrates we will discuss two distinct types; simple vs. complex.  It is important for endurance athletes to understand the diverse types of carbohydrates because they will need to incorporate the different types into their diet at varied times during training.
The majority of the time endurance athletes should be concerned about the quality of the carbohydrates they are consuming daily, focusing on nutritious and wholesome sources while limiting refined sources. Wholesome carbohydrates provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber while refined carbohydrates come from processed foods that only provide empty calories.
It has long been argued that there is a black and white view on carbohydrates:
Simple = Bad and Complex = Good.
However, the truth is wholesome carbohydrates are not always of the complex variety, and refined carbohydrates are not always simple sugars.  Example: Fruit contains simple carbohydrates but is packed with nutrients, dispelling the argument all simple sugars are bad.  Hundreds of food products line the grocery store shelf made from white flour, that label themselves as “Enriched Grains”, “Made with Whole Grains,” “Multigrain”, and “X grams of Whole Grains” often have much lower vitamin and mineral content and contain very little wholesome carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are easily found in the North American diet, but regrettably many of the most available ones are refined grains rather than wholesome grains. As a consumer and endurance athlete it is our responsibility to choose wholesome carbohydrates. Wholesome grains are good sources of carbohydrates, fiber, and B vitamins. They are excellent sources to replenish our body’s carbohydrate storage which become depleted after intense exercise.
A wholesome grain equals 100% whole grains. They simply come from the entire grain, which includes the endosperm, germ and brain portion of the grain, retaining all the desirable nutrients.  These desirable nutrients can NOT be found in white bread, processed cereals, white rice, and or “enriched” multigrain products. The reason is during the refining process the bran and germ are separated from the starchy endosperm removing all the nutritional density.
Other magic powers of whole grains are the phytochemicals which have powerful antioxidant and disease fighting properties such as: oligosaccharides, flavonoids, lignans, phytates, and saponins.  They are high in Vitamin E and selenium. These compounds can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Unfortunately, most Americans consume less than one serving of whole grains daily.
How you can get your recommended (3-6) servings of wholesome grains daily?
·         Make whole grain cereals a staple for breakfast or snacks.
o   Good choices: oatmeal, Fiber One, Go Lean, Heart to Heart, All-Bran, Raisin Bran, Original Shredded Wheat, and Grape Nuts. 
·         Read labels to make sure the FIRST ingredients is:
o   Wheat bran, whole grain wheat, cornmeal, or whole oat flour.
·         Read labels for the fiber content: Aim for at least 5 grams per serving, but 8 grams is best!
·         Read labels and avoid ingredients: 
o   Cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils (we will discuss this further later on).
·         Choosing bread is the trickiest. Be wary of labels that say “whole grain” “enriched” “multi-grain” and “7-grain”. Be sure to check out that ingredient list!
o   Good choices: Nature’s Own and Ezekiel Breads
·         Switch from white rice and pasta to whole wheat options.

Whole Grain Alternatives
High in protein and fiber
Good source of Vitamin E
Boil and eat as a cereal. Cook 1 c. grain in 2 c. water for 30 min.
High in soluble fiber
Cook 1 c grain in 3 c water for 45 minutes
High in fiber, folate, magnesium and iron
Cook 1 c grain in water or broth for 10-12 minutes
Excellent source of magnesium
High in fiber
Serve as a cereal, as pilaf, or in pancakes. Cook 1:2 part water for 15 minutes
A staple in Africa. High in minerals
Serve with meat or cook as cereal. Cook 1 c grain in 2 ¼ cup water for 25-30 minutes.
Source of cholesterol lowering fiber
High in protein
Avoid instant varieties; steel cut are more nutritious. Cook 1 cup oats in 4 cups liquid for 20 minutes.
Excellent source of B vitamins, copper, iron, and magnesium
Oatmeal like cereal. Rinse before cooking to remove bitter coating. Cook 1 cup grain in 2 cups water for 20 minutes.
A distant cousin to wheat. High in fiber and B vitamins
Used to make breads and pastas. Can be used in pilafs. Cook 1 cup grain in 4 cup water for 30-40 minutes.
Rich in protein. Good source of iron and calcium.
Cook 1 cup grain in 3 cups water for 15-20 minutes.

Table from Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes 2nd Edition

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

FUEL Better: Green Tea

Green Tea

Green tea is made by briefly steaming the just harvested leaves, rendering them soft and pliable and preventing them from fermenting or changing color. After steaming, the leaves are rolled, then spread out and “fired” (dried with hot air or pan-fried in a wok) until they are crisp. The resulting greenish yellow tea has a green, slightly astringent flavor close to the taste of the fresh leaf.  Green tea is the least processed and provides the most antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids which make up 30% of the dry weight of a leaf. A catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is believed to be responsible for most of the health benefits linked to green tea.

Most of the research showing health benefits is based on about 3 cups per day which offers 240-320mg of polyphenols.

Health Benefits: 

 Protects against death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease
  • A study that began in northeastern Japan, 1994 followed 40,530 adults (aged 40 to 79) for 11 years looked at the relationship between death and green tea consumption.

  • It found that women and men who drank > 5 cups had:
    • (23%, 12%) lower risk of death from all causes
    • (31%, 22%) lower risk of dying from CVD
    • (62%, 42%) lower risk of dying from stroke.

  •  A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006 found that unsweetened tea is a healthier choice than almost any beverage, including pure water, because tea not only re hydrates as well as water, but provides a rich supply of polyhenols protective against heart disease.
Inhibits Atherosclerosis
  • Been shown to effectively lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lipid peroxides (free radicals that damage LDL cholesterol and other lipids or fats) and fibrinogen (a protein in the blood involved in the formation of blood clots), while improving the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol.

Lowers Triglycerides
  • A study in the Journal of Nutrition, 2005, found that the mix of catechins naturally found in green tea inhibits the activity of pancreatic lipase (the enzyme secreted by the pancreas that digests fat).  Result in slowing down the rate at wish the body breaks down fats into triglycerides and the rise of triglyceride levels in the blood stream is greatly slowed.

Promotes visceral (belly) fat loss
  • Three (3) major components contribute: catechins, caffeine, and theanine.
  • Studies suggest that these compounds prevent gastric and pancreatic lipase, (the enzymes that digest triglycerides and fatty acids), synthetase, the enzyme responsible for producing fatty acids into the form in which they can be stored in the body’s adipose fat cells. 
Protects against Cancer
  • The evidence over the last ten (10) years has been so overwhelming that the Chemoprevention Branch of the National Cancer Institute has initiated a plan for developing tea compounds as cancer-chemopreventive agents in human trails.
  • When green tea comes in contact with a cancerous cell it can help terminate them in a remarkable number of ways.
    • The polyphenols are powerful triggers of apoptosis (cell suicide).
    • EGCG’s protective antioxidant effects against several carcinogens are found to be 120% stronger than those of Vitamin C. Mutation Research, 2004.
    • Green tea inhibits angiogenesis (development of new blood vessels) Cancer cells can not divide and spread when there are no new blood vessels to supply them nutrients.
    • Research from National Cancer Institute shows Catechins also increase the production and activity of detoxification enzymes in humans, which enhances our ability to detoxify carcinogens.
    • Although Green Tea shows promise for a wide variety of cancer prevention current research shows the most protection from: prostate, ovarian, breast, colorectal, brain, lung, and bladder cancer.

Lowers blood pressure and helps prevent hypertension:
  • ½ cup – 2 ½ cups per day by 46%
  • More than 2 ½ cups per day by 65%

Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Type 2 Diabetes

Protects against Kidney Disease

Provides Bones benefits similar to calcium or exercise

Protects the liver from alcohol and other harmful chemicals

Increases Exercise Endurance

Protects against cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s 

Fights the Flu

*Consuming the spice, black pepper, when drinking green tea can significantly increase the amount of EGCG absorbed. Ex: Sprinkle black pepper on lunch or dinner while consuming green tea as your beverage.*

Monday, January 24, 2011

Water: The First Nutrient

Water: The First Nutrient
Many scientists credit water as being the reason for life on earth. All creatures on earth - including humans - rely on water more than any other substance to stay healthy. We can go longer without food than water, and virtually all of our other nutrient requirements are impacted by the amount of water we drink. The reason is simple: our bodies are about 60% water by weight, and most nutrients move around through our body in water. Our bloodstream is composed primarily of water, and so are all of our tissues and organ systems. Water is also the key to elimination of toxins from our body (in the form of urine and perspiration). There isn't a single bodily function - from seeing and hearing and thinking to running and singing and laughing - that does not depend on water.
Exactly how helpful is water to our health? Researchers at Loma Linda University looked at water consumption in a group of more than 20,000 men and women in their Adventist Health Study. In this study, they determined that adults drinking 5 or more glass of water each day were about 50% less likely to die from a heart attack. They made some other comparisons involving water and health, and in their announcement of the results, these researchers ranked increased water drinking equal very close to smoking cessation in terms of heart health! Other research has shown that water drinking helps maintain proper blood pressure, improves mental performance, increases athletic performance, and helps regulate digestion.
It's helpful to think about the health benefits of water in three basic categories. First is the fluid aspect of water. Water is a lubricant. It keeps things flowing and moving. While it lubricates, water also protects our body parts from damage by surrounding them in a shock-absorbing fluid. This aspect of water is especially important in our joints, and also in our skin. The second aspect of water is its role as a "solvent." Most nutrients dissolve in water. In our bodies, some of the most important dissolved nutrients are called "electrolytes." The electrolyte minerals like potassium and sodium stay dissolved in water, and the ability of water to dissolve electrolytes is a key reason why our bodies can conduct electricity. The third aspect of water involves its role as a thermostat. When we are too hot, water lets us shed heat through sweating. Water also helps us retain heat when we need to stay warm.
So how much water should you be drinking daily? Hydration needs are just as individualized as calories needs. It depends on weight, activity and temperature.  I will go in more depth on hydration needs during heavy training and in the heat when that time comes for now let’s focus on basic needs. The average person should consume half their body weight in ounces. Example: If you weigh 150lbs you should consume 75 ounces of water daily or 9-10 cups.  (Weight (lbs.) / 2 x 1 oz.)
Daily Hydration Strategies:
·         Start your day with hydration in mind to cleanse your system and rehydrate.
·         Although water is not the only hydration option do NOT rely on caffeinated beverages for hydration needs. A moderate intake of caffeine is fine but focus on decaffeinated coffee, tea, and herbal tea.
·         100% Fruit juice, dairy milk or soy milk are also fluid choices but come with calories and sugar. Stick to only 1-2 servings of these beverages daily.  
·         Be cautious of flavored or mineral infused waters, they can contain tons of sugars and unnecessary calories.
·         Carry water with you at all times.
·         Add lemon, lime or a small amount of juice for flavor.
·         Am I hydrated? Use your urine as a guide. Clear or pale urine is a sign of optimal hydration.
·         Consume 24 ounces of water 2 hours before exercising and another 8 to 16 ounces 30 minutes before exercising to ensure adequate hydration.
Filtered, Bottled or Tap?
With all the different products on the market even something simple as consuming water can become complicated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 90% of drinking water is safe. Tap water does contain substance other than H2O and is fluoridated in most of the country. Tap water can contain minerals such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, zinc, lead, mercury and pesticides. Calcium can be beneficial but lead, mercury and pesticides can be harmful in abundance.
If you feel that your water is not of the best quality you can purchase a home filtration system. Many filters attach right to the tap and can filter out lead and other contaminants. The pitchers with built in filters are also dependable products.  If you are willing to spend some extra cash reverse osmosis filters is gold standard and can filter out lead, mercury, minerals, some pesticides, and microorganisms. These are installed where the water meets the main water pipe and covers all the water used in the house. An independent organization called NSF International sets standards for and certifies water filtration systems. Its web site,, lists filters and the contaminants that each is certified to reduce in your water. It also reviews bottled water companies.
Americans consumed more than 7.5 billion gallons of bottle water in 2005 alone and the number continues to rise annually. Some have the misconception that bottled water is safer but that may not always be the case.  About a fourth of all bottled water comes from municipal water supplies (tap water!).  Unlike tap water bottled water is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and problems are not caught until someone gets sick as a result.
As you continue on your journey to a healthier lifestyle and the training miles and humidity increases so will your need for more water.  I appalled Marathon Makeover for “going green” and moving away from paper cups at water stops on Saturdays. This means you will need purchase a water bottle to carry with you on your runs. There are many different hydration options from hand held, around the waste or on the back to ensure you never go thirsty on a run. This is also a great way to start developing your “hydration strategy” for race day. When you are accustom to carrying your own water bottle you are not at the mercy of the water stops. You stop less during the race and always have water when you need it.
When you are not on the run I highly recommend investing in a stainless steel or BPA free water bottle to carry with you at all times. Consume tap water or filtered tap water.  Do what is best for your health and Mother Earth and avoid bottled water whenever possible.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

RUN Healthy: Flaxseeds

What is it?

Flaxseeds are slightly larger than sesame seeds and have a hard shell that is smooth and shiny. Their color ranges from deep amber to reddish brown. While whole flaxseeds feature a soft crunch, the nutrients in ground seeds are more easily absorbed. They have an earthy and slight nutty flavor. They can be bought whole or ground, as well as flaxseed oil, and are available throughout the year.

Why makes it so special?

Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that is a precursor to the form of omega-3 found in fish oils called eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. Since the fats are found in their isolated form in flaxseed oil, it is a more concentrated source of ALA
In addition, flaxseeds are a good source of manganese, dietary fiber, magnesium, folate, copper, phosphorus, and Vitamin B6.

Research has linked flaxseeds to:
·        Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
·        Omega-3-rich Flaxseeds Protect Bone Health
·        Protection Against Heart Disease, Cancer and Diabetes
·        Flaxseeds Help Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure
·        Flaxseed Provides Comparable Cholesterol-Lowering Benefits to Statin Drugs
·        Flaxseed Oil Lowers Blood Pressure in Men with High Cholesterol
·        Rich in Beneficial Fiber
·        Flaxseed Puts the Brakes on Prostate Cancer Growth
·        Lessens Women’s Chances of Developing Breast Cancer
·        Flaxseed Reduces Hot Flashes Almost 60%
·        Fend Off Dry Eyes
How can I add it to my diet?

Flaxseeds can be purchased either whole, already ground, or as an oil. The different forms offer distinct benefits. Although ground flaxseeds may be more convenient, whole flaxseeds feature a longer shelf life. Whole flaxseeds are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. If you purchase whole flaxseeds, store them in an airtight container in a dark, dry and cool place where they will keep fresh for several months. Grind your own flaxseeds in a coffee grinder and store in the refrigerator for 3-4 months. Flaxseed oil is especially perishable and should be purchased in opaque bottles that have been kept refrigerated. Never use flaxseed oil in cooking; add it to foods after they have been heated.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Sprinkle ground flaxseeds onto your hot or cold cereal or yogurts. Add flaxseeds to your homemade muffin, cookie or bread recipe. Add a tablespoon of flaxseed oil to smoothies.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Achieving Balance in Your Diet

            As an athlete, you want to maximize your performance by maximizing your diet. This includes the amount of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that you get from your food.  An essential part of any endurance athlete’s diet is to maintain an adequate carbohydrate intake so that muscle glycogen, a body fuel absolutely essential for high-level performance, levels are maintained.  Dietary starches and sugars are the body’s number one source for making muscle glycogen. Protein won’t do, and neither will fat.  Unfortunately, too many athletes take this concept to extremes; high-starch, cereal-based, carbohydrate-rich diets all day every day and end up watching the scale rise along with their mileage. This type of thinking also impairs performance dramatically.
            Achieving balance not only in the macro nutrition (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) composition of your diet but also in the timing of meals and snacks will help shed those extra pounds and optimize your performance.  By removing the mind set of “I run therefore I can eat” or “I’ll run it off later” and acquire basic knowledge on how the body breakdowns, uses and stores nutrients will take your performance to the next level. 
            I will go into more detail about timing before, during and after intense workouts or races, however, now I want to focus on the everyday balance and exercise lasting 60 minutes or less. When exercising less than 60 minutes daily you do not need supplemental calories especially if weight loss is desired.
I am sure you have all heard eat small meals throughout the day. Recommendations range from 4-6 to 8-10 times a day. My professional and personal preference is  eating 4-5 times a day with 3 main meals and 1-2 snacks, consuming nourishment every 3 ½ to 4 hours.  Sounds like a lot but it is simple: Breakfast, AM Snack optional, Lunch, PM Snack optional and dinner. Eating should cease 1 ½ to 2 hours before bed time.
Ideally, we should always eat the most before we do the most. “Before” in this case means early enough in time to allow the food we eat to digest,  breakdown and release caloric energy and nutrients that our body can use. “Catch Up” eating, happens when we go long periods of time without eating or after a heavy workout and we are ravenous consuming large portions of food at once, might be satisfying from an emotional standpoint; yet, it doesn’t do anything to improve endurance or promote weight loss.
Even though we have stores of nutrients waiting in reserve throughout our body, our food consumption during a meal plays a key role in our nourishment during the hours that follow. A good meal should tide us over to the next meal. At the same time, it should supply us with peak nourishment for those activities that we are undertaking between meals. An extremely high-fat meal will not even get fully emptied from our stomach for several hours-is not a good meal to consume prior to a workout. The high fat content will place too much emphasis on digestion and shunting of blood to our digestive tract. At the other end of the spectrum, an extremely high-sugar meal- or (highly processed) carbohydrates-isn't going to improve our stamina either. That simple sugar and simple carb energy will get released too quickly and become stored as fat within 2 hours.  Consuming a high protein meal at once especially before a heavy workout is like putting a Band-Aid on before getting cut. The body will digest, breakdown and store it before it can adequately repair damaged muscle tissue.
Why not eat 2 hours before bedtime? Simple, you do not get the extra fat burning effects from your hormone Ghrelin.  Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and upper intestines. When your stomach has emptied and you become hungry your gut releases ghrelin. Ghrelin acts as a messenger and travels up your hypothalamus and signals the brain to increase your appetite and decrease your metabolic burn.  HOWEVER, at night Ghrelin has somewhat magically powers.  If your stomach is empty at bed time and Ghrelin is released it acts a messenger not to make you hungry again but at night tells the brain to release human growth hormone. Human growth hormone travels the body at night repairing damaged muscle tissue and devouring fat cells!!! Who does not want to burn fat while sleeping? But if your stomach isn’t empty, Ghrelin is never released and growth hormone is unable to do its work.
 Do not go to bed starving just empty.
Figuring out the exact food balance and meal timing for optimal endurance and life is an individual goal that may take some experimenting. But in general, I recommend that you make sure to include protein-rich and fiber-rich whole, natural foods as part of your meals and snacks consistently throughout the day.