Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eat Like an Athlete - 6 Tips to Get Stronger, Faster and Leaner

One of the rules in our home is that you eat a combination of protein and carbs within 45 minutes of working out. I take five exercise classes a week at work with my colleagues; and I noticed a lot of folks weren't eating after they exercised. We've offered a number of educational programs focused on nutrition, but none that were geared toward optimizing athletic performance. (I'm using the term athlete loosely here, but what's the point working out day after day if you are not getting stronger, faster or leaner.)

We worked with Matt Diener from TrueFT to bring Kristin Wood from Max Muscle in to talk with interested staff. Not surprisingly, this presentation attracted different people then most of our lunch and learn sessions. Most of the staff that attended are active and exercise regularly. 

Kristin offered the following suggestions for improving our health and performance.

  1. Eat smaller meals 5 or 6 times a day.
  2. Incorporate weight training into your workout routine.
  3. Consume adequate protein at regular intervals to rebuild and repair muscle tissue.
  4. Focus on eating low glycemic carbohydrates.
  5. Follow the 20% rule when eating foods that are processed -- 20% or less of total carbohydrates should come from sugar.
  6. Always eat a protein with a carbohydrate. 
Protein is stored within the body as lean muscle mass. When your body needs protein to support vital functions, it relies on immediate protein from your diet (eaten within the past 3-4 hours) or it will break down lean muscle mass. When protein is ingested, you elevate the nitrogen balance within your bloodstream. Elevated nitrogen puts your body in an optimal state for building and repairing muscle tissue. With little or no level of nitrogen in your blood, your body will begin to break down lean muscle mass. If you continuously put your body in this state, your performance will plateau and your metabolism will slow down. Put more simply, if you want to get stronger and faster, you better eat adequate protein to ensure proper recovery. 

Kristin talked a bit about a study by Chesley that suggests you need to consume almost 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day to maintain a positive nitrogen balance. She told us that all proteins are not the same. Many of us found it interesting that soy is not easily digested and that you have to consume 10 ounces of soy to obtain the same amount of protein you get from 1 ounce of meat. 

By consuming small meals frequently, you can minimize the number of hours your body is in a catabolic state when muscle wasting occurs. Kristin showed two charts, one where an individual ate six times over the course of a day and was in a catabolic state for 3 1/2 hours and a second where an individual only ate lunch and dinner over the course of a day and was in a catabolic state for 17 hours. Carefully timing your meals also helps maintain ideal blood sugar levels.

Relative to my observation about people eating after working out, Kristin said that our muscles are "more" insulin sensitive and ready to absorb nutrients for repair for approximately one hour after working out. She shared this chart that shows how the metabolic window begins to close within 45 minutes following exercise.

Some other takeaways -- Bananas are fine if you just finished a marathon, but not good with a cup of coffee and a yogurt for breakfast. (I know some of you heard Kristin say a Snickers Bar is a better choice than a banana because at least the Snickers Bar has some protein in it from the nuts, but I don't think she really meant for us to have a Snickers Bar for breakfast.) You can substitute 1/4 cup of carbs for a glass of red wine at dinner. It's better to use half and half then skim milk in your coffee. 2% cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt are good. Other types of yogurt are not good. (Not good for you that is. I know they may taste good to you.)

People are still talking about the session and a number of folks have told me that they are paying more attention to when they eat and how much protein they consume. Although I've always tried to follow our house rule that we eat within 45 minutes of working out, I'm taking it a bit more seriously now. I used Health Txts to send myself text messages after each of my scheduled exercise classes reminding myself to eat. (Health Txts is a free service that allows you to receive self improvement text messages that you write and/or you choose from their expert library to help you meet your physical and mental health goals.)

Kristin Wood is a ENW Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist for Adults and Children and a Co-Active Life Coach.  She works with clients to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.  Ms. Wood is the owner and regional director for Max Muscle Sports Nutrition of Manassas.  She also served on the New Product Development team and regularly writes columns and articles on nutrition for Max Sports & Fitness magazine.  Ms. Wood lives in Vienna, VA and has two teenaged sons. With a little luck, Kristin will read this post and correct me if I got anything wrong.


Anonymous said...

You did a great job capturing the essence of the presentation! Thank you for the opportunity to talk with your highly motivated staff! It's clear that your team is committed to the ASHA workforce in a way that's spectacular. Thank you for letting me join you for a day!

Kristin Wood
Owner, Max Muscle Fairfax

Unknown said...

I enjoyed your latest blog! You did a great job explaining the protein storage and use in the body. One thing really has me scratching my head though! Did the presenter really mention 1g of protein per pound? That could be 3-4 times the recommended daily value for an individual (RDA- Adult Women: 46; Adult Males: 56). Do you think she meant 1g of proteins per kg? That would be a little more reasonable!

I was curious also if the speaker warned of eating too much protein? I just worry a little bit about the average person exercising 1-2 hours a day does not need that huge increase in protein intake-- when to eat the protein (like after a workout and for breakfast are important) but need to be part of a well balanced diet. Some of the biggest issue with high protein diets are kidney stone and osteoporosis. Further I also worry about the increase in animal protein consumption which have high amounts of fats & cholesterol and can take a toll on your blood pressure and cholesterol scores (even if you are exercising!).

Overall, I loved the 6 tips! Just wanted to weigh in about the protein :)

-Cyndi P

jmcnichol said...

I've been thinking about what both Kristin and Cyndi have said and found these two interesting sources of additional information. The Mayo Clinic recommendation for protein in a healthy diet is as follows.

"Get 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 50 to 175 grams a day. Emphasize plant sources of protein, such as beans, lentils and soy, choose lean meats, and try to include seafood twice a week."

I also found a recommendation on the Harvard School of Public Health site. This is the response to the question, how much protein do I need each day?

"There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, and research on the topic is still emerging. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day—that's about 64 grams for a 160 pound adult. In the U.S., adults get an average of 15 percent of their calories from protein; for a person who requires a 2,000-calorie-per-day-diet, that's about 75 grams of protein. In healthy people, increasing protein intake to 20 to 25 percent of calories can reduce the risk of heart disease, if the extra protein replaces refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, or sugary drinks. Higher protein diets can also be beneficial for weight loss, in conjunction with a reduced calorie diet, although long-term evidence of their effectiveness is wanting.

For people in good health, consuming 20 to 25 percent of calories from protein won't harm the kidneys. For people with diabetes or early-stage kidney disease, however, the American Diabetes Association recommends limiting protein intake to 0.8 to 1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (roughly 10 percent of energy intake), since this may help improve kidney function; in later stage kidney disease, sticking to the 0.8 grams per kilogram minimum is advisable. Consult a doctor or a registered dietitian for individualized protein recommendations."

jmcnichol said...

Dave Foreman, the Herbal Pharmacist, talks about protein in this article on Sports Supplements.