Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

9 Questions Every Athlete Should Ask Before Taking a Supplement

Nutritional supplements claim to improve athletic performance, but not all supplements are created equal.

According to sports dietitian Glenn Cardwell, athletes vary greatly in their response to training, environmental conditions, psychological barriers, and nutritional supplements, which makes it difficult to assess the value of proposed ergogenic aids.

“Improvement is not proof that a supplement works.

It may be just a convenient coincidence,” says Cardwell, author of the forthcoming new edition of Gold Medal Nutrition (Human Kinetics, May 2012).

“Proof only comes when the same result can be repeated time and time again.”

Before taking a nutritional supplement, Cardwell advises that you assess its potential value and ask these 9 vital questions:

1. Has there been any independent research on the supplement?

Many supplements have not been researched in healthy athletes, or the research has been done only in-house and not independently assessed.

2. If research has been conducted, has it been published in an independent, peer-reviewed scientific journal?

The marketing of some supplements relies on articles written about the product.

“An article is not the same as research,” Cardwell says.

“Before an article is published in scientific journals, experts in the field review it to make sure it is up to a high standard and conclusions are valid.”

3. Is the research relevant to athletes?

Many supplement manufacturers cite research articles that are unrelated to the claims for the product.

“One food bar claimed to assist body fat loss, yet none of the references cited to support its claim were about weight loss,” Cardwell explains.

“If you can’t assess the research yourself, ask a sports dietitian or go to a reputable website for their opinion on the research.”

4. Is the supplement patented?

If a product has been patented, then the patent holders usually do most of the research because they will directly benefit from future sales.

“Truly independent research is rarely published in such circumstances,” Cardwell says.

5. Is the majority of research from one researcher or laboratory?

The value of a supplement can be determined only if many researchers from different laboratories work independently to assess it under varying conditions.

“This has been done, for example, in the case of creatine and sports drinks,” Cardwell notes.

6. Has the research been performed on athletes under normal training or competition condition?

Just because a product has benefits for people with certain conditions such as heart disease or nutrition deficiency, it doesn’t follow that the same benefits hold for fit and healthy athletes.

7. Although there may be research suggesting a benefit of a supplement, is there any research showing no effect or possible dangerous side effects of using the supplement?

“If one research paper shows a positive effect, but 10 others show no effect, then it is disingenuous to mention the positive result and not to say that the balance of evidence is for no effect,” Cardwell says.

8. Is the product suited to your sport and your level of training?

“Taking supplemental creatine can benefit sprint and power athletes, but it is unlikely to benefit marathon runners,” Cardwell explains.

“If research shows a positive effect for athletes, will you get the same benefit when training purely for health and fitness?”

9. Have other independent scientists, sports dietitians, sports institutes or sports medicine groups offered supporting comments about the supplement?

Examine what organizations such as the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the National Sports Medicine Institute of the UK, the Australian Institute of Sport or Sports Dietitians Australia have to say about a supplement.

“Based on current knowledge, the best regimen for achieving optimal performance is to avoid excess body fat, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, eat enough carbohydrate to fuel your training program, eat adequate protein for muscle growth and repair, and eat for good health,” Cardwell says.

“Most nutritional supplements do not enhance sports performance in well-nourished athletes.”

A Personal Shopper at the Grocery Store

I know how to read a food label, and I make sure to shop the outer aisles of my local grocery store to obtain fresh produce and meats.

(I do boldly go into the middle for my kids’ favorite cereals).

I always take a scribbled note with me on what to buy, but lately I’ve been thinking there must be a better way.

Enter ShopWell 2.0.

This week a free iPhone App went live to so that you can take a personalized, healthy grocery list mobile.

Grocery lists created on the ShopWell website are automatically synced to the app, and foods scanned at the store aisle or in the kitchen pantry can be added right into the lists.

You can now access all the information you need to make informed choices in the store, when you need it most.

I like the way ShopWell highlights specific points on nutrition labels to reveal not only what foods work well for you, but also which ones don’t.

It also recommends consumption frequency with an easy to understand numerical score and a simple color-coded system based on your own pre-specified criteria:

• Green foods are a strong match and are okay to eat in normal portions

• Yellow foods are a medium match, so make sure to read the label carefully

• Red foods are a weak match, so should be occasional treats

“The sheer number of aisles in most grocery stores can be overwhelming for people–let alone how many products are in each one and how much information is included on food packages,” says Marci Harnischfeger MS RD, ShopWell’s in-house Registered Dietitian.

“Add constant shifts in diet trends and the amount of information and advice out there on how and what to eat, and suddenly grocery shopping can be intimidating and confusing.

People want to make good choices for themselves and their families, ShopWell makes it easy to do that.”

Now not only can I have a digitized shopping list on hand, but I really feel like I have the backing of an expert with me while I shop.

Wellness Revolution Now Taught at School

When the administrators of the Milton Hershey School recently reviewed the school’s BMI data they realized they had a problem.

The school administration knew they could make a difference in the students’ lives by making health and fitness a priority this school year by highlighting physical activity and nutrition.

Most students at the private school in Derry Township, PA, live at the school, which is funded by the Milton Hershey School Trust.

The new approach, called the “Wellness Revolution”, includes the school’s 5-hour rule.

Students must account for 5 hours of physical activity beyond normal school hours between Monday and Sunday, according to an article in local daily newspaper, The Patriot-News.

There’s no mandated activity; no sit-up requirement or 10,000 steps to count.

Instead, the school’s staff put together a list of activities — from ice hockey, to bicycle riding to weight lifting and swimming — and let the students follow their own desires, writes reporter Nick Malawskey.

As expected, there was some grumbling at first.

But the students have gotten into the groove.

Some of their physical activities include Zumba, turbo kickboxing, and yoga.

Menus at the school have changed as well.

Chicken nuggets, ramen noodles, and spaghetti are out.

Vegetables and buffalo chicken salad are in.

The students said they’re more conscious about what goes into their food — keeping an eye out for high fructose corn syrup and saturated fat content — than they were before, reports Malawskey.

It will take a few years to compile data to see how well the Wellness Revolution is working.

But some students have already lost more than 30 pounds and say they feel better.

If they learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the real gain will be in the prevention of obesity and other chronic diseases when they go off on their own into the real world.

Milk Makes You Smarter

A glass of milk a day could benefit your brain, according to new research that found milk drinkers scored better on memory and brain function tests.

Pouring at least one glass of milk each day aids nutrition and boosts your intake of much-needed key nutrients.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 3 glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk daily for adults to support bone and heart health.

Now there’s the possibility that milk could also positively impact your brain and mental performance, according to a recent study in the International Dairy Journal.

Adults with higher intakes of milk and milk products scored significantly higher on memory and other brain function tests than those who drank little to no milk.

Milk drinkers were 5 times less likely to “fail” the test, compared to non-milk drinkers.

Researchers at the University of Maine put nearly 1,000 men and women, ages 23 to 98, through a series of brain tests – including visual-spatial, verbal and working memory tests – and tracked the milk consumption habits of the participants.

In the series of 8 different measures of mental performance, regardless of age and through all tests, those who drank at least 1 glass of milk each day had an advantage.

The highest scores for all 8 outcomes were observed for those with the highest intakes of milk and milk products compared to those with low and infrequent milk intakes.

The benefits persisted even after controlling for other factors that can affect brain health, including cardiovascular health and other lifestyle and diet factors.

In fact, milk drinkers tended to have healthier diets overall, but there was something about milk intake specifically that offered the brain health advantage, according to the researchers.

The potential to stave off mental decline may represent a novel benefit with great potential to impact the aging population.

“Diet modification to alter the course of age-related cognitive decline is becoming increasingly important,” the researchers wrote.

While more research is needed, they suggest some of milk’s nutrients may have a direct effect on brain function and that “easily implemented lifestyle changes that individuals can make present an opportunity to slow or prevent neuropsychological dysfunction.”

Six Ways to Control Your Weight

Healthy Weight Week (January 15 to 21) kicks off today to celebrate healthy diet-free living habits that last a lifetime and prevent weight problems.

Two-thirds of the American population is overweight or obese, and obesity numbers will continue to rise unless Americans stop eating more calories than they use, according to Brian Sharkey, a leading fitness researcher and author of Fitness Illustrated (Human Kinetics, 2011).

“In ages past, when the human food supply was unpredictable, people could not count on three square meals a day; as a result, the human body learned how to store energy in the form of fat,” Sharkey says.

“Today, most of us enjoy access to a dependable and plentiful food supply, but our bodies still store energy even though the need for doing so is gone.”

To lose weight, Sharkey says people often turn to restrictive diets, which can backfire and cause weight gain.

“When you diet, your body becomes more fuel efficient and your metabolic rate declines,” Sharkey explains.

“As a result, even more dieting or exercise is required in order to reduce excess weight.

During this cycle, your weight loss slows, and you regain weight three times faster.”

When a person is on a diet, the body uses protein for energy, which means a person can lose muscle protein with each dieting cycle.

As muscle is lost, the capacity to burn calories is reduced.

“Thus, each time you diet to lose weight, you lose lean tissue and must therefore decrease your caloric intake in order to avoid subsequent weight gain,” Sharkey adds.

“As a result, the only way to minimize the loss of lean tissue while dieting is to exercise.”

The safest way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat fewer calories and burn more with physical activity.

In Fitness Illustrated, Sharkey offers six keys to maintaining a healthy weight:

1. If you are active, consume 55 to 60 percent of each day’s calories in the form of complex carbohydrate (beans, brown rice, corn, potatoes, or whole-grain products) and fruit.

2. Limit your fat intake and avoid saturated fat and trans fat.

3. Eat a sufficient amount of lean, high-quality protein (15 percent of your daily caloric intake) to meet your protein needs during training.

4. Achieve weight control by balancing your caloric intake with your caloric expenditure.

5. Since metabolic rate declines with age, you will have to eat less, engage in more activity, or do both in order to maintain a healthy weight.

6. Remember that dieting often leads to future weight gain, especially when it is done without physical activity.

Living Testament to Top 10 Fitness Trends

I’m a living testament to the top 10 fitness trends.

For the past 6 years, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, has conducted an annual survey of health and fitness professionals worldwide designed to reveal trends in various fitness environments.

This year the 2,620 respondents chose the following top 10 fitness trends for 2012:

1. Educated and experienced fitness professionals. Given the large number of organizations offering health and fitness certifications, it’s important that consumers choose professionals certified through programs that are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, such as those offered by ACSM.

2. Strength training. Strength training remains a central emphasis for many health clubs. Incorporating strength training is an essential part of a complete physical activity program for all physical activity levels and genders.

3. Fitness programs for older adults. As the baby boom generation ages into retirement, some of these people have more discretionary money than their younger counterparts. Therefore, many health and fitness professionals are taking the time to create age-appropriate fitness programs to keep older adults healthy and active.

4. Exercise and weight loss. In addition to nutrition, exercise is a key component of a proper weight loss program. Health and fitness professionals who provide weight loss programs are increasingly incorporating regular exercise and caloric restriction for better weight control in their clients.

5. Children and obesity. With childhood obesity growing at an alarming rate, health and fitness professionals see the epidemic as an opportunity to create programs tailored to overweight and obese children. Solving the problem of childhood obesity will have an impact on the health care industry today and for years to come.

6. Personal training. More and more students are majoring in kinesiology, which indicates that students are preparing themselves for careers in allied health fields such as personal training. Education, training and proper credentialing for personal trainers have become increasingly important to the health and fitness facilities that employ them.

7. Core training. Distinct from strength training, core training specifically emphasizes conditioning of the middle-body muscles, including the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen – all of which provide needed support for the spine.

8. Group personal training. In challenging economic times, many personal trainers are offering group training options. Training two or three people at once makes economic sense for both the trainer and the clients.

9. Zumba and other dance workouts. A workout that requires energy and enthusiasm, Zumba combines Latin rhythms with interval-type exercise and resistance training.

10. Functional fitness. This is a trend toward using strength training to improve balance and ease of daily living. Functional fitness and special fitness programs for older adults are closely related.

Last Spring, my wife and I bought a series of personal training sessions with certified pros (#1) at both of our kids’ respective school fundraisers.

My plan is ask one of these personal trainers (#6) to set up a general strength training program (#2), in particular working on my upper body strength so I can continue to carry home a case of seltzer from the beverage store a few blocks away (#10).

I’d like to specifically work on core training (#7), which I think will help with turning my waist during the Tai Chi classes I take twice a week at my local Y, mostly with other baby boomers (#3).

I’ve become much more aware of portion sizes recently with my wife on a weight-loss program, and with my doctor’s encouragement, I’m doing aerobics for 30 minutes about twice a week (#4).

One of the issues I follow regularly is childhood obesity (#5) and I blog about it often.

Okay, so I don’t do Zumba classes (“I won’t dance, don’t ask me”) and I’d rather work one-on-one with a personal trainer than in a group.

But the fitness pros pretty much got it all right in their predictions for next year’s top trends.

World’s Largest Exercise Class

If you felt the ground shake slightly at 10 a.m. today, that was because millions of children all over the world were exercising simultaneously in what’s known as the world’s largest exercise class.

Today is Project ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously) Day, designed to engage millions of children, parents, and teachers each year to participate in physical activity at their schools and homes.

Through Project ACES, children learn the value and importance of good nutrition, adequate physical fitness, and healthy decision-making.

Len Saunders, a physical education teacher from New Jersey, started Project ACES in 1989. He and HJ Saunders, of The Youth Fitness Coalition, now organize the event each year.

The American College of Sports Medicine is also a partner, and other groups providing organizational support include the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports and the American Heart Association.

Children from all 50 states and more than 50 countries were expected to join in today.

Schools and organizations can also join Project ACES clubs, which commit to exercising daily, weekly, or monthly, concluding with the main ACES event the first Wednesday in May.

There’s also a wealth of education material on the Project ACES website. I particularly found two worksheets informative and fun, one on “Nutrition Fuels Fitness” and the other on “What’s Your Family Fitness IQ?”.