Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to incorporate protein into your plan to get fit

If your goal is to get fit in 2010 and you're wondering how protein fits into that plan, then you're in the right spot!  Many diet books and magazines place protein on the nutrient pedestal deeming it the MVN (most valuable nutrient) for getting in shape, but I often find that people are confused, overwhelmed, or misinformed about protein's role in helping them shape up.  So, let's sift through the info and get to the meat of the matter.

You must first know this:  building muscle tissue, strength, and endurance requires progressive strength or resistance training.  Without this foundation, you will not gain muscle mass, strength, or endurance no matter how much protein you consume.  Also, keep in mind that if you're interested in increasing muscle size, it takes up to 8-12 weeks of practicing a progressive strength training routine before you'll see these muscle gains.  To get the most out of your workouts, I would suggest investing in a certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist who can create the optimal plan to help you achieve your goal whether it is to strengthen and tone your muscles or to build muscle mass and power.

While protein plays a vital role in enhancing muscular fitness by building and repairing muscle tissue, the amount needed to do so is often exaggerated.  For generally healthy people, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg OR 0.4 g/lb daily.  Although the recreational exerciser needs a little more than this, the average American adult typically consumes at or above the amount needed.  So, if you're a generally healthy adult looking to get in shape, then you are probably already consuming an adequate amount of protein to meet your needs.

Two dietary characteristics I suggest regarding protein are:  quality and timing.  Focus on incorporating high quality sources of protein in your diet.  Lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soybeans, and low-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt are considered high quality sources of protein.  Keep in mind that we eat other foods that are also quality sources of protein, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, and vegetables. Consuming protein from a variety of food sources is key because this will maintain a more balanced and adequate intake of a many nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Notice that I'm not mentioning supplements?  As I mentioned before, most of us are already getting more than enough protein in our diet through food alone.  Adding protein powder supplements may just contribute excess calories, which can work against your goal to achieve your best shape! Research suggests that consuming high quality sources of protein from food is just as effective if not more effective at helping people achieve their fitness needs.  Generally, for the recreational exerciser, protein powder supplements can be costly and unnecessary. 

As for timing, I typically suggest that people consume a quality source of protein at each main meal  throughout the day.  This helps steadily release energy to the body while stabilizing energy levels throughout the day and will leave you feeling more satisfied after each meal.  Consuming a little protein (~10 grams) post-workout is also key since our bodies are more sensitive to protein utilization within 1-2 hours after an intense training session.

What happens if you consume too much protein?  Well, if the body needs more energy, it may burn the excess protein for energy.  However, if the extra protein is not immediately used to fuel activity or for tissue maintenance and repair, then the surplus protein can be converted to and stored as glycogen (glucose) or fat.  Also, the metabolism of protein for energy creates metabolic waste products (nitrogen) that must be excreted from the body, so consuming excessive amounts of protein can increase the risk of dehydration, if an individual doesn't maintain adequate fluid consumption with high protein intakes.  Even mild dehydration can negatively impact performance and can hinder you from reaching your maximum potential during a workout.

When protein takes center stage in the diet, one nutrient that often gets left in the dust is carbohydrate.  Quality sources of carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, or milk, are a key component of any fitness plan.  Why? Carbohydrates provide a primary fuel source for the muscles during physical activity.  Including sufficient carbohydrate in the diet optimizes your workout because it allows your muscles to work harder and longer so that you reach your maximum potential.  When we don't consume enough carbohydrate and calories, our body relies more heavily on protein for energy.  Protein is actually a third in line for energy (following carbohydrate and fat) because we do not have a storage source of protein in the body and because it takes longer to metabolize protein for energy.  When protein is used for energy, less of it is available for muscle building and repair -- not ideal for someone working so hard to achieve his/her best physique.

So, there you have scoop on how to best incorporate protein into your diet and accomplish your get-fit goals.  Stay tuned for a future post on how to protein fits into your plans for weight gain and muscle building.

For more on this topic, you may consider the following resources:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Weight Management: How often should I weigh myself?

I am often asked, "How often should I weigh myself?"  Based on the current evidence and my practical experience, here's what I suggest.
  • If you are actively working to lose weight, it is best to weigh once a week, same day, same time, same scale, and wearing the same clothes, if possible.  Why?  Our weight fluctuates from day to day and even throughout the day depending on many things, including our hydration status, physical activity, food intake, or elimination.  It can also vary by scale (home vs gym vs doctor's) and the type or amount of clothing you're wearing each time.  I've worked with people who've weighed themselves multiple times daily or weekly, and I've seen how the numbers on the scale can affect an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors -- negatively or positively.  It's kind of like checking on your stocks all day long.  It goes up and down and it could really drive you cRaZy!  I've found that this is not helpful when attempting weight loss as it can trigger possible setbacks.
  • If you are practicing weight maintenance, it is best to weigh daily (again same time, same scale, same clothing, if possible).  When I worked at a bank through college, I used to balance my checking account daily.  It was great because I was able to find and fix errors immediately.  It's the same thing with weighing daily. By doing this, you can detect minor changes and implement management strategies more quickly.
Significant weight gain does not occur over night, and one way to keep your weight in check over the long-term is to self-monitor it.  Several studies have found that participants weighing less frequently than once a week experienced greater weight gain than those who weighed at least once a week or more. So if daily weighing seems a bit much, I'd recommend weighing at least once a week for more successful weight gain prevention.

Looking for a trusty scale?  I'd suggest these brands:  

**I have not been paid to recommend these brands. My suggestions are based on my own personal and professional experience with these brands and/or research into the best brands for my own personal/professional use.**

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Toddler and Child Nutrition: Food jags

The mother of a 2 1/2 year old girl recently told me that her daughter only wants to drink milk and will not eat much else.  Clearly frustrated, she requested my advice.  If you've ever cared for a toddler, this is probably familiar territory.  Well, the RD is in, and I would diagnose this as a food jag.  Food jags occur when a child prefers to eat only a few favored foods over the course of several days, and it's actually quite normal for a young child to experience them on occasion.  What parents need to realize first is that children around this age are developing their independence, and this is really just a sign of that.  This could shed some light on one of the toddler's favorite words - NO! And it also helps explain their constant testing of limits, which is a true patience-builder if you ask me!  Preferring to only drink milk does not necessarily mean that this little one only likes milk nor does it mean that she won't eat anything else.  So, what do we do with these food jags?

When a child experiences a food jag, instead of rewarding the behavior with negative attention, it is best to relax.  Focusing on the food jag may only serve to intensify and extend it.  Remember that you're the parent, and the parent's job is to feed while it's the child's job to eat.  I always rely on Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding:  1) Parents are responsible for what, when, and where children eat and 2) Children are responsible for whether and how much.  This means that it is up to the parent to purchase, prepare, and serve a variety of healthful foods to the child and to trust her to eat the right amount that she needs. It's alright to continue offering the favored food along with a variety of other foods at meal and snack time.  If the child chooses to eat only the favored foods for a week, breathe easy as the reality is that your child will not develop malnutrition from a temporary food jag.  Food jags can be harmless depending on how we respond to them. I do suggest that you remain observant of lingering food jags as sometimes it can be a sign of something more concerning, such as a food allergy or intolerance that evolves into a fear of eating a wide variety of foods.

For more advice on feeding children, I suggest these resources.

My previous posts:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mindful Eating: Let go

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be."  Lao Tzu

Let go.  It's as simple as that. Okay, maybe not that simple because so many of us have been in a cold war with food for so long.  The internal conflict and tension around food is so high that some of us are afraid to make a move.  We're so worried that if we make a move, the wrong one, everything will collapse -- our self-esteem, our health, our relationships, our lives.  Well, I say it's time to denounce these potentially paralyzing thoughts and see them for what they really are...exaggerations, untruths, and saboteurs!  When working with clients who have such thoughts, I remind them that there is no need to keep account of their so-called "food crimes".  Food is not the enemy, it is the answer!  That is, if we let it be the answer.  Let go of the past, problems, pressures, expectations, exaggerations, judgments and all-or-nothing attitudes that we so often undermine ourselves with when it comes to eating. These adverse thoughts only serve to perpetuate a vicious cycle of potentially self-destructive behaviors and thoughts that continuously feed off of one another.  Allow some quiet space around your eating experience and surrender yourself to the pleasure and nourishment that eating offers.  The more you do this, the greater the sense of relief that you will feel.  And the greater you will trust your ability to eat intuitively.

Achieving harmony with food is not something that happens overnight. These negative thoughts have been programmed into some of our heads for a very long time, so it takes time, practice, and patience to learn to dial down the activity.  When the negativity enters your head, simply acknowledge the thought as that...just a thought and bring your focus back to the eating experience.  Instead of defend and conquer, let's reconcile and release ourselves from the power of food.  Only then will we truly be able to experience the satisfaction that savoring food offers and attain our best health and well-being.  Go after a life of health and wellness, you deserve it!

Although this ends my series on mindful eating, your growth and discovery need not stop here. For more guidance, I suggest these resources.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Mindful Eating: Exploring food

Several years ago, one of my clients, a teacher, reported having an A-ha! moment about her eating experiences. She'd observed one of her young students gnawing on a candy necklace that was draped around her neck. She wondered how the girl could be enjoying it. It looked so "disgusting" as she put it.  At that moment, she turned her probing inward and realized how often she'd mindlessly eaten food that she didn't even enjoy.  I think many of us can relate. Haven't you ever eaten something that you later realized you didn't really taste or didn't notice you ate?  A few years ago, Brian Wansink and his team gave movie attendees free medium or large-sized buckets of fresh or 14-day old stale popcorn.  Even those offered large buckets of stale popcorn ate 33.6% more than those given medium buckets of stale popcorn. Stale popcorn! I imagine these subjects were not eating mindfully since they were watching a movie while consuming the popcorn, but had they paid more attention to their food, I wonder if the results would be different.  

One survey suggests that fewer Americans report having pleasurable experiences with eating. I'm not surprised as I believe that many of us have lost touch with the enjoyment of the eating experience for various reasons.

Some of our eating experiences have been lost to a life of busyness. Americans spend almost 70 minutes a day eating and drinking as a primary activity. However, the French spend about 2 hours a day eating and drinking.  It's not unusual for the French to spend an average of 40 minutes eating dinner. I think some of us would consider that outrageous.  Interestingly, the French also have lower rates of obesity than the U.S. While the link is not causal, it is intriguing.

More of us are also eating food that's been prepared outside of the home.  The typical American consumes an average of 4 commercially-prepared meals/week and spends 42% of the food budget on dining out.  That is up from about 3% in the early 1900's! I'm not saying that if we eat food that's prepared outside of the home that we cannot enjoy it or the eating experience, but I do believe this allows for the opportunity to become disengaged with food when we're not purchasing or preparing it ourselves.

We're distracted while we're eating. Yes, I've discussed this before with my mindless eating series, and it comes back to haunt us.  Are we surprised? Come on, admit it. You've done it.  We spend an average of 16 minutes each day eating while doing something else like working or watching t.v.  In fact, 66% of Americans routinely watch t.v. while eating dinner!

Lastly, some of us feel bad about eating and enjoying it.  For some reason, some of us have been trained to see the enjoyment of eating as a character flaw.  The foods that people enjoy the most tend to be the ones that may also be higher in...gasp...fat, sugar, and calories!  Some presume that if we eat such "sinful" foods we have no willpower, self-control, or discipline.  We are weak and just plain bad.  We broke the rules. We must pay, and we do.  When we put a moral spin on eating, we sometimes beat ourselves up over it. We feel guilty or ashamed, and we have successfully robbed ourselves of the enjoyment it offers.  We've given a lot of power to food in our reductionist thinking.  Yes, science has uncovered a lot of interesting and groundbreaking information about food and nutrients.  At the same time, we may have taken it too far in some cases, and we've allowed our zeal about food, nutrition, and health to steal the joy out of eating.

We have to eat. There's no way around it. It is critical to our health and well-being that we eat. I say that it's time to break away from the monotony and relish in the satisfaction that can be gained by allowing ourselves the kindness of exploring our food.  Here are some possible ways in which you may choose to discover your food.
  • Tasting stages. Taste has been identified as the most influential determinant of our food choices. However, are we really tasting our food?  Having been tasting at a few wineries, I have discovered a greater appreciation for wine. Wine tasting may sound simple, but there's really more to it than meets the eye.  It actually occurs in stages, also known as the five S's:  see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor.  Don't understand? Watch the movie, Sideways.  To explore food mindfully, allow your senses to be aroused by the food before you. Observe the food's appearance: the size, color, or texture. Take in the aroma.  Note the flavor, texture, consistency, and mouthfeel as you take a bite.  Bring awareness to the flavors as they come and go. Don't think about the next bite. Simply be open to what each bite has to offer.
  • Close your eyes.  In a study conducted on a small group obese individuals, researchers found that participants ate 24% less food when they were blindfolded vs. when they were not blindfolded.  Interestingly, Opaque, a restaurant in LA, offers a "dining in the dark" experience where patrons consume their meals in a pitch-black room for an enhanced sensory experience.  Imagine how mindful you'd have to be to do that!  We may not need to eat entire meals in the dark, but closing our eyes periodically throughout the meal could very well provide the mindfulness needed for us to check in with our body and our senses.
  • Bring curiosity to the table.   Ask yourself questions as you take a bite.  What herbs or spices are present?  How does this bite compare to the last one?  Where were the ingredients produced? Who prepared them?  There are no right or wrong answers. We just answer and are focused on the moment.   
  • Cleanse the palate.  Having served as a taste tester for a food science course and a couple of food studies while in college, I learned the value of cleansing the palate in between tastings.  (This is also consistent with wine or beer tasting and fine dining.)  When I was a taste tester, I was advised to sip on water between foods.  The goal was to clear the taste of one food from the mouth before trying the next so that I could fully appreciate and evaluate the flavor of the food. 
  • Click! Take a pic. My family and close friends know what an avid photographer I am.  I love taking pictures, and I love to photograph food.  In fact, the picture I chose for this post is of a Thai dish (steak salad) that I prepared for a get-together.  I've noticed that photographing food, whether prepared by me or someone else, enhances my appreciation of it.  Not only do I enjoy taking the pictures, but I also enjoy sharing them and the stories behind them with others.  Even if you don't take a physical picture with a camera, consider taking a mental one.  Just carve out a moment of time to really take in the visual aspects of your food.
  • Get to know the cook.  Some of my favorite courses in college were Food Preparation and Food Science.  I enjoyed these classes because I learned so much about the fundamentals of food prep and how to experiment with food.  These courses served as the springboard toward discovering my "inner cook".  You don't need to take an official class though.  In fact, I've personally enjoyed learning about food and cooking from my mother.  She's from Thailand and knows how to make some of the best Thai food around!  Through her teaching, I have developed a deeper respect not only for the cuisine itself but also for the culture and heritage that go along with it. With whom could you explore food?   
These ideas may seem overwhelming. They need not be.  I'm not suggesting you try all of them at once or on every single food you consume.  However, I would suggest you give at least one of them a shot.  It could be as simple as more throughly {tasting} just one food and maybe even just a few pieces or bites of the food at one meal or snack this week.  What sounds interesting to you?
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