Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Blog: Weight Loss - Are you planning for success?

Credit:  bgottsab (Flickr)

Today's guest blog post is written by Jennifer Michelle, Dietetic Intern at Bowling Green State University's Dietetic Internship Program.  Thanks for sharing with us, Jennifer!  

When trying to reach any goal, planning is an important step. This is especially true when it comes to weight loss. There are so many variables involved in reaching weight loss goals that a well coordinated effort is your best bet to succeed. When food and exercise related decisions are left to chance, it is easy to make less than desirable choices. Today’s busy lifestyle can make it easy to lose track of your goals.

Why should you have a plan?

Losing weight and keeping it off requires consistent healthy lifestyle choices. Planning ahead can help you prevent hitting exercise and nutrition roadblocks on your path to weight loss success. We often eat for reasons other than hunger, and sometimes hunger drives us to indulge in high-calorie, unhealthy foods. When you plan healthy meals and snacks in advance and have all the ingredients necessary, you won’t find yourself making less than optimal choices. Even when you dine out, having a strategy is the key to success. Deciding where you are going to eat will allow you to check out the menu for healthy options to select in advance in order to avoid giving in to temptation. Another reason you should have a plan is to keep on track with your exercise program. If you are just fitting in exercise wherever you can, it is easy to find yourself too busy or too tired to get in the amount you need.

How can you plan for weight loss success?
Start by setting aside some time for strategizing each week. Coming up with a plan takes a little time and is the first step in organizing your weight loss success. Be sure to include all the meals and snacks you need, including all necessary ingredients. Decide when and where you will be eating your meals and snacks, taking into consideration your schedule and when you tend to feel hungry. Remember to include time to go shopping for the ingredients you need. Exercise is another important part of your weight loss plan. It is very easy to skip an exercise session when you have a long or hectic day. Schedule time for exercise as an appointment you need to keep with yourself.

Do you have a plan for weight loss success? What about having a plan has helped you to reach your weight loss goals?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Four Myths about Carbohydrate Loading

Photo credit: gotosira (Flickr)

In my work with athletes, I find that one of the most often misunderstood areas of nutrition for physical performance involves carbhydrate loading.  The goal of carbohydrate loading is to maximize glycogen stores, a major source of fuel in the muscles during endurance activity.  Optimizing these glycogen stores, in turn, allows an athlete to compete at his/her goal race pace for a greater duration during the event.  Unfortunately, there is often some confusion about the who, what, when, and why of carb loading.  Athletes whose performance could benefit from carb loading are either not doing it or their method of implementation is improper.  On the other hand, some athletes who are not likely to benefit from carb loading are doing it anyway.  Today, I bust four of the most common myths about carb loading.  Tell me if you've heard any of these.  

Myth #1:  Make sure you load up on carbs the night before the event.  
Fact:  While a pasta party may be fun to attend the night before an event, it is not the ideal protocol for carbohydrate loading before endurance training or competition. Carb loading involves a gradual increase in carbohydrate intake along with a tapering down in physical activity within several days before the endurance activity.  The best carb loading regimen will depend on the athlete's individual needs and training plan.  It's also important to keep in mind that maintaining an optimal performance diet throughout training is one of the best ways to prepare for competition day.

Myth #2:  Training for a 5K?  Make sure to carb load before your event.  
Fact:  Carb loading optimizes performance for athletes participating in intense, continuous exercise that lasts greater than 90 minutes.  Most athletes competing in 5K's, 10K's, or shorter, less intense activities will not necessarily experience improved performance from carb loading.  Carb loading is effective in endurance-trained athletes since training stimulates the activity of the enzyme used to support the formation of glycogen.  Also, carb loading may hinder performance of some athletes due to stiffness or heaviness as the body's glycogen stores increase.  

Myth #3:  Eat all the carbs you can because you're going to need it.  
Fact:  Athletes competing in endurance events or repeated bouts of continuous activity over a long period of time do need to consume enough carbohydrate to fuel their activity.   However, it does not mean this is a free ticket to eat any and every source of carbohydrate you can get your hands on.  Quality and quantity do make a difference.  It is essential to include high quality sources of carbohydrate, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, since these foods also offer a score of other nutrients necessary for promoting physical performance.  At the same time, it's also not time to go overboard on cookies, donuts, and ice cream as these foods are not the highest quality sources of carbohydrates.  They may also contribute more to "fat gain" than "glycogen storage" as well as undesirable visits to the Port-o-Potty on race day.  The body still needs the right balance of high quality sources of protein, fat, and other nutrients for the best performance nutrition.

Myth #4:  If you're going to carb load, you need a supplement.
Fact:  While the amount of carbohydrate needed for carb loading is higher than usual for the athlete, it is usually an amount that can be consumed through high quality sources of carbohydrates.  Not only will these foods provide carbohydrate, but they will also provide other valuable performance nutrients.  So supplements are probably not necessary unless the volume of food needed to meet carbohydrate needs may be more than the tummy can take. For example, I worked with a triathlete who could not tolerate the larger amounts of food needed for carb-loading.  So, we included carb supplements in her nutrition plan.

Have you carb-loaded for an event?  If so, what works for you?  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

Do you eat like food matters?  Seasoned journalist, food writer, and cookbook author, Mark Bittman, poses this question to his readers in his book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.  However, he takes the question a step further by challenging readers to consider the impact of what they eat on the environment as well as their health.  He starts with a discussion about how government food and agricultural policies, particularly in regard to corn and soybeans, have led to the overproduction of food.  This overproduction, in turn, leads to overconsumption of food, especially animal foods, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed, nutrient poor foods.  Obviously, the overconsumption of these types of foods has a significant impact on health, but Bittman also discusses the variety of ways in which overproduction affects the environment.  With greater food production comes the need for more land and resources along with a rise in environmental pollution.  If you've read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma or watched Food, Inc., then some of this discussion may sound familiar.

After offering his readers the rationale for conscious eating, Bittman outlines what he calls "sane eating".  Bittman details his personal experience with "sane eating", assuring that it is not a diet and does not involve calorie counting or the need to purchase only vegetarian or organic foods.  Instead Bittman advocates for a change in mindset about eating.  Rather than avoiding or restricting less nutritious foods, he advises his readers to consume less meat and animal products, fewer refined carbohydrates, and very little processed, nutrient poor foods.  He then suggests eating more plant-based foods that are closer to their natural state, such as fresh vegetables and fruits and whole grains.  Bittman proposes that his readers will automatically become more conscious eaters as plant foods take center stage in the diet.

While much of Food Matters parallels that of some of Michael Pollan's previous work, he differs from Pollan in that he takes his recommendations to a practical level for his readers.  To round out the book, Bittman digs into details about "sane shopping" and eating out like food matters.  The latter part of the book is filled with over 75 user-friendly recipes that will be helpful for readers eager to get started on a path toward more conscious eating.

What you might like about the book:  It's an easy read, and the messages are simple.  It may also be refreshing to read a book that takes a gentler approach to healthful eating and also considers the impact of diet on the environment.  The recipes are often flexible and come with useful tips on how to customize them to your liking.  Bittman also includes a lot of practical tips, such as how to stock a "Food Matters Kitchen".

What you might not like about the book:  While Bittman sprinkles the book with stats and facts to support his conclusions, not all of them are referenced.  So if you tend to read books like this with a critical eye, you may see this as a flaw.  While the book is not bogged down with too many scientific details, a reader who likes more details may find some of them missing here.  For example, there is a discussion about the welfare of feedlot cattle and the appeal of grass-finished cattle.  However, additional info about the benefits of grass-fed over feedlot cattle is not explained.  If you're looking for a rigid diet plan or calorie counts, this book won't fit the bill. Finally, if you've read Michael Pollan's books The Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food, then you may feel like you've learned this before.

You may also want to check out these other highly rated books by Mark Bittman:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Foodie Friday: Watermelon Agua Fresca

Photo credit: Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

I'm not sure any other fruit says summer more than watermelon.  What do you think?  It's one juicy fruit that can really quench the thirst.  When my daughter eats watermelon, she'll often say she's "drinking" it.  Watermelon is one juicy source of the antioxidants vitamins C and A as well as lycopene, so why not drink it?  Bottoms up!

Watermelon Agua Fresca

{Print this recipe}
2 cups watermelon, seeded and cubed
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
8-10 drops of stevia (I like SweetLeaf.) or 2 tsp honey (or to taste)

1.  Add the watermelon, lime juice, and stevia or honey to a blender and puree until liquefied.
2.  Fill two large glasses with ice, and pour half of the watermelon mixture into each glass.  Enjoy!

Serves:  2
Nutritional Information: (using stevia) 
Calories:  53   Carbohydrate:  14 g   Protein:  1 g   Fat:  0.3 g   Cholesterol:  0 mg   Fiber:  1 g   Sugar:  10 g (natural)  Sodium:  2 mg
Excellent source of:  vitamins C and A and lycopene   
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