Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Protein for Athletes

Myths about protein and those who would want to gain muscles weight usually come with false information and faulty reasoning. Many athletes feel that protein is for those trying to build giant muscles, partly this is true. In reality, protein for endurance and weight training athletes is both important. Endurance athletes need protein as well. Confusion and myths about protein come from those who are bodybuilders who do consume large portions of protein-containing foods like eggs, chicken, and protein supplements. But those who may not choose the bodybuilding way of life may to not get the recommended amounts of protein in their diets due to fear of gaining too much bulk or simply being uneducated on their own body’s needs. Once again the philosophy of ‘everything in moderation’ comes into play. As we stated in the previous post, protein is needed to repair muscle, grow hair and nails, along with boosting our immune system.

Most individuals can find themselves no matter their activity level eating too little of the required proteins. It is very easy to fill up the day on other foods because meats, cheeses and protein bars are favored by those who are ‘bulky’ and we want to avoid these foods. In most cases, we then replace more nutrient and vitamin dense foods with processed enriched foods that are not filling. For athletes and any person that is active, you need to figure out your needs. Endurance athletes harness the use of protein when the duration of workouts are long, our bodies adapt to these activities and use protein when glucose is low in the blood. Those who are trying to build muscle need adequate amounts of protein but not over-do the amount. In several studies, taking excess protein in supplement form didn’t increase muscle mass more than consuming natural foods that are rich in protein. Those people that are trying to lose weight still need to get protein to feel full and curb cravings. Protein is also essential for those who are starting to work out or weight train because they need the protein to build muscle, increase endurance, and be stronger.

Protein Recommendations Based on Activity
Gram per Body Weight (lbs)
Sedentary Adults
Endurance Adult Athlete
0.6 - 0.7
Growing Teenage Athlete
0.7 - 0.9
Adult Building Muscle Mass
0.7 - 0.8

Ex. 120lb endurance female needs at least 0.6 grams per body weight
120 X 0.6 = 72g of protein a day

Try this for yourself!

Now that you have found your need let's talk food. Protein can be difficult to get when you're busy running around from school to practice then home late, so the best quick snack options are not always full of protein. Some great snack or meals on the go include: greek yogurt, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, almonds, leftover chicken (on a salad or in a wrap for example), milk chugs, and finally deli meat, which is great to once again put on a salad, in a wrap or just eat by itself as a snack. The best part about protein snacks is that is actually fill you up for a long duration.
Those who choose to avoid meat for their own taste or personal decision need to be aware that they may become deficient over time. The healthiest way to maintain fitness at any level while being vegetarian, and even vegan, is knowing your plants. Grains, beans, legumes, nuts, soy, kale, and spinach need to be consumed by these individuals. Along with not eating enough protein for performance a person may not be getting enough iron, which is much higher in meats. Iron, a mineral that we need to consume, is needed especially when an athlete changes their diet to cut back on red meat. One consequence may be lower iron levels. A couple of my favorites that are animal free is soy or almond milk (especially chocolate), black bean burgers, almonds, peanut butter, spinach, hard boiled eggs and quinoa. If you glance at this list, what do you notice? I see vegetables, dairy and fat, all important and filling throughout a busy day.

For the female athlete it is a challenge to stay “thin” (which is a post all to itself) but I want to address protein in the midst of weight loss and the challenge to be thin. As mentioned earlier, iron may become deficient with those who have a low calorie, low protein diet, or have excessive activity. For females especially iron is also lost through the menstrual cycle. When iron is low enough you may feel fatigue, loss of muscle, become anemic, or for females have amenorrhea, which is the loss of  or very rare menstrual periods. For a female athlete with these symptoms it’s your body telling you that something is off.
Protein is essential for everybody, find your needs, and find your new grocery list and yummy recipes you’d like to try. Don’t avoid the protein! Find a happy medium with what your body needs and what sound good for you. Nutrition is very individualized and it may take time to find the particular foods that you enjoy and can readily make. In the long your body with be sustained and your mind will enjoy the strength during your favorite activities.

  • Sara


Clark, N. (2014). Protein: Building and Repairing Muscles. In Nancy Clarks' Sports Nutrition Guidebook (5th ed., pp. 137-155). Newton, MA: Sports Nutrition Services.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Proteins: The Basics

Proteins are composed of individual amino acids and are a fundamental aspect of the human body. Amino acids are very similar in composition but their slight variance (the “R-group,” “functional group,” or “side chain”) is what decides their function. There are two types of amino acids; the first is “essential” which means that the body does not make it itself (or make enough itself) so it has to come from the diet. The second is “nonessential”, which is the kind the body can produce. Out of 20 amino acids total, 9 are essential and 11 are nonessential.
        Proteins have numerous functions in the body. The most common job of protein is serving as building blocks for muscles, blood, skin and even replacing dead cells. They also form enzymes, which are materials that help break down or build substances and facilitate reactions.  Some hormones are proteins, including testosterone and estrogen. Proteins also assist with fluid regulation and balance. For example, if the protein concentration is too high on one side of the cell membrane it will attract water and other fluids, this causes swelling and is most often seen after an injury. Another function of proteins is transporting substances across the cell membrane. A protein has a negatively charged nature it attracts positively charged hydrogen atoms, and because of its relationship with hydrogen atoms it acts as an acid-base regulator. In extreme cases (ex: starvation), proteins can be broken down and used as energy, although it should be noted that this is not their intended purpose. These are just a few examples of their usefulness but proteins are capable of much more!
        Now that we understand how important proteins are let’s take a look at how to eat enough of them. When it comes to foods there are high-quality proteins and low-quality proteins. A high-quality protein contains all of the essential amino acids and easily digestable and a low-quality protein does not. It’s important to understand that although some foods do not supply all of the essential amino acids they are still useful to the body. In fact, low-quality proteins may be eaten in combination with each other to supply all of the essential amino acids; this makes low-quality proteins a complete meal for amino acids. For example, eating legumes may provide only partial of what the body needs, so if you pair them with grains you will get the other half of essential amino acids. Those who prefer to avoid eating meat, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs, milk, and some soybean products will typically utilize “protein complementing”. Protein complementing is the act of combining low-quality proteins to form a meal composed of all of the essential amino acids.  

Proteins are necessary for everyone, not just bodybuilders; however, it’s easy to eat the wrong amounts. The DRI (daily recommended intake)  recommends ingesting 0.8 grams for each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight to maintain muscle mass. So, for example, a 150 lb individual should be eating 54.5 grams of protein daily (150lb / 2.2lb = 68g, 68g x 0.8g = 54.5g). An example of 54.4 grams is one blade steak or two 4oz. chicken breasts.

- Hannah

Sizer, F., & Whitney, E. (2012). The Proteins and Amino Acids. In Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies (12th ed., pp. 189). Belmont, California: Yolanda Cossio.
Whitney, E., & Rolfes, S. (2013). Protein: Amino Acids. In Understanding Nutrition (13th ed., p. 166). Belmont, California: Yolanda Cossio.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Harnessing the Power of Fats

Now that we have learned what fats are and how the history and idea of them have changed we can apply this all to our daily living and our diet. Fats are typically put into the “bad” food columns because fats are associated with the nutrient free, sugary, snack foods. This is  UNTRUE. Fats like mentioned before are our bodies long-term fuel, insulation, and keeps us feeling full. The trick is balance and an understanding amounts. Serving sizes are placed on our foods for guidance and they are rarely examined.. Fats are dense and therefore a serving size may be small. Fats are equivalent to 9 calories per gram. Nutrient dense foods like peanut butter, almonds, eggs, and seeds are my favorite ways to get nutrient dense and filling food into my diet. Fats are digested much slower and so we will not have fast energy like carbohydrates, but will sustain our day’s activities or the exercises we do.
Fats in natural unprocessed forms are best. Which can be hard when so many things are processed. Like I mentioned earlier my favorites are peanut butter, almonds, eggs and seeds. But there are many more options like:
  • Avocados: They are easy to throw in a salad, make guacamole or use to replace mayo. Avocados calories are mostly fat, but this is monounsaturated fats and not processed.
  • Salmon and Tuna: Fish oil allows us to get two serving of omega - 3 oil that are essential for our bodies and help maintain natural inflammation and decreased the risk of heart disease.
  • Flax Seed: Again flax seed or oil is a natural found unprocessed food, that is rich in omega - 3’s that can be added in anything. Add it into smoothies, cereal, or bake goods.
  • Olive Oil: Olive oil is better choice when looking to saute veggies or throwing in pasta.

How can Athletes use Fats?
How much fat do we really need? Every single person needs to have some percentage of fats in their diet. How much depends on you. Typically, the recommendation is 20-35% of your daily calories, which is quite a lot in comparison to our “old” ways of thinking. Daily calories of fat along with carbohydrates and protein are dictated by your activity. I want to show the recommendations for both males and females depending on moderately active vs.active.

Recommended Total Calories:
Ages 14-18
Male: 2,400-2,800
Female: 2,000
Male: 2,800-3,200
Female: 2,400
Ages 19-30
Male: 2,600-2,800
Female: 2,000-2,200
Male: 3,000
Female: 2,400

For finding out the percentage of fats you individually need on a given day depends on your calorie needs. So for example a 20 year female who is an active and daily runner needs about 2,400 calories. Since fats are between 20-35% of our daily diets take the 20-35% of the caloric need divided by 9 which gives you the grams (1 gram of fat = 9 calories).

2400 x .20 = 480/ 9 = 53g of fat
2400 x .35 = 840/9 = 93g of fat

In Food Fat Looks Like: 1 cup of almond milk = 2.5g
   1 cup of whole milk = 7.9g
   1 tbsp of unsalted butter = 11.5g
   1 cup of sliced avocado = 21.4g
   1 tbsp of olive oil = 14g

For athletes of any sport it is important to have a balance, but get enough of daily fats to sustain long term energy. When muscles are weak and being used over an hour, they have already consumed the glycogen stores our muscles, and can use the fat stores. The type of athlete you are depends on the amount of fats you need because your body will use the stored fat differently. Long distance runners, cyclists, or triathletes perform low/moderate intensity activity for a long duration of time, this allows them to use more fat storage. Now speed or weight training is mostly fueled by glucose or carbohydrates. Why is this? Low/moderate activity for long amount of time is aerobic, meaning our body needs a lot of oxygen (“Energy In..”). Fats are used most efficiently by our bodies with oxygen and so there aerobic activities are best to use our fat storages.

What Type of Exerciser are You?
Aerobic Activity
- endurance exercise
- uses oxygen to produce energy
- burn fat and weight loss
- uses fats and protein over long term activity
Anaerobic Activity
- interval training or weight training
- the body can produce energy without oxygen
- boosts metabolism and prevent weight gain
- uses carbohydrates for short term intense energy

Fats are very important for all athletes and the range of consumption is determined by activity that will be performed. Athletes and those who are active can listen to their bodies to determine when they need to eat or have sustained energy. We can also use the understanding of aerobic vs. anaerobic to determine caloric needs of our bodies to get the number of calories we need and therefore the exact grams of fat needed daily. Now, if you are asking how I can use all this information and numbers this is how.

  1. figure out your activity level
  2. determine what kind of activities you do most regularly
  3. find your caloric need
  4. find your grams
  5. apply this to you eating and planning

I want to end by tying this back to serving sizes because this will be used practically and during our meal planning. For example 2tbsp of JIF Natural Peanut Butter contains 16g of fat. If you determined you need around 40g of fat a day you are about half way there. Another one of my favorites, and I know many others enjoy are almonds, one serving (¼ cup) of almonds contains on average 18g of fat. With these two foods you may already hit your goal. I wanted to mention this because with this you can visualize the serving sizes that will still give your body what it needs. Figure out your numbers and it will help balance out your diet and control your serving size especially when it comes to fat.

  • Sara


Clark, N. (2014). Building a High-Energy Eating Plan. In Nancy Clarks' Sports Nutrition Guidebook (5th ed., pp. 28 - 29). Newton, MA: Sports Nutrition Services.
Clark, N. (2014). Athlete-Specific Nutrition Advice. In Nancy Clarks' Sports Nutrition Guidebook (5th ed., pp. 247 - 265). Newton, MA: Sports Nutrition Services.
Energy In: Recommended Food & Drink Amounts for Children. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2015.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Evolution of Fat Theory

Eating fat makes you fat! Fats drive up your cholesterol levels! Replace fats with carbs! There surely are a lot of rules when it comes to eating fats, but how many of them stem from evidence-based research? The common thought on fats has completely changed over the course of one century. With the publishing of new studies and production of promising technology, our knowledge of fats grows. Today, we know that fats are important components of the diet (for more information, view our post about the basics of lipids); however, the journey to where we are now was not easy. Let’s take a look at the past to see previous opinions of fats.
What They Ate - Paradoxes
        Several societies thrived (and continue to do so) on a high-fat diet. This baffled researchers due to the popular belief that fats make you fat and gave you hear disease. For example, Aleš Hrdlička, observed the Native Americans inhabiting the American Southwest in 1898. Their diet mainly consisted of meat consumption, especially buffalo. During his time there, Hrdlička was baffled by how long they lived and how healthy the elderly appeared. Also, he was dumbfounded by the absence of malignant disease such as cancer as well as heart disease, varicose veins, appendicitis, atherosclerosis, or stomach ulcers.
        In 1906, Icelandic anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson traveled to the Canadian Arctic to live with the Inuit nation there.  During his stay he adapted the Inuit diet that consisted primarily of caribou, salmon, and eggs. It was estimated that about 70 to 80% of the calories in their diets were were from fats. Stefansson observed no obesity or disease in his new friends and even thought that they were among of some of the healthiest individuals he had ever seen! This is was a surprising conclusion due to the diet they were consuming, so he and a friend formulated an experiment to be sure the health of those in the Arctic was due to their diet; they planned to only consume meat and water for an entire year. This was a scandalous idea but they did it anyway and after a year was up they were found in perfectly good health (aside from Stefansson being sick one time, which was quickly resolved). News of their well being struck scientists everywhere; the men were expected to fall ill to deficiencies because their diet was so restricted. Stefansson avoided this issue by eating the whole animal (organs included).
Slide1.jpg         In the early 1960s another doctor traveled far to observe the eating habits of a healthy nation. George Mann ventured to Kenya in order to study the Masai people. Mann’s work was based off of another doctor, A. Gerald Shaper, who studied the Samburus people of Uganda. They drank 2 to 7 liters of milk a day and ate meat regularly. Mann discovered that the Masai would drink 3 to 5 liters of milk a day and eat lamb, goat, and beef often. The Masai and Samburus consumed 60% of their calories through fat; however, they had blood pressures about 50% lower than Americans at that time. In the Masai, Mann could not find a trace of heart disease, and considering the popular hypothesis in America at the time was that animal fat caused heart disease, this was an astounding find.
Demonizing Saturated Fats
Slide2.jpg         Ancel Benjamin Keys pioneered the idea that fat causes heart disease. He theorized that cholesterol was linked to heart disease and caused heart attacks. Russian pathologist Nikolaj Anitschkow put together an experiment of his own in 1913 to test how animals metabolized cholesterol. Antischkow claimed that he could induce lesions from atherosclerosis by injecting these animals (rabbits mainly) with large amounts of cholesterol. His research aided Keys and promoted the theory about animal fats leading to heart disease. However, Antischkow’s experiment was inadequate, he neglected to test animals who are meat-eaters like humans are (ex: dogs). When these animals were used as subjects the results were that they had the ability to eliminate the excess cholesterol - meaning that cholesterol isn’t the monster Keys and Antischkow thought it was; however the damage was done and the fear of serum cholesterol spread across America. Keys himself found in one of his later studies that no matter how much cholesterol he fed to his human subjects their cholesterol levels did not change significantly. Even with this evidence he held onto his original hypothesis.
          In 1952 the gas-liquid chromatography was invented. This device allowed researchers the capability to test different kinds of lipids and their effects on the body. This invention led to the discovery of the different types of fats (e.g. saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated). E. H. “Pete” Ahrenz, a lipidologist, led the pack with research in this field. Also in 1952, Keys announced his diet-heart hypothesis: fat in the diet causes serum cholesterol in the blood that causes heart disease. Originally, he had thought that total consumption of fat led to an unhealthy life instead of the type of fat, but after a few more experiments he found the opposite to be true. Due to his new discovery, he claimed that saturated fats should be avoided for a healthy heart. This led to the Keys equation; a way to calculate how much serum cholesterol could be affected by the ingestion of saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and cholesterol.

Slide3.jpgKeys’s hypothesis had an overwhelming support from fellow scientists; although, some, like Mann and Jacob Yerushalmy, disagreed with his findings. Mann pointed out the paradoxes of the nations with a high-fat diet and low instances of heart disease and Yerushalmy mentioned that Keys had the tendency to find a population to fit his hypothesis and not a hypothesis to fit the real data. In response to his critics, Keys launched his seven countries study (1970) traveling to Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Finland, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States. Unfortunately, Keys did not fix the errors of his past experiments and he continued to allow his bias to cloud his judgment; he did not collect his subjects through randomization and actively avoided countries (such as France and Switzerland) where data contradicting his own was found. Also, he ignored the impact cultural components, such as Lent and nations left in poverty from WWII, had on his study because their omission would not help support his theory. The conclusion of the study was that there is a direct correlation between saturated fat consumption and heart disease related deaths.
In 1999, a man by the name Alessandro Menotti, an Italian researcher looked back on the date from the seven countries study and found that sugars seemed to be the responsible food category for disease. Earlier, in 1992, it was revealed that saturated fats are not related to heart disease, although that fact was found in 1968. Keys rejected the idea as he had done since the early 1970s with his debates with John Yudkin, the leader of the sugar hypothesis: formed the sugar hypothesis: sugar products and refined carbohydrates had the highest correlation with deaths from heart disease, and led the nation to believe in the diet-heart hypothesis still.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Heart Society (AHA), and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (foundation for the food pyramid) were founded during Keys’ reign. The influence he had on these organizations still impacts the way we think about fats. For instance, food brands can advertise “cholesterol free!” implying that cholesterol is a negative component of the diet (the importance of cholesterol is discussed in a previous blog post). Thankfully, we are no longer taught to follow the food pyramid, now we are encouraged to eat according to “My Plate” guidelines.  
-- Hannah

Teicholz, N. (2014). The Fat Paradox: Good Health on a High-Fat Diet, Why We Think Saturated Fat is Unhealthy, The Low-Fat Diet is Introduced to America, The Low-Fat Diet Goes to Washington. In The big fat surprise: Why butter, meat, and cheese belong in a healthy diet. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks