For many recreational or competitive female athletes, food seems to be the “fattening enemy.” Women often express their frustration that they “do all this exercise and are not losing weight” and wonder “what is the best diet?” The problem is that diets don’t work (or everyone who diets would be thin). They are certainly appealing, giving an illusion of control. But sadly, the dieting cycle actually contributes to more distress. The good news is that making peace with food, exercise and weight is possible! Rediscover the joy and nourishment of eating by focusing on strategies that will help you optimize body composition and improve athletic performance.
Create a Small Calorie Deficit. Weight loss happens when there is a caloric deficit. Unfortunately, the body responds to a caloric deficit with a number of metabolic adaptations. In the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Trexler, et al. summarize results from a number of studies indicating that the body’s response to hypocaloric diets is to increase hunger, conserve energy, and promote loss of lean body mass (LBM). Consequently, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain ultimately result in long-term weight gain. To minimize these effects, it is recommended to utilize the smallest possible deficit, such as 10-15% of calories, to yield an average weight loss of 0.5 pound per week. For example, if you need 2000 calories to maintain your weight, create a 200-300 calorie deficit per day. This may decrease the rate of weight loss, but will also reduce unfavorable adaptations.
Manage Your Hunger. There are many factors that affect hunger and appetite. Hunger is simply your body’s physical request for fuel, while appetite is a psychological urge for “what sounds good.” The biggest mistake made by weight conscious athletes is getting overly hungry and relying entirely on willpower to avoid eating too much. Unfortunately, many dieters skip breakfast, skimp on lunch, and blow it by “giving in” and overeating later in the day. Giving yourself permission to eat enough at breakfast and lunch will help you control the amount of food your body needs. Plan ahead by dividing your energy needs into about 3-5 meals/snacks and mindfully fuel up during the most active part of your day.
Increase Protein Intake. Loss of LBM while trying to reduce body weight is obviously undesired. Research has indicated that resistance training along with sufficient protein intake will help preserve LBM during energy restriction. Increasing your intake of protein-containing foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, and dairy products) will also promote satiety which delays the onset of hunger for the next meal. Protein needs vary individually, but in general, aim for about 20 grams of protein per meal or snack (20 grams of protein is the equivalent of a palm-sized serving of meat, pork or poultry; one cup of tofu; or 6 oz Greek yogurt with a couple tablespoons of almonds).
Improve Diet Quality. While I don’t recommend defining foods as “good” vs “bad”, changing your personal food environment will increase the likelihood that you will eat more nutrient dense foods regularly. Stocking up on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, wholesome carbohydrates, dairy, nuts, and seeds at home or at work will help fuel your workouts, decrease cravings and manage emotional eating. Each meal, try to balance your plate with a serving of lean protein, wholesome carbohydrates, and colorful veggies that will help you feel full and satisfied while providing important nutrients to help you exercise, train and perform at your best.
By Laura Gaffney, intern and guest blogger from Northwestern University.
As we find ourselves in the middle of the holiday season, many of us have a schedule full of gatherings, parties and events. This is one of my favorite times of the year. I love spending time with family and friends, laughing and having a good time. The holidays can bring feelings of guilt, stress, overeating, and many other things. The following are some basic tips to help handle those situations. Food is a delicious thing and we should not let it control how we feel about ourselves during the holiday season.
Sometimes those gatherings mean platters full of food that look delicious and tempt us to devour them. This brings up either forbidding different foods at the holidays or indulging yourself a little more than you wanted to. What if instead you looked around and picked out a few of your favorite things to eat and had an adequate portion of each? I have found that the more you forbid a food, the more you desire it. By enjoying a small amount of say, the decadent dessert a friend of yours baked, you are still enjoying something you find satisfying instead of letting a food make a rule for you.
I always think a good strategy when attending parties is to survey the scene. Take a glance around and observe what different foods are out there. Choose a few from different food groups that you enjoy; make yourself a well balanced plate; and indulge your palate there.
There is another situation that you might run into at a gathering. What if the event is different than you had expected? You may have expected a full meal so you didn't have a meal before and instead you come to find there is only chips and salsa. This is the point in which you have the opportunity to take care of yourself and ask for what you need. Most hosts/hostess won't be offended if you let them know you haven't eaten and ask to make yourself a peanut butter sandwich. Or another option would be to excuse yourself for 30 minutes and go grab something to eat so you do not fill up on chips and salsa. But if you do it is important to remember that it is only one night and it is not going to ruin your healthy eating habits.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tools with handling your food choices this holiday season. If you want to learn more about holiday eating and have the opportunity to ask questions, you can find more information and sign up for "Holiday Eating Unwrapped" on Tuesday December 9th in Lakeville at the following link http://www.enlightenunutrition.com/events.html
The typical "answer" seems to be: it's "80% nutrition and 20% exercise". What do you think? Of course, we all have our own personal experiences that affect our response. If having the right “balance” of nutrition and exercise is what we are looking for, it’s helpful to define what balance is.
Webster’s definition of balance: bal·ance noun \ˈba-lən(t)s\
: the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall; : a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance
Based on the definition of balance, the ideal “prescription” for achieving the proper amount of nutrition and exercise would be that everyone would move and exercise enough while eating the right amount to fuel that activity.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible (physical, financial, access, etc. reasons). The other challenge in answering this question is what’s your objective? Are you trying to lose weight? Fight disease? Improve energy? Or, improve sport performance?
There really isn’t a standard answer. See why…
The objective: Weight loss
What’s best? Initially, nutrition makes the biggest impact on achieving your goal. Specifically, research indicates that individuals who need to lose weight and body fat are most successful by attempting to alter the energy balance equation by decreasing energy (food) intake. However, exercise is essential for keeping the weight off. For this reason, an individual who is inactive when they begin a weight loss program needs to also include some form of activity. Starting off slowly enables them to work up to an intensity that will keep the weight off, prevent burnout and injury; and, help prevent muscle loss to keep their metabolism up.
The objective: Prevent type 2 diabetes
What’s best? Exercise can make the biggest impact in your defense against this disease. Yes, diet is also important in the prevention of diabetes, but active muscle tissue is like a “sponge” in being able to absorb sugar (glucose) from the blood stream using a mechanism totally separate from insulin. Also, when you are active, your cells also become more sensitive to insulin so it can work more efficiently.
The objective: Stabilize mood, relieve stress and boost energy
What’s best? Exercise is the magic bullet! The reason why is that exercise triggers the release of powerful brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, that are important in helping us feel good and have more energy. Exercise (any movement) can also lead to changes in the brain that help with resilience and managing stress. Nutrition is important in supplying the fuel needed to make these neurotransmitters, but just as you can improve your blood chemistry with a single meal, you can also boost energy, mental focus and mood with a single workout. As a result, exercise may be as effective as medication for treating depression in some people.
The objective: Improve sports performance
What’s best? Nutrition can have a significant impact for athletes who are looking to improve their performance and reduce injury rates. The best athlete is well-trained, genetically gifted AND well-fueled. Fueling with the appropriate nutrients at the right time in their training regimen can make a big difference in helping an athlete achieve their goals with speed and performance; muscle growth and repair; and, recovery time.
The objective: Reduce risk of chronic disease, i.e. heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, obesity
What’s best? Both diet and exercise are important components of prevention and treatment strategies for many diseases. Prevention of weight gain is critical because overweight and obesity are difficult to treat and are conditions that directly affect many other chronic diseases. Additionally, diet (specifically the quality of food intake) and exercise also play non-weight-related roles in many chronic diseases. For example, omega-3 fatty acids from fish are shown to have a direct affect on lowering your risk of heart disease. A diet that includes a high intake of plant-based foods along with consistent exercise remains the recommendation for decreasing your risk of cancer.
Clearly, your nutrition intake (quantity and quality), along with regular activity, will have a significant impact on helping you achieve your health goals. The goal of a body builder is different than that of an endurance athlete, stressed out middle-aged man, or a woman trying to manage symptoms of menopause. Diet plays a significant role in each of these examples, but hopefully you can see why it’s misleading to simplify movement and activity to “20%” of the equation.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease