Understanding Disordered Eating in Athletes

NOVA Sports Nutrition Disordered Eating

Eating disorders in sports is a complex issue that warrants attention and support. Let’s explore what disordered eating entails in the athletic context and discuss actionable steps and resources to help you navigate this challenge effectively.

Understanding Disordered Eating in Athletes

Disordered eating refers to a range of behaviors and attitudes towards food that deviate from healthy eating patterns. In many sports, athletes may experience unique pressures that contribute to the development of disordered eating habits. Athletes such as bodybuilders, gymnasts and ballerinas alike for example, can experience aesthetic pressures. These pressures present themselves as body dysmorphia, social pressures, exercise addictions and more. 

Recognizing the signs

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between behaviors rooted in improving health and athletic performance and behaviors that begin to cross into rigid or disordered behaviors that can cause physical or emotional harm. Below are some common signs of disordered eating to be aware of:

  • Calorie Tracking and Food Restriction
    • Constant monitoring of food intake and avoidance of specific food groups, especially if it leads to significant energy or nutrient restriction or avoidance of social situations due to not having control over the ingredients or amount of food, can often be one of the first signs of an eating disorder.
  • Obsession with Weight or Body Composition
    • In many collegiate and professional sport environments, measuring weight or body composition can be a common way to track progress and use data to inform nutrition or training goals. However, fixation on achieving a certain weight or body shape at the expense of health becomes a concern and can ultimately lead to decreased athletic performance.
  • Excessive Exercise
    • Athletes will often have demanding training programs as part of their sport, but if an athlete is engaging in compulsive exercise to offset food intake or burn calories or is engaging in exercise beyond what is prescribed by coaches and trainers, the risk for a disorder (as well as injury or illness) significantly increase.
  • Emotional Responses to Eating
    • Feelings of guilt or shame associated with food consumption are important to pay attention to and are not feelings associated with having a healthy relationship with food and body image.

Overcoming Disordered Eating: Practical Tips and Resources

If any of the above signs resonate with you, there are many resources and tools that can help you to begin the journey towards a positive relationship with food and body image and true focus on health and performance:

  • Professional Support
    • Seek guidance from qualified healthcare professionals, including registered dietitians and therapists specializing in eating disorders. We offer personalized assistance and nutrition interventions tailored to individual needs and are always happy to provide referrals to local or telehealth therapists.
  • Embrace Balanced Nutrition
    • When selecting foods, it’s important to think about what will fuel you well, what will provide good nutrition, and also what will taste good to you! The focus isn’t just on macronutrients, but also making food enjoyable and finding meals and snacks that are well balanced in all areas.
  • Prioritize Performance and Health
    • Redirect your attention from external appearance to performance and holistic well-being. Emphasize the importance of fueling your body adequately to support athletic endeavors and promote longevity in the sport.
  • Develop Coping Mechanisms
    • Explore healthy coping strategies to manage stress, emotions, and pressures associated with athletic pursuits. Practices such as mindfulness, journaling, and seeking social support can aid in building resilience.
  • Build a Support Network
    • Surround yourself with a supportive community of teammates, coaches, and peers who prioritize health and well-being. Foster open communication and create a safe space for discussing challenges and seeking assistance.
  • Educate Yourself
    • Equip yourself with knowledge about nutrition and its role in optimizing athletic performance. Understanding nutritional principles can dispel myths and misconceptions, empowering you to make informed choices about fueling your body effectively. Be mindful of who you follow on social media, and if you need recommendations for good follows you can always ask us!

Disordered eating poses significant challenges for athletes, but with awareness, support, and actionable strategies, it can be addressed effectively. By prioritizing health, seeking professional guidance, and fostering a supportive environment, athletes can overcome disordered eating and cultivate a positive relationship with food and their bodies. Remember, your worth as an athlete transcends physical appearance and is rooted in your dedication, resilience, and passion for your sport.

What Can You Do If You Suspect That You or A Loved One May Be Experiencing Disordered Eating?

The most important thing to do is reach out for help or additional resources as soon as possible. Both disordered eating and eating disorders have higher rates of recovery when these issues are addressed early. It’s important to find a trusted professional or team of professionals to help guide you or your loved one. Health professionals that can help include registered dietitians, counselors or therapists, psychiatrists, primary care doctors, and social workers. Please note that it’s important to seek out professionals that have experience working in the field of eating disorders or disordered eating in particular. Not all dietitians will be able to help with these issues, just like not all doctors are specialized in cardiology or orthopedics.

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Holiday Superfoods

holiday superfoods

The holidays are upon us and there are many healthy superfoods that are traditionally consumed this time of year.  Many of these foods are nutrient-dense and are called superfoods because of their many health benefits. Listed below are many of these superfoods that traditionally are prepared during the holiday season. As you join family and friends to celebrate, keep in mind moderation and balance, as well as taking time to slow down and savor your food. Happy Holidays!

Protein Superfoods

  • Turkey
    • Turkey is a good source of several essential vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins (B6, B12, niacin), choline phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. These nutrients play crucial roles in energy metabolism, nerve function, immune support, and antioxidant defense.
  • Shrimp
    • High quality protein source that provides good sources of many trace minerals such as copper, zinc and selenium which helps maintain a strong immune system with anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Oysters
    • Excellent protein rich in zinc, iron, and selenium that have antioxidant properties that promote overall health; also, a great source of vitamin B12.
  • Salmon
    • A new holiday favorite associated with many celebrations this time of year. It’s a nutrient-dense protein source that is an excellent source of vitamins B12 and D. It also contains potassium that helps keep your heart healthy and regulate blood pressure.
  • Walnuts
    • A good source of essential fatty acids and helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fruit and Vegetable Superfoods

  • Pumpkin
    • Packed with antioxidants to boost your immune system, protect your eyesight, and promote heart and skin health.
    • Rich in Beta-carotene (precursor to Vitamin A), Vitamins C and E, potassium, and an excellent source of fiber.
  • Sweet Potatoes
    • Traditional side dish for the holidays supplying beta-carotene, Vitamin C potassium, and fiber. Supports vision health, enhances brain and immune system function, improves skin health and  digestion, and enhance brain and immune system function
  • Cranberries
    • Contain anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that protect against inflammation and also a good source of fiber, manganese, vitamins C and E. Cranberries also support urinary tract health and improve immune function
  • Pomegranate
    • Provides fiber, rich in Vitamin C, folate and magnesium. Strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, heart health benefits, digestive benefits, and urinary tract support
  • Clementines
    • Great source of Vitamin C to stay healthy through the holiday season that is naturally sweet and makes a great dessert alternative

Pass the Seasoning Shaker Please

  • Cinnamon
    • Research shows that cinnamon may reduce blood sugar levels, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  It also has anti-inflammatory properties, improves insulin sensitivity, and supports cognitive function. It’s packed with minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, copper and zinc. Sprinkle it on your favorite breakfast selections and dessert choices!
  • Nutmeg
    • Keep your internal organs healthy with this delectable seasoning. It’s a good source of phosphorus, manganese and thiamin. Use it in baked goods, sprinkle on oatmeal or any hot cereal, a popular ingredient in many casseroles also. 
  • Ginger (Fresh or ground)
    • Anti-inflammatory seasoning, that has shown to be beneficial in gastrointestinal motility. Sprinkle it on sweet potatoes or add fresh ginger to all your favorite holiday side dishes

As the holiday season unfolds, approach your meals with a mindful spirit. Enjoy these holiday superfoods that also bring tradition and health to the table. Whether it’s turkey, veggies, or a dessert, find that sweet spot between indulgence and feeling good. Don’t forget the golden rule: savor every bite. Here’s to keeping it balanced, not too crazy, and having a blast with your loved ones. Wishing you all a relaxing and healthy holiday season! 

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Root Vegetables: A Fall Staple

This fall, enjoy cooler temperatures and outdoor activities without the concern of heat related conditions. This is the perfect time of year to start incorporating different colored root vegetables into your grocery staples. Root vegetables are at their peak in the fall season, and they are underground treasures packed with nutrients and full of flavor. Some great examples to add to your plant-based menu are garlic, onion, turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets and parsnips. These root vegetables are good sources of many nutrients such as fiber, folate and beta-carotene. 

Check out a few more health benefits of root vegetables

  • High in Fiber: Many root vegetables are rich in dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health. Fiber promotes regular bowel movements, helps control blood sugar levels, and contributes to a feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management.
  • Stable Energy Release: The carbohydrates in root vegetables are complex carbohydrates, providing a steady and sustained release of energy. This can help maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevent energy crashes, supporting overall energy balance throughout the day.
  • Supportive of Heart Health: Potassium, found in abundance in root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, is known for its role in promoting heart health. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure and supports cardiovascular function.
  • Seasonal and Local: Virginians can also enjoy other local produce this time of year: apples, pears, zucchini, peppers, kale, okra, brussels sprouts, eggplant, pumpkin and a variety of squash.

Healthy Autumn Eating Tips:

  • Shop local farmer’s markets to get the freshest produce
  • Eat “the rainbow” when choosing fruits and vegetables
  • Cook with healthy fats such as olive oil
  • Grill, roast, steam, or air fry vegetables to create lower-fat dishes
  • Experiment with all types of seasonings (parsley, sage, curry, garlic and apple cider vinegar pair well with root vegetables)

Try one of our favorite recipes & let us know how you liked it!

Roasted Brussel Sprouts:

  1. Wash 1 pound of brussels sprouts and peel away any brown areas of the sprout
  2. Mix the brussels sprouts in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until all pieces are coated. Season with minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and/or black pepper.
  3. Roast in the oven on a sheet pan for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • (Alternatively, you can grill the sprouts by placing them on aluminum foil and grilling)

Zucchini/Squash/Onion Stir Fry:

  1. On the stovetop using a nonstick pan, sprinkle pan with olive oil
  2. Slice any vegetables you want to use
  3. Heat on fairly high heat while stirring the vegetables

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spray with cooking spray.
  3. Slice potatoes into rounds (~1/4-1/2 inch thick)
  4. Lay potato slices flat on a baking sheet and spray lightly with the cooking spray.
  5. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and ground cinnamon.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes, flipping potatoes halfway.

Season as you like with non-salt alternatives

  • Add some ground pepper
  • Add a splash of apple cider vinegar

Incorporating a colorful array of root vegetables into your fall recipes not only elevates the taste but also adds a nutritional boost to your meals. From supporting your immune system to contributing to heart health, these veggies are a delicious and health-conscious addition to your autumn meals. 

Remember that meal plans are not cookie-cutter and each one is unique to each person. Our mission is to help you create a healthy and fit lifestyle. One that is realistic and sustainable and allows you to optimize your overall health and wellness.

Enjoy and have a Happy Fall!

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Stress Less and Enjoy Food More this Holiday Season!

enjoy food more

Many people have positive associations with food around the holidays: savory stuffing at Thanksgiving, homemade Christmas cookies, or delicious hot chocolate, to name a few. However, many people also experience anxiety related to holiday foods or meals. This anxiety can stem from fears of overeating, eating with a large group, or judgment from family members regarding food choices and portions. This holiday season, I want you to stress less and enjoy food more. To make this happen, read on for my top tips to manage food-related anxiety and find one or two that speak to you!

 

If you… worry about overeating

Try:

  • Remembering that one meal that is larger than normal or has more starches or fat than normal is not going to impact your overall health.
  • Eat a small meal or snack 1-2 hours before the main meal to avoid feeling famished when you sit down to eat; being extra hungry can cause us to make choices we might not otherwise make!
  • Slow down when eating and put your fork down between bites. This will help you to better recognize when you are full and may want to stop eating to avoid feeling overstuffed.
  • Fill at least half your plate with nutrient-dense foods (like roasted Brussels sprouts, baked sweet potatoes, or cooked butternut squash).
  • Wait 10 minutes after finishing your first plate to decide if you want more or would rather wait until later to eat again.

 

If you… worry about eating with a large group

Try:

  • Doing a relaxing activity before the meal, such as journaling, stretching, or listening to calm music (try this playlist as an example).
  • Reach out to a close friend or family member who will be attending the meal and lean on them for support as needed.
  • Take deep breaths at the table to lower your heart rate and slow your mind.
  • Excuse yourself from the table to take a break, if necessary, and come back when you are ready.
  • Remember that all food fits, and that it’s okay to choose anything on the table that you want to eat. Holidays are special occasions!

 

If you… often receive scrutiny or pressure from family members regarding food choices and portions

Try:

  • Setting boundaries. Let these family members know that you don’t feel comfortable with their comments and would prefer that they don’t evaluate your choices, especially around the holidays, when togetherness and enjoying time with family should be the top priorities.
  • Remember that people who tend to judge the behaviors of others often feel dissatisfied with their own behavior or have other personal issues that are not being addressed in a healthy way.
  • Remind yourself that you know what is best for your body. It could be helpful to write down this affirmation (and others you find helpful, too) ahead of time.
  • Plan to sit away from this family member and have other topics in mind if need be to redirect the conversation.
  • If this family member contributed to making the meal, thank them for the food and offer to take home leftovers rather than eating past your own comfort level to please them.

 

If any of these situations speaks to you, try some of these tips this holiday season to enjoy food more and stress less! Focus on making positive memories, enjoying your favorite foods, and banning any feelings of guilt over food choices. If you still feel anxious about food choices this holiday season, send Nikky a message and she will be happy to offer additional support!

 

Happy Holidays!

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Breaking Free From Diet Culture

While it’s harmful to so many, diet culture is almost possible to avoid these days. From social media to food packaging and exercise trends, diet culture can manifest itself in so many different forms. Diet culture’s presence in our lives is so profound that most people do not understand the severity of this harmful messaging. If you feel like diet culture controls your decisions and constantly incites feelings of shame and guilt, keep reading to learn how to detect and handle diet culture in everyday life. 

 

What Is Diet Culture?

Diet culture places weight loss on a pedestal, encouraging people to strive for thinness. Viewing weight loss as the only way to gain happiness and confidence creates significant issues. Ironically, those who fall subject to diet culture and partake in restrictive behaviors become more self-conscious and shameful. 

Companies and influencers tap into their audience’s insecurities by promising their customers certain results or feelings once they buy a weight loss product or a workout plan. The diet industry strives to generate the most revenue from selling images of thinness, even if it means destroying consumers’ self esteem. New ideal body types, styles of eating, and exercises overwhelm people, yet influence them to spend more money on ‘improving’ themselves.

 

How To Spot Diet Culture

Knowing some key phrases and words make it easier to detect diet culture in daily life. Companies recognize that many people who wish to lose weight or change their body want to see changes happen quickly. Content using phrases such as “lose weight fast” or “get a six pack in 10 days” should stand out as a red flag. It takes months to see changes in our bodies and any sort of drastic change that happens in a few days is not sustainable and most likely relies on unhealthy methods. Our society is so obsessed with losing weight that people will try almost anything, even if it involves following a regime based on restriction, to change their appearance. 

Demonizing or labeling certain food groups as ‘bad’ should be a warning sign. Diet culture moralizes types of foods and exercise, placing guilt upon people who consume or do certain things. While some foods are more nutritious than others, cutting out complete food groups is restrictive and harmful.

The promotion of detoxing and cleansing is another popular diet culture trend. Companies will attach ‘removes toxins’ or ‘cleanses your gut’ into the description of any product to attract customers and make them feel as if their bodies are impure or unhealthy. Detoxing is also seen as a method to lose weight quickly in an unsustainable way. Some people claim that detoxing improves their health, but in reality “detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they’re claimed to remove, and evidence that they remove toxins at all is lacking” (3). Our bodies naturally remove toxins through methods including sweat and urine, meaning there is no need to go an extra step. 

 

How To Handle Diet Culture

It’s very difficult to walk into any store or scroll on social media without being confronted by weight loss ads and products. Seeing these images daily can decrease your self esteem and mood. Take a few days off of social media apps or find a daily limit for your social media use. Additionally, unfollow anyone online who makes you feel self conscious or shameful about your eating and/or exercise habits.

Talking with those around you and specialists can help you vocalize your feelings about diet culture’s impact on you. If there is someone in your life, whether that be a friend, sibling, or parent, that frequently talks about weight loss and dieting or comments on your physical appearance, notify them that this upsets you and find another topic to talk about. Consulting a doctor, registered dietitian, or therapist might also be beneficial if you are struggling from negative body image or confidence. 

Even if you feel that diet culture is controlling your life, there are so many ways to break free from it. Replace scrolling on Instagram and comparing yourself to others with enjoyable hobbies or activities. Discover support groups or groups in your neighborhood that aim to empower people and provide them with a sense of strength. Most importantly, remember that your physical appearance should be the least interesting thing about you; you are so much more than what your body looks like. 

 

Resources: 

  1. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/recognizing-and-resisting-diet-culture
  2. https://behavioralnutrition.org/what-is-diet-culture/ 
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/detox-diets-101#bottom-line 

 

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A Beginner’s Guide To Plant-Based Eating

plant-based

Over the past few years, plant-based diets have gained a lot of popularity. Plant-based diets  often have a lower carbon footprint than diets centered around animal products, can be less expensive, and result in many benefits towards your overall health. When transitioning to a diet centered around plants, many people are confused about what plant-based means and how to successfully follow this way of eating. Read more to learn about going plant-based and tips to help you on your journey!

 

Defining Plant Based

While the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’ are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two. Vegan diets avoid all types of animal products including dairy, meat, and fish. Meanwhile, plant based diets are more flexible. People who follow a plant based diet center their meals around plant-derived ingredients, but “they may, occasionally, consume meat, fish, or dairy products” (1). Whether you decide to eat a fully vegan diet or a plant based diet, both ways of eating have several health benefits.

 

What are the Health Benefits of a Plant Based Diet?

Eating a diet based on plants often gets a negative reputation for being low in protein, B-12, iron, and other essential vitamins that the body needs to function. However, plant based diets can provide “all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients” (2). Removing meat from your diet does not mean that your diet has to be low in protein. Beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds have adequate amounts of protein for anyone, even athletes. 

 

Additionally, it is common for vegans to take B-12 and iron supplements since plant based diets are often deficient in these nutrients. Find B-12 in certain non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast and other fortified products. Plant based sources of iron include spinach, dark chocolate, and beans (1). 

 

Before transitioning to a diet centered around plants, consult a medical professional to see if this way of eating is right for your body and lifestyle. 

 

Tip #1: Ease Into It 

When I first started my plant-based journey, I slowly started cooking more vegan meals during the week instead of immediately cutting out all animal products. I found it easy for me to make breakfast and lunch without any meat or dairy, but since I would cook dinner for my family, I usually had meat in the evenings. Slowly introducing more plant-based meals and ingredients is a great way to see if plant-based eating is something you enjoy. I have been lactose intolerant for my whole life, so I was already familiar with all the dairy-free options that were out there. For example, if you usually have an egg scramble for breakfast, try making a scramble with tofu crumbles and vegan cheese!

 

Tip #2: Look For Outside Inspiration

Another way to get into vegan cooking is to look for outside inspiration, especially if you feel like you’re having trouble with creating meals. Since most American food is based around meat and animal products, a lot of people don’t know how to cook meals without using meat as the main ingredient. Look for vegan or vegetarian blogs, social media accounts and cookbooks to provide you with recipes and product recommendations. There are two plant-based cookbooks that always have my back when I have no idea what to cook: Love To Cook It by Samah Dada and Love Real Food by Kathryn Taylor. Samah’s recipes are inspired by flavorful Indian dishes from her childhood. Meanwhile, Taylor’s book has everything to offer from comforting stews to delicious salads.  

 

Tip #3: Invite Your Friends To Join You

Starting your plant-based journey with friends can also make the experience easier and more enjoyable. A great way to bond with friends and try out vegan recipes is to gather some friends to cook a plant-based meal or dessert with you! Another option is to have a vegan potluck and challenge your friends or family make their favorite recipes without animal products! Additionally, since plant-based eating has gained a lot of traction in recent years, it’s easier than ever to find vegan options when eating out. Perhaps try a vegetarian or vegan restaurant in your neighborhood or browse the HappyCow app to find vegan restaurants in your area! After your meal, think about how you can recreate some of the dishes you ate at home. 

 

A lot of people think going vegan can be more expensive than eating animal products. While this can be true for certain specialty items like non-dairy milks, vegan cheeses, and non-dairy ice cream, dried beans and lentils or natural nut butters are inexpensive options that can be bought in bulk and won’t break the bank! 

 

Tip #4: Get Creative

Turn vegetables into delicious main dishes with the right preparation and seasoning. If you thought you couldn’t give up chicken wings, cauliflower has the perfect meaty texture to replace chicken! Find Jackfruit in canned form at the supermarket. It serves as a substitute for pulled pork or chicken. From tacos to sandwiches, jackfruit is a very versatile vegetable in vegan cooking! Look online for other vegetables that you can transform into delicious dishes. 

 

I also started to eat more grains since I went vegan. Grains including farro and quinoa are a great base for meals and can add some extra protein and fiber to plant-based recipes. Some other staple grains that I always have on hand include whole grain pasta, chickpea or lentil pasta, rice, and soba noodles. Pad thai, pesto pasta with veggies, and quinoa salads are all meals that I cook weekly.  

 

While I love being vegan for environmental reasons, health benefits, and animal rights, I don’t eat plant based 100% of the time. If I’m craving tuna, sushi or Greek yogurt, I will eat those foods. Eating a more plant-based diet does not mean that you have to strive for perfection and it should never feel restrictive. With all of the amazing alternative products, recipe inspiration, and restaurants that exist today, eating plant-based is now easier than it’s ever been.

 

Looking for some no-cook recipe ideas that incorporate some plant-based meals? Click here!

 

Resources

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326176
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760

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A Complete List of Grocery Shopping Staples

grocery shopping

For many people, grocery shopping can feel like a chore. If you have a busy schedule, it’s difficult to fit in time for grocery shopping during the week. Additionally, not everyone has the time to prepare three meals and snacks during the day while attending school and/or working. Whether you order groceries online or make one to two larger trips to the grocery store each week, this expansive list of grocery staples will make daily meal preparation so much easier. If you prefer to meal prep, there will be some tips on how to buy enough ingredients to last the whole week!

A healthy and balanced diet doesn’t exclude food groups or macronutrients entirely. Each week you should make sure that your grocery cart includes items from each of the three macronutrient categories: carbs, proteins, and fats.  While it’s important to purchase foods that will nourish and satisfy you, such as high quality protein sources and produce, you should also allow yourself to purchase foods that you might consider as ‘treats’ or ‘fun foods.’ Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be boring and should bring some excitement into your life!

Note: If you’re someone who meal preps at the start of each week, try choosing a few different breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes instead of eating the same exact meal everyday. Adding some variety into your meals, even if you cook ahead of time, will ensure that you’ll actually want to eat what you’re meal prepping. 

 

Carbohydrates 

Carbohydrates are our first macronutrient category. Carbs are often demonized by diet culture, but in reality carbs are the body’s main source of energy and should be incorporated in every meal. If you’re especially busy, choosing carb sources that are higher in fiber is a great way to feel more satiated after meals. 

  • Bread – While everyone has a personal preference on what type of bread they prefer, sprouted and whole grain bread often has a higher fiber content and a little extra protein than traditional white bread. If you prefer to buy loaves of bread, cut the loaf into slices and place the slices in a bag in the freezer to prevent the bread from going stale. 
  • Pasta – Pasta is a great ingredient to meal prep at the start of the week because it can be eaten in a cold pasta salad or can be heated with marinara sauce, grilled vegetables, and a protein source. Chickpea or lentil pasta is a great product that’s high in protein and great for anyone on the go. 
  • Grains – Rice, quinoa, couscous, farro, the list goes on! Grains are a great carb source that pair well with a variety of cuisines. Farro and quinoa are also high in protein which is an added bonus for vegans and vegetarians who might need some help in that department. 
  • Tortillas and wraps – Tortillas, wraps, and pitas are great to have on hand during the week. Use corn tortillas for tacos, pair wraps with egg salad, and snack on pita with hummus during the day!
  • Oatmeal – Oatmeal is a staple breakfast item that can have so many flavor opportunities. Place oats, milk, chia seeds, and any other add-ons of choice (berries, cocoa powder, cinnamon) in a jar in the fridge overnight. Now you have overnight oats to eat in the morning without worrying about prep time!

 

Proteins

Protein not only helps you feel satiated but is so important for muscle growth and cell repair. If you lift weights or follow a resistance training program, a diet with adequate protein helps to build up the muscles that are recruited during training. 

  • For meat eaters – Lean meats such as ground turkey, chicken breast, and fish are great protein options to make during the week. If you prefer to not cook meat, check your freezer aisle for pre-cooked proteins that can easily be reheated and added to any meal.
  • Eggs – Use eggs in breakfast scrambles during the week or buy hardboiled eggs for sandwiches, egg salad, or a convenient snack.
  • Vegan/Vegetarian options –  Canned beans, tofu, tempeh, frozen edamame, and veggie burgers are convenient ways for non-meat eaters to get in their daily protein. Try not to rely on meat substitutes that might contain fillers and additives.
  • Yogurt – Yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, can be a very high protein snack. Add yogurt into fruit smoothies for an extra protein boost in the morning. 

 

Fats

If you have difficulty feeling full after meals, you might not have enough fat in your diet. 

  • Seeds – Adding in chia seeds and flaxseeds into your meals is a great way to get in your omega-3s. Prepare a batch of chia seed pudding for the week or add in a tablespoon into your morning oats or yogurt. 
  • Avocado – Avocado really goes with anything and is a great substitute for mayonnaise. Add mashed avocado into a turkey sandwich or tuna salad. 
  • Nuts – Nuts contain important minerals and healthy fats to keep our energy up during the day. Any variety of nut you prefer will work, but walnuts are an especially good source of omega-3’s.
  • Avocado/olive oil – Avocado oil is great for cooking food at high temperatures, while olive oil is excellent for lower temperatures or for mixing with vinegar and herbs for a homemade salad dressing.
  • Nut butter – Any variety of nut butter will do, but make sure you are looking for a simple list of ingredients: nuts, oil, and salt (optional).

 

Produce

While it is best to buy produce that is seasonal, local, and/or organic, this is not accessible to everyone and can often be expensive. If you worry about produce spoiling in your fridge, stock up on a few bags of frozen veggies and fruit just in case! Frozen produce can also be significantly cheaper. 

  • Spinach – Get your greens in by adding in a handful of spinach into meals when you can. Spinach pairs well with almost everything from egg scrambles to pasta to stir fry!
  • Bananas – Bananas are the perfect pre-workout snack but taste great in smoothies, oatmeal, and cereal bowls!
  • Berries – Blueberries are high in antioxidants. Top off yogurt bowls with a handful of berries or use frozen berries in smoothies for a thicker consistency.

Bell peppers, zucchinis and mushrooms are a few other vegetables that are used in a variety of dishes and cuisines making them great vegetables to have on hand. Choosing three to four different vegetables and two to three fruits when you go grocery shopping ensures that you’ll have a wide variety of produce for meals during the week.

While the items listed above are staple items, don’t forget to purchase beverages such as milk (dairy or plant milk), snacks, dips and sauces, and dessert items. Grocery shopping should be fun and inspire you to try new items and recipes! Need ideas for recipes? Check out our blog post on no-cook meals you can make anywhere (even in a dorm!).

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Food and Mood Connection

food and mood

 

Have you ever experienced the sensation of butterflies in your stomach? Many of us are able to correctly interpret this sensation as “feeling nervous;” however, have you ever wondered why that might be? Recent research has uncovered what has been termed the “gut-brain” connection, which actually describes a separate nervous system tract (the enteric nervous system) that connects our brain to our intestines (1). When we experience anxiety emotionally, this signal can travel from our brain through the enteric nervous system to our gut and produce the sensation of pain or discomfort (2), alerting us physically to a psychological need.

This discovery has led to a new question: if the brain and digestive system are connected, is our mood connected to the food we eat? The answer is yes! The types and quantities of certain foods we eat affect our mood, and our mood likewise influences tastes and cravings for food. In this blog post, we are going to explore the connection between our mood and food for 3 different mental health conditions: anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

 

Food and Mood: Anxiety

There may be a connection between omega-3 fatty acid levels in the body and anxiety; some studies have observed lower anxiety levels with higher circulating levels of omega-3 fats (3). This would make sense intuitively, as omega-3 fatty acids are associated with decreased levels of inflammation in the body, and if we have less inflammation, it follows that the body would be in an elevated state of calm. Find Omega-3’s in foods such as salmon, chia seeds, and flaxseeds.

Sufficient levels of probiotics, or “good” bacteria that support healthy functioning of our digestive tract, decrease anxiety levels and improve overall mental outlook as well (5). While we can get probiotics from dietary supplements, it is also worth noting that we can get probiotics naturally from the diet from foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, or kombucha. It’s also worth mentioning the observed connection in the development of eating disorders secondary to developing anxiety (4). Oftentimes in treating eating disorders or disordered eating, it is important to identify any areas of anxiety or areas of life that feel unmanageable that could have initiated disordered eating behaviors. Without dealing with the sources of anxiety, true recovery will not be possible.

 

Food and Mood: Depression

Individuals with depression are more likely to crave carbohydrates, sugar, and salt (1). One connection to this is that individuals with depression typically have low circulating levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood (1). When serotonin levels are low, our body will often crave carbohydrates to boost these levels. Interestingly, the gut produces about 95% of our body’s serotonin levels, not the brain (1). This is why digestive upset can often accompany symptoms of depression. Additionally, when experiencing depression, many individuals will feel less motivated to cook and are more likely to reach for processed foods over whole foods that offer more nutrition. The good news is this connection is bidirectional! Individuals that consume more whole foods (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins) are less likely to be depressed and more likely to experience stable moods (6).

 

Food and Mood: ADHD

Several studies in the past decade have shown a possible connection between micronutrient deficiencies and ADHD symptoms in children. Additionally, consuming foods high in sugar or made with artificial food dyes (especially red 40) has been linked to increases in hyperactivity and impulsivity (7). A good place to start for anyone experiencing ADHD symptoms is to look at their dietary intake. Aim to decrease added sugar and artificial food dyes and increase whole foods to manage symptoms. Requesting micronutrient testing to determine any significant deficiencies of minerals like iron, zinc, or magnesium that may need to be corrected through supplementation. Remember to always ask your doctor or dietitian before starting a new dietary supplement!

 

The Takeaway

The main message here is that what we eat matters! I often teach clients to view food as fuel for their body’s physical activity, but we also want to think about how different food makes us feel and what self-care looks like from a dietary perspective. Exploration of the food and mood connection is new, but it’s clear that physical and mental health are inextricably connected. Take care of your mind and body, and you’ll maximize your health from every angle!

 

Resources

  1. Naidoo, Uma. (2020). This is Your Brain on Food. Little, Brown Spark.
  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2018, July 19). How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection. https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-calm-anxious-stomach-brain-gut-connection 
  3. Harvard Health (2019, January 1). Omega-3’s for Anxiety? https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/omega-3s-for-anxiety 
  4. Behavioral Nutrition (2020, May 29). How Anxiety Can Lead to Disordered Eating. https://behavioralnutrition.org/how-anxiety-can-lead-to-disordered-eating/
  5. Laguipo, Angela B. (2020, July 7). Research Shows Probiotics can Help Combat Anxiety and Depression. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200707/Research-shows-probiotics-can-help-combat-anxiety-and-depression.aspx
  6. Ljungberg, Tina, et. al. (2020, March 2). Evidence of the Importance of Dietary Habits Regarding Depressive Symptoms and Depression. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(5): 1616.
  7. Lange, Klaus W. (2020, February 26). Micronutrients and Diet in the Treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Chances and Pitfalls. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11: 102.

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The Importance of Hydration

water, hydration

Proper hydration is important year round, but it can become particularly critical during the summer months. July and August are usually the hottest months of the year in the United States, which is also usually the time that people are engaging in more outdoor activities and athletes begin ramping up training for fall sports. Unfortunately, this time of year is also a prime time for a potentially serious condition to occur: dehydration.

How does dehydration occur?

Dehydration can occur by losing too much fluid (usually through sweating) or by not drinking enough fluid. You may recall from school that the human body is made up of approximately 70% water, so this fact alone illustrates how important proper hydration is for us!

The body has mechanisms in place to urge us to drink fluids, most notably the feeling of thirst. This is the most obvious sign that our body is running low on water; however, by the time you feel thirsty, you are actually already experiencing mild dehydration.

How can you tell if you are dehydrated?

There are many other symptoms that can signal dehydration. Some examples, according to Medline Plus, include the following:

  • Mild dehydration: Thirst; dry mouth; decreased urination; yellow urine
  • Moderate dehydration: Dry, cool skin; headache; darker yellow urine; muscle cramps
  • Severe dehydration: Irritability or confusion; dizziness; rapid heartbeat and/or rapid breathing; shock (decreased blood flow to important organs); unconsciousness.

Keeping an eye out for these signs are important for everyone, but they are particularly critical for two groups: older adults and athletes.

Who is most at risk for dehydration?

Older adults have a decreased response to thirst and are more likely to be on a diuretic. These factors make it important for this population to drink fluids constantly throughout the day, even when they may not feel thirsty. This is especially important during prolonged exposure to heat during activity, such as walking, gardening, mowing the lawn, etc. These activities may not always seem strenuous, but they can cause the body to sweat profusely. During activities that are of a more vigorous intensity (such as jogging/running, hiking, biking, etc.) the sweating effect is more pronounced and proper hydration more critical.

Athletes exercising in the heat can lose an average of 2.0 liters of water through sweat per hour (which is equal to a large bottle of soda!). Not replacing the lost water can cause serious fluid imbalances and dangerous rises in core temperatures. Unfortunately, student athletes are often the victims of poor monitoring of hydration status. According to sports nutrition experts William McCardle and Frank and Victor Katch, “Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperatures) has occurred more than 100 times over the past 30 years among football players who died from excessive heat stress during practice or competition.” These situations are completely preventable by making sure to either have water or an electrolyte replacement beverage at all times during outdoor activity in the heat.

What can you do if you suspect dehydration?

If dehydration does occur for any reason, there are several steps that can be taken, depending on the severity of the condition:

  • Sip water or suck on ice cubes (or an electrolyte sports drink)
  • If heat exhaustion is also a problem, lie down somewhere cool and focus on breathing slowly
  • For severe situations, go to a hospital immediately

Notice that the first suggestion is to sip water. While replenishing fluids is a critical step to treating dehydration, it is possible to drink too much water at one time, which isn’t healthy either. Rehydrate slowly if you become dehydrated!

How much fluid should you be drinking?

A good rule of thumb is 2 cups of water 20 minutes before being active in the heat. For athletes or anyone engaging in vigorous exercise, you can weigh yourself before and after activity takes place to gauge how much fluid you need to take in to replace losses. The amount of weight lost in pounds should be replaced at least 100% to account for fluid loss in sweat and urine. For example: If 2 lbs., or 32 oz., is lost during an hour of activity, 32 oz. (or 4 cups) of water or a sports drink should be ingested over the next hour. In terms of choosing between water and a sports drink, always choose the sports drink if activity is lasting longer than an hour. Below an hour, water is usually sufficient.

So whenever you leave the house this summer, always bring a water bottle with you! And remember to always drink more when exercising or being active in the heat. Dehydration is 100% preventable, as long as you provide your body with the fluids it needs every day.

 

References

 

McArdle W, Katch FI, Katch VL (2013). Exercise, Thermoregulation, Fluid Balance, and Rehydration (4th ed.). Sports and Exercise Nutrition (pg. 319-335). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Popkin B, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH (2010). Water, Hydration, and Health. Nutrition Review; 68 (8): 439-458.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (2013). Dehydration. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000982.htm

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My Top 5 Most Commonly Recommended Dietary Supplements

variety of dietary supplements

The world of dietary supplements can be difficult to navigate. It’s easy to get lost in supplement aisles at the grocery store or overwhelmed by the numerous products being advertised to us in the media for a variety of purposes.

While I always take a food-first approach with all of my clients (meaning that I aim to help them meet all of their nutrient needs through foods), there are often times when a dietary supplement is needed. Supplementation may be necessary due to certain dietary patterns, disease states, or training demands. Additionally, some people benefit from supplements to boost reserves of nutrients, hormones, or neurotransmitters that otherwise would become deficient.

To help you sort through what dietary supplements you can trust and which supplements may be right for you, I put together a list of my top 5 most commonly recommended dietary supplements and recommendations on what to look for when purchasing supplements.

 

1. Omega-3 Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, which means they help with decreasing inflammation caused by stress, toxins, or injury. They also are essential for forming the structure of cell membranes. Most Americans don’t consume enough omega-3 fatty acids; according to a recent analysis completed by the FASEB journal, 83.5% of Americans do not consume enough seafood to meet minimum omega-3 recommendations through the diet. The most current recommendations from Harvard Medical school are that anyone who does not eat enough omega-3 fatty acids through the diet should supplement with 1g of omega-3 fatty acids per day to decrease inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular events.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D serves several critical functions in the body, including: promoting calcium absorption, which keeps bones strong; supporting immune function, cell growth, and cell division; and reducing inflammation. This nutrient is not found naturally in many foods aside from fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel) and several mushroom varieties, though it is added to several dairy products such as milk or yogurt. Vitamin D can also be synthesized with sufficient exposure of the skin to sunlight. Because these foods often comprise just a small part of the typical America diet and adequate sun exposure is not always possible (particularly in cooler climates), vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the US (about 42% of us are deficient). For someone who is deficient, supplementation is likely necessary, though dosage and length of supplementation will vary based on the severity of the deficiency.

3. GABA

GABA stands for Gamma Aminobutyric Acid and it is a neurotransmitter that is made naturally in the body. Its primary role is to reduce fear and anxiety. This neurotransmitter is not available in many food sources (only a few fermented foods, such as kimchi or tempeh), and GABA levels in the body can become deficient during periods of high stress. Additionally, individuals with certain medical conditions tend to have low levels of GABA, including those with seizure disorders, ADHD, panic disorders, or mood disorders. GABA supplementation has shown to be most effective for those who experience anxiety. I have found it to be particularly useful for myself and clients who have difficulty falling asleep at night due to racing thoughts.

4. Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is essential for DNA and red blood cell production. This nutrient is only available from animal sources, which means that anyone following a vegan or predominantly plant-based diet will need to take a dietary supplement. Additionally, anyone who has undergone gastric bypass surgery will need to supplement with B-12 because absorption of vitamin B-12 occurs in the stomach (which has largely been bypassed), not the intestines as is the case with most other vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also be common in the elderly because our digestive capabilities tend to weaken as we get older.

5. BCAAs

BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are a group of 3 amino acids that have been shown through research to assist with reducing muscle soreness after exercise. Some studies have also shown that they can help with increasing muscle growth. These amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are found naturally in many foods, including meat, dairy, and eggs. However, individuals following a vegan or plant-based diet may not consume enough through the diet to meet their needs. Additionally, anyone engaging in a strenuous weightlifting program requires additional protein intake for recovery, and a BCAA supplement can help with supporting these needs during and after exercise or between meals. You can learn more about BCAAs by visiting my earlier blog post on this topic.

FDA Regulations

These supplements represent the most common recommendations I make for my clients, which include athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all ages. Remember, dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and therefore you cannot trust that every supplement on the shelf or online is safe. I would always recommend talking with your doctor or dietitian first before starting any new dietary supplement. To see the brands I typically recommend for different supplements, visit the link to my Fullscript dispensary on the Products page of my website. Fullscript is an online dispensary that can only be used by licensed healthcare professionals (such as doctors and dietitians) to recommend professional-grade supplements of the highest quality, purity, and potency.

If you are ever looking for supplements yourself, please look for a third-party seal to ensure the supplement has been verified for quality, purity, and potency. Examples of third-party seals include USP, Informed Choice, NSF, and GMP.

 

Are there any dietary supplements you would like to learn more about? Any supplements I didn’t cover here that you would like for me to review? Comment below!

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