Posts Tagged ‘sports nutrition’

The Effects of Underfueling

underfueling

Underfueling, or not providing adequate energy for the body, can lead to a variety of health problems long-term. Side effects that may occur include the reduction of reproductive hormones, bone density loss, and poor heart health (1). These effects can in turn lead to decreased athletic performance and higher risk of injury. This blog post will discuss the various effects underfueling on health to emphasize the importance of getting enough food throughout the day is for optimal performance and health.

 

How does Underfueling Occur?

Underfueling can occur unintentionally or intentionally (3).

Unintentional underfueling:

  • Unintentional underfueling can be due to hunger signals being absent soon after exercise and due to external stressors of life. When stressors arise, your body’s main priority is to focus on addressing the source of stress and signals to eat or digest food will diminish. This causes your hunger cues to go on the back burner until the stressors are dealt with. In these instances, individuals may not recognize that their body needs nourishment.

Intentional underfueling:

  • Underfueling can be caused intentionally as a result of disordered eating and eating disorders. There are red flags to watch for that signal disordered eating is present. These red flags are discussed in a previous blog post titled “Identifying Disordered Eating Patterns.” Some of the red flags include:
    • Labeling foods as “good” or “bad”
      • Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” can lead to underfueling by not allowing all foods to be permissible. The “bad” foods category may consist of foods that actually promote recovery or pre-workout fuel (such as bagels, granola, protein bars, or milk). Restricting the diet to avoid these foods can lead to underconsumption of essential nutrients, which can then lead to lowers levels of endurance, excessive soreness, and increased risk of illness or injury.
    • Obsession with food, exercise, and/or body image that negatively impacts an individual’s quality of life
      • Similar to the previous red flag of disordered eating, this can lead to underfueling because an individual may restrict the foods they eat to maintain a certain body size, which can lead to eating less than the body needs.
    • Being anxious around food in social environments
      • Being anxious around food in social situations can lead to an individual carefully selecting amounts and types of foods that appear to be “acceptable” by the people at the social event. This can lead the individual to underfueling if the individual eats less than their body needs.

What Areas of Health are Affected by Underfueling?

 

Bone Health

Bones are critical to performance and overall health. Bones support many functions and abilities in your body, such as storing calcium. By not providing your bones with enough nourishment, the following can occur:

  • Decreased bone density
  • Impaired performance
  • Increased risk of stress fractures and injuries (1,2)

Estrogen is an important hormone for bone health (1). Estrogen levels are low when undernourished, which leads to a reduction in the creation of new bone. More bone is reabsorbed than created, further reducing bone density (1). Unfortunately, bone density cannot be completely reversed at a certain point (1). For this reason, it is crucial to consume adequate nourishment for your bone health, such as calcium and protein.

  • Not getting enough fuel can greatly impact bone health, and put an athlete at a higher risk for injury.

 

Loss of Menstrual Cycle

In addition to bone health, estrogen plays an important role in menstrual cycle regularity for female athletes. Although not always the case, the complete loss of the menstrual cycle can occur with underfueling. Low estrogen levels can lead to amenorrhea (1). Amenorrhea is defined as the loss of menstrual cycles for 3 months, having less than 9 cycles a year, or not having a menstrual cycle start by age 15 (1,4).

  • Loss of estrogen contributes to the loss of menstrual cycle, and bone health.

 

Testosterone

Underfueling also reduces testosterone levels in the body (1). Testosterone, like estrogen, can impair bone health and may do so faster than estrogen can (1).

  • Poor bone health can lead to increased instances of injury.

 

Metabolism

Metabolism is the process of converting food into energy to support all daily activities. When you are not giving your body enough nourishment, your metabolism decreases to preserve energy (1). This leads to less energy availability for the function of some organs and biological processes, such as digestion, heart rate, blood flow to hands and feet, and overall energy levels (1). This also means that our body does not have the fuel it needs for optimal athletic performance because our organs and biological processes don’t occur at their normal rate.

  • Low metabolism leads to biological processes not occurring at their normal rate, so an individual is unable to perform at their best.

 

Digestion

As a result of a reduced metabolism, digestive symptoms can occur, such as bloating, cramping, or constipation. The digestive system slows down because the body already has to keep many other systems of the body operating at a normal rate (1). This can in turn alter your bowel movements and stool consistency (1).

  • Constipation can make it harder to perform and concentrate.

 

Cardiovascular

The cardiovascular system includes your heart and blood vessels. Because athletes exert a lot of energy while exercising, when an athlete gets up and takes a short walk their heart rate does not typically increase drastically (1).  In prolonged underfueling, cardiac muscle may be degraded, which causes the heart to have to beat faster to deliver the same amount of blood to various tissues. This can lead to irreguluar heart rythems and, in extreme cases, a heart attack (1).

  • The cardiovascular system has to work harder, reducing optimal performance.

 

Skin, Hair, and Nails

Our skin, hair, and nails do a wonderful job of informing us when our body isn’t fueled. When undernourished:

  • The skin will become dry and lose its youthful appearance (1)
  • Nails become brittle and stop growing at their normal rate (1)
  • Hair loss and hair thinning can occur (1)

There are several nutrients important for skin, hair, nail health. Some of these nutrients include protein, iron, biotin (one of the B vitamins), omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamins A, D, and E (5).

  • Inadequate intake of protein and other nutrients has an impact on hair, skin, and nails. Changes to these tissues is a way for your body to signal that you are not receiving enough of one or more of these nutrients, many of which are vital for optimal performance and immune function.

 

Mental Health

Underfueling negatively impacts mental health (2). Food has an important role in fueling our physical body, which also includes the systems that affect mental health. Our gut and brain are connected, so if the body isn’t fueled enough, mood and stress levels can be affected. For example, 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin helps to regulate our mood, appetite, and sleep cycle (6).

Carbohydrates are critical to brain health as well, as they are the body’s main source of fuel! If you ever experienced feeling “hangry”, part of this feeling is a result of blood glucose levels getting too low as a result of inadequate carbohydrate intake.

Finally, and individual’s relationship with food can affect mental health as well. If you find yourself constantly thinking about food and judging your self-worth based on your food choices, you may experience higher rates of anxiety or depressive symptoms. Learning to feel comfortable with eating a wide variety of foods in a variety of different social situations will help to create a healthy relationship with food and improve mental health.

 

Conclusion:

  • Underfueling can be caused intentionally (disordered eating) and unintentionally (not eating after working out because of not feeling hungry).
  • Underfueling can lead to many negative effects on the body, which can, in turn, lead to poor athletic performance and overall health.
  • It is important to make sure you have a healthy relationship with food to help optimize performance and find enjoyment in food.

 

To learn more about underfueling, check out these resources:

 

Resources

  1. Gaudiani JL. Sick Enough. A Guide to the Medical Complications of Eating Disorders. Taylor & Francis; 2019.
  2. Ackerman KE, Holtzman B, Cooper KM, et al. Low energy availability surrogates correlate with health and performance consequences of relative energy deficiency in sport. Br J Sports Med. 2019;53(10):628-634. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-098958.
  3. Gaitley, J. Identifying Low Energy Availability in Female Athletes. Phoenix Children’s. Published August 5, 2020. Accessed April 21, 2021. https://www.phoenixchildrens.org/blog/2020/08/identifying-low-energy-availability-female-athletes
  4. The Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Current evaluation of amenorrhea. The Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Published November 2008. Accessed April 22, 2021. https://www.asrm.org/globalassets/asrm/asrm-content/news-and-publications/practice-guidelines/for-non-members/current_evaluation_of_amenorrhea.pdf
  5. Wright, KC. The Growing Field of Nutritional Psychiatry. Today’s Dietitian. Published July 2019. Accessed April 22, 2021.  https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0916p56.shtml
  6. Reisdorf, AG.CPE Monthly: Beauty and Nutrition — Evidence-Based Dietary Practices Can Help Patients Look and Feel Their Best. Today’s Dietitian. Published September 2016. Accessed April 22, 2021.  https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0719p10.shtml

 

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5 Sports Supplements NOT to Take

sports supplements

In one of my recent blog articles, “My Top 5 Most Commonly Recommended Dietary Supplements,” I discussed supplements that may benefit certain clients including omega-3 fish oil, vitamin D, GABA, vitamin B-12, and BCAAs. Although it is best to get nutrients from the diet, there are some cases in which this is not possible, and supplements can help to fill in the gaps. Situations that may require the addition of a supplement may include dietary deficiencies, certain disease states, and some demanding training regimens.  When purchasing a dietary supplement, it’s important to remember that the FDA does not regulate vitamins, minerals, herbals, or sports supplements. For this reason, looking for a third-party seal can ensure quality, purity, and potency of the product.  Examples of third-party seals include USP, Informed Choice, NSF, and GMP. The image below shows an example of a vitamin supplement with a USP seal.

USP label

Figure 2 image source: https://www.quality-supplements.org/

Often, a product’s marketing or testimonials will promise superior effects. Because these products are not regulated by the FDA, the evidence for these statements is often lacking. Additionally, unregulated products often have added hidden ingredients that may be harmful.

This article will discuss five supplements that I do not recomend for sports performance in particular. If you have questions about other supplements not listed here, feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email!

Before taking any supplement, consult with a sports dietitian or other health-care professional. 

 

1. Vitamin C and Vitamin E

This first one might surprise you! While vitamin C and vitamin E are antioxidants (which protect our body from cellular damage), taking them immediately before or after exercise could interfere with progress. The reason for this is that while intense exercise does cause some cellular damage, this also triggers the release of proteins and enzymes that initiate muscle repair and recovery. Taking antioxidants before your workout can thus limit muscle recovery and performance adaptations. You can read more about antioxidants and performance in my blog post here. Does Taking Antioxidants During Your Workout Improve Exercise Recovery?

Supplement Claims:

  • Minimize free-radical damage to skeletal muscle
  • Reduce muscle fatigue and soreness

Clinical Studies:

  • Only small numbers of studies on sports performance
  • Findings do not show associated improved performance
  • Supplementation appears to hinder body’s physiological and exercise-induced adaptations (3)
  • Vitamin E: Several studies have shown supplementation is detrimental to health and may increase oxidative stress (2)

Summary:

  • Taking antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C before a workout may limit the body’s ability to initiate muscle repair and recovery
  • Most individuals get enough vitamin E and vitamin C from a balanced diet and don’t require supplementation
  • High dose vitamin E supplements should only be consumed if recommended by a qualified healthcare professional to treat a deficiency or other health-related issue

 

2. Citrulline

Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid. It enlarges blood vessels to increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the muscles. Athletes that take citrulline supplements hope to enhance exercise performance from citrulline’s effects on the cardiovascular system that enhance blood flow. The body can make its own citrulline, and it can be found in some common foods including watermelon, pumpkin, and cucumbers.

Supplement Claims:

  • Supports production of protein
  • Reduces muscle soreness
  • Supports the immune system
  • Assists body with muscle building

Clinical Studies:

  • Clinical trials show conflicting results:
    • A 2010 study in 41 men doing barbell bench presses showed a single dose of citrulline resulted in a 59% increase in number of repetitions performed and a 40% decrease in muscle soreness after exercise. The researchers concluded that citrulline may be useful to increase athletic performance in high-intensity anaerobic exercises with short rest times and to help with post-exercise muscle soreness. (4)
    • A study in 2017 in older adults showed that citrulline demonstrated a modest increase in blood flow during submaximal exercise in men but not women. (4)

Summary:

  • Only a couple of studies that show enhanced sports performance
  • Conflicting results with men vs. women in submaximal exercise
  • Not enough evidence to show that supplementation is beneficial

 

3. Beta-alanine

Athletes take beta-alanine supplements to delay the onset of muscle fatigue and enhance performance. However, most people can get enough beta-alanine from the diet by eating meat, poultry, and fish. Vegetarians may have less beta-alanine in their bodies(5)

Supplement Claims:

  • Supports muscle endurance
  • Supports muscle output
  • Benefits athletic performance
  • Enhances high-intensity exercise

Clinical Studies:

  • Inconsistent data from studies that examined if consumption increases performance in sports that require bursts of high intensity (i.e., team sports).
  • Little to no performance benefit in activities lasting more than 10 minutes
  • May help with high-intensity and short-duration exercise lasting one to several minutes

Side effects:

  • Some people report tingling in the face, neck, and hands
  • Itchy skin

Summary:

  • Doses up to 6.4g/day appear to be safe
  • Benefit questionable regarding increasing performance in events requiring high-intensity effort over a short period of time
  • Little to no benefit in increasing performance in events lasting more than 10 minutes

 

4. DHEA

DHEA is short for dehydroepiandrosterone. It is a steroid hormone made by the adrenal glands. The body converts DHEA into other hormones, testosterone, and estradiol. DHEA production in the body declines rapidly after early adulthood. (2). For this reason, DHEA supplements are often referred to as a “fountain of youth.” DHEA in supplements is made from a substance found in soy and wild yams. However, the National Institute of Health issued a warning about DHEA that the body cannot convert the substance from wild yams to DHEA on its own. Athletes that take DHEA hope to improve muscle strength and enhance energy levels and athletic performance.

Supplement Claims: 

  • Helps immune cell function
  • Supports a healthy lean muscle mass to fat ratio (testosterone increases muscle mass by increasing protein synthesis and reducing fat mass)
  • Provides higher energy levels (fatigue is a common effect of low testosterone and estrogen.)
  • Supports bone and joint strength. (low levels of DHEA have been found in some people with osteoporosis.)

Clinical Studies:

  • Some studies show a short-term rise in testosterone concentrations however this short-term rise does not affect muscle size, strength, or power. (2)
  • Studies with older adults also confirmed that there is no evidence that DHEA increase strength in this population. (2)

 

Summary: 

  • Unknown safety profile
  • Not effective as a performance enhancer
  • No evidence of increase in lean body mass
  • No evidence of increase in testosterone levels in men
  • Should only be used under supervision of qualified health-care professional
  • Use is banned by many sports organizations

 

5. Glutamine

Glutamine provides nitrogen for the body in many biochemical reactions. The body uses glutamine in metabolism and energy production. Glutamine is stored in muscles and released into the bloodstream during times of intense physical exercise. Athletes take glutamine supplements to try and prevent muscle breakdown and improve immune function. In general, however, the body stores enough glutamine to protect against deficiencies during endurance exercise. (4).

Supplement Claims:

  • Aids in muscle repair
  • Promotes cellular energy
  • Supports immune function (the immune system uses glutamine during times of stress and intense prolonged exercise)

Clinical Studies:

  • Only a few studies examining the enhancement of athletic performance
  • Studies show no effect on muscle performance in weight lifters
  • No effects on body composition
  • May help with recovery of muscle strength or reducing muscle soreness

Summary:

  • The body can normally supply enough glutamine to protect against deficiencies
  • More studies are needed to determine effects on sports performance
  • Not effective as an immune enhancer
  • May help with recovery of muscle strength or reducing muscle soreness

Summary

In summary, although I routinely recommend some supplements for certain clients, there are many supplements that I do not recommend.  The FDA does not regulate supplements so many products do not have clinical evidence of safety or effectiveness. When choosing a supplement, check for a third party seal on the bottle such as Informed Choice or USP.

Two proven ways to increase sports performance are with optimal nutrition and hydration. A sports dietitian can help develop a personalized nutrition and hydration plan for you that supports performance, recovery, and good health. If you feel like you need some direction in taking your health or performance to the next level, leave a message on the contact page!

 

References

  1. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2015, December). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26920240/
  2. Dunford, M., & Doyle, J. A. (2019). Chapter 10 Dietary Supplements and Ergogenic Aids. In Nutrition for sport and exercise (pp. 365-366). Boston, MA: Cengage.
  3. Office of Dietary Supplements – Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance
  4. Leal, D. (2020, July 13). Do Pre-Workout Supplements Improve Your Strength and Performance? Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.verywellfit.com/can-a-pre-workout-product-improve-physical-fitness-4154378
  5. Semeco, A. (2018, December 07). Beta-Alanine-A Beginner’s Guide. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/beta-alanine-101
  6. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, November 13). Vitamin E. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-e/art-20364144
  7. Contraindications for Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Oral. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-322/ascorbic-acid-vitamin-c-oral/details/list-contraindications
  8. Vitamin E: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-954/vitamin-e

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Does Taking Antioxidants During Your Workout Improve Exercise Recovery?

Exercise, running, recovery

All athletes and fitness enthusiasts should be concerned with exercise recovery. If you don’t get in the nutrition and rest that you need to recover from each workout, this will negatively affect health and performance over time. One of common recommendation to assist with exercise recovery is consuming a diet rich in antioxidants to decrease inflammation and free radicals in the body.  Free radicals are molecules that can cause damage to tissues in the body and are typically produced in the body in response to certain physiological or pathological conditions. Common initiators of free radical production include air pollution, radiation, fried foods… and exercise. This doesn’t paint exercise in a particularly positive light, but the free radicals produced during aerobic training and weightlifting actually serve a good purpose: they trigger the release of proteins and enzymes necessary to begin muscle repair and recovery. This process is actually what makes our muscles stronger and helps us adapt to repetitive strenuous activity.

… free radicals produced during aerobic exercise and weightlifting actually serve an important purpose.

When you take antioxidants during your workout (such as vitamin A, C, or E), this dampens this response and can actually limit improvements to performance and exercise recovery. Multiple studies have proven this to be true for both strength and endurance athletes(1)(2).

The Takeaway

What this means is that you shouldn’t trust pre-workout or intra-workout supplements that contain high levels of antioxidants and purport that these nutrients will lengthen time to fatigue or increase strength. They will actually do the opposite! Keep in mind, however, that eating a moderate amount of antioxidant-rich foods (such as 1 cup of berries or a small handful of nuts) will not negatively affect your exercise performance; we are only talking about mega-doses that would be found in dietary supplements. If you do take a high-dose vitamin C supplement to support immune health or dietary insufficiency, try to avoid taking it immediately before or after your workout. High-dose vitamin E or A supplements should only be taken if recommended by a doctor or a dietitian to correct a nutrient deficiency.

Have additional questions on this topic? Comment below or visit the following links for more information on this topic and specific studies referenced:

(1) http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/why-antioxidants-dont-belong-in-your-workout/?_r=0

(2) https://examine.com/nutrition/antioxidants-muscle-building/

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