Posts Tagged ‘sports nutrition’

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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Understanding Protein Absorption in Sports Nutrition

NOVA Sports Nutrition Protein

What’s the limit to protein absorption in a single meal, and how can meal balance impact performance? Let’s explore these concepts.

Protein Absorption Limit:

It’s important to recognize that the body’s capacity to absorb protein isn’t boundless. According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consuming approximately 0.35 grams of protein per 1 pound of body weight per meal maximizes muscle protein synthesis (MPS). For instance, for someone weighing 165 pounds, this translates to roughly 60 grams of protein per meal.

Balancing Meals for Optimal Performance:

Even Distribution of Protein Intake

Rather than front-loading protein in one meal, aim for a consistent spread of protein across your daily meals and snacks. This approach ensures a steady supply of amino acids for muscle repair and growth throughout the day.

Pairing Protein with Carbohydrates

Combining protein with carbohydrates can enhance protein absorption and replenish glycogen stores, essential for sustained energy during workouts. Opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for sustained energy release.

Incorporating Healthy Fats

Healthy fats play a role in hormone production and nutrient absorption, contributing to overall performance and recovery. Include sources such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish in your meals to support these functions.

Whole Foods Over Supplements

While protein supplements are convenient, whole food sources are often richer in nutrients and offer additional health benefits. Prioritize lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and tofu in your diet.

Hydration is Key

Adequate hydration supports digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall performance. Ensure you drink enough water throughout the day, particularly around your workout sessions.

Consider Timing

While the precise timing of protein intake isn’t critical, consuming protein-rich meals or snacks within a few hours of exercise can aid muscle repair and recovery.

In sports nutrition, understanding the dynamics of protein absorption and meal balance is crucial for achieving performance objectives. By strategically distributing protein intake, combining it with carbohydrates and healthy fats, and favoring whole food sources, you can optimize your nutrition regimen for enhanced athletic performance and recovery.

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Promoting Overall Well-Being and Improving Athletic Performance

Athletic performance NOVA Sports Nutrition

Embarking on a journey toward better health and performance usually requires expert guidance and support. That’s where NOVA Sports Nutrition steps in. We specialize in providing tailored counseling services aimed at optimizing health, enhancing athletic performance, and promoting overall well-being. With a team of experienced nutrition professionals, NOVA Sports Nutrition offers personalized guidance, evidence-based strategies, and ongoing support to help you achieve your goals. Whether you’re an athlete striving for peak performance or seeking to improve your health, we are dedicated to empowering you on your health goals. Through comprehensive nutrition counseling, we are committed to helping you with your relationship with food and athletic performance.

Tailored Guidance: We offer personalized counseling, tailoring plans to specific needs, preferences, and goals, ensuring optimal nutrition for improved performance.

Health Optimization: By addressing dietary habits and nutritional needs, our counseling services assist in preventing and managing various health conditions, promoting overall well-being.

Weight Management Solutions: We provide strategies for achieving healthy weight goals, whether it involves weight loss, gain, or maintenance, supporting you on your journey to optimal health.

Performance Enhancement: For athletes and active people, our nutrition counseling optimizes performance through expert guidance on fueling, hydration, and recovery strategies.

Behavioral Change Support: Our team offers support and practical strategies to facilitate lasting changes in dietary habits, fostering long-term health and wellness.

Nutritional Education: Benefit from our educational approach to gain insights into the nutritional value of foods and making informed choices that support your health goals.

Mental Well-being Support: We recognize the significant impact of nutrition on your mental health and strive to provide guidance on dietary choices that promote mood stability, energy, and cognitive function.

Accountability and Encouragement: With regular sessions and ongoing support, we work together to ensure you stay accountable to your goals, empowering you to make sustainable changes for lasting health benefits.

Sustainable Lifestyle Promotion: Our approach prioritizes long-term sustainability over quick fixes, guiding you towards lifestyle changes that support overall health and well-being for the future.

No matter what your goal is, our team can help you to develop a sustainable routine that is tailored to your specific needs, preferences, and lifestyle. All meal plans, nutrition recommendations, and workout plans are completely personalized in order to ensure maximum results. Ready to get started? Reach out to learn more and start working towards your health and fitness goals!

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Anxieties Around Sugar Consumption

NOVA Sports Nutrition sugar intake

Anxieties around consuming sugar have become increasingly prevalent in modern society as awareness of its potential health impacts has grown. Many people worry about the effects of excessive sugar intake on their overall well-being, including weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and dental issues. This concern is not unfounded, as there are many studies that have linked high sugar consumption to these health problems.

Part of the anxiety surrounding sugar consumption comes from its presence in our modern diet. Sugar is not only found in obvious sources like sweets and sugary drinks but also in a lot of processed foods, including sauces, dressings, and even snacks that “seem” healthy. This makes it difficult for people to control their sugar intake which then leads to feelings of frustration and anxiety for those trying to make healthier dietary choices.

The conflicting information in the media and online can also contribute to uncertainty and anxiety about sugar. While some sources emphasize the detrimental effects of sugar on health, others try to downplay its risks or promote alternative sweeteners as healthier options. This conflicting advice can leave people feeling confused and anxious about making the right choices for their health.

To address these anxieties and make informed decisions about sugar consumption, it’s very important to educate ourselves about the role of sugar in our diet, its potential health effects, and strategies for reducing intake. Fortunately, there are many educational resources available to help you navigate these concerns such as The American Heart Association and Dietary Guidelines For Americans. 

Managing sugar anxieties can be difficult, but there are several strategies that can help you navigate your concerns more effectively:

  • Read Labels: Become familiar with reading food labels to identify sources of added sugars in packaged foods. Look out for terms like sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and other sugar derivatives.
  • Focus on Whole Foods: Incorporate more whole foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. These foods are naturally low in added sugars and provide essential nutrients.
  • Limit Processed Foods: Minimize your consumption of processed and packaged foods, as these usually contain hidden sugars. Opt for homemade meals and snacks whenever possible to have more control over ingredients. 
  • Practice Moderation: You don’t have to cut out sugar entirely to be healthy. Instead, focus on moderation and mindful eating. Enjoy your favorite sweet treats occasionally, but be mindful of portion sizes.
  • Find Alternatives: Experiment with natural sugars or sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or stevia as alternatives to refined sugars. Just remember to use them in moderation.
  • Stay Hydrated: Sometimes, feelings of hunger or cravings can be mistaken for thirst. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and curb cravings.
  • Manage Stress: Stress can trigger cravings for sugary foods, so finding healthy ways to manage stress can help reduce the urge to overindulge in sweets. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Plan Ahead: Plan your meals and snacks in advance to avoid impulsive decisions when hunger strikes. Having healthy options readily available can help you make better choices.
  • Seek Support: If sugar consumption anxieties are significantly impacting your well-being, consider seeking support from a registered dietitian, therapist, or support group. Talking to others who share similar concerns can provide validation and practical advice.

Remember, it’s normal to have concerns about sugar consumption, but it’s important not to let those anxieties control your life. By adopting healthy eating habits and finding a balance that works for you, you can enjoy a varied and satisfying diet while prioritizing your health and well-being.

NOVA Sports Nutrition is here to help you make food choices that align with your health goals. Whether you’re training for a team sport, endurance race, physique competition, or to improve your health generally, NOVA can create a workout plan to help you reach your goal. We take the guesswork out of meal planning and will help you to take control of your diet once and for all!

Nutrition counseling services are provided via secure video chat or in-person in Northern Virginia. Please reach out via the contact page or schedule a free discovery call to learn more about pricing for our nutrition services!

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Mindful Eating for Athletes

NOVA mindful eating

Mindful eating involves deliberate focus on your internal and external environments. The aim is to increase your presence during eating by consciously consuming food using all your senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound). Most people however are eating mindlessly.  Mindless eating or eating without purpose, may cause your body to get confused about what, when or why you need to eat and may become driven by external cues to eat. These external cues may include: eating because others are eating or because food is in front of you and responding to appetite signals (i.e. food smells good) over hunger signals (grumbling stomach). Overeating is also common with mindless eating because you may eat too quickly to register fullness. This can impact body composition, efficient fueling for training, sleep, and your relationship with food. All of this may ultimately impact health and sports performance.  

The use of mindful eating aims to increase awareness of hunger cues of the body and fullness signals, eating with purpose and intuition. In general, your body has an instinctive way of knowing just what it needs to maintain weight and sustain health. Eating mindfully can assist the athlete in building skills in the selection of foods and quantities necessary to support training and competition needs of the body. Mindfulness practices and eating strategies for athletes can help reduce stress, improve overall quality of life, improve sleep, and even reduce the risk of injury.

Mindful eating strategies for athletes go beyond simple fueling guidelines. Mindful eating is about bringing together the ideas of what your body needs physically and also using inner wisdom (what we know and understand about ourselves and our bodies). This will help athletes succeed in figuring out individualized fueling and training plans in addition to fostering a healthy relationship with food. 

Increasing awareness of internal cues like hunger, energy and appetite and understanding what the body is trying to tell you can help to ascertain dietary energy requirements day-to-day. Being mindful of the food you are eating and the role it plays in fueling your body and being grateful for how food helps you develop and increase performance, rather than just taste and convenience, will help drive better choices to serve the body’s needs to perform at your best. 

Minimizing distractions during meals is a great way to get started with mindful eating. Other habits can include chewing your food more thoroughly, savoring each bite, and evaluating how you feel before, during, and after your meal.

Mindful Eating is Useful for Athletes

  • Increase awareness of your physical and emotional cues for eating
  • Understand the impact that training has on your body’s signals of hunger and fullness and when fueling the body is a priority
  • Develop strategies to foster a healthy relationship with food 
  • Decrease over-thinking, stress and self-criticism associated with dietary intake and eat for enjoyment and nourishment.  
  • Allow intake to be flexible with variations in training load from day-to-day and eating to meet training demands on a busy schedule
  • Assist in building skills in the selection of appropriate foods and quantities to support training loads
  • Reduce overeating or overcompensating intake for something you missed
  • Empower decision making and ownership over intake
  • Increase ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and still make a good food choice (on the road eating before and after competition)
  • Help with positive weight management and altering body composition
  • Develop strategies to foster a healthy relationship with food, reduce disordered eating, and prevent under-fueling

Tips to Help Athletes Achieve Mindful Eating

  • Eat meals without distractions by focusing on what you are eating
  • Acknowledge your meal time by sitting down to eat and dedicate time for eating
  • Avoid eating “on-the-go” when you can, so that you can focus more attention to eating
  • Prior to eating, take 10 seconds and pause to check-in with yourself and identify your internal cues to eat, and what role that food will play in fueling your training or health.  
  • Understand that you do not need to finish everything on your plate, stop eating when full and put the leftovers away for another meal.
  • Just like your sport and training, mindful eating takes practice to master; be persistent and patient, and change will come.

If you are looking to adopt more mindful eating habits, try some of these tips to enjoy food more while improving performance. 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 send Nikky a message and she will be happy to offer additional support!

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Sports Nutrition: Myths vs. Facts

NOVA Myths vs. FAct

Let’s debunk some common sports nutrition myths. In the world of sports, athletes might encounter a lot of information about nutrition, some of which may be misleading. To navigate through the myths and misconceptions, athletes should rely on evidence-based practices that align with their individual needs and goals. 

In this blog post, we’ll debunk common sports nutrition myths and present the facts that every athlete should consider for optimal performance. Let’s dive into the science-backed facts that will help you make informed decisions about what to eat and when, ensuring you fuel your body for success in your chosen sport whether you’re a basketball player, a swimmer, or a bodybuilder. 

Myth: Carbohydrates Should Be Avoided for Weight Loss.

Fact: Carbs are a primary source of energy. Choosing complex carbs (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) in moderation supports energy needs and overall health.

Myth: Protein Only Matters for Bodybuilders.

Fact: Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth, and it’s crucial for all athletes. Endurance athletes, in particular, benefit from adequate protein to support recovery. Why specifically endurance athletes? Muscle building or power athletes typically need more than endurance, though it certainly is still very important for that group)

Myth: Hydration is Only Important During Exercise.

Fact: Staying hydrated is crucial at all times. Dehydration can impair performance and overall health. Athletes should hydrate consistently throughout the day. Pro tip: minimum fluid intake should be ½ your bodyweight in oz. of fluid per day. When exercising/sweating, that number should go up!)

Myth: Supplements Can Replace a Balanced Diet.

Fact: While supplements can be useful, they shouldn’t replace whole foods. A well-balanced diet provides essential nutrients that are often missing in isolated supplements.

Myth: Fats Should Be Avoided for Better Performance.

Fact: Healthy fats (avocado, nuts, olive oil) are essential for overall health and can provide a steady source of energy. They play a role in hormone production and nutrient absorption.

Myth: Eating Before Exercise Causes Cramps.

 Fact: Proper pre-exercise nutrition is important. While eating too much or too close to exercise may cause discomfort, a balanced meal a few hours before is generally beneficial.

Myth: Sports Drinks are Necessary for Everyone.

Fact: Sports drinks can be helpful for intense or prolonged exercise, but water is sufficient for most activities. Excessive sports drink consumption can lead to unnecessary sugar intake.

Myth: The More Protein, the Better.

Fact: While protein is crucial, excessive intake doesn’t necessarily lead to more muscle gain. Athletes should aim for an optimal, not excessive, protein intake.

Myth: All Athletes Should Follow the Same Diet.

Fact: Individual nutrition needs vary based on factors like sport type, intensity, body composition, and personal preferences. Personalized nutrition plans are essential.

Myth: Skipping Meals Helps Weight Loss.

Fact: Regular, balanced meals support metabolism and provide sustained energy. Skipping meals can lead to nutrient deficiencies and negatively impact performance.

It’s important for athletes to stay informed and consult with nutrition professionals for personalized advice. Nutrition is highly individual, and what works for one athlete may not work for another. The focus should be on a well-rounded, individualized approach to support performance and overall health.

NOVA Sports Nutrition is here to support you in your performance goals. We are experienced in tailoring our plans to each individual, based on their sport. Book a consultation with us to discuss where you are in your journey and how we can support you! 

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January: The Month of Sustainable Change

NOVA January health

January is a great time to reset and think about your health and to pause and reflect on
the past year to help you determine what comes next on your wellness or fitness
journey in the new year. However, January is also the time when advertisements
on quick fixes, diet supplements and fad diets too good to be true also begin popping up
everywhere. As you put your holiday decorations away and prepare for the start of
2024, remember that the best way to improve health and nutrition is not through quick
fixes, but rather sustainable changes that you can implement gradually over time. If your
health and fitness is not where you would like for it to be right now, you can focus on
getting back on track one step at a time.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some simple steps you can implement today
to start improving your health and wellbeing:

Slow Down and Breathe
A great tool for stress reduction is to take a few moments to slow down your day and
just breathe. When you are stressed, your blood pressure rises, your heart and
respiration rate may also accelerate. Taking 10-15 minutes to sit still, be calm and
breathe deeply can counteract all of this

Take time to chew your food, savor each bite
Chewing well and slowing down your intake of food, helps you savor every bite. By
chewing longer, you are allowing food to linger in your mouth and stimulate taste
receptors on your tongue. This helps start the digestive process and gives your
body time to signal the brain when you are getting full.

Be in tune with your hunger cues
Paying attention to your body’s cues for hunger can help keep you healthy and
signal you when to eat. Some common physiological hunger cues are stomach
growling, low energy, headaches, shakiness and general weariness.

Be mindful and move with purpose
The principles of mindful movement are the same as any other mindfulness practice:
keep yourself in the present moment to experience the here and now and get the
most out of each session. Be aware of your movement, focus on your breath, and
notice how your body feels as it moves. Staying in the present can keep you
mentally strong because you are no longer focusing on yesterday or worried about
tomorrow.

Stay hydrated
Your body needs to be hydrated to function at its best. If there isn’t enough liquid
in your body, essential functions like circulation and digestion will not perform
efficiently. Your organs may not get the necessary nutrients for optimal
functioning and even slight dehydration affects performance.

Prioritize Protein and Vegetables (especially the greens)
Protein
Protein is an important part of a healthy diet. You need protein in your diet to help
your body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is important for growth and
development. Adequate protein reduces muscle loss, helps with recovery after
exercise, builds lean tissue and because it curbs your hunger can help with
maintaining a healthy weight.
Greens
Adding leafy greens to your diet is an easy way to get the vitamins and minerals
your body needs for optimal health. These vegetables are good sources of many
vitamins and minerals such as: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, magnesium,
potassium, calcium and fiber, but low in calories. Green, leafy vegetables help
support vision and skin health; and may reduce the risk of heart disease, high
blood pressure, and the risk of obesity.

NOVA Sports Nutrition is here to get you back on track. Whether you’re training for a team sport, endurance race, physique competition, or to improve your health generally, NOVA can create a workout plan to help you reach your goal. We take the guess work out of meal planning and will help you to take control of your diet once and for all!

Nutrition counseling services are provided via secure video chat or in-person in Northern Virginia. Please reach out via the contact page or schedule a free discovery call to learn more about pricing for our nutrition services!

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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).

Exercise Recovery: 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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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 on vitamins

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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