By Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
More than 450 members of SCAN, the nation’s largest professional group of Sports & Cardiovascular Nutritionists (SCANdpg.org), convened in Baltimore (April 2012) to celebrate SCAN’s 30th birthday and learn the latest sports nutrition news. Here are a few highlights to help you eat to win!
• Beets, as well as rhubarb and arugula, are rich sources of dietary nitrates, a compound that gets converted into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and allows a person to exercise using less oxygen. In a study, cyclists consumed pre-ride beets and then three hours later (when NO peaks), they rode in a time trial. Every cyclist improved (on average, 2.8%) as compared to the time trial with no beets. Impressive! The amount of nitrates in 7 ounces (200 grams) beets is an effective dose. How about enjoying beets—or a bowl of borscht—in your next pre-game meal?
• Fuel up while cooling down is a wise mantra for athletes who exercise intensely. Immediate replenishment of carbs and protein can decrease muscle soreness and inflammation, plus enhance muscle repair. What you eat before you exercise can also effectively reduce post-exercise recovery. In a study, trained athletes consumed two 10.5-oz. bottles per day of tart cherry juice the week before an excruciating exercise test. They recovered faster and lost only 4% of their pre-test strength, compared with 22% loss in the group without cherry juice.
Tart cherries can help not only athletes but also individuals who suffer from the pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Consuming tart cherry juice (two 10.5-ounce bottles/day for 10 days) reduced the muscle soreness associated with “fibro-flares” and enhanced recovery rate. Similar findings occurred in people suffering from osteoarthritis; drinking tart cherry juice for three weeks reduced arthritis pain.
Tart cherries (the kind used in baking pies, not the sweet cherries enjoyed as snacks) have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Other foods that have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity include raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Fruit smoothies, anyone?!
Research to date has studied the effects of drinking 21 ounces of tart cherry juice per day for 1 to 3 weeks. (That’s the equivalent of eating 90 tart cherries/day). More research will determine the most effective dose and time-course. Because 21 ounces of tart cherry juice adds 260 calories to one's energy intake, athletes will need to reduce other fruits or foods to make space for this addition to their daily intake.
• While sleeping used to be our most common “activity,” today it is sitting. The average person sits for 9 hours a day. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for heart disease and creates health problems, including deep vein thrombosis (as can happen on planes and during long computer games). Athletes who exercise for one or two hours each day still need do more daily activity and not just sit in front of a screen all day. How about a treadmill desk or “desk-ercycle”?
• While we may be sitting more than in past years, we’re sleeping less: 80% of teens report getting less than the recommended nine hours of sleep; nearly 30% of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours each day. Not good. Sleep is a biological necessity. It is restorative and helps align our circadian rhythms.
Sleep deprivation (less than five hours/night) erodes well being, has detrimental effects on health, and contributes to fat gain. When we become tired, grehlin, a hormone that makes us feel hungry, becomes more active and we can easily overeat. Sleep deprivation is also linked with Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Sleep deprivation is common among athletes who travel through time zones. This can impact performance by disrupting their circadian rhythms and causing undue fatigue and reduced motivation. In comparison, extending sleep can enhance performance. A study involving basketball players indicates they shot more baskets and completed more free throws when they were well rested versus sleep deprived. For top performance, make sleep a priority!
• In a few communities in the world, an usually high number of people live to be older than 100 years. What happens in those communities that contributes to the longer life? Some factors include choosing a plant-based diet, rarely overeating, having a life filled with purpose and meaning, connecting with others in the community, moving naturally and/or socially (as in bike commuting and walking with family and friends), enjoying alcohol socially, in moderation, and not smoking. If you want to join the centenarians, take steps to re-create those life-enhancing practices!
Creating that life-extending culture has been done, to a certain extent, in Albert Lea, MN. The “Blue Zone” project included improving sidewalks and building walking paths around a lake. Restaurants supported the program by not bringing a bread basket automatically to customers, and not serving French fries (unless requested) with meals. These and many other environmental changes contributed to a healthier lifestyle that resulted in a 40% drop in the city employee healthcare costs over two years. Impressive, eh?
• Athletes, as well as obese people, commonly struggle with the belief their body is not “good enough.” This struggle gets too little attention from health care providers who focus more on the medical concerns of heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. Yet, whether you are lean or obese, having poor body image often coincides with having low self-esteem. This combination generates poor self-care.
In a five-year study with teens, low body satisfaction stimulated extreme and destructive dieting behaviors that led to weight gain, not weight loss. The same pattern is typical among many seemingly “healthy” athletes. If you want help finding peace with your body, please seek help from a sports dietitian. Use SCAN’s referral network—www.SCANdpg.org—to help you find someone local. What are you waiting for…?
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for new runners, marathoners, and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com and sportsnutritionworkshop.com.