30 Jul 2014
Usually when I’m talking about protein foods, I mean foods like chicken, beef, eggs, and other foods whose primary macronutrient is protein. But this time, I’m talking about the other “protein” foods. The Cheerios Protein and high protein bread. This trend of adding protein to all sorts of food should be great news, right? I mean, protein is so good for so many reasons – helps build muscles, keeps you satisfied, important part of DNA, aids recovery for athletes… the list goes on. Unfortunately, throwing protein powder into every possible consumable is not the answer, and here’s why.
1. More processing – if you thought cereal and bread weren’t processed before, they sure are now. The best breads involve grinding down wheat and other grains, packaging them up to send to a baker, the baker mixing them with water, yeast, and whatever other ingredients, baking, and packaging. Now you are adding to that process isolating and dehydrating cow’s milk protein (99.9 times out of 100 NOT a grass-fed, humanely raised cow either) or dehulling and defatting soybean meal to create soy protein isolate, and packaging that up too. The macronutrient label may now reflect a more balanced food item, but the ingredients list will tell a different story.
2. What kind of protein is that again? Let me just say that I have minimal faith in the food industry to use quality ingredients. Even the brands that claim to (looking at you, Naked Juice) are owned by brands (like Pepsi) who only give a crap about profit. Even I don’t know where most of the protein powder on the shelf at GNC comes from.
3. $$$$$$$ – Adding a trendy component to your product = increased price. To be fair, I have not had time to check a supermarket, so I will stand corrected if someone tells me protein cheerios and protein bread aren’t more expensive than the regular variety.
4. Raw protein powder tastes like crap – which means to make it palatable, the protein variety requires a whole bunch more sugar. This is also why there is always some small amount of artificial sweetener in your Progenex. The good thing about artificial sweetener is that because it’s so much sweeter than regular sugar, you only need a small amount of it. Either way, just compare the nutrition label for Cheerios and Cheerio Protein Honey Oat. The regular Cheerios have 1 gram of sugar per cup, while the Protein version has 14 grams per cup and twice the total carbohydrate (42 grams compared to 20 grams). And while we’re being honest, who eats only the serving size? To get 7 grams of protein, you are adding 13 grams of extra sugar. Honestly, I’d rather see you drink a glass of milk, make an egg, or even eat 2 TB of peanut butter. Both of those will provide more actual nutrition (I’m talking the vitamins and minerals here) than processed cereal with protein powder in it.
Now, this isn’t a knock on protein powder. That has a couple of specific, evidence based uses for some people (you can learn more about that in another blog post). What I’m knocking is taking a food that is OK but not great for you (Cheerios, whole grain bread, etc) and trying to dress it up as the newest health food while actually making it kind of worse. Going back to the Cheerios example, both Banana Nut and Chocolate Cheerios would be a better option than the Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey (fewer ingredients, fewer types of sugar, half the total carbs, a little less sugar), despite the fact that they sound like desserts.
The bottom line is your protein should come from natural sources like eggs, grass-fed/pasture raised meat and dairy, and nuts and seeds. If you’re a vegetarian, even Tofu and some protein supplements are leaps and bounds better than adding protein powder to cereal and other grains. And if you’re looking to add convenient sources of protein to your diet, options include jerky, hard boiled eggs, nuts, deli slices, etc.
Have you tried protein enhanced foods? What did you think of them?
Now, milk is a pretty decent food. It has calcium and is fortified with vitamin D, both of which are good for your bones. As a bonus, (low fat) dairy consumption has also been associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and is associated with lower blood pressure. In addition, milk contains a mix of protein and carbohydrates that make it a good post workout recovery beverage (or part of one that includes added protein).
But do you need to drink 3 cups (8 oz glasses) of it per day? No, you don’t. So where did that recommendation come from?
A Brief History of Milk In The US
Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, everyone drank whole milk. It went in cereal and accompanied dinner. But somewhere around the 1950’s and early 1960’s, people started hearing that whole milk was bad for your health. That it could increase your risk of heart disease. So people stopped drinking it. In the meantime, the Dairy Industry kept on producing at high numbers, creating a surplus. This lead to the formation of the Dairy Checkoff Program, which according to Dairy Management Inc. works in the following way”
“Dairy farmers pay 15 cents and dairy importers pay 7.5 cents for every hundred pounds of milk (or the equivalent thereof) they sell or import into a generic dairy product promotion fund – familiarly called the “dairy checkoff” – that DMI manages along with state and regional promotion groups. That money – with USDA oversight – is used to fund programs aimed at promoting dairy consumption and protecting the good image of dairy farmers, dairy products and the dairy industry.”
So basically, the dairies pay the USDA, and the USDA promotes milk products for them. Totally legit, right? Now to be fair, it is recommended adults consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and a cup of milk has 305 mg. So while the 3 cups per day DOES meet those calcium needs, I think framing this in consumption of dairy alone (without more focus on other calcium containing foods) is underhanded.
Now as educated adults, we might be able to figure this out and recognize that while dairy isn’t bad for us, we also don’t need to consume a gallon of milk a week per person, either. But not everyone knows this information. In addition, according to a new report called Whitewashed: How Industry And Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods:
- About half of all milk is consumed either as flavored milk, with cereal, or in a drink;
- Nearly half of the milk supply goes to make about 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts–two-thirds of which is ice cream;
- 11 percent of all sugar goes into the production of dairy products.
For more see Eat Drink Politics.
So, the government is promoting all this dairy, and much of it is in the form of things like sugary Boston Cream Pie flavored yogurt, strawberry milk, and to accompany fruit loops.
What Can We Do
My recommendation is to consume dairy as it fits into your life. I eat Nutty Nuggets cereal every morning, and on alternating weeks enjoy it with 2% milk or almond milk. I eat yogurt and cheese every now and again. But I don’t enjoy drinking milk, and I don’t add cheese or milk to most foods. I do, however, use Greek yogurt as a sub for mayonnaise in chicken or tuna salad. However, I know some people (ahem, Martin) drink a lot of milk regularly. And that’s fine too.
Here are my basic tips for dairy:
- Choose milk that is grass-fed and from humanely raised cows.
- Choose Whole or 2% milk or plain Greek yogurt. It’s actually pretty hard to have too much on a regular basis if you’re eating rich, plain dairy (at least I find).
- Avoid ice cream, processed cheese, etc as primary sources of calcium. The benefit of calcium from a box of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese is not worth the cost of what else is in the food.
16 Jul 2014
Summer in New England always feels to me like trying to pack a year’s worth of outdoor fun into 90 days. It seems like there’s a BBQ, happy hour, sporting event, or party every weekend to tempt me with beer, chips, and all sorts of less than healthy fun. And while having a “cheat day” isn’t the worst thing in the world, having them three times a week all summer can add up. And since the BBQ is the most ubiquitous summer activity, here is a little advice on making at least some of those BBQ’s a little bit healthier.
- Don’t show up hungry – snacks at BBQs plentiful in calorie and fat content (think chips, boxed cookies, etc), with scarce vegetable offerings. Have a salad or some fruit before you go so you’re not starving.
- BYO… If you want to be sure there’s something healthy there (like delicious kebabs, see below) or grass-fed, humanely raised hamburgers (instead of Bubba Burgers) then the safest bet is to bring it yourself.
- Stay hydrated. Alcohol and heat can combine to cause dehydration. Water will also make you a little less hungry. Try to drink a glass every hour, or alternate a glass of water with each alcoholic beverage.
09 Jul 2014
If you played sports as a kid, you probably grew up on the delicious, refreshing beverage called Gatorade (or Powerade, although I think Gatorade is better). Originally invented at the University of Florida (Go Gators) to hydrate the football team during hot summer games, Gatorade now produces a regular and low calorie drink, “natural” versions of these beverages, as well as energy chews and nutrition bars. And their marketing has been stellar – watch any Gatorade ad and you’re pretty much convinced that you should drink this stuff because that’s what the badass athletes do (and who doesn’t want to be a badass athlete). They’re all about that inspiring stuff like hard work and determination. Well, at least most kids probably think that. As adults, we’re just trained to crave it. If I go running in sub 75 degree weather for longer than 30 minutes, I come back craving a blue Gatorade (because maybe the flavor is inspired by some fruit, but we just know it by the color. Yellow is a close second for me). Of course, Gatorade has also gotten some negative press surrounding their use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) – which they’ve since discontinued using – because it had been patented as a flame retardant and is banned in Japan and the European Union. But, is it OK to drink or should you avoid it?
Sports Drink Pros
Sports drinks are great – and have been successful over the past 40 years – because they provide the unique combination of dilute carbohydrate and electrolytes in an easily digestible format. Sports drinks have essentially been formulated by scientists to provide EXACTLY what athletes need during exercise to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The average regular Gatorade has 80 calories, 21 grams of sugar, 160 mg of sodium, and 45 mg of potassium. The G2 series is usually 30 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate with the same electrolyte content as the original.
Other Gatorade perks:
- Helps prevent hyponatremia (salt deficiency), which generally happens when athletes over hydrate.
- The taste generally makes you thirsty, so you drink more. When you’re working out for a long time (over an hour) in very hot conditions, that can be a plus.
- It tastes good. Sometimes water gets old.
Despite loving Gatorade as a kid/teen just kidding I still love it now, this is the part that always makes me sad: the ingredients list. The Blue G2 flavor (apparently called “Glacier Freeze) that I like so much contains the following: Water (fine), sugar (OK I was expecting that), citric acid (not a big deal), sodium citrate (OK that’s the sodium, just with a different companion than table salt), mono potassium phosphate (potassium source), sucralose (commonly known as Splenda, because I guess 7 grams of sugar wasn’t enough to make it appealing to the American palette), acesulfame potassium (anOTHER artificial sweetener) and Blue 1 (that would be an artificial color. Ugh). So, most of the ingredients are fine, not everything that isn’t 100% natural is going to kill you, although I really try to avoid artificial colors.
In addition, a few other sports drink drawbacks:
- It often gets misused or overused. Pretty sure Lebron James needed some Gatorade in San Antonio when the AC broke, and it’s very useful during a half marathon or other endurance activity. But a lot of kids, adolescents, and even adults nowadays are drinking it while playing video games or at school. Unless you’re sweating your butt off during a workout, you don’t really need an electrolyte drink.
- The taste generally makes you thirsty, so you drink more. Yes, I realize this was also a pro. But when I return from a 45 minute run, I could benefit from 8-12 ounces and end up drinking nearly the whole bottle before it occurs to me to put it away. That’s a lot of sugar I probably didn’t need.
So, should you drink Gatorade?
My answer is yes, when it is appropriate and if you prefer it over other options. When is it appropriate?
- When you’re working out for over 60-90 minutes or in extreme heat conditions
- When you complete a WOD like last week’s 1K test on the erg and need a little extra sugar before the second WOD. However, in this case you only need a small amount.
What are some other options? Coconut water, diluted juice (full concentrated juice can make you fee sick to your stomach by adding too much sugar – compare 21 grams of carbs in 12 ounces of Gatorade to over 40 grams in the same amount of Naked Juice or OJ).
What are your thoughts? Do you love Gatorade? Hate it?
Some of you may hear words like “energy systems pathways” and “glycogen stores” thrown around a lot. Or perhaps this is the first of them you’ve heard. Either way, the burn of today’s 1K followed by a mini version of DT inspired me to write about how the body converts stored energy into usable energy to rule your workouts.
A Quick Biochem Lesson
ATP. That sounds familiar right? Well, it should ring a bell from high school biology. ATP is a molecule found in all living cells that when broken down provides energy for a variety of cellular processes.
Pathway 1: The Phosphagen Pathway
This pathways is used for the first 10 seconds of exercise (so today on the rower, the first 5 or so strokes). This pathway draws on ATP stored in the muscle for about 2-3 seconds, then uses creatine phosphate to regenerate ATP until that runs out. This explains why creatine supplementation improves recovery and output for short duration, high power movements. For more on creatine you can read one of my previous blog posts. Movements that might utilize the phosphagen pathway are short duration at all out intensity (like a 100 meter sprint).
Pathway 2: The Glycolytic (Or Lactic Acid) Pathway
In this pathway, the body breaks down carbohydrates – both glucose readily available in the bloodstream or glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrate in the liver and muscles – to produce ATP as well as a molecule called pyruvate. Pyruvate can either convert to another molecule that is used to regenerate ATP or can convert to lactate, which forms lactic acid (and causes that burn in your legs when you’re sprinting or rowing). Conversion to lactate happens when your body needs more oxygen that it is getting. This pathway isn’t very efficient, producing little energy for the input, but the benefit is that it produces the energy quickly. Your body produces energy with this pathway from 10 seconds to around 2 minutes.
Pathway 3: The Oxidative (Or Aerobic) Pathway
This is the pathway often referred to as “fat burn”. During the oxidative pathway, the body uses oxygen along with carbohydrate and fat to produce energy. This pathway is used for long duration, low power and intensity exercise. Think of running 6 miles, rowing around the river for an hour (obviously slowly so you don’t tip the boat…) or chipper WODs like Eva.
An important thing to remember is that the pathways are not mutually exclusive. While it’s easiest to break them down into specific time slots, multiple pathways are used simultaneously. For example, in today’s 1K, the first few seconds were mostly the phosphagen pathway. After 10 seconds, glycolysis picks up as the predominant pathway, and the aerobic pathway takes over the lead at around 1-2 minutes. But if you look at the graph to the left, you can see how at 30 seconds for example, all three pathways are providing some energy.
Why You Felt So Bad After That 1K
Now that I’ve explained the pathways, it’s easier to understand. By the 4 minute mark (when the 1K finally ended for most of us), you’ve burned through pretty much all of your stored ATP and most of your muscle glycogen, but your body has only been creating energy via oxygen and fat stores for a few minutes. You’ve spent most of your stored energy and not had the time for your body to replenish it on it’s own.
What Should You Do
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how, while a lot of sugar in the regular diet can cause problems, there are times your body needs a little, especially during training. During a WOD like today’s, where we red line for a specific test, and follow it up with another challenging workout, the body would benefit from taking some sugar. I would recommend about 15 grams of very easily absorbed carbohydrate, such as:
- Coconut water
- Sport beans
- Non-fat candy
You want to eat a little something to beef up your glycogen stores, but you don’t want ANY fat or fiber to slow digestion. Of course, I made it through the WOD fine without any carbohydrate in the middle (as did the 6 and 7 am classes), but if you plan on training longer afterward, or want to go harder on the 3 rounds of DT, the carbs can help.
One of the most confusing “no-no’s” of the paleo diet is beans and legumes. Most of us have grown up learning hat beans are healthy for us because of their fiber and protein content, and many vegetarians and vegans rely on them as a protein source. But, according to the founding fathers of the paleo diet, legumes are no good. But what exactly is a legume, and why can’t you eat it? (Hint: if you read on, you’ll see that you can).
What Are Legumes?
According to Merriam Webster, legumes are “a type of plant (such as a pea or a bean plant) with seeds that grow in long cases (called pods)”. The fruits and seeds of these plants that we eat are also known as legumes. The legume family includes beans, peas, green beans, and peanuts.
Why Aren’t They Paleo?
There are a few reasons the paleo community excludes legumes. A few of the big ones include:
1. They contain phytic acid/phytates, which are “anti nutrients” that block the absorption of vitamins and minerals
2. They contain lectins, a class of proteins thought to cause “leaky gut” in the shorter term and problems like arthritis and poor vitamin/mineral absorption in the longer term
3. Cavemen didn’t eat them
Why They’re Not The Devil
Sadly, a lot of the paleo blogs that explained why legumes aren’t paleo were written with a lot of doom and gloom. I closed out my Safari tab thinking my body was going to self combust if I ate a black bean tomorrow. But then I dug a little deeper and found out it’s not so black and white.
1. Phytic acid is the stored form of phosphorous. Phytic acid is often called an “anti nutrient” because it binds minerals in the digestive tract, forming phytate (a mineral bound to phytic acid). This does happen, although phytic acid can be broken down by several processes including fermentation, cooking, soaking, and sprouting. However, despite this drawback, there are some other benefits to phytic acid. When it binds minerals in the digestive tract, it reduces the formation of free radicals, making it like an antioxidant. It can also bind heavy metals (like lead or mercury), reducing their accumulation in the body. You can read this article from a great group of nutritionists and scientists at Precision Nutrition to see more benefits of phytic acid.
2. Lectins are a class of protein that binds to sugars. In humans, lectins facilitate cell to cell contact, and in plants they often act as a protection or insecticide. Lectin poisoning is a thing, if you happen to enjoy raw beans. When food passes through our guts, it causes minor damage that is usually easily repaired by the body. However, lectins can cause damage when they slow this repair. When that happens, the digestive lining doesn’t function as well as it should, allowing some undesirable substances that would normally be contained in the gut to pass to the body, and inhibiting the absorption of certain good substances like vitamins and minerals. This is what is referred to as “leaky gut”. If you eat too many lectins, your body will respond by trying to evacuate the gut – i.e. fun symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, etc. Gut damage from lectin overdoes can also cause immune responses like joint pain and skin rash. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Like phytic acid, lectins can also be neutralized by processes like soaking and sprouting.
3. Actually, cavemen may have eaten legumes! A study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America looking at tooth decay in prehistoric skeletons found that neanderthals ate a diverse diet of available plants, including legumes. Although this study was in Neanderthals, it is widely thought that Homo Sapiens enjoyed am ore diverse diet than Neanderthals, meaning it’s likely they would have eaten legumes as well. I mean, it makes sense to me that if the could figure out tools and fire, they could figure out soaking, sprouting and cooking.
What Should You Do?
As I love to say in almost all of my blog posts, the impact of choosing to eat these particular foods will depend on a variety of factors, including your genetics, your current state of health, and how much of them you eat. I don’t think legumes should be entirely avoided, but I also don’t think you should eat beans and peanuts at every meal either. That would result in leaving out a lot of other foods with important nutrients – like grass-fed meats and eggs, or vegetables, fruits, organic dairy, etc – that you might otherwise enjoy. There are real concerns about lectins in very high doses (which is why they don’t offer to put Castor beans in your burrito at Chipotle), but a cup of green beans with dinner a couple of nights a month or the occasional hummus and carrots snack isn’t going to give you leaky gut unless you happen to be very sensitive to lectins (research shows individuals on the autism spectrum and those with Crohn’s disease tend to be more sensitive to lectin damage). If legumes are causing a problem for your body, more likely than not your body will inform you of this fact in the form of stomach discomfort, gas, joint pain, etc.
What are your thoughts? Do you eat legumes? Avoid them?
18 Jun 2014
Today, I come to you with joyous news. Well, for me anyway. You see, as a registered dietitian and self respecting health professional, I just can’t stand Dr. Oz. I would venture to guess that many other health professionals worth their salt can’t stand him either, for multiple reasons. Allow me to explain.
Dr. Oz started out with such a great mission – use a celebrity platform to break down complicated medical information into easy to digest bits of information for everyday Americans. I’ve watched some of his early shows, where he explains plaque in the arteries using visuals and props. But then somewhere along the way, he started endorsing weight loss and other products. And all of a sudden this likable, easy to understand doctor was selling Americans on raspberry ketone extract and green coffee bean extract as a miracle, life changing weight loss product. The thing is, obesity and chronic disease are complicated conditions influenced by numerous factors to include genetics, hormone levels, environment, and lifestyle. It is impossible to lose weight or gain health without making at least some modest lifestyle change (and more often, modest changes aren’t enough). Even people who get weight loss surgery – once and maybe still viewed by many as a “cop out” – have huge lifestyle changes to make, like adjusting to significantly reduced portions, and taking protein and vitamin supplements to avoid deficiencies, all in addition to dealing with the emotional stuff everyone else trying to lose weight deals with. And even for the successful, weight loss is not miraculous. It often comes about via hard work and/or great sacrifice. You can’t just a vegetable here and there, walk on the treadmill occasionally, and miraculously lose weight due to some supplement/extract/miracle. It just doesn’t work that way. Yet Dr. Oz used his name and platform to essentially convince many Americans that it could. And while he never endorsed any specific product, when he calls raspberry ketones a “fat burner in a bottle” , people listen.
But yesterday, Oz had to face the music. Yesterday, Dr. Oz testified in front of the Senate Consumer Protection Panel on deceptive advertising for diet supplements and over the counter products. And Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri let him have it! It was great. I haven’t watched video yet, but she basically called him out on all the BS he’s sold people on his show. To read a recap and watch the video, check out the coverage from CBS News and Business Insider.
11 Jun 2014
Before your regularly scheduled blog post, a quick announcement:
SHOW TUNES WOD: Tomorrow morning, the 7 am class will WOD to a show tunes medley playlist, courtesy of long time member and local food expert Audrey. This WOD will also be a chance to say goodbye to running coach Rachel Weiker, who is moving to DC for work. Show tunes are non-negotiable but singing/dancing are optional.
I always encourage paying attention to what you eat. Read the labels on all 7 BBQ sauce bottles in the grocery store before you choose the best one. Ask the butcher if the meat is grass-fed or not, or if he knows where it came from. I even wrote about how it is OK to be a pain in the butt about your diet. But I also know that the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has recently written about “orthorexia nervosa”, a new type of disordered eating (but not yet an eating disorder) . Essentially, orthorexia is the obsession with eating otherwise healthy foods, or a “fixation on righteous eating” (according to an article on NEDA’s website). You might consider someone who brings a tupperware of eggs, bacon and vegetables to brunch at a restaurant with friends, or someone who will not eat if they are hungry because there is nothing healthy enough around, or someone who refuses to join friend socially because they will be tempted to eat/drink something unhealthy, as orthorexic. You might also consider this person “dedicated to achieving their goals”. It seems like it’s a fine line between “a fixation on righteous eating” and simply paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. It’s important to pay attention, of course. It’s also important not to abandon all social interaction and beat yourself up over a cookie every now and again.
What do you guys think? Is “orthorexia” a real problem, or should we all be a little more obsessive when it comes to our food?
04 Jun 2014
In a lot of science journalism, there is a lot of jumping to conclusions without really digging into the science. This week we saw headlines screaming about how diet soda can help you lose weight! So you should start drinking diet soda to beat those sugar cravings, right?
Not so fast my friend. There are a few things wrong with this study.
- The study only lasted 12 weeks, which is fairly short in terms of weight loss. Quite frankly, I don’t care how much weight you can lose in 3 months, I care how much weight you can lose in 3 years. Speaking of which,
- Several long term findings have contradicted this study, including the San Antonio Heart study, which found that every diet soda per day was linked to a 65% increase in the likelihood of overweight and a 41% chance of obesity over a 7-8 year period, and the Framingham Heart Study, which found that people who drank diet soda were still at risk for metabolic syndrome and high blood sugar.
- The study was funded by the soda industry. Now, not all studies funded by the man produce results that benefit the man, but most do.
Of course, correlation does not equal causation (unless you think the declining divorce rate in Maine caused the drop in margarine consumption nationwide), so associations between diet soda and weight gain don’t mean diet soda causes people to gain weight. But it means we should think about these associations, and what could be influencing them, before throwing a few 12 packs of diet coke in our carts. Because chemistry and biology aren’t the only things influencing weight gain, a lot of it is psychological and even economic (I addressed this a little bit in an earlier post on high fructose corn syrup). For example, some people swap regular soda for diet soda, and figure that justifies an extra cookie after dinner. Other people struggle with emotional eating, and swapping Pepsi for Pepsi One isn’t going to address that problem. On top of all that, diet soda is full of artificial sweeteners of questionable safety (especially in high doses). The point is, there’s a lot more that goes into health and weight loss than swapping one thing for another, and all of these things should be considered.
What are your thoughts on diet soda and the beverage industry’s contribution to the fight against the obesity crisis?*
*The second part of this question brought to you by the fact that I have started reading Salt Sugar Fat and am curious to hear others thoughts on the topic.
28 May 2014
Two weeks ago I wrote about how there are really no sugars that are healthier for you than other sugars. The gist basically is that added sugar (so, not the kind you get from fruit) isn’t all that great for you and should be included in minimal amounts in your diet. In the comments section, coach G2 made a good point about how sometimes during longer workouts, sugar can be a good thing. To build on that, I want to talk a little about when taking some nutrition during your workout is a good idea and some of the better sources.
When Do You Need A Sugar Fix Mid WOD?
For most class WODs, which consist of about 6-30 minutes of metabolic conditioning and 0-15 minutes of strength, you won’t need to eat carbohydrates during as long as you’ve eaten something beforehand. Generally you will need additional carbohydrates during your workout when it is longer than 60-90 minutes or very high in intensity. (I’m talking about a 7 mile run, 90 minutes of Olympic lifting, or following a 60 minute class with another 30-60 minutes of strength or gymnastics work, not 70 minutes cursing on the elliptical or bike).
Eating carbohydrates during a longer, more intense workout helps prevent drops in blood glucose and liver glycogen (stored form of carbohydrate), and may improve motor skills. What this means is, you will be able to continue exercising at greater intensity and with better coordination and accuracy over the longer term (like I said, over 90 minutes) when you eat carbohydrates during your workout than when you do not.
How Much And What To Eat
During a workout, the recommendation is to take in 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour, in small increments every 15-30 minutes, starting when you’re about 30 minutes in (Stellingwerff et al 2011). Carbohydrate during a workout should be taken in small amounts in 15-30 minute intervals to avoid any stomach issues.
Good food choices for the middle of a workout will be easy to digest and low in fat and fiber. Good examples include:
- Gatorade or sports drink
- Dried fruit
- 100% juice
- Flavored coconut water (the peach mango flavor is amazing)
- Energy/sport beans or candy (I’ll address the difference in a minute)
- Fruit (stick to lower fiber options or ones that you’re familiar with. Protip: if you don’t regularly eat bananas, don’t eat one while on a long run).
About those energy beans vs. candy? They provide essentially the same thing in terms of sugar during your workout. The Energy Beans cost more than the same amount of regular jelly beans, but have fewer ingredients (although most are still sugar), no artificial flavors (at least not the flavors I looked up), come in a one serving bag, and make you feel all fit and healthy when you eat them.
How do you know when you’ll need a little added carbohydrate during a workout? My answer is usually if the workout is longer than 90 minutes and higher than moderate intensity (which would be walking or cruising on the bike) or if you feel depleted or drained during your workout. Start with familiar, easy to digest foods and expedient with what works for you.
My favorite mid workout snack, despite making fun of them, is the Energy Beans or Gu Chomps (same thing as the Cliff Energy Blocks) for long runs and dried fruit for weight training. What are your go-to mid workout snacks?