Monday, April 20, 2009

Top 10 Nutritional Tips for Athletes (Part 1)

Tavis Piattoly, MS, LDN, RD
Team Dietitan: New Orleans Saints

Many athletes don't take into account the significance nutrition plays in improving performance, enhancing recovery, and reducing down time from injuries and illness. Combining a quality diet, the timing of specific nutrients (i.e. Protein and Carbohydrate), and smart supplementation with a well-rounded Strength and Conditioning program results in a healthier athlete who will perform at the highest level day in and day out. Below are 5 of my top 10 Nutrition Guidelines for the Athletes (Part 1).

1) Nutrition is your Secret Weapon

If you bought a new Mercedes, would you fill it up with 87 Octane or 93 Super Premium Gasoline? I also agree the finest gasoline will make your car run better and result in less mechanical problems. The same goes for quality nutrition and your body. Fueling your body with high quality nutrition provides you with a foundation to acheive optimal energy levels, improve muscle recovery, minimize your risk of illness (cold, flu, infection), and break records in the weight room. Here's a start on what I define as quality nutrition.

  • Fresh Produce (Fruits and Vegetables) - Eat 6-10 servings per day from whole foods.

  • Whole Grain Carbohydrates - Oatmeal, 100% Whole Grain Cereal, Sweet Potatoes, Whole Wheat pasta, Brown Rice, 100% Whole Wheat Bread.

  • Healthy Fats - Oils- Olive, Canola, Sunflower, and Safflower, Nuts (Brazil, Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Sunflower Seeds, Natural Peanut Butter (i.e. SmartBalance, Almond Butter), Low Fat Salad Dressings, Light Mayo

  • Lean Protein/Meat - choose from the following cuts of meat to lower your risk of heart disease and maintain a healthy performance weight- Chicken - preferably skinless white meat baked, grilled, or broiled- Beef - 93-96% extra lean ground meat, Filet, Flank, Eye of Round, or Sirloin- Fish - any fish baked, grilled, or broiled (Tuna, Salmon, Trout, and Halibut are best)- Pork - tenderloin or Center Cut Pork Chops- Turkey - Extra Lean Ground turkey or skinless white meat baked, grilled, or broiled- Deli Meats - Lean Roast Beef, Ham, or Turkey- Protein Powders - Whey or Casein Proteins (Muscle Milk Collegiate)- Wild Game - Venison (Deer), Buffalo or Bison- Egg Whites or Egg Beaters- Skim or Low Fat (1%) Milk- Lowfat Cottage Cheese- Vegetarian Hot Dogs, Sausage Patties, Burgers (i.e. Morningstar Farms)

2) Eat and Eat Often

In order to keep your body's gas tank full and maintain a high level of energy, eating every 3-4 hours will prevent your body from using muscle (protein) for energy and instead, burn fat. Additional benefits include maintaining a healthy blood sugar, prevention of overeating, and maintaining lean muscle mass. Skipping meals (going more than 4 hours without eating) causes the body to use muscle for energy which increases body fat and impairs performance. Have a plan by bringing healthy snacks to school to eat between meals, after practice, or lifting. Try some of the following snacks:

  • Peanut Butter or Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread

  • 1 Scoop of Whey Protein with low fat milk

  • Handful of nuts with Fresh fruit

  • Nutrition Bar (any around 200 calories with at least 10-15 grams of Protein)

  • Fresh Fruit with a piece of low fat string cheese

  • Lean Beef Jerky (2-3 ounces) with fresh fruit
3) Breakfast is for Champions

You've been hearing this for years from your parents, teachers, and coaches. They got it right. Not only is breakfast the most important meal, it could be the biggest mistake if you decide not to eat it. What time was your last meal the previous night? If your last meal was 9:00 or 10:00 pm, going until 12:00 pm the next day results in 14-15 hours of fasting. Remember what happens when we skip meals? Now you're in continuous muscle burning mode. Now combine skipping breakfast with an early morning lifting session on an empty stomach and you will see the negative impact it has on performance. Doing so increases the risk of you eating larger portions at night when you are less active, promoting the storage of body fat and the potential for weight gain. Start the morning with a well rounded breakfast (egg whites, oatmeal, whole grain cereal, fresh fruit, 100% juice, whole wheat toast). If you have an early morning lifting session and have trouble eating whole food, take 1 scoop of whey protein with water or lowfat milk and a piece of fresh fruit to activate your muscle tissue.

4) Time your Nutrients for Greater Muscle Gains and Recovery

The timing of nutrients, especially protein and carbohydrates, are extremely important to repair damaged muscle tissue caused by an intense weight lifting session. Having a combination of protein and carbs immediately post workout can improve muscle recovery by 250% as opposed to not consuming calories. You have a small window of opportunity after your workout to optimize recovery so be sure to grab a shake or eat a meal within 30-60 minutes. Waiting longer than 2 hours after your workout to refuel your body causes your body to breakdown more protein than it will rebuild. A ratio of 3 or 4:1 grams of carbohydrate to protein has been proven to facilitate protein synthesis (muscle repair) and the refueling of glycogen (your body's gas tank). Here are some convenient post workout options to ensure recovery is acheived.

  • Chocolate Milk - Milk protein contains the amino acid Leucine, which is the mostimportant Amino Acid to promote muscle protein synthesis

  • 20-30 Grams of Whey Protein + Sports Drink

  • Muscle Milk Collegiate Ready to Drink Shake with a banana

  • Balanced Meal (Lean Protein, Complex Carbohydrates, Fruit, Veggies)
5) Skip the Alcohol

Although most college athletes are not of age to drink, I'm a realist and realize some of you will celebrate a big win with a night of heavy drinking. Doing so could significantly impair future performance. In a matter of fact, one night of heavy drinking could off-set the muscle gains acheived through one week of intense strength training. Here are the negative effects alcohol has on performance.

  • Decreases Growth Hormone and Testosterone production - these are hormonescritical for muscle growth and development

  • Increase storage of body fat

  • Increases cravings for fatty foods

  • Increases protein breakdown

  • Impairs cognitive function, motor skills, balance, and coordination

  • Promotes dehydration

  • Contains 7 calories per gram which could lead to significant weight gain if consumed on a regular basis and in abundance.
If you do choose to drink, here are some strategies to minimize the negative effects:

  • Drink a glass of water between drinks to stay hydrated

  • Avoid mixing liquor with Juice, Soda, or Tonic water to avoid extra calories

  • Stick with clear liquors (i.e. Vodka) and mix with diet sodas or Club Soda

  • Choose light beers instead of regular or dark beers

This is Part 1 of the Top 10 Nutrition Guidelines for Athletes. For additional questions, feel free to contact me at

Information provided by: Tavis Piattoly, MS, LDN, RD Team Dietitian, New Orleans Saints.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vegetarianism: A Cause For Concern

While many adolescents and young adults opt for a vegetarian diet because of its healthful effects on the body and digestive processes, a recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association discusses the possibility that a vegetarian diet may be at the root of a more serious issue, an eating disorder.

Click on the link belowto read the report entitled: The Dark Side of Vegetarianism