A Whole Foods Approach To Sports Nutrition: What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

Do your New Year’s Resolutions include kicking up your workout routine a notch? If they do, that is great! But equally as important as the workout is what you are eating. Proper nutrition is essential to getting the results you want in the gym or out on the playing field. With personal trainers selling supplements, CrossFitters pushing Paleo, and a new diet popping up every month, its hard to decipher what is actually healthy and what is just hype. Here are four expert tips to help you get the most out of a pre-workout meal.

  1. Don’t shun carbohydrates. I know we are constantly being told carbs make us fat. But it’s just not true. Eating more calories than we burn makes us fat. Carbs provide our body with a quick source of energy which is what we need while working out. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which enters our muscle cells and gives us fuel to workout at maximum capacity. Good sources of carbs to eat before a workout are fruit, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, potatoes (white or sweet), and yogurt.
  2. Keep it real. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods as much as possible. For example, eat an apple rather than an apple flavored Nutri-Grain bar. Although I think bars serve their purpose, they shouldn’t be your number one go to. If you are “keeping it real” that also means tossing protein powders, “pre-workout shakes” and anything that doesn’t actually resemble food. If you can buy it at GNC, but not the farmers market, that is a good indicator that it is not a real food. Aside from shakes and powders having no nutritional advantage over eating a well balanced meal, there are risks associated with supplements such as kidney and liver failure. Although rare, it does happen and it is not worth the risk.
  3. Hydrate hydrate hydrate! It’s best to be well hydrated before beginning a workout. Try to drink 16 ounces of fluids a few hours prior to exercising and then 1 cup of water in the half hour before. If you are exercising for one hour or less plain water provides adequate hydration. If sweating heavily or exercising for prolonged periods of time a sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes is a better choice. Hydration needs are different for every individual and vary based on the type of workout you are doing. One of the best indicators of hydration is urine color; as my sports nutrition professor always said, your pee should be “light lemonade.” If it’s darker, you should start increasing your fluid intake before and during exercise.
  4. Timing matters. What and how much you should eat before working out varies based on how much time you have. If you are eating dinner at 5 pm and working out at 7 pm, it is likely that you don’t need any additional food. If you are working out straight after work at 5 pm and your last meal was at 12 noon, it is a good idea to have a pre-workout snack. Personally, if I’m working out after work I’m usually ravenous. So I eat an apple or granola bar on the way to the gym. I’m generally still hungry after that apple, but once I start working out I forget about my hunger and enjoy the sweat. This snack should mainly focus on carbs, but can have a bit of protein and healthy fats thrown in as well. If your workout is primarily strength based you will want to include more protein to aid with muscle recovery. If you do more cardio (like an hour long run) your snack should be mainly easy to digest carbs. Here are some good examples.

Pre-workout snack for cardio (<1 hour before workout): 1 banana or apple, 1 Tbsp nut butter, 1 cup of water

Pre-workout snack for strength training (<1 hour before workout): 1 cup Greek Yogurt, handful of berries or sliced fruit, 10 almonds

Pre-workout meal for cardio (2-3 hours before working out): 4 ounces baked chicken or fish, 1 cup brown rice, green salad with dressing, small dinner roll, 16 ounces water

Pre-workout meal for strength (2-3 hours before working out): 6 ounces baked chicken or fish, 1/2 cup brown rice, 1 cup roasted veggies in olive oil, 8 ounces water or milk

I hope this guide helps with your sports nutrition needs. Stay tuned for the next blog to learn what to eat after your workout.



Top 4 Diet Myths Debunked

In today’s hyperconnected world we are bombarded with health and diet information. Everyone from Dr. Oz to your next door neighbor is a self-declared nutrition expert. (Have you noticed that I’m not so fond of Dr. Oz?) While it’s great that we have easy access to health information, some of it may not always be true. Here are some common diet myths debunked.

I like to eat my sushi with a fork at 8 PM

 Myth: Eating after 8 P.M. will make you gain weight.

Truth: It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat. When it comes to losing weight what matters most is the total amount of calories consumed versus the total amount of calories burned. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight; regardless of when those calories were consumed. Your body is constantly burning calories (even when you sleep) so food eaten late at night will not “stick” anymore than food eaten in the morning.

However, many people do tend to overeat at night, whether it be from boredom or stress. If you find that you are a “night eater” it may be a good idea to set a limit of not eating past a certain hour so you do not exceed your overall calorie requirement. Next time you want to grab an evening treat ask yourself, am I truly hungry or am I just bored?

Brown or White. Which is better?
Brown or White. Which is better?

Myth: Brown sugar is healthier for you than white sugar

Truth: The brown sugar sold at grocery stores is actually white granulated sugar with added molasses. Brown sugar contains the same amount of calories and sugar as white sugar. Similarly, there are no real health benefits of using maple syrup or honey instead of white sugar. Honey is useful for soothing a sore throat, but that’s another topic. Brown sugar, pure maple syrup, and honey do contain trace amounts of minerals. Unless you are downing a whole cup of maple syrup or honey (which I don’t recommend) the minerals are insignificant.

By the Numbers

1 cup white granulated sugar = 773 calories, 200 grams sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar = 836 calories, 213 grams sugar

1 cup pure maple syrup = 819 calories, 214 grams sugar

1 cup honey = 1031 calories, 278 grams sugar

As you can see the calories and sugar content of the first three products are similar. Honey exceeds white sugar by over 200 calories. Honey is a bit sweeter than white sugar so it is possible to use a smaller amount of honey and obtain the same sweetness.


Myth: Avoid carbohydrates (carbs) to lose weight

 Truth: Cutting out carbs will help you lose weight initially because you will be losing water weight. When reducing carbs your body will burn glycogen as opposed to glucose. Glycogen (the storage form of glucose) contains a lot of water and for the first couple of weeks you may see a big drop in your weight due to the water loss. If you continue to lose weight it is only because you are reducing your overall calorie intake, not because there is anything magical about cutting carbohydrates.

If it works, then why not do it? Carbohydrates are important for a balanced diet and they are a good source of fiber. Additionally, they are your main energy source when exercising. Carbohydrates are found in grains, fruits, vegetables, and milk products which provide essentials vitamins and minerals. Eating smaller portions of carbohydrates is okay, but eliminating them from your diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics a balanced diet should contain 50-60% of calories from carbohydrates, 25-30% calories from fat, and 15-20% calories from protein. If you have diabetes I would recommend going as low as 30-40% of total calories from carbohydrate.Chocolate Peppermint Cake

Myth: Eating a lot of sugar causes diabetes

Truth: If you already have diabetes, you do need to watch your sugar and total carbohydrate intake to manage your blood glucose. However, if you do not have diabetes, high sugar intake will not cause you to develop the disease. The main risk factors for Type II diabetes are being overweight or obese, having a sedentary lifestyle, and family history of the disease. It is recommended to consume a diet with low to moderate amounts of added sugar for overall health, as sugar contains zero nutrients but many calories. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars and men no more than 9 teaspoons. As a reference, one can of soda contains 9 teaspoons of added sugars.

Did any of these myths fool you? What other diet myths have you heard?

Glorious Gluten

bread caution Gluten has been on my mind lately, and I wasn’t too sure why until I remembered the TV show I watched last week. Parenthood. Do you watch it? Great show! But I digress…In the last episode of Parenthood there was a lot of talk about gluten free lunches for the kids. It was once believed that gluten may have played a role in hyperactivity/ADD/autism etc. in children. However, recent research suggests that this is not true (and may I say thank you to the writers of Parenthood for perpetuating that myth, not!)

So what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Yes, it is a protein; people have told me they avoid gluten because it is a “carb.” Nope, not a carb! Wheat products, which are mostly carbohydrates, do also contain small amounts of protein. Oatmeal does not contain gluten, neither does rice (white or brown), potatoes, or corn. It is still possible to consume plenty of carbs while following a gluten free diet. You may notice that oatmeal is sometimes labeled “gluten free” in the store. While oats are not made from wheat and do not naturally contain gluten they are usually processed in the same factory as wheat so they may be contaminated with gluten, unless specifically labeled “gluten free.”

On to the controversy. In America (especially Los Angeles), there has been an epidemic of gluten sensitivity or gluten allergies, as some people like to call it. The majority of these allergies are self-diagnosed. There is, however, a true autoimmune disease called celiac disease where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. For someone with celiac disease, it is very important to eat gluten free for his or her short and long term health. The diagnosis for celiac disease is based on a simple blood test. If that is positive, it is confirmed with an intestinal biopsy (not as scary as it sounds).

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. A scientist who did an experiment where he gave people meals with gluten and asked them to record their symptoms coined this term. The study subjects had a lot of symptoms after eating the meals with gluten. These symptoms ranged from diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue, abdominal pain, malaise, and the list goes on and on. If you know anything about scientific methodology you know that this is not a good study design! Just recently this same researcher performed another study, where he gave people gluten free meals without them knowing. Guess what? The subjects reported the exact same symptoms as they had when they were given meals with gluten. If you are interested in learning more about this, click here.RiceChex

I believe you should eat whatever makes you feel best. However, if you are going gluten free just to be trendy or because you think it will help with your constipation, you should think again. Here are some reasons not to go gluten free:

1. Whole wheat products are healthy and are a good source of fiber
2. It can create a problem for people who actually do have celiac because people think that eating gluten free is a casual thing, not a serious health issue
3. When a product which is not naturally gluten free (chips, cereal, bread) is made to be gluten free it is usually striped of fiber and has a lot of additives added to it in order for it to be palatable
4. Last but not least, gluten tastes good. Bread, pizza, cereal, do you really want to avoid these foods? (sorry to my friends with celiac disease)

I know you have probably already seen this clip on Jimmy Kimmel. But this video demonstrates my point so nicely. Check it out!