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.



Friday Favorites

Welcome to round two of Friday Favorites! How was your week? I just watched the Republican Debate and now I feel angry. So lets focus on some positive news instead!

Feel Good Friday

Curvy Barbie is here! She’s not all that curvy, but at least it’s a step in the right direction…


You Do Not Need to “Deserve” the Cake A must read if you’ve ever struggled with negative thoughts surrounding food.

Are you having a hard time finding healthy and budget friendly meals? Here are Five Healthy Meals Cheaper than Fast Food.

Still watching the Biggest Loser? I hope you reconsider after hearing how the contestants are actually treated. Not to mention it gives viewers completely unrealistic weight loss goals. The Brutal Secrets Behind the Biggest Loser. 

Good Eats

How amazing do these Smoothie Bowls look? Eating with a spoon versus sipping with a straw wins every time.


Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes. Yum! Love pancakes, but I’m usually left feeling somewhat unsatisfied after devouring a carb fest. These high protein pancakes solve that problem!


Snack time! Super Bowl is just around the corner and I’m definitely making these Pretzel Nuggets!


I recently discovered PB and J chocolate bars at TJ’s. So good! Now I have to try this homemade version of Peanut Butter and Jelly Cups.

pbcupsLast but not least Citrus Salad with Orange Poppy Seed Dressing. Because we all need more salad in our lives. And I have a lot of oranges from a friend’s tree to use up!


Have a great weekend friends! Any fun plans? Feel free to share some of your best blog finds from this week in the comments!

5 Food Labeling Myths You Are Falling For

Food Labeling Myths www.nuttynutritionandfitness.com

Have you heard about the lawsuit over Cheerios Protein? General Mills is being sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest because Cheerios Protein doesn’t actually contain as much protein as the front of the package claims. Not to mention, when you eat cheerios Protein you also get a lot more sugar and calories. Sometimes we are tempted to buy a product just based on that front of the box health claim, but often times those claims are misleading. Here are five food labels you should think twice about.

1. Protein. We are a nation obsessed with protein. I also bought that box of Cheerios Protein because I figured, hey, Cheerios are good, Cheerios with a little more protein must be better, right? Wrong! The problem is that when foods have protein added to them they don’t taste good. And no one wants to eat bad tasting food, no matter what health claim it has. Enter our lovely friend’s sugar and salt. In order to mask that yucky synthetic protein taste, General Mills adds sugar, and lots of it. I’m talking 17 grams of sugar versus one (in original Cheerios). I’m not trying to hate on General Mills, I actually love cereal. I’m simply saying that you shouldn’t buy a product just because it is high in protein (because it is likely high in other things too).

2. Clean-Eating. Health nuts love to eat “clean.” They also love to talk about clean eating and post pictures on Instagram of their #cleaneating #paleo meals. While I do appreciate healthy eating, I do not appreciate calling your food clean. Your kitchen counter should be clean, not your food. Sally at Real Mom Nutrition understands exactly how I feel about this subject. Check out her post “Why I don’t Love the Term Clean Eating.”

3. Hormone-Free. If you see the label hormone-free on chicken you are being tricked. All chicken in the United States is free of added hormones (of course, chickens produce their own hormones in a similar way as humans). Additive hormones are banned by the FDA in poultry and have been for the last fifty years. Yes chickens are far bigger than they were 50 years ago but this is primarily due to selective breeding (1).

4. Natural. I have written about the problem with the natural label before, and I will probably write about it again. There is no standard definition of what natural is or isn’t. To me, an apple picked off of a tree is natural, but to others, grape flavored aspartame water is natural. You decide. But I implore you, do not let the front of the package decide for you.

Aquaball naturally flavored water drink
Aquaball naturally flavored water drink

5. Sugar-free. If something is labeled as sugar-free they likely are not deceiving you. The problem is sugar-free products are usually heavy in artificial sweeteners. There is a lot of mixed research on artificial sweeteners (2). Some studies claim they can be an effective weight loss aid, while many conclude the exact opposite. My take on artificial sweeteners is proceed with caution. It is important to remember that just because something is labeled sugar-free does not give you the green light for an all-out binge.

What do you look for on the label? Have you been fooled by any of these products or claims? I would love to hear from you!



Protein Powder: Love It or Leave It?

Protein Powder: Love It or Leave It?

The minute you walk into the gym, what do you see? Before the treadmills, the weights, and the men admiring their bulging muscles in the mirror, you probably have to pass the array of protein powders and supplements for sale. From the very start of your workout you are conditioned to believe that you need extra protein to make the most of your workout. As you walk to the drinking fountain you spy Mr. Muscles downing his protein shake, you overhear the personal trainer talking about protein, and you begin to question whether that water is really enough. Should you be drinking a protein shake too? Is protein powder the secret ingredient that will finally give you the perfect body you have always dreamed of? Let’s find out!

First things first, what is protein powder? It is a dietary supplement which usually has about 20-30 grams of protein per serving (although some types of powder have much larger amounts). It is generally marketed to athletes to enhance muscle gain and recovery after a workout. Interestingly, it is also marketed to people wanting to lose weight, vegetarians/vegans, and anyone that works out at all. It does not contain steroids, but it is not regulated by the FDA so it may not contain what it claims. Two of the most popular protein powders, whey and casein, are made from cow’s milk. When milk is processed into cheese, liquid whey is drained off and then spray dried to form whey protein powder. There are also some vegan powders which are made from peas, soy and hemp.

protein powder
Protein powder is not just for men! An example of marketing to women.

Second, how much protein do you actually need? The recommendation from the Institute of Medicine is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  A 150 pound person would need 55 grams of protein per day. Some research suggests that higher amounts may be beneficial for athletes or those looking to build muscle. Sports dietitians recommend increasing your intake to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Using this recommendation, a 150 pound person would need 75 grams of protein per day for optimal recovery and muscle building. Bodybuilders and personal trainers often times recommend amounts much higher than this. It is important to remember that just because something is good for you, it doesn’t mean that more is better. Eating 100 grams of protein per day will not equate to larger muscles than 75 grams per day, it will either be excreted through your urine or stored as fat. Very high protein intakes have been associated with gout, kidney stones, osteoporosis, some types of cancer, and can cause dehydration.

Finally, is there any benefit in consuming protein powder over protein foods? No. There is absolutely no nutritional advantage of consuming the powder versus the food. Thirty grams of protein from a four ounce chicken breast may even benefit you more than a protein shake because chicken also offers you iron, potassium, B-vitamins, and most importantly, it tastes good. I know what you are saying, “but Nutty, I cannot quickly scarf a chicken breast the way I can down my shake after a workout.”  If you like your shake because it is quick and portable, some high protein foods which are also quick and portable are Greek yogurt, nuts and nut butters, hard boiled eggs, string cheese, beef jerky, and chocolate milk. If you are specifically looking for vegetarian protein foods here is a great list.

One last question I’m sometimes asked. Is protein powder Paleo? No! I don’t care how it’s advertised, Paleolithic people did not walk around with protein powder in their back pocket. Not to mention, if your protein powder tastes sweet, it either contains sugar or a sugar substitute like sucralose (Splenda). Which would definitely NOT be paleo.

The final verdict on protein powder: Leave It! Don’t waste your money, just eat real food!





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!