Athletes And Fuel – Feeling Fuelish?

runnerWhen it comes to fueling an athlete, there had been as many approaches as there are sports to play. Several respected bodies have merged philosophies to incorporate and publicize nutritional recommendations that can be adapted to most athletic pursuits. There is much about diet that is common sense, but the habits cultivated from family traditions just might fly in the face of that. Ethnic or regional cuisines may feature foods that upset the balance of both macro- and micro-nutrient intake. There is no doubt that the physiological needs of serious athletes have to be the first consideration in finding and combining the right fuels.

Optimal nutrition is mandatory if an athlete wants to realize his full potential during an event. Not only performance, but also recovery, is enhanced by food intake. A position paper issued jointly by the American Dietetic Association, the Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine, states, “Energy and macronutrient needs, especially carbohydrate and protein, must be met during times of high physical activity to maintain body weight, replenish glycogen stores, and provide adequate protein to build and repair tissue,” continuing that, “Adequate food and fluid should be consumed before, during, and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize exercise performance, and improve recovery time. Athletes should be well hydrated before exercise and drink enough fluid during and after exercise to balance fluid losses.”  (Rodriguez. 2009)

Your performance will be affected by genetics (over which you have zero control), training (over which you have total control), and diet (ditto). If you fail to consume enough energy, the body will use both fat and lean tissue as fuel. Strength and endurance will then suffer, and the immune system and endocrine glands will pay a stiff price. If you’re trying to lose weight, you still have to pay attention to energy intake. It takes calories to burn calories. This is especially true for women, who may experience amenorrhea and osteoporosis if they aren’t careful.

You can store about 400 to 600 grams of carbohydrates, or 1600 to 2400 calories’ worth. These glycogen stores can be burned in 1 ½ to 2 hours, after which fat is mobilized and you “hit the wall.”  You don’t want to get more than about 60 grams of carbohydrates (CHO) an hour while in a marathon, for example, or you might cramp, but your daily intake could be 5-7 grams per kilogram a day (about 3 grams per pound) for moderate exercise that lasts less than 1 ½ hours. For more intense exercise, like that marathon or a cycling event, that lasts more than a couple hours, you’ll need 8-12 grams of CHO a day per kilogram of body weight. Do this prior to, not during, an event. (Burke. 2011)  You might as well convert your body weight to kilograms now. Divide pounds by 2.2 and you’ll have it.

Eating before an event will enhance performance compared to fasting. Common sense says to eat lesser amounts an hour before an event than you would eat four hours ahead of a strenuous workout. Traditional wisdom says that consuming up to 1 gram of CHO per kg is fine one hour before the start; Consuming 4.5 gm/kg is O.K. four hours before. Take it easy on the fiber and fat, though, or you might experience GI distress. During practice sessions is the time to experiment with different foods to come up with effective refueling strategies that fit you.

Protein intake depends on the type and duration of exercise. 0.8 gm/kg/day is fine for the general public, but you’ll probably need more. An endurance athlete will need 1.2-1.4 gm/kg/day, while a weight lifter needs up to 1.7 gm/kg/day. More than 2.0 mg/kg can tax the kidneys and won’t make much physiological difference. It’s important to get protein right after exercise. There’s a 15 minute to 2-hour window during which muscle balance can be increased and muscle tissue can be repaired. Protein supplements are nothing more than a convenience. Besides, such supplements can become delivery systems for things you neither want nor need, like steroids and other illicit substances.

At the end of your performance you need to refill your buckets. That’s called recovery. Adding protein to your carbohydrate intake at a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1, CHO:Pro, can enhance recovery. (Ivy. 2001)  We know of a few marathoners who eat tuna sandwiches with chocolate milk. You might opt for a bowl of Cheerios and a banana, or a yogurt-fruit smoothie and pretzels. Listen to your body. You might end with steak and potatoes. Lemon meringue pie, and carrot cake, and oatmeal cookies, and…  Dream on….PSST, you can do without the sugar.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Baking With Butter (And Other Fats)

baking-with-butterDo you remember, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven”?  Reportedly, Pillsbury says it best. How many brands of refrigerated dough can there be?  Regardless of what comes from the oven, we want it to taste good. Sometimes that means throwing discretion to the wind and eating stuff we otherwise would avoid. Yeah, right. We all know that limiting simple carbohydrates like white flour and sugar is healthful, but once in a while a splurge disrupts the routine. In that case, we crave “mouth,” the sensation of satisfaction that a food is expected to give. In the unwarranted war against fats that erupted in the last century, commercial baked goods were loaded with sugars—yes, more than one—in a feeble attempt to restore the mouth feel lost to the missing ingredient. The only real accomplishment was to increase the simple carbohydrates and practically force a person to eat several pieces of pastry in the quest for the satiety of mouth. Fat, it was discovered, was never the problem in one’s diet. Sugars were…and are. Regardless of all the emotional baggage we carry about fats, it’s a baker’s best friend, realizing that savory cooking is art, baking is science (there is a formula from which there is little room for straying).

We need to know how fat works in baking before we can appreciate its talents. When flour and water are mixed together, gluten is activated to make the dough elastic, and even stringy. In bread baking, gluten is a welcome guest because it helps the loaf to hold its shape after it rises. In cake baking, less gluten activity is desirable to prevent chewiness. Without sufficient gluten, the carbon dioxide from the addition of yeast would burst the pockets and the bread would flatten. After manipulating the water-flour mixture by kneading or stirring, and if all the gluten that could possibly develop is actually developed at this point, we would have a tough and chewy, flat baked item. This is where fat enters the scene, albeit little in breads.

In baking sweet goods, particularly, fat is almost always mixed with flour before water or any other liquid is added. The fat coats the particles of flour so that water can’t touch them. This means that not all the gluten will develop, making the final product tender. What happened is that the fat “shortened” the strings of gluten that develop. This is the origin of the term, “shortening.”  But wait, there’s more. Fat helps to trap air bubbles, especially at the point when sugar and fat are combined. This is how cakes rise. Of course, add a leavening agent and they rise even more. You see this when the height of the cake exceeds that of the batter first put into the pan.

Fat has more than one form: animal fats are usually solid, plant fats usually liquid. It’s really nature’s way of storing energy and is a more compact storage unit than carbohydrates or proteins, having twice the energy per gram. The key in baking is to choose a fat that is good for you and for the recipe.

Mistakenly labeled an enemy of the cardiovascular system, butter is a fair source of fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A. It contains healthy fatty acids that support immunity, natural lecithin to help metabolize cholesterol, conjugated linoleic acid to fight disease, protects joints against degradation, and provides fatty acids essential to brain function (Lock, 2005) (Fallon, 2000). Less than two-thirds of butter is saturated fat. More than a fourth is monounsaturated, and only very little is polyunsaturated. American butter must be at least 80% fat; as much as 85% for European. It’s that 15% of water that makes a huge difference in butter’s performance in baked goods. Chocolate chip cookies baked with butter will be flatter and crisper than those baked with a less watery fat, such as canned vegetable shortening.

The taste of butter is its selling point. It can be mixed with other shortenings, too. In pie crusts, butter has to be kept cold when you work with it because it’s a more brittle fat than lard or vegetable shortening, and too much will melt into the flour, changing the texture.

What cows are fed makes a difference in the quality of the butter, which explains the inclination of some people to buy European, notably Irish, butter that comes from pasture-fed cows. European butter has more butterfat and less milk solids and water, yielding a more flavorful product. If anything, it’s the milk proteins that cause health concerns, not the fat. Some of the puzzlement about butter is caused by intrusion into the butter industry by… the government (Nuben, 1999).

Margarine is cheap, easy to make, labor-moderate and phony. Because it’s a trans-fat and has little character, we avoid it altogether.

Lard has a better lipid profile than you’d imagine. It has less saturated fat than butter, and more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. What it does for pie crust is gustatory delight. Even when cold, lard is comparatively soft, thus enveloping most of the flour particles and inhibiting the formation of gluten, resulting in the flakiest pie crust. What happens is that it separates the flour and water long enough for the steam to keep layers of lard and flour farther a part. If you’re interested, buy fresh lard and use it quickly because it isn’t a good keeper. You might not want to use lard in cakes because its large crystalline structure makes a sizeable grain, and we don’t want a flaky cake. Suet is the bovine counterpart of lard.

Oils, such as canola and olive, are good at shortening, but poor at trapping air bubbles, so they’re not recommended for all baked goods. It is possible to substitute one fat for another, and experimentation will help you decide on what you like. With pie crusts, whatever makes it tender also makes it less flaky. Covering the flour with fat will make the crust tender. That happens with overworking the dough, either from kneading by hand or flattening with a rolling pin. Leaving the clumps of flour and fat alone will separate the crust into layers that will come apart where the fat was. Getting a crust that is both tender and flaky is up to the baker. That is the art of the science.

Even the one or two percent change in fat content that American butter may have experienced over the years has made a change in the way baked goods come out of the oven. If you decide to experiment with combinations of fats, let us know the results. We never turn our noses at baked fruits.


Chris A. Nubern
American Butter Institute Market Situation & Outlook
Third Quarter 1999. Volume 2, Number 3

Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD
Why Butter Is Better
01 January 2000

Haug A, Sjøgren P, Hølland N, Müller H, Kjos NP, Taugbøl O, Fjerdingby N, Biong AS, Selmer-Olsen E, Harstad OM.
Effects of butter naturally enriched with conjugated linoleic acid and vaccenic acid on blood lipids and LDL particle size in growing pigs.
Lipids Health Dis. 2008 Aug 29;7:31. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-7-31.

Kala AL, Joshi V, Gurudutt K
Effect of heating oils and fats in containers of different materials on their trans fatty acid content.
J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Aug 30;92(11):2227-33.

Lock AL, Horne CA, Bauman DE, Salter AM.
Butter naturally enriched in conjugated linoleic acid and vaccenic acid alters tissue fatty acids and improves the plasma lipoprotein profile in cholesterol-fed hamsters.
J Nutr. 2005 Aug;135(8):1934-9.

Przybylski O, Aladedunye FA.
Formation of trans fats during food preparation.
Can J Diet Pract Res. 2012 Summer;73(2):98-101.

United States Standards for Grades of Butter
Effective August 31, 1989

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

What’s The Big Deal If My Insulin Spikes?

complex-carbsInsulin is the pancreatic hormone responsible for distributing the carbohydrates you eat in the form of glucose, whose job is to get inside each cell to provide the fuel you need for energy. If the glucose inside a cell is not burned because of inactivity, that which is floating around has no place to go, so it gets into trouble. If it then creates advanced glycation end products*, cells get crystallized like the topping of a crème brulee. That can make cell membranes brittle. If that happens, blood vessels and organs lose resilience and cause problems, such as high blood pressure. Even heart failure can result if the left ventricle stiffens. If carbs don’t get burned, they can get stored as fat because insulin likes to store things. Just like a squirrel, eh? The more insulin you have, the more storage goes on and the more fat builds up. After a while, cells get tired of being teased by insulin, expecting glucose to be escorted in, but frustrated in their anticipation because the old glucose still hasn’t been burned. Now the cells ignore the insulin and become resistant to its serenade. That is the start of type 2 diabetes. A big belly promises big problems. How do you feel about sticking yourself with a needle every day?

*Advanced glycation endproducts—AGE’s—are made when sugars react with proteins or amino acids, without the control of an enzyme, in a process called glycation. This is the equivalent of browning food in a sauté pan or in the oven, and is equally irreversible. When proteins accumulate AGE’s, they do, in fact, turn brown. Because they are cross-linked, the body cannot break them down. As a result, tissues lose tone and resiliency, and destruction begins.

How did this ever happen to me? Probably from simple carbohydrates. You know what they are—foods made from one or two sugars, having very little nutritional value. They’re digested faster than the blink of an eye, and demand immediate burning or they get stored as…well, you know. One-sugar carbs include fructose, galactose and glucose. Two-sugar carbs are lactose, maltose and sucrose (table sugar). Got white flour, honey, milk, candy, chocolate, fruit juice, fruit, jam/jelly, soda, packaged cereal, biscuits or molasses in the pantry?  You’ve got simple carbohydrates. That includes cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pies, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. The fibers, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in real, honest-to-goodness fruits bail them out…mostly. But the same can’t be said about juices, especially apple.

How about moderation? How about it? Try giving up wheat—that’s white flour—for a week and see what happens. Replacing white sugar with artificial sweeteners, by the way, might be upsetting the apple cart from another angle. If the brain is fooled into thinking something sweet has been eaten, it’ll still signal insulin to start flowing. At this point, insulin really has nothing to do, so it makes you hungry in order to get some glucose to carry. Now, what? You just took in more calories than you need. They get stored as…well, you know.

Carbohydrates include sugar, starch and fiber, the last not able to be broken apart into simple sugars, so it passes through without being digested. Fibers, both soluble and insoluble, provide no nourishment, but they do promote health. There isn’t much fiber in breads and sweets, but there is in vegetables, legumes and whole grains, the latter associated with increased insulin sensitivity (Liese, 2003) (de Munter, 2007). Restricting carbohydrates in favor of fats and proteins will not only help to control insulin spikes, but also to make your trousers bigger (Foster, 2003) (Samaha, 2003). If you’ve heard about drinking vinegar after a carb-studded repast, you might be interested to know that it seems to help control spikes (Ostman, 2005) (Leeman, 2005), but that’s a topic for another time.


Jeroen S L de Munter, Frank B Hu, Donna Spiegelman, Mary Franz, Rob M van Dam
Whole Grain, Bran, and Germ Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Cohort Study and Systematic Review
PLoS Med 4(8): e261. 2007

Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, McGuckin BG, Brill C, Mohammed BS, Szapary PO, Rader DJ, Edman JS, Klein S.
A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity.
N Engl J Med. 2003 May 22;348(21):2082-90.

Foster-Powell K, Holt SH, Brand-Miller JC.
International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Jul;76(1):5-56.

Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, Manson JE, Albert CM, Rexrode K, Hu FB.
Low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease in women.
N Engl J Med. 2006 Nov 9;355(19):1991-2002.

Johnson LW, Weinstock RS.
The metabolic syndrome: concepts and controversy.
Mayo Clin Proc. 2006 Dec;81(12):1615-20.

Leeman M, Ostman E, Björck I.
Vinegar dressing and cold storage of potatoes lowers postprandial glycaemic and insulinaemic responses in healthy subjects.
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Nov;59(11):1266-71.

Liese AD, Roach AK, Sparks KC, Marquart L, D’Agostino RB Jr, Mayer-Davis EJ.
Whole-grain intake and insulin sensitivity: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;78(5):965-71.

Maki KC, Rains TM, Kaden VN, Raneri KR, Davidson MH.
Effects of a reduced-glycemic-load diet on body weight, body composition, and cardiovascular disease risk markers in overweight and obese adults.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;85(3):724-34.

Ostman E, Granfeldt Y, Persson L, Björck I.
Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects.
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Sep;59(9):983-8.

Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, Chicano KL, Daily DA, McGrory J, Williams T, Williams M, Gracely EJ, Stern L.
A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity.
N Engl J Med. 2003 May 22;348(21):2074-81.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Chocolate Covered Prevention

dark-chocolateChocolate consumption can reduce cardiac risk by a third, according to a very recent pronouncement based on meta-analyses of previous works.  Scientists report that chocolate could be a viable factor in the reduction of heart disease and metabolic syndrome by virtue of its polyphenol content, keeping company with fruits and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, wine and teas.  The scientists who offered this report were careful to note that none of the seven trials that were examined had followed all the hallmarks of the scientific protocol, including control and randomization, meaning that a control group / trial group selection was not done to eliminate bias in treatment.  On the other hand, empirical results were used to support the hypotheses.

Although he commented that additional, randomized and controlled studies are needed to ascertain these results, lead scientist, Oscar Franco, working at England’s Cambridge University, said that, “…levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.”  After looking carefully at more than one hundred thousand study participants and examining their risks for CVD, diabetes, stroke and metabolic syndrome, Franco and his group noted that, “The highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease…and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels.”   Based on these observations, levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.

This is not the first study to compliment chocolate for its inherent character, but it does make the loudest presentation.   It’s the polyphenols in cocoa that are the heroes, a class of compounds that includes the bioflavonoids (of which there are a few thousand), lignins, and tannins.   The flavonoids in chocolate comprise the highest concentration among commonly consumed foods—more than ten percent of the weight of cocoa powder.  Among them, catechin and epicatechin, two of the procyanidin flavonoids, are among the most abundant, and are also found in tea.  These flavonoids oppose free radical injury because of their antioxidant effect, but also have been found to lower total cholesterol, to reduce blood pressure, to inhibit sticky platelets, and to improve blood flow to vital organs.  (Pryde. 2011)  One anti-hypertensive attribute of cocoa is the activation of nitric oxide, a gas that occurs in the body naturally, which is released from vascular epithelial cells to inhibit muscular contraction and thereby induce relaxation of blood vessels.  (Corti. 2009)  (Buijsse. 2010)

Flavonoids exist in all plant foods, where they shield a plant from environmental insults and offer the means to repair damage.  When we consume these plants, the benefit passes to us, including the capability to resist oxidative damage from things like cigarette smoke, vehicular and factory discharge, and poor dietary choices.  Some chocolate flavonoids may be lost to processing, but manufacturers are looking to control that.

Research at Harvard Medical School looked more closely at subclinical coronary disease and diet, finding an inverse relationship between calcified plaque and chocolate consumption.  (Djousse. 2011)  Those who consumed dark chocolate—never milk chocolate—once or twice a week (about an ounce at a time) demonstrated a greater positive result than those who consumed it less than three times a month.  The inclusion of chocolate in so stellar a group as green tea and soy as contributors to heart health is no small feat, considering that chocolate is more of a snack food than part of a meal.  That it was seen to lower diastolic blood pressure as well as systolic is a feather in its cap.  (Hooper. 2008)

We have to keep in mind that chocolate is relatively high in lipids, which means it’s high in calories.  The saturated stearic acid constitutes one-third of the fats in cocoa butter, but has zero influence on cholesterolemic response.  Another one-third fat fraction in cocoa is oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, followed by the last third, palmitic acid, which is saturated but self-limiting, even though it is the first fatty acid produced during lipogenesis (the synthesis of fatty acids by the body).  In the presence of linoleic acid (an omega-6) at 4.5% of calories (~90 calories), palmitic acid has no effect on cholesterol levels.  (French. 2002)  So, the calories in chocolate can be healthy. But we must be reminded not to have too much of a good thing.


Adriana Buitrago-Lopez, Jean Sanderson, Laura Johnson, Samantha Warnakula, Angela Wood, Emanuele Di Angelantonio, Oscar H Franco
Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis
BMJ 2011; 343:d4488 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d4488 (Published 29 August 2011)

Moira McAllister Pryde and William Bernard Kannel
Efficacy of Dietary Behavior Modification for Preserving Cardiovascular Health and Longevity
Cardiol Res Pract. 2011; 2011: 820457.

Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Lüscher TF
Cocoa and cardiovascular health.
Circulation. 2009 Mar 17;119(10):1433-41.

Buijsse B, Weikert C, Drogan D, Bergmann M, Boeing H.
Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults.
Eur Heart J. 2010 Jul;31(13):1616-23.

Djoussé L, Hopkins PN, North KE, Pankow JS, Arnett DK, Ellison RC.
Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with prevalent coronary heart disease: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study.
Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;30(2):182-7.

Djoussé L, Hopkins PN, Arnett DK, Pankow JS, Borecki I, North KE, Curtis Ellison R.
Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with calcified atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries: the NHLBI Family Heart Study.
Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;30(1):38-43.

Hooper L, Kroon PA, Rimm EB, Cohn JS, Harvey I, Le Cornu KA, Ryder JJ, Hall WL, Cassidy A.
Flavonoids, flavonoid-rich foods, and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jul;88(1):38-50.

French MA, Sundram K, Clandinin MT.
Cholesterolaemic effect of palmitic acid in relation to other dietary fatty acids.
Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2002;11 Suppl 7:S401-7.

Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen CL.
Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health.
J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 Feb;103(2):215-23.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.