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Animal vs. Plant Protein: Which is King of the Fitness and Health World?

June 13, 2017

protein

We were fortunate to grow up in a healthy household (our parents were basically hippies minus the drugs). As such, we ate a mostly plant-based diet and consumed a lot of homemade granola. Our mom insisted that we eat protein at every meal so we would grow and be strong. When a meal didn’t contain animal protein, we got our protein from beans and legumes (what many now refer to as pulses). When we reached middle school, we learned that one of our new friends was a vegan and didn’t consume anything from animals, which made us wonder if the protein she derived from plants was the same as protein from animals.

Today, as registered dietitians, we find that our clients wonder the same thing—is plant protein the same as animal protein? Does the body use them the same way? If you become vegan, can you really get the quality protein that you need? Here are the answers to these questions and more…

Q: First things first. What does your body do with protein?

A: Your body uses protein, which it breaks down into a more useable form called amino acids, for nearly every metabolic process in the body.

Q: Do all proteins contain the same amino acids?

A: Just as all fruits and veggies contain different combinations of phytonutrients, different proteins vary in the types and amount of amino acids they contain. The body uses 20 different amino acids, which are designated as either essential or non-essential proteins. While your body can produce the non-essential amino acids, there are nine essential amino acids that you want to make sure you get from the food you eat. These essential amino acids are needed for the body to function at its best.

Animal proteins (e.g., poultry, fish, meat, dairy products, eggs and seafood) typically contain a good mix of the body’s essential amino acids, while plant proteins (e.g., pulses, nuts and seeds) are known as “incomplete protein” and tend to be low in some essential amino acids such as tryptophan, lycine, methionine and isoleucine.

Q: If plant proteins are low in some essential amino acids, how do vegans get adequate protein to prevent muscle breakdown (and even to build it)?

Because every food contains different amino acids, simply eating a wide variety of foods that contain plant protein throughout the day provides a range of the necessary essential amino acids. Vegans, in particular, should include foods daily from each of the following categories:

  • Pulses (beans and legumes)
  • Grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy

Q: Aside from amino-acid content, are plant and animal proteins the same for your overall health?

A: While animal proteins have a leg up in the protein department because they contain all nine essential amino acids, plant proteins seem to have an advantage when it comes to health benefits. Just as some plant proteins lack certain essential amino acids, some animal protein foods, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy foods (e.g., cheeseburger and a milkshake) are high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease when eaten in excess. By contrast, diets that are high in plant protein sources are associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. People who get most of their protein from plant-based sources are likely eating less cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated fat, while also being more likely to be living healthier lifestyles, both of which may attribute a good deal to the link with better health.

Weighing the Benefits

In addition to fiber, some of the winning nutrients in plant-based proteins are antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are not only critical in muscle recovery after a workout, they also protect cells from damage due to aging and help guard cells from disease. Animal proteins do not contain these added benefits.

Animal proteins do have some advantages, however, including vitamin B12, (which you can’t find in plants), heme iron (which is found mainly in meat and is much better absorbed than the non-heme iron found in plants) and often zinc and vitamin D (which are more difficult to get in plant protein foods). All of these nutrients are critical for optimal health.

Here’s some good news: If you eat a healthy diet, you can be a meat eater or a vegetarian and live to be a centenarian. However, because vegetarian diets are associated with added health benefits and a lower risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, most people could benefit by consuming a few more plant-based meals.

If you’re interested in incorporating more meatless meals into your diet, here are a few delicious options to try:

And here are a few healthy animal-based protein recipes worth trying as well:

The Nutrition Twins
The Nutrition Twins ContributorTammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

What Really Causes Muscle Spasms and Cramps?

Research helps explain the cause and best treatment of muscle spasms and cramps

Muscle spasms
Muscle spasms.

If you’ve ever had muscle spasms or muscle cramps, you know they can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm so forcefully that it results in a bruise on the skin. Most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle. A serious muscle spasm doesn’t release on its own and requires manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle. Spasms and cramps can be mild or extremely painful.

While they can happen to any skeletal muscle, they are most common in the legs and feet and muscles that cross two joints (the calf muscle, for example). Cramps can involve part of a muscle or all the muscles in a group. The most commonly affected muscle groups are:

  • Back of lower leg/calf (gastrocnemius).
  • Back of thigh (hamstrings).
  • Front of thigh (quadriceps).
  • Feet, hands, arms, abdomen

Muscle cramps range in intensity from a slight twitch or tic to severe pain. A cramped muscle can feel rock-hard and last a few seconds to several minutes or longer. It is not uncommon for cramps to ease up and then return several times before they go away entirely.

What Causes Muscle Cramps

The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:

  • Altered neuromuscular control
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte depletion
  • Poor conditioning
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Doing a new activity

Other factors that have been associated with muscle cramps include exercising in extreme heat.

The belief is that muscle cramps are more common during exercise in the heat because sweat contains fluids as well as electrolyte (salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium). When these nutrients fall to certain levels, the incidence of muscle spasms increases. Because athletes are more likely to get cramps in the preseason, near the end of (or the night after) intense or prolonged exercise, some feel that a lack of conditioning results in cramps.

Research Supports Altered Neuromuscular Control as the Cause of Cramps

While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism the leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC). Altered neuromuscular control is often related to muscle fatigue and results in a disruption of muscle coordination and control.

According to a review of the literature conducted by Martin Schwellnus from the University of Cape Town, the evidence supporting both the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps is not convincing. He reviewed the available literature supporting these theories and found mostly anecdotal clinical observations and one small case-control study with only 10 subjects. He also found another four clinical prospective cohort studies that clearly did not support the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses as the cause of muscle cramps. In his review, Schwellnus concludes that the “electrolyte depletion” and “dehydration” hypotheses do not offer plausible pathophysiological mechanisms with supporting scientific evidence that could adequately explain the clinical presentation and management of exercise-associated muscle cramping.

He goes on to write:

“Scientific evidence for the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is based on evidence from research studies in human models of muscle cramping, epidemiological studies in cramping athletes, and animal experimental data. Whilst it is clear that further evidence to support the “altered neuromuscular control” hypothesis is also required, research data are accumulating that support this as the principal pathophysiological mechanism for the aetiology of exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC).”

Treating Muscle Cramps

Cramps usually go away on their own without treatment, but these tips appear to help speed the healing process:

Preventing Muscle Cramps

Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:

Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.

Sources:

Cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) – altered neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion? M. P. Schwellnus. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009; 43:401-408.

Muscle Cramp. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00200.

  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp.
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle.
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops.
  • Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
  • Stretch regularly after exercise
  • Warm up before exercise
  • Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
  • Stretch the hamstring muscle: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
  • Stretch the quadriceps muscle: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)

7 Protein Sources That Aren’t Meat

I’m a big proponent of eating lots of protein. It’s a vital nutrient for our bodies, and it’s also a fantastic hunger buster. However, steak and burgers aren’t your only options. I’m Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and I have seven sources of protein that aren’t meat!

Why Is Protein Important?

Protein is a crucial macronutrient, and it’s found in many healthy and delicious foods. Most people know that meat is a protein, but some other protein sources might surprise you.

If you’ve heard the term “complete protein” (one with all nine amino acids that our bodies need) and are concerned that some of these sources may not be complete, have no fear! If you incorporate a variety of incomplete proteins into your diet, you’re likely to get all the aminos you need. Here are some of my favorite non-meat protein sources.

1. Greek Yogurt

Yogurt was never the star player on team protein until Greek yogurt entered the game. This yogurt is strained differently from regular dairy yogurt, so it retains more protein and less sugar. Plus, it has a thicker consistency. Plain Greek yogurt has about 24 grams of protein per cup. Impressive! Wondering how to enjoy this miracle food? Zazzle it up!

And for an easy breakfast bowl that you’ll flip for, check this out. Make it in a jar if you want to take it to go.

Peach Mango Bowl
Entire recipe: 323 calories, 7.5g total fat (0.5g sat fat), 124mg sodium, 53g carbs, 12.5g fiber, 32g sugars, 23.5g protein

1. In a medium bowl, mix 6 ounces (about 2/3 cup) fat-free plain Greek yogurt, 1 no-calorie sweetener packet (like Truvia), and a dash of cinnamon.

2. Top yogurt with 1 cup chopped peach and 1/2 cup chopped mango (both fresh or thawed from frozen), followed by 1/4 cup high-fiber bran cereal, and 1/2 ounces (about 2 tablespoons) chopped pistachios.

2. Beans

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, if it’s protein you’re after, eating beans is smart! Black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans are all good sources of protein, with around 12.5 grams per cup. Add them to salads, egg scrambles, and steamed veggies. Bonus: They’re good for weight loss!

3. Tuna

Make fish a part of your weekly menu. Tuna contains about 25 grams of protein per 4-ounce portion. (Salmon too!) If cost is a concern, canned/pouched tuna is a smart way to get that protein for less. It’s fantastic on salads, whole-grain crackers, and in this healthy noodle casserole.

Rockin’ Tuna Noodle Casserole
1/4th of casserole: 167 calories, 5g total fat (1g sat fat), 882mg sodium, 14g carbs, 4g fiber, 2g sugars, 16.5g protein

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8” x 8” baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. Drain and rinse 3 bags of House Foods Tofu Shirataki Fettuccine Shaped Noodle Substitute. Thoroughly pat dry, and roughly cut. Microwave for 1 minute, and pat dry again.

3. Add 1 wedge of The Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Light cheese, breaking it into pieces. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until melted, and mix well.

4. Drain and flake a 6-ounce can of albacore tuna packed in water.

Stir tuna into the noodles, along with 1/2 cup frozen peas, a 10.75-ounce can of 98 percent fat-free cream of mushroom condensed soup, and 1 tablespoon Parmesan-style grated topping. Transfer mixture to the baking pan.

5. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parm-style topping. Bake until hot and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.

If it’s salmon you’re looking for, did you know that you can prepare salmon baked in a packet of foil?

4. (Green) Soybeans

The king of beans by far is the soybean. Unlike other beans, it’s a complete protein! Mature raw soybeans contain a whopping 22 grams of protein per cup, and raw edamame has about 33 grams per cup.

 They make a perfect snack, and edamame is the first thing I order when I go out for sushi (which is often!). It’s one of my sushi dos!

5. Lentils

Another stellar source of protein is the mighty lentil. Lentils taste great and are nutritional powerhouses. One cooked cup has about 18 grams of protein. Just like beans, they can be eaten solo, made into dips, paired with chicken or fish, stuffed into potatoes, added to soups, and tossed with veggies or rice. For convenience, you can buy them already prepared. I love the ones from Trader Joe’s!

6. Meat Substitutes: Tofu, Seitan & Tempeh

You probably know about tofu, but if you haven’t heard about seitan and tempeh, you’re missing out. All of these contain a good dose of protein; seitan contains the most, with about 18 grams per 3-ounce portion. Seiten is a wheat gluten with a chewy, meaty texture. Tempeh is a soy product (like tofu). It differs from tofu in that it’s fermented and more flavorful, and it has a crumblier texture. Try them all and choose your favorite. Here’s an easy recipe made with tofu, but feel free to swap in one of the others!

Turbo Tofu Stir-Fry
1/4th of recipe (about 1 1/3 cups): 189 calories, 6.5g total fat (0.5g sat fat), 768mg sodium, 16.5g carbs, 4g fiber, 7g sugars, 13g protein

1. Drain a 12-ounce package of block-style extra-firm tofu, and lay it on a dry surface, with the shorter sides on the left and right. Vertically cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces. Horizontally cut each piece into 4 smaller pieces.

2. To make the sauce, in a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium/lite soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, a dash of ginger, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Whisk until cornstarch has dissolved.

3. Bring a skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to high heat. Add tofu and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes, gently flipping to evenly brown. Transfer to a large bowl, and cover to keep warm.

4. Add the following ingredients to the skillet: 4 cups frozen stir-fry vegetables, 3 cups frozen broccoli florets, and 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic. Cover and cook until hot, about 5 minutes.

5. Give the sauce mixture a stir and add to the skillet, along with the tofu. Cook and stir until sauce has thickened slightly and tofu is hot, about 3 minutes.

7. Eggs

You get 6 grams of protein from just one large egg! The egg whites contain a bit more protein than the yolk, and I often skip the yolks to save calories. Have eggs for breakfast to keep yourself satisfied until lunch. That’s the protein working for you! Eggs can even be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight, so why not get creative with them? Top a savory spinach and feta oatmeal bowl with one, or mix them up with veggies for an easy Mexican scramble.

For more guilt-free recipes, food finds, tips ‘n tricks, and more, sign up for free daily emails or visit hungry-girl.com!

 

 

Metabolism-damaging Foods


Fit Life /ACE Fit Share

 

May 26, 2017

Eat fiber and protein-filled meals. Check.

Drink green tea; add ginger, capsaicin and other anti-inflammatory and metabolism-enhancing spices to meals. Check.

Drink plenty of water. Check.

Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Check.

Incorporate interval training into workouts. Check.

Strength train. Check.

Make an effort to move more (take stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the water cooler, etc.) throughout the day. Check.

These lifestyle habits help keep the body’s metabolism at top speed, but it is also important to ensure that the foods you’re consuming aren’t having the opposite effect. Poor dietary choices can affect hormones, inflammation and gut bacteria, all of which can negatively impact your metabolism and cause fat gain.

To keep your metabolism in top working order, swap the following metabolism doozies for these metabolism-boosting actions:

Metabolism Don’t: Refined Carbs

refined-carbs-white-bread

If cookies, cakes, white breads, sugary cereals and jams are literally your jam, your metabolism and waistline may be taking a hit. These foods are stripped of their nutrients and fiber, and they lack protein; both protein and fiber are important players in a speedy metabolism because the body has to burn extra calories to break them down. Without protein and fiber, foods are digested quickly because the body doesn’t have to spend much energy to metabolize them. This metabolizing of the food you eat is known as the thermic effect of food and accounts for 10% of your total energy expenditure.

In one study, participants’ energy expenditure after eating multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese sandwiches (whole food) was compared to their energy expenditure after eating white bread and a processed cheese product (processed food). While the sandwiches contained an equal amount of calories, protein, carbs and fat, the processed meal resulted in 50% less after-meal energy expenditure. In addition to this metabolism downside, refined carbs offer little more than a short burst of energy followed by a crash, which is a disastrous recipe for having the energy to be active and to burn calories.

Refined carbs also raise blood sugar and promote inflammation that is associated with chronic diseases, which can unfavorably alter the body’s metabolism.

Metabolism Do: Swap refined and processed carbs like white breads, white flour, cookies and cake for unprocessed, wholesome, quality carbohydrates like fruits and beans, and whole grains like oats, quinoa, barley and millet. Other good choices include starchy veggies like potatoes, peas, and corn (non-starchy veggies are great, too, but they don’t have as many calories to provide long-term fuel for the body).

Wholesome, quality carbs keep your metabolism humming by providing long-lasting energy, thanks in part to their fiber, which slows digestion, prevents energy highs followed by energy crashes, and causes the body to have to burn extra calories to break it down. Beans, quinoa, barley and millet contain protein, which helps to keep energy levels stable while increasing the thermic effect. Unprocessed carbohydrates are packed with phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds, which fight disease and the damage associated with aging, so they keep all systems in your body working efficiently, including metabolism.

Metabolism Don’t: Sugary Drinks Containing High-fructose Corn Syrup

sugary-drinks-soda

Most people don’t realize that you can slurp down loads of calories from soda (or any caloric beverage) without your brain getting a signal that you’ve consumed calories and don’t need to eat more. Not only is that bad for your waistline, but getting too much sugar can also cause insulin resistance and excess fat accumulation in the liver and abdominal cavity. When your body gets a lot of glucose, it initiates a shift in your metabolism. The breakdown of fat is reduced and the synthesis of new fat begins. Simply, insulin takes excess glucose into fat cells and triggers the storage of fat.

According to the results of a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, high-fructose corn syrup, in particular, may be more damaging for the metabolism and could lead to obesity.

Metabolism Do: Drink water. You’ve heard this 100 times, because it’s true—every chemical reaction in your body relies on water. If you don’t get enough, your metabolism suffers and can’t work efficiently. Drink adequate amounts of water and your metabolism becomes a well-oiled machine.

If you need help consuming more water, try these flavorful boosts—all contain herbs or fruits that act as powerful anti-inflammatories to keep your body free of harm so your metabolism can function at its best.

Lemon Ginger Turmeric “Detox” Tea

Cucumber Blueberry Water Flush

Lemon Ginger Detox Drink

Vitamin C Infused “Detox” Water

Metabolism Don’t: Saturated Fats

saturated-fats-butter

Foods high in saturated fat (such as butter, full-fat dairy products, fatty beef, pork, poultry with skin, lamb and baked goods made with palm oils) often lack two important components that increase the thermic effect: protein and fiber. Moreover, saturated fats promote inflammation and contribute to clogged arteries, increasing one’s risk for heart attacks and heart disease and forcing the body to work less efficiently. This puts a strain on all systems in the body, including metabolism. Chronic inflammation leads to diabetes, cancer and obesity and worsens insulin resistance, which alters metabolism and encourages fat storage.

Metabolism Do: Swap saturated fats for omega-3s, which are found in fatty fish including salmon, herring, sardines, whitefish, tuna, walnuts and flaxseeds Omega-3s act as powerful anti-inflammatories and fight to undo the damage that saturated fats create. Aim to consume at least 3 ounces of omega-3-rich fish twice a week.

As you can see, the same foods and lifestyle habits that keep us healthy are the same ones that increase your metabolism. Simply by taking steps to be healthy, you’ll likely boost your metabolism as well!

The Nutrition Twins
The Nutrition Twins ContributorTammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, The Nutrition Twins®, share a passion to teach people how to eat healthfully and exercise so they’ll have energy to live happy lives. The twins have been featured as nutrition experts on Good Morning America, Discovery Health, Fox News, NBC, Bravo, CBS, The Learning Channel, FitTV, Oxygen Network, and Fox & Friends. They co-wrote The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure: Expert Advice and Tantalizing Recipes for Health, Energy and Beauty, The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop A Size & Get Healthier with Simple Low Sodium Swaps. The twins are both ACE Certified Personal Trainers, and members of the American Dietetic Association and several Dietetic Practice Groups.

Which Stretching Program Is Best for You?

May 18, 2017

In nearly 40 years as a fitness educator, I have never been sidelined by a significant injury, in spite of decades of high-impact classes, rigorous weight training, participation in competitive aerobics, and group exercise schedules that sometimes exceeded 25 hours per week. I attribute my longevity in this grueling business to one thing—cross-training all aspects of fitness, including flexibility.

We place great emphasis on cross-training cardiovascular and resistance conditioning, but flexibility is still an afterthought on many schedules. Although most facilities provide some kind of flexibility-oriented programming, options are often limited. Yoga is popular, and participants enjoy various degrees of flexibility while practicing it. However, while yoga improves range of motion and some aspects of flexibility, cross-training this aspect of fitness would lead to greater gains.

Today’s workouts are dominated by high-intensity, physically challenging movements. The rise of these programs has led to more injuries. A more effective stretching regime could help to minimize damage from overuse. On the other end of the spectrum, sedentary people may be dealing with muscle dysfunction and atrophy, along with limited ROM in some areas of the body. A varied stretching routine may remedy many of their difficulties. Regardless of fitness level, flexibility training is vital. Fascia makes up as much as 30% of a muscle’s total mass, and accounts for about 41% of a muscle’s total resistance to movement (Rahman et al. 2015). Fascial restrictions contribute greatly to mobility limitations, so a comprehensive program that includes a variety of stretching techniques should be part of any fitness regimen.

Stretching Techniques

There are many different stretching options to choose from, and the right program depends on genetic makeup, personal preferences, injury history, age, gender, weight, body type and activity level. Because movement occurs through many planes, not just forward and backward, it’s beneficial to stretch in as many positions as possible. Not all techniques are right for everyone, and some stretches are contraindicated for people with specific injuries; however, mixing and matching leads to the best results. Here are some of the most popular choices:

    • Ballistic stretching uses a fast bounce to push the body beyond its normal ROM. While this practice may be beneficial for certain athletes, it can increase the risk of injury for average fitness enthusiasts.

    • Dynamic stretching employs active movements through full ROM to stretch and prepare muscles and joints for activity. It helps to increase blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion.

    • Active Isolated Stretching involves extending a muscle, holding that position for 2 seconds and then returning to the starting position. This targets and lengthens the muscle without triggering the protective stretch reflex and subsequent reciprocal antagonistic muscle contraction, since the isolated muscle achieves a state of relaxation. If stressed too far too fast, however, the body will react. Therefore, AIS calls for multiple repetitions to build the body’s awareness.

    • Passive stretching uses outside assistance to achieve results. This “assistance” could be body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person or a stretching device. The key is to relax through the stretch while continuing to maintain pressure as the muscle lengthens.

    • Reciprocal inhibition involves stretching a muscle and then actively contracting the opposing muscle group. With this technique, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch, and you rely on the opposing muscle(s) to initiate the stretch.

    • Static stretching requires holding a stretch in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, somewhere between 15 and 90 seconds.

    • Isometric static stretching involves no movement. The technique is based on tensing the muscles that are being stretched.

    • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of flexibility training that involves stretching and contracting targeted muscles. It consists of a passive stretch, then a muscular force or contraction, and finally a second, deeper passive release.

  • Myofascial release uses stretching, compression, direct pressure and other techniques to release restricted areas of fascia, ideally creating a biochemical and mechanical change that allows for more efficient movement. Foam rollers and other niche products assist in targeting and releasing the tissue.

Stretching

Share the following cues and tips with your participants for best cross-training results:

  • Combine stretching techniques and see which ones work best for you.
  • Breathe in a manner that feels natural or enhances the techniques. Do not hold your breath.
  • Test your flexibility, and document any positive or negative changes to keep things in check.

Create a journal or take pictures/video.

  • Take your muscles only to a position where you can remain relaxed, never to a point of intense pain.
  • Stretch both sides of the body equally. If there is a need to focus on one specific area, add isolated work.
  • Regardless of the technique, start slowly and add intensity appropriately. The body will adapt, and tolerance will increase.
  • Don’t stretch tendons and ligaments to a significantly greater length, as this could compromise joint stability.
  • Be cautious and use good judgment when using myofascial release techniques. Going too hard or overworking a particular area can cause damage and inflammation. If you are sore days after you roll, or you are bruised, back off.
  • Stay well-hydrated.

For best practices when teaching stretching and additional methods for flexibility programming, please see “Why Cross-Train Flexibility?” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/why-cross-train-flexibility in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2017 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 15, Issue 6

Why Nutrition Is the Most Important Part of Fitness Eat Right to Change Your Body, Health, and Life

An Overview of Sports Nutrition

 

The food we eat plays a vital role in how we look and feel. Regular exercise is important but according to research, nutrition has the largest impact on our fitness. Using food as our medicine has become a popular theme for health improvement.

The trend is now to focus on healthy food intake as a primary fitness goal. When healthy eating habits become a lifestyle, we are healthier and happier. Eating right allows us to reduce body fat, lose a few pounds, feel more confident and reduce our risk of illness.

Chronic studies are indicating healthy food intake as the most important part of our fitness programs. Some physicians are teaching healthy eating habits/lifestyle as a way to improve overall health reducing obesity and related disease.

Food is Our Medicine

Eat Right for a Lean and Healthy Body. skynesher / Getty Images

Nutrient-dense foods or superfoods include lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates, and fats essential to our health. Superfoods are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Antioxidants are shown to reduce inflammation in our body helping us fight disease and illness. Inflammation is said to be the leading cause of many diseases. Powerful antioxidants in leafy greens and vegetables, for example, help detoxify the body removing harmful chemicals.

Some superfoods contain compounds that increase our metabolism for more efficient fat burning. Red peppers contain a molecule called capsaicin shown to enhance the rate we burn body fat.

Eating healthy food will not only help improve our health but also enable us to finally reach desired fitness goals.

How Do Quercetin Rich Foods Help?

Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant naturally occurring in a wide variety of plant foods. In fact, quercetin research indicates it to be one of the most potent antioxidants with numerous health benefits.

Many athletes supplement with quercetin to reduce muscle inflammation caused by intense workouts. According to a study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, quercetin supplementation significantly improved athletic performance, increased metabolic rate and lean mass among athletes.

The following foods are a rich source of quercetin:

  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Berries

Increase Your Metabolism Naturally

Your best fat burner is not going to come in a bottle but by eating foods containing certain compounds. We can increase the rate we burn fat naturally according to nutrition research.

Eating foods that stimulate and enhance the fat burning process will help us reduce fat more effectively. Adding metabolism boosting foods will be a great supplement to your existing workout and nutrition program.

The following foods are shown to increase our metabolism:

  • Hot peppers (active component capsaicin)
  • Green tea (active component caffeine)
  • Black coffee (active component caffeine)
  • Cold water (500 ml of water daily increased metabolic rate by 30%)
  • Whole grains (aiding component fiber and iron)
  • Yogurt (aiding component calcium and probiotics)
  • Apples (aiding component fiber)
  • Nuts and seeds (aiding component essential fatty acids)
  • Fatty fish (aiding component Omega-3 fatty acids)

Peanut Butter is a Superfood

Peanut butter just so happens to be the number one sports nutrition superfood. It contains healthy fat, is nutrient-dense and shown to provide long-lasting energy for optimal athletic performance.

Selecting natural or organic peanut butter is recommended to avoid added sugar and preservatives. Peanut butter is high in fiber and an excellent source of plant protein. It also contains niacin, folate, vitamin E and other essential nutrients and minerals.

Peanut butter contains quality nutrients and supplies lasting energy at 90 calories per 2 tablespoon serving. It also contains 7 grams of protein per ounce compared to other nuts only supplying 4 grams. Adequate protein intake is essential for muscle growth.

It is low in saturated fat and cholesterol making it a heart healthy food. Research indicates consuming 1.5 ounces of peanut butter per day may reduce the risk of heart disease.

What are Fitness Foods?

The term fitness food is interchangeable the superfoods. Eating a diet rich in fitness foods is essential to our health. Incorporating healthy nutrition and knowing what that means is vital to achieving a lean and healthy body.

The following is a favored list of superfoods among fitness enthusiasts:

  • Oats (high in fiber, improves digestion/increases metabolism)
  • Eggs (protein source, muscle building)
  • Greens (antioxidants, reduces inflammation)
  • Apples (antioxidants, reduces inflammation/increases metabolism)
  • Lean meats/fish (amino acids, protein source, muscle building)

Is Coffee Healthy or Not?

Should we drink coffee? This is a popular question and although not the best drink for some, overall studies show coffee as beneficial to our health and fitness.

Coffee contains antioxidants but also caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant shown to increase our metabolic rate. Many athletes are using coffee as a pre-workout drink to benefit from this effect. Low to moderate doses (1-2 cups) of coffee are shown to significantly improve athletic performance.

Drinking black coffee 30 minutes prior to exercise is said to have the best ergogenic results. It’s shown to improve our endurance and enable us to exercise longer.

Coffee is also indicated to improve our mental focus and increase energy levels. Clearer thinking promotes a more productive and effective workout. Coffee is also shown to reduce exercise-induced muscle pain.

Coffee also contains powerful antioxidants shown to reduce chronic disease and illness. Studies have shown it help individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease and to reduce the incidence of gallstones.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, it’s recommended to consult your physician if you are hypertensive, pregnant, have diagnosed heart disease, or are nursing prior to drinking coffee.

Eat Superfoods Daily

Superfoods play an important part in achieving and maintaining a healthy body. Nutritionists may vary in their lists of which foods are best but agree they’re all essential. Eating a wide variety of superfoods daily will satisfy nutrient requirements for optimal body functioning.

Start with the following top superfoods for improved health and fitness:

  • Oats (high in fiber, improved digestion, heart health)
  • Blueberries (antioxidants, reduces inflammation, cancer-fighting)
  • Apples (antioxidants, reduces inflammation, weight loss)
  • Green tea (antioxidants, increases metabolism, weight loss)
  • Flaxseed (essential fatty acids, increases metabolism, reduces inflammation)
  • Broccoli (antioxidants, cancer-fighting, detox)
  • Yogurt (calcium, probiotic, improved digestion, bone health)
  • Olive oil (monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)/heart health)
  • Beans (high in fiber, antioxidants, improved brain function)
  • Cinnamon (antioxidants, detox, healing spice)

Sources:

Di Noia J. Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:130390.

Emilio Ros, Health Benefits of Nut Consumption, National Institutes of Health, 2010

Erica R Goldstein et al., International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance, 1/27/10

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Water-Induced Thermogenesis, Michael Boschmann, 7/2/13

Coconut Milk Nutrition Facts Calories in Coconut Milk and Health Benefits

 

 

Is coconut milk healthy? The creamy liquid is a popular ingredient in soups, exotic drinks, and some health foods. But if you’re trying to watch your weight or reduce your fat intake, you might want to pay attention to coconut milk calories and nutrition. Then decide if the beverage is right for you.

Coconut Milk Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 tbsp (15 g)
Per Serving % Daily Value*
Calories 35
Calories from Fat 32
Total Fat 3.6g 6%
Saturated Fat 3.2g 16%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.2g
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 2mg 0%
Potassium 39.45mg 1%
Carbohydrates 0.8g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0.3g 1%
Sugars 0.5g
Protein 0.3g
Vitamin A 0% · Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 0% · Iron 1%
*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet

To understand coconut milk nutrition it’s important to understand what coconut milk is. It is not the liquid that you see right away when you open a coconut. Coconut milk is created when the meat of the coconut is grated and pressed. The fatty cream that results is sometimes blended with water to create coconut milk. Like dairy milk, coconut milk can be higher in fat or lower in fat depending on how it is blended.

Coconut milk nutrition depends on the variety and brand that you buy (or make at home).  Natural coconut milk has a higher fat content because it hasn’t been blended with other ingredients. One cup of unsweetened coconut milk (coconut cream) provides 560 calories, almost 58 grams of fat and over 51 grams of saturated fat.

But you may not use an entire cup of this kind of coconut milk. If you use it as cream in your coffee, and consume just a tablespoon of the creamy treat, you’ll only consume 35 calories and under 4 grams of fat (as indicated on the label).

So what about the low-calorie coconut milk brands that you see in the grocery store? Those coconut milk products are blended with water and other ingredients (like sugar) to make the beverage. Silk Original Coconutmilk provides 80 calories per cup, 5 grams of fat and 4.5 grams of saturated fat. Pacific Organic Coconut Non-Dairy Beverage is even lower in fat and calories with just 45 calories per cup, 4 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat.

Health Benefits of Coconut Milk

Some diet experts promote the health benefits of coconut milk. They say that real coconut milk (not blended with sugar and other ingredients), coconut cream, and coconut oil contain high levels of lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid. Some believe that lauric acid can have positive effects on your “good” HDL cholesterol.

But a large review of research studies was not able to confirm that claim. Researchers found that coconut oil can raise total and “bad” LDL cholesterol more than plant-based oils, but less than butter. They went on to say that consuming certain coconut products did not seem to increase the chances of heart problems. But they also cautioned that their findings probably weren’t applicable to a typical Western diet because of our eating habits and lifestyle.

So where does that leave you? Large health organizations like the USDA still recommend that we reduce our intake of saturated fat. Since coconut milk is very high in saturated fat, you may want to limit your intake of coconut milk.

Buying and Storing Coconut Milk

You’ll find coconut milk in different sections of the grocery store. You’ll find some brands of coconut milk beverages in the dairy aisle next to almond milk, soy milk, and other milk alternatives.

But you’ll also find coconut milk in cans in the baking or canned fruit section.

So what’s the difference? Coconut milk in cans is usually thicker, creamier and is often used in recipes. Most brands of canned coconut milk are unsweetened. The product in the dairy aisle might be thinner, may have added sugars or other ingredients and is often used instead of milk.

Cartons of coconut milk should be stored in the refrigerator according to manufacturer instructions and use by the “best by” date that you see stamped on the package. Coconut milk in cans can be stored in the pantry. But once opened, the milk should be refrigerated and used within a few days of opening.

Most manufacturers do not recommend freezing coconut milk.

Cooking With Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is commonly used in foods that are popular in southeast Asia. It is often included in curry sauces, it may be used to flavor rice or in seafood stews. Coconut milk is also a popular beverage and is often used as an ingredient in creamy drinks such as the pina colada.

Low-Carb Vegetarian Protein Foods

Are you a vegetarian interested in reducing the carbohydrate in your diet? Depending on what you’ve been eating before changing to a low-carb (or lower-carb) diet, you may have to pay more attention to getting enough protein, as some of the usual sources of protein for vegetarians, such as whole grains, come with a pretty high load of glucose (starch is basically long chains of glucose). If you eat eggs and/or dairy, getting enough protein isn’t difficult. Vegan folks will have to pay closer attention.

As most vegetarians know, it isn’t just the total amount of protein that is important, but the types of protein. Our bodies need a variety of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and most plant foods are low in one or more of them relative to what our bodies need. This is one of the reasons it’s important not to rely too heavily on any one plant-based protein source. In addition, proteins from some plant foods aren’t as easily digested or absorbed (this is usually referred to by such closely-related terms as biological value, net protein utilization, bioavailability, and others). This means that the amount of protein in the food may not be the amount your body is actually getting, so it’s good to have a bit of a cushion.​

1

Eggs

Pan of fried egg, with cherry-tomatoes and parsley
shakim888/istockphoto

Eggs are an excellent source of protein, with a distribution of amino acids that is considered “ideal” for the human body. Additionally, eggs are abundant sources of many other nutritional elements, some of which are difficult to get (especially in an easily-absorbed form) from plant sources. These include vitamin B12, choline, vitamin A (retinol) vitamin D, and easily-absorbed forms of lutein and zeaxanthin. If you choose eggs from hens which eat a varied diet (preferably “pastured” hens), the nutrient content of the eggs will be higher. A large egg has 6 grams of protein and less than a gram of carbohydrate.

2

Dairy Foods (Milk, Yogurt, Cheeses, etc.)

Various types of cheese
Azure-Dragon/istockphoto

Dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheeses provide a lot of protein, as well as calcium and riboflavin. It is important to check the label for both natural and added sugars in these foods and make sure they fit into your own low-carb diet plan. Protein in dairy foods:

  • Milk, 1 cup – 8 grams
  • Cottage cheese, ½ cup – 15 grams
  • Yogurt, 1 cup – usually 8-12 grams, check label
  • Soft cheeses (Mozzarella, Brie, Camembert) – 6 grams per oz
  • Medium cheeses (Cheddar, Swiss) – 7 or 8 grams per oz
  • Hard cheeses (Parmesan) – 10 grams per oz
3

Soy-Based Protein Foods

Soybeans
zeljkosantrac/istockphoto

The star of plant-based proteins is the soybean. If you tolerate soy well (and please be sure you do before diving whole-hog into large amounts, particularly in soy-based processed foods), it can be a real help in getting enough protein without too much carbohydrate. Soybeans are high in fiber, protein, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and riboflavin, as well as a variety of phytonutrients, including genistein.

4

Whole Soy Beans

Edamame
MmeEmil/istockphoto

Whole soybeans are the least processed way of incorporating soybeans into your diet, retaining all of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. I especially like black soy beans, as I think they taste quite a lot better than the yellow ones, and can be used in place of other beans in almost any recipe. As an added bonus, the most readily-available brand is organic and comes in BPA-free cans. It is also non-GMO.

A cup of cooked soybeans contains approximately 29 grams of protein, 7 grams of net carbs, and 10 grams of fiber.

Edamame (fresh soybeans) are another choice for whole soybeans.

5

Soy Milk

soy milk
Sean824/istockphoto

Made by grinding soy beans with water, soy milk is a decent source of protein (although it varies from brand to brand), but make sure to get unsweetened soy milk, as lots of sugar is added to most brands.

6

Tofu

Tofu stir fry
Tofu stir fry. bhofack2/istockphoto

Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the water out. It has a mild flavor, and a texture that easily soaks up whatever flavors you add to it. The silken type comes in shelf-stable boxes and is good for blending into shakes, puddings, etc. The refrigerated type is firmer and good for stir-fries and other cooking. You can press out more water to obtain a firmer texture, and bake it to firm it up even more. The amount of protein and carbohydrate in tofu varies by firmness and the method by which it is made. One brand has 20 grams of protein and 2 grams net carb in a half-cup serving.

7

Tempeh

Tempeh Marinating with Garlic and Ginger in White Dish
Poppy Barach/istockphoto

Tempeh is made from whole soy beans which are cooked, fermented, and pressed into a cake. It is denser than tofu, and doesn’t soak up flavors as tofu does. In looking for nutritional data on tempeh, frankly it’s all over the place, so you’ll need to check the type you purchase. One brand has 19 grams of protein and 12 grams of net carb (plus 5 grams fiber) per 100 grams.

Other Soy Products – Many other soy foods (e.g. some of the soy-based “hot dogs” on the market) are made from soy protein isolate and other similar ingredients which are subjected to a lot of processing. Read labels carefully. (I’m not saying don’t eat them, I’m just saying be aware that you could be eating a highly-processed food.)

8

A Note on Grain-Based Proteins

Wheat field under sky
W6/istockphoto

Probably the biggest change that vegetarians encounter with a low-carb diet is the need to reduce grains. They contain some protein, and the amino acids in them complement those in soy and other legumes to provide all the essential amino acids. Unfortunately, wheat and most other grains are mostly starch. However, the protein in grains (mainly wheat gluten) can be separated out and used in a few ways.

Note: Sensitivity to wheat and gluten are on the rise. Be sure this isn’t a problem for you before consuming large amounts of wheat gluten.

9

Seitan and Vital Wheat Gluten

Seitan
Claudio Rampinini/istockphoto

Seitan is made from the gluten part of wheat, so it is very high in protein and low in carbohydrate. It is sometimes called “wheat meat” or “mock duck”. It is formed into loaves, cubes, etc. One brand has 21 grams of protein, 3 grams of net carbs and 1 gram fiber for a 1/3 cup serving.​

Vital wheat gluten is a powder made from drying wheat gluten. You often find it in recipes for low-carb baked goods. I can’t really comment on its use since I am gluten intolerant and have not tried it.

10

Rice Protein Powder and Other Protein Powders

Rice protein powder
Amazon.com

Unlike wheat, most other grains don’t have enough or the right kind of protein to make something like seitan. However, rice and hemp, as well as other plants like soy and pea can be used to make protein powders. They are all processed to some degree or other but can be useful supplements to the diet in some circumstances.

11

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts composition
FotografiaBasica/istockphoto

Nuts and Seeds can make a contribution to your nutrional needs, including some protein. Most nuts and seeds have about 8 grams of protein per quarter cup.

Vegetables You Can Enjoy Guilt-Free on a Low-Carb Diet

Vegetables are encouraged when you are on a low-carb diet. But as with most food groups, some vegetables are a better choice than others. Most non-starchy vegetables are very low in carbohydrate, with less than 5 grams in a half-cup serving.

How Can You Tell If a Vegetable Is Low-Carb?

To determine whether a vegetable isn’t starchy and would be good for a low-carb diet, you can look up the nutrition data.

In 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw, it would have no more than 5-6 grams carbohydrate, as well as 3 grams fiber, 0.5-2 grams protein, and 0 grams fat. To find the effective (net) carbs, subtract the fiber grams from the total carbohydrates.

You may find it easier to remember which vegetables are more likely to be low in carbohydrates by thinking of them in four groups based on the part of the plant they come from. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, this works pretty well.

Leafy Vegetables: Lowest in Carbs

Leaves have the least amount of carbohydrate, and what little is in them is wrapped in so much fiber that there is minimal impact on blood sugar. This could be helped by the fact that they are good sources of vitamin K. They are also rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Examples of leafy vegetables include:

  • Alfalfa sprouts and other sprouts from small seeds have 0.1 grams effective (net) carbohydrates and only 8 calories per cup. But bean sprouts are not as low in carbs. They would end up on the high end of this list.
  • Lettuce and salad greens such as endive, escarole, radicchio, romaine, and baby spinach that you usually eat fresh are the next lowest in carbs, although they have less fiber than heartier greens.
  • Spinach and Swiss chard may be eaten fresh or cooked. They are very low in net carbs, with 0.2  and 0.4 grams in a 1/2 cup serving, respectively.
  • Hearty greens such as collard greens, mustard greens, and kale have many vitamins and nutrients and are low in carbs.
  • Herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, and thyme are low in carbs.
  • Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) is very low in carbs at 0.5 grams per 1/2 cup raw, chopped bok choy.

Stems and Flowers

Stems and flowers are usually a little higher in carbohydrates than the leaves, but still low enough for most low-carb diets. Examples of stems and flowers, from lowest in carbs to higher:

  • Bamboo shoots: Canned bamboo shoots are high in fiber, so a 1/2 cup serving has 1.2 grams net carbs.
  • Celery: It’s a staple as a low-carb and low-calorie crunchy vegetable. Due to the high fiber content, there are 0.7 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup chopped raw celery.
  • Seaweed, such as nori, is very low in carbs, although it varies by type of seaweed.
  • Mushrooms: They are very low in carbohydrate, and you can use them in many dishes, even grilling them and substituting a portobello mushroom for a hamburger.
  • Cabbage: It’s high in nutrition and fiber, and you can make your dish colorful with red or purple varieties. You can enjoy cabbage cooked, raw, or fermented into sauerkraut.
  • Asparagus: This versatile and elegant spring vegetable is high in fiber, bringing down its net carbs.
  • Fennel: It has 2 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup, and you can use it in salads or as an onion substitute in cooked dishes, with fewer carbs than onions.
  • Cauliflower: With 2.5 grams of carbs in 1/2 cup of cooked cauliflower, it’s a great substitute for root vegetables such as potatoes and starches such as rice.
  • Broccoli: While broccoli has a few more carbs, it balances them with lots of fiber.
  • Brussels Sprouts: These are on the higher side for carbs compared with the other “stems” at 5.5 grams per half cup, cooked.
  • Artichoke: These are high in fiber, but rank higher in carbs than the other “flowers” and are lower in carbs than all of the “fruits” in the next grouping.

Fruits (Vegetables That Contain the Seeds of the Plant)

The part of the plant that contains seeds is, botanically, the fruit of the plant, although we tend to only call things a fruit if they are sweet. You can identify these if you note the seeds when you cut them open. This group includes peppers, squashes of all types, green beans, tomatoes, okra, and eggplant. Avocado is also a fruit, though lower in carbs than the others. Plantains have the most carbs in this category, which makes sense, as bananas are among the highest-carb fruits.

  • Avocado: A 1/2 cup of California avocado has 1 gram effective (net) carbohydrate, plus 5 grams fiber and 120 calories.
  • Okra: A 1/2 cup serving has 2 grams of net carbs, 2 of grams fiber, and 16 calories.
  • Cucumbers and pickles with no added sugar: While they have only 1.9 grams of carbohydrates per 1/2 cup, they also are very low in fiber.
  • Green beans and wax beans: A 1/2 cup serving has 2 grams of effective (net) carbohydrate plus 2 grams of fiber and 17 calories.
  • Peppers, like green bell peppers, red bell peppers, jalapeno peppers. These vary as the red peppers are indeed sweeter and higher in carbohydrates, but still low enough in net carbs to place in this position on the list.
  • Summer squash and zucchini: These are very low in net carbs and versatile to use in recipes, including making “zoodles” with a spiralizer to substitute for or extend high-carb pasta.
  • Snow peas, snap peas, and pea pods: These often taste sweet and can be enjoyable as a snack or added to a salad or stir-fry. In a 1/2 cup serving, they have 5.25 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fiber.
  • Tomatoes: A small tomato has 3.5 grams of carbs and 1.1 grams of fiber.
  • Eggplant: This vegetable can take the place of starchier choices, and has only 2.4 grams of carbs in 1/2 cup of cubes.
  • Tomatillos: These can be used in many south-of-the-border recipes and salsas.

In this group, those with higher carbs are pumpkins and winter squash and spaghetti squash.

Roots and Seeds

This category has the most variation, although in general, root vegetables will be higher in carbs. First, these are the roots that are actually low in carbs and would be a good choice for a low-carb diet.

  • Radishes: These darlings of the spring garden are very easy to grow. They have 1 gram net carbs, 1 gram fiber, and 9 calories in a 1/2 cup serving.
  • Jicama: 1/2 cup of raw jicama slices has 2.25 grams of effective (net) carb plus 3 grams of fiber and 23 calories

Root vegetables that aren’t low, but also aren’t especially high in carbs include:

  • Green onions (scallions): These combine the leaf/stem with the root and so they are lower in carbs, with 3 grams of net carb and 1.5 grams fiber in 1/2 cup chopped raw scallions. That gives green onions the edge over white or red onions, which are only the “root” portion and therefore higher in carbs.
  • Turnips: 1/2 cup raw turnip has 3 grams of effective (net) carbohydrate plus 1 gram of fiber and 18 calories
  • Rutabagas: These have 4 grams of net carbs in a 1/2 cup serving.
  • Celery root (celeriac): 1/2 cup raw celeriac has 4 grams net carbs and 1 gram fiber.
  • Carrots: There are 4 grams of net carbs in 1/2 cup chopped, raw carrot. But often carrots are moved to the “higher carb” list for low-carb diets.
  • Onions: In a 1/2 cup serving, there are 5 grams of carbohydrate, but only about 1 gram of fiber.
  • Leeks: In a 1/2 cup serving, there are 6.5 grams of net carbs.
  • Water chestnuts (canned): Canned water chestnuts have 7 grams of net carbs in a 1/2 cup serving, while chopped fresh water chestnuts have 13 grams.

Meanwhile, many root vegetables end up on the high-carb list, including carrots, beets, winter squash, fresh water chestnuts, parsnips, and potatoes.

Higher-Carb Vegetables

The most problematic vegetables that should generally be avoided when reducing carbohydrates are the starchier and sweeter vegetables.

  • Carrots: Some low-carb diets say to avoid carrots, although they have fewer carbs than the others below
  • Beets: In 1/2 cup raw, there are 5.6 grams of net carbs.
  • Peas: In 1/2 cup frozen, cooked peas there is a little less than 5 grams of net carbs.
  • Winter squashes, such as acorn and butternut:  In 1/2 cup cooked squash, there are 10 grams of net carbohydrate plus 2 grams of fiber. It’s lower for raw squash.
  • Water chestnuts (fresh, chopped): These are higher in carbs than the canned water chestnuts, moving them into the high category.
  • Parsnips: A 1/2 cup raw serving has 9 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 3 grams fiber and 50 calories.
  • Potatoes:. Raw potato has 12 grams of net carbs and 2 grams of fiber in 1/2 cup. Cooked, plain potato it has over 14 grams of net carbs for 1/2 cup.
  • Sweet potatoes: A half cup of mashed, baked sweet potato has over 17 grams of net carbs.
  • Corn: A 1/2 cup serving of cooked corn has 12 grams of net carbs.
  • Plantains: A 1/2 cup serving of boiled plantain has over 27 grams of net carbs.

How to Add Low-Carb Vegetables to Your Diet

Most people double or triple the number of vegetables they eat when they change to a low-carb diet. If you are not used to eating a lot of veggies, be mindful of starch traps and try low-substitutes for starchy foods, such as mashed cauliflower, cauliflower “rice,” spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, and cauliflower “potato” salad.

People on low-carb diets also tend to eat more salads. For example, instead of a chicken sandwich, you can have the chicken on top of a salad, taco salad, Thai-style chicken salad, and other low-carb salads and salad dressings.

If you are considering using organic or non-organic vegetables, keep in mind that some vegetables are more likely to have been cultivated with more pesticides than others.

The vegetable world is plentiful and feeling comfortable handling and preparing vegetables goes a long way to a successful low-carb diet plan. There is a multitude of low-carb vegetable recipes, such as this easy spinach casserole, and fantastic low-carb side dishes such as a low-carb cole slaw.

What About Fruits?

Fruits are generally handled in a different food group because of the natural sugars in fruits that normally increase the carbohydrate load. But, like vegetables, there is are some low-carb fruit options. Fruits do not have to be written off in a low-carb diet. Moderation is key.

A Word From Verywell

Enjoying a low-carb diet can introduce you to new ways to use leafy vegetables and stem vegetables to substitute for starchy vegetables. Make one-third to one-half of your plate from low-carb vegetables, and you’ll be excited by the colors, textures, and flavor.

Sources:

Non-starchy vegetables. American Diabetes Assoctiation. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/non-starchy-vegetables.html

USDA Food Composition Databases. USDA. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/.

Why is it important to eat vegetables. ChooseMyPlate.gov USDA. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html

Meal Timing: What and When to Eat for Performance and Recovery

ACE Professional Resources

 

 

We all know that what you eat is important for good health, a strong immune system, and energy for and recovery from exercise. But what about when you eat? Does the timing of your meals impact performance and recovery?

 

The long-standing advice in the world of sports nutrition is that what you eat and when you eat do, in fact, impact your training goals. Proper nutrition can:

  • Improve performance
  • Decrease injuries
  • Enhance muscle power
  • Increase reaction time
  • Boost strength and endurance
  • Improve recovery

The exact composition of your meals with regards to your macros (protein, carbohydrates and fat) varies from person to person, as you must take into consideration body type (ectomorph, endomorph, mesomorph), type of exercise (aerobic vs. strength), intensity of exercise, duration of exercise and how much time between exercise sessions. With all of these factors to consider, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Additionally, most nutrient-timing recommendations are based on studies that have been conducted on various types of athletes (professional-level) across multiple types of sports including, but not limited to, cycling, swimming, running and weight training. Therefore, for most clients, these recommendations should serve as more of a guideline rather than strict dogma.

What to Eat Before Exercising

The main purpose of eating before exercise is to provide your body with enough fuel to sustain your energy level throughout your workout so that you can achieve your workout goals. Carbohydrate-rich foods and fluid help “top off’ glycogen stores, while protein can help to preserve muscle mass. A meal that has a combination of these macros is ideal. High-fat meals are generally not recommended before a workout because fat slows digestion and leaves most people feeling sluggish.

One of the most important tools in your pre-workout arsenal is hydration. When you do not consume enough liquid from water (or decaf/herbal tea, coffee, milk, juice—yes, these all count) or eat enough fruits and vegetables to stay hydrated, your muscles will fatigue much quicker, your coordination will decrease, and you will be more likely to develop muscle cramps. Plus, your body will not be able to regulate its core temperature, and an increase in core body temperature can lead to overheating and exhaustion.

Staying hydrated is an all-day affair. Start your day with at least 8-16 ounces of water and sip it frequently throughout the day. Consuming at least 32 ounces of water during your workout should keep you adequately hydrated. Exercise that lasts longer than an hour and/or takes place in high heat and humidity requires additional fluid intake and the possible addition of electrolytes to replace what is lost in sweat.

What Time Do You Exercise?

Next, consider at what point during the day do you exercise? Whether you work out first thing in the morning, mid-day or in the evening will factor into your meal-timing strategy.

If you work out first thing in the morning, you don’t have much time to eat and allow your food to digest. Because liquid digests faster, a small smoothie might work well as a pre-workout meal. If your experience is that any type of food doesn’t sit well with you, it may be better to eat nothing. In fact, some people believe that exercising in a fasted state will help burn more body fat. Really, it’s a matter of personal preference.

Also, take into consideration the type and duration of exercise that will be performed. If you’re going to do an endurance workout (>60 minutes) or high-intensity interval-training workout, you are at greater risk of glycogen depletion, hypoglycemia and fatigue during exercise. Pre-workout meals are vital, and you might also consider consuming a drink with 30-60 grams of carbohydrates each hour during prolonged exercise.

If you work out later in the day, you can time your meals to help provide you with enough fuel to perform your best. The greater the amount of time between your meal and exercise, the bigger the meal can be. If you have one hour until your workout, a meal or snack containing 1 gram/kg (of body weight) of carbohydrate is appropriate. If you have two hours until your gym session, take in 2 grams/kg of carbohydrate. With three to four hours until your workout, consider a meal with 3-4 grams/kg of carbohydrate. Including 15-20 grams of protein in your pre-workout meal can help with blood-sugar control, maintain or increase muscle mass, and decrease muscle damage during the workout.

What to Eat After You Exercise

The goal of the post-workout meal is to help you recover, rehydrate, refuel, build muscle and improve future performance. Many sports nutrition experts refer to the post-workout “anabolic window of opportunity” when discussing your fuel needs. After your workout, there is an increase in blood flow and insulin sensitivity, which facilitates glucose uptake and glycogen resynthesis. In other words, the hour immediately after you exercise is the time in which your body is most in need of nutrients, so eating the right meal during this time can initiate refueling and tissue repair better than if you wait. More recent research suggests that this window of opportunity is actually a lot bigger than we previously thought, so immediately gulping down a protein shake is not necessary.

For a post-workout meal, aim for 15-25 grams of protein (for tissue repair) and 1-2 grams/kg (of body weight) of carbohydrates per hour of glycogen-depleting exercise. Add 5-10 grams of fat for satiation purposes. You don’t need to worry about protein powder versus whole foods or type of carbohydrates (low-glycemic vs. high-glycemic). More than anything, a well-balanced meal containing a variety of real, whole foods and plenty of fluid is the best post-workout meal you can eat.

Should You Eat Before Bed?

This is another question that has the nutrition world completely polarized. There are those that believe that eating before bed will have your body digest and store the food as body fat and lead to weight gain. But if you exercise in the evening, the nutrients in a post-workout meal will go toward glycogen synthesis and muscle repair. Regardless of the time of day or night, you must nourish the body after exercise to switch from a state of catabolism to anabolism.

The Bottom Line

What and when you eat can make a big difference to your performance and recovery. Well-balanced meals and fluid are important for energy production, recovery, prevention of injuries and proper growth. Both meal composition and meal timing must be individualized for each person based on gender, age, body type, and type, intensity, duration and frequency of activity. Making sure to consume meals that are balanced in macronutrients and composed of real, whole foods is a great place to start.

U Rock Girl! Contributor
Tiffani Bachus, R.D.N., and Erin Macdonald, R.D.N., are the co-founders of U Rock Girl!, a website designed to nourish the mind, body and spirit of women of all ages and stages of life. They have just authored the rockin’ breakfast cookbook, No Excuses! 50 Healthy Ways to ROCK Breakfast! available at www.URockGirl.com

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