Sports nutrition is a topic that is vital to an endurance athlete to stay in top performance level. You literally are what you eat, but since there are so many products on the market how can we ever know which one is the best for us?
As an athlete you may be in a position where you are being drug tested, and it would be horrible to be cut-off from a competition because your vitamins had a banned substance and you weren’t even aware it was there. This happened to an Olympic competitor recently, and all she was doing was trying to keep her body healthy. When I read about this unfortunate young woman who was removed from the team and banned for four years, I knew I needed to add this chapter to the book. I’m certainly not qualified to discuss the details of nutrition, so I asked Steve Chaney, PhD, to do it for me. Dr. Chaney has recently retired from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) where he taught biochemistry and nutrition to medical and dental students. Dr. Chaney is also a member of the Shaklee Scientific Research Team for over 35 years.
I appreciate Dr. Chaney’s very interesting, medically accurate, and informative article about safe sports nutrition that will keep you at your peak performance level.
Visit his website: https://chaneyhealth.com/healthtips/ for much more information.
Simple Rules for a Diet That Supports Both Health and Exercise
Every discussion of nutrition should start with a healthy diet, and that is just as true for sports nutrition as it is for any other kind of nutrition program. Here are my top 10 tips for a healthier diet.
#1: Eat a variety of foods from all 5 food groups that the USDA considers to be healthy. Without this, there is no way that we can be assured of receiving all the nutrients essential to good health. One of the major drawbacks of the fast food restaurants so popular in our society is the lack of variety in what they offer. The 5 healthy food groups are protein (meat, beans, eggs & nuts), dairy, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains. Unfortunately, most of the food we eat is from the 6th (unhealthy) food group—junk and convenience foods. These foods often supply us with so few nutrients that they cannot be considered a part of the basic 5. For example, pizza theoretically provides foods from all 5 food groups —but if it is made from white flour, artificial tomato paste, and imitation cheese, it will, in fact, supply the body with very little of what it needs.
#2: Eat less fatty meats—especially red meat. Few of us will want to become total vegetarians—and that's probably not even advisable for serious athletes. But we can all benefit by cutting out those meats high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Start out by choosing leaner cuts, trimming off excess fat, and eating smaller portions—4 ounces of meat will supply 30 grams of protein. Combining that with generous servings of several different vegetables can be just as appealing as a 6-ounce cut and a baked potato. Also, try eating more fish and chicken. And for those of you who do want to follow a vegetarian lifestyle you can substitute beans, eggs, nuts and plant-based protein supplements for meat as long as you meet your 25-30 gram “target” of protein for each meal (I’ll talk more about your protein target later). If you follow these recommendations, not only will you be getting less fat and cholesterol — but you'll be getting fewer calories as well. You'll look and feel better.
#3: Cut down on processed and convenience foods and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Today we eat half the fresh fruits and vegetables that our grandparents did. We've largely replaced these foods with various processed and convenience foods. These processed and convenience foods are almost always lower in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and higher in calories, sugar, and fat. Rediscover the joys of fresh vegetables, lightly steamed, and served with just a trace of butter and a sprig of parsley. Choose raw vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, or fresh fruit for your snack foods. Drink water, real fruit juice (as opposed to "fruit-flavored" juice which is largely sugar water), or low fat milk for your beverages.
#4: Choose whole wheat whenever possible. Processing of wheat removes 20 nutrients. "Enrich¬ment" adds back only 4. Whole grain products add significant amounts of vitamin E, vitamin B6 folic acid, magnesium, and zinc to your diet. In addition, whole wheat is an excellent natural source of fiber in your diet. Don’t be fooled by misleading advertisements and labels. Unless it says 100% whole grain, it probably isn’t.
#5: Cut down on the amount of sugar in your diet. Hidden sugar in the American diet is a major cause of obesity. Obesity, in turn, is the number one health problem in the United States today. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and many other degenerative diseases. Never add sugar unless you absolutely have to. Avoid processed foods that are high in sugar (always read labels!) You'll find that deserts and snacks of fresh fruits in season will, in time, be just as appealing to you and your family as the sugary foods that you are now used to. Finally, simply add less sugar to the foods you cook. You'll find that most recipes will be sweet enough if you cut the amount of sugar in half. You can cut the amount you add in half again if you use honey or maple syrup because they are sweeter. Make these changes gradually and you'll find that your sweet tooth will diminish. You'll be satisfied with foods that are much less sweet and you'll rediscover many taste sensa¬tions that have been covered up by the excess sugar in your diet. Your waistline will thank you and your risk of developing serious disease will be less.
#6: Cut down on the amount of salt in your diet. Excess salt causes hypertension (high blood pressure) in susceptible individuals. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if you are a susceptible individual until it is too late. Your best course of action is moderation in the use of salt. Simply avoid cured meats and salty foods. Learn to use various combinations of herbs and spices rather than sugar and salt to liven up your cooking. Snack on fresh fruits or unsalted seeds or nuts in place of salty snack foods. Clinical trials show that you will lose your desire for salty foods in as little as 2-3 weeks. It's worth the effort.
#7: Use more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils to decrease the saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet. Oil and vinegar salad dressings are better for you. It is also easy to replace animal fats (e.g., lard) or hydrogenated vegetable fats (e.g., Crisco) with monounsaturated oils such as olive oil in your cooking. (You should remember, however, that if you significantly increase your intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, you may need to increase your vitamin E intake.)
#8: Cut down on soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. They offer no nutrients, yet they have largely displaced milk and fruit juices from the American diet. Low fat milk remains our best source of calcium and 100% fruit juices are a good source of vitamin C and many other micronutrients.
#9: Avoid artificial and imitation foods whenever possible. They are often advertised as being low in cholesterol, low in fat or low in calories. While this sounds appealing, remember that these foods almost never contain all the nutrients of the foods they replace and many of them contain potential cancer-causing additives. There are over 3000 food additives in the American food supply today. The average adult eats 13 pounds of food additives each year. A number of food additives have been withdrawn from our food supply in recent years because new scientific research has shown that they are unsafe. Many other widely used additives are controversial—with major research studies suggesting that they may be toxic to the body. Still other additives have never been adequately tested. Many of the additives that you consume every day will be declared unsafe in the future. There is no need to be a human guinea pig. Simply take the time to read labels and avoid additive-laden foods. In almost every case, you can find a safer, additive-free food of similar nutritional value.
#10: Add a well-balanced supplement program for optimal health. We should all try to eat as well as we possibly can. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, most of us will still fall far short of getting all the nutrients that our bodies need. The American lifestyle and the American food supply make it almost impossible for any but the most dedicated individuals to get adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients.
Nutritional Demands of an Athlete in Training
Why Protein? Our muscle fibers are largely protein, so protein is an important part of any athlete’s diet whether they are a professional athlete or a recreational athlete. Weight training and other kinds of strenuous exercise damage muscle fibers. We also break down some of our muscle protein during exercise as a source of energy. In addition, one of the main goals of any training program is to increase muscle mass because both strength and endurance will be required to perform well in any sport, whether you competing in the sport of your choice or are just a weekend warrior.
Thus, one of the things that we need to do during the recovery period immediately after exercise is to replace the muscle protein that was lost during exercise and add new muscle to insure a net increase in muscle mass. The master hormone that drives this process is insulin, the same hormone that helps us keep our blood sugar levels under control. In addition, the essential amino acid leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and the effects of insulin and leucine are synergistic. As you might suspect there is a window of time (two to four hours following exercise) when the muscle is maximally sensitized to the effects of both insulin and leucine. I will discuss how we optimize both insulin and leucine levels during that “recovery period” latter in this chapter.
The most readily available source of energy during exercise, especially high intensity exercise, is the carbohydrate store in our muscle called glycogen. Glucose in our bloodstream is a secondary source of energy and can actually be used in preference to muscle glycogen stores when the intensity of exercise is low to moderate – a process called “glycogen sparing”. Blood glucose initially comes from the carbohydrate content of recently-eaten foods, next from glycogen stores in our liver and, as the liver glycogen stores begin to be depleted, from the breakdown of muscle protein.
You should think of carbohydrates as your source of both energy and endurance. The role of carbohydrates in providing energy is obvious since only muscle glycogen stores can efficiently fuel high intensity exercise. The role of carbohydrates in endurance is less obvious. If all you wanted to do was to finish an event and didn’t care how long you took to do it, you could rely on your fat stores (see below). However, if you need to “sprint to the finish” (which requires a significant increase in the intensity of exercise) at the end of a long event, you will need your muscle glycogen stores to provide the energy that you need. In addition, your brain relies primarily on glucose as an energy source, so if you want mental clarity at the end of the event you will want to have maintained optimal blood glucose levels.
Thus, your strategy with respect to carbohydrates should be two-fold – to maximize your muscle and liver glycogen reserves between exercise sessions and to keep your blood sugar levels constant during exercise. The two to four hour window of high insulin sensitivity during the recovery period is the best time to maximize your muscle glycogen stores. Prior to and during the event, carbohydrate containing foods are important for maintaining sufficient blood glucose levels without depleting liver glycogen or muscle protein stores. I will discuss specific strategies for achieving each of those goals latter in this chapter.
Many trainers treat fats as something to be avoided at all cost. In fact, as long as the exercise is of low to moderate intensity fats are a perfectly good energy source. And, training actually increases the ability of our muscles to use fat as an energy source. However, fats cannot support high intensity exercise and cannot be used as an energy source by the brain. That is why there is so much emphasis on carbohydrates as a source of muscle and liver glycogen reserves and on the importance of providing enough carbohydrates during exercise to keep blood sugar levels constant.
What Is the Ideal Diet Composition?
For weight maintenance and general health the big debate in recent years has been whether the diet should be low fat (and high carbohydrate) or low carbohydrate (and high fat). In terms of weight loss there is not a dime’s worth of difference between low fat and low carbohydrate diets if you follow them for a year or more. In terms of weight maintenance the low fat diets appear to fare a little better because of the caloric density of fats. However, most experts will tell you that it is not so much the relative amount of fats and carbohydrates; rather it is the type of fat and carbohydrate in the diet that is important.
Diets high in saturated fats and trans fats increase inflammation and tend to increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. That is why most experts recommend that we minimize saturated and trans fats and replace them with monounsaturated fats (from olive oil, peanuts, almonds and avocados), omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (from vegetable oils) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (from fish oil). Certain vegetable oils (flax seed and canola) are also rich in omega-3 fats, but the omega-3 fats contained in those vegetable oils are biologically much less active than the omega-3 fats in fish oils.
Diets that are high in simple sugars and refined grains tend to lead to elevations in blood sugar and triglycerides and may predispose to diabetes, which is why most experts recommend that simple sugars be minimized and that refined grains be replaced with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables
Protein appears to have been largely ignored in the debate as to whether diets should be low in fat or low in carbohydrates. The assumption has been that we don’t need to worry about protein because most Americans get plenty of protein. However, recent research is challenging that assumption. It turns out that sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) is a big problem – both during weight loss and as we age. Since muscle is metabolically very active, loss of muscle mass leads to a decrease in basal metabolic rate (the number of calories that we burn on a daily basis). That makes it more difficult to lose weight when dieting and increases the risk of obesity for people who are not trying to control calories. Some experts recommend that protein intake should be around 20-30% of calories rather than the 10-15% that most Americans are currently getting.
As with both fats and carbohydrates, some protein sources are healthier than others. Fatty meats are associated with a higher risk of both heart disease and cancer, and red meats appear to be associated with a higher risk of some cancers. This is why health experts tell us that we should emphasize plant protein sources, eggs and lean meats, especially fish and chicken.
What is the bottom line? While I would be the first to admit that there is no perfect diet composition, my personal recommendation is to aim for a diet that supplies around 40-45% of calories from healthy carbohydrates, 30-35% of calories from healthy fats and around 20-30% of calories from healthy proteins.
How Much Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat Should an Athlete Get From Their Diet?
Let’s start by talking about protein recommendations. This is a debate that is as old as the field of sports nutrition and there is no definitive answer. I often find trainers recommending diets or supplements that are very high in protein and low in both carbohydrate and fat for increasing muscle mass. This doesn’t make sense because athletes need carbohydrate to maintain optimal blood sugar levels and to properly use the protein in their diet (remember that when our blood sugar levels fall, our body converts protein to glucose rather than using it to build muscle).
On the other hand, the RDA recommendations for a person with a light to moderate activity level is 0.36 grams/pound of weight, which means that a 150 pound, relatively sedentary individual would be aiming for around 55 grams of protein each day. However, recent research shows that the RDA intake of protein may not be enough to maintain muscle mass, especially if you are over 50.
To understand the relationship between protein intake and maintenance of muscle mass, you need to know that muscle protein serves as an energy reserve for the body. We synthesize new muscle protein following each meal and we break it down as an energy source between meals and during exercise. The amount of muscle that we break down during fasting and exercise is pretty much fixed, so the maintenance of muscle mass is critically dependent on how much muscle protein we synthesize after each meal. An adult in their 20s will synthesize about half as much muscle protein following a meal with 15-20 grams of protein as they will following a meal with 20-30 grams of protein. An adult in their 50s will synthesize little or no muscle protein following a meal containing 15 grams of protein or less. They appear to require around 20-30 grams of protein at each meal to support muscle protein synthesis. The numbers are very similar if we look at the amount of protein required to increase muscle mass following a workout.
Thus, whether you are young or older 20-30 grams of protein/meal appears to be optimal for preserving and/or increasing muscle mass. That would translate into around 0.6 grams of protein/pound of weight, and if you add in the extra protein required for an athlete with a vigorous activity level you are in the range of 0.7 to 0.8 grams of protein/pound of body weight. Thus, my recommendation is for around 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein/pound of body mass unless you have kidney problems or are otherwise limited in the amount of protein you can consume.
As for carbohydrates and fats the issue is not so much about the amount consumed as it is about the kinds of carbohydrates and fats consumed. The general guidelines of 40-45% healthy carbohydrates and 30-35% healthy fats apply to athletics just as much as they do to any other individual, although there are some special issues with respect to the timing of carbohydrates and fats during exercise that I will describe latter in this chapter.
The Importance of Water and Electrolytes Before and During the Event
Almost every athlete, whether professional or amateur, recognizes the importance of keeping adequately hydrated. As little as a 2% fluid loss will start to affect your performance. At 4% fluid loss you will start to lose mental focus and may experience an increased heart rate. At 6% fluid loss you may become disoriented, and at 8% fluid loss you are likely to collapse. But water alone may not the best way to keep hydrated if you are a serious athlete. That’s because we lose electrolytes along with water when we sweat, and electrolytes are essential for muscle (including heart muscle) function and nerve conduction.
To understand why water alone is not the best option for keeping hydrated you need to know that we have two fluid compartments in the body, our blood and our cells, and those two compartments equilibrate slowly. When we are sweating we lose water and electrolytes from both compartments. When we take a drink of water we rapidly dilute the concentration of electrolytes in the bloodstream and our thirst sensor signals that we are no longer dehydrated. But the cells are still dehydrated. It may take 10 or 15 minutes before the extra water in the bloodstream enters the cells and the electrolytes in the cells enter the bloodstream. Only then does our thirst sensor realize that we are still dehydrated and send a signal to our brain that we need to drink more fluid. So when we drink water alone we are constantly underestimating how much fluid we need to drink to maintain adequate hydration. But that’s not the worst of it. Because electrolytes have been drawn from the cells into the bloodstream to maintain equilibrium between our two fluid compartments the electrolyte levels in our cells can get too low for proper muscle and nerve function.
So what about the recommendation you have probably heard that water is your best source of hydration? That is a reasonable recommendation if the intensity of your exercise is moderate and the duration of your exercise is less than 30-60 minutes. That’s because after you have completed your exercise, you will have plenty of time for your fluid compartments to equilibrate and your thirst will eventually allow you sense the amount of water you need to consume to restore hydration to optimal levels. And, of course, given enough time between exercise sessions you will be able to replenish the electrolytes you lost from the foods you eat. However, if you are just drinking water and you are relying on your thirst sensor to gauge how much water you need to drink, you will be continually “behind the curve” in taking in enough fluid to maintain optimal hydration. On the other hand, when you drink beverages that contain electrolytes as well as water, you are not diluting the electrolyte composition of your blood compartment and your thirst sensor becomes a more reliable indicator of how much fluid you need to drink.
This is why most sports rehydration drinks contain electrolytes as well as water. Since it is important to start the event adequately hydrated and to maintain adequate hydration during the event sports rehydration drinks should be consumed both before and during the event.
The Importance of Carbohydrate Before and During the Event
At the beginning of this chapter I talked about the importance of starting the event with adequate glycogen stores and maintaining optimal blood glucose levels during the event so that you “spare” your muscle glycogen stores for the “sprint to the finish”. That is why most sports drinks also provide carbohydrates and why carbohydrate rich foods are generally recommended before and during the event. However, both the amount and type of carbohydrate in the sports drink are an important consideration. The greater the carbohydrate content of the sports drink the greater the endurance that it will support. The sports drink needs to contain some simple sugars because they get into the bloodstream very quickly. However, if the concentration of simple sugars in the sports drink is too high it interferes with the ability of the stomach and intestine to absorb the water and electrolytes in the sports drink, leaving you feeling bloated and sluggish. A well designed sports drink will contain a mixture of simple sugars for rapid uptake into the bloodstream and complex carbohydrates that will be taken into the bloodstream more slowly and will not interfere with uptake of water and electrolytes.
The Importance of Protein and Carbohydrate after the Event
As I mentioned earlier in this chapter some trainers emphasize protein as if you only needed to replenish muscle protein after a workout or event. Others have emphasized carbohydrate (carbo loading) as if you only needed to replenish muscle glycogen. In actuality a combination of protein and carbohydrate is needed to replenish the muscle protein and glycogen stores and to increase muscle mass. And when you consume both carbohydrate and protein together you get a much greater insulin response than when you consume either of them alone. Because both muscle protein synthesis and replenishing of muscle glycogen are driven by insulin and the effect of insulin is greatest right after the workout, post workout meals or sports supplements should contain enough protein and carbohydrate to maximize the insulin response and should be consumed as soon as possible after exercise. Fifteen to 20 grams of protein and a carbohydrate ratio in the range of 1.5:1 to 2:1 appear to be sufficient for maximizing the insulin response.
The essential amino acid leucine is another important consideration in the recovery process. Leucine is the most potent of the branched chain amino acids that are so popular in sports protein supplements because it actually stimulates the muscle cells to make more protein – which is what gives those cells strength and bulk. Numerous clinical studies have shown that protein sources providing 1.5 to 3 grams of leucine following a workout result in a greater increase in muscle mass than protein sources providing less than 1.5 grams of leucine. And leucine works synergistically with insulin to stimulate protein synthesis.
However, there are a number of other factors that affect protein and leucine recommendations after a workout. For example, the optimal amount of both leucine and protein appear to vary with age. For someone in their 20s, 1.5 grams of leucine and 15-20 grams of protein seem to be adequate to support muscle protein synthesis. However, people in their 50s and above appear to need 2.5 to 3.0 grams of leucine and 20-30 grams of protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis – and even people in their 20s will see a greater increase in muscle mass at 20-30 grams protein and 2.5-3.0 grams of leucine intakes than at 1.5 grams of leucine and 15-20 grams of protein.
However, 30 grams of protein in a single serving is not optimal for most people, and there is no point in consuming more than 30 grams of protein at a time. The figure on the right shows the protein utilization as a function of how much protein is consumed at a single serving. As you can see 20-25 grams of protein gives you optimal protein utilization, and anything above 30 grams of protein at a time is wasted. Thus, for optimal results I recommend that 20-25 grams of protein supplying around 1.5 grams of leucine and enough carbohydrate to maximize the insulin response be consumed immediately after the workout or event, and an additional protein- and leucine-rich meal or sports supplement be consumed 30 minutes to two hours later to supply the rest of the protein and leucine needed to rebuild and increase muscle mass.
And finally, there is the question of what kind of protein. Whey protein is very rapidly utilized, so it is the best protein for sports supplements consumed immediately after the workout when you are trying to maximize insulin levels. Soy and casein based proteins are more slowly utilized, so sports supplements containing those supplements are a great follow-up 30 to 120 minutes latter to prolong the recovery process. And there is also the taste issue. Branched chain amino acids, especially leucine, taste terrible, so most whey and casein-based sports supplements containing branched chain amino acids use artificial sweeteners and flavors to mask the taste. Soy does a much better job of masking the taste, so soy protein supplements containing branched chain amino acids can be made with all natural ingredients.
Omega-3s for Inflammation
Inflammation is an inevitable part of sports. Whether you are a professional athlete who is continually pushing yourself to the limit or the weekend warrior who only exercises in spurts you will experience pain and inflammation from time to time. While there are many natural approaches that can give you quick and temporary pain relief, a diet rich in omega-3 fats is the best way to “dial down” the inflammatory response in your body so that you will be less likely to develop pain and inflammation. The polyunsaturated fats in our diet are incorporated into our cell membranes unchanged (This is the one case where it is literally true that we are what we eat). Whenever we damage our muscles or ligaments during exercise, the polyunsaturated fats in our cell membranes are converted to hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. The polyunsaturated fats in the typical American diet are converted to pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, while the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are converted to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. It’s a simple concept. We can’t avoid the sprains and strains of exercise, but we can control how our cells respond to those sprains and strains just by increasing the amount of omega-3 fats in our diet.
But there are many kinds of omega-3 fats, and not just any omega-3 fat source will do. Omega-3 fats from vegetable source are converted to the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins with only about 10% of the efficiency of omega-3 fats from fish. So fish would seem to be the logical choice, but unfortunately our oceans are polluted. For example, the Environment Protection Agency has recommended that maximum consumption of most wild salmon range between once a week to once a month because of contamination with PCBs and heavy metals. Farm raised fish are even worse. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that some farm raised salmon be consumed no more than once a year. So that seems to leave fish oil supplements as the preferred choice for omega-3 fats. But you need to know that the food supplement industry is unregulated. For example, in March 2010 the Mateel Environmental Group sued the manufacturer and distributors of 90% of the fish oil supplements in California because their fish oil products were contaminated with PCBs. I love salmon and choose wild salmon whenever I can get it, but my recommendation for daily use is to choose an ultrapure fish oil supplement from a manufacturer that you can trust.
Sports Nutrition Supplements: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Many athletes are looking for an edge, and there are a lot of unscrupulous sports nutrition manufacturers who are just trying to rip off the gullible. So before I summarize my recommendations, I will just make a few comments about the supplements that are illegal, dangerous, completely bogus or simply not supported by strong science.
The Illegal: Hopefully, everyone reading this chapter knows that steroids and amphetamines are both dangerous and illegal. Ephedrine, ephedra or ma huang can increase alertness but don’t actually enhance performance. Even worse they can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. These supplements have actually killed people so they are currently banned by the FDA.
The Dangerous: Growth hormone, DHEA and other pro-hormones are effective at increasing muscle mass. While many athletes naively assume that they are safe, DHEA and related pro-hormones are precursors to the steroid hormones, so they can have some of the same dangerous side effects that steroids have. Even worse, all of these hormones stimulate the growth of cancer cells, so there is a real concern that long term use may increase cancer risk. And finally there are the amino acid supplements that certain manufacturers claim will increase levels of growth hormone, DHEA or other hormones. The evidence that these amino acid supplements actually work is very sparse, and, if they did work, I would have the same concerns as with the hormones themselves.
The Bogus: Ribose has a very specific beneficial effect for heart disease patients, but there is no evidence that it provides any exercise benefit in healthy individuals. Carnitine shows little or no beneficial effects on exercise in clinical studies, and some studies have cast doubt on whether it is even taken up by muscle cells. HMB is a metabolite of leucine. It has been claimed to increase levels of growth hormone, but most clinical studies have not supported that claim. Even worse, excessive use of HMB has been reported to lead to confusion and memory loss. Arginine has been claimed to increase levels of nitric oxide. If that were true, it might be of some benefit because nitric oxide opens up blood vessels, thus potentially increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle. However, clinical studies have not supported the claim that supplemental arginine can increase nitric oxide levels.
A Special Case: Caffeine can increase heart rate and cause palpitations, so it is not completely benign. However, millions of Americans already use caffeine in some form (coffee, tea, soft drinks) every day, and clinical studies show that it increases alertness and has a modest effect on endurance. So if you tolerate caffeine well there is no reason not to use it. However, I am not a big fan of the many energy drinks and energy products in the marketplace today because they generally contain artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners and preservatives. I exercise to improve my health, so I don’t want to be putting those kinds of things in my body. If you want to add caffeine to your exercise routine, I recommend getting it from a food (coffee or tea) or caffeine supplement without artificial ingredients.
Summary: My Recommendations For Sports Nutrition
It all starts with a healthy diet. We need to assure that we are getting the nutrients that we need on a daily basis from foods that will support our health and our athletic endeavors. The ten steps to a healthy diet that I listed at the beginning of this chapter are a good guideline, but they are only a guideline. In today’s world, we are often presented with unhealthy food choices, especially if we do a lot of traveling. So, that is why I recommend using a good food supplement on a daily basis as well.
If you want to maintain or increase muscle mass, you will probably need to increase your protein intake above the currently recommended levels. I recommend aiming for 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of weight per day. The bulk of this protein should be healthy protein – lean white meats and vegetable protein, and it should be fairly evenly distributed between all three meals.
To maximize your endurance, you should use a rehydration product before and during your event. Chose a product that contains both electrolytes and carbohydrate – a mixture of simple sugar and complex carbohydrate is best. Easily digestible carbohydrate-rich foods (bananas, for example) can also be consumed during the event. And, once again, try to avoid rehydration products that contain artificial ingredients. My motto is “If it comes in blue, don’t use it”.
To maximize the recovery process, you should make sure that you consume both carbohydrate and protein in an easily digestible form immediately after your workout or event. Aim for 15 to 20 grams of protein and a ratio of carbohydrate to protein of 1.5:1 to 2:1 to maximize the insulin response. Follow that up with a meal or sports nutrition supplement within the next one to two hours that will bring your total post-workout protein intake to around 30 grams. That will generally also bring your total leucine intake to around 2 to 3 grams. Don’t go crazy trying to optimize the amounts and ratios. There are sports nutrition supplements that will help you reach these targets easily. You shouldn’t need to be a math whiz to be a successful athlete.
To minimize inflammation, make sure that your diet contains plenty of omega-3 fats. Unless your inflammation is severe 500 to 1,000 mg of omega-3 fats should be plenty. Fish oil is superior to vegetable sources of the omega-3 fats, and until problems with contamination of our fish supply can be overcome, I recommend that you rely on an ultra-pure fish oil supplement from a manufacturer that you can trust.
My Recommendations for Sports Supplements
As I said earlier, there are many unscrupulous sports supplement companies who manufacture supplements with little or no scientific backing and which often contain unsafe or illegal ingredients. They are advertised with lots of hype and personal testimonials. Some of them sound so good you might be tempted to think you can leap tall buildings in a single bound. And many of them are promoted in what I call “muscle” magazines and sports specific magazines. The thing that you need to remember about those kinds of magazines is that they accept articles on a fee basis. That simply means that the manufacturer can hire someone to write a complementary article, and if they pay the requisite fee, the magazine will publish the article.
So how can you sort through the misleading claims and find high quality sports nutrition supplements that will support you in what you are doing without causing harm? My simplest rule is to remind you of the truism “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Beyond that I have a few simple rules:
1) Choose a company that has been around awhile and has a solid reputation for quality and integrity. There is no single, simple way to determine a company’s track record over the years, but a simple internet search will often turn up some pretty interesting information about the integrity of a company or the quality of their products.
2) Choose a company that has products proven by clinical studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. These should be studies done with actual athletes, not cell culture or animal studies. My scientific career has been in the area of cancer drug development, and I can tell you that only about 5% of the drug candidates that look good in cell culture or animal experiments actually work with humans – and the numbers are not significantly different for potential sports nutrition supplements. And, unless the research has actually been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, you have no idea whether it is well done or not.
3) Chose a company with a proven track record of Olympic results and recommendation by Olympic trainers. I chose Olympic results as a criterion because Olympic medal winners require nutritional support that will power the ultimate in strength and endurance. And I chose recommendations by Olympic trainers as a criterion because they require the ultimate in purity and proven efficacy in the products they recommend for their athletes.