Should Endurance Athletes Switch to a Low Carbohydrate Diet?

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High carbohydrate pasta with tomatoes
Pasta – a typical meal for endurance athletes.

Should endurance athletes trade in their high carbohydrate gels, gummies, and pasta for fatty steak and butter?  A recent study found elite ultra-marathoners and iron distance triathletes on a low carbohydrate diet  burned significantly more fat while running than  their counterparts on a typical higher carbohydrate diet. There was no difference in the level of glycogen depletion between groups after a 3-hour run.

Why Carbohydrates Matter

For several decades endurance athletes have relied on a carbohydrate rich diet to fuel their training and performance. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy used during activity. They’re also a fast fuel – your body can use gels, gummies and sports drinks very quickly while also accessing the carbohydrates stored in your muscle when your energy needs outpace how quickly you can squirt more gel in your mouth. Regular intake of carbohydrates during  prolonged activity provides an important source of energy for working muscles and helps spare dipping into your reserves in muscle tissue (in the form of glycogen). Once glycogen levels start getting too low, your performance will subsequently decline.

If carbohydrates are important for performance why would anyone go on a low carbohydrate diet?

The longer you run, bike, swim or exercise in general, the more carbohydrates you need to keep up with energy demands. There are three main reasons athletes (particularly ultra endurance athletes) want an approach that doesn’t require carbohydrate during long bouts of exercise are:

  1. Your taste buds get tired –  Eat any food over and over again and you will get sick of it eventually. Now imagine running 30, 50 or 100 miles and eating a gel every 30 minutes. The consistency, sweetness and flavors will make your taste buds revolt.
  2. Your stomach might get upset. Exercise + eating (even seemingly easy to digest carbohydrate products) can cause stomach upset in some people.
  3. You are trying to lose body fat. If you are exercising for long periods of time it may sound counterintuitive to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (or 90+ depending on the type of carbohydrate, your stomach’s tolerance and the type of exercise you’re doing) each hour while training.

If any of these apply to you, a diet that doesn’t force your body to rely on carbohydrates for energy may sound very appealing.

The Study & the Low Carb Diets for Endurance Athletes

The body has amazing ability to adapt to changes in the macronutrient composition of your diet.  In other words, if you eat more fat you’ll burn more fat. If you are adapted to a low carbohydrate diet, you will rely on your body fat for fuel and will not need to consume gels, gummies or any other carbohydrates while running, biking or swimming. However, there is an adaptation period.  It takes time for your body to switch over from relying on carbohydrate to fuel activity to using primarily fat. The study subjects included elite male ultra-endurance athletes who habitually consumed a high carbohydrate diet (> 55% of calories from carbohydrate) and a separate group of those habitually consuming  a low carbohydrate diet (< 20% of calories from carbohydrate and > 60% from fat though the average was 70% from fat) for at least 9 months. Both groups slept, reported to the lab fasted and then drank a 343 calorie shake (the shake contained 4.3 grams of carbohydrate for the low carbohydrate group and  42.7 g of carbohydrate for the high carbohydrate group). Ninety minutes later they ran on a treadmill.


As expected, the low carbohydrate high-fat diet group used a lot more fat when jogging then the high carbohydrate group (88% of calories from fat vs. 56% in the high carbohydrate group). They also used more fat at a higher intensity than the high carbohydrate diet group. They were able to use fat at a good rate – fat is typically a slow source of energy but the rate of fat use in this fat-adapted group was pretty compatible to the typical rate (but not the maximum) at which an athlete can use carbohydrates. Glycogen levels at rest, glycogen breakdown during exercise and re-synthesis after exercise was the same in both groups. * There was no difference in the amount of calories burned between the two groups.

Is This Diet Right for You?

Ultra endurance athletes can adapt to and train on a higher fat diet.  They can also do this without glycogen depletion – glycogen depletion can come with other negative consequences including potential suppression of immune system functioning.  At this time, we do not know if regularly following a lower carbohydrate diet = better endurance performance.

What you need to consider:

  • According to this study you will not burn more calories during exercise when on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet. ** See note below.
  • Your body needs at least 1 month to adjust. The first week will probably suck (you’ll feel terrible and have low energy).
  • You might not improve performance (we don’t know).
  • Can you stay on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet? Do milkshakes made of  heavy cream, olive oil, walnut oil and whey protein sound yummy? Is this diet practical for your lifestyle? If you answer yes to those 2 questions,  then it might be worth a shot. Work with a nutrition expert to ensure you are getting all of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for performance and health.

* Keep in mind the results from this study are specific to endurance athletes.

** If weight loss is your goal, it makes no difference if you burn more fat during exercise if you aren’t burning more total calories in that exercise session. The only caveat here is if a low carb diet means you consume few to no calories during exercise. In this scenario, a low-carb diet may help you consume fewer total daily calories.

What Causes Muscle Cramps? How Can I Prevent Them?

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Muscle cramp
There are two main types of muscle cramps. If you can identify which one you are experiencing you may be able to stop cramping sooner and prevent future cramps.

Localized Muscle Cramping

Localized muscle cramps happen suddenly when a muscle is overworked and tired.

They feel like: constant pain.

Risk factors include: several factors may contribute to localized muscle cramping including: older age, history of cramping, metabolic disturbances, poor conditioning (or increasing the intensity of your training before you are ready) and not stretching. 

Treatment: for this type of cramping should include passive stretching, massage, active contraction of the antagonist or opposing muscle group (for instance, if your hamstrings are cramping, contract your quads), and icing.

Prevention:  Stretching (hold your stretch for at least 30 seconds), using proper movement patterns (biomechanics) and making sure you are conditioned before increasing the intensity of your training.

Exertional Heat Cramps

Exertional heat cramps are due to extensive sweating and low sodium levels from not consuming enough sodium and/or losing too much sodium through sweat.

They feel like: initially you may feel brief, spontaneous contractions that take time to develop followed by debilitating, widespread muscle spasms.

Risk factors include: high sweat rate, little sodium intake (especially if you lose a lot of sodium through sweat or over consume water or other no or low sodium drinks).

Treatment: replacing both fluid and sodium losses as soon as you start cramping. You can use an electrolyte replacement product or table salt! IVs are sometimes used to expedite this process. Massage and ice can also help relax the muscles and relieve discomfort.

Prevention: if you are a “salty sweater” – you see white salt crystals on your clothes, face or other parts of your body, be sure to salt your food prior to training and competing and consume enough sodium in your sports drink to prevent excessive sodium losses.

If you know what type of cramps you are prone to, you can better incorporate prevention methods and have treatment options readily available to stop cramping as soon as possible [ice, sports drinks, electrolyte products, table salt (restaurant salt packets in a ziplock bag always come in handy), a good athletic trainer nearby etc.].

As a review, here are your prevention strategies for cramping:

  • If you have a history of heat cramping, know that your cramps will likely reoccur at some point during training or competition.
  • Make sure you are conditioned before increasing the load or intensity of your training.
  • Incorporate stretching or hot yoga into your training regimen.
  • Give your body time to adjust to changes in elevation, heat and humidity.
  • Salt your food!
  • Do not over-consume water or any other low or no sodium beverage or you’ll dilute your blood sodium level and set yourself up for cramps.
  • Weigh yourself pre- and post- training. For each lb lost, consume 20 – 24 oz of an electrolyte-replacement drink.
  • Work with a sports dietitian or athletic trainer (ATC) to develop a hydration-electrolyte plan that specifically meets your needs. Sports drinks do not contain enough sodium for salty sweaters and those prone to exertional heat cramps.



Get Your Kids Cooking & Win Cabot Cheese & a Subscription to ChopChop Magazine

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cabot give away








Find out how you can end food struggles with your child and enter to win $25 of Cabot cheese and a subscription to ChopChop Magazine (learn more about both below)!

Help! My Child only Eats French Fries & Chicken Nuggets!

Parents often tell me say their kids will only eat French fries and chicken nuggets. Or, their children stare at their plate because they don’t like what you served (hello! that was me!). If your child is a picky eater, I have 3 tips that will help eliminate food struggles and get your children on the path to healthy eating.

Take Your Kids Food Shopping

When we were kids my father did all of the food shopping in our family. And, he often took all three of us with him. We became very familiar with the grocery store and different types of foods within each section. As a parent, get your child involved by taking them to the grocery store or farmers market and let them be active participants. Give your children the power of choice. For instance, in the produce isle, let them choose which new fruit they want packed in their school lunch. Also, if you have a little one who is fearful of new foods, have them try a familiar food in a different form. So for instance, in the pasta isle, encourage them to pick different shapes of pasta, whole grain pasta, higher protein pasta, orzo or rice pilaf. This is a very non-threatening way to open their minds to new foods.

Teach Basic Nutrition

Teach easy nutrition facts in relatable terms. So for instance, if your 4 year old loves to color but hates most veggies you put on the table, get a coloring book about farming. ChopChop Magazine, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is my go-to for fun cooking. ChopChop Magazine includes great tasting, budget conscious, easy to prepare recipes, fun food facts and pages full of beautiful pictures that will get kids interested in nutrition and cooking. ChopChop Magazine is perfect for children ages 5 to 12 and anyone new to cooking.


Let Them Play With Their Food

Encourage your child’s creativity during cooking and food preparation by letting them play with their food. Give them a few choices on how to prepare the food and what to combine it with. Do they want to eat their carrots raw, steamed, or in a casserole? Also,  let them make fun shapes out of their food (I love doing this!).
Kids will love making Cabot Cheddar mice from crackers, Cabot Cheddar Cheese, a cut strawberry,  mini chocolate chips, and pretzel sticks.

Cabot cheddar mice


Get excited about nutritious food. Kids will model your healthy eating behaviors but and pick up on your perception of different foods. Don’t apologize or say things like “you’ll have to eat your peas if you want dessert” because then your little one will relate peas with something that they shouldn’t enjoy eating.

Win a 1-year subscription to ChopChop Magazine AND a $25 Cabot Cheese gift box!

Cabot Cooperative Creamery  is a family farmer owned Creamery  that produces world-class cheddar cheese,  dips, sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese, and butter.

ChopChopKids is an innovative non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and teach kids to cook healthy food with their families. They believe that cooking and eating together as a family is a vital step in resolving the obesity and hunger epidemics. ChopChop Magazine reaches more than 2 million families each year and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, was named publication of the year by the James Beard Foundation, and is a two-time winner of the Parent’s Choice Award.

They have a free ChopChop Cooking club – their national healthy cooking campaign to invite every family to join and pledge to cook dinner together once a month for 6 months.

Check out their websites:

To enter this contest for your chance to win, tweet your favorite way to get your kids cooking with Cabot Cheddar & tag @cabotcheese & @chopchopmagazine in your tweet. Or, “Like” ChopChop Magazine & Cabot Cooperative Creamery on Facebook and comment on both Facebook pages with your favorite way to  get kids cooking with Cabot Cheddar cheese. All entries will be blinded and the winner chosen by a 13 year old chef at 4 pm today (Oct. 30th).

Does Meat Cause Cancer?

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According to a report released today, processed meat is carcinogenic (cancer causing – see the definition below for more detail). After considering more than 800 studies examining the association between meat and cancer, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group classified processed meats as Group 1, carcinogenic. They based this on convincing evidence from population based studies that eating processed meats causes colorectal cancer. Yet the results aren’t as crystal clear as they seem.

What is Red Meat and Processed Meat?

Red meat – unprocessed mammalian muscle meat – beef, pork, veal, lamb, mutton, horse or goat meat, including minced or frozen meat

Processed meat – meat that is transformed through salting, curing, fermenting, smoking or other processes to preserve the meat and enhance flavor. Processed meats can include other meats or meat byproducts such as blood. Hot dogs, sausages, corn beef, beef jerky and canned meat are all examples of processed meat.

Carcinogenic – compounds that are carcinogenic “do not cause cancer at all times, under all circumstances. Some may only cause cancer in people who have a certain genetic makeup. Some of these agents may lead to cancer after only a very small exposure, while others might require intense exposure over many years,” states the American Cancer Society.

What they Found

Processed Meat:
Though they considered 800 studies, their conclusions were drawn upon 18 cohort studies (this is when scientists follow a group of people that don’t have the disease – in this case cancer – over time to see who does and who doesn’t develop cancer). Twelve of the 18 studies reported positive associations between processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer. Six out of 9 case-control studies (where they look at the diet of people with cancer and compare it to the diet of people without cancer) reported a positive association and a meta-analysis (statistical approach to combining results from several studies) of 10 cohort studies reported a statistically significant dose-response relationship with an 18% increase in risk for every 50 gram (1.5 oz. or about the size of ½ of a deck of cards) of processed meat eaten daily. Yet Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme stated “for an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.” Recent estimates suggest approximately 34,000 cancer deaths per year can be attributed to diets high in processed meats.

Red Meat:
The Working Group classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” while stating there is “limited evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat.” If those two statements sound like they contradict each other, here’s why:

The largest body of data they found was from 14 cohort studies (where they follow a group of people that don’t have the disease – in this case cancer – over time to see who does and who doesn’t develop cancer). Seven of the 14 studies showed higher consumption of red meat (as compared to lower consumption of red meat) was positively associated with colorectal cancer. Seven out of 15 case-control studies (where they look at the diet of people with cancer and compare that to the diet of people without cancer) found higher consumption of red meat was positively associated with colorectal cancer compared to lower intake of red meat. “No association was seen in  several high quality studies.” The author suggests that bias and confounding couldn’t be ruled out (other diet and lifestyle variables may have affected the results.

What Makes Processed Meat Carcinogenic?

When meat, fish, or poultry (chicken, turkey, ducks, geese) are cooked over high temperatures, chemical compounds that are known or suspected carcinogens (cancer causing) including N-nitroso-compounds (NOC), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCA) are formed. High and dry heat including frying, grilling and barbecuing are the worst combination for the production of these chemicals. The 2-page report mentions some of these compounds as “mechanistic evidence” supporting their conclusions while also stating that we don’t know how cancer risk is increased by processed and red meat. (The full report won’t come out for several months).

N-nitroso-compounds (NOC) are found in nitrate-cured meats, smoked foods (fish or meat), malt in beer and whiskey production, pickled vegetables and foods stored under humidity leading to fungi that generate nitrosamines.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled over an open flame drip onto the fire, resulting in flames, and PAHs adhering to the surface of the meat. Smoking meats also leads to the formation of PAHs. PAHs are also found in air pollution.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are harmful compounds formed during dry heat cooking. Though many foods contain AGEs, meats fried or cooked over dry heat have significantly more AGEs than any other food. AGEs accumulate in the human body, affect cell functioning and may contribute to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and, as the name implies, aging.

Heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCA) are formed when amino acids, sugars and creatine react at high temperatures. When meat, fish, pork and poultry are cooked at higher temperatures for a longer period of time, more HCAs are formed.

HCAs and PAHs must be metabolized by specific enzymes (a process called bioactivation) before they can damage DNA. Yet the activity of these enzymes varies between people and therefore, one’s risk of developing cancer due to HCA and PAH exposure depends on how they metabolize these compounds.

What this Report Does Not Tell Us

IARC Working Groups examine if exposure to a specific food or compound could cause cancer but does not tell us how likely we are to get cancer. Also, there are many known human carcinogens (UV light – including the UV light in those LEDs lights used to set gel nails, alcohol, the mineral oil you use on wood cutting boards and more) – some many cause cancer after little exposure while others take a lifetime of exposure. Many factors influence the development of cancer including age, gender, family history, and other lifestyle factors (tobacco and alcohol use, weight, diet, physical activity).

How Much Processed & Red Meat is Too Much?

Cancer is a complex disease and no single food causes, cures or prevents cancer. However, as stated by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR):

  • A modest amount of red meat does not raise colorectal cancer risk.
  • Eating more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week increases the risk of  colorectal cancer.
  • Eating small amounts of processed meat regularly increases risk (of colorectal cancer).

AICR recommends avoiding processed meats and eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week (3 oz. = about the amount in a deck of cards). I also suggest making potentially better choices (see the infographic below and the 2nd to last paragraph of this blog post). What about HCAs, PAHs and other compounds? Here’s how you can decrease your intake of these compounds:

cooking meat
Where does meat processed without nitrates fit in? We don’t know. If they are processed without nitrates then they should  presumably contain few to no NOCs making them a better choice than meats processed with nitrates. However, I couldn’t find a single study comparing the compounds in meats produced without nitrates to their counterparts produced with nitrates.

If you aren’t preparing your food at home, take a close look at how it was prepared and cooked so you can minimize your intake of these compounds. If you don’t plan on cutting out processed meats, at the very least, limit your intake of sausage, ham, bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, pastrami, bologna, corned beef, deli/luncheon meats, salami, nitrite-treated meat or meat products as well as meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, all of which could increase your risk of cancer.

Disclosures: None, I have no connection to any red meat commodity boards, stock in red or processed meat companies (though I should look up the shorts or consider buying on a dip) or emotional connection to cows, pigs, horses, red or processed meats :-)

National Cancer Institute. 
American Institute for Cancer Research
Medline Plus.
Nutr Cancer 2008;60(2):131–144.
J Food Sci 2008;73(6):T100-5.
Cancer Sci 2010;101(2):508-16.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2012;21(6):905-15.
Int J Cancer 2014;134(1):125-35.
J Am Diet Assoc 2010;110(6):911-16.
Curr Diab Rep 2014;14(1):453.
Ann N Y Acad Sci 2005;1043:533-44.

Ghoulishly Great Halloween Ideas

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If you’re throwing a Halloween party this year, scare your guests with spooky decorations and themed dishes instead of bottomless bowls of high-calorie candy. Here are the party treats that won’t play tricks on your waistline that I shared on WCNC’s Charlotte Today:

Spooky Appetizers

Starting off, every Halloween party needs a witch and you’ll know she’s flying nearby if you see these easy-to-assemble pretzel cheese broomsticks from Mom Foodie.

Witches' brooms

Bats and witches naturally go together and I loved this recipe from Tastefully Simple for bats made out of deviled eggs. I used a lower fat mayo because it contains fewer calories and smoked paprika because adds so much flavor!

Deviled egg Bats

I used Green Mountain Farms cream cheese (four times the protein compared to regular cream cheese plus live and active cultures – i.e. probiotics) and  good-quality shredded cheddar cheese to make Beth of Hungry Happenings cute Cheddar Monsterscheddar monsters

After learning what was in a hot dog when I was a teenager (scrap meat) I said “no thank you.” Now you can find newer and better hot dogs including the uncured turkey hot dogs I used to make mummy dogs.

A Better Fall Beverage

Fall means apple cider and you can either make your own (and make it low-calorie with a sugar substitute) or buy it (I recommend getting it from an apple farm). If you make yourself be sure to add cinnamon and allspice.  In addition to adding flavor, like apples, both also add antioxidants.

Desserts that will DelightHalloween Dess

Strawberry ghosts are so easy to make that very young children can help. Melt a white chocolate for candy decorations (some brands of white chocolate may not melt or dry as well) and dip washed and throughly dried strawberries in the chocolate while letting the rest of chocolate flow off the strawberry. Use mini chocolate chips for eyes. Melt chocolate chips and pour in a <Wilton Candy Eyeballs
. Cut a small bit off the tip of the bag so the icing can flow through. Now, make your mouth.

Follow the package directions for rice krispie treats (I substituted a light butter spread with no hydrogenated oils for  butter) to Rice Krispie pumpkins. Once your rice krispie treats are made, turn off the heat and immediately add a tiny bit of orange dye and mix it throughout the rice krispies (I used food gloves that I found in Wal-mart so my hands wouldn’t turn orange). Next, shape your rice krispie batter into pumpkins. Let these cool off at room temperature for at least an hour. Instead of using  candy for the stem, I cut a whole-grain breakfast bar into stems for each pumpkin. Next I placed a small bit of green icing from a green icing tube (Betty Crocker and Wilton make these. Find the tips that go with these particular brands right next to the icing and buy one with a leaf tip.) onto the top of the pumpkin and then set my breakfast bar stem into the pumpkin. After this I piped a few leaves around the stem of the pumpkin.

Spider Cookies
A Spicy Perspective had the cutest spider cookies that I found on Pinterest. Click here for the recipe. I substituted one third of the flour for whole wheat flour and may work with this recipe a little more in the future. You can also lower the sugar content of the cookies (or any baked goods) by substituting all natural Swerve Sweetener for most or all of the sugar. As my colleague Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, an expert at working with Swerve says “many recipes call for so MUCH sugar” and you can easily reduce the amount in savory dishes (and the amount of Swerve if you use it) but, in baked good sugar provides “bulk” which makes sugar reduction a little tricky. Instead of using a truffle in the middle, I made protein balls with peanut flour (high protein and a good or excellent source of several vitamins and minerals as well as fiber) for the body of the spider.

Protein balls:

1 cup quick oats
1/2 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 to 1 cup peanut flour or chocolate peanut flour (find this right next to peanut butter in the grocery store or on amazon – Jif Regular and Chocolate Peanut Powder).

Mix the oats, honey and peanut butter in a mixer (I use the heavy duty KitchenAid). Next add peanut flour in small amounts until balls can be shaped but are not too dry (all protein is drying, it sucks the moisture out and the amount of flour you use depends a little on the texture of the peanut butter). Once your mix is easy to handle and shape in balls, shape small balls for the spider’s body. Dip each body into melted chocolate melts and let the excess drain off. Quickly add the eyes (Wilton Candy Eyeballs) before the chocolate dries. Next, place the chocolate dipped protein ball onto the head of the cookie. Next, using your melted chocolate in an icing bag (cake decorating bag), pipe the lines of the spider on the cookie.

Oftentimes the excitement of Halloween isn’t the candy, which is available all year long in different packaging but instead, the decorations. So, if you are throwing a party for kids or adults, decorate each room, use Halloween themed napkins, cups and plates and serve healthier food and drink options that incorporate the Halloween spirit. Get your guests up and moving by setting out fun games they can participate in – treasure hunts and bean bag tosses. Plus you can keep kids active by setting out sidewalk chalk, pumpkin decorating kits and other craft ideas.

Swerve is an al natural sweetener that is made from erythritol (erythritol is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables) and oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are a type of prebiotic fiber (prebiotic fiber stimulates the  growth of healthy bacteria in your gut) that has a naturally sweet taste.

Protein Before Bed for Greater Muscle Gains?

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protein before bedA recently published study found a protein rich snack before bedtime led to greater gains in muscle mass, strength, and type II muscle fiber size in young men participating in a resistance training program. Yet a closer look at the details of this study suggest the timing (before bed) might not matter at all.

In this study 44 young men were given a supplement containing 27.5 grams of casein and 15 grams of carbohydrate or a placebo that contained no protein, carbs or calories before they went to sleep each night for 12 weeks. They also lifted weights 3 times a week under the direction of a supervised and periodized program. The young men were instructed not to change their diet (other than the supplement). Food logs were taken to access dietary intake. Both groups consumed about 1.3 grams of protein per kg bodyweight before the study started. However, the group given the supplement consumed a total of 1.9 grams per kg bodyweight during the study while the placebo group continued eating the same amount of protein as they did before the study started – 1.3 grams per kg bodyweight. So, was it the timing of protein before bed, the total difference in protein intake or both that led to the results? We don’t know. However, the total protein intake of the placebo group was on the lower end of the recommended range (1.2 – 2.0 though higher values may be beneficial for some, especially those who are cutting calories) anyone should consume if they want to get stronger and bigger.

So what’s the bottom line?

We don’t know if consuming protein right before bed will help young, healthy and active adults make greater gains from their strength training program compared to consuming the same total amount of protein each day without a protein-rich bedtime snack.

My protein recommendation for now:

Meet your daily protein needs based on your goals first and if a pre-bedtime protein-rich snack helps you do this and sleep well at the same time, then great. If eating or drinking before bed interferes with your sleep (running to the bathroom counts as interfering) then this strategy may do more harm than good.

Snijders T, Res PT,Smeets JSJ, van Vliet S, van Kranenburg J, Maase K, Kies AK, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. J Nutr 2015.

Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen, AP, Senden JM, Van Loon LJ. Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012;44:1560–1569.

Good Food Bad Food

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As a dietitian I’m often asked “is {insert food} good for me?” or, another common variation of this question: “is {food} healthy?” I often want to respond “well heck I don’t know, I know nothing about you!” Is kale a good food? Yes. Are you on coumadin? Then no, you can’t go hog-wild and throw down plates of kale or green drinks.

The Good Food, Bad Food or stoplight approach for all is an easy system that fails to truly reach and teach people about the foods that are best for them, given their situation. Sure, it’s kind of obvious no one chooses a doughnut or soda to improve the nutrition content of their diet. But, there’s more gray area after doughnuts then red or green lights that can succinctly group foods into categories for the masses. Plus, many very good-for-you foods (sometimes referred to as “nutrient dense” meaning they have a good amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients in them) may not make the cut because they have too many calories per serving or don’t meet some other general criteria needed before they get that green stamp of approval. And many others that are on the list may be ones you don’t like, don’t know how to prepare or don’t settle well in your stomach.

Like any team sport game (football, tennis, basketball, soccer etc.), food can be very situation-dependent (depends on what’s best for you). You put in the right players to get the job done depending on the opponents you face. Likewise, instead of letting green and red guide you to what you should and shouldn’t eat, add the right foods to your diet based on your particular situation and to get the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy plant-based compounds needed to build, repair and support functions within your body while also pleasing your tastebuds.

Here’s an example of seemingly healthy foods that are off limits for many people – making a single answer to this question very tough.

Good Food, Bad Food

Nutrition is complex and I start people off with easy to follow guidelines. But, keep in mind when I (or another dietitian) answers the Good Food, Bad Food question we are answering it for you and not for the masses or for the masses in general though it may not fit on your eating plan.

Best New Protein Picks on the Market

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If you are tired of the same vanilla and chocolate flavored supplements and looking for something different that delivers on taste and nutrition, check out my top 5 picks from Expo East, the largest natural foods show on the East Coast.

About Time Protein Pancake Mix

pancakes 1Protein is drying, it will suck the water out of any bar, beverage, or baked good you make. That’s why it is incredibly tough to incorporate protein into pancake mix. About Time mastered this challenge and created pancakes that are incredibly moist and taste better than any pancake I can remember eating in recent years. They are gluten free, contain 21 grams of protein per serving, no artificial ingredients and they are easy to make – just add water, stir and let them sit for 5 minutes before placing the batter in a hot plan. Their Chocolate Chip and Cinnamon pancake mixes are on Amazon:  About Time Protein Pancake Mix, Chocolate Chip, 1.5 Pound
About Time Protein Pancake Mix Cinnamon Spice – 1.5 lbs
PF_AC_Bar_3D.HR PF_PBTC_Bar_3D.HRPure Fit Bars

My taste buds have been in search of innovative nutrition bar flavors and textures for quite some time. Pure Fit Bars contain 18 grams of non-GMO, gluten free, vegan protein goodness. They are soft, won’t melt in the heat and come in several unique flavors. If you LOVE Quest bars, give these a shot, you won’t be disappointed. Some of their flavors are available on Amazon: Pure Fit Nutrition Bar, Almond Crunch,, Pure Fit Peanut Butter Nutrition Bars

originalProtein Plus

If you miss the taste of thick, creamy peanut butter shakes (including peanut butter chocolate), you will love Protein Energy Powder. A group of peanut farmers in Georgia extended their line which also includes peanuts and peanut flour, to add this vegetarian shake that includes 17 grams of peanut protein. I was absolutely wowed about how good these shakes were (I tried the peanut one mixed in 2% milk). Check them out on Amazon: Protein Plus – Chocolate Peanut Powder – Protein Energy Powder – 30 Servings

Muscle Pharm Thrive

Thrive Chocolate

Last year I walked around the Expo hall and tried several plant-based proteins. After trying about 5 or 6 my taste buds got up and launched a full fledged protest against any non-soy plant based protein. “No More! These are inedible!” Plant based proteins are very tough to formulate. But Muscle Pharm clearly worked with the best food scientists to create Thrive (which hits the market in January). Each serving contains 26 grams of vegan protein and the taste…. you won’t miss whatever you are drinking right now.

Almond Milk Lightly Sweetened


The majority of soy, almond and other non-dairy beverages fall short on total protein compared to milk. Orgain, one of the leaders in USDA organic vegan nutrition shakes, almond milk and other products has a new vegan almond milk with 10 grams of protein that, like all of the other foods/beverages mentioned here, tastes great. It has a smooth, slightly sweet taste and excellent smooth mouthfeel. Likewise, I also highly recommend their vegan nutrition shakes with 16 grams of protein. And, this brand is now at one of my favorite stores too – Costco! Or, find them on Amazon: Orgain Vegan Nutritional Shake, Sweet Vanilla Bean, 11 Ounce (Pack of 12)

I’m always in search of exceptional nutrition but foods and beverages must also taste good. After all, you shouldn’t have to choke down something just to get the nutrition to give your body the nutrition it needs.

This post contains affiliate links to these products through Amazon.

Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?

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If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils


Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.

Organic Does Not Mean Pesticide Free

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Are you worried about pesticides in your food? This infographic compares organic and conventional foods. Below you will find more information on this topic.

Organic does not mean pesticide free
Organic does not mean pesticide free

Nutrition Differences?

Most research shows there are no major nutrition differences between organic and conventional food (1). So you can feel good knowing you are getting the same amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber in comparable products.

Organic dairy products contain significantly higher protein, ALA, total omega-3 fatty acids than conventional dairy (2). Even though these differences are statistically significant, they don’t make much of an impact on your diet. Both aren’t great sources of ALA compared to walnuts, flaxseeds, chia and hemp.

Labeling Terms:

There are different labeling terms that will tell you more about the ingredients in the food, drink or supplement you are buying (by percent).


100% organic

– All ingredients must be certified organic
– Any processing aids must be organic
– The label must state the name of the person who certified it
– Must be made without GMOs, sewage sludge, irradiation, synthetic (man-made) fertilizers

95% Organic
– Must contain at least 95% organic ingredients
– Label must state the name of the person who certified it
– All non-organic ingredients are on the National List
– Must be made without GMOs, sewage sludge, irradiation, synthetic (man-made) fertilizers

– Must contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients (not including salt or water)
– Must be made without GMOs, sewage sludge, irradiation, synthetic (man-made) fertilizers
– All other ingredients are on the National List
– Label must state the name of the person who certified it

Are you a researcher or farmer? USDA spent $113 million to support research and farming of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops.

1 Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90(3):680-5.
2 J Sci Food Agric 2012;92(14):2774-81.