Friday, May 27, 2016

Kick-Off to Summer! Staying healthy at Summer Parties

Note: This is a re-post of my blog from 5 years ago!

This weekend is one of the most fun & exciting of the year.... the kick-off to summer! Most people enjoy this special weekend by heading to the Jersey Shore, going to countless parties, and drinking endless supplies of beer (and let's not forget that this weekend is when most bars get into full swing!).

Most Memorial Day parties have similar food items: hotdogs, hamburgers, pasta salad, potato salad, baked beans, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and kegs of beer. Not the healthiest way to enjoy your friends, but hey, it's fun!

If you are a person that rarely eats processed meat (by rarely I mean less than once a month), then I am not going to tell you to avoid eating hot dogs and hamburgers at a party this weekend, since you are allowed to live a little. If you follow a healthy diet most of the time, you can afford to have processed meat or treats occasionally. However, it is always good to be educated about what you are consuming... so here I go!

Hot Dogs and hamburgers are not ideal foods just because of their high fat and saturated fat contents, but also because studies show that when these products are cooked (especially on the grill) they form heterocyclic amines (HCA's) which have shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Burnt bacon is actually one of the worst for you in terms of HCA's, since it is a very fatty and highly processed meat- sorry bacon lovers! Below I show why hot dogs are not the greatest, but basically: high fat, high saturated fat, high sodium, low-nutritional benefit. Recent studies show that people that eat red and processed meats have a very different makeup of gut bacteria compared to people that never eat these foods. Those gut bacteria have been found to break down carnitine into a compound call TMAO which increases atherosclerosis/heart disease risk.

Anyway, here are my tips for taking on summer barbeques when healthy options are not always available:

1) BRING A HEALTHY SIDEDISH! This is my #1 recommendation, since every host loves a guest that brings something, and bringing a healthy sidedish can benefit everyone at the party (rather than giving just the host a bottle of wine which they don't need). Plus, if you know what is in your dish, you can load up on that instead of high-fat potato salad.

2) If you don't want to eat a hot dog or hamburger, don't! Unless you are staying at the party for >5 hours, chances are you can last that long without having protein. So, if healthier salads are available, eat those, or something else that isn't terrible for you. Baked beans, although usually containing high fructose corn syrup, would be a fine option since beans are extremely nutritious. Just watch your portion size! Be sure to eat a protein-rich meal before or after the party.

3) Instead of having a cheeseburger, make a cheese-sandwich with lots of tomatoes, lettuce, and onion, with 1 (maybe 2, if you must) slices of cheese. While I don't advocate eating a lot of cheese, this would be a better option than the cheeseburger.

4) Eat 1/2 of a hamburger. Again, load up on the extras (L,T,O, pickle), but you can definitely feel satisfied on just 1/2 of the burger. Don't think eating the burger without the bun is "healthy", it's not.

5) If you really have a hankering to participate in the meat eating, I vote burger. The burger is less processed and contains more protein than the hot dog. A 1.6 oz Oscar Meyer Beef Hotdog has 150 calories, 14 g fat (6 g SFA), 461 mg sodium (20%) and only 5 g of protein. A 4 oz. 20% fat hamburger (which most people buy) contains 307 calories, 20 g fat (7.5 g SFA), 85 mg sodium (4%), 30 g protein, and 16% DV for iron. So, ounce for ounce the burger is much more nutritious. If you ate the equivalent amount in hot dog, 4 oz would cost you 368 calories, 32 g fat (12 g SFA), over 50% DV sodium, and only 12 g protein.

As far as beer, try to limit the amount you drink and try to choose light beers. Drink glasses of water in between and with each drink.

If you are hosting a party I encourage you to offer 100% Whole Wheat buns, offer turkey burgers, grilled chicken or lean turkey burgers as an option, and definitely healthy salads as side dishes.

Note: I realize that some people have a burger once or twice a year. If this is you, feel free to have it... especially since that low frequency is not enough to change your gut bacteria which is the main concern nowadays.

Have a great weekend and eat safe! (i.e.: be conscious of food safety... raw ground beef is not something you want to mess with).


SelfNutritionData (hot dogs and hamburgers)
ADA Times, Spring 2011, Vol 8, issue 3. "Analysis Explores Levels of Cancerous Compounds in Ready-to-Eat Meat Products"

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Friday, April 29, 2016

BROAD STREET RUN NUTRITION GUIDE… or any endurance exercise lasting >1 hour nutrition guide

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The famous Philadelphia Broad Street Run 10 Miler is this coming Sunday and many of my friends and clients have asked how to fuel properly for this race, both leading up to it and the day of. Surely someone in somewhat decent shape could eat a poor diet and not train much and do just fine in this race because of the energy and endorphins you get from the masses of people. However, if you want to optimize your time, feel good during and after, and actually be able to run the whole thing without taking a break or getting injured, I recommend you eat and hydrate properly.

The most important thing to know is that you need to eat properly for months and weeks leading up to a race, you can’t just eat well the day before and expect good results. There is a fair amount of research showing that if you train in a fasted state (ie: run in the morning without eating), that your muscles learn to optimize fax oxidation which gives you an advantage for competitions*. However, for Broad Street, it is too late to utilize this training strategy. At this point, you must try to fill your glycogen stores and try to maximize your nutrition tomorrow and Sunday.

One food group that I, and most health professionals, can’t stress enough is EAT MORE VEGETABLES!!! Eating loads of vegetables not only provides your body with lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals, but also antioxidants which help combat the free radicals that naturally surface from exercises like running. Furthermore, there has been quite a bit of research done regarding dietary nitrates and how they improve exercise performance. For some reason, about 2 years ago, I started eating roasted beets almost every day, along with a bunch more Swiss Chard, Spinach, Cabbage, Bok Choy, and other such greens. In that time, my training has not been as intense as it was in my younger days, but my race times have been equal, if not better, than when I was (regularly) competitively running in high school and college. I attribute this primarily to my improved diet, and perhaps, my increased dietary nitrate intake. Research on beetroot juice, which is high in dietary nitrates, shows that it may increase oxygen consumption, increase the length of time one can exercise, and increase speed by improving power output.  Beetroot juice and dietary nitrates have not just shown to improve exercise performance, but also is quite significant for lowering blood pressure.

Leading up to any endurance race or training exercise, you need to make sure you have an adequate carbohydrate intake each day to fill your muscles and liver with glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate). Do not limit whole grains, fruits, or cultured dairy- these are your best sources of carbohydrates. Muscles run off of sugar in the bloodstream, (which only lasts about 4 minutes in a run), and glycogen stores in the muscle and liver (approximately 88 minutes). So, if you have adequate stores of glycogen, you should not “hit the wall” during your 10 mile race.

In the weeks and days leading up to any endurance race or exercise, make sure you keep a well-balanced diet with lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean protein, and plenty of water. Do not go on a low-carb diet such as Paleo or omit any major food group. If you are running Broad Street on Sunday, I would recommend eating similar to what I have listed below tomorrow (the day before the race):

Breakfast: Oatbran w/ milk and a banana

Lunch: Chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side arugula, celery, and beet salad

Dinner: Quinoa and sautéed leafy greens with salmon

Snacks: kefir or yogurt, fruit, cottage cheese, nuts

Drinks: 1 cup beetroot juice (may want to consume the morning of the race too!), plenty of water

DAY OF THE RACE: Research shows the best results when consuming 1-4 g/kg body weight of carbohydrate in the hours leading up to the race. If you wake up super early and have four hours until race time, it is best to consume 4 g/kg body weight. If you only have one to two hours (I’m assuming that’s the average), best to consume 1 g/kg body weight and pretty much focus on carbohydrate and water intake while limiting fat intake. For a 150 lb person [68 kg], 1 g/kg would equate to about 68 grams of carbohydrate, which would be the equivalent of one bakery sized bagel. A healthier meal at almost exactly 68 g carb would be ½ c old fashioned oats cooked with 1 cup vanilla soymilk (since real milk may cause stomach issues during the race), and one banana and a dash of salt.  In my experience, that has worked as one of the best pre-race meals.  If you wake up late and have limited time, try to consume some quick absorbing carbs within 30 minutes of start time, such as a banana or fruit juice (if you can’t stomach food).

DURING THE RACE: After 45 minutes of any endurance exercise, studies show it is beneficial to get in some form of glucose [roughly 30 g carb/hr] to improve performance and to save your glycogen stores. So, be sure to drink a sports drink or even carry the little packs of sports gels to keep you fueling during your run.

AFTER THE RACE: Carbohydrates are the most important fuel to consume after the race to maximize recovery, but protein is also an important fuel to consume and may accelerate glycogen repletion. Try to consume about 1 g carb/kg body weight in the four hours following your run- so again, this would be about 68 grams carbohydrate. I generally recommend a carb:protein ration of 3:1 (so consume about 22 g protein). Milk, flavored kefir, yogurt, eggs and whole wheat toast, or fruit and cottage cheese are always ideal recovery snacks.

ALL ALONG THE WAY: Be sure to drink plenty of liquids, do not wait until you are thirsty! Continue to drink water for several hours after the race as well.

If you are running on Sunday, good luck and be sure to fuel and hydrate appropriately! If you are interested in learning more about fueling properly for your exercise, or proper nutrition in general, contact me at to set up an appointment. Independence Blue Cross (the sponsor of Broad Street!) offers 6 nutrition counseling sessions/year covered at 100% for most plans!

*NOTE: On the day of the race I would recommend you eat prior, so that way you get a great advantage by having sugar accessible to your muscles, and when that runs out, your muscles are trained to oxidize fat as best they can.

1. Achten, J. and Jeukendrup, A. E. 2004. Optimizing fat oxidation through exercise and diet. Nutrition, 20: 716–727.
 2. Lidder S, Webb AJ. Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013:75(3):677-696.
3. Larsen FJ, Weitzberg E, Lundberg JO, Ekblom B. Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2007;191(1):59-66.
4. Lansley KE, Winyard PG, Fulford J, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of walking and running: a placebo-controlled study. J Appl Physiol. 2011;110(3):591-600.
5. Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(1):1-10.
6.  Ivy JL. Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis and repair following exercise. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3:131-138.
7. Coyle EF, Coggan AR, Hemmert MK, Ivy JL. Muscle glycogen utilization during prolonged strenuous exercise when fed carbohydrate. J Appl Physiol. 1986;61(1): 165-172.
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