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Day #7: Vegetarian for a day

Posted Jan 10 2010 9:27am

By now, I hope that you understand nutrition a bit better than you did in 2009. Most of all, I hope that you are starting to make healthy changes your personal diet in an effort to take the right steps to reach your weight or athletic-related goals, to maintain weight or to foster performance gains.
So, now it's time to start experimenting with new ways of eating. While small changes are much more practical than making big changes, I am asking you to take one day (Mon Jan 11th) to try a new way of eating.

If you are an athlete, you certainly know the importance of protein in the diet. Not only do the amino acids in protein help with recovery after exercise and aid in the replenishment of depleted glycogen stores, but protein helps to control blood sugar levels. Because protein has minimal effect on insulin, compared to carbohydrates, athletic individuals who want to maintain/lose weight and/or want to have enough energy for exercise, should certainly emphasize protein with all meals and snacks. However, protein isn't just important for competitive athletes.

For the individual seeking weight loss through dietary changes and moderate-intensity exercise 5-6 days per week (which is recommended for health benefits), protein will give you the same benefits as an athlete. Just because you aren't participating in races or training for a race, every person who goes to the gym in order to see some type of physiological change (body composition, lean muscle mass, power, strength, etc.) is training for a purpose. Regardless if you are training for a 5K through treadmill running or participating in pilates and spinning just for the fun of it, you are committed to improving your fitness In my opinion, there are lots of undercover athletes out there :)

Now that you understand how important protein is in the diet of athletes, I bring up the topic of research and why it is so important for athletic individuals to prioritize lean and low fat protein in the diet.

Whenever I read creditable research articles, I keep a very open mind and try to see how I can apply the research to the non-laboratory subject...aka, the every-day athlete, the triathlete, the marathon runner, the Ironman or the fitness enthusiast. People like you and me. It's kinda like fashion. If you ever watch a fashion show, you likely say to yourself "who would ever wear that?" But the fashion designer is simply giving other designers a template. Something new. Something different. Something to think about. Something to consider. Perhaps, something very unlikely but yet..it works.
Take the article on cereal as a post-exercise recovery snack.

Is it really the cereal + milk combination that promotes recovery after exercise or is it the total calories of the cereal + milk (and a little fat) combination compared to an electrolyte-carb drink? Does any cereal work? What happens if a person uses soy milk instead of 1% milk? What if the researcher compared cereal + milk to just milk or to whey protein and a banana?
As you can see, the options of research are limitless. But to people like myself, who are well-educated in exercise physiology and sports nutrition, and enjoy reading current research (which is often more difficult than you would think...my goal before grad school graduation was to fully understand how to read a research article) we can apply current research (protein + carb post-workout snack of real-food as opposed to just carbohydrates) to athletes seeking the competitive edge. Or, for the every-day fitness enthusiast, research like this study shows people that you don't need an expensive supplement to recover. Your recovery snack might already be in your fridge and pantry.
Another research topic that brings attention is the concept of protein after exercise, encouraging glycogen resynthesis. Simply put, results from this study demonstrate that muscle glycogen storage (digested carbohydrate) can be enhanced with a carb and protein supplement, and significantly faster than carbohydrate alone, due to the effect on insulin secretion.

Although I am only reading the abstract, I have a few thoughts of this article:
1) Subjects cycled for 2 hours to deplete glycogen stores.
2) I do not know the VO2 values (current levels of fitness) for the subjects, based on the abstract. I also don't know the type of supplement ingested (liquid, solid, pill, etc.).
3) Subjects were male. Don't know their ages.
4) Subjects ingested either 112.0 g carbohydrate (CHO), 40.7 g protein (PRO) or 112.0 g carbohydrate and 40.7 g protein (CHO-PRO) for each of the 3 testings.
5) Blood samples and muscle biopsies were taken immediately after exercise and up to 4 hours after exercise. FYI - Muscle biopsies are useful to determine muscle fiber composition (fast or slow twitch) and to better understand skeletal muscle (anaerobic vs. aerobic energy production. Blood samples can test for a number of things, but typically in sports-related research studies you will find that blood samples test for glucose, insulin, hematocrit and lactate (to name a few of many).

While this study does provide research that a protein + carb recovery product is beneficial for athletes, seeking a way to quickly recovery from exercise and prepare for upcoming training sessions, it is important that we understand that this is a controlled study. There is a specific protocol and perhaps, a situation that you (athlete or fitness enthusiast) may not be able to relate to on all occasions.

When was the last time you cycled for 2 hours at max and completely depleted your glycogen stores? Sure, the fact that you can't walk after a hard 2 hour ride may make you feel like you are depleted but are you certain that you are depleted or are your muscles just sore? Is it practical that you would consume 448g carbohydrate, 162.8g protein or 610 protein + carb calories after a workout, like the subjects did in the study? I have a feeling that any athlete who completely depletes their glycogen stores after 2 hours of cycling and consumes 610 calories of carbs and protein will subjectively feel better after that drink/meal. However, it is more likely that a person would feel better consuming a glass of milk and a small granola bar and then eating a balanced meal, rather than consuming 610 calories after a 2 hour workout. Is it really necessary to consume 610 calories of carb and protein after every workout?

The purpose of this blog is to show you that sports nutrition can be very complicated, especially when it comes to nutrient timing. However, if the overall diet is balanced with a variety of healthy foods and portioned controlled meals, you will find your workout routine much more enjoyable and hopefully, find yourself improving with each workout.

I have been working with athletes for several years now (alongside fine-tuning my own sports nutrition plan) and I find it very rewarding when I can help an athlete perfect nutrition relating to Ironman racing/training, marathon training/racing, triathlon/running training (any distance) or just helping the person make the most out of a 5-day a week 30-60 min. workout routine. While there are lots of articles out there, relating to sports nutrition (specifically pre and post training nutrition), I find it much more beneficial to athletes to contact someone who is educated in sports nutrition and exercise physiology in an effort to address problem areas in the diet and not just issues with specific training nutrition. When I can look at an athletes overall nutrition plan (in addition to what he/she is consuming before, during and after training), I can make the necessary changes in the diet to give a person more energy before and during workouts as well as promoting quicker recovery after workouts.


So, what does all of this have to do with being a vegetarian for a day?
I think it is important that athletes, fitness enthusiasts and the person looking for ways to make the most of a workout routine find more ways to add protein in the diet. If the overeall diet is cleaned-up to support exercise, then you will hopefully see an improvement with your body as well as your workout. Not sure which one comes first but if you are feeling good for a workout, you will push harder, burn more calories and recover better and if you let the cycle continue through good eating, performance will improve.
Sure, it is easy to eat animal protein (the lean kind or the healthy fat, fishy kind) but that would be too easy.

I ask for you to take a moment and look at your diet. Are you consuming enough protein? What are your main sources of protein? Although meat-eaters have it pretty easy to consume protein in the diet, I want to make sure that my vegetarian athletes are consuming quality protein in the diet as well. More so, even if you do eat meat, I want to be sure that you are consuming a variety of healthy and quality protein in the diet and not just limiting yourself to tuna and chicken and lots and lots of carbs.
I encourage you to take one day and be a vegetarian for the day. I recommend having protein with all meals and snacks and emphasizing at least 5-10g of low fat protein after your workout.

Since there are only 4 things that differ in the diet of a meat eater and a vegetarian (beef, chicken, turkey and fish), I put together a list of protein-rich foods that will help you be a healthy, athletic vegetarian for the day.
While some protein-vegetarian foods rank higher in the biological value of protein than others (ex. whey protein compared to beans), I recommend that you emphasize real-food over packaged foods (ex. limit bars and frozen meals) in an effort to bump up the amount of amino acids in your diet. Additionally, if you are an athlete who struggles with the feeling of extreme hunger during workouts or feels lightheaded during workouts, I suggest adding around 4-6g protein to your normal pre-training snack. Don't forget about your recovery protein!


Vegetarian Protein Foods:

*encouraged after workouts
-Aim for 1g/kg/d protein for newbie athletes and 1-1.4g/kg/d depending on your training volume and intensity (more protein the more you damage your body through exercise/training)
1) Legumes, beans, lentils - 18g in 1 cup (lentils), 15g in 1 cup (black beans), 12g in 1 cup (chickpeas)
2) Nuts and seeds - 8g in 1/4 cup almonds, 6g in 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3) Tofu* - 11g in 4 ounces
4) Skim or soy milk* - 7g in 1 cup (soy)
5) Cottage cheese* - 14g in 1/2 cup (fat-free)
6) Whey protein* - 18-23g per serving (I use Body Fortress and Hammer Nutrition Whey)
7) Low fat yogurt* - 5-6g in 6 ounces
8) Greek yogurt* - 20g in 8 ounces
9) Cereals, grains and bread - 9g in 1 Flat out wrap
10) Veggie burger - 10g in 1 burger
11) Seitan - 31g in 3 ounces
12) Vegetables - 4g in 1 cup (broccoli)
13) Eggs* - 3.6g in egg white, 6.3g in large whole egg
14) Tempeh - 41g in 1 cup
15) Couscous, rice or Quinoa - 9g in 1 cup (quinoa), 5g in 1 cup (brown rice), 8g in 1/3 cup (couscous)
16) Natural Peanut butter - 8g in 2 tbsp (skippy natural)
17) Cheese - 7g in 1 ounce (Mozzarella part-skim)
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