The Truth about Carbohydrates

I know a girl who refuses to eat a banana because it has too many carbs. A banana…..seriously? I was once scared to touch carbohydrates as well but never a banana. I think many people, athletes included, have a preconceived notion that carbohydrates are bad for you. I certainly thought they were when I started to change my diet. But then I read Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. (Highly recommended.)

“Carbohydrates are fattening”

This is not true. Excess calories are fattening, not carbohydrates; in particular excess calories from fats are fattening. People are often scared to touch foods that contain carbohydrates (like a banana) because they have been brainwashed into thinking carbohydrates are bad. Look at the break down: there are 4 calories in 1g of carbohydrate, 4 calories in 1g protein, 7 calories in 1g of alcohol and 9 calories in 1g fat. So when you look at the caloric break down carbohydrates and proteins are equal. Yet protein gets all of the good press now a days and not carbohydrates. What gives?

You need carbohydrates to fuel muscles. According to Nancy Clark, a well known sports nutritionist, “Carbohydrates are necessary in any athletes diet to provide the energy needed for muscles to perform.” Glycogen is a key component for endurance athletes as it provides energy for the body. Clark explains, “The carbohydrate in the muscles is used during exercise. The carbohydrate in the liver gets released into the bloodstream to maintain a normal blood glucose level and feed the brain (as well as muscles.) These limited carbohydrate stores influence how long you can enjoy exercising. When glycogen stores get too low, you hit the wall. In a research study, cyclists with depleted glycogen stores were able to exercise only 55 minutes to fatigue, as compared with more than twice as long (120 minutes) when they were carbohydrate loaded. Food works!”

All carbohydrates are not created equal 

I’m not saying go binge on pizza because it contains 500g carbs. The carbohydrates you find in a pizza are completely different from the carbohydrates you find in vegetables. The absolute best option for carbohydrates would come from whole foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes. When you look at some options:

– 1 banana has 23g = 92 calories from carbs

– 1 cup of black beans has 40g = 160 calories from carbs

– 1 cup broccoli has 6g carbs = 24 calories from carbs

The next best option would be whole grain foods like whole grain rice, bread, pasta. The last option would be the processed grains like white bread, white rice and white pasta because these foods have been stripped of their nutrients essentially leaving you with very fast releasing sugars (which is good in some cases like race day nutrition.)

Carbohydrates in your diet 

Clark recommends athletes should consume 60% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. If you are on the Paleo diet (which I have tried before) or don’t really like eating processed carbs then your diet should consist of mainly fruits and vegetables, and a lot of them. If you like legumes include them too! Beans are a great way to get protein and carbohydrates into your diet. If you can accept the fact that whole grain bread and pasta are good in any diet (of course in moderation) then maybe include a couple meals a week with whole grain foods like a sandwich or pasta dinner. (Be careful of added sugar in these types of products.) Bottom line, eat your fruits (including bananas!), veggies and legumes with some whole grain foods and you should be good to go.

Resources: Nancy Clark MS, RD, Sports Nutrition Guidebook4th edition


Powdered peanut butter?

ca8c1302f7c611e2b92122000a9e0727_5Has anyone seen this? Apparently peanut butter can come in a powder now. My aunt came to visit my family this summer and introduced me to PB2, a powdered peanut butter. She explained she is watching her fat intake and PB2 has lower fat content than regular peanut butter. I’m intrigued.

I still don’t know how much fat I should be eating at all. I just eat whatever I want (not junk food but eat whatever I want in whole foods), not paying any attention to my macronutrients. I thought the idea of having a less fattening peanut butter seemed cool (even thought fats are healthy, especially fat from nuts.) So, I thought I’d give it a try and bought myself “Just Great Stuff” powdered peanut butter.

Basically, all you have to do is add water to the powder and voile instant peanut butter. Pretty cool. I smothered it on a mini bagel today and it was delicious. Surprise, surprise, it tastes just like peanut butter!

I then thought to myself, ‘Well this is cool, but I bet they do something weird to make it.’ So I turned to Google to answer my curiosity. Apparently it’s made in a not so bad way. Roasted peanuts are pressed in a machine until all the oils are squeezed out resulting in a powdery substance. The peanut oil is then sold separately. Pretty cool.

The only downside is that there is added sugar and salt (a grand total of 3g sugar and 90mg sodium.) Hey, you could do a lot worse than that.

Would anyone else want to try powdered peanut butter? Any thoughts?

Protein Powder vs. Real Food


The age old dilemma of processed protein powder  vs. real food. Do we really need protein powders, bars and shakes to fuel our body properly?

I have been struggling with the notion of fueling up and recovering with a protein shake or actually eating real food. I have recently turned into the girl at the gym who brings eggs and broccoli into the locker room. I can be seen stuffing eggs in my mouth after my workout where I promptly receive weird looks. It wasn’t always eggs and broccoli; I used to have protein powders galore shoved into my purple gym bag. Reading a bunch of news articles, I have come to a crossroads where I want to walk into GNC and purchase my protein powder again, but then I think is it really worth the $30? Am I just being sucked in by the marketing schemes of these companies to buy their products?

What the experts say

Heather Mangieri, a nutrition consultant, explained that “…ideally, people should get protein from food. But some people who have high caloric needs, such as athletes, may find it more convenient to get their protein, along with necessary extra calories, from a high-protein product.” Am I a high-calorie needing athlete? Probably not, I only work out a total of 10-15hr per week.

Nancy Clark, an expert nutritionist, explains in her book Sports Nutrition Guidebook that many people assume they need to consume a big meal because they feel like they worked out extra hard. When in fact, people often over estimate the amount of calories their body needs to properly recover and repair. Our bodies can only absorb so much protein in one sitting. Mangierie explains that our bodies typically use a MAXIMUM of 20-30g of protein from a single meal. Beyond that, any additional protein in a meal won’t be used for extra tissue repair or muscle building benefits. AKA it’s just extra calories the body doesn’t use.

Protein powder = supplement, not food

First things first, everyone must understand that protein powders are a supplement. What does “supplement” mean? Well let me Google that for you….”Supplement. An addition designed to make up for a deficit.” Meaning if you don’t get enough of ___in your diet a supplement will fill in that blank. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a dietary supplement is “not considered food.” Interesting. So we can conclude that supplements do not replace food. This is important because protein powders and bars have incomplete nutrition. They tend to be heavy on protein but fail to provide significant amounts of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and healthy fats that you would find in natural sources of protein like fish, meat, eggs and beans.

Since protein powders fall under the realm of supplements they are not considered food, thus they are not regulated by the government. A Consumer Reports investigation found that many popular brands of protein powders included concerning amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. Lesson here is that protein powders aren’t all high and mighty.

 We don’t NEED protein powder to properly fuel our bodies

Real food has a better nutritional balance than protein powders. Post workout I usually consume hard boiled eggs for protein, sometimes broccoli for some carbohydrates or maybe a mini bagel. I am no nutritionist at all but I am trying to learn. And so far it seems to me that real, all natural, non-processed foods will give you better nutrients any day over a less nutritious protein powder.

*Disclaimer…when I am training for an Ironman I will most likely be drinking some kind of protein shake. (One that isn’t full of poison)

– Train Hard. Tri Harder.