Friday, September 12, 2014

The Importance of Breakfast

We have all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You have probably heard it from your coach, parents, teachers, nurses, doctors and other family members. But have they ever told you why? Although every meal is important, let me tell you why breakfast is:

  • Breakfast means break the fast (fast during sleep). Breakfast kick starts our body's metabolism. More so if we eat good nutrients to start the day. It's like starting a car that has a full tank of gas versus just half a tank.
  • Studies show that students that eat breakfast are able to concentrate better and perform better academically. 
  • Athletes that need to consume a large amount of calories will have a hard time reaching their calorie goals if they skip breakfast. This in turn will hurt performance and could cause undesired weight loss.
  • Breakfast has been shown to help people maintain body weight.
  • Skipping breakfast may cause overeating later on, which in turn can cause weight gain.
  • If you skip breakfast, by the time lunch arrives you are so hungry you eat everything in sight. Research shows that most probably you will reach for the calorie dense, nutrient poor foods such as: fast food and concentrated sweets.
  • Skipping breakfast will probably prevent most people from meeting the daily requirement for the different vitamins and minerals that help us heal and recover post exercise.
  •  People that eat breakfast tend to be more alert throughout the day without having a mid-morning crash.
Now that you know why it's so important here are some tips for how to build a good breakfast:
  • Try to have at least 3 food groups, for example: fruits, grains, dairy or protein, grains, vegetables.
  • Focus on whole grains such as oats and whole wheat bread/cereal.
  • Always have a fruit or a vegetable.
  • Try to get 15-30 grams protein. Having a good amount of protein for breakfast helps you feel fuller for longer and prevent over eating as well as help sustain energy.   
  • Drink at least 16-20 oz of fluids, preferably water. Fluids can also be milk, tea, coffee and juice.
  • Prefer eating fruit/vegetables versus juicing as that way you can get the fiber and some nutrients that are lost with juicing.
  • Not all breakfasts can be a sit down breakfast. Nonetheless, grab something for the road such as: apple and cheese stick, granola bar and a cup of milk, smoothie, oats on the go, etc.
Here are some ideas for a healthy breakfast:
  • Whole wheat cereal (Kashi is a great choice) with 1% milk and strawberries
  • Oatmeal with pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and blueberries
  • Scrambled eggs with whole wheat bread and watermelon
  • Smoothie made with: Greek yogurt, strawberries, pineapple, spinach, kiwi, chia seeds and kale
  • Toast with peanut butter and jelly and a cup of milk
  • Sandwich with cheese and avocado and 100% orange juice
  • Yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Leftovers from dinner :)
  • Spinach and feta cheese omelet with toast
  • Muffin with egg, ham, cheese  and spinach and a cup of 100% orange juice
  • Be creative and make sure your plate is colorful! 
Make no excuses and start the day right with a good breakfast! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Eggplant is in Season

Once in a while I like choosing a vegetable that not many people are familiar with that's in season. I do it because a varied diet is very important just like a varied training program is. In addition, vegetables are packed with antioxidants (compounds that help us fight "toxins" in the body) as well as other important minerals and vitamins. I don't want you to miss out, especially if you are avoiding it because you have no idea what to do with it.

Today I chose one of my favorite vegetables, the eggplant. Egg what?! Yes eggplant.


Eggplant, also called aubergine, is a night shade vegetable originally from India (eggplant is actually classified as a fruit but we treat it like a vegetable). It comes in multiple shapes and colors but the most common one in north America is dark purple and oval shaped on the outside but cream colored on the inside. It is used in many cuisines including: Italian, Indian, Turkish, Greek, Thai and more. Eggplant is eaten cooked, not raw.

Nutritionally it is low in calories and carbohydrates, fat free and cholesterol free. It is a very good source of fiber and contains a phytonutrient called Nasunin that's located in the peel of the eggplant. The peel also contains phytonutrients called anthocyanins. Nasunin and anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that help us fight inflammation and some cancers as well as help us protect multiple cells including brain cells and heart cells. Eggplant is a good source of potassium, manganese, copper and several B vitamins. B vitamins are important for metabolism and the minerals help with multiple functions in the body including bone health, electrolyte balance and wound healing just to name a few.
Eggplant can be used as an appetizer, side dish or even as part of the main dish. Here are some ideas of how to experiment with this fantastic vegetable:

Baba Ganoush - Middle Eastern eggplant spread

1 Medium size Eggplant
2 Tbsp Tahini Paste
1 tsp Minced Garlic
2 Tbsp Lemon juice
Salt & Pepper for taste
2 Tbsp Cilantro chopped fine (Garnish)

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover eggplant with aluminum foil and bake until completely soft (20-25 minutes). Alternatively you can roast on the grill (about 10 minutes) until soft and peel is charred. If roasting on the grill, aluminum foil is not needed (for the smokey flavor).
2. Let cool for 15-20 minutes.
3. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and with a spoon take out all the pulp and move to medium bowl.
4. Depending how smooth you like it, you can smash the pulp with a fork or put in the food processor for a smoother texture.
5. Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the eggplant pulp and stir.
6. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
Note; this tends to taste even better after it sits in the fridge for a while. Serve with crackers or pita bread.

Here is a great eggplant parmesan recipe

Baked Eggplant - A tasty and easy side

2 Eggplants cut into rounds
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Tbsp of Fresh Rosemary (can use 2 Tbsp dried)
0.5 tsp Kosher Salt
0.5 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Garlic Powder

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Spread eggplant on baking sheet.
3. Brush the eggplant with oil
4. Sprinkle the rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic evenly as you can
5. Bake until soft and brown (about 20-30 minutes)
6. Serve as a side for fish, steak or chicken

Press here for more easy eggplant recipes.

Make sure that next time you go to the grocery store you pick yourself an eggplant and try one of these tasty recipes. Feel free to post here how it came out.
Happy Eating!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spice It Up!

As human beings we get stimulated by using our senses. When it comes to food, we use seeing, smelling and tasting. In fact, it's just enough for us to smell something good to start salivating and feel hunger. Whether you like cooking and experimenting in the kitchen or enjoy trying new foods, spices are a great way to get those senses going. In addition, spices have many beneficial properties that can help us fight inflammation post exercise and protect us from different risk factors such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Below are four examples of great anti-inflammatory spices, what their potential benefits are and where we can add them:

  • Cayenne pepper - A part of the capsicum family. Made from dried ripe fruit of the red pepper. Used topically and orally. Contains an active ingredient called capsaicin. Capsaicin is a very potent anti-inflammatory. Orally, it has been shown to be effective for mild indigestion. Topical application has shown promise in helping with pain relief, arthritis, skin disease and cluster headaches. Cayenne is spicy and therefore would work well with meats, chili, seafood, vegetables and Mexican food.

  • Ginger - The underground stem of a the plant that looks like a root from southern Asia. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties. Evidence suggests that ginger may be effective in helping with nausea from multiple causes (motion sickness, pregnancy and post surgery). It has also been found to be possibly effective in treating osteoarthritis (bone disease) and high cholesterol. Ginger is great in Asian food (e.g. stir fry, sushi or vegetable curry), baked goods (e.g. ginger bread or cookies)

  • Turmeric - Also known as curcumin. Similar to ginger, it is from the underground stem of the herb Curcuma Longa. The curcuminoid compound (curcumin) is a potent anti-oxidant (helps fight "toxins" in the body called free radicals) and anti-inflammatory. Has been shown to be effective for indigestion and osteoarthritis. There are multiple preliminary studies showing cancer protective affects, less soreness post exercise, improved depression symptoms and improved blood sugar levels. Turmeric is great in Indian food, egg salad, grains, vegetables and beans.

  • Black pepper - A dried fruit from the piperaceae family. Contains an active compound called piperine. Piperine enhances our ability to absorb (bio-availability) anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory's from fruits and vegetables. In fact, it can enhance bio-availability of curcumin by 2000%. Due to its enhancing effects pepper could help with any of the benefits mentioned above as well as enhancing the properties of the vegetables you sprinkle it on. Pepper can be used in all dishes (even in fruit).

    All these spices can help you increase your A game by helping fight inflammation caused by your activity. Moreover, it can make your food smell and taste better. So next time you are in the kitchen, make sure you spice it up!

    Happy Labor Day! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Can an Athlete Fuel Right if They are Vegetarian or Vegan?

More and more athletes and people decide to go on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Athletes like Mac Danzig (MMA), Ronda Rousey (MMA), Carl Lewis (runner), Robert Parish (basketball), Prince Fielder (baseball), Bill Pearl (bodybuilding) and Martina Navratilova (tennis) have all adapted a vegetarian or vegan diet and are some of the best in the world at their sport. So we know its possible, but how do they do it?

First, lets define the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan diet:
Vegetarian diet- Vegetarian diets avoid all animal meat and fish and are divided into 3 types: Lacto-ovo vegetarian - do not eat meat or fish products but eat dairy and eggs. Lacto vegetarian - do not eat meat, fish or eggs but eat dairy and Ovo vegetarian - do not eat meat, fish or dairy but eat eggs. Some vegetarians do eat fish which by definition is considered pescatarian but they call themselves vegetarian.
Vegan diet- Avoid all animal products and their by products including: eggs, dairy, butter and honey.


A vegetarian diet has many health reported benefits including: reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers. In addition, studies show that there is no difference in performance when comparing a diet that contains animal products versus the diet that doesn't. However, the vegetarian or vegan diet needs to be well planned and varied in order to meet the demands of the sport.
Getting enough calories, protein and other micro-nutrients are important when it comes to vegetarian and vegan athletes and this is how they can meet their needs:

Energy (calories) - Plant based diets are rich with fiber which fills us up and in turn may reduce intake. Since energy needs for an athlete may be very high it is important to monitor weight and body composition. Nonetheless, most research shows that vegetarians and vegans can meet their daily energy needs with a little bit of planning.

Protein - Interestingly, although vegetarian athletes eat less protein than their omnivore counterpart, they do meet or even exceed their protein needs as long as the diet is varied and energy intake is adequate for the activity. However, for vegans, it may be more difficult to meet the needs. Plant proteins, in general, are not digested as well as animal proteins and therefore, recommendations for protein intake are 10% higher than usually advised for athletes (1.3 - 1.8 gr/kg/day or 0.59-0.81 gr/lb/day). Meeting protein needs does become an issue only when someone decides to limit their energy intake. Good sources for vegetarians are: eggs, milk, tofu, soy beans, lentils, chick peas, quinoa, split peas, chick peas, beans, seeds, nuts, hemp seeds, oats and other whole grains.

Iron - Iron delivers oxygen to muscles making it especially important for endurance athletes. Most vegetarian and vegan athletes get enough iron. Plant foods have a lower bio-availability (less absorption) of iron compared to animal products. Animal products have heme-iron (about 15-40% of iron is absorbed) and plant foods have non-heme iron (1-15% of iron is absorbed). How much Iron is absorbed is based on whether you have inhibitors or enhancers in your diet. Inhibitors include: calcium, coffee, tea, cocoa and phytates (present in legumes such as lentils and chick peas as well as whole grains). Enhancers include: vitamin C (in citrus fruit, berries, red pepper) and carotenoids (red and orange fruits and vegetables). Some food preparation methods, such as soaking and sprouting beans, grains and seeds can also help with absorbency. Due to less bio-availability, vegetarians and vegans have higher iron needs than omnivores. Dark greens (kale, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, swiss chard, etc) as well as tofu, lentils, seeds and soy beans can help meet iron needs if eaten in a good amount.

Calcium- Calcium is important for bone health as well as muscle function. This mineral is more of a concern with vegans since they eliminate all dairy items. Therefore, vegans have shown to have higher risk of fracture probably due to not getting enough calcium in the diet. Nonetheless, it is still possible to get calcium from fortified foods (soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, orange juice, breakfast cereals etc.) as well as seeds, nuts and vegetables. Similar to iron, absorption of calcium may be inhibited by certain compounds such as oxalates (present in spinach and swiss chard) as well as phytates. Good sources are: fortified milk alternatives, bok choy, kale, arugula, tofu, tahini, chia seeds, almonds.

Vitamin D - This vitamin is not only important for bone health but also for athletic performance (check my previous blog for more info). The best source of vitamin D is from sun exposure between 10 am - 3 pm for 5-30 minutes (time depends on skin color, age, season, latitude and sunscreen use). We can also find it in fortified foods such as milk and the alternatives, some breakfast cereals and orange juice. Since we live in the midwest we do not get sun exposure during the winter and it's fairly difficult to reach the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D via food consumption, therefore, a supplement could be considered.

B12 - Is one of the only micro-nutrients that is fairly difficult to meet when avoiding all animal products. Vegetarians that eat dairy and eggs can easily meet needs. You can find B12 in fortified foods such as breakfast cereal, meat analogs and nutritional yeast, however, for a vegan athlete that may not be enough. In those cases a supplement would be advised. It does take several years to become deficient in B12 but deficiency will cause decrease in aerobic performance as well as brain functions.
Zinc - Zinc is important for immune health as well as other processes related to DNA. Similar to Iron, zinc absorption is inhibited by phytates. Supplements containing folic acid, calcium, iron, copper and magnesium will also inhibit absorption (not sources from food). Due to the inhibitors, zinc needs for vegans are 50% higher. Consumption of protein, citrus fruit (orange, grapefruit, etc.) and food preparations such as mentioned in the iron section can all help with increasing absorbency. In certain cases, supplementation is advised in vegans. Good sources are: beans, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and nuts.

Omega 3 fatty acids (DHA/EPA) - Omega 3 (mainly DHA/EPA) has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that help recovery post workout as well as other health benefits. EPA and DHA are present mainly in fish and algae. You can find also omega 3 in the form of ALA (has not shown to have the same benefits as DHA/EPA) which is found in plant derived products such as chia and flax seeds, almonds, walnuts, canola oil and soy. However, ALA does not convert well to EPA or DHA. Seaweed can also be a great source of DHA/EPA but most people don't eat enough of it. Supplementation could be considered in those instances. Note; most omega 3 supplements are from fish, therefore, make sure label says vegetarian/vegan.

Whether you are on a similar diet or wanting to try a vegetarian/vegan diet, make sure you consult with a sports dietitian to help you figure out how to create a diet that will help you compete at your best.
If supplementation is needed, make sure you also consult with your primary physician.
For some healthy recipes press this link.
If you want to start of small, try meatless Monday.
No matter what people tell you, you can be great at your sport even with a vegetarian/vegan diet as long as you plan ahead!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Phone Apps you Might Want to Add

         mobile app
Now day and age, the majority of us have a cellular phone, most probably a smart phone. Besides staying connected all the time and using social media such as Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook, the smart phone can also be used as an effective tool to help us eat healthfully and stay on track. Here are just several free apps that can help:

  • NSF Certified for Sport® - NSF is an independent tester that examines multiple supplements. This specific app is for tested supplements that are safe for sports. NSF tests for presence of banned substances, verify label claims against product contents and protect against adulteration of products. If you decide to take a supplement, make sure it's on this list!
  • The Dirty Dozen - Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the most and the least vegetables and fruits that contain pesticide residues (the dirty dozen and clean 15). If a vegetable or fruit appear on the dirty dozen list, it is recommended to buy organic so that you avoid the pesticide residue. However, if they appear on the clean 15 list, you can buy conventionally grown. Since organic tends to be more expensive in many cases this allows you to minimize the expenses.
  • Seafood watch - This app helps you to decide which ocean friendly seafood to eat regionally and nationally. There is a list of "super green" seafood that's good for you and the ocean. You can also find restaurants and establishments in your area that sell "best choice" or "good alternative" seafood. Both common market names and Japanese names can be found in this app.
  • Fooducate - This app can help you lose weight as well as make better food choices. You can track your calories easily by using their bar-code reader. Moreover, products are given a nutrition grade based on their ingredients (A, B, C and D) which allows you to choose better options of the foods you like. Fooducate has a very large product database and allows you to personalize it based on your preferences such as gluten free, non-processed, vegetarian etc.
  • Food Tripping - GPS based app that allows you to find healthy sustainable food options while you are travelling and on the road. It will find eateries that have vegan/vegetarian food, juice joints, farmers market, organic coffee shops, etc.
  • Allthecooks recipes - This app is great if you have no clue as to what to make with the ingredients you have at home. You can tailor it to your preference (vegan, vegetarian, milk free, etc). This app is made by regular people that just post their recipe and a picture (which means not all recipes are healthy). You can also upload pictures of your own creation. There are multiple forums you can use to discuss recipe ideas. Calories and nutritional information is available for most recipes.
  • Seasonal Food Fruits and Vegs - This app allows you to find what fruits and vegetables are currently in season in your area. The app provides a description of the produce as well as it's nutritional value. Moreover, there is a web-search for recipes in the app so you can know what to do with a fruit or vegetable you have not tried before.  
Whether you're on the road or just at your local grocery store, whether you want to lose weight, fuel for performance or eat healthier, these apps got you covered. So next time you're on iTunes or Google Play make sure you download these free apps. 


Friday, August 8, 2014

Protein for Performance

Athletes literally brutalize themselves during workouts and training sessions. This makes nutrition extremely important for optimal performance, recovery and muscle rebuilding. Both hydration and carbohydrate are important for exercise adaptations and recovery, but it is also important to recognize protein.

Protein recommendations for athletes are in the range of 1.2 - 1.7 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight a day (1 kg = 2.2 lbs) or 0.54 - 0.77 g/lb a day. Recommendations for endurance athletes would be on the low end at 1.2 - 1.4 g/kg (0.54 - 0.64 g/lb) of bodyweight and 1.5 – 1.7 g/kg (0.68 - 0.77 g/lb) for strength and power athletes. For example, an endurance athlete weighing 160 lbs (72.7 kg) would need approximately 87 - 102 grams of protein per day, whereas a 200 lbs (90.9 kg) bodybuilder may require 136 - 170 grams of protein per day. These recommendations may change as some current and emerging research suggests protein requirements may actually decrease in well-trained individuals due to a greater efficiency of dietary nitrogen utilization.

While there are several types of protein, whey protein may be the best choice after a workout. According to Dr. Stuart Phillips, whey protein is more effective than both soy and casein in promoting anabolism (muscle growth) in the fed-state or following exercise. This is due to the high leucine content – a branched chain amino acid – which is a trigger for activating muscle protein synthesis. But when it comes to post workout protein needs, more is not always better. In fact, several studies suggest 20 grams of whey protein (8.6 grams of essential amino acids) is sufficient for most athletes to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Older athletes may require as much as 40 grams of protein post exercise (16.8 grams of essential amino acids) to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Protein consumption before or after exercise is important, but consuming high quality protein spaced evenly throughout the day may be just as essential for optimizing muscle protein synthesis. Throughout the day our bodies go through periods of muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis. Only when protein synthesis exceeds breakdown, does the growth of muscle mass occur. Therefore, it is important that athletes consume 4 to 5 equally spaced protein containing meals throughout the day versus the typical breakfast, lunch and supper regimen. It is recommended that each meal contains 0.25 - 0.30 g/kg protein. Using our previous example, our 160 lb endurance athlete should aim for 18 – 22 grams of protein per meal and our 200 lb bodybuilder should aim for 23 -27 grams of protein per meal. A protein containing small meal, such as Greek yogurt, prior to bed is also recommended to improve post exercise overnight recovery.

It is highly recommended to choose lean proteins such as: chicken, turkey, fish, lean parts of beef and pork, Greek yogurt and legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas). In addition, chocolate milk is a great source of whey and could be used as a recovery drink post exercise (20 oz will provide 20 grams protein).

There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to individualized sports nutrition regimens. So always make sure to consult with a sports dietitian to ensure your nutrient needs are met for optimal performance, recovery, and muscle repair. 

Guest blog by: Gavin Van De Walle; SDSU dietetic student and personal trainer

Friday, July 25, 2014

Celebrate Blueberries This Month


I would like to dedicate this blog to one of my favorite fruits, blueberries. It really pleases me that it gets a whole celebratory month. I hope you have partaken in eating everything blueberry, if you have not, let me tell you why you should:
Besides being very tasty, blueberries are low in calories, have no fat, are high in fiber and are full of antioxidants (antioxidants help us fight free radicals that are formed in the body and could damage different cells as well as DNA). Blueberries contain polyphenols called anthocyanins which give the fruit its blue color as well as its antioxidant capacity and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain a good amount of vitamin C and manganese. Vitamin C helps with keeping a healthy immune system and manganese helps with bone development and converting macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and protein) to energy. Blueberries may also help with reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

In North America, blueberry season is from April to late September. Season peaks in July (hence July is blueberry month). Thankfully, our neighbors in South America have opposite seasons and therefore, we can get this amazing fruit year round. Moreover, we can get frozen blueberries year round. If you ever wanted to go pick blueberries yourself, make sure you check this link of where.
For more information and plenty of recipes you can check the Blueberry Council webpage.

Here is recipe for a high protein blueberry smoothie (makes 2 servings): 

1 cup 0% Greek yogurt
0.5 cup ice
0.5 cup 100% pineapple juice
1 cup blueberries fresh or forzen
1 Tbsp of chia seeds
Blend all ingredients together and enjoy

Nutrition facts per serving: 175 kcal, 14 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 4.4 grams fiber, 2.5 grams fat, 189 mg calcium and 13 mg vitamin C.

Enjoy this month to it's fullest and don't forget to add some blueberries!