OYSA Goal Lines

The Athlete's Kitchen

Copyright: Nancy Clark, MS, RD November 2005

This article was provided by www.soccerspecific.com

If you are confused by the plethora of nutrition information that filters into the media, you can look to the American Dietetic Association as a trusted resource for answers to your questions (www.eatright.org). At ADA's 2005 annual meeting, registered dietitians presented the following information that addresses some of the nutrition questions and concerns of health-conscious exercisers and competitive athletes.

Eating out

If you are like most active people, you find yourself eating fewer home-cooked meals and buying more meals prepared away from home. In fact, we are eating away from home twice as often compared to 1970. We are also eating two-to-five-times larger portions than in 1970:

  • The once 8-ounce portion of soda pop at 7-Eleven stores is now a 64-ounce Double Gulp (600 calories).
  • Today's muffin (with at least 400 calories) is double the "official" portion, a 2-ounce muffin.
  • The now-commonplace 20-ounce Porterhouse steak easily fills fat cells with about 1,100 calories. Add the rest of the dinner baked potato and salad and you have enough fuel for the entire day!

To no surprise, this increase in restaurant eating and portion sizes parallels America's increase in obesity.

What can you do about this fattening environment? Obviously, you can order smaller sizes and share meals. Less obviously, you can request changes to the menu. With consumer requests, the food industry might offer value meals with healthier (and smaller) side dishes, more grilled items, and more whole-grain rolls. You could also ask for calories to be posted on the menu, next to the price; that would likely change consumer intake! Who wouldn't think twice before ordering a Big Mac: 590 calories, $2.39!


While you may know that antibiotics are used to kill the bad bugs in your body, you may not know about probiotics. Probiotics (which means "good for life") are used to enhance the growth of good bacteria in your intestines. These bacteria do good things, like produce essential fats, enhance digestion and nutrient absorption, and bolster the immune system. (Seventy percent of immune function is based in the intestinal tract). Athletes who benefit from probiotics include those who:

  • Take antibiotics (they kill both bad and good bacteria)
  • Suffer from (traveler's) diarrhea, constipation or other bowel disorders
  • Are critically ill or have had surgery

Europeans commonly use probiotics; they realize "a yogurt a day keeps the doctor away." We can all benefit by using probiotics as preventive nutrition. To boost your probiotic intake, enjoy more yogurt (with live cultures) or other cultured milk products such as kefir or Dannon's DanActive. You could also take probiotics supplements. Three commonly used products include VSL #3, Cultural (by Danone), and Flora Q (by Bradley Pharmaceuticals).

Performance enhancers

Sports supplements are popular among athletes who want a way to increase performance, feel better, have more energy and stay healthy. But buyer, beware! According to the law, supplements such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbals and botanicals do not have to prove they are effective in order to be sold. Nor do the supplement companies have to prove their products are safe, to say nothing of proof they have been manufactured to meet high standards. Despite this lack of quality control, sports supplements are a booming business.

Two hot sports supplements are creatine and nitric oxide. Creatine has been shown to improve performance in some athletes who do short, high-intensity exercise, such as weight lifting. Take note: not everyone responds. For non-responders, creatine offers no performance benefits.

Nitric oxide (NO2) supposedly dilates the arteries, allowing blood to flow more freely. Yet, no studies in strength or endurance athletes support any performance benefits.

Weight loss tip

If you are struggling to lose weight and are tired of "blowing your diet," knowing your calorie requirements can be helpful. At many fitness centers, you can have your resting metabolic rate measured and use that data to estimate your daily calorie needs. This information is particularly helpful for athletes who claim to have a slow metabolism or who eat too little, only to become ravenous and then overeat everything in sight.

Too little food

When dieting female athletes restrict their calorie intake, they limit the amount of energy that is available for physiologic functions, including menstruating. Female athletes who have stopped menstruating for more than six months, or have had multiple occurrences of skipped periods, are at risk of weakened bones and stress fractures.

These women can benefit from consulting with a sports dietitian (see thereferral network at www.eatright.org) to learn how to eat adequately to support normal body functions, yet still maintain a desired leanness.

Coaching vs. telling

Coaching is a powerful tool for helping friends and family members lose weight and improve their food intake. One key to being a good coach is to be a good listener and then ask questions (so your loved one recognizes he or she has a choice). These questions might be:

  • What do you want? (Answer: to be thinner.)
  • How much do you want it?
  • What is the purpose or reason for making this change?
  • What is the biggest risk of changing?
  • What are the consequences of doing nothing?
  • What will your life be like when you are thinner?
  • What food changes would you like to achieve in the next month? In the next year?

After asking a question, you might get the response "I don't know. What do you think?" Shut your mouth, get comfortable with silence, wait and then listen attentively! The goal is to empower people to answer their own questions and then take action, turning their desired into reality.

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD, counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks (617-383-6100), the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

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