Carbohydrates for Performance

by Aimee Wojtowecz

A few blogs back I talked about macronutrients, calories and tracking. Let’s get further into it! This will be part one of a three part series about macronutrients: what they are, why we need them, their impact on performance and recovery, and some suggestions as to your healthiest options. There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. This week we start with what has become the most divisive of the three, carbohydrates. (This gets a little sciency, so hang in there!)

Carbohydrates are a class of compounds that can be defined as having a ratio of carbon to hydrogen to oxygen of 1:2:1, Cn(H2O)n. Simple carbohydrates include glucose, galactose, fructose, maltose, sucrose and lactose. These are considered monosaccharides and disaccharides. Complex carbohydrates include glycerose, erythrose, ribose, which are oligosaccharides made of 3 to 10 monosaccharides, and starch, glycogen, pectin, cellulose and gums, which are polysaccharides containing more than 10 monosaccharides. Polysaccharides provide both energy storage and structural functions (Ross, Caballer, Cousins, Tucker and Ziegler, 2014). 

Dietary fiber is considered a complex carbohydrate and can be further broken down into soluble fiber, pectin and hydrocolloids; and insoluble fiber, cellulose and hemicellulose. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are fermented by the luminal bacteria of the colon. The regular consumption of the daily recommended fiber intake has shown the potential to diminish glucose absorption, prevent weight gain, and increase the load of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants in the diet (Ross, Caballer, Cousins, Tucker and Ziegler, 2014). 

We have multiple versions of low carbohydrate diets: Atkins, Keto, Paleo, and yet the American population continues to grow more unhealthy. It is estimated that by the year 2030 (which isn’t so far off anymore), 552 million people will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle factors including poor quality carbohydrate consumption have been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes while consumption of whole grains and fiber, specifically total fiber and cereal fiber intake, have been inversely associated with type 2 diabetes. The presence of fiber slows blood sugar absorption and causes a bulking effect in the stomach both of which delay the rate of hunger return and/or increase the feelings of satiety (AlEssa et al., 2015).

We’ve long been told that simple carbohydrates are “bad”. Simple carbohydrates include fructose, aka the sugars found in fruit. But recent research suggests that combining fructose with glucose (simple carbohydrate + complex carbohydrate) can increase total carbohydrate availability, allowing for higher carbohydrate oxidation rates (yay for sustained energy!), increased endurance workout performance, and accelerated post-exercise glycogen repletion rates (think about times when you need to recover faster such as competitions with multiple events, or hard workouts with less than 24 hours between them) (Fuchs, Gonzalez, van Loon, 2019).

So now we know what carbohydrates are and why we need a variety which leaves us with the question of what are our best options? This list is just an example of the types of foods that fall into each category and not a complete list of all healthier carbohydrates. 

Complex Carbohydrates

  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Sprouted breads
  • Acorn squash

 

Simple Carbohydrates

  • Bananas
  • Berries (Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Figs

 

If you have any questions on carbohydrates or how to better work them into your diet, sign up for a FREE 15-minute nutrition consultation and let us help you add those carbs back into your life!

 

References

AlEssa, H. B., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Malik, V. S., Wedick, N. M., Campos, H., Rosner, B., … Hu, F. B. (2015). Carbohydrate quality and quantity and risk of type 2 diabetes in US women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(6), 1543–1553. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.116558

Fuchs CJ, Gonzalez JT, van Loon LJC. (2019). Fructose co-ingestion to increase carbohydrate availability in athletes. J Physiol. Jul;597(14): 3549-3560. doi: 10.1113/JP277116. Epub 2019 Jul 2. PMID: 31166604; PMCID: PMC6852172. 

Ross, A.C., Caballero, B., Cousins, R.J., Tucker, K.L., and Ziegler, T.R. (Eds.). (2014). Modern nutrition in health and disease (11th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 

 

The Magic Pill

by Michael Plank

There’s a whole lot in this day and age that we can get immediately, or dang-close to it. Things are becoming more convenient by the day. Grocery pick-up! Same-day delivery! It is a magical time to be alive. But when so much of what we want is available at our fingertips, it can be frustrating when health and wellness don’t come quite as easily… or maybe that’s not quite right.

Maybe it’s not that building health and wellness is difficult, it’s that it can be slow. Because the truth is that there actually is a magic pill of sorts for weight loss, strength gain, and biomarker improvement.

Consistency.

That’s it. That’s the whole secret. You don’t have to workout for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week; you don’t have to completely cut out all carbohydrates and processed foods; you don’t have to engage in monumental, herculean efforts. You just have to keep going. Consistent mediocrity will beat sporadic excellence every time.

And really, that’s a huge part of what we do as coaches: we help our members stay consistent. You probably don’t need to learn about what foods are good for you, you probably don’t need to learn that lifting more weight makes you stronger; what you need is to know that every week, someone is waiting for you, and excited to see you show up to work out like you said you would. Every week, someone is checking in to be sure you’re still good with creative ideas for those 2 servings of vegetables you planned on. Every week, someone is in your corner, helping you to not just do what will help you, but helping you want to do what will help you.

Because then you’ll be consistent. And then you’ll get results. And it’s as simple as that. Magic pill.

Macros: Yea or Nay?

by Aimee Wojtowecz

IIFYM

No it’s not some secret cult, it’s the acronym for the “If It Fits Your Macros” movement. The premise being that the path to health and fitness relies solely on counting macronutrients: weighing and measuring everything before it passes your lips.

As nutritionists we often get asked about tracking, journaling, counting macros or “points”; whatever label you want to put on it, what it comes down to is accountability. Tracking our foods can absolutely be a useful tool, but maybe not in the ways you expect. There are many reasons to track that aren’t just about calories. You can track protein, fat or carbohydrate intakes, maybe you’re watching your sodium levels and need to track that, or you’re tracking your vitamin and mineral intake to make sure that you’re getting all the needed nutrients. You can track the QUALITY of the foods you’re taking in because maybe you’re trying to cut back on processed foods or maybe you are indeed tracking the calories as a means to reach your goals; not because those calories somehow increase or decrease your value as a human being but because you’re an athlete with goals that sometimes require certain calories.

The important takeaway here is that we want to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and sometimes tracking can be a beneficial tool for that but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes tracking can lead to an obsession with food, or “clean eating”, or alter our relationship with exercise. If you know that tracking isn’t for you but you want to stay on track with your training and nutrition plan, what do you do when everyone is screaming at you that you must count macros?

Keep. It. Simple. 

We often recommend the plate method (1/2 plate non-starchy veggies, 1/4 lean meat and 1/4 complex carb) as a way to estimate portions and make sure that you are balancing meals with a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, while also ensuring that you get plenty of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. It’s simple and effective. But if that seems overwhelming, start even simpler. Try starting by including a vegetable at most meals and snacks. Or start by having a single glass of water with every meal and snack.

You can make massive improvements to your health and fitness with the smallest of steps when it comes to your nutrition and as we all know, nutrition is the foundation upon which our fitness is built.

Who’s On Your Team?

by Michael Plank

The self-made man? Self-made woman? It’s a myth. Or at least not something aspirational. The best performers in athletics, business, finance, military, you name it… all have teams. Even in individual sports, athletes have mindset coaches, strength coaches, hitting coaches, and fielding coaches.

When people join our gym, our goal – in short – is to make their lives better. We help them do that with fitness (which includes nutrition). But fitness is only one piece of the puzzle. There’s also faith. There’s also family. There are also friendships. There’s also psychology.

We’ve already talked about how valuable coaching is, and complete health involves fitness coaching for sure. But it also probably involves a spiritual advisor, and solid family relationships (biological or not), and friends in whom you can confide, and a therapist, and a doctor, and a financial advisor.

What we encourage people to do (and what we’re encouraging you to do as you’re reading this right now) is to build your team. The different areas of your life have different needs. (As much as I love hearing how meaningful our gym is for people, the truth is that CrossFit is not therapy. Therapy is therapy.) Get your fitness coach, your spouse (or siblings or parents or cousins), your best friend(s), your spiritual advisor, your therapist, your doctor, and your financial advisor. Tell them what you need and then let them help you.

It can seem like an overwhelming project, but the great news is that once you get those people lined up, it means that you don’t have to do it all yourself. You are only as smart as your own brain. And when you can get other brains in the mix, whole new worlds can open up to you. Those people who can help you are out there. And when you get your team in line, magic can happen.

(PS Obviously we’d love to help you with your fitness coaching. And we’ll put in a plug here for a great therapist too).

Inching the Needle

by Aimee Wojtowecz

Often in nutrition there seems to be this all or nothing approach. People get easily overwhelmed thinking that to make any progress they have to be 100% perfect all the time or it’s just not worth it at all. Well I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. Where else in your life do you need to be, or can you be, 100% perfect? Nowhere. The answer you’re looking for is: nowhere. 

Nutrition is not all or nothing, food is not good or bad (our food doesn’t have morals, folks!), eating an ice cream cone in the summer doesn’t mean you are a bad person or a failure, it means you’re living your life. We only get 3 months of good weather here everybody, I would be disappointed for you if you spent all summer longing for Rookies and denied yourself for the sake of perfection!

What healthy nutrition is, is balance. It’s a series of habits and choices that sets us up for long-term success, it’s preventative health care, it’s community, it’s family, it’s celebration and sorrow. What it never is, is punishment. Healthy nutrition is about nourishing your body, mind and soul with foods that make you feel good AND help you reach your goals. This is done through incremental changes and adding healthy habits that over time will crowd out some of those unhealthier habits that are no longer serving your health or your goals. 

For example, maybe cheeseburgers are your favorite meal in the world and you eat them 4 times a week. I would never tell you that the only way to get healthy is to give up cheeseburgers forever. That’s miserable and unsustainable. What I might ask you is what steps are you willing to take to make that cheeseburger 1% healthier this week? Could you add lettuce and tomato? Could you use a whole-grain bun or make it open faced? Could you eventually sub in ground turkey (maybe even a 50/50 blend?)? Could you leave off the cheese 1-2 times this week? This might not sound like much when you think about all these little tweaks but what you don’t realize is how all these tiny little changes can really add up over time. Think about it like compounding interest in your retirement fund. You add a little, and a little, and a little bit more, but the interest compounds over time giving you a greater return down the line. Your health and nutrition are the same. These tiny little changes can lead to HUGE results and benefits over time that you didn’t even realize were happening because the changes didn’t seem life altering at the time. 

So I challenge you this week to look for one way that you can inch that needle just 1% closer to your goals. For me it’s adding one more glass of water each day. I would love to hear what your 1% is!

 

Nutrition and Your Mental Health

by Aimee Wojtowecz

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression, these are all branches of the same tree, our mental health. Now when you think about taking care of your mental health you might not automatically think about nutrition. It’s ok, most people don’t. But what most people also don’t realize is just how strong the connection is between what we are eating and how we are feeling. 

Did you know that studies have shown that a high compliance with the Mediteranean diet can reduce the risk of depression by up to 32%; 21 studies of 10 different countries found that a healthful dietary pattern (high intakes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, nuts and more) was associated with a reduced risk of depression while conversely a Standard American Diet (think high intake of processed meats, refined grains, sweets etc…) was linked to a significantly increased risk of depression; studies in adults over the age of 50 have shown a connection between diets high in saturated fats and added sugars and an increased levels of anxiety; similar results have also been seen in teenagers (1).

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the connection between our gut (the second brain!) health and our mental health. Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach when nervous or decided to go with “your gut feeling” when making a decision? Chances are that you were receiving signals from your second brain that you weren’t even aware of. The ENS or enteric nervous system is located in the walls of our gastrointestinal tract and consists of two layers and more than 100 million nerve cells. Irritations to the ENS system (IBS, constipation, diarrhea) send signals to the CNS, central nervous system, that can then trigger mood changes, rather than the other way around, mood changes and emotions triggering IBS, constipation, or diarrhea (2).

By better understanding the connection between our foods and our emotions we can take greater control of our health. This is not to say that foods can replace medications. Mental illness should always be taken seriously while working with your physician to find the best possible treatment for you.

But it is to say that small changes can really add up when it comes to our health, and studies have shown that you really are what you eat. 

References

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/nutrition-and-mental-health-is-there-a-link#Preventing-mental-health-conditions
  2. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection