Tag Archives: supplements

Supplements shouldn’t replace food for athletes, either.

Earlier this week I wrote about dietary supplements and whether using supplements means you don’t have to eat healthy food. When it comes to promoting good health, the answer is no!

But what about supplements for athletes or people who exercise to improve fitness or body composition? While many athletes use dietary supplements to help meet their exercise goals, most don’t actually need to. Even if there is a need for additional nutrients, in most cases those demands can be met through actual food rather than supplements.

Sports drink

Dietary supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry with many products marketed specifically to people who exercise. In fact, you may use these supplements already—sports drinks like Gatorade and post-workout protein shakes or smoothies are common in most gyms.

While many sports supplements are effective and even necessary for some athletes, many people who use supplements really don’t need them. This could be because the type of exercise they do doesn’t require them or because they get enough of that nutrient through their diet. And there are some people who might benefit from supplements but don’t use them because of the cost.

This raises the question, can you replace sports supplements with food? One of my former students, Kyle Sprow, examined this question while he was an undergraduate USC Aiken. The supplements he included in his analysis are both widely used and have research to show that they are effective. This is an important point since most sports supplements have no research to support their use. Here I will focus on two supplements commonly used by athletes engaged in strength training: protein and creatine.

Protein supplements are often recommended for people who exercise. The protein requirements for athletes who are attempting to build muscle mass and strength are well above the general recommendation for good health. For example, someone who weighs 200 pounds needs a minimum of 72 grams of protein per day. To put this in perspective, 4 ounces of meat contains about 30 grams of protein. But that same person who is engaged in strenuous resistance training may need twice as much protein!

Many athletes turn to protein supplements to meet this requirement. However, since most athletes eat more total food, this leads to a protein intake that meets this need. And those who do need more protein can get it from food. A can of tuna contains as much protein as a serving of a typical whey protein supplement at a much lower cost.

The timing of protein intake is also important. Research shows that protein consumed immediately after exercise leads to greater muscle growth, especially if it is combined with some carbohydrates. This is why you might have seen a sign in the locker room at the gym reminding you that “your workout isn’t complete” without a special recovery beverage from the juice bar.

But almost any food or drink that contains a mixture of carbohydrates and protein will work.  Research also shows that chocolate milk is just as effective as more expensive supplements for promoting muscle protein synthesis following exercise. It turns out that the mix of carbohydrate and protein in chocolate milk closely matches that in many supplements and is more affordable.

Another popular supplement for boosting muscle mass is creatine monohydrate. This supplement boosts muscle levels of creatine, an important fuel for heavy resistance training. This leads to greater gains in muscle mass and strength, something that is well-supported by research. Unlike protein, it would be very difficult to get enough creatine from food. Most supplements contain about 5 grams of creatine. By comparison, you would need to eat a kilogram (that’s over 2 pounds) of beef to get the same amount!

In most cases, the nutrients in sports supplements can be provided by food at a lower cost. I focused on protein here, but the same is true for carbohydrates, omega-3 fats, and most vitamins and minerals. The exception is creatine for athletes who are doing intense strength training.

Keep in mind that the benefits of protein and creatine supplements are greatest for athletes who do intense training. The type of workouts that most people do to lose weight or improve their fitness do not require supplements at all. In fact, people who exercise to lose weight may find that using certain dietary supplements can interfere with their weight loss goals…and may even lead to weight gain!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
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Can supplements replace a healthy diet?

It’s no secret that eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources such as fish, soy, and legumes (beans) is good for you. In addition to providing carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, these foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

For example, Vitamins A and C act as antioxidants, reducing cellular damage from free radicals that may lead to heart disease and some cancers. Calcium, a mineral primarily found in dairy products, is important for bone health. Fiber in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is important for digestive health and lowering blood cholesterol.

In addition to the foods we eat, we can also get these nutrients from supplements. In fact, many of us probably take vitamin and mineral supplements already. But does taking supplements mean that you don’t have to eat a variety of healthy foods? The answer is no! In my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week I provide several reasons why replacing healthy foods with supplements is not recommended.

supplement pills


First, foods contain components beyond the nutrient you wish to supplement. For example, citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, as well as other vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Taking a vitamin C supplement instead of eating an orange means that you will miss out on those other nutrients.

Second, replacing foods with supplements may lead to making less healthy food choices. For example, you may not eat as many fruits, vegetables, or whole grains if you are getting adequate fiber through supplements or other fiber-fortified foods.

The best sources of fiber in the diet are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains; meat, dairy, and refined grains contain little fiber. You can also get fiber from supplements, which can be added to foods and beverages, and fiber-fortified foods, in which fiber is added to foods that typically wouldn’t contain fiber.

But the health benefits are greater if you get fiber through healthy foods. For breakfast you could eat a healthy whole grain cereal or you could eat a chocolate chip granola bar that is fortified with fiber. Both contain fiber, but the granola bar has a lot more sugar, making it the less healthy choice.

Another example is fish and fish oil supplements. Many fish contain high levels of a type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats improve blood lipids, lower inflammation, and reduce blood clotting, leading to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. For this reason, eating at least two servings of fish per week, especially including salmon, mackerel, and tuna, is recommended.

You could also get these healthy fats by taking fish oil or other omega-3 fatty acid supplements. However, the health benefits of this approach are not as great as actually eating fish. In fact, most of the research showing benefits of fish oils involved studying people actually eating fish; the results for fish oil supplements are less consistent. It appears that you simply don’t get the same benefit from taking a fish oil supplement as you do from eating certain types of fish.

(You can find a good low-sci explanation of this research here: Source: Fish Oil Is Hugely Popular—But Should You Take It? | TIME)

The bottom line is that a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish and other lean protein sources is the best way to get the essential nutrients you need. There is no harm in taking a multivitamin/multimineral supplement to make up for inadequacies in your diet, but you shouldn’t replace healthy foods with supplements.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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DON’T BE AN APRIL FOOL WHEN IT COMES TO WEIGHT LOSS

Diets don’t work!

Exercise can actually make you gain weight!

You can take supplements that will melt fat away while you sleep!

Claims like these should make you wonder if someone is trying to fool you. Since April Fools’ Day was last week, my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard is an attempt to uncover the truth about these common weight loss myths.

Diet pills


Diets don’t work
Considering that most people who lose weight end up gaining it back, this belief is understandable. The fact is that diets do work—that is how people lost weight in the first place! The problem is that many diets simply aren’t sustainable and don’t teach healthy eating habits necessary to keep the weight off. The result is that after the diet ends, a return to old eating patterns leads to gaining the weight back. The solution, of course, is to find a diet that you can stick with even after you have lost weight, one that teaches you how to make healthy choices and adapt your lifestyle.

Exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss
The traditional advice for losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. But some research suggests that exercise itself doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. In fact, exercise alone results in lower weight loss compared to diet only or diet plus exercise. While this is true, concluding that exercise isn’t important is a mistake.

First, even if exercise only leads to a small amount of weight loss (about a half pound per week in my experience) it does add up over time and can help someone achieve their weight loss goal more quickly. Second, research involving individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss in the National Weight Control Registry shows that exercise is important. It is noteworthy that 94% of these “successful losers” increased their physical activity in order to lose weight and 90% said that they maintain their weight by exercising an average of 60 minutes every day.

You can boost your metabolism and burn fat using supplements
Losing weight really does require making changes to your eating and exercise behaviors. Many of these changes can be difficult, so it is no surprise that people look for shortcuts. And there is no shortcut more appealing than a supplement that will increase your metabolism and burn fat while you sleep.

Keep in mind that there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to be effective for promoting long-term weight loss, despite what the manufacturers claim. In fact, some could even be dangerous. The only way to make a meaningful change in your metabolism is to exercise and significant weight loss simply won’t happen unless you change your diet.

Be especially skeptical when you see words like “flush” and “cleanse,” which are meaningless and have nothing to do with weight loss. There are a few prescription medications and one over-the-counter drug (Orlistat) that has been shown to promote weight loss—but only when combined with a healthy low-calorie diet and exercise.

Hopefully this advice will help you make healthy decisions and avoid becoming an “April Fool” when it comes to weight loss claims. The good news is that you can start losing weight today by making some simple changes including reducing your portion sizes at meals, choosing water or other calorie-free beverages when you are thirsty, and making it a point to be active every day. These modifications can lead to weight loss now and are exactly the type of changes you need to make to keep the weight off in the long run.

 


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Skip the smoothie, have a burger? Fast food for exercise recovery.

Many athletes use specialized supplements before, during, and after exercise to improve performance and enhance strength and endurance gains from training. Many non-athletes also use similar supplements, even though they may not need them. And a recent study suggests that fast food, literally meals from McDonald’s, can work as well as more expensive sports supplements for promoting muscle recovery following intense exercise. I try to make sense of all of this in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.



SONY DSC

After exercise, many athletes consume specialized beverages and foods that supply nutrients to help their muscles recover. These recovery drinks generally contain some combination of carbohydrates (sugar) and protein and come in liquid, shake, or smoothie form. There are also energy bars specifically formulated for use after exercise. Research shows that these carbohydrate-protein recovery drinks and foods enhance muscle recovery and adaptations to training in some athletes. Even if you aren’t an athlete, you may consume these products after you work out. Let’s explore when and for whom these recovery products might be useful.

Intense endurance exercise—think of a distance runner, cyclist, or triathlete—uses muscle glycogen as a fuel. Muscle glycogen is a storage form of glucose, sugar that the muscle converts into energy. During prolonged exercise sessions that last at least 60–90 minutes, muscle glycogen levels can be severely depleted. Resynthesizing that muscle glycogen is a priority following exercise.

Athletes who are engaging in intense resistance training to build muscle and strength may also benefit from a recovery drink. Weight training stimulates protein synthesis in the muscle, so it makes sense that consuming additional protein would be beneficial. As new muscle protein is formed, both strength and muscle size are increased.

It has also been shown that combining the carbohydrates with protein results in more rapid muscle glycogen replenishment and increases muscle protein synthesis. This is why many specialized recovery drinks and foods include a combination of carbohydrates and protein. The best time to consume carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen levels is immediately following exercise. Similarly, the muscle is most responsive to extra protein immediately after a resistance training session.

Perhaps these recovery drinks, bars, and shakes aren’t even necessary. Sports nutritionists have long recommended conventional foods and beverages for athletes after exercise. Research shows that chocolate milk is just as effective as more expensive supplements for replenishing muscle glycogen and promoting muscle protein synthesis. Remarkably, according to a study published last week, fast food may work just as well!

In this study cyclists were fed either commercial recovery aids or food from McDonald’s including pancakes, sausage, juice, a burger, fries, and soda after they completed an intense exercise session. Importantly, the meals contained equal amount of calories and nutrients. It turns out that there was no significant difference in how quickly muscle glycogen was replenished or in performance in a subsequent exercise bout between the two conditions. While the authors don’t recommend eating more fast food, this study suggests that foods not typically thought of as sports nutrition products can be effective for muscle recovery following vigorous exercise.

But what about people who engage in regular exercise to improve fitness or lose weight? The benefits of recovery drinks in athletes exist because the intense training causes changes in the muscle that allow the extra carbohydrates and protein to have a positive effect. Training at a lower intensity is unlikely to create this stimulus in the muscle, so these nutrients would not have a significant benefit. Simply put, most people don’t train hard enough to need a recovery drink.

The bottom line is that these recovery aids are not always necessary and you can get the same benefits from regular food. Something else to keep in mind is that these supplements, especially in shake or smoothie form, can be high in calories. It is entirely possible to consume more calories in a recovery beverage than you burn during exercise. This could diminish the effect of exercise on weight loss and may actually lead to weight gain. For most of us, a sensible diet with regular exercise is the key to meeting fitness and weight loss goals.

Advice for staying healthy for the holidays

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. At the same time, though, we are in the midst of cold and flu season. In addition to the natural spread of cold and flu viruses at this time of year, the holiday season itself, with hectic schedules, stress, and lack of sleep, can weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to getting sick.

The good news is that there is much you can do to keep yourself healthy for the holidays. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

For starters, getting a flu vaccine is the most sensible thing you can do to prevent seasonal influenza (flu). If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late. I have written about flu previously, including the fact that exercise may make your flu vaccine even more effective!

Another basic step in preventing sickness is to wash your hands regularly. Soap and water is best, and there is no additional benefit in using an antibacterial soap. If you can’t wash your hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative. Keep in mind that hand sanitizers don’t actually clean your hands and aren’t as effective if your hands are dirty.

Cold and flu viruses are spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so avoiding close contact with people who are sick is important. If you are sick, you should stay away from others as much as you can. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough or sneeze onto your sleeve to help keep the germs from spreading through the air or on your hands.

You can also be exposed to cold and flu viruses by touching something with virus on it (a doorknob, for example) and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. You can protect yourself by not touching your face and by washing your hands frequently.

People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe colds than people who aren’t regularly active. This is because exercise has the effect of stimulating the immune system, making it better able to respond when you are exposed to cold or flu viruses.

More exercise isn’t always better, though. Research shows that immune function is depressed in the weeks after running a marathon, leading to an increased risk of becoming sick. Athletes who engage in vigorous and prolonged training also tend to be more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. The bottom line is that regular exercise improves your immune system, but very vigorous exercise may not.

Good nutrition is also essential for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of certain nutrients can have a negative effect on immune function, so eating a balanced diet is essential. That said, there is no support for “boosting” the immune system by taking high doses of vitamins, minerals, or other supplements, despite the claims made by supplement companies.

You can get benefits from two more common-sense recommendations: getting adequate sleep and reducing stress. Poor sleep habits are associated with suppressed immunity and more frequent illness. High levels of stress increase susceptibility to colds and flu and can lead to more sick days from work or school. Stress and poor sleep habits tend to occur together, creating a double negative effect on the immune system.

By taking these steps, you can improve your chances of celebrating the holidays in good health. As a bonus, eating a healthy diet, exercising every day, managing your stress, and getting enough sleep will give you a head start on what are likely to be New Year’s resolutions.

 

 

To make your diet healthier, add exercise.

The American diet is frequently blamed for the poor health of Americans and, increasingly, other countries. The quest for the healthiest way to eat can literally take people around the world to find the right foods eat.

Unfortunately, diets and supplements that include these “super foods” are rarely the answer to good health on their own. It turns out that the key getting the optimal health benefits from your diet isn’t the food itself—it’s exercise!

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. It’s not to say that what you eat isn’t important (it is!). The point is that healthy eating will only get you part of the way to the goal of good health.

For decades scientists have tried to isolate the types of foods or individual nutrients that lead to good health by studying what healthy and unhealthy people eat around the world. In some studies eating more of a certain nutrient or food, like saturated fat or red meat, was associated with a higher risk of heart disease and people who ate more fish had better heart health.

This is how we arrived at the common guidelines that encourage us to eat more fish and less red meat. The assumption was that the saturated fat in red meat was the cause of more heart attacks in Americans while the beneficial oils in fish protected the Japanese from heart disease.

But these studies, or at least the interpretation of these studies, didn’t take into account the fact that the populations that had the higher heart attack risk were also less active than their healthier counterparts. Perhaps it was the physical activity that made the difference in health.

A good example of this is the popular Mediterranean diet, which is often touted as the healthiest diet in the world. It’s true that people in the Mediterranean region historically tended to have a lower risk of heart disease. This was thought to be due to their diet which emphasizes healthy fats from olive oil along with vegetables, whole grains, seafood instead of red meat, and red wine in moderation.

Unfortunately, eating more olive oil or drinking more red wine, both recommendations based on the Mediterranean diet, won’t necessarily make you any healthier. This is because health benefits are due to a complex interaction of what we eat and other lifestyle factors, including activity. And people in the Mediterranean region move a lot more than we do, a key to realizing the benefits of the local diet.

Another example is the Ornish diet, a low-fat, semi-vegetarian diet that has been credited with improving blood lipids and even reversing the process that clogs arteries in heart disease. This is part of the reason for the recommendation to avoid foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol and eat more vegetables. It’s true that this diet has been shown to improve heart health, but the subjects in the studies also exercised regularly. Achieving the full benefits of this diet requires exercise, too.

Even the typical American diet won’t necessarily be unhealthy when combined with enough exercise. The Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps famously revealed what he ate on a typically day. The amount and type of foods he consumed were not what you would expect from someone so fit and healthy! Without the hours of training he engaged in each day that diet would almost certainly have resulted in obesity and poor health.

So, as you work toward improving your diet, don’t forget about the importance of daily exercise or other activity in maximizing the health benefits. And when people ask your secret, you can tell them that the real key to a healthy diet is exercise.

How to prevent the flu: Go for a walk, then take a nap.

Cold and flu season is approaching. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, now is the time. And of course you know about washing your hands frequently and steering clear of people who are sick. But did you know that regular exercise, good nutrition, reducing stress, even getting enough sleep can help you prevent getting sick? It’s true, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

You can learn more about seasonal flu  and the flu vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Handwashing is among the most important things you can do to stop the spread of the flu and other viruses. You have probably been doing it wrong, so you may want to learn this song. Perfect timing, since today is Global Handwashing Day. You could probably learn a thing or two about drying your hands, too.

Getting enough sleep is a good idea. In fact, lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on your immune system, increasing the chance you will get sick. Another study showed that sleep following a vaccination enhanced the effectiveness of that vaccine.

Adequate nutrition is important for a healthy immune system. That said, there is no evidence that supplementing any particular nutrient will be beneficial unless, of course, there is a clear deficiency. In fact, one supplement company paid $23 million to settle a class action lawsuit regarding false claims that it prevented colds.

And that brings us to exercise. Regular moderate exercise enhances  immune system function by stimulating immune cells but prolonged vigorous exercise can impair the immune system and increase the risk of infections, especially upper respiratory tract infections. Research also shows that exercise prior to a flu shot improves the immune response to the immunization.

If you remember nothing else from this article, go for a walk before your flu shot,  then take a nap!