Archive for March, 2010

Do You Need a Sports Drink?

March 30, 2010

Recently I gave a talk to the Seattle Women’s Hockey Club about nutrition for tournament weekends. In preparation for the talk I visited the local REI store to look at various sports products since I am commonly asked what I think about drinks, bars, gels, blocks or nuggets, etc. I must say the variety of products is overwhelming at first. Upon closer inspection however, I realized many of the products are very similar. There are of course “proprietary blends” of both carbohydrate and protein components and quite a bit of hype surrounding maltodextrin, whey protein and various amino acids. In general however, the differences among products don’t seem all that significant (despite marketing propaganda to the contrary!).

So here are a few basic ideas related to sports products.

First, if you are a recreational athlete not in competition or rigorous training, sports products may be helpful but not necessary. If you are sitting at your computer, walking leisurely during a lunch break, or casually riding your cruiser bike to do errands you don’t need a fancy sports drink. If you don’t like plain water the reduced or no-calorie “sports drinks” are fine for these purposes.

If you are doing something high-intensity like fast paced running, sprinting, or cycling for more than an hour then sports drinks can really help. Or if you are playing hockey, soccer or another sprinting sport, a sports drink may help you even if it is less than an hour – especially if you are playing multiple games in a day or consecutive days.

If in these high intensity situations you choose the low- or no-cal beverage you are missing the point. You want carbs during high intensity and/or longer duration activities.

Along these lines, the various electrolyte replacement drinks that do not contain any calories or carbohydrates are not the best choice either. If you sweat a lot (either because it’s hot and humid or you are wearing several added pounds of hockey gear) the electrolytes may be really helpful to replace fluid but you will not “get energy” from these drinks/powders/pills.

Finally, gels or blocks/nuggets do provide carbs for energy during a high intensity sport but you generally need to get enough fluid with them (usually 8 oz. per serving) to prevent gastrointestinal problems. This is fine for longer endurance activities but not practical for many intense sprinting sports when it is difficult to drink enough water. The same for the various bars – they can be great for a quick pre-workout/game snack if you know you can digest them, or afterwards to begin replenishing glycogen within the “magic 15-30 minute window” but not good during an intense bout of activity.

The Beyond Broccoli Story

March 9, 2010

I’ll start this blog with the story of why I chose a career in nutrition – or more accurately, how it chose me. It all started when my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in 1995, he was only 52 at the time.  I was in Jackson, Wyoming, managing a bar and restaurant and he was in a suburb of Boston. With 2,000 miles between us I felt helpless. So, I did what I’d done to comfort myself since childhood – I read. I wanted to know what was happening to my Dad, and secretly I hoped to find a way to help him.

The theme that cropped up in relation to cancer over and over was nutrition. Nutrition’s link to cancer prevention, as an adjunct to conventional cancer therapies, and possibly even remission, inspired me. My path seemed clear. I’d worked in food and beverage through college and to support my skiing habit for a decade after college and suddenly I saw food as medicine.

Unfortunately my Dad and his oncologist didn’t share my enthusiasm. Dad’s insurance company wouldn’t pay for a single visit with a dietitian and the oncologist thought the supplement regimen he’d prescribed was the only nutritional support Dad needed. In fact Dad went to the emergency room three times for what he called “pancreatic attacks” before a nurse offhandedly suggested he cut back on the fat in his diet – that was the last of those “attacks.” Needless to say I was frustrated.

Dad died 8 months after his diagnosis and I was more determined than ever to pursue a career in nutrition. I couldn’t help my Dad manage his illness but I could learn how to help others. My undergraduate degree was in English so I faced my fear of chemistry classes and got to work. I chose to pursue a program that combined a Master of Science degree with the courses and internships I needed to become a Registered Dietitian. I also indulged my interest in alternative medicine and continue to stay open to learning in this realm.

My dream was to establish a private practice that combined my passions for writing, teaching, and counseling as ways to educate people about food and nutrition. I also wanted to connect people with food – how to prepare and enjoy it. Oh yeah, I also wanted to make it fun whenever possible. Beyond Broccoli is the realization of my dream.

I’m very sad that my Dad is not alive to see the career path he led me to and the incredible journey over the past decade or so. He used to tell me he thought I could do great things. After devoting 27 years of his life to public service with the Massachusetts State Police, I know that his idea of great things meant helping people. Thanks to my Dad I have discovered a career path I am passionate about and I strive always to do great things, one client at a time.