Fueling Up on Food for Fitness

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome, Dr. Benardot. It's evening there in Greece. What did the marathon runners have for dinner tonight?

BENARDOT:
The marathon runners have not eaten yet. They'll have dinner probably around 8 o'clock in the evening, an hour from now.

They go out for an evening run about 6:00, then come back, shower, and go to dinner. When they have dinner; dinner is as different for each marathoner as it is as for individuals. In general, there's a focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, some lean meat, some good, whole-grain bread (the Greek bread here is phenomenal), and lots of fluids.

MODERATOR:
Are there any big "no-no's" for the runners, diet-wise?

BENARDOT:
These are very excellent, talented, experienced runners, and one of the reasons for their success is they've learned what the no-no's are. In general they are shying away from foods high in fat and focusing on foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, and that's exactly what they should be doing.

MODERATOR:
So no Atkins adherents there, I guess!

BENARDOT:
There is no Atkins adherence; there's no reason for it. I can't think of a single study that shows that endurance athletes would do better consuming an Atkins diet, which is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you think about wine and other spirits as part of an athlete's diet? Does wine rally aid in digestion as the ancient Greek athletes insisted, or is that just a good excuse to drink up?

BENARDOT:
That's really an excellent question, especially given where we are. There's a tremendous individual variation in alcohol tolerance, but in general, the closer we come to an important competition the more important it is for athletes to shy away from alcohol of any kind. They're young active people with no digestive difficulties that would be aided with the consumption with wine, and we know that alcohol may detract from performance, so we encourage them to eliminate all alcohol.

In fact, this encouragement is hardly necessary for this group of athletes. They're true professionals and they know what's best, including alcohol avoidance.

MODERATOR:
Of course, another food associated with that part of the world is olive oil. Can you talk about the role of oils in a good diet, and how olive oil differs from others like canola?

BENARDOT:
Olive oil and canola oil are both very high in oleic fatty acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. It's also very high in antioxidants; particularly vitamin E. Our athletes are now consuming about 20% to 25% total calories from fat. Olive oil is an excellent choice for contributing to that level of fat.

The island of Crete, where we are staying by the way, has truly excellent local olive oil, and this resort harvests its own olives to make its own olive oil. The athletes have been enjoying this olive oil a lot on their fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh salads.

"Protein is an area of common concern for athletes. Studies generally show that the protein requirement per unit of body weight for athletes can be twice as much as for nonathletes."


MEMBER QUESTION:
What is the difference between what the marathoners eat and what the sprinters or short-distance runners eat?

BENARDOT:
That's an excellent question. The higher the intensity of exercise the greater the reliance on carbohydrates for muscular work. But also, the sprinters are much more muscular and bigger than are the marathoners, so they require a far higher total intake of calories to support that mass. The major difference between the more power athletes, such as sprinters, and the more endurance athletes, such as marathoners, is total calories. The type of diet they consume that is the distribution of carbs, protein, and fat, is in fact very similar, again, with a focus on complex carbohydrates, relatively low fat, and moderate protein.

There's good evidence that per unit of body weight endurance athletes need more protein than power athletes, but in fact the amount of protein that both groups of athletes consume is probably more than they need to support their muscle mass.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you believe the fat/protein/carb percentages are needed for optimal athlete performance, and for 'the average Joe'?

BENARDOT:
There's surprisingly little difference between what athletes should be consuming and what the average Joe should be consuming from an energy substrate distribution. However, because athletes have a far higher rate of energy utilization, they need more. The general recommendation is for protein intake to be somewhere between 12% and 15% of total calories; fat intake 20% and 25% of total calories; and the remainder from carbohydrates -- with a focus on complex carbohydrates.

Protein is an area of common concern for athletes. Studies generally show that the protein requirement per unit of body weight for athletes can be twice as much as for nonathletes. For instance, the recommended intake of protein for nonathlete adults is eight tenths of a gram per kilogram of body weight. For athletes, the requirement jumps to somewhere between 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Because of the higher caloric intake consumed by athletes, this increased requirement of protein is easily achieved with a balanced diet.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My daughter is collegiate equestrian. All of the girls on the team are very, very body conscious and have terrible eating habits. It does take strength to ride. What kind of diet would you recommend that wouldn't add pounds but would help give them energy to ride?

BENARDOT:
That also is an excellent question. I can share with you what we do with our athletes here. This is something that is rarely considered but very important. That is, that people tend to think about total caloric requirements in units of 24 hours, but rarely consider the distribution of those calories within the 24-hour period. For instance, someone can consume 2,000 calories in one meal, which is very large, and someone can consume the same 2,000 calories in four meals at 500 calories each. The outcome for the person consuming the 2,000 calories at one time versus spreading the 2,000 calories out during the course of a day is enormous. Frequent eating patterns are associated with higher muscle mass, lower body fat, better performance, and an improved sense of well-being.

Our marathoners, for instance, are consuming food a minimum of once every three hours to avoid large energy surpluses that could lead to an increase in fat storage and avoid large energy deficits that could lead to a catabolism, or breakdown, of lean body mass. The only way to avoid these large peaks and valleys in energy delivery is to reduce the size of meals and increase the frequency of food consumption.

My recommendation would be that these equestrians should determine how many calories it takes for them to be weight stable and then target caloric intake in a way that maintains within a day their energy balance. Put simply: avoid hunger during the day.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What healthy foods can I eat to boost energy and increase muscle without taking supplements?

BENARDOT:
Increasing muscle mass requires more calories than is currently being consumed, because you are increasing your mass. First and foremost you must increase caloric intake, but it should be done in such a way that reduces excess calorie delivery at one time.

Secondly, additional calories, or as many athletes do, increasing caloric intake through the consumption of protein supplements, in and of itself does not increase muscle mass. The muscle must be stimulated to enlarge, and that requires resistance exercise.

So any food that follows the general pattern of moderate protein, relatively low fat, higher complex carbs, with an addition to perhaps 300 to 500 calories beyond current needs, plus resistance exercise, in addition to the amount that's currently being done, is the way to increase muscle mass.

"The only way to avoid ... large peaks and valleys in energy delivery is to reduce the size of meals and increase the frequency of food consumption."

MEMBER QUESTION:
What foods and drinks can boost recovery between workout days (I'm 18 and male)? For three years I've been training on- and off-season for lacrosse. During the last few months (off-season), I cannot seem to recover as well after workouts. That familiar feeling from a good hard workout is not easing up and leaves me completely tired for as long as three days. Also, my appetite has increased.

BENARDOT:
Before you can consider recovery, you must consider your state of energy balance prior to the exercise itself. Sufficient glycogen storage is critical to assure activity that will encourage a high level of performance. In addition, being in a well-hydrated state is also critical for performance and endurance.

Following exercise, it's important to take advantage of an enzyme that is elevated, which helps to replace the glycogen used during exercise. That enzyme, called glycogen synthetase, becomes more elevated as glycogen becomes depleted. It's highest immediately following physical activity; therefore, having 200 to 400 calories of carbohydrate and a little protein immediately following physical activity has been shown to improve recovery.

It's also critical to remember that fluid loss, which is a natural part of exercise, must also be replaced for muscle recovery to occur.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do you feel that an athlete's nutritional needs can be met with just diet or do they also need to take vitamin and mineral supplements?

BENARDOT:
Good question. We've become very fearful of providing supplements to our Olympians, unless we're completely confident of the content of the supplement provided. A number of supplements that have been marketed to athletes in the past were shown to be corrupted by foreign substance that the IOC has deemed to be banned. Therefore, we try as much as is possible to deliver all nutrients to athletes through food alone.

There are, however, certain nutrients that female athletes in particular may find difficult to obtain sufficient quantities of without supplements. Those nutrients are iron and calcium. We pay particular attention to those two when we assess athletes to determine their status and to determine whether a supplement of calcium or iron is needed.

Other nutrients, depending on an individual athlete's dietary habits, may also be low. For instance, zinc status has been found to be marginal in several athletes and if we find that we can't correct this through diet, then we do look carefully at supplement intake. Again, knowing that supplements may well be corrupted, we are very careful of the source.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What formula do you use to determine daily caloric intake (to be "weight stable" as you mentioned)?

BENARDOT:
Good question. We use a standard metabolic cart to determine resting energy expenditure, and we apply MET values to determine the additional caloric requirement from the activities they are pursuing. That information, coupled with a history of weight stability, helps us understand precisely caloric needs. A MET table contains the metabolic equivalence of different activities. These are multiplying factors of resting energy expenditure. For instance, if someone burns 60 calories an hour at rest, they may burn 1.2 times that much when they're walking slowly.

For the average person, the best way to determine caloric requirement is to assess the total calories currently being consumed over a period of several days and weight over that same period. If the person is weight stable, then total caloric intake is appropriate for their level of activity. If a person is losing weight, then total caloric intake is less than they require to maintain weight, and so on.

MEMBER QUESTION:
When playing hard in the heat, is it important to have something with sodium? My doctor recommended that we have some sports drink to replenish salts when we are out in the hot weather working out. I hate the taste of the stuff. How important is it to replenish salts? Is there anything I can eat that would do the same thing?

BENARDOT:
The single biggest factor associated with the maintenance of athletic performance is the maintenance of blood volume. Sodium helps to maintain blood volume. In addition, sodium in a sports beverage helps to drive the desire to drink. This is cortically important, because without that stimulation, most athletes voluntarily dehydrate themselves and get a concomitant reduction in performance. Put simply, sports beverages are an excellent means of delivering:

  • Calories during physical activity, which enhances performance
  • Sodium, which helps blood volume, which also helps to sustain performance
  • Fluid, which is necessary to replace the fluid lost from sweat during physical activity
Sports beverages very often don't taste good to people when they're not exercising. They have been developed to have a good mouth feel for people who are exercising. The way beverages taste when you're not exercising and when you are exercising is completely different. I suggest you try several different sports beverages while exercising to find one you tolerate. What a sports beverage delivers is very important for performance.

"The single biggest factor associated with the maintenance of athletic performance is the maintenance of blood volume. Sodium helps to maintain blood volume. In addition, sodium in a sports beverage helps to drive the desire to drink."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I'm only 14 years old, but I was trying to get thinner by doing all these diets. Now I realize I just like to work out. It's more of a hobby now. I like to sweat and just have fun, but the thing is how do I eat to remain healthy and get the energy I need? Sometimes I feel like I eat too much and it's hard for me to play a sport because I'm so full, and then when it gets to be dinner time or just a snack I want to eat but I don't feel hungry. So what should I do to improve on my eating and what should I eat?

BENARDOT:
You ask a question that's important not just for 14-year-olds, but also for most people. I' m going to give you a little analogy. Imagine you have a car and you're going to drive from Atlanta to New York. You can't tell your car, "I'm going to give you all the gas now before we leave Atlanta," because your car doesn't have a gas tank large enough to hold that much gas. You also can't tell your car, "Please drive me all the way from Atlanta to New York, I'll give you all the gas you needed for the trip once we get to New York." The only way your car will get you to New York is to fill it up to begin with and fill it up every 300 miles until you get to New York.

In a way, you can consider your eating habits the same way. You should be consuming frequently, in small meals, so you don't feel full, often enough so your blood sugar stays stable, and so you can provide enough nutrients for your body to stay healthy for you to have enough energy for you to do your physical activity and for you to grow.

The three-meal eating pattern so many people have today makes it very difficult to not put on weight, because too many calories are being delivered in too few eating opportunities. Try having breakfast, a midmorning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and after-dinner snack as a way of avoiding getting too full and to assure that you have all the energy you need to do the exercise or the sports you want to do.

MODERATOR:
Dan, before we wrap things up, do you have any final words on food and fitness for us?

BENARDOT:
My final words of wisdom would be: Never allow yourself to get thirsty and never allow yourself to get deep down hungry. Both are sensations that something bad is already happening.

The last word is it would be very nice if all of you would have a group "Go get 'em" for our marathoners. This is the most difficult marathon course in the world. Just to give you an idea of what our athletes are about to do; at the 18 kilometer mark, our athletes will start to climb some hills that are equivalent to climbing up a 5 story building each mile for 7 miles. Once they reach the 31K point, they have to run down a hill at about the same steepness all the way down into Athens until they've gone 42 kilometers. It's a brutal course with the best athletes in the world running it. We've got some real wonderful Americans marathoners who are running this course -- the women on the 22nd of August and the men as the last event of the Olympics on the 29th. Please wish then well!

MODERATOR:
We will!

Our thanks to Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, LD, for joining us. And good luck to the U.S. marathoners!

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