Creatine: Not Just for Men or Muscle

If you’re a man or woman reading this, excellent. It applies to both genders. Are you an aging adult, or someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Then yes, keep reading. Next, if you’re an athlete or non-athlete reading this, even better because it applies to you as well. Still aren’t with me, do you have a beating heart? If this answer is no, please seek medical attention at once. All jokes aside, if you’re a living breathing homo sapiens (homo = genus , sapiens = species) this article is for you.

If you’re a parent of a young athlete, coach, athlete or bodybuilder you likely have read up on creatine and have supplemented with creatine monohydrate before. Creatine is one of the most well-research and effective supplements to date. Creatine can support exercise performance by quickly producing energy during intense activity. Furthermore, creatine may also provide cognitive benefits, but further research is warranted. Studies have consistently illustrated how creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine concentrations that can help us understand the observed improvements in high-intensity exercise performance and overall training adaptations at large. We know creatine supplementation can bolster post-exercise recovery, decrease risk of injury and support injury prevention, expedite rehabilitation, thermoregulation, concussion and or spinal cord neuroprotection. Additionally, clinical applications of creatine supplementation have been investigated in neurodegenerative diseases like (muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s Huntington’s disease), diabetes, aging, osteoarthritis, brain and heart ischemia, adolescent depression and even pregnancy as cited in the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) Position Stand on Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport and Medicine . Studies are demonstrating short and long-term supplementation (up to 30 grams per day for five years) is not only safe, but well-tolerated in individuals and a range of clinical settings from infants to the elderly.  So, creatine is not just for male athletes trying to build muscle and facilitate recovery. It is beneficial to all given the wide range of benefits associated with supplementation that have been documented in literature and several that are currently under investigation in a clinical setting.

Let’s review and clear up a common myth regarding creatine:

“Creatine is a steroid” Incorrect, please stop this nonsense from making its way into 2021 please. In my professional experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist , this must be one of the most obnoxious fallacies to date. Possibly behind “protein hurts my kidneys”, also false but that’s a whole other subject for a different blog. However, I am happy to direct you to the literature that dispels this myth publish in 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism compliments of Dr. Jose Antonio and colleagues . Now back to creatine, let’s clear this up quickly, creatine is not a steroid. It has no relation to a steroid structurally or with its mechanism of action. Why? Well, by scientific definition a steroid is any compound that possesses a common structural feature like 3 cyclohexane rings and a cyclopentane ring make up the structure that by definition is a steroid molecule. In fact, eggs contain a steroid compound which is called cholesterol and it is naturally produced in the body that become steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen. But no, creatine is not a steroid.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound made up of three amino acids, which we would call a tripeptide (tri meaning three). Three amino acids (L-glycine, L-methionine and L-arginine) make up creatine. Creatine is largely made in the liver and to a limited extent, the kidneys and pancreas. It deposits high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine which are given to ADP, regenerating it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the sole energy carrier in the human body which can be called “energy currency” for cells to execute their functions. For example, in conditions of short-term high-energy demand activities (< 30 seconds) with limited recovery time, ATP runs out quickly, which brings us to creatine that is stored in muscles in the form of creatine phosphate explained here . Creatine phosphate can help restore ATP, giving muscle cells the ability to produce greater energy. The greater creatine you have, the greater energy your muscle cells can yield during high-intensity exercise, thus leading to increased exercise performance. Even though the most well documented and primary benefit is higher energy production this mechanism also supports muscle gain and strength increases explained here.

Creatine is naturally found in several of the foods we consume like, eggs, milk, tuna, salmon, herring, cod, shrimp, beef and pork.  Consuming enough creatine from the diet is challenging given the total creatine pool available according to an article published in the Frontiers in Nutrition Sport and Exercise Nutrition via Candow et al., 2019 . Which suggests, the body needs to replenish about 1.0–3.0 g of creatine per day to maintain normal (un-supplemented) creatine stores depending on muscle mass. Creatine improves numerous factors including strength, power, sprint ability, muscular endurance, resistance to fatigue, muscle mass, recovery, cognition, and speeding up muscle growth.

More women should use creatine:

I am a female who participates in regular strength-training (4-5 times per week) along with (2-3 cardiovascular sessions per week). I eat a whole foods diet, supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, whey protein isolate, 1,200 mg of fish oil and a multivitamin. Those are my supplements; these are not recommendations for “you”, your “young athlete”, “teammate” or “your friend”. I make this clear because there is no one-size-fits all in nutrition, health and fitness. What works well for me, does not mean it will work well for you. I see too many mistakes made with people trying to adapt the same diet, training and lifestyle of those in their cohort when it simply is not sustainable or appropriate. As individuals we have different genetics, hormones, environment stimulus, training styles, body composition, sport and performance goals, resting metabolic rate, and the list goes on. It would be absurd to eat and train the same way as someone else and anticipate the same outcome with the previously listed differences as humans.

One certainty is we can all benefit from eating real food, but given the benefits of creatine supplementation it is an undervalued and written off supplement among my fellow ladies. Hear me out ladies, creatine will not make you fat, bulky, retain water, turn you into a man or any of the other nonsensical claims that exist on the web these days. I don’t care what Linda at the gym said about “creatine making you fat or how it is a steroid that will make you a man”. I hear these claims often, and not only are they flat out wrong, they misinform my fellow ladies out there trying to gain strength, lean mass and other health benefits that would occur with appropriate creatine supplementation.

Here is a side by side comparison of me, roughly 10 years ago when I ate too many carbohydrates, inadequate protein, some strength training and an abundance of cardiovascular exercise. I ran lots of miles. Now, ten years later, I am happy to report I engage in strength training sessions no greater than 45-minutes, 4-5 times per week with some sprints and daily walking. I supplement with 5 gm of creatine monohydrate post-workout , whey protein isolate, take a multivitamin and consume 2 gm/kg/body weight per day in protein. I infrequently track calories because I fuel my body with high-quality protein, as many fruits and veggies as I can get my hands on. Creatine won’t make you fat, bulky or manly ladies. It will help support a lean body composition. Let me be more specific to my fellow ladies, creatine can may help you improve your health, fitness, recovery and overall physique.

Trying to turn up the intensity of your workouts? Use creatine! Creatine is like a Koenigsegg Agera RS , the fastest vehicle in the world. Creatine is a vehicle for producing ATP, which as you have learned drives muscle contraction. Kind of important when trying to sprint, lift heavy weights, jump and train with max output? By regularly supplementing with creatine monohydrate (3 -5 gm/day) for 8 weeks or greater can help maximize the body’s stores of phosphocreatine, the necessary compound to product ATP. Thus, allowing for skeletal muscle to produce more energy, bolster power output and exert more work overall. Fitness hack: The greater the intensity expressed fourth the greater your muscles grow stronger, bigger and faster should you train appropriately. Therefore, creatine supplementation is a highly underrated supplement among the female population. I encourage and empower my fellow ladies reading this article who have been on the fence about using creatine to take note of its effectiveness. Creatine has shown to bolster muscular size, power and strength. More muscle equates to more energy burned, healthier body composition, bone mineral density and a decreased risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Not to mention the link between muscle mass and risk of cardiovascular disease. Keeping aging muscles fit is also linked to better health later on in life according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health .

Even sedentary women who utilized creatine long-term experienced increases in maximal muscle strength during resistance training by 20 to 25% when compared to women who were given a placebo in a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology . Another study examined the effects of long-term creatine supplementation (12-weeks) combined with resistance training on one-rep max strength, motor functional performance tests and body composition in eighteen older women. The creatine group gained significantly more fat-free mass, muscle mass and were able to efficiently perform submaximal-strength functional test than the placebo group. Special note the creatine group was also able to increase training volume and one-rep max bench press. Creatine contains no calories and does not lead to fat gain. The increase on the scale you may see from use is drawing water into the cell which is a desired response with training.

Many benefits of creatine

A number of studies have shown creatine supplementation can increase brain creatine content by roughly 5-15% along with reducing mental fatigue, and improving cognitive function according to research referenced in the ISSN’s Position Stand on Creatine. Another study carried out by Rawson & Venezia, 2011 reported creatine supplementation of (20 g/day for 5 days or about 2g per day for 30 days) resulted in increased skeletal muscle creatine phosphocreatine which lead to the enhancement of high-intensity exercise tasks. Moreover, there is well documented benefits of creatine supplementation in young adults, increased strength, lean body mass and delayed onset fatigue during resistance training. All of which are critical for older adults striving to maintain cognition, bone mineral density and overall health.

Research is scant but, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was carried out in using creatine in type 2 diabetes subjects that was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise . The study illustrated creatine supplementation improved glucose tolerance in healthy subjects. When creatine was supplemented in the diabetic subjects that participated in an exercise program the results lead to an improvement in glycemic control. The underlying mechanism could be contributed to the increase in GLUT-4 recruitment specific to the sarcolemma. More research is warranted in diabetics, but the current literature is promising.

Another study examined the potential of creatine or phosphocreatine supplementation in cerebrovascular disease and in ischemic heart disease . The study illustrates the ability high-dose creatine supplementation has on cerebral creatine content and that it may have the capacity in humans to protect against stroke due to increasing not only the neuronal but also the endothelial creatine content. Emerging evidence also suggest that creatine supplementation with and without resistance training has the potential mechanistic effect to influence bone biology according to a study carried out by Candow & Chilibeck, 2010. A more recent study published in Experimental Gerontology examines pre-exercise and post-exercise creatine supplementation has similar effects on aging bone mineral density and content. A meta-analysis carried out by Forbes et al., 2018 illustrated creatine supplementation did not lead to greater bone mineral density during resistance training in older adults > 50 years of age.

Research in animals also suggested creatine supplementation to support managing Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and brain or spinal cord injuries. Furthermore, a study was conducted examining creatine supplementation following sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state and catecholamines. The study eludes to creatine supplementation decreasing the negative effects, like mood, focus, impulse and emotional reactions that are reliant on the prefrontal cortex.

Creatine is safe and easy to use

As you have learned creatine offers many diverse benefits beyond muscle. It is one of the least expensive and safest supplements available on the market. It has been studied for over 200 years and an abundance of literature supports is safety, efficacy and no reported adverse effects in healthy individuals as referenced in the ISSN’s Position Stand: Creatine Supplementation and Exercise.

A good dose to begin with is simply taking 3.0 to 5.0 grams of creatine monohydrate post-exercise to support recovery, muscle growth and decreasing fatigue. If you’re a vegetarian or new to using creatine you may wish to start with a loading phase by taking (0.3g/kg/body weight/day). For example, if you’re a 60 kg female = 18 g total for the day but broken up into 4 doses for 5-7 days. This would mean a (4.5 g dose of creatine 4x/day) for 5-7 days. Then onto a maintenance phase of 5 g per day for 12 weeks. If you’re interested in looking at different phases of cycling creatine (short-term and long-term) you can refer to the literature in the Creatine Position Stand paper I have referenced throughout this article. For example, supplementing with (5g/day) for 12 weeks during training to truly help increase intramuscular creatine stores and support health and performance benefits outlined in this article. Dissolve the creatine in water or your protein-carb drink post-workout for best results. Take a break from supplementation after using for 12-16 weeks. Where to order creatine? I strongly advise supplements that are Informed Choice Certified, meaning they are free of any banned substances and ensure the product has been tested from any unsafe substances. Here is a comprehensive list of certified products updated March, 2020.

If you’re parent or coach of adolescent athletes and are considering creatine supplementation. Take note, limited research is available in this population highlighting the safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in young athletes < 18 years of age. Jagim et al., 2018 published a review examining the limited studies in the adolescent population as a means to identify use of creatine in young athletes. The review suggests that adolescent athletes using creatine tolerated supplementation well, had no reported adverse events or incident. Ethically, we do not have enough research to recommend creatine monohydrate to young athletes, but many are using despite direction from professionals. My advice as a sports dietitian is to provide the literature and suggestions to support best interest of my athletes.

As registered dietitian nutritionist and sports nutrition specialist, I advocate for whole foods first and prioritizing nutrition to optimize your health, wellness, physique and performance goals. Creatine is a great supplement to incorporate in addition to great nutrition, enough hydration, adequate sleep and proper training. Creatine works best when paired with resistance training. I hope reading the science outlined in this article surrounding creatine has given clarity. Creatine can benefit everyone, if you have a beating pulse that’s you. Train hard, eat well and stay healthy my friends.

In good health,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is the founder of Nutrition with Wendi, LLC. Wendi is active on Twitter and other social media platforms as Nutrition_with_Wendi.

Vitamin D and the Athlete: An Overlooked Element in Exercise Performance

Athlete warming up for run

An estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency according to a review published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmoacotherapeutics . Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that regulates > 1,000 processes in the body, and it has been well known as the “sunshine” vitamin playing an important role in preventing illnesses like, osteoporosis and rickets . Winter days are often dark and sun exposure is limited leading to an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency and infections. Vitamin D is a hormone but is most widely known as a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut. Vitamin D supports muscle function, cell growth and immunity. Vitamin D is obtained from supplements, sun exposure and consuming vitamin D-containing foods like, wild salmon, eggs, mushrooms, fortified cereal and dairy products.

How Much Vitamin D Is Needed?

One confusing element of understanding vitamin D guidelines to correct deficiency can be challenging. Currently, there is no consensus definition of vitamin D deficiency according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently reviewing vitamin D screening. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) guidelines for vitamin D use a blood level of 20 ng/ml o 25-hydroxyvitamin D as a benchmark for deficiency because it is the minimum level that meets the needs for good bone health for at least 97.5% of the population (1). However, the Endocrine Society recommended that people aim for a level of 30 ng/mL or higher . A more comprehensive table of Vitamin D concentrations and health are found here via the National Institute of Health.

Current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Vitamin D:

  • Birth to 12 months: 400 IU
  • Children 1-13 years: 600 IU
  • Teens 14-18 years: 600 IU
  • Adults 19-70 years: 600 IU
  • Adults 71 years and older: 800 IU
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 600 IU

Vitamin D Deficiency Signs and Symptoms that Can Lead to Severe Health Complications:

  • Osteomalacia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Risk of stress fractures
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Periodontitis
  • Light-headedness

In the Body, Vitamin D is Linked with:

  • Immune function
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Muscle strength and mass
  • Absorption of calcium
  • Healthy weight management
  • Overall bone and teeth health

Vitamin D and Athletes

Numerous studies reviewed in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has assessed the possibility for vitamin D’s impact on performance and recovery. In fact a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examining soccer players who supplemented with 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day for a total of eight weeks had interesting results. Those that supplemented jumped higher and were linked to faster sprints.

A vitamin D deficiency in athletes increases the risk for stress fractures, anemia and a weaker immune system which and blunt athletic performance. A 2008 study examining Vitamin D status in a group of distance runners found that forty percent of the runners, who trained indoors in sunny Baton Rouge, Louisiana had insufficient vitamin D.   deficiency is common among athletes and enough levels are needed to maintain bone health and aid in injury repair. A review carried out in 2015 identified about 56% of athletes had inadequate levels of vitamin D. Another study evaluating vitamin D levels in athletes participating at the NFL combine found that players with a history of lower extremity muscle strain an core muscle injury had a greater prevalence of inadequate vitamin . Furthermore, another study assessing association of vitamin  levels with race and found a higher rate of vitamin D deficiency among black football players than white football players.

As stated above musculoskeletal pain and weakness are often unrecognized symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. A study conducted in Minnesota identified 93% of individuals with persistent non-specific musculoskeletal pain had 25(OH)D concentration <20 ng mL and 28% had a concentration <8 ng mL. Animal studies have also reported that vitamin D deficiency leads to the atrophy of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are critical in power movements like sprints. Fast-twitch fibers also fatigue faster which can explain the physiological why vitamin D can influence based on its function.

As you have learned, vitamin D deficiency is overlooked and should be a focus of concern for any professionals working with athletes. The strong association in muscle fatigue and low vitamin D levels in elite and collegiate athletes may lead to long-term injuries with life and career altering effects. An article published in the American College of Sports Medicine provides charts and illustrations representing the vitamin D status in athletes living in various geographic locations.

To Supplement or Not Supplement?

Upon reading this article you can see how challenging it is to achieve daily vitamin D needs from foods and limited sun exposure. Provided the critical role vitamin D plays in our mood, digestion, cognition, recovery, athletic performance and overall health it would be wise to supplement with 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day during the winter solstice months and likely even more if you fall into any of the high-risk categories for vitamin D deficiency. Justifying a greater need for vitamin D for athletes who train often and participate in multiple sports. Disclaimer, I am not a physician and I would encourage you to discuss vitamin D testing with your doctor to ensure you’re not reaching toxicity, which can occur with high-dose vitamin D intakes of 60,000 IU per day. Blood levels should be monitored by anyone who chooses to take higher dose of vitamin D. As always, talk with your doctor and sports medicine staff before taking any vitamin and mineral supplements. Interested in learning more about your vitamin D status? Check out the website of the Vitamin D Society for more information. Other great resources to learn more about vitamin D include ,the Linus Pauling Institute and the National Institute of Health fact sheet for health professionals.

 

Check out my previous blog highlighting the six risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.

In good health,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RD, Sports Nutritionist

 

Vitamin D Deficiency: Are You at Risk?

6 Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency

An estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency according to a review published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmoacotherapeutics . Vitamin D deficiency is being recognized as a world problem that can have serious health consequences for children and adults. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced from ultraviolet rays from the sun that strike the skin to trigger vitamin D production.  Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains calcium and phosphate levels to give us strong bones. It also supports muscle function, cell growth, neuromuscular function and immunity.

 

In the body, vitamin D is linked with:

  • Immune function
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Muscle strength and mass
  • Absorption of calcium
  • Healthy weight management
  • Overall bone and teeth health

Vitamin D deficiency can go undetected as the signs and symptoms are asymptomatic, but lead to several health problems like:

  • Osteomalacia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Risk of stress fractures
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Periodontitis

 

Several factors influence vitamin D levels. Here are the six important ones!

  1. Location. The further away from the equator you live, the less vitamin D producing UVB light that reaches the earth’s surface during winter. For example, residents in Minnesota may receive little if any of the vitamin from October through February. Short days and wearing clothing that covers arms and legs also limits UVB exposure.
  2. Skin color. Dark-skinned people tend to require more UVB exposure than light-skinned people to produce the same amount of vitamin D. This is due to melanin in the skin that makes it dark. It competes for UVB that stimulates the body’s vitamin D production. Sun screen will also limit skin’s ability by 97%.
  3. Body Composition. People who carry excess weight do not have a change in vitamin D production, but higher body fat concentrations affect levels of vitamin D in the blood. Remember that vitamin D is fat soluble, which means the more body fat the more diluted it gets. If you are overweight or obese with a BMI >30 you may need more vitamin D.
  4. Gastrointestinal disorders. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so fat is necessary for absorption.  Those with Crohn’s, Celiac, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease are unable to absorb fat properly leading to a deficiency in fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin D.
  5. Aging. Skin production of vitamin D in older adults decreases due to skin changes with a reduced amount of the vitamin D precursor. Lifestyle factors with limited outdoor exposure and more layers of clothing also negatively impact vitamin D production. Lastly, renal production of vitamin D decreases due to diminishing renal function with age. These changing factors in vitamin D metabolism generate a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.
  6. Dietary intake. Few foods contain vitamin D naturally, and if you avoid milk or follow a strict vegan diet you are at an increased risk. Since most of the natural sources are animal based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, fortified milk, and beef liver.

Limited intake requires fortified sources. Fortified means vitamin D has been added.  Foods that contain vitamin D include; Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines and herring.  Fortified sources include; milk, orange juice, yogurt and cereal.  Mushrooms and egg yolks also contain traces of vitamin D.  The recommended dietary allowances for vitamin D for male and females under the age of 70 is 600 units, and 800 for people over 70. For those under 12 months calls for an intake of 400 units a day.

Vitamin D content in food sources include:

  • 6 oz. fortified yogurt = 80 IU
  • 3 oz. of salmon = 794 IU
  • 1 cup of fortified cereal = 40 IU
  • 1 cup of fortified milk = 120 IU
  • 1 egg yolk = 41 IU
  • 1 cup of fortified orange juice = 137 IU

 

Vitamin D is important to overall health.  The best way to have a healthy level of vitamin D is consuming foods rich in vitamin D and getting adequate sun exposure when possible. It’s important to note that resources and blood tests available to determine if you are vitamin D deficient. For more information, you should consult with your physician, dietitian or health practitioner before taking a vitamin D supplement or if you feel you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.

Interested in learning more about your vitamin D status? Check out the website of the Vitamin D Society for more information. A more comprehensive table of Vitamin D concentrations and health are found here via the National Institute of Health.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I am very passionate about vitamin D an overall health. In addition to this article will be another illustrating the important role vitamin D plays in athletic performance.

In good health,

 

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN

Overindulge on Thanksgiving? Damage Control Tips for the Weekend After

A delicious left-over pumpkin pie taunts you from the kitchen counter alongside the heaps of leftovers in the fridge, saying, “eat me!” Or those sugar cookies and assorted desserts your guests conveniently forgot to take home? Eh, what’s one more going to do? The weekend after Thanksgiving can be toughest for many hoping to maintain their weight and health goals. Holiday weight gain is quite common for many adults. So, you’re feeling guilty from too much pie and turkey. The best thing you can do now is let the past exist in the past. Say “goodbye” to the guilt, shame or any negative feelings you may have because you have a new day in front of you and an opportunity to take control moving forward.

Many of my clients have expressed that “it’s inevitable to gain weight and I might as well just start over on January 1st.” While I honor those, who desire to start off a new year with health as a priority, this is not the best mentality for life-long health. As a registered dietitian and trainer who has been where you currently are, I encourage you to work smarter, not harder. Let me throw out an analogy for you – if you sign up for a 5k, which is roughly 3.10 miles, would you start your race 2 miles before the starting line, expecting the same time and competition as if you started at the starting line with the other runners? Raise your hand if you want to work harder and put yourself at a disadvantage? I wouldn’t put my hand up either, so what I am getting at here is if you know you want to lose weight or improve your lifestyle, start the process now.

Let’s begin by being mindful of our health and fitness goals by minimizing the empty calories and overindulgence that takes place between today and January 1st. Would you not feel better if you started today and not January first like everyone else? The truth is you don’t have to start two miles behind the starting line and then end up running a 7k when you’re only training for a 5k. Let’s CHOOSE to make it easier for ourselves, limiting the shame and guilt, because holiday weight gain is not inevitable! I believe in you – you should too – and I promise you can do this!

Here are 5 tips to help you focus on gaining more memories this holiday season than lbs.:

  1. Repeat after me, “resume normal eating immediately”

The worst thing you can do today is continue with the oversized portions of foods that you don’t normally consume. Get back on track with your normal intake of balanced meals containing a lean protein, fruit, vegetable and healthy fat. It’s important not to consume meals that are both high in fat and high in carbohydrates to offset blood sugar levels. You likely consumed an overabundance of carbohydrates on Thanksgiving so it may be wise to CHOOSE to limit carbs and even calories in these immediate days after to re-stabilize your hormones. Don’t make the mistake of skipping meals now to try and off-set the over-eating you did on Thanksgiving. Unless you practice intermittent fasting in your normal routine, you shouldn’t skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to feeling overly hungry later, which will make matters worse.

  1. Get active with family & friends

Sitting on the couch watching Netflix may be your family’s holiday tradition. However, inactivity contributes to weight gain, especially during times of overeating. Make a new tradition with your family spending time moving with your loved ones! Races are popular this time of year – go sign up as a family and gain memories! If you can’t run, walking can be just as beneficial. Movement is movement! Look at gym memberships that are likely currently available at a lower to no joining fee cost!

  1. Drink up!
    • I’m not talking about the eggnog. Although it’s delicious, it won’t help you with your health and fitness goals. I am talking about water. It is so important to increase your water intake during the holidays due to the different foods you’ve been consuming which can disrupt regular digestion. Your gut and waistline will thank you for greaterImage result for water glass" water intake after eating new foods.
    • Water consumption is also a great way to curb cravings and stay hydrated. Often when we are “hungry” or have a craving it is because we are thirsty and dehydrated. Be sure to drink 20 oz. of water every couple of hours throughout the day to stay hydrated and ward off unnecessary snacking. Research exists indicating increased hydration can be associated with weight loss.
    • According to the study, higher protein and water intake is associated with weight loss. If you’re having difficulty losing weight and finding yourself overly hungry all the time, you may want to reevaluate your water intake. Drinking water before meals can help you feel fuller and can also assist with digestion during meals.
  2. Control portions
    • Controlling portions supports getting back into a routine of normal eating. Keep in mind the portions you may or may not have learned –
      • A portion of protein is the size of your palm which is roughly equivalent to 3 oz.
      • A serving of veggies is 1 cup and fruits is 0.5 cup
      • A fat is approximately 1 Tbsp. nuts and seeds should be limited to a serving of 0.5 oz.
      • Should you choose to include a carbohydrate, a serving is 1 slice of bread, 0.5 cup of pasta or 1 cup of a whole grain.
    • In instances of weight loss and management it may be more helpful to increase protein, fruits and vegetables. I recommend working with a dietitian to ensure you’re hitting appropriate portions and getting adequate nutrition.
  3. Focus on quality sleep and managing stress levels
    • Sleep deprivation during the holidays is quite common and can further lead to poor nutrition and physical activity habits. Those that tend to sleep less tend to be hungrier and a result can over consume calories leading to an increase on the scale. Additionally, less hours slept is also associated with a disruption in the circadian rhythm, which is our biological clock controlling many important physiological functions. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. This will also help prevent your risk of getting sick and missing out on the true enjoyment of the holiday festivities.

These five simple tips will enable you to focus on progress through the holiday season! Should you over-eat or have something outside of your “plan,” tell yourself “it’s okay,” dust the cookie crumbs off and keep moving forward. “When a child learns to walk and falls down 50 times, the child never thinks to himself maybe this isn’t for me.” Always get back up and keep moving!

Your health and fitness coach,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN

Tips for Staying on “Track” this Holiday Season!

The holidays are a time for cheer, indulging and celebration with family and friends at parties. So, how do you enjoy the delicious treats but still stay on track with your goals? As a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist, I have some strategies that will help you stay lean and healthy to keep you on track with your health and performance goals during the holiday season!

Repeat after me, it is not about being perfect but maintaining accountability. Set an intention before you attend a holiday party or event. Hold yourself accountable by sharing your intent of “health” or eating “well” with your family and friends at the party. By setting an intent beforehand you are less likely to indulge in food or drink that make you feel less than your best! Another great way to stay on track is to avoid skipping meals to save calories. This is a common mistake made by many that if they save all their calories for the party, they won’t overindulge. It would be wise to consume a balanced snack with lean protein and healthy fat like string cheese, hummus and pepper slices. Check out this awesome recipe for a tasty , lighter and smoother version of hummus using Greek yogurt! Another factor to keep in mind is pairing quality protein and fat to help reduce cravings for sugar and overly processed carbs.

Let’s talk about alcohol, which is a real challenge for most around the holidays. Alcohol lowers your ability to make good decisions and can lead to regret in the days following. Most alcoholic beverages are loaded with sugar and empty calories. If your goals are to maintain good health, energy and optimize your workouts it may be wise to limit or avoid alcohol. Request a sparkling or fruit infused water at the party. Your waistline, scale and next 5k time will thank you for that! In addition to re-thinking your drink, it would be wise to eat mindfully. Mindfulness means expressing gratitude with each bite of food. After all it is a time of cheer, spirit and gratitude during the holiday season! Before the meal, take some deep breaths and as you eat, breathe through your nose, chewing every bite slowly by focusing on the flavors, colors, and smells. Then after, assess your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 and determine how much more food you need to consume to be satisfied.

Another great way to stay on track and even enhance your relationships with others is to focus on the people, not the food. Focus on the conversation with the people at the table instead of what’s on your plate. You will learn quite quickly how much the person appreciates your attentiveness and eye contact with them, over pushing around the pie on your plate next to the carrot slices. Make a point to plan a fun activity after the meal, a group walk, board games, and offer the host assistance with the cleanup. Again, not only will the host appreciate this, but this decreases the risk of you reaching for another dessert or overeating, plus you’ll burn more calories than sitting in a chair!

Staying on track often means playing some mad defense. Yes, I said defense. Food pushers are at every gathering, function and we all know them, and you may even be one. Keep in mind to be polite when being pushed to indulge. Many of us can identify certain relatives as food pushers, they may ask you to have another slice of pie or try the turkey shaped cookies on the counter next to the mimosas, when really you don’t want to over do it. You kindly and respectfully decline but they again proceed to say, “have one, come on you work so hard and are always so strict, just one won’t hurt you.” Remember to stay your course. It can be challenging to say “no”, but this is oh-so important when the average weight gain during the holidays is around 6-8 pounds!

When trying to resist the urge to overindulge or play defense against the food pushers keep these tips in mind:

-Load up on high quality protein (chicken, beef, eggs, cheese, yogurt)
-Pick your favorite dessert, only eat one serving of it.
-Practice mindful eating and focus on how hungry you are.
-Load up on veggies if you feel the urge to snack and limit dips and dressings that can be high calorie

Maintain consistent workouts. Be sure to participate in a good long run or some aerobic exercise to offset some of the inflammation and higher calorie foods that are not your usual diet. Encourage your friends & family to join you!
Lastly, if you get off track you can always get back on the right one to lead you to your destination. Let me be straight with you, as runners and fitness enthusiasts you can often get off course during a run. If you do, do you just lay there in the forest or the trail to die? Of course not! You get back up and find yRunner outside on snowy dayour course back to your end destination. Our diet is the same, if you get off course you can always get back on track the next day to reach your destination! The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and celebrated with loved ones and it is okay to try new foods and to sample delicious treats. Just be mindful of your goals and incorporate the strategies in this blog for success!

Your health and fitness coach,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN