Carbohydrate and Protein Needs for Young Athletes Desiring to Make the Jump from Good to Great!

Bowls filled with granola and berries

There’s No “One-Size-Fits-All” Nutrition Approach

An athlete’s energy and nutrient needs depend individually on his or her age, body composition, goals, and training volume, and depends globally on the demands and intensity of the sport. Put simply, the greater the intensity, duration and frequency of the activity combined with the athlete’s weight or body composition, the higher the demand of protein, carbohydrate and calorie intake.

If you’re a coach, parent or athlete reading this, don’t become overwhelmed. This article intends to introduce to you some general guidelines on optimizing energy needs (i.e. calories, protein, and carbohydrates) to sufficiently support overall health and advance athletic performance.

First rule of thumb, ALL adolescent athletes should consume breakfast, lunch and dinner with 2-3 snacks in between meals to fully optimize energy levels. You must build a plate that includes a source of lean protein, a fruit, a vegetable, a healthy fat and a serving of dairy if you wish to get real and progress with your nutrition. A visual of the plate and practical nutrition strategies can be found in my previous blog here.

Fuel Up to Avoid Stalling Out

Youth athletes have significantly higher nutritional needs than their less-active classmates because athletes need more calories to support performance demands, normal growth, general development and maturation. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, female teen athletes need roughly 2,200-3,000 calories and male teen athletes need roughly 3,000-4,000 calories per day (depending upon the individual and sport). Additionally, adolescent athletes training in multiple sports may need upwards of 5,000 calories per day to maintain weight and support growth needs. It’s paramount to encourage adequate calorie consumption during times of heavy training. For perspective, low-energy availability in female adolescent athletes can lead to short stature, increased injury, delayed puberty, poor bone health, metabolic and cardiovascular issues, menstrual irregularities, disordered eating behaviors – this according to a review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published by Desbrow et al., 2019.

Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S) is a more comprehensive label that builds on the condition of low-energy availability, also known as “female athlete triad,” to describe an energy deficiency gap that results when energy intake is insufficient to support daily activities, living, growth and function. RED-S affects primarily females, but also young males.

Premium Fuel for the Young Athlete – Carbohydrates!

Carbohydrates are an athlete’s most important source of energy for optimal athletic performance. Several studies carried out during the last 50-60 years have consistently highlighted carbohydrates as the primary macronutrient to sustain and enhance physical performance. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has established that 45-65 percent of calories in one’s diet should come from carbohydrates or between 3 and 8 grams per kilogram of body mass, depending upon the exercise intensity. For example, a 14-year-old female athlete should consume 2,000-2,400 Granola and yogurt with fruit, juice, and eggscalories per day, with 225 – 270 g (45% of total calories) to 325 – 390 g (65% of total calories) from carbohydrates. Keep in mind the dietary reference intake (DRI) remains at 100 g per day and recommended daily allowance (RDA) at 130 g day for all age and sex categories (children ≥ 1 year), both measures not related to physical activity. High-quality carbohydrates for athletes to consume include, but are not limited to, 1. whole grains like pasta, rice, tortillas, bread, oatmeal, low-fat dairy, and energy bars, 2. fruits like berries & bananas, and apples, 3. starchy vegetables like squash, potatoes and eggplant. To experience a boost in energy, consider adding items from this longer list of quality carbohydrate-rich foods to achieve enhanced athletic performance.

Performance tip: Make half your plate carbohydrates if you’re an endurance athlete, especially on heavy training days. The average athlete should be eating around 360-500 grams of carbohydrates per day. Failing to consume enough carbohydrates will cause a decline in performance, cognition, focus, and athletic performance. Time-to-fatigue and injury risk will also increase without enough dietary carbohydrates. To keep it simple, carbohydrates are not “optional”; they are essential. You can take it from an RDN whom stands for science or examine the science for yourself by checking out Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes published in the Journal of Sports Medicine.

Power Up with Protein!

Protein is critical for building, maintaining and repairing many cellular structures, like skeletal tissues. Consuming enough protein supports synthesis of hormones, neurotransmitters, energy production, gene activity and transportation of biological molecules. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has established that 15 to 20 percent of total calories, or about 70-160 grams should derive from high-quality protein sources.

To breakdown the science, consuming adequate protein is critical for proper growth, development and normal physiological function during adolescence leading into adulthood. Distinctive demands during adolescence, especially those that engage in high-intensity sport, call for a greater daily protein intake than that of adults. Currently the RDA for protein is 0.95 g/kg/day for children ages 4-13 years and 0.8 g/kg/day for adolescents between the ages of 14-18. Those that engage in regular training and endurance sports like swimming, rowing, distance running, and soccer may need 1.2-1.4 g/kg/day while power sports like weightlifting, gymnastics, football, wrestling shall require 1.0 – 1.5 g/kg/day .

High-quality protein sources include beef, poultry, bison, pea protein, pork, tuna, turkey, seafood, fish, and dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, whey, cheese and cottage cheese. To find out how much protein some of your favorite sources provide, check out this list from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Keep in mind that not all proteins are created equal. To deter you from going down the rabbit hole of plant proteins vs. animal proteins, I will simply link an article for you to review here. It’s important to just remember that foods rich in leucine, a branched chain amino acid found in animal proteins, will have the greatest positive affect on driving muscle protein synthesis. We could get really complex on this topic but it’s enough to simply emphasize the importance of consumption of high-quality proteins that are listed above due to their rich leucine content, especially since we are addressing protein intake for adolescent athletes. Most young athletes barely consume enough calories and protein as it is. To keep it simple, make sure your adolescent athlete consumes ¼ of their plate or a 4 oz. serving of a high-quality protein three-five times per day. As I always say, success starts with the basics and carrying them out on a consistent basis.

Failure by your adolescent athlete to consume adequate protein intake will cause declines in energy, weight, muscle growth, and strength, while increasing the likelihood of onset fatigue. Does this mean your adolescent athlete should be slamming protein shakes? Of course not, but they should be consistently consuming whole foods at regular mealtimes. Consuming good old fashioned chocolate milk on-the-go can even be a great way to increase calories while meeting additional protein intake demands. This is especially a great addition to refuel and re-hydrate post-practice or game! Make no mistake, a protein shake or chocolate milk will not make up for missed nutrients from consuming regular meals. Furthermore, supplements like protein powders are not regulated by the FDA and so it is important to select a protein powder that has been third-party tested with a NSF stamp of approval, which deems it certified for sport. This is paramount to ensure there are no banned substances on the label, that the product is manufactured in a facility that follows acceptable manufacturing standards, and that the contents of the supplement match what is printed on the label, ultimately being safe for consumption. To search supplements that are third-party tested and free of any banned substances, check out Informed-Sport.

Stirring it Altogether:

Knowing your carbohydrate and protein intake recommendations is great, but I encourage using the plate as a method of hitting your intake requirements. If you consume a balanced plate with all the components 3-5 times per day with high-quality snacks in between, you’re likely going to meet the energy demands of your sport. Again, it’s important to remember that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy.

Keeping with the basics such as eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with small snacks in between meals will help improve your health and sport performance. Don’t skip meals and make sure your plate is full of colorful fruits and vegetables. Always choose water or milk over sugary beverage to support hydration and better overall health. It’s time we get back to the basics, which I discuss in detail in the last article I published, available for reference here. As always, nutrition is a secret weapon that can help you perform optimally in the classroom and in sport.

Your sports nutritionist,

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

Evidence You Should Consume More Protein from a Dietitian Who Lifts!

What is protein?

  • Protein is primarily found in animal and dairy products.
  • Image result for protein"Protein enhances muscle mass, strength, endurance, muscle recovery and power.
  • Decreases inflammation, muscle protein breakdown.

First off, let’s talk about the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein. The current RDA is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is established as the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. Essentially, it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from avoiding sickness- not the specific amount you’re supposed to consume each day. For example,

  • For a 140-pound person, that means about 50 grams of protein each day.
  • For a 200-pound person, that means about 70 grams of protein each day.

Reasons to eat more high-quality protein daily

  • Muscle growth
  • Strengthens bones
  • Hormone regulation
  • Aids in quicker recovery
  • Supports lean mass gains
  • Suppresses appetite and promotes satiety
  • Prevents chronic ailments associated with aging
  • Protects immune system against illness and injury
  • Aids in weight loss during times of energy restriction

 

That being said, let’s talk about why you need more protein. As you can see in the bullet list provided protein is VERY IMPORTANT. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and fitness professional I find the RDA to be quite confusing to the general public, athletes and coaches. To be honest, even dietitians can’t seem to agree on what to recommend for protein to their clients, patients and athletes. So if there is a misunderstanding among the food and nutrition experts there’s likely a misunderstanding across multiple populations. Especially young children, athletes and the elderly are in greater need for more protein.

Is more protein better?

The Protein Summit reported in a special supplement to the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN)  that Americans may eat too little protein, not too much. In fact, eating more protein can help provide the whole “package”. That means that a byproduct of consuming more protein is you’re getting other great nutrients such as B-vitamins, carbohydrates, minerals and healthy fats that offer the complete package. Naturally when you consume more protein you will typically consume less low-quality foods like simple or refined carbohydrates that people typically turn to when they’re “hungry”. Sweets, cookies, white breads and pastries won’t offer the healthy nutrition you’d get from a high-quality protein source.

Examples of high-quality protein sources:

These are just few of the high-quality protein sources out there. Most animal sources of protein such a

s meat, dairy, fish and chicken offer all essential amino acids in proportion needed by the human body. While plant-based proteins such as vegetables, nuts, beans and grains often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. That does not mean you should only consume animal products to attain your essential amino acids because you can utilize soybeans and quinoa which contain all nine essential amino acids needed. Click here for a complete list available if you’re interest in plant-based proteins.

 

Athletes and protein needs

Even athletes have higher needs. Provided the remodeling process of muscle proteins there is a much higher turn over rate as a result of higher training volumes. Specifically, in track and field athletes it would be wise to consume roughly 1.6 grams per kilogram of body mass each day if their goal is to increase muscle and pre

vent muscle breakdown. A good target protein intake should be between 1.6 and 2.4 grams per kilogram of body mass per day as cited in recent findings in a consensus statement on Sports Nutrition for Track and Field Athletes. A summary of the review can be accessed here .

The International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on protein and exercise can also be accessed here which provides an objective and critical review related to the protein intake for healthy and fitness oriented individuals. For building muscle mass and maintaining muscle mass, an overall protein intake of 1.4-2.0

 

g/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) is enough. However, there is evidence to support (3.0 g/kg/d) to support positive effects on body composition in strength-trained athletes to promote lean mass gains. It is optimal to spread out protein intake between 20-40 g/meal throughout the day.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist I strive to consume (2.0 g/kg/d) to support my health and performance goals. I encourage all of my clients and athletes to consume more protein. Especially if you’re trying to increase lean mass and strength gains. Higher protein will not make you fat, it will help support a healthy body and make you feel more satisfied!

Older adults and protein

Older adults are fighting off accelerated loss of muscle mass and function that is associated with aging, referred to as sarcopenia. For every decade after 40 years old you lose 8% of muscle mass and it increases to 15% after 70 years of age. Older adults should strive to consume 1.5 to 2.0 grams of high-quality protein per kg of body weight per day according to an article by the Center of Aging. Up to one-third of older adults don’t eat enough due to reduced appetite, impaired taste, swallowing difficulties and dental issues. During the aging process the body is less efficient and struggles to maintain muscle mass and strength along with bone health and optimal physiological function which warrants a greater need for protein.

Protein summary

Eat more high-quality protein. It won’t make you fat, harm your kidneys or bones. It will support lean tissue gains and help you recover overall while fighting age related muscle loss. Especially if you’re a female athlete, aging adult, male, or in general human with a beating pulse. That’s a joke, but really If you have questions about eating more protein or how to implement higher-quality sources into your diet email me and let’s have a conversation!

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