Hey Herald readers! I am the other writer of Low-fat Tuesday, Rachel Werts. I am a senior majoring in dietetics at UW-Madison. Every other week I will be heading the nutritional portion of this column by answering all your questions about food, diet and nutrition!
I don’t want to pretend that I already have all the answers about nutrition though. (Let’s face it – I haven’t gotten my degree yet or passed the exam to be a registered dietitian!) I do, however, want readers of the Herald to know that they can trust all information written from this column because it comes from credible sources like the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and is reviewed by staff at the Nutritional Sciences Department.
I owe it to those students who read and write to this column to provide the best answers I possibly can. So I will be doing my work for each piece, researching and collaborating with my fellow dietetics students and my professors, to make sure the student body can count on each and every article I put out.
To start off the first nutrition column of Low-fat Tuesday, I chose to answer a common question that many dietetics majors get these days:
Q: I’m trying to bulk up this semester so I have been lifting weights and changing my diet. All the articles I read online say I should eat lots of protein to build muscle mass – are products like Muscle Milk and protein powder really worth the investment?
Well, I’m glad to hear that you are changing your diet to accommodate the changes in your exercise routine! It is true your nutritional needs may change with your athletic activity level. However, your protein requirement is not going to jump through the roof just because you can bench 25 more pounds.
The common misconception that weight-lifters need to eat tons of protein is due to a misunderstanding of how muscles are built. Although muscles are made of protein, eating more of the substance doesn’t mean it will go straight to your biceps. Excess protein, like any macronutrient in excess, is broken down and either used for energy or converted into fat and stored for later. The energy required for weight-lifting, however, is glycogen – and that is made from carbohydrates.
Depending on what kind of activity you do, your body uses either carbohydrates or fat as fuel. Long and low intensity workouts burn more fat, shorter and higher-intensity workouts (like weight-lifting) burn more carbohydrates. Protein needs to be converted by your body before it can be used as a fuel, meaning it requires more work. This is why protein is always a last resort energy source and the key to your training diet is to simply make sure you are consuming enough calories and eating plenty of carbohydrates.
It is true that your protein needs will increase slightly, but the average American consumes almost double the recommended daily amount. As long as you’re eating the equivalent of 1.0-1.5g of protein for every 1kg of your body weight you will have plenty to build your muscles, but to fuel the muscle building process the key is carbohydrates.
However, you should know that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Simple carbohydrates, like those found in soft drinks and processed foods are not as good a fuel as complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs, found in vegetables, legumes and whole grains are a better energy source and also supply you with essential vitamins and minerals. Your muscles will have plenty of energy to lift and rebuild if you make these your dietary focus.
So are Muscle Milk and protein powder worth the money (or, in my opinion, the taste!)? Not really. A better post-workout option is an 8 oz. glass of chocolate milk, a source rich in carbohydrates and protein, just not in excess. Concentrate on post-workout drinks and snacks that are about 100-200 calories containing mostly carbohydrates. Examples are a serving of hummus and whole-wheat crackers, a carton of low-fat yogurt with a sprinkle of fresh berries, or half a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter.
For the rest of your meals just eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and when you do eat protein choose lean meat sources or beans and legumes. All of these are sure to keep you going strong during your training! If you have more questions, choosemyplate.gov is a great source.
Recipe of the week:
Three Bean Chili
Pair this chili with a baked potato and you’ve got the perfect meal full of healthy complex carbohydrates and protein!
Yield: 6 servings
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low sodium vegetable broth
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup water and next 9 ingredients (through diced tomatoes); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. Stir in cornmeal; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro. Serve over baked potato and top with a tablespoon of sour or cream or cheddar cheese!