Running (and Lifting) on Plant Protein
Is going vegetarian a bright idea for athletes?
Whether you're an omnivore or not, it's increasingly likely that some of
your clients will be switching from animal- to plant-based food sources, or
at least will be changing the ratio they consume. In fact, Mintel Trends
reported that 33% of German adults said they were actively cutting back on
red meat in 2015, and 19% were incorporating more vegetarian foods into
their diets. However, many athletes and trainers have concerns regarding
the nutrient adequacy of a vegetarian diet. In what may come as a surprise,
researchers at Arizona State now have evidence suggesting that not only can
such a diet "adequately support strength and cardiorespiratory fitness
development" but it "may even be advantageous for supporting
cardiorespiratory fitness," especially among women.
In a cross-sectional study published in the November 2016 issue of Nutrients, these researchers examined the impact of a vegetarian
diet on athletic performance. They compared elite endurance athletes - 27
vegetarian and 43 omnivore - by testing VO2max on the treadmill,
and strength during leg extensions. They also assessed dietary data using
7-day food logs.
Looking particularly at diet, the authors found that total protein intake
was lower among the vegetarians, yet protein intake as a function of body
mass didn't differ between the groups. Regarding the VO2max
tests, the women who ate a vegetarian diet had better results, while no
significant difference existed between the male vegetarians and meat
eaters. In the strength measurements during leg extensions, there was also
no statistically significant difference between the two diet groups for
It's true that vitamin B12, creatine, protein, carnitine, iron
and zinc are generally less bioavailable in plant versus meat food sources;
however, vegetarian diets are typically higher in antioxidants and
carbohydrates, which can be beneficial for athletic performance. As stated
by the study authors, who called for larger future trials, "many factors
affect an athlete's sports performance, and there is no dietary substitute
for quality training. However, our study contributes to the literature
about cardiorespiratory and strength comparisons between vegetarian and
omnivore endurance athletes, and may provide a rationale about the adequacy
of vegetarian diets for sport performance."
Kids in the Kitchen
If You Give a Kid a Cooking Class…
If you want children to eat more produce, it may be time for a cooking
class. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior recently
published research conducted by the University of Chicago that evaluated
the effect of a "community-based, experiential cooking and nutrition
education program" on the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed by
students from low-income families. Researchers also hoped to examine the
classes' impact on the kids' nutrition knowledge and cooking ability, as
well as the family's attitudes and habits related to healthy eating.
The study invited 271 students (94% of whom were eligible for free/reduced
lunch) in grades 3-8 to participate in a 10-week chef-led cooking class in
their school cafeteria kitchen. Lessons covered a variety of healthy-eating
topics, including meal composition and the health benefits and negatives
associated with various foods. They also learned kitchen skills, including
safety and sanitation, and life skills such as how to decipher a nutrition
label. Parents and students completed surveys prior to the program's start
and again 6 months after the final class. Questions measured nutrition
knowledge ("With what should you fill half your plate?"), food
preferences ("Number of times vegetables/fruits/chips/soda were
consumed yesterday."), attitudes ("Willingness to try new foods.") and
behaviors ("Frequency of student helping cook dinner at home."). Results
were statistically significant for "vegetable consumption," though the kids
did not report liking these foods more. They also saw improvements in
"increased nutrition knowledge," "cooking self-efficacy," and
"communication about healthy eating." Areas that saw little to no change
included chip and soda consumption and "adults cook dinner," though the
"child helps cook dinner" number did show a slight increase. Also
encouraging: Parents reported that their child's participation in the
cooking program increased both family conversations about healthy food and
the value the parents placed on eating as a family. The parents also
reported a more favorable perception of their own ability to prepare a
While further studies and interventions are, sadly, needed to discover a
way to help kids cut back on junk food and soft drinks, this study is very
encouraging for those who work with children or have kids of their own.
Give Peas a Chance
Recently, Scandinavian researchers reported that low-protein meals based on
legumes (beans and peas) ranked higher in satiety (feelings of fullness)
than high-protein meals centered on pork, veal or legumes (Food and Nutrition Research, Oct. 2016). The 43 healthy, young,
normal-weight men did say, however, that the high-protein options were more
of a feast for the senses, rating them higher in taste, aroma and
Restaurants Are Taking New Orders
many calories are in that entree?
You may have heard that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently
instituted requirements for certain chain restaurants (those with 20 or
more locations) to post calorie information on menus and menu boards, as
well as supply written stats on other nutrients (such as saturated fat,
fiber, carbs, sugars, protein, and the like) upon request. Having this info
readily available will make it somewhat easier for athletes, fitness
professionals - everyone, really - to make informed decisions when they order.
That's especially powerful when you consider that one-third of Americans'
calorie intake typically occurs outside the home.
Though this statute was originally due to take effect on December 1 of last
year, that date didn't give eateries the required amount of time to comply.
So start looking for these updates around May 5, when the FDA begins
enforcing the rules. Note: Affected locations include those that offer
take-out, sit-down meals, drive-thru orders, serve-yourself buffets,
fresh-baked goodies and movie popcorn, among others.
Special Diets Are On the Rise
What's on your client's grocery list…and why?
In the recent Nielsen Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey, half
of U.S. respondents reported adhering to a restricted diet - one that limits
or prohibits certain foods or ingredients. It's only logical to expect that
some of these consumers may be looking to fitness professionals for help
regarding their grocery list. "Consumers want to eat more healthfully, but
they can't do it alone," says Andrew Mandzy, the director of strategic
health and wellness insights at Nielsen, which polled more than 30,000
people in 63 countries. The survey sought to understand how consumers feel
about the foods and beverages available on store shelves, including those
appealing to people with specific dietary restrictions.
Noteworthy U.S. Stats
Among American respondents, the most common category of food restrictions
that was reported was "sugar conscious," with 22% reporting a need to limit
or avoid foods with sugar. "Low sodium" was next (21%), followed by "low
fat" (19%) and "low carbohydrates" (15%). At just 8%, "wheat/gluten free"
was lower than might be expected, given the recent media attention, while
the category "lactose/dairy free" followed close behind at 7%. Tied at 6% each were
"vegetarian" and "flexitarian" (a diet that's plant-based but includes
occasional meats). At 4%, Kosher eaters also warrant awareness, as do
those who follow a Halal diet, particularly for fitness pros who work with
clients in or from the Middle East. Though just 3% of Americans follow a
Halal diet, 48% of the African/Middle Eastern respondents said that they
do, making it the most commonly cited diet in the survey. At 2%, vegan was
the least popular of the special diets, which is an interesting statistic,
considering it has garnered more media attention than the more common Halal
Factors Contributing to Healthier Eating
It's helpful to note the four main reasons for a worldwide increase in
attention on healthy, clean eating, according to the Nielsen survey:
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the growth of the world's older
population will outpace that of the younger over the next 35 years.
Chronic health conditions.
The leading causes of death and disability - cardiovascular disease, type 2
diabetes, respiratory diseases and cancer - are expected to account for 73%
of deaths globally by 2020, up from 60% in 2001.
Food as medicine.
Seventy percent of the survey respondents said they actively make dietary
choices to help manage or prevent health conditions.
Modern consumers want transparency regarding where and how their products
are made, raised or grown. Nearly 75% feel better about companies that
freely supply this information.
By staying informed about dietary trends and restrictions, you can be
better prepared to answer client questions on these topics.
The Economics of Food Selection
In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and
Nutrition Service (FNS), the Economic Research Service (ERS) works to apply
"behavioral economic theories and concepts to improving food choices."
Translation: Together, they look at how finances affect what we put on our
To support that goal, the ERS has established two university-based research
centers: The New Duke-UNC-USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy
Food Choice Research, and the USDA Behavioral Economics/Child Nutrition
Research Initiative (BECR) at Cornell.
The BECR Center will "facilitate innovative research on the application of
behavioral economic theory to healthy food-choice behaviors that would
enhance the nutrition, food security, and health of American consumers," while the Behavioral Initiative focuses specifically on "identifying
strategies to encourage children to select and consume the healthy
foods available to them
through USDA's National School Lunch Program and its other child nutrition
The research that comes from these two centers will help fitness pros
understand what behavioral interventions can best be used with clients to
improve their dietary choices. Visit ben.cornell.edu for info from the
children's research studies, and becr.sanford.duke.edu for news about BECR
Center research findings.
Breakfast: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
According to the National Restaurant Association, 72% of all adults wish
they could order breakfast throughout the day. This news might create
opportunities for fitness pros who help clients with eating plans, sell
food in their facilities,
or are asking clients to create a food journal. Maybe it's time to expand
your coffee offerings or make fresh juices available at the club all day.
Perhaps it's an opportunity to recommend whole-grain toast or high-fiber
cereal for "breakfast-supper" instead of fatty meat. And for those who like
to cook, it could be the perfect time to offer a class on creating quick
and easy breakfasts that can be packed for lunch or quickly assembled at