As we settle in the holiday season, it seems like sweets tend to surround us with chocolate temptation and sugary savory cookies. Many folks tend to give in and engulf pounds of desserts over the course of the holiday season. The problem isn’t the sweets themselves, but self-control. Now, I’m not saying to stay away from all desserts or make claims that sugar is evil. If you want some sweets, go ahead! It comes down to self-control and serving sizes. To tell you all to not consume any sweets during Christmas is absurd and can surely ruin the night. It’s also completely understandable to want to stray from desserts because “you don’t want lose your gainz! Or all of your hard work will be a waste”. I can assure you, there is a way to enjoy the holiday season, maintain your gains, and still achieve your goals.
Reach for the Christmas cookies and have a handful. Do not feel guilty about this. Just don’t overdo it like a plate or two stacked with brownies, cookies, candy canes, etc. Now if you exercised that day, you have a little more leniency but still not much, keep it minimal. Here are some tips that may work for you:
- Hungry? Go for a protein snack (Greek yogurt, beef jerky, hard-boiled eggs, protein smoothies, protein bars/cookies). Not the tastiest but better for body composition. How is it better? Protein is more satiating (feel full longer) and has a higher TEF (thermic effect of food), essentially burning more calories during metabolism.
- Drink water! Sometimes hunger may be mistaken for thirst, so if you’re feeling hungry and want a snack, drink some water first then decide if you want to go for that snack. It may also help if you drink water before dinner. This may give you a “full” feeling thus, potentially leading to less food intake.
- Same like the first tip, add more protein than anything on your dinner plate, i.e. chicken breast, turkey, beans, steak, roast beef, etc. Eat your protein first, then go for the mashed potatoes, etc.
- Add fiber to your dish. Fiber also adds satiety. Examples include, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, celery.
- Use smaller plates. People tend to eat less with smaller plates. Try it out and see if it works. It may not but this is about experimenting.
- Make substitutions. Choose a fruit cup with cottage cheese over a gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate. Choose wine over beer. Simple substitutions like this can help.
- Most importantly, if you lose all self-control and go on a 3-week sweets binge, don’t worry, you will be okay. Enjoy the holiday season!
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Today’s Q&A guest is our own sports nutritionist Jesse Rodriguez. Jesse has his own prolific history as a national-level swimmer for El Salvador and here in the United States competing in college and post-graduate for the University of Southern California. This all makes Jesse a world-class resource as not many people have competed at this level at any sport. With this background, plus his vast time spent in academia studying nutrition, interning with top sports teams, and the clinical work necessary for his Registered Dietitian status, we’re glad to have him on-board.
1. There are lots of people working with nutrition in some capacity, what sets you apart?
Firstly, I’m a licensed registered dietitian which means I went though extensive schooling and professional training. Secondly, I was an athlete for the majority of my life and I began studying/applying nutrition since I was 16. Lastly, I continue to read and study a lot! Mostly on clinical, biochemistry and sports nutrition research articles. Overall, I’ve been in this game for a long time and still aiming to be well-rounded in all elements of nutrition. (Editor’s Note: You read more about the difference between a Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian here)
2. Given your personal and prolific history as a swimmer, you’re uniquely qualified to critique high-level sports nutrition, particularly in swimming. What are athletes doing right with their diet? What are they doing wrong?
Nutrition in sports has gained more popularity over the years and many athletes found the benefits of fueling appropriately. I’ve noticed that more athletes know about nutrient timing, and the importance of including carbs as fuel and protein for recovery. I think that many athletes know how to fuel around training times but during other times (i.e. dinner at home or restaurant), they tend to lack in nutritional knowledge. A lot of athletes still eat junk food throughout the day, maybe because they feel they can get away with it or something, but that’s our job as sports dietitians to correct. Additionally, building the appropriate plate according to their goals (i.e. body composition, better recovery) seems to be a problem along with maintaining hydration. Here’s an article I’ve written on RuthlessPerformance.com on this is.
3. Supplement must-do’s… What supplements (if any) are generally worth taking? What supplements are a scam?
Supplements for athletes typically aren’t necessary since athletes are eating more than the general population but it all depends on the athlete. Supplements would be necessary if an athlete is deficient in a nutrient like Iron or Vitamin D. Athletes following special diets like the vegan diet may need to supplement as well. As far as supplements for performance, the most studied and useful would be: Caffeine, Creatine, Beta-Alanine, Nitrates, and Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda). It’s hard to say which supplements are a scam because they’re so many in the market and it can vary due to individual responses to them. With that being said, it’s important to make sure if you’re going to take supplements, that they’re 3rd party certified by organizations like the NSF.
4. You’ve gone pretty far in your journey through academia… With the emphasis of studies, objectivity, and research in academia there is still surprisingly lots of room for subjectivity and interpretations of results and outcomes. What are your thoughts on this? What can be done to fix or improve nutrition science?
Correct, I think there is always room for development in the field so it’s my job to follow along and stay up to date with the latest research. This for me is actually fun because I enjoy reading research papers and learning to new things. The science of nutrition can be very complex and as of now, I don’t have any solutions. I think that the correct messages (evidence-based results) need to be sent out to the general public so myths can be debunked. It’s more about nutrition education than anything at the moment.
5. From a more general standpoint, the headlines regarding nutrition are changing on a damn near daily basis. What elements of sports nutrition do you think are firmly established? What rules of nutrition have outlasted the scandalous and salacious headlines?
Hydration, nutrient timing, and recovery nutrition seems to be the foundation. There will always be a new thing that comes out, but those three are firmly established. Individualized nutrition is fundamental in sports nutrition and I think that will outlast any headline or diet (i.e keto diet, intermittent fasting, etc). I also think that sticking to the basics, such as nutrition from food rather than living off smoothies and supplements for example, will always have the edge. Of course, going back to supplements, this will depend on the individual’s status.
6. Where does sports nutrition go from here? What do you think we’ll be seeing in the coming years regarding nutrition? Gut health seems to be a hot topic as of late, what are your opinions on this? What should nutrition scientists place more emphasis on?
The basics of sports nutrition will remain the same and to be honest, I don’t see anything revolutionary coming soon. However, they’re new things coming along such as nutrigenomics and the importance of gut health, antioxidants, and periodizing nutrition which looks promising. Gut health has been popular lately and for good reason. Because of the gut and brain connection, I feel it’s important to treat your gut right just like most want to treat their blood sugar levels right. I think emphasis should be placed on education and sending the correct messages to athletes and the public. Researchers are doing a great job in nutritional science but there hasn’t been anything lately that can change the whole world of nutrition and its effect on humanity. If we can do this, that will be the next revolutionary thing.
**Editor’s Note: Jesse will also be featured on ‘Healthy Habits with Dr. T’ on Wednesday, Oct. 17th at 7:00 PM EST, we’ll post all of the details for event pre-registration and where to view it on our Twitter and Instagram.**
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