Friday, May 4, 2012

Food as health, performance booster

Author touts proper nutrition as way to lose weight, enhance athletic performance and stay healthy

Express Staff Writer

Food is your friend. Or, it should be. Nancy Clark wants it to be, as part of a healthy relationship.

Clark, a registered dietician and sports nutritionist, presented a seminar, "Sports Nutrition: The Missing Link," Thursday at the Sun Valley Inn. The talk, sponsored by the Idaho Dairy Council, was part of the annual conference of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Many people believe that performance starts with training, she said. The gathering of dieticians see things differently.

"You and I know that performance starts with eating," she said. "Food is fuel."

Clark offered more than a dozen "missing links" related to nutrition that, at best, frustrate people's goals, and at worst, can damage the body.

The message had pointers for people across the health-and-wellness spectrum.

"Even lean, fit athletes get heart disease," she said.

One of the most important practices people should incorporate into their routines, she said, is eating breakfast.

Skipping that first meal can lead to overeating during the day, craving sweets, eating too many calories at the end of the day or feeling ill.

"It's amazing to me all these people who take drugs for headaches when they just need food," she said.

But what food? Clark advocated a balance that includes carbohydrates, protein and fat, and she tailors her advice to an individual's need.

For example, her counsel to a young man trying to be "massive" was to pull back on the protein powder and incorporate some carbs.

Endurance athletes need carbs for energy, but different carbs are tolerated differently by each person, especially during a workout. Some people have upper gastrointestinal-tract problems, others have lower GI problems.

"I focus on athletes' choosing foods that are well tolerated [by them]," she said. "Practice during training to figure out what works."

Too little fat in an athlete's diet can hurt performance, she said.

"Fat is not a four-letter word," she said, adding, "certainly, some fats are healthier than others."

A common misconception, she said, is that exercise will automatically bring results in a weight-loss program.

"Adding on exercise does not equate to losing weight," she said. "It's very easy to have a lot of frustrated exercisers."

It adds up to weight loss when it contributes to a calorie deficit, she said.

Add to that the fact that a great many people spend most of their waking hours sitting, and even an hour of hard exercise may not yield weight-loss results—a situation she referred to as "sedentary athlete syndrome."

Clark also had other advice for people hoping to shed pounds.

"Maybe your body is good enough the way it is," she said. "Focus on performance rather than losing weight."

Clark estimated a "zillion" reasons to exercise, with calorie burning being just one. If it's someone's only one, exercise will feel like punishment.

"Exercise for the right reasons," she said.

Activity propelled by the right fuel at the right time can bring performance results and better health, she said.

"I want to leave you with the message that food works," she said.

Rebecca Meany:

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