Hear former 2X Olympic gold medalist Kelly Rulon give sports nutrition advise. Video below.
By: Becci Twombley
You've probably heard that proteins are the building blocks of the body. But just how much protein do you need? And when should you be getting it?
The quick and easy answers? There aren't any. When it comes to health and nutrition, a lot of factors are at play, but some basic guidelines – considering bodyweight, activity level and goals – can steer you in the right direction.
Let's start simple. An average adult needs at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day, according to Becci Twombley, director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Southern California. To convert your bodyweight from pounds to kilograms, divide by 2.2. So, a man who weighs 165 pounds would need to consume 60 grams of protein per day.
For most Americans, hitting the recommended protein level for basic body maintenance and strength isn't a problem. An ounce of pistachios has six grams of protein. A cup of yogurt has about 10 grams, and a four-ounce hamburger has nearly 30.
However, people in pursuit of growth – their own or their child's – can use more protein. Active young adults, pregnant and nursing women, and athletes of all types should ramp up their intake.
"A really good estimate is somewhere between 1 and 1.2 grams per kilogram," says Twombley, who helps plan the nutrition and recovery of 700 USC athletes. "In a practical situation, I've never been able to have our athletes get the results they are looking for if they eat less than 1.2 grams per kilogram."
That's 50 percent more than the average male, and strength athletes can go even higher. For example, Twombley's long-distance runners eat 1.2 grams per kilogram, but her football players are closer to 1.8.
"The more muscle you have, the more protein you need," she says.
The smartest thing you can do is listen to your body, Twombley says. If her athletes are fatigued or easily injured, she knows that protein is the key to recovery. If they complain of constant hunger, protein is often the answer. Even though they're eating a lot of food to meet their energy demands, they're quickly burning through the carbs. More protein will help keep their bodies feeling satiated.
However, Twombley notes that protein is used most efficiently when consumed in portions of about 20 grams at a time. Because the body can't store protein as efficiently as it stores carbs and fat, it's best to spread protein in small servings throughout the day. “This means that the typical American way of eating a 10-ounce steak or two large chicken breasts may not play into our normal physiology. Adding protein rich snacks like one ounce of pistachios between meals may be more effective,” she says.
However, athletes should pay particular attention to their post-workout meals. Going through the effort of breaking down your muscles without providing the fuel to rebuild them is counterproductive.
"You have a 30-minute window to really replenish your body," says backcountry snowboarding icon Jeremy Jones. "At the end of a long day, getting a protein source like pistachios in my system right away is kind of step one of my recovery."
Hear former Olympian, USA Water Polo’s Peter Hudnut talk about what gave him the competitive edge. Video below.
• Exercise may lead to muscle damage and sore muscles from oxidative stress and inflammation, resulting in a decline in muscle activity and delayed recovery. While further studies are needed to confirm the results, emerging evidence suggests that antioxidants may help with muscle recovery.1 Pistachios are a natural source of the antioxidants lutein, β-carotene and γ-tocopherol, and laboratory studies suggest that pistachios have a high antioxidant capacity.2
• While adequate hydration and balanced carbohydrate intake are important post exercise, research has shown that eating protein is beneficial to preventing muscle tissue damage when consumed after intense exercise.3 The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests refueling with a mix of protein and carbohydrates 15 to 20 minutes after a workout for optimal muscle repair and recovery and to replenish muscle glycogen stores.4 With 6 grams of protein per serving, pistachios make an ideal post exercise snack.
• Pistachios offer far more than just calories and protein for active people. They are filled with hard-to-get nutrients like magnesium and vitamin A, and other phytochemicals. Pistachios are also a good source of copper and manganese. In fact, research shows that pistachio eaters tend to have a diet with overall higher nutrient quality.2 In a randomized, crossover controlled feeding study, Kay, et al. (2010) found that people eating pistachios had greater plasma lutein and g-tocopherol levels.5
• The body loses potassium with sweat during intense exercise. Potassium is a major electrolyte in the body that can help to regulate nerve function, muscle control and blood pressure. When potassium is lost during exercise it can lead to muscle weakness. Include potassium-containing foods along with water to help replenish this important mineral after exercise.6 Pistachio nuts are a source of potassium, and a one-ounce serving of pistachios actually has as much potassium as half of a large banana.
1. Sousa M, et al. Int J Food Science Nutr. 2014; 65(2):151-163.
2. O'Neil CE, et al. Out-of-hand nut consumption is associated with improved nutrient intake and health risk markers in US children and adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004. Nutr Res. 2012;32:185-194.
3. Lewis PB et al., Clin Sports Med 2012;31:255–262
4. Mohr CR. Timing Your Nutrition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2012). http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442463964
5. Kay CD. et al., Journal of Nutrition. 2010;140:1093–1098
6. Flores-Mateo G, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97:1346–1355
Nutritional bars and packets of energy gel are what you might think of when you imagine a champion cyclist’s diet. But for the cyclists riding in the 103rd Tour de France, currently underway, a balanced diet based in whole foods — and a lot of them — is critical.
The 2016 edition of the world’s greatest race covers 2,197 miles and visits three countries en route from Mont Saint-Michel to Paris over three weeks in July. Along the way, the race’s rail-thin riders will produce roughly enough energy to power the average American household for 2.5 days, each of them consuming an astounding 5,000 calories or more per day. And while an ice-cold soda is a welcome first drink at each day’s finish line, it is pounds of rice, pasta and proteins that will fuel riders like 29-time stage winner Mark Cavendish across the high mountains of the Alps and Pyrénées.
“You have the 200 best bike riders in the world all in the best condition of the year, which means everything is faster, everyone rides closer together and winning and losing means so much more,” says Cavendish, the former world champion from the British Isle of Man, who rides for Team Dimension Data. “Whether training in the early spring or chasing race wins at the Tour, diet is one of the top-three most important things in a cyclist’s, or any professional athlete’s, way of life.”
Nigel Mitchell, head of nutrition for British Cycling and educational ambassador for American Pistachio Growers, serves as Cavendish’s go-to dietician. Mitchell has overseen the diets of Tour de France and Olympic champions, and manages Cavendish’s meal planning to account for the extreme toll that back-to-back 120-plus-mile days take on the star sprinter’s ability to process nutrient-dense foods.
“In events like the Tour de France, you’re constantly working to maximize recovery, and some people get a little more sensitive to things like wheat. The stomach takes a big pounding,” says Mitchell. “It’s really important to make sure we’ve got easily digestible foods there. In Mark’s case, we’ll build a simple diet based around chicken, rice and nutrient-dense nuts like pistachios, which are rich in B vitamins, protein and iron.”
And, Mitchell says, a simple, nutritious diet is vital to recovery for athletes of all abilities and sports — not just the select few competing in the Tour each year. “Whether running on the treadmill to hit a weight-loss goal or training for a 100-mile century ride, we all need to feel our best when it’s time to perform, and you don’t need a personal nutritionist to be certain your diet is tuned for your needs,” says Mitchell. “For instance, you can easily incorporate pistachios with a carbohydrate to replenish your stores through a power-packed snack like my Pistachio Rice Cakes.”
Yield: 25 servings
2 cups Risotto (short grain) rice
4¼ cups water
1/8 tsp cinnamon or vanilla
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1¼ cup low-fat cream cheese
1 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp honey or agave nectar
½ cup chopped roasted pistachio kernels
Instructions: Cook rice according to package directions. While rice is still hot, add all other ingredients and mix well. Cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap and spoon rice mixture onto wrap. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap, use a rolling pin to compress the rice. Let it cool to room temperature and place in refrigerator overnight. Remove and cut into 1-inch squares.
Hear former Olympian, USA Water Polo’s Peter Varellas tips on how to start your day with pistachios. Video below.
It takes a village to get 2013 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Jeremy Jones up and down a mountain. He spends months, if not years, studying maps and tracking weather patterns. He recruits snowboarding partners and avalanche experts. Don't forget the packs upon packs of rescue gear, as well as the film crews to capture it all.
But there's one thing that could throw the whole effort off-kilter.
"Nutrition makes or breaks what I do in the mountains," the legendary backcountry snowboarder says. "It's common for it to take 8 to 12 hours to get on top of a line, so having the energy to snowboard down at a really high level is key."
While superhuman feats of strength, endurance and fearlessness make for sexy sports headlines, nutrition is behind the scenes doing much of the heavy lifting. As godfather of American fitness Jack LaLanne once quipped, "Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together and you've got a kingdom."
Athletics, whether you're riding an avalanche-prone peak in Alaska or following along to a yoga DVD in your living room, don't build strength. Just the opposite: They break it down. It's the fuel you get during the rest period afterward – in the form of protein-rich foods like eggs, chicken and pistachios – that rebuilds your muscles and prepares your body for the next round.
And if you ask University of Southern California nutritionist Becci Twombley, she'd turn LaLanne's legendary advice right on its head.
"I definitely think that nutrition is more important than strength," Twombley says. "You can still compete if you're weak and recovered, but if you're strong and overtrained, you're done."
Twombley plans the meals for more than 700 athletes at USC, including its storied football team. To help the players prep for a game, she's helped pioneer a holistic approach called "Recovery 30." Essentially, the recovery starts before the game even begins.
On Friday evening, a group of 30 players – 11 starters on both sides of the ball and the next eight guys who get the most snaps – get a 20-minute massage and a serving of cherry juice with whey protein.
"The purpose of that is to get their cells and their muscles as recovered as possible from the week of practice," she says. "Before bed, they'll also get a snack bag that has pistachios and a power drink. That way, they're healing overnight and wake up as fresh as possible."
Pre-game, the players eat a meal with a heavier load of carbs. Rice, pasta, potatoes and yogurt are the focus, but an omelet bar and two kinds of chicken offer a healthy dose of protein, as well.
"They need to load their glycogen storage, their muscle energy, and the carbs take care of that," Twombley says. "The protein in that meal is to slow the digestion of carbohydrates so they're not starving two hours later."
Post-game, the focus is back on protein and recovery. Injuries and slower-than-expected recovery times are red flags that the players aren't getting enough protein.
"They're always hungry if they're not getting enough," she says. "Even if we give them enough carbs to meet their energy demands, they'd burn right through them. They also couldn't recover well, so their fatigue level would be overwhelming."
Twombley recommends that athletes get at least 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. (To convert your bodyweight from pounds to kilograms, divide by 2.2.) One of her go-to protein sources is pistachios. An ounce of pistachios has 6 grams of protein, nearly as much as an ounce of meat or one egg.
"When you compare them, they're fairly similar," she says. "The difference is you're going to get a lot more antioxidants from a pistachio than you are from an ounce of beef jerky. So besides the rebuilding power of protein, you get the added benefit of antioxidants to prevent cellular damage. That's really where most of the education comes in, in the art of explaining the added benefits of certain foods."
That's why Jeremy Jones starts and ends his longs days in the mountains with pistachios.
"They have the protein of eggs and meat, the antioxidants of blueberries and the potassium of bananas," he says. "Pistachios truly are a superfood."
Hear former Olympian, USA Water Polo’s Peter Varellas refueling tips with ideal post-workout foods such as pistachios. Video below.
Moreover, the antioxidant compounds in pistachios may be readily available for the body to use. A study published in Nutrition showed that pistachios’ polyphenols, xanthophylls and tocopherols are more than 90% bioaccessible during digestion. These nutrients contribute to the beneficial relationship between pistachio consumption and health outcomes, such as heart disease.
[Mandalari G, et al. Bioaccessibility of pistachio polyphenols, xanthophylls, and tocopherols during simulated human digestion. Nutr. 2013;29:338-344.]
For more research on the health benefits of nuts in general, visit nuthealth.org.
Shawn Hueglin is a senior sport dietitian with the United States Olympic Committee (OSOC), working with men’s volleyball, women’s volleyball, men’s water polo, women’s water polo, and women’s rugby.
A: There is no one diet that fits all athletes. Each has individual performance goals. Meals, snacks and recovery nutrition all play a role in helping them achieve those goals. In general, I recommend a balance of fresh veggies and fruit (making their plate colorful), complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats.
A: On an average training day, the athletes eat and drink calories (including the drinks and snacks they consume during training) 5-6 times a day. Because their training days include three training sessions, they often need to eat and drink calories in the pool, for example, to consume enough calories to support their training.
A: We provide foods that contain complex carbs, lean protein, rich in antioxidants and healthy fats. In essence, athletes strive to replace the nutrients used during training and required to improve performance. Prime examples? Recovery smoothies: pineapple, mango, orange juice, whey protein, banana, spinach and pistachios. For lunch: salmon, brown rice, kale salad, berries OR breakfast burritos, pancakes, Greek yogurt parfait OR turkey lasagna, green beans, spinach salad.
A: Add lots of color from fresh fruit and veggies (more focus on the veggies!) to your plate; a lean protein source like fish, chicken, lean beef, tofu, or low-fat dairy; complex carb source like quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice, whole wheat bread, oats – a smaller portion if you are less active. Exercise or be active every day! The majority of people that I talk to want to eat healthy, they just don’t have time to do all of the preparation to have the foods they need on hand. When time is tight, nutrient density becomes more important. You need foods that provide multiple nutrients for your body; provide more than just a calorie. Nuts are often a good option to kill the afternoon craving as they can offer many nutrients and squash hunger. Pistachios, for example, have 6g protein, 3 types of antioxidants, electrolytes, good fats and fiber all in 160 calories. Add nuts to a piece of fruit or handful of veggies for a colorful snack. You get way more bang for your buck when you make nutrient dense food choices.
By: Becci Twombley
It is no coincidence that the Twitter handle for the American Pistachio Growers is @Pistachiopower. This little green nut houses many of the nutrients required to allow muscles to grow and repair as nature intended.
As a sports dietitian, it is my job to fuel athletes so that their body’s can repair quickly. The athletes of the US Olympic Waterpolo team can attest that they push themselves to the limit on a daily basis. It is through this intensity and dedication that their skill and fitness levels have evolved to be the best in the world yet it is the very same intensity and dedication that puts them at risk for overtraining injuries or fatigue. Proper fueling, pre, during and post exercise nutrition can prevent these circumstances from sidelining Americas Finest. This is why American Pistachios are the perfect snack for elite athletes AND weekend warriors.
Pistachios are high in three different kinds of antioxidants. This means the free radicals that are formed in muscle from contraction and relaxation during a workout can quickly be gathered and quarantined before they can cause damage to the surrounding tissues. Think of these free radicals as drunk drivers. They are rogue electrons that are released into our bodies as a result of cellular metabolism. If left alone, they will crash into the walls of our blood vessels and create small injuries resulting in inflammation. Enter antioxidants, beta-carotene, lutein and tocopherols! These heroic law enforcers capture these free radicals and arrest them for DUI before any damage can be done. This effectively reduces the soreness and recovery time that an athlete feels after a hard workout. What’s more is that these same antioxidants fight heart disease and have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
For the most benefit, pack a snack of 1oz of pistachios and plenty of water to be consumed within 30 min after your next workout. Follow this snack with a recovery meal within the hour that will replace lost muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) and provide the protein building blocks to continue repairing muscle.
Check back regularly for more nutrition tips and don’t forget to follow the US Waterpolo teams journey to Rio! Go USA!