How to Lose that Belly Fat

25 06 2010

When I meet with people who want to lose body fat, there are a few things that I focus on initially.  One of these is getting adequate fiber throughout the day.

A recently published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr 91: 329-336, 2010) looked at total fiber, cereal fiber, and fruit/vegetable fiber to see if there is a difference in how they affect weight and abdominal fat.  They found that those who ate the most fiber had the least amount of belly fat and weighed less. They also found that cereal fiber was the most effective at preventing abdominal fat gain.

Therefore, when picking a cereal, choose wisely.  One of my general rules for cereal selection is it should have at least 2 grams of fiber and protein for every 100 calories.  (Though, I prefer them to be even higher)

What is fiber? Dietary fibers are structural components of plants. The type and amount of fiber in plants vary from species to species.

How much do we need? A healthy adult should get 10 – 13 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories they eat.  Most women should aim to get a minimum of 20 grams per day and men should aim for 35 grams per day.  Unfortunately, most Americans only consume about 10 grams daily.  To get the appropriate amount of fiber, adults should include the following in their diets:

  • two to three servings of whole grains
  • three pieces of fruits a day
  • two cups of vegetables a day
  • one or two servings of legumes every week

Sources of Fiber

Food Amount Fiber (grams)
Kashi Go Lean Cereal 1 cup 10
Beans, cooked ½ cup 5-8
Peanuts ½ cup 6
Raspberries 1 cup 6
Whole wheat bread, 100% 2 slices 6
Harvest burger 1 burger 5
Apple or Pear 1 fruit 4
Blueberries or Strawberries 1 cup 4
Oats, uncooked ½ cup 4
Sweet potato w/skin, baked 1 potato 4
Brown rice, cooked 1 cup 4
Sunflower seeds ¼ cup 4
Broccoli 1 cup 3

Are there side effects to increasing your fiber? Yes. Some people experience gas and bloating.  But you can avoid these side effects by gradually increasing the amount of fiber you eat daily and drinking plenty of water.

Bottom Line: To help lose that belly fat, choose a high-fiber cereal and include fruits and vegetables daily.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.


5 Tips to Avoid Exertional Heat Illness

15 06 2010

It seems that every summer the media reports the same tragedy: another athlete has died due to the effects of exertional heat illness.  Coaches and athletes need to take precautions when training in the heat.  The following are simple steps to train smartly during the heat.

  1. Allow time to acclimate to the heat. Even top athletes are at risk if they are unaccustomed to the heat.  It can take the body 1-2 weeks to acclimatize to the heat.  Therefore, intensity and duration of workouts need to be reduced at the beginning and gradually increase over the first 14 days of the summer training program.
  2. Keep Hydrated:  Drink early and often. Staying hydrated allows the body’s cooling response to work effectively.  As the body loses water, if not replaced, it becomes more difficult to maintain a safe core temperature.  Sports drinks (i.e. Gatorade) should be encouraged because they will rehydrate better than water alone.  For strategies to maintain proper hydration, see my previous post on Inadequate fluid intake.
  3. Wear Appropriate Clothing. Wearing the wrong workout attire can make it more difficult for the body to dissipate heat.  Dark clothing absorbs heat.  So make sure to wear lightweight and light colored clothing.
  4. Monitor Weather Conditions. You should always check the weather forecast the morning of a workout day.  If the heat and humidity is predicted to be too high that day, if possible, change your workout to the morning or late evening when it is cooler.  Otherwise, shorten the duration of the workout or decrease the intensity that day.  Also, allow for longer and more frequent hydration breaks.
  5. Be Aware of how some Medications and Supplements affect the body’s ability to cool. One of the more common medication categories that can be dangerous when combined with exercise in the heat is ADHD medications.  If you are on one of these medications or as a coach you have an athlete taking this category, you need to pay extra attention to the warning signs of dehydration.  Some of the signs/symptoms are headache, dizziness, excessive fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and chills.  When the symptoms progress beyond thirst and/or fatigue, the safest strategy is to cool the athlete quickly and allow for rehydration.  As far as supplements go, the worst are stimulant-containing products, such as energy drinks, weight loss products, and others that promote giving you that “pump” like NO-Xplode.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Common Mistake #5: Inadequate fluid intake

9 06 2010

Water is the largest single component of the body.  Approximately 75% of muscle is made up of water.  Besides oxygen, it is the most important nutrient in our bodies.  Water plays an important role in nearly every major bodily function: it aids in digestion and absorption, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, regulates body temperature, removes waste, cushions joints and protects organs and tissues.

Water is the most important supplement we have:  USE IT!

Hydration is overlooked by most athletes, with more than 50% living in a state of dehydration.  Try not to wait until you are thirsty.  By this time, you have already lost ~1% of your body weight.  Losing as little as 1% body weight can impair performance and make it difficult for your body to cope with exercise and warm weather.  A loss of 2-4% of your body weight causes a 20% decrease in strength and a 40% decrease in aerobic capacity.

Dehydration can be prevented!  Drinking the proper amount of fluid before, during, and after exercise will keep you well hydrated.

Tips for Proper Hydration:

  • Pre-Hydrate – Drink 16–20oz of water 2–3 hours before practice/competition.  Drink 8oz of water or Gatorade 10–20 minutes before practice/competition.
  • Hydrate – Drink water or Gatorade during practice/competition, not waiting until you feel thirsty.  One simple strategy is to drink 4-8 oz during every break.  On gulp is approximately an ounce.
  • Re-Hydrate – Drink 20–24oz of water or Gatorade for every pound of weight lost.

Plan ahead and carry a water bottle with you.  To calculate approximately how much water you need daily, divide your weight in half.  This is the minimum amount of fluid in ounces you should strive to drink daily.  Alcoholic beverages do not count.  In fact, you need to drink additional water for every alcoholic beverage you have.  The more you sweat, the more you need to drink in addition to this amount.  Also, remember that muscle is 75% water.  So, if you are trying to gain muscle, you need to drink additional water to aid in building that new muscle.

Bottom Line: Carry a water bottle with you and drink often throughout the day.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Common Mistake #4: Inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables

7 06 2010

Fruits and vegetables provide the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help your body function optimally, fight inflammation, and ward off illness.  Athletes are under tremendous stress.  You not only endure physical stress from training and environmental conditions, but also emotional stress.  Worrying about your position on the depth chart, upcoming competitions, academics, or your job can significantly contribute to your stress level. In addition, you may have stress in your personal lives. Stress can be overwhelming, and can build up over time during the long grind of the season.

If your diet is lacking fruits and vegetables, you will be more vulnerable to stress.  This vulnerability to stress weakens your immune system, lowering your work capacity and could knock you out of training. You cannot afford to have unnecessary downtime because of a weak immune system.  By focusing on getting adequate fruits and vegetables, you can minimize down time. Being taken down for a day or two is much better than missing a week or more.

By eating a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack, you are helping to protect your body from the effects of stress.  It is essential to get a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts into your diet daily.  The more “colors” you eat, the more essential vitamins and minerals you are providing your body.

Red Yellow/Orange White Green Blue/Purple Brown




Red Bell Peppers

Red Cabbage




Butternut Squash

Canola Oil








Sweet Potatoes


Yellow Bell Peppers






White Peaches

White Potatoes




Brussels Sprouts


Green Bell Peppers

Green Olives



Mustard Greens

Romaine Lettuce


Black Olives





Purple Grapes



Brazil Nuts


Olive Oil



Pumpkin Seeds

Sunflower Seeds


Wheat Germ

Bottom Line: Eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack.  Strive to eat from every color throughout the week.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Common Mistake #3: Skipping Breakfast

2 06 2010

We’ve all heard it – breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  This saying holds true because of the length of time that you go without eating prior to breakfast.  It is called breakfast because you are “breaking a fast”.  Assuming that you get the 7-8 hours of sleep that you need, you will most likely go 10-11 hours without eating.  Your body is still burning calories while you are sleeping.  So, where are these calories coming from?  Most come from carbohydrate stores in your liver and muscle.  You will also get calories from the breakdown of muscle and a little fat.  When you wake up, you start burning more calories.  You will have used all of the carbohydrates from your liver by this point, so the process of breaking down muscle speeds up.  Eating breakfast will stop this process and start refueling and repairing muscles. But skipping breakfast sets you up for losing muscle.  In addition, by skipping breakfast, you are more likely to be overly hungry later. And thus, you are more likely to overeat at lunch and/or dinner.  “Backloading” or eating more at the end of the day than the beginning is associated with less muscle mass and higher amounts of body fat.

Another benefit of eating breakfast is increased mental awareness.  Numerous studies have examined students who regularly eat breakfast vs. those that regularly skipped this meal.  Those who ate breakfast consistently outperformed those who skipped.  These results are explained by the fact that breakfast provides fuel for the brain.  Your brain runs on glucose.  All carbohydrates that you eat are converted to glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream.  This provides the energy your brain needs.  It allows your brain to function optimally, making it easier to concentrate, comprehend, and remember what was discussed in class.

Bottom Line:  Eat breakfast daily.  Include carbohydrates (fruit, cereal, or bread) to fuel your brain and refuel your muscles.  Also include protein (eggs, milk, yogurt) to repair muscle.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Common Mistake #2: Inadequate amount of sleep

26 05 2010

Our second mistake from our “Five Common Mistakes Athletes Make” (May 17th, 2010) is not getting the amount of sleep necessary.  Inadequate sleep has been shown to decrease muscle gain and increase fat gain.  Sleep affects both behavioral and metabolic characteristics that play a role in how much muscle and fat you have.  A study completed in Europe found that for every hour less than 8 that women slept, they had on average 3% more body fat.

Sleep loss affects the body’s levels of certain hormones.

Lack of sleep is associated with decreased levels of growth hormone and increased levels of cortisol.  The result of these changes is inadequate muscle recovery, fat storage, and muscle loss.  Aim for 8 hours of sleep each night.  Getting enough sleep is imperative for the body to maintain optimal function.

Some research has shown that when tired, people crave more sweet foods.  Combine this with increased cortisol & insulin, and you are set for fat storage.

Lack of sleep affects exercise intensity.

Because your body did not properly recover overnight, you tend to compensate by reducing your intensity during workouts.  You also lower the intensity of your normal daily activities (walking around campus).  This combination results in fewer calories burned daily.

Bottom Line:  Get a minimum of seven consecutive hours of sleep.  Aim for eight.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Common Mistake #1: Recovery after training and competition is not taken seriously

24 05 2010

I would like to take the 5 mistakes mentioned in my previous post from May17th, 2010 and expand on each one.  The first mistake concerns not focusing on recovery.  One definition of recovery is returning to a normal and better condition.  For athletes, this is getting their body back to how it was prior to the training session or competition.  The quicker someone recovers, the sooner they can train or compete at an optimal level again.  What changes occur during training and competition that bodies need to recover from?

First, carbohydrates are stored in the muscle in the form of glycogen.  Your body uses this glycogen for energy during activity.  Think of this as refueling your muscles.  One analogy I hear used all the time is comparing our bodies to cars.  Think of carbohydrates as the gasoline you put in your cars.  One role of eating carbohydrates after a workout is refueling – like putting gas in a car after a long trip.  Another role of carbohydrate is limiting the damage caused by exercise.  Exercise can cause an increase in the hormone cortisol, which can lead to the breakdown of muscle.  Eating carbohydrates will decrease the amount of cortisol in our blood, thus decreasing the amount of muscle that is broken down.  Depending on the intensity and length of exercise, you should multiply your body weight by 0.4 to 1 gram to calculate the amount of carbohydrates needed.

Second, but no less important, is protein.  Our bodies also need protein after workouts and competitions to repair the damage that occurred.  Exercise puts our body in a catabolic state.  This means that our bodies are breaking down muscle.  If we don’t get the right food in after a workout, we won’t gain all the benefits from the hard work just completed.  People make the false assumption that exercise builds muscle.  Instead, it is the combination of exercise and proper fueling that stimulates our body to repair and build muscle.  The type of exercise and your body weight dictate how much protein you need.  A good target to aim for is at least 20 grams of protein.  Generally, I recommend multiplying your weight by 0.2 grams for optimal recovery.

Third, we need re-hydration.  This is simply replacing the water used during the exercise.  To know how much you should replace, you should weigh yourself in minimal clothing before and after the exercise bout.  This weight loss represents the water loss that needs to be replaced for your body to function optimally.  General guidelines are to drink 20 oz for every pound you lose.  This can be water, a sports drink to provide the necessary carbohydrates, or a drink that contains protein.

The last thing I would recommend is having some food that has anti-inflammatory properties.  This can also allow for quicker recovery.  Foods that have anti-inflammatory properties include cherries, berries, pineapple, and foods that contain Omega-3 fats (ex. salmon and walnuts).

By focusing on these four areas after workouts, you will optimally recover from your workout and see the improvements you desire.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Five Common Mistakes Athletes Make…

17 05 2010

Athletes can sabotage their hard work by making any of these common mistakes.

  1. Recovery after training and competition is not taken seriously.
    Protein and carbohydrate recovery after a training or workout session are essential in order to gain the benefits of the workout.  Consuming carbohydrates after a workout are needed to replenish stores in the body that were used up.  When working out, muscles are damaged.  Consuming protein after a workout helps to repair those muscle tissues faster therefore decreasing the amount of breakdown and getting the most out of the workout you just completed.  Recovery is crucial in reaping the benefits from your hard work.
  2. Inadequate amount of sleep.
    Inadequate sleep has also been shown to decrease muscle gain and increase fat gain.  Lack of sleep is associated with decreased levels of growth hormone and increased levels of cortisol.  Aim for 8 hours of sleep each night.  Getting enough sleep is imperative for the body to maintain optimal function.
  3. Skipping breakfast.
    If you skip breakfast, you are more likely to be overly hungry later. And then, you’re more likely to overeat at lunch and/or dinner.  “Backloading” or eating more at the end of the day than the beginning is associated with less muscle mass and higher amounts of body fat.
  4. Inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables.
    The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in these foods will help with recovery from strenuous workouts and competitions as well as keep your body healthy to ward off illness.  They also provide fiber and an additional source of water for hydration.
  5. Inadequate fluid intake.
    Plan ahead and carry a water bottle with you.  Divide your weight in half.  This is the minimum amount of fluid ounces you should strive to drink daily.  Alcoholic beverages do not count.  The more you workout out, the more you need drink in addition to this.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Vitamin D, Muscle, and Fat

13 05 2010

Most people realize that vitamin D assists the body in absorbing calcium.  This assisting role helps the body have strong bones.  What most people don’t realize is that this role only represents 15% of what vitamin D does.  There are over 200 genes in our body that have vitamin D receptors.  This means that having adequate vitamin D levels allows our body to function correctly at the genetic level, enhancing many things from immune function to muscle strength.

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at the relationship between vitamin D status and fat content of muscles.  Our muscles naturally store fat as an energy source.  But a higher muscle fat content is associated with lower levels of strength and performance.

This current study measured blood levels of vitamin D and, using a CT scan, measured the amount of fat in muscles.  What the researchers found was an inverse relationship between the two measurements.  The lowest vitamin D levels were associated with the highest amount of fat in the muscles.  A reasonable assumption is that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with a decrease in muscle strength.

I always encourage people to get their serum Vitamin D levels checked.  Once you know that number, you will know how much vitamin D is best for you to take.  I generally recommend between 1500 and 2000 IU per day.  It is very difficult to get this amount from food.  And although it is possible to get such a level from sun exposure, I don’t recommend forgoing sunscreen.  So personally, I take 2000 IU per day combined between my multivitamin and a vitamin D supplement.  I typically recommend the Nature Made brand to clients because they submit to strict quality testing by the United States Pharmacopeial; this way you know you are getting exactly what is on the label.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.

Grapes are Good for Your Heart

26 04 2010

Grapes come in more than 50 varieties in black, blue, blue-black, golden, red, green, purple, and white colors.

All varieties, no matter the color, have health benefits.

Grapes have high concentrations of phytonutrients

The three polyphenols that are linked to their health benefits are:

1. Flavonoids

2. Phenolic Acids

3. Resveratrol

Protection against Heart Disease

Eating grapes leads to:

1. Increased levels of Nitric Oxide in the blood, which dilates the blood vessels.

– This leads to lower blood pressure.

2. Reduces inflammation

3. Reduces harmful blood clots

4. Reduces potential artery damage from LDL (bad cholesterol)

Antioxidants and Athletic Performance

Grapes are a good source of antioxidants.

1. Regular and prolonged exercise causes an increase in free radicals, leading to muscle damage.

2. The antioxidants in grapes can assist in fighting this free radical damage

Grapes are 80% Water

This makes them an excellent low-calorie snack or dessert.

One grape only has 4 calories.

Eating grapes will also aid in hydration.

Add grapes (any color) to your normal weekly meal plan.

© Randy Bird, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS and Randy Bird Sports Nutrition, 2010.