The Caffeine Thing

As I mentioned, I have been loving this book, except I read something curious today. About caffeine. This is another hot topic. Good or bad?

This just seems off to me...

According to the Runner’s Diet, caffeine intake is correlated with increased athletic performance in conditioned and competitive runners. And any soccer mom or college student can probably attest that caffeine is what keeps them performing all day long as well. Also other research suggests caffeine relaxes muscles and aides recovery. But is caffeine really the silver bullet for energy and stamina? What about the consequences?

I mean besides the jitters, shakes, or insanity that can follow over-consumption, what really is the harm in a little caffeine here and there? Well honestly, a lot of health professionals, athletic trainers, and nutritionist will tell you nothing. If you stay within 300 mg/day, caffeine can be a safe and healthy addition to your daily intake. In fact, there is loads of research out there stating that a regular intake of coffee and/or tea will provide health benefits coming from the good amount of antioxidants (cancer fighting substances) found in these beverages.

The following is a chart of caffeine amounts in typical beverages:

Beverage         Caffeine Content (mg per 8 oz serving)

  •        Brewed Coffee           80 – 150
  •        Espresso                    80-90
  •        Instant Coffee             50-70
  •        Soda                           25-50
  •        Tea                              20-50
  •        Energy Drinks             80-160

Some people would leave you with this information and recommendation and tell you to get on with your merry energetic way, but I will tell you some other things I have learned along the way that you might want to consider.

  1. First of all, from an athletic or racing stand point, caffeine acts as a diuretic. What does this mean? You’re kidneys are going to filter and process out any sort of fluids you have much quicker. From a long distant runner’s or endurance athlete’s perspective, you will have a tough time staying hydrated and feeling good if you are consuming a lot of caffeine before a run or even on a regular basis. Some people argue that a small amount of coffee or tea before a race will not effect you, but certainly don’t go crazy on any sort of supplements or caffeine pills. You won’t feel as great trying to cross that finish line, and you will certainly need to map out all the port-a-potties along the way.
  2. And with that being said, avoid supplements that promise to boost your energy and mental focus by increasing your metabolism, or products containing caffeine as a thermogenic agent to support weight loss. These products typically contain an absurd amount of ingredients that have never been tested for safety. Just don’t go there please.
  3. Everyone has a different response to caffeine and typical side effects can range anywhere from agitation, insomnia, headaches, and stomach irritation. In fact, migraines are correlated with caffeine intake. Use caution when consuming caffeine, even if it is just one can of diet soda.
  4. And another thing I learned while working in the natural realm, is the association between caffeine and cortisol. Without getting too far into the cortisol issue (one day I will dedicate a whole blog to stress, cortisol, and weight gain), I will say that there is some evidence that caffeine can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone in our body that, when under stress, can mess with our blood sugars, thyroid, metabolism, and ultimately our ability to lose or maintain weight. When we talk about weight control we have to consider hormone control. And simply put, caffeine can work as an antagonist in this scenario.

I will not act as the nay-sayer nutritionist here, (I fear have already lost a few friends over the diet coke issue) but as always, consider these facts as drink responsibly.


Carbs and Exercise

Alright all you activity goers, let’s talk carbohydrates and how to select them. Remember the tid bit here about how carbs store as glycogen in the liver to be used during activity? Keep that in mind during this discussion.

Our carbohydrate needs is one the most controversial topics in the nutrition,dieters, and exercise world. This is because there is no official requirement for this nutrient class. There is no such thing as a carbohydrate deficiency (there is such thing – and seen too much in third world countries – fat and protein deficiencies) because there are no essential carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be produced in a lot of different ways in our bodies if necessary, and there lies the problem. How can we set a minimum or maximum requirement?

Dieters always want to cut out carbohydrates and fill up on protein, but those who follow high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets will find themselves pretty fatigued half way through their exercise routine. But wait, can’t fat be converted to glucose to be used for energy during work outs over 20 minutes? Yes, but this process is slow. If your body is already low on fuel (aka glucose) you are going to feel totally drained before the fat converting magic even happens. If you don’t feel energized you can’t finish your work out. If you can’t finish your work out, you won’t burn calories, If you don’t burn calories your diet really isn’t going to help much in the end. See the problem?

But on the flip side, sometimes we go over board with the whole carbohydrate and exercise thing. The best example I can think of is 5k races. So a little over three miles, this race can easily be done in 30 minutes if you jog. Yet, we have a station half way through passing out Gatorade and orange slices. And then when we complete the race they hand out bagels and chocolate chip cookies. Those who organized the race must know a thing or two about running and nutrition, right? So I need to fill up with everything the 15-year-old volunteers throw at me, right? Wrong. The volunteers aren’t handing it to you because it is the best nutritional choice for you, but rather it was donated and the people have grown to expect and demand it! The truth, you don’t need to carbo load for a work out like that. Whatever stores you have from dinner the night before should be sufficient, and calories still count! A person burns around 300 calories during a 5k race, and one cinnamon sugar bagel and a swig of Gatorade will cost you around 600. Owch.There goes all your hard work to complete that race!

So where is the balance? Remember this chart I told you I would come back to? Find where you think your calorie range is by multiplying your weight in kg (divide your pounds by 2.2) by 25-30. Use 25 if you are sedentary or trying to lose weight, 30 if you are extremely physical or trying to gain weight.

ex- a 120 lb female who jogs 45 minutes a day

120 lbs / 2.2 = 54

27   (medium activity level for weight maintenance)

54 x 27 = 1458 kcals/ day

Once you find your calorie level, look at how many calories should be from carbohydrates when using the 50-25-25 rule. So our example 120 lb female, let’s call her Rapunzel. would need around 700-725 calories of carbs or 175 grams (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate) per day. So what choices does she have and what does that mean in real life? Rapunzel doesn’t count calories…

The best carbohydrates you could select are those that are fiber-rich and/or have a high water content. Eating these types of foods will slow your digestion, help you feel full, and give you lasting energy during your work outs. These complex carbs would be fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Obvi.  A lot of people get this notion that a calorie is a calorie, a carb is a carb, I’m going to have a danish pastry before my runs and fill up on donuts the rest of the day. Well first of all, people really tend to overestimate how much they actually burn off, and secondly, even if you stay in your calorie allotment, you’re body isn’t going to sustain its glycogen stores as well with these simple sugars. So prepare yourself to consistently consume good complex carbohydrates if you want to slim down or perform at your best.

Now the good part. What to pick. Print this out and put it on your refrigerator, please.

Best Carbohydrates

Fruits (60 calories per serving)

Apple, orange, pear, nectarine: 1 small (tennis ball size)

Peach or plum: 1 medium (fist size)

Banana – 1 small (5-inch) –mostly we eat bananas that count as two serving sizes…

Kiwi: 1 whole

Grapefruit- 1/2 of whole fruit

Grapes- 1 cup or 17 if you want to be exact

Cherries- 12 to be exact

Berries – 1 cup

Mango: 1/2 small

Tangerines or clementines : 2

Pineapple: 3/4 cup diced (can you dice pineapple? you know what I mean…)

Canned fruits (no syrups added): 1/2 cup

Vegetables (25 calories per serving)

Raw vegetables : 1 cup

Cooked vegetables : 1/2 cup (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbaef, green beans, eggplant, onions, etc)

Green pepper: 1 whole

Asparagus: 7 spears cooked/ 14 spears raw (please tell me if you eat these raw!)

Leafy greens: like 5 cups

Carbohydrates to Choose with Caution (aka watch portions)

High-starch vegetables (80 calories per serving)

Beans(black, lima, kidney, pinto, etc): 1/3 cup

Corn: 1/2 cup

Corn on the cob: 1 medium ear

Peas and lentils: 1/2 cup

Baked potato or sweet potato: 1 small (tennis ball size, we mostly eat double this…)

Pasta/rice ( 80 calories, choose less if you like)

Couscous: 1/3 cup

Rice (brown or white) : 1/3 cup

Quinoa : 1/4 cup

Noodles (whole wheat or white): 1/2 cup

Bulgur: 1/2 cup

Breads/Cereals/ Crackers (80 calories per serving)

100% whole wheat bread : one slice (actually around 100 cals, so you must read labels!)

Tortilla (wheat or white): 1-6″

Mini pita bread (5″): 1

Bagel: 1/4

The rest in this category can be found on labels, please read them!!!

I challenge you to keep track of your carbs for just one day. Notice portions, refer to this chart, and see how well you did. This experiment can at least give you an idea of where you could improve, or maybe you will be pleasantly surprised with yourself. If you have specifics on other not-listed items, feel free to ask me!

Next up, to carb load or not to carb load?


I have been reading this great book and I have been pleasantly surprised that I agree with the nutrition advice. One concept I would like to share today is the 50-25-25 rule.

This rule says that 50% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 25% of your daily calories should come from protein, and the last 25% of your calories should come from fat. According to Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, this is good advice for runners (and may I add most athletes). This theory of calculating our daily allotment into three groups rather than individual and specific calories will lighten your dieting burden loads.

This rule does 4 important things:

  1. It allows you to incorporate moderate amounts of carbohydrate int your daily diet
  2. It gives you sources and options for foods that give quick energy for physical activity
  3. It provides the right balance of protein and fat to give you continued energy
  4. It allows you to remain content and satisfied throughout the day while still losing weight and having enough energy

As I continue to blog and break down the three macronutrients I will give you specifics and suggestions and this 50-25-25 ratio will make more sense. This is a teaser post I guess you could say.

I also want to share this chart. This breaks down calorie portions. Again, consider your personal calorie range and keep this in mind for the posts to come!

50-25-25 Calorie Distrubution

 Daily Calories                   Carbohydrate kCals         Protein kCals             Fat kCals