Interview with Roberta Anding, MS, RD/LD, CDE: Part I
Why don't we start with a little bit of your background and how you got into sports nutrition?
I have been a registered dietitian for twenty-five years, and have worked with athletes probably for about the last fifteen years. In 2001, I was hired as the team dietitian for the Houston Texans football team and have worked subsequently with the Houston Rockets, and with Rice University.
That's great! So, let's just talk a little bit about sports nutrition itself. I think a great place to start would be a working definition of how sports nutrition is different.
Sports nutrition, to me, takes the science of nutrition and translates that into what an athlete can eat. If you don't take care of those basic fueling needs, it becomes difficult to think about sports nutrition in terms of supplements. When a lot of folks think of sports nutrition, that's their working definition. Sports dietitians translate the science of nutrition to what an athlete is going to eat on their plate, as well as providing medical nutrition therapy where indicated. And, I think that's often times lost in the definition of sports nutrition. What I mean by that is that athletes come in all different shapes and sizes, and many athletes come with a pre-existing disease-whether it's high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, or some other disease. Sports dietitians are uniquely qualified because of our training, to not only translate the science of sports nutrition to what the athlete eats, but also to integrate that into who they were before they were an athlete. This can even include things such as religious beliefs.
Let's talk about the connection between muscle building and protein. There are hundreds of different protein supplements out there. Can you talk a little bit about what's real and what's not real in this aspect of nutrition?
Oh absolutely. There is good science to say that having protein and carbohydrate before and after exercise is pretty important in terms of building overall muscular strength. However, you don't need to worry about the total amount of protein, because most Americans are not protein deficient. It's less about the total amount of protein, and more about when you eat it.
Carbohydrate and protein soon after exercise, particularly if the exercise has been intense, is essential in terms of fueling the muscles - going into the exercise, and then rehabbing or refueling those muscles after exercise, to reload them for the next day's activity. The question is How do we take this science, and make it into a usable form for an athlete, and not drain their pocketbook? Leading experts in this area, such as John Ivy at the University of Texas, Austin, have done research that suggests that this is a beneficial thing to do -- that you can increase net protein or net muscle synthesis by having protein and carbohydrate before exercise. And, then as soon after exercise as you can tolerate, but probably within that first forty-five minutes post-exercise. So, the question then becomes What kind of protein? Certainly, most of the research has been done with either whey or casein, which are both milk proteins.
Can you explain the differences between the different types of proteins?
The whey milk proteins are sometimes dubbed fast acting, and the casein proteins are thought of as slow acting. Some of the research has suggested soy protein is as effective as whey or casein in terms of muscle building. But, I don't have a whole lot of luck getting male athletes to take soy protein because soy has an estrogen-like component. So, if I brought soy protein into Reliant Stadium, I don't care how strong the science is, I am going to be run-out. The estrogen component is just not a seller.
Then, there is the whole area of research about whether it should be intact protein, or should it be essential amino acids. It appears that essential amino acids have some advantages, because they are already kind of digested protein. But, for most people in the real world that tends to not be very practical. Essential amino acids generally don't taste good; and they are expensive.
Right. And isn't there something to the way that the protein is extracted?
Yes. And depending on the quality of the product, it can have what I call a residual. So, if I am getting a lower grade whey protein I can often times have some of the lactose that is naturally in milk tag along with it. Well, if I happen to be an athlete who is lactose intolerant, I don't think I want to get gas, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea from my whey protein product. There is also the concept of an intact whey, or whey protein isolate. And, again I think the question becomes semantic. When we look at the reality of protein supplementation, I think that the key issue is Can you trust your source?
So, whether you are talking about an intact whey or whey protein isolate, trusting your source, and going with a name brand, manufacturer gives me a little bit more confidence that the supplement facts on the label are indeed what's in the product. And, there have been numerous instances where a supplement fact indeed is not what's in the bottle.
So, in terms of protein, the objective isn't to consume more than other people. It's just to time it better to when your body will absorb it best.
Yes. If you look at the protein needs of adults, the sedentary adult needs the least, the endurance athlete needs a bit more, and then the strength athlete has the largest protein requirement. So on paper, it's true that a strength athlete needs more protein than someone who is watching them on the couch. That is a true statement. But, when you take a look at how much protein most Americans eat, the likelihood of you not having enough protein if you were a strength athlete is small.
Because, we eat so much protein anyway.
We eat a bunch of protein. So, I would rather have athletes think about how to maximize when they eat their protein, not maximize how much protein they eat. I have seen one or two endurance athletes who honestly spent a good deal of their time trying to eat good amounts of carbohydrate. But, they didn't pay close enough attention to their protein consumption, and were on the fringes of not getting enough protein. But, in a twenty-five year career, I see much more protein over-consumption.
Let's talk a little bit about antioxidants. I understand that athletes spin off more free radicals than other people?
Yes, they do. In fact, there was a really nice little study done by an excellent researcher by the name of David Nyman out of Appalachian State. And his area of expertise is the immune function, the immuno-suppression that comes along with intense exercise. So, if you are a marathoner, you would fall right into that category. And what he has shown is that the antioxidant Kerstin, which is in red apples, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables, can actually diminish the normal immune suppression that comes along with intense exercise. It is actually blocked when you take the antioxidant Kerstin. So, I think the question for most athletes is "Am I going to see a performance benefit from antioxidants?" I am going to tell you I don't think you will.
I think it's more on the things that you can't see. So, is it actually true to say that if I take Kerstin, I am less likely to have a post marathon upper respiratory infection? Possibly. Does that mean I am going to go out and win the next marathon? No, so I think when athletes are looking for this benefit, they are trying to translate that into is it going to make me bigger, stronger, faster, and I think that this not where antioxidants help. You recover a little bit better, as with the Kerstin example from David Nyman's research.
I think we have got evidence to say in individuals who are distant runners, who breathe in and out, and spend more time outside than maybe their sprinting or anaerobic athlete counterparts, that these folks probably do need some supplement antioxidants. But you can take too many antioxidants, so there is a minimum dose and a maximum dose that most people should keep in mind.
Right. If we take too much, doesn't the antioxidant become the problem itself?
Yes, vitamin C is one example that in moderate doses functions as an antioxidant. There are some studies that suggest high dose vitamin C actually acts as a pro-oxidant. This is always a tough part for athletes; more doesn't always mean better.
Similarly, more fish-oil wouldn't mean less inflammation. More protein doesn't mean more muscle synthesis. It doesn't mean that.
Roberta Anding, MS, RD/LD, CDE, is an instructor in the adolescent and sports medicine, department of pediatrics, at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston. Her research interests include risk factors for the female athlete triad, prevalence of eating disorders in health care professionals, and determinants of dietary supplement use in college athletes. In addition to being on faculty at BCM, Anding is an instructor in the department of kinesiology at Rice University. She also is currently the American Dietetic Association's Houston spokesperson and a nutrition consultant for the Houston Texans Football team.