A look at life at the intersections of wellness, culture, and current events

Tag: nutrition

What We Eat in The Shadows

What We Eat in The Shadows

Happy Halloween, y’all! I wanted to write something about the conversations that I have with people all of the time when it is discovered that I am a dietitian. Sometimes it’s okay, but often the comments I receive are quite ridiculous and often make me […]

Exploring Intuitive Eating

Exploring Intuitive Eating

It’s hard to believe that it’s already February 2018! The last few months have gone by quickly, with some dramatic twists and turns along the way. Now that things have settle down a bit, I want to focus on both personal and professional development. To […]

Nutrition Basics for Beginning Roller Derby Players

Nutrition Basics for Beginning Roller Derby Players

Hello everyone, I am Octavia Hustler, skater for Angel City Derby! When I’m not on skates, I work as a registered dietitian in Los Angeles. So why am I writing about this? Batty Davis from ACD reached out to me a few weeks ago to make a post about nutrition for all of you who have made it past the recruitment stage and are now starting your serious derby journey!

If you haven’t thought about it before, think of yourself as officially being an athlete. You’re doing combinations of off-skate workouts (aerobic and strength building) as well as skating for up to 8hrs a week! In addition to that, depending on your size and how much you do during practice, you can burn somewhere between 350 to 700 calories per hour doing derby! That’s a lot of exercise. For comparison, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by the Department of Health and Human Services recommend either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

Nutrition is a very important component of building and optimizing your athletic performance, so I have written up a few basics on eating as an athlete. As a side note, I am not going to go into specialized diets and athletic performance (that is beyond the scope of this post). Of course, as you become more involved and increase your level of participation, your habits surrounding food may change and you’ll find out what works best for you. You may want to also consult a professional like a registered dietitian to help you with your nutrition and fitness goals.

Without further ado, here are the basics.

The Basics

Photo by StockSnap

If you would like to read more details about these basic nutrition notes as it relates to athletic performance, I highly recommend reading the joint position paper between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine on Nutrition and Athletic Performance (and it’s open access!).

General Eating

You may think that because you’re doing so much exercise, you can eat whatever you want because you will “burn it all off anyway.” This is not true! The body is very complex, and getting what your body needs from a variety of foods is important. Even if you take a multivitamin, there are certain interactions within foods that can make vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and macronutrients affect your body in synergistic ways that an isolated nutrient cannot. If you need a refresher on the food groups, check out MyPlate (which replaced the Food Pyramid).

You will likely need to eat more than you do right now. Everyone’s nutrition needs are different, so there isn’t one set calorie intake or frequency of eating that you need to follow. There are several formulas out there that can calculate how many calories you should have per day, and some apps include calorie calculators.

For some of you, eating around roller derby is going to be a major life change. What will make all of this easier is adapting to your eating as a lifestyle and not something you must suffer through to achieve what you want.


Let’s all take a deep breath together and say “Carbs are not bad.” Carbohydrates are found in beans, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains. Yes, they are also found in other foods that are not considered healthy (sweets, junk food, etc) but carbohydrates cannot be demonized without any nuance of understanding. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source of your body, and what your body is going to rely on to get you through a workout. Typically between 45 to 65% of your energy intake should come from carbohydrate sources according to the Institute of Medicine. If you want specifics on how many grams of carbohydrates are recommended for certain activities, I recommend checking out that position paper. Further details about carb intake prior to/after workouts are noted below.


Current research recommends that athletes get between 1.2 to 2g of protein per kg of body weight (quick math: 1kg= 2.2lbs). This is enough protein to account for muscle maintenance, growth, and inflammation from intense exercise. MyPlate gives a list of protein foods and their one ounce equivalent (1oz of a protein typically gives 7g protein, though individual foods vary). It is entirely possible to obtain all of the protein you need in your diet without using protein powders, or without eating meat (if you are vegetarian or vegan). Check out this post by the Rebel Dietitian for a bunch of charts detailing the protein content of vegetarian protein sources.


Fat is one of the important macronutrients that your body needs to function well. Fats are needed in every cell in your body and they serve several functions. Fat cushions your organs, it’s used as a secondary energy source, fats are required to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and it does a lot more! Yes, we should be limiting trans fats and saturated fats (and watching our intake of the foods that contain them). We should also be getting enough mono- and polyunsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, fish, aquatic plant life) to help our normal functioning and mediate our inflammation response. Current guidelines say between 20-35% of your caloric intake should be from fats, with<10% calories from saturated fat.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are always a tricky subject to talk about. Theoretically, if you are eating a diet that contains enough fruits, vegetables, protein sources, grains, etc. then it shouldn’t be necessary to take any supplements (with the exception of some chronic conditions). The existing research is also mixed on whether certain supplements enhance performance or not.  Also note that some supplements can affect certain health conditions or have food-drug interactions.

On a food safety side, I do have other concerns about dietary suppplements. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, otherwise known as DSHEA, significantly impacted the FDA’s ability to regulate dietary supplements and ensure that they meet certain standards. As a result, some dietary supplements don’t contain the things they say they do. Some overstate the effect of certain components (without the same regulation as health claims from food). There can even be supplements on the market that can cause adverse health effects.

This is not to scare you away from using supplements entirely. Some companies do extensive lab testing and get their products certified by independent entities that may have very high standards to bring safe products to their consumers. It really is up to you if you would like to try different supplements and see how they affect you. If you do want to try supplements, you should do research on them (or ask a health professional) before you spend a bunch of money.

Eating Around a Workout

Photo from Angel City Derby

Now that you know some of the basics, let’s talk about how to put some of this into practice.

Before the Workout

Your day of fitness starts off well before you make it to the gym, warehouse space, or wherever you may be working out. Eating enough before a workout helps prevent fatigue and makes sure your body is using the correct energy sources while you work out. Optimally, you want to eat somewhere between 1 to 2 hours before you exercise. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting cramps or feeling sick because your body is attempting to focus on two different bodily systems at the same time.

If you’re eating close to the two hour mark, a balanced meal containing some protein, carbohydrates and fats is good to have. Protein and fats help slow the digestion of carbohydrates, so you may not get hungry during the middle of practice. If you’re eating at this time, it should be okay to have more whole grains and complex carbohydrates. You have a longer period of time for your body to digest them and make the energy available during workouts. If you’re at the one hour (or less!) period, going for simpler carbohydrates is going to be best for quick digestion before your activity. If you want to look up food and their glycemic index/load (which is a measure of how quickly the carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed), look at the GI Database from the University of Sydney.

During the Workout

During a practice, it is very important to maintain your hydration. Always have your water bottle with you, and always refill it when you need to. Don’t be afraid to tell your trainers when you need a drink of water (sometimes they forget you need breaks). Whenever you have breaks in-between exercises or practicing a technique, take a few sips of water. If you chug a lot of water at one time, you may feel it sloshing around your stomach and feel nauseous when you return to skating.

I do like using some sport drink mix in my water to give me some continued energy and replenish my electrolytes during practice. Plain water or coconut water (which contains electrolytes) are also excellent. Typically, I’ll end up refilling my water bottle so that I end up with a diluted sports drink anyway.

It is recommended that if you’re doing exercise for longer than an hour, a small carbohydrate snack is helpful in helping you maintain your energy. We often don’t get the chance to stop for a snack during practice, but if you start feeling weak or dizzy while exercising, I recommend taking a break and eating something. I like to carry raisins or other dried fruit with me for this reason, but a quick granola bar or other snack can work as well.

After the Workout

You should eat after practice. Think about it – you just spent hours skating, pushing, falling, etc. and your body has used up all of the energy it stored to power you through a lot of activity. To help your body’s energy restoration, look for carbohydrate sources that are easily digestible (low fiber, high glycemic index). If you’re looking to build muscle, eating somewhere between 20-40 grams of protein within the first two hours after a workout is recommended. And of course, continue to hydrate after you’ve finished practice. Some things that I eat after a workout include grits and eggs, peanut butter and apples, or a high-protein yogurt with granola.

Photo by Vincent Mota

BONUS! Daily Tips and Other Advice

  • Stay hydrated all of the time. Try carrying a water bottle with you or some other reminder that you should drink water, tea, or another hydrating beverage
  • Eat snacks throughout the day! I think this is especially important if you don’t eat breakfast in the morning. Snacks can help you meet your energy needs throughout the day that you may not be able to achieve through meals alone
  • Be smart about your alcohol intake. It’s best not to drink a lot the night before you have a practice/workout. Even if you don’t feel different the next day, it can have a negative impact on your performance.
  • Listen to your body! If you’re feeling extremely tired the day after a workout or for several days at a time (not related to any existing chronic condition), it may be a sign that you’re lacking something! It can be a vitamin deficiency, an energy deficiency, or you could also not be getting enough sleep. Constantly check in with yourself to see that you’re doing alright, and make changes as needed.
  • Your weight is not always the best marker of how healthy you are. You may gain weight because of muscle, or lose weight because you’re not eating enough. Notice how you feel day to day, your progress in physical performance, the definition of new muscle or other changes in your body. Weight is only one anthropometric measure used in health assessment, so don’t let that number get you down.
  • For ideas on recipes and snacks, Greatist is a really good website to check out for their Eat section.
  • Need help tracking your intake of food and energy? Try a food record/tracking app like MyFitnessPal.

This was a rundown of some of the basics for sports nutrition. As you begin to integrate these principles into a healthy eating pattern, you’ll feel a difference in your body on and off skates.

Good luck on your roller derby journey and see you on the track!

Featured photo by Carl Grooms

From Brunch to Obsession: Bergamot Oranges

From Brunch to Obsession: Bergamot Oranges

Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to have brunch with friends who you haven’t seen in a long time. On a recent Sunday, I did exactly that. Along the way I also found a new flavor that I absolutely love: bergamot oranges. That morning I […]

Docs to Watch: Feel Rich – Health is the New Wealth

Docs to Watch: Feel Rich – Health is the New Wealth

When I talk about looking at the intersections of culture and wellness, this documentary is a prime example of what I mean. Feel Rich – Health is the New Wealth is a new documentary produced by Quincy Jones III that looks at health behaviors within […]

Advice on making a lifestyle instead of a diet

Advice on making a lifestyle instead of a diet

In 2009, Michael Pollan published a book called Food Rules. It’s a relatively short book that has 64 bits of advice on what to eat and how to eat. Some of the advice is useful, depending on what your life circumstances are. Some of the advice seems a bit pretentious to me, for example “It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language,” or “avoid food products that make health claims.” In the case of the “Health Claims” bit of advice, there is literally a health claim for fruits and vegetables. You probably shouldn’t avoid those. Anyway.

Over the years of majoring in nutrition science and subsequently becoming a dietitian, my diet has changed dramatically. I like to think that I eat generally “healthier” but I don’t obsess over what I eat, nor do I feel guilty about anything I eat.

I have my own set of personal “food rules” that I like to call my ideal diet, and it’s been really useful to me. Not only does it have goals for eating certain foods, it also includes goals for food behaviors. Behaviors that I have developed over the years, and behaviors I’m still working on. Overall, it helps me keep a good balance as far as eating goes. And it’s not a diet – it’s just what I’ve integrated into my life.

I want to share these bits of advice with you so that you can start a healthier lifestyle without feeling miserable about it. Here we go!

Learn how to cook

At some point it stops being cute when you say “Lol, I only know how to cook ramen and toast.” You owe it to yourself to learn how to cook something. You don’t have to be David Chang or Wolfgang Puck, but you can learn how to cook some rice and bake fish. Roast a vegetable, even. Learning how to cook is advantageous in many ways – you can control what goes into your food, you can feel proud that you created something (hopefully) edible, it’s usually cheaper, and you get to have leftovers! And that’s only the tip of it!

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

Try cooking something new every week (or at least once a month)

Once you start cooking, you can venture out to new foods and cuisines. Did you ever want to learn how to bake bread? Do it! Is there a dish that you want to recreate from a restaurant? Go ahead! Is there a new food item that you saw on Pinterest? I’m sure you can try it out! Sure, not everything will come out good (like my attempt to make chicken paprikash) but it’s worth finding out what you’re capable of. Also, you’ll get real tired of cooking the same 3 recipes on repeat.

Only one dessert per day (at most)

I like dessert. Sometimes I have dreams about eating cake, and they are great. I can eat a lot of dessert if the opportunity is presented to me, so I try to be mindful. If I’m going to have dessert, I try to have dessert only once a day. If there are multiple dessert options presented to me, then I think about a few things: which one will taste the best, which one have I not had before, and which one have I had recently. It helps me keep a good rotation of desserts without eating all of them. Yes, it can be sad to not eat all of the sweets, but it’s also sad to suffer the short- and long-term effects of excessive added sugar.

Figure out your food group goals

I have a food goal for all of the food groups. I consider the variety of items within the food groups, the amount that I want to eat per day or per week, and what foods I always want to have stocked within my fridge. For example, one of my fruit goals is to always keep apples in the house (and indeed there are some jazz apples in my kitchen). Another goal I have is to try different kinds of breads!

Photo from Kaboompics

If you don’t like it, it may be because it was cooked the wrong way

There’s a lot of food that I eat now that I didn’t think I would eat 10 years ago. Much of that is due to it being cooked the wrong way (too mushy, too dry, too hard to chew, etc) or by not having the right flavors. Give a food a shot by trying it several ways to see if you dislike it completely, or if there are certain ways that you’ll eat it. Due to international trade and mixing of cultures, many cuisines use the same ingredients in vastly different ways (varying in cooking style and flavor profile). Maybe you hate sauerkraut, but you love kimchi or curtido. You’ll never know until you try it…which leads me to my next bit of advice:

Try it for yourself

Word of mouth for some foods can be terrific, but in other cases it can be terribly misleading. The first thing that comes to mind is how television programs and movies promote the perception that all vegetables taste bad. For example, Brussels sprouts. Have you ever heard someone speak favorably about them on a popular television show? I doubt it. But have you ever had Parmesan-encrusted Brussels sprouts? Or how about honey and soy roasted Brussels sprouts?  I find them to be absolutely delicious. If you solely depend on other people to tell you what you should and shouldn’t like to eat, then you may miss out on really good stuff. The perception of taste varies between each individual (the science is very interesting, especially for “supertasters“). What may taste terrible for one, may be amazing for another! Gulp by Mary Roach briefly explores the science of taste in case you’re interested in learning more.

Photo by Jakub Kapusnak

Figure out your food needs in different environments

How I eat at home is quite different from how I eat at work, and there is surely a different set of considerations for the gym. Many environments force us to adapt our eating habits, and not always in good ways. Think about what can help you perform optimally (e.g., around workouts) or can throw your eating habits out of whack (e.g., snacks in the office or staff cafeteria). If you have a plan, you don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard.

Consider all dimensions of food and nutrition

This one varies on what you find important to you. Food is so multidimensional, and can include nutrition, taste, culture, health, accessibility, labor, craft-work, agricultural methods, sustainability, and more! Food doesn’t simply exist to nourish (or malnourish) us, so I think it’s important to think about your relationship with food, and the world’s relationship with food. Doing that may alter the way that you eat, or the way that you think about food. Before you do move forward with any significant changes, make sure to do research and find information from reputable sources (shoutout to Pubmed!).

Listen to your body

This one is super important! Your body can tell you a lot of things about your eating patterns. It can tell you if you’re dehydrated (drink more water!), if you’re not getting enough fiber (shoutout to the Bristol stool scale!), or if you’re eating too much or too little. Paying attention to how you feel physiologically after eating certain foods (heavy, tired, energetic, etc) can help guide you towards what kinds of foods you should eat more or moderate. Also, take notice of when you eat. Are you eating because you’re hungry, or because you’re bored? Once you figure out what your body needs, it makes a world of difference.

Disclaimer: This isn’t even the full extent of what I try to do to eat healthy, and I don’t even follow these all of the time. I do try to continuously figure out what works best for me based on research, new experiences, and learning about the complex topic of food and nutrition. You can try something similar, but ultimately food is highly individualized and there is no “one size fits all” eating pattern. Furthermore, how you eat is going to change throughout your life so go along with the adventure. 🙂

Until next time!