Fuel Efficient: Using Nutrition to Optimize Your Exercise

First, let's think about what type of physical activity you like to engage in with your wondrous body. What's your athletic passion? Are you a weekend warrior engaged in the challenge and glory of friendly competition? Are you an all-around athlete who works out in order to push yourself to attain important personal victories? Or are you engaging in aerobic and strength-building activities in order to meet healthy lifestyle goals? Or perhaps you are a person who merely takes pleasure in jumping into your running shoes and getting in some well-deserved miles of solitude after a stressful day at work.

Whatever activities you prefer, when you have an athlete's mindset you continually strive to be the best that you can be. Bear in mind that your body's performance level depends on your ability to discover, carry out and maintain a reliable smart nutrition plan. This four-part article is designed to help athletes like you--as well as those making the transition to a more active lifestyle--to discover the best ways to get the nutrition you need to sustain an active and energetic lifestyle. Overall, this will be of benefit to you if you:

Currently subscribe to a common-sense nutritional approach that includes high protein, smart carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, low sugar and no trans fats
Are curious about how carbohydrates affect your body
Have an interest in learning how a common-sense approach to nutrition can enhance your athletic performance and boost your energy levels
Want to understand more about the role of energy drinks, shakes and nutrition bars for a healthy, active lifestyle
Want to differentiate between various types of products on the market and make smarter choices
Currently follow the Atkkins Nutritional Approach and are becoming more physically active
Are interested in finding a smart nutrition plan that can help you reduce stored fat, build muscle and maintain your goals once you have reached them
In the past, most athletes were told to "carb-load" when preparing for athletic events. Recently, a number of new studies have challenged that theory. We'll look at the current research that's available on carbs and energy levels. We'll also take a look at how focusing on beneficial carbohydrates and eliminating empty carbohydrates while getting adequate protein can enhance athletic performance. Then we'll examine other nutritional factors as well: protein, fiber, healthy fats, meal replacement bars, shakes and more.

This article is about improving your overall well-being through an athletic and nutritionally balanced lifestyle. After all, your passion and dedication to athletic activity is the springboard to a healthier existence. You know where you want to go with your lifestyle and fitness goals, but you may not be armed with all the necessary information to get there. The goal of this course is to help guide you to optimal athletic performance by relying on a nutritional mix that maximizes nutrients like protein, fiber and smart carbohydrates. Taking this course will allow you to:

Understand your special nutritional needs, and be able to accommodate them
Discover the impact of athleticism on your well-being, including the effects on metabolism, digestion, stress and more
Learn the role nutrition plays in athletic energy and performance
Learn the importance of protein, fats and fiber for exercise
Explore various options for nutrition bars and shakes
Understand the features and benefits of a smarter approach to nutrition for athletes
Next we'll take a look at the special nutritional needs of athletes.

When you commit to a regular fitness routine and begin thinking of yourself as an athlete, you are putting constant demands on your body, whether you're doing aerobic or anaerobic exercise.

Aerobic exercise--activities such as running, cycling and walking--overloads the heart and lungs, increasing your heart rate and your oxygen consumption.
Anaerobic exercise--like resistance training or sprinting--pits muscles against weight, and builds muscle mass.
Aerobic essentially means "with oxygen." With aerobic exercise, you're using large muscle groups and forcing every cell in your body to use more oxygen. Since the heart is a muscle, as it becomes stronger and more efficient, it can pump more blood with less effort. Think of it as working smarter, not harder! Being fit aerobically makes for a more vigorous athlete.

Anaerobic means "without air." Anaerobic exercise is shorter in duration, though performed at a higher intensity. It is non-endurance in nature and it builds speed, power and mass. As with aerobic activity, it is helpful for both weight loss and increasing your metabolism. Resistance training causes tiny injuries or tears to your muscles so that when they heal they can be rebuilt stronger and larger than beforehand. Clearly, if you're going to demand so much from your body, it's going to require some special dietary requirements in return.

Individual athletes have different nutritional requirements based on their gender, weight, specific activities and outside factors. No one person can make a definitive list of what athletes need. But experts agree: physical activity can lead to tissue damage without the right nutrition. A healthy, balanced nutrition plan is a critical component of any exercise program in order to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs in order to constantly repair itself.

A common-sense approach to nutrition gives you the energy you need to stick to your athletic routine, and it offers multiple benefits.

Lowering your empty carbohydrate consumption and eating more protein helps your body build muscle mass.
You'll be less tired and more invigorated, and your body will have the nutrients it needs to heal and strengthen all your muscles.
Additionally, you'll learn how to avoid spikes in blood sugar, which will help you preserve muscle glycogen stores. This will maximize your energy and endurance and optimize your performance.
Even the fittest and leanest bodies contain enough stored energy (as fat) to complete 10 or more consecutive marathons. Contrary to the old wives' tales that counseled consuming bowls of spaghetti before the big run, some studies show athletes on higher protein diets demonstrate better endurance than those on high-carbohydrate nutrition plans. Professional and amateur athletes alike are discovering they can enhance their performance by lowering the amount of empty carbohydrates they consume and choosing nutrient-dense carbs--for the ones they do consume--that will sustain energy.

Indeed, it's difficult to break from years of tradition touting a high-carbohydrate diet before an athletic event. Carb-loading theories have been around a long time. But more and more athletes are discovering they can play harder, longer and better when they rank their nutrition priorities in a new order, starting with protein and fiber, as opposed to only carbohydrates. It makes medical sense to do this--and in fact the latest guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine are beginning to reflect these findings. In Lesson 2, you'll learn more about the various theories on the effects of carbs for athletes.

Athletes and Weight Loss
If weight loss is part of your health and fitness goals, a smarter nutrition approach can benefit you. The basic principle of losing weight, of course, is to burn more calories than you consume. When you add exercise to the mix, you're increasing the number of calories you burn as well as building muscle mass, which will in turn help you to burn additional calories. Making sure you get plenty of protein for muscle growth, fiber and healthy fats, as well as being smart about carbohydrates while you exercise, is the approach to take. Now let's take a look at Body Mass Index and the role that plays in your health and fitness goals.

Your BMI as an Indicator of Health
Body Mass Index (BMI) is just one component in the overall program of the athlete. BMI uses a formula that takes height and weight into consideration when estimating body fat percentage. It doesn't take into account lean body mass or frame type, so beware of using it as a definitive and sole indicator of your body type.

Remember, metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories to sustain life. And how do we exert some sense of control over our metabolism? We build muscle! It's our muscle tissue that does most of the work burning calories. True enough, metabolism is partly genetic, but it can also be controlled through food choice and activity level. More frequent, smaller meals and progressive exercise keeps you burning calories regularly--even in your sleep. A lower BMI means a lower percentage of fat, and thus a more efficient engine for churning away the fat.

Now let's look a little more closely at what's happening when you work out.

When you get physically active, you're burning more calories than when you are at rest. But what happens after you exercise? Do you keep burning calories at that higher rate? In fact, you do--but it depends on how hard you exercised, and what exactly you did and for how long.

Endurance exercises, like walking, jogging, biking or basketball--all those aerobic activities--affect your body systems even after exercise, when your body is at rest. These activities contribute to your overall cardiovascular health, increase your resting metabolic rate and make all of your systems work more efficiently, thanks to increased oxygenation.
Resistance training--the anaerobic exercises like weight lifting--can build muscle mass. In theory, increased muscle mass can result in a higher overall resting metabolic rate, but the effect is usually very hard to quantify. Your body does, however, reap many benefits from increasing your muscle and decreasing your fat, because of the overall weight loss involved. You'll find that as your body becomes leaner, you'll have more energy because you won't have to lug around extra weight.
When you start thinking and acting like an athlete, your body responds in several ways. You find that it's easier to be consistently active, in part because you have more energy, and also because you're stronger, more flexible and improving your overall health. In fact, everything about you--from head to toe--will reflect what you're putting in your body, and how you're treating it. You glow with increased vigor, health and balance.

Participation in athletic activities offers you many advantages:

Rigorous exercise improves digestion and bowel function via a more rapid transportation of food through the digestive tract. When you eat a balanced diet with adequate protein and fewer empty carbohydrates, your digestive system runs more smoothly and you won't suffer bouts of stomach cramps, constipation, or other unpleasant symptoms.
Your immune system is another big beneficiary of an athletic program. An immune system is like your body's "department of defense" and it needs to be vigorous in order to fend off disease. Regular exercise promotes the vigor of your body's immune system by beefing up cells, bones, muscles and tissue. The combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise is a key part of your immune system's success in defending your body from attacks.
Reap the bone benefits! Resistance training increases or restores bone density. First, the muscles that surround your bones are bolstered and strengthened; additionally, weight-bearing activities will actually stimulate bone formation. Osteoporosis is a major concern as we get older, especially for women.
Athletic workouts can minimize stress. You've probably heard of endorphins--the chemicals that exercise releases in the bloodstream. They create a feeling of happiness and well-being, which in turn gives way to bursts of energy. Thus working out can often chase away the blues, daily stress and even minor aches and pains. Think of your regular workouts as an antidote to life's daily dose of stressful events.
Remember, you can make a major difference in your quality of life with as little as 30 minutes of daily exercise.

Now let's spend some time discussing the mindset of being an athlete.

Exercise is a huge part of any healthy lifestyle. So how much exercise do you need? That's a tough question to answer--but as the note below explains, a recent study demonstrates the positive effects of just two and a half hours a week. That's less than half an hour every day--which just about everyone can squeeze in. From the moment you commit to an exercise routine, give yourself permission to think of yourself as an athlete. You'll find that this simple label gives you a lot of inner strength to stick to your eating plan and your routine, and that in turn will help you achieve and maintain your desired levels of health, energy and fitness.

It's vitally important for everyone to work some kind of regular athletic activity into their schedule, regardless of age or gender. One study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that postmenopausal women who walked briskly or exercised vigorously for two and a half hours per week were 30 percent less likely to suffer heart-related problems--including heart attack, stroke, heart bypass surgery, heart failure or death--than less active women.

One Athlete's Story
Judy is a committed athlete, and a nutritionist and personal trainer to boot. Judy is a competitive athlete, but her life was far different before she made the smart dietary changes that have brought her a series of recent successes. Here is Judy's story:

I started running in 1994, the year after I quit smoking. Since that time I continually strive to improve my endurance and level of performance. I have completed four marathons, 10 half-marathons, plus numerous 5K and 10K races. I changed careers in 2005 and took a position as manager of a sports nutrition store. I also obtained certification as a sports nutritionist and a personal trainer.
After my first year of running I was disappointed that, in spite of all my training, I was not achieving a higher level of performance, nor was my body composition changing as I had hoped. I was on a high-carbohydrate diet--supposedly the standard for athletes--so what went wrong? I decided to start alternating a high-protein diet with a very low-fat, high-carbohydrate vegan diet. On the high-carbohydrate, vegan diet I became sickly, weak and unable to train effectively. I was often ill with colds and viruses. I required more sleep and didn't feel rested. I found I needed to consume carbs habitually in order to feel satisfied. I made liberal use of energy gels and high-carb energy bars. However, I was always hungry, even though I was consuming a lot of carbohydrates.
After doing some research and learning about the Atkins program, I changed my eating plan. I added animal protein and small amounts of olive oil on salads. My cravings for carbs decreased, and my body composition and strength improved. While on a high-carbohydrate diet, my body was constantly looking for energy in the form of carbohydrate, since that diet was inhibiting my ability to burn fat for fuel. On the, higher-protein, smarter-carbohydrate program, I had steady energy levels for training and my overall lifestyle was enhanced.
As I experimented with dietary ratio manipulations, I proved to myself that the common-sense nutrition principles of higher protein and smarter carbohydrate consumption lifestyle worked for me, perhaps even more so than the literature would have led me to believe. Even so, I was skeptical of this plan, and was quite determined to remain close to vegan. Since then, I have attempted to return to a high-carbohydrate vegan diet with the same negative results.
All other variables equal, I found that I could consume approximately 400 more calories per day on a controlled-carb eating plan. I can now lose stored fat on 2000 calories per day, and sometimes more.
As a sports nutritionist and rainer, I know that everyone has different nutritional needs. However, my own experience, through trial and error, has shown that the smart-carbohydrate, high-protein eating plan is the healthiest option for me. Following this way of eating has left me feeling better than I ever felt when I was ingesting a lot of carbs. Essentially, I have enhanced results by increasing protein, fiber and healthy fats; decreasing processed carbohydrates; and eliminating all refined sugar.
Moving On
Now that we've taken a look at the demands that exercise places on your body, and how a healthy, active lifestyle can improve your overall health and well-being, the next section will take a closer look at carbohydrates, then address how using great-tasting Atkins Advantage products and following a smart nutrition approach can help you meet your health and fitness goals. In the meantime, be sure to stop by the Live Discussion Message Board to share questions, answers, tips and experiences with your fellow online community and your instructors.

Now let's take a closer look at the difference between empty carbohydrates and "smart" carbsohydrates like those high in fiber--carbohydrates with real nutritional value that can help you meet your nutritional needs as well as your fitness goals. We'll also touch on the benefits of high protein and discuss the benefits of nutrition bars like those offered as part of the Atkins Advantage™.

When you grab a seven-ounce New York-style bagel or eat a large bowl of pasta it may seem like a nourishing meal, but, for the most part, you are putting only empty carbohydrates into your body. Within minutes, your blood glucose rises and stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin. (The job of insulin is to take the circulating blood sugar to your cells for energy and store the excess as fat.)

When you consume large portions of these empty carbohydrates, the pancreas can produce too much insulin and drop your blood sugar too low. This can leave you suffering from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. When you're hypoglycemic, you can feel weak, shaky and hungry. Reducing your intake of these carbohydrates can help regulate your blood sugar. In fact, controlling your carbohydrate intake will interrupt the cycle of blood sugar spiking and plummeting that can cause mood swings and fatigue--neither of which will make you want to get up and exercise.

A common-sense, smart-carbohydrate nutritional approach doesn't call for the complete elimination of carbs from your diet--just an awareness of how carbohydrates affect your body and your health. Your best strategy is choosing nutrient-dense carbohydrates with a low to medium glycemic impact on blood sugar. Be smart--consume carbohydrates wisely as part of a complete, healthy diet.

People often can crave carbohydrates, and this, of course, can lead to less-than-desirable effects. This is because too many carbohydrates can trigger a drop in blood sugar, which leads people to require a sugar boost--and therefore to crave even more carbohydrates. Oftentimes people say they "need their sugar kick." The end result is a perpetual eating cycle, or constant high-carbohydrate snacking, something that many of us would recognize in our family, friends and co-workers.

Over time, the body's insulin receptors can become resistant to insulin. For instance, when individuals with insulin resistance eat carbohydrates, the normal process is altered. Carbohydrates do not enter the muscles normally. They go back to the liver and are turned into fat--rather than being used as energy. The end result is more undesirable body fat and less energy.

If you're an athlete, your health is important to you. Why would you want to do anything to compromise it? Yet, that's exactly what you're doing every time you load your body up with unnecessary carbohydrates. The solution: Avoid excessive carbohydrate intake, lose body fat and add muscle. Adopting a smart-carb eating style --one that incorporates healthy fats and stresses the importance of protein--is also an ideal strategy for the prevention of potential health problems.

Energy bars can offer a portable and easy nutrition solution. But when you choose products, pay attention to the actual ingredients, not just marketing claims! If you're relying on protein bars and other packaged foods, always read the ingredient labels. Atkins Advantage products contain low amounts of sugar, are low-glycemic and have lots of protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. But that's not true of all the products that are on the market.

The Importance of Protein
We touched on the carbohydrate-loading theory in our first lesson, but let's revisit that topic now in greater detail. When you give your body protein, it knows it can safely burn calories--there's no worry of starvation, so your body doesn't need to conserve its fuel. By contrast, when you cut out protein in favor of a carbohydrate-loaded diet, your body has nowhere to go when it needs certain nutrients to get you through an athletic workout. The very muscles you're trying to build are ravaged by your body as it searches desperately to meet its protein requirements--and you won't see the results you want. After all, protein is an essential element in the athlete's diet. It's used for building, maintaining and repairing muscle, skin, blood and other tissues. It represents approximately 15 percent of body weight, the largest component in the body after water.

Now let's take a closer look at the glycemic index.

Remember, the Atkins philosophy is a common-sense way of eating: Choose foods that offer a lot of nutrition and smart carbohydrates instead of high-calorie, non-nutritive carbohydrates. One way to distinguish between healthy and empty carbs is to use a tool called the Glycemic Index.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical scale that tells you how fast glucose enters your bloodstream after you eat a specific food. Pure glucose ranks 100 on the scale, and the effect of other foods are measured in descending order.

The GI can be a helpful tool in selecting foods, but by itself it is not extremely practical. For example, pasta has a medium GI, but only because the amount measured to determine this number is only 1/3 cup. Most people consider a portion to be six times that!

All Atkins Advantage products are low-glycemic. In fact, Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. has developed a methodology that tests the actual glycemic impact of our products. This patent-pending Equivalent Glycemic Load (EGL) methodology appears on Atkins packaging as the Net Atkins Count™--your assurance that our products have minimal effects on blood sugar and insulin levels. The Net Atkins Count is an improvement upon the GI, since it takes into account realistic serving size, nutrient density and ingredient interactions.

A smart-carbohydrate nutritional program aids in glycemic control. When you choose low-glycemic foods, you'll keep your blood sugar levels stable and help your metabolism run smoothly. In other words, you'll have plenty of energy, you'll feel better, and your body will be better equipped to bring you to a higher level of performance.

When you start choosing the right carbohydrates in the appropriate amounts, you get off the sugar roller coaster. You'll find that you have more sustained energy. Keeping your blood sugar on an even keel will give you more energy to get throughout the day, and it will have a lasting effect on your health as well. You'll feel the difference almost immediately after you start choosing your carbohydrates correctly. You'll find that it's easy to switch to great-tasting, filling snacks that keep you feeling good all day.

Here are some ideas for athletes on the go who need to maintain a constant energy level.

Eat small meals throughout the day, instead of the usual two or three large meals. Stuffing yourself all at once, as we discussed above, can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body and your energy level.
Instead of a candy bar, try a small bag of trail mix or an Atkins Advantage® Bar. Keep them with with you at work, in the car or in a briefcase or purse. They come in handy when the work day runs long, or when traffic keeps you from getting home on time.
Replace that afternoon, sugar-filled fruit drink with sliced fresh fruit, cheese, cottage cheese or nuts.
Replace that sugar-loaded energy drink with a protein drink that has a lower sugar count (under 10 grams). Or if you need to skip a meal, an Atkins protein shake is a great-tasting replacement.
Combining smart carbohydrates with protein keeps your blood sugar levels stable for hours.

Put peanut butter or cheese on whole-grain crackers for a filling afternoon snack.
When it's your turn to provide a snack at team practice, pass on the potato chips and serve a trail mix containing dried fruit, seeds and nuts. You can mix your own to make sure it's healthy.
Put deviled eggs, sliced fruit, assorted cheeses, and whole-grain, high-fiber crackers on a platter for the post-game party to keep that great feeling going.
Switching to healthy carbohydrates will make it easier for you to get the exercise you crave. You'll find that your training is easier and more effective. And that means you're winning, no matter what sport you play.

It's not easy to shake off years of conventional wisdom. But let's take a look at the latest information out there about carbs and sports performance.

Won't I have more energy if I pile on the carbohydrates before an athletic event? Not necessarily. Think about it: When you grab a bagel or sugar-laden donut for breakfast, how do you feel by mid-morning? Most likely, you're tired and hungry, thanks to the blood sugar spike-and-crash you experience. Why would you want to work out in that condition?
But won't I be able to take advantage of the extra energy rush during my workout? Maybe at the very beginning your workout will seem a little bit easier. You may experience a bit of a rush. But this plan can easily backfire: You'll overdo things early on and wear yourself out, or you'll crash midway through your workout when your blood sugar drops. Either way, you're not meeting your fitness goals.
What happens on a smart-carbohydrate program ? On a smart-carbohydrate eating plan, your body gets enough calories to give you the energy you need to get through the day--including your athletic routine. You are not eliminating carbohydrates. You are, in fact, discriminating among carbohydrates. Your body will burn the fat you eat and any excess fat stored in your body, while it creates and preserves lean muscle mass thanks to the protein you consume. You'll reach or maintain a healthy weight and get more fit at the same time.
Don't I need to eat more on a low-carbohydrate eating plan that doesn't include a lot of carbohydrates? Remember, good nutrition is more than simply choosing smart carbs--it's a balanced mix that includes the beneficial carbohydrates found in vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, nuts, seeds and other fiber-rich foods, plus plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals. In other words, a carbohydrate-conscious diet is not a starvation diet. In fact, it has parallels with all smart nutrition plans. For instance, any healthy plan consists of more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day. This stabilizes your metabolism and energy level and helps you to avoid energy ups and downs. Having fewer meals causes you to get hungrier. This means you will eat larger amounts of food come mealtime! As a general rule, a couple of your small meals can consist of a low-glycemic snack, especially toward the latter part of the day.
Is it ever a good idea to combine carbohydrates and exercise? Yes, in certain situations. For example, on a day when you are doing a strenuous workout for more than an hour, your post-workout meal can consist of a small portion of a high-fiber whole grain, or an extra serving of vegetables with your protein to replenish your glycogen stores. But always remember to combine some of your daily carbohydrate intake with protein.. This will help maximize your muscle recovery, help your body prepare for your next workout and slow down the release of carbohydrate into the bloodstream to avoid the spike-and-crash effect.
Will my performance suffer without the carbohydrate-loading that I'm used to? The age-old myth of carb-loading prior to a heavy workout or long run is getting outdated based on emerging nutritional research. For optimal energy and results, fitness buffs should choose a diverse mix of protein sources and select the types of carbohydrates that will keep blood sugar levels stable.
Many athletes are questioning the notion that filling up with carbohydrates equals mega-energy, and several recent studies back that up with research.

The period after any workout is an important time to maximize muscle recovery and to help prepare your body for your next exercise session. That's why it is so important to make smart food decisions. It's best to choose foods that are rich in protein and have a low-glycemic impact, (i.e., food that will not cause rapid increases in blood sugar). Protein assists in repairing muscles that have been broken down during exercise. Also, research has shown that choosing a low-glycemic meal, as opposed to a high-glycemic one, after physical activity allowed for a longer "time to exhaustion" during the next workout. So, remember to watch not only what you eat before working out, but also what you eat afterwards. Avoid excessive sugars. Go with protein and fiber-rich, low-glycemic choices and you'll be on the fast track to success.

Nutrition On the Go
You're an athlete, so eating right is a high priority. Nevertheless, you don't always have time to fix a healthy breakfast in the morning or eat a solid lunch. You may even find yourself having to skip meals due to the demands on your time. Or perhaps you're concerned that your personal likes and dislikes might prevent you from getting all the nutrients you need each day to maintain your health and keep your body in top physical condition.

The busy athlete needs to stock up on quick, healthy alternatives for those times when you just can't prepare food. Junk food is never a good option, and neither are fast food meals. That's why Atkins Advantage has an entire line of shakes and nutrition bars for you to enjoy--while sticking to your health and fitness goals.

Label-Reading Basics: How to Find Out What's in a Product
Head to your pantry and get a package of just about anything, and take a look at the Nutrition Facts panel. Every food product that has two or more ingredients is required by law to list certain nutrition facts--and the product ingredients.

When it comes to evaluating a product, the Nutrition Facts panel and the list of ingredients are your only reliable sources of information. Everything else on a package depends on the standards of the company that manufactures the product. Various artists, designers and ad copywriters determine the packaging, and they likely won't be the most knowledgeable sources for accurate nutritional information! That's why you need to get in the habit of understanding the Nutrition Facts panel.

Here's what you'll find on the panel.

Serving Size
The serving size tells you how much of a given product was used to calculate the information on the label itself. When you look at the amount, judge for yourself whether the serving size is a reasonable one. Beware: Some manufacturers might use a smaller serving size to keep the numbers low when, in reality, you are eating more than that. If you eat double the serving size listed you need to double the nutrient values.

Fat
The label provides information on total fat, including saturated fat, trans fat, and monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. On January 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring manufacturers to list trans fats in the Fat section of the Nutrition Facts label if the product contains more than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. This is important because trans fats (also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. If the Nutrition Facts panel list zero trans fat, you need to also check the ingredients for hydrogenated oils. Remember that manufacturers can claim zero trans fats if there is less than 0.5 grams--that will easily add up to 1 gram if you have two servings daily.

Cholesterol
The amount of cholesterol is provided in milligrams.

Total Carbohydrate
Almost everything displayed on the Nutrition Facts panel is based on specific laboratory procedures, called assays, regulated by the FDA. The quantity of fat, protein, ash and water can all be directly and exactly assayed. (Water and ash need not be listed on nutrition panels.) Carbohydrates, however, are the exception. The amount of carbohydrate is arrived at only after the above four components are directly computed. In other words, what is not fat, protein, ash or water is called carbohydrate. Some carbohydrates, like fiber, are beneficial. Look for products that have plenty of fiber-related carbohydrates. Meanwhile, try to avoid carbohydrates derived from high sugar content. Typically, carbohydrates will be broken into two categories:

Fiber: The amount of dietary fiber expressed in grams.

Sugars: Expressed in grams. Choose products that contain 10 grams of sugar or less per serving.

Protein
Protein is listed in grams below the carbohydrates.

Other Nutrients
Following protein is a listing of the amounts of some other important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

The Nutrition Facts panel makes no distinction between healthy carbs with a low glycemic index and other carbs with a high glycemic index--except for the sugar listing. Of course, the sugar listing makes no distinction between naturally occurring vs. added sugars. Nor is there any indication whether the carbohydrates listed come from refined products like white flour or from healthier ingredients like high-fiber whole grains. For these important pieces of information, you need to go to another source of information on the label: the ingredients list. As a general rule of thumb, if an ingredient is among the first three listed, there's a lot of it.

Next we'll take a look at how protein, fiber, and healthy fats fit into the athlete's nutrition plan.

Protein is a critical part of any healthy eating plan for the athlete. Protein is made from amino acids. Eight of these amino acids are considered essential for the human diet. The non-essential amino acids can be made by the body. Protein has a positive effect on:

Structural tissue (muscle, skin and bone)
Hair, nails, tendons
Blood clotting
Neurotransmitters
Enzymes and hormones
Antibodies
Eating a protein-rich meal immediately after your workout helps you to recover faster. In athletes, chronic muscle fatigue is often associated with low blood levels of amino acids.

You need to make sure you supply your body with enough protein to meet the extra demands you place on it. Protein can also help boost your metabolic rate, and help you burn more calories for hours after you eat. Meat, milk, cheese and eggs offer the essential amino acids. Other sources of protein are beans, legumes and whole grains. Consider supplementing your nutrition plan with an Atkins Advantage® bar or shake, or an Atkins Advantage Morning™ bar for a protein-packed snack that will keep you full and satisfied, plus give you the protein you need to build muscle. These products can be taken before, after or during a workout, and still give great results.

Remember what we've said about boosting your metabolic rate. Protein helps do this, and in fact, the term for it is thermogenesis. Studies have shown that you can experience a higher thermogenesis after eating a high-protein meal.

Remember that all bars and shakes are not created equal. If you're choosing a bar or shake as a meal replacement, look for one with at least 12 grams of protein per serving. The protein should come from a variety of sources such as soy, nuts, seeds, whey, and casein. This will offer you the full spectrum of amino acids.

In addition to protein, you should also strive to fill your diet with fiber. Fiber is, in fact, a carbohydrate, but it doesn't convert to glucose, which means it won't raise your blood sugar levels like other carbohydrates. Fiber does not count as part of a food's total carbohydrate count because fiber has a minimal impact upon blood sugar levels. In fact, fiber actually slows the entry of glucose into the bloodstream and slows down the transit time of food in the digestive tract, which helps you feel full longer.

The Facts About Fats
Fats are another critical component of a common-sense nutritional approach. In fact, certain fats are good for you. That said, when you see trans fats on a label, you should drop the product like a hot potato. Why? Trans fats are manufactured by heating vegetable oils at a high temperature and treating them with hydrogen gas to form solids constructed of twisted, unnatural molecules. And why is that so bad? Because the body cannot process these man-made trans fats.

Yes, trans fats are man-made, and they pose risks to your health. Since your body can't process them, they can clog your arteries and may increase your risk of heart disease. Always look for products that have no trans fats--they're a safer, healthier alternative.

Now let's take a look at sweeteners.
When you review the ingredient label on a product, keep an eye out for high sugar content (over 10 grams per serving).

All sugars must be disclosed on the ingredient list. They include:

Cane sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar and fructose
Maple, corn or cane syrup
High-fructose corn syrup and malt syrups
Bear in mind that it's not only sweet foods that are loaded with sugars. The Nutrition Facts panel will tell you the number of grams of sugars you are ingesting per serving, but it will not distinguish among types of sugars. Always read the ingredient list to understand the type of sugar in the product.

An Atkins Advantage® bar or shake or an Atkins Advantage Morning™ bar is a great choice for on-the-go nutrition. The Atkins Advantage Morning™ bar is a great choice for breakfast--it's high in protein, a good source of fiber, an excellent source of calcium and low in sugars. An Atkins Advantage bar or shake--great anytime--is a healthy meal replacement. Both are high in protein and fiber, have only one gram of sugar, and include important vitamins and minerals. Also, we’ve recently reformulated all of our nutrition bars and shakes for better taste, texture, and freshness. So -- in addition to their superior nutritional benefits, Atkins products taste great!

Moving On
You've read about the special nutritional needs of athletes and how their activities affect their bodies; how carbohydrates work in the body and how they affect athletic performance; and how to better understand the nutritional facts of the products you buy. Next ; how to use the principles of the Atkins Advantage to meet and exceed your goals for fitness and lifetime health.

Be sure to stop by the Live Discussion Message Boards to interact with your online community and instructors.

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Maybe you've already discovered the benefits of incorporating Atkins Advantage products into your daily routine, but you're wondering what the principles of the Atkins Advantage can do for your overall health and fitness. Good news: The Atkins Advantage can actually make it easier for you to meet--and exceed--your overall health and fitness goals. Here's what you can expect if you decide to make the Atkins Advantage your approach to nutrition, along with your fitness program:

Get rid of abdominal fat
Beat sugar addiction by consuming low-glycemic carbohydrates
Tone and build muscle
Improve your Body Mass Index (BMI)
Achieve insulin balance for optimum fitness
Slow down the aging process
Enjoy snacks throughout the day without feeling guilty
Get quality sleep at night
Feel more alert and energized all day, every day -- no more sleepiness from sugar ups-and-downs
It sounds like it might be too good to be true, but it's not. You can have all these benefits--and more--once you start following a common-sense nutritional program. Let's take a look at just how it can work for you.

Athletes can't afford to take risks with their health. That's why following the principles of the Atkins Advantage is such a great choice for athletes--it's a long-term approach, not a diet you drop in and out of on a whim. It's a lifestyle change, not a fad. Following the principles of high protein, high fiber, low sugar, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals helps you make informed, permanent changes in your dietary lifestyle that will, in turn, help you achieve and maintain your athletic way of life.

The Principles of the Atkins Advantage
You can enjoy the Atkins Advantage by following these basic principles:

High protein: Including protein in every meal provides your body the material it needs for repair and maintenance, helps build muscle, keeps your energy levels high and helps keep your weight under control.
High fiber: Fiber offers huge benefits to your health, from helping to regulate the flow of fats and nutrients into your blood stream and helping your digestive tract function efficiently to aiding in the prevention of some kinds of cancer.
Low sugar: Excess sugars (over 10 grams per serving) and highly refined products like white flour are empty carbohydrates. They offer no nutritional value, can play havoc with your blood sugar levels and turn into excess into body fat.
Low- glycemic carbohydrates: To avoid spikes in your blood sugar, you need to focus on low-glycemic carbohydrates: fiber-rich foods that keep your energy levels even.
Vitamins and minerals: Sensible, healthy eating tends to promote the intake of necessary vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. But you may still need supplements.
No trans fats: Study after study has confirmed the detrimental effects of trans fats on human beings. Watch out for them, check the package labels no matter what it says on the front of the package and strive for zero trans fats in your daily food intake.
After you exercise, eat at least 15 to 25 grams of lean protein or protein supplement. The amount will depend on the intensity of your workout. After a good workout, protein utilization increases during the recovery period--which makes for a wise muscle-toning and body fat-reducing strategy. If you maintain a very high level of athletic activity, be sure that you eat enough food to provide the energy you need to stay healthy. Without adequate protein and fats, your body can't properly heal itself after an intense workout. If you feel hungry, eat.

Now let's take a closer look at how the principles of the Atkins Advantage can help athletes meet their health and fitness goals.

This page offers some common-sense tips for active people who want to follow the principles of the Atkins Advantage.

You may find that your exercise level keeps your weight steady. If not, you may need to gradually add a snack or two to maintain weight or cut back on carbohydrates to lose weight. You will eventually find a level where you can exercise and eat properly while maintaining your weight.

Some things to keep in mind:

Don't eat a meal that is high in fat or sugar for one hour prior to exercise. Researchers report that a high-fat, high-glucose meal or drink before a workout can shut down the release of certain hormones needed to build muscle.
Be vigilant when you read nutrition labels. Keep looking for excess sugars, and avoid them whenever possible.
Don't eat sugar for two hours after a workout. A high-sugar meal or recovery drink containing a large amount of sugar may block the benefits of a good workout.

Here are the suggestions, in brief:

Before training: No high-fat meals for one hour prior to your workout.
During training: Drink plenty of water.
After training: No sugar for two hours, and take 15 to 25 grams of protein.
Goodbye and Good Health
Hopefully, this article has taken you on a successful journey from learning about your special nutritional needs to knowing how to build and sustain a program for a high-energy, nutritionally balanced lifestyle.

Go ahead and stop by the Live Discussion Message Board one final time to share your thoughts with your online community and instructors. http://learningcenter.atkins.com/