Basic Nutrition: Athletes v. Everyone Else

The purpose of this article is to outline basic information about nutrition and the body’s minimum requirements for daily use.  I will also discuss the nutritional needs for athletes and how they may differ from the average, mildly active adult.  This information is to be used for educational purposes only and should be used in conjunction with supervision and support from your physician.  It is not intended to be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition.  

You are not a Bromiliad.  This is a Bromiliad.


It is a plant that gets it’s nutrients from the air and water.  You are a human being.  And you require nutrients from the foods you eat.  Some individuals require more nutrients than others due to higher levels of activity.  Others require less.  Nutrition is a science, but for the most part, we succeed in finding our optimal diet by trial and error. What works best for one may not work at all for someone else.  And it is important to remember that the human body is a complicated system and there is no one size fits all diet.


The first thing we need to talk about is the calorie.  You’ve seen this word before.  It’s on the back of every food label in the United States.  Every diet mentions it and every 80’s mom became obsessed with counting them.  But what is a calorie really?  By definition, the kilocalorie is the amount of energy needed to raise on kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.   But that doesn’t really mean anything to anyone in the real world, so let me break it down to you like this.  Basically, 3500 kilocaloreis, (or calories for short), is about 1 pound of body weight.  So if you eat 3500 calories, you will gain 1 pound of body weight.  For someone wanting to maintain their body weight, calories in should match calories out.  That means if you eat 2000cal/day, you need to burn 2000cal/day.

How do you figure that out?  Ok…..this is how it works.  Keep in mind this is for an “average” adult.  I will get into more detail later.  The average human body has basic functions, like breathing, heart beating, eyes blinking, etc.  If you sat in a chair or laid in a bed all day every day and did absolutely nothing else, you would require a minimum of 1200 cal/day.  But for most of us, we do a little more than that.  We get out of bed, go to work, get the kids to school, do laundry, file TPS reports, take the kids to soccer, walk the dog, brush our teeth, etc.  And all of that, on average, requires about 800 calories.  So…1200 for basic bodily function + 800 for daily activities = 2000 cal/day.  But some of us eat more than 2000 calories and do less work, and others eat less than 2000 calories and do more work.  Which is why we gain and lose weight at different rates.

Athletes, on the other hand, have different requirements.  Basically, they require more because they, or you, presumably, are doing more work.  You need to take in more calories than the average Joe because you are burning more calories.  So if you want to maintain your body weight, then you need to figure out how many extra calories you are burning during your workout and then eat that many more.  The best way to do this is to wear a heart rate monitor.  If you have a professional trainer, he or she can guide you to figuring out the averages for the type of workout you do.

Most people working out do not want to “maintain“, however.  You are in the market to either lose weight, like most adults between 20 and 80.  Or you are in the market to gain weight, think professional athletes and bodybuilders.  So, to lose you have to eat fewer calories and to gain you have to eat more.  But it’s not that simple.  Quality of calories matter, meaning, the type of foods you eat will determine how you gain or lose the weight.  The human body doesn’t require just any calories.  It requires specific calories from specific foods with specific nutrients.  Which means if you are trying to lose weight, you can’t just binge on junk food and cut out all of the healthy stuff you don’t like.  And if you are trying to gain muscle mass, you can’t just shove a bunch of meat into your mouth and expect it to land on your biceps.  Remember when I said that the human body is complicated?  Here’s why.

Macro Nutrients

There are three macro nutrients the body requires: protein, carbohydrate and fat.  Micro nutrients are vitamins and minerals….but those are for a different discussion.  The following is a breakdown of the three macro nutrients and their role in overall nutrition for athletes.


This may be the single most important nutrient, aside from water.  Its presence in the diet in adequate amounts is crucial for many important functions, not just muscle development, like hormone synthesis, enzyme reactions, structural development, immunoproteins (think immune system) and transport proteins (think red blood cells).  There are two major sources of protein, plant and animal.  Animal protein is the most common form of protein.  It’s meat.  It’s abundant, it’s easy, and most importantly, it’s complete.  Plant protein, is well, different.  Plants have protein too.  But it’s not the same.  And most plants do not contain complete proteins.

What is a complete protein?  All proteins are made of chains, different combinations of amino acids.  There are 20 amino acids in total.  9 of them are essential, meaning your body does not synthesize them.  So you have to eat them.  A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids.  Very few plant protein sources are complete.  Quinoa is an exception.  It is the tiny seed grain reintroduced from ancient Incan practices.  Most other plant protein sources need to be eaten in combination, however, to make complete amino acid chains.  For example, peanut butter and bread, beans and rice, pasta and peas.  Basically, what one source lacks, the other makes up.  There is debate about whether or not protein sources should be consumed at the same time.  The theory is that two different protein sources can combine when eaten at different times to form a complete protein.  The other side of that argument is that when one source is eaten at an earlier time, the amino acids are digested and then used or stored and cannot be combined with others eaten later to form the complete protein.  Therefore, some proteins may never form creating a deficiency.

So how important is protein and does it matter how much you eat?  Let’s talk about the importance of protein as it relates to fitness and sports first.  The most important function of protein as it relates to this topic is its role in structural support and movement, i.e muscle tissue.  Different sports and levels of fitness require different types of muscle tissue.  For example, a long distance runner needs to be as light as possible so she can run for long periods of time and use as little energy as possible.  So her muscle tissue will be lean and light.  Also, because her activity is highly aerobic, the type of energy her muscles use is different.  She will likely use all of the available blood glucose and rely on the glycogen stores in her muscle tissue for energy.  While her ideal diet is carb heavy, she will rely on protein for muscle repair and to prevent atrophy.  On the contrary, a sprinter will rely on a high protein diet to build and maintain dense and heavy muscle tissue.  The sprinter’s muscle composition is thicker and shorter fibers.  He needs strong muscles that can push him off the starting block quickly and only need to run for short periods of time.  He will also rely on carbohydrate as a fuel source, but in a smaller ratio to protein.  A weightlifter will have the heaviest and most dense muscle tissue.  His diet will consist primarily of protein for maximum muscle tissue repair and growth.

The average protein intake requirements vary depending the type of activity.  But the standard is .8g/kg, or .36g/lb of body weight.  For a weightlifter, the standard goes up to 2.4g/kg.


The great and powerful carbohydrate… you’d think it was hiding behind a big green curtain at the end of a yellow brick road.  It may not be the wizard, but it is complicated.  There are good carbs, bad carbs, simple carbs, complex carbs.  Let’s break down the different types of carbohydrates and how they are used for energy, and then discuss when to use them.

Good carbs versus bad carbs, what’s the difference?  I think in order to simplify an explanation, the word “bad” was attached to a list of certain foods with a certain carbohydrate content.  Bad is a matter of opinion, and that’s not what this article is about.  But I think we can all agree that some are more nutritive and effective than others.

The complicated version of that story is that carbohydrates can be broken down into two groups, simple and complex.  There are three specific groups; monosaccharides, which are “simple” sugars, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.  The later two are the more complex sugars and starches.  They are digested and absorbed differently, and they serve different purposes.  The simple sugars are digested and absorbed quickly and circulated for utilization immediately.  Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and have a more lasting effect on blood sugar levels.

The lists of simple and complex carbs isn’t quite as simple as identifying mono and polysaccharides.  But in general, the more whole the food is, the more complex it is.  Conversely, the more refined it is, the more simple it is.  For example, whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat are more complex carbohydrates.  Vegetables and fruits also fall in to this category.  Foods like sugar, honey and refined grains like white rice and “white” pasta have been processed to remove that which makes them harder to digest.  It also removes that which controls blood sugar levels.

There are many important purposes for carbohydrates.  Fiber, the most complex carb of all, is important for maintaining blood sugar levels, aiding with satiety (the feeling of fullness) and regulating digestion and elimination (pooping).  And the brain only uses carbohydrates, specifically glucose.  So if that’s the case, then how do we survive on low carb diets?  When blood glucose is low due to reduced consumption, the body makes up for it by breaking down stored fat and protein, converting it into glucose.  This is a very effective way to reduce body fat.  However, when one is trying to build muscle, low carb diets can be counterproductive; any protein consumed goes to rebuilding protein lost from muscle degradation instead of building bigger muscles.  Remember the two runners from earlier, the marathon runner and the sprinter?  The long distance runner consumes a diet high in carbohydrates, carboloading before a run to increase the amount of glycogen (or stored glucose) in the muscle cells.  The sprinter consumes a more balanced carbohydrate diet to maintain sufficient calorie and blood glucose levels.

The bodybuilder, however, has a more on-again off-again relationship with carbs.  Consuming whole grains, fruits and vegetables in a lower ratio to protein during the building and training phases, and often eliminating carbs all together the days and weeks leading up to competition.  The upside are the results.  Since the body then relies on lipolysis (breakdown of fat), bodyfat percentages are at their lowest to maximize muscle fiber visibility.  The downside is the brain fog.  Basically, bodybuilders become eating, weightlifting, spray tanning zombies.  Side effects include mood swings, trouble with concentration and focus, and increased fatigue, not to mention constipation.

The bottom line is that carbohydrates are important.  They play a vital role in several systems including metabolism, hormone synthesis, and brain function.  The ideal amount of carbohydrates consumed depends on the type of activity performed.  But the more nutrient dense the better.


It’s the most energy dense of the nutrients, providing 9 calories of energy per gram.  Because of that, a little bit goes a long way.  Foods high in fat include nuts, seeds, oils (solids and liquids), butter and avocados.  Some other foods can be high in fat, like some cuts of beef, pork and dairy (like cheese).

There are “good” and “bad” fats.  Mainly those that contribute to good health are considered good.  Those that contribute to negative health effects are considered bad.  The more saturated a fat is, the harder it is on the body.  But it’s not a good idea to eliminate fat from the diet.  It is essential for several body processes like hormone regulation, heart health, skin health, blood flow, growth and development (infants and children), brain development, cell membrane structure and satiety (there’s that word again).  And, some fatty acids are essential, like omega-3 and omega-6.

Over the years, we have gone from fat is bad, to fat is good.  From high fat diets to low fat diets, back to high fat diets.  The current thought is that fat should comprise 3% of ones total calories.  And the more nutrient dense the fat the better.

For athletes, fats round out a balanced diet.  As mentioned above, it is an essential nutrient that is responsible for many important systems and functions.  So it should not be eliminated.  But as all other nutrients, it should be consumed in moderation.

Rebecca Nedrow is an ACF Certified Culinarian with a Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Kansas State University. She is also the Director of Operations for Friend that Cooks Personal Chefs.

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets. Learn more at
We send a talented chef to your home for a half day every week to shop, cook, clean up and stock your refrigerator with a week’s worth of healthy prepared meals to reheat.

Signs of Spring

Yesterday was BEAUTIFUL!  The sun was shining, the temperatures were warm, the trees and flowers blooming.  It was a perfect spring day. 

A change of seasons means a change of menu for us chefs.  The colors and variety bring new inspiration and life to the plate.  Today, I was inspired and it was too good to keep to myself. 


Fennel, Watermelon Radish Salad

Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad
1 small fennel, halved and cored
3 small watermelon radish, or other radish, cleaned and peeled
2 ribs celery + inner leaves, washed
3 blood orange, supremed, scraps saved
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Using a mandoline, or a steady hand and super sharp knife, slice fennel into a large glass bowl.  Slices should be thin but not transparent.  Slice radishes and celery ribs into bowl, too.  Add blood orange segments, chopped parlsey and chopped celery leaves.  Season with salt and pepper.  Squeeze the juice from the orange scraps.  Drizzle salad with about 1-2 tablespoons of evoo and toss gently to combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets.  Learn more at

Free Lunch

It’s Friday.  It’s lunchtime.  And there is NOTHING in the fridge.  Or is there?  Looks like it’s going to be a stone soup…er rice… kind of lunch.  A little of this and a little of that and we’ve got a pretty satisfying, cheap meal. 

The art to the stone soup theory of putting together a meal is to keep it simple.  Too many ingredients and it can become a hot mess.  Here are a few guidelines to making a complete meal using leftovers.

Pick a grain.  Leftover cooked rice, barley, quinoa, farro…it all works.  And it doesn’t take a lot.  About 1/4 cup is all you need. 

Next, you need some veggies.  I stick to a rule of three.  I chose shredded carrot, some red bell pepper and red onion.  Mushrooms, greens like spinach and kale, zucchini, tomatoes, beets, even the leftover frozen veggies stuck in the back of the freezer will work.  Use what you have.  And again, it doesn’t take a lot.  About 1/4-1/2 cup total is all you need. 


Next, you will need a protein.  I had a frozen fish fillet.  Shrimp, leftover burgers, chicken, even the last few pieces of deli meat would work too.  Got a can of tuna?  Drain it and throw it in! 

Last, you want to season it up.  Salt and pepper of course.  But I also had some parlsey, and a half a lemon.  No lemon, no problem.  Make a quick and simple vinaigrette using 1 part apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar and 2 parts evoo. 

It took less than 5 minutes to throw together (including cooking the fish filet) and was totally delicious!  And it was FREE!  Everything I used I already had. 


Leftover brown rice and veggies with white fish fillet

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets.  Learn more at

Low Carb Tacos

Tacos are great!  They are quick, easy, and you can use just about anything to make one.  Street tacos are the best.  But who has time to slow roast a whole pig?  Beef, chicken and even fish filets make awesome choices too. 

Watching your carb intake?  Or maybe you just want to get in more veggies?  Try stuffing a half a bell pepper, or pile on top of shredded cabbage.  Not into meat?  Try black or red beans.  Just make sure to add some rice to make it a complete protein. 


Taco Bowl

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets.  Learn more at

Fried Rice Is The Best

Need to get dinner on the table fast? Like 5 minutes fast?  Don’t make a run through the drive-thru.  Make fried rice instead.  It’s tasty, fast, and cheap! 

Step One:  Pull out all of those leftover veggie remnants from the frige, or the freezer. 
Step two:  Rice….it’s important.  If you have leftover rice, this dish will be fast.  If you dont have rice, but maybe have some leftover noodles, use that instead and make lo mein.  No rice or noodles?  Skip the starch all together or make some fresh. 
Step three: Get that pan on the heat.  Add some butter, olive oil, coconut oil…whatever you have and want to use. 
Step four:  Crack some eggs and whip them up.  Chop up a few cloves of garlic. 


Leftover veggies in the pan

Step five:  Get those veggies on the heat!  If your veggies are raw, they will take an extra minute or two to saute.  If you have some cooked leftover veggies, save those for the end.  You don’t want them to get soggy. 


Saute raw veggies for a minute or two

Step six:  Put the cooked veggies in a bowl and now add your eggs.  Scramble the eggs until they are cooked through.  This will only take about 2 minutes. 
Step seven:  Remove the eggs and add to the bowl with the veggies.  Put the rice/noodles in the pan.  Warm through and now add your sauce.  If you have stir fry sauce, use that. If not, add a few tablespoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame oil, and some garlic powder to the rice.  Stir it all up.  Add the veggies and the eggs and stir together well. 


Finished product

Now you have a delicious, healthful and cheap meal ready in about 5 minutes. 

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets. Learn more at

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

fresh free range eggs

Fresh free range eggs

Eggs….they are cheap, readily available and delicious.  They are also exceptionally nutritional. One large hen egg has approximately 70 calories and 6 grams of protein.  The white, almost exclusively protein, is the lowest calorie part of the egg.  The yolk, often regarded as the forbidden part of the egg, is high in fat.  But it also contains some pretty important nutrients like iron, vitamins A and D, protein (yes, there is protein here too!), and choline, an essential (meaning your body doesn’t make it on its own) nutrient that helps with memory, muscle movement and the construction of cell walls.  So don’t discard those yolks.  They are like liquid gold for the body!  Unless you are watching your cholesterol.  Then you should limit your consumption.

Hard boiled eggs make a great snack.  They are quick to eat, pair well with fruits and vegetables, and are portable.  They also make the quintessential BBQ and tailgating accouterment called the deviled egg. You can make a batch at the beginning of the week and eat them all week long!  There is a right way to do it though, so don’t just think you can throw some hot water on a raw egg and it’s going to come out perfectly cooked!  You know that icky grey ring around the yolk?  That didn’t just happen.  It means you cooked your eggs too long.  Without going all science nerd on you, some compounds combined with other compounds during the cooking process and produced hydrogen sulfide gas.  It’s mostly harmless, but it looks bad.  So if you want your hard boiled eggs to be photograph ready, or you have picky kids that won’t eat anything that looks like it should be on the Incredible Hulk’s restaurant menu, follow these steps and you will have perfectly hard boiled eggs every time.  There is more than one way to do it, but this is how I was taught and it has yet to fail me!


Hard boiled eggs

Why do some eggs take forever to peel and take half of the egg white with it?  Well, simply put, those were fresh eggs.  The older the eggs, the easier they will peel.  The air cell (the air space between the egg white and the shell in it’s raw state) gets bigger the older the egg gets.  When the egg white shrinks, it creates more space between the shell and the protein molecules.  When the white is cooked and the proteins coagulate, the air space expands and voila……easy-to-peel eggs.  Use older eggs for hard boiling.  Save the fresh ones for omelets and meringues.

1. Prepare your eggs.  Set them out on the counter for a few minutes while you prepare all of your supplies.  This will take the edge off the chill and prevent the shells from splitting in the boiling water.  Put a 2 quart pot filled about half-way with water on the stove top and bring to a boil.  If you are cooking more than about 6 eggs, use a bigger pot.  If you need less space, use a smaller one.

2.  When the water is boiling, vigorously, not splashing all over the stove top, carefully add the eggs to the water using a slotted spoon.  Set your timer for 11 minutes.  If the shells split, no worries.  They whites may leak out and create a foam on the surface of the water.  But they will still be edible.  Skim the foam off the surface from time to time.  If the water starts to boil super rapidly and splashes water all over the place, turn the heat down a smidge.  You want the water to stay in the pot so it can cook the eggs.  But don’t turn it down too much.  You want hard cooked egg yolks, not poached eggs in shell.

3.  Prepare your ice bath.  Use a bowl big enough to fit lots of ice and water and the eggs.  Use several scoops of ice and top with cold water.  The ice cubes should not melt.  Otherwise you will have just cold water, not iced water.  This is important, so take the time to do it right.

4.  When your time goes off, you will probably be in another room doing something else.  So hurry back to the kitchen.  You only have about 30 seconds to get the eggs out of the boiling water and into the ice bath before the hydrogen sulfide gas reacts with iron in the yolk to produce that icky grey ring.  Using a slotted spoon again, carefully remove the eggs from the water and put into the ice bath.  Let the eggs cool completely, about 5 minutes or so. Drain the water, and store the eggs in the refrigerator for about a week.  I like to keep mine in an open plastic container or bowl lined with a folded paper towel.

5.  When you are ready to eat, gently tap the shell on a hard surface, such as the counter top, and peel under running water.  If the eggs were fresh, this could be a tricky process.  If they were older, they should peel in one piece, maybe two.

If you are watching your calories or cholesterol, remove the yolk and only eat the whites.  You will save yourself about 50 calories.  Slice, dice, mash or leave whole.  They are so versatile I may have to write an entire article of all of the uses for a hard boiled egg!


Sliced hard boiled egg

Rebecca Nedrow is an ACF Certified Culinarian with a Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Kansas State University.  She is also the Director of Operations for Friend that Cooks Personal Chefs.  

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Kansas City, Chicago and St. Louis offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets.  Learn more at  We send a talented chef to your home for a half day every week to shop, cook, clean up and stock your refrigerator with a week’s worth of healthy prepared meals to reheat.

A Pyramid Scheme for Bacteria

How often do you do laundry?  I’m serious… often do you wash your clothes?  Or maybe a better question to ask is how often do you wear something before you wash it?

What about your reusable grocery bags?  When was the last time you washed those?  Oh Yeah…….you forgot about those!  That smelly pile of canvas festering in the darkest corners of your trunk.  Not the pile of gym clothes that have been hiding out since September….you never have time to get to the gym anyway, right?!  It’s the bacteria riddled grocery bags that carried last month’s stockpile of ground beef that was on sale for $3.99/pound and next month carries the fresh veggies for the veg platter you are taking to the Super Bowl party at the neighbor’s house.

See where I’m going with this?  You wash your hands, you sanitize the grocery cart handle, you bleach every inch of the bathroom…..but you never wash those bags!  And they are the primary source for cross contamination.  Cross what??  You know…when bacteria from one thing gets onto another.  You sneeze on your hand and then shake hands with your boss and he wipes his face with that hand.  That’s cross contamination.  You put raw chicken on a cutting board and then use that same board for vegetable prep.  That’s cross contamination.  You use your bags for one thing and then use them for another.  THAT’S CROSS CONTAMINATION!!  I am not a germ-a-phobe.  I grew up with a dad that told us we need to eat more dirt.  Proverbial dirt, I’m sure.  Nevertheless, more dirt.  But your grocery bags are just wrong.

And I hear about it, people!  I am at a different grocery store twice a day 4 days a week for clients. That’s 8 different grocery stores, every week.  They know me in there.  Not because I am there every week.  Well….maybe that’s why.  But they LOVE me because my bags always smell like laundry detergent and the bag guys don’t feel like they need a hazmat suit just to pack my groceries.  I didn’t realize that this was a problem until they said something.  So I did some research and what I found was pretty disturbing.

A year ago, USA Today published an article about a study by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University from 2012 on reusable grocery bags and the carts we put them in.  You can read the article here: article reusable grocery bags and germs

But to summarize, the germs we carry around in those bags can spread like norovirus. And I’m not talking about the garden variety germs that reside naturally on your very own skin (cough*staph*cough).  I’m talking about deal breakers, like E. coli.

It’s a pyramid scheme for germs!  You carry the bag inside, now the germs are on your hands.  You put the bags in the cart.  Now those germs are on your hands and your cart.  You touch the produce and put it back…..on your hands, the cart, the produce you touched and now the produce that produce touched……do I really need to go on?

If you already use reusable bags, that’s GREAT! If you remember to take them into the store, even BETTER! Now I challenge you to take it one stop further and wash them every once in a while.

This is not a public service announcement, friends.  This is an intervention.  I know, I know.  We touch thousands of things every day that harbor bacteria and viruses.  You eat more germs than you even want to know.  That’s right cafeteria salad bar….I’m talking to you.  But it’s not just the germs you can’t see.  Look at the inside.  That’s dirt and food stains. Take a whiff. They smell like dirty gym socks. And it’s gross.  So wash your bags and do it often, like once a month. Or more often if you have a particularly juicy package.  With soap and water please. You will do us ALL a favor! And while you’re at it, quit buying the polyurethane bags. They are hard to keep clean and fall apart. Invest in some heavy duty canvas bags that you can throw in the washer and dryer.

Rebecca Nedrow is an ACF Certified Culinarian with a Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Kansas State University. She is also the Director of Operations for Friend that Cooks Personal Chefs.

We send a talented chef to your home for a half day every week to shop, cook, clean up and stock your refrigerator with a week’s worth of healthy prepared meals to reheat.

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets. Learn more at