The truth about some of your favorite indulgences
You’ve gotten into a consistent fitness routine and are finally starting to feel good about the healthy choices you are making! Often, we tend to adopt new favorite foods along the way. At the top of the list for many are coffee, wine, and bacon. These foods are dietary staples in the fitness community, and are usually considered somewhere in the category of “not bad enough to worry about and maybe even good for you.” It’s worth taking a deeper dive into the health benefits and potential pitfalls which can occur when eating these favorite foods.
More than 450 million cups of coffee are consumed everyday in the United States alone. Coffee is also the world’s number one source of antioxidants due to widespread consumption and high levels of polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids. Despite its amazing capacity to fight free radicals in our body, most people reach for a “cup of joe” each morning for one reason only – that energizing boost of energy!
Caffeine can be great before a workout due to the increase in focus, energy, and alertness, helping us feel ready to perform. It has even been shown to reduce pain associated with exercise, making it a powerful training partner.
A cup of coffee can be beneficial post workout as well. When we exercise, our bodies utilize glycogen, a form of glucose stored in our muscles, as a fuel source. In one study it was observed that athletes who consumed caffeine with carbohydrates after exercise had 66% more glycogen in their muscles 4 hours later. This significant boost in glycogen storage means you have set the tone for success in your next workout in terms of available energy.
Challenges arise when the quantity and timing of caffeine consumption begin to interfere with rest and recovery. Caffeine has been shown to interrupt sleep even when consumed 6 hours before bed time. Individual caffeine sensitivity can vary from person to person, so listen to your body. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, meaning the more coffee we drink, the harder we need to work to keep ourselves hydrated.
Red wine has long been touted as “heart healthy” and the best choice if you do wish to drink. However if you are a competitive athlete, trying to build muscle, or on a mission to lose fat there really isn’t a place for alcohol in your diet. All alcohol is merely empty calories. Wine can also interfere with sleep, testosterone production, and put extra wear and tear on your already busy liver. However, If you do find yourself in a situation where a drink is fitting, red wine can be a better choice than cocktails or beers in terms of calories and sugar.
What about the heart health benefits and antioxidants in red wine, don’t those make a glass worth it a few times a week?
Yes and No. Mostly no…
The link between red wine and heart health is still unclear, and a positive correlation between the two has not been found. Red wine also doesn’t seem to perform better than other alcohols in terms of cholesterol and heart health. Some of the hype around red wine comes from its resveratrol content. It is possible that resveratrol reduces LDL levels and prevents blood clots. Unfortunately, to reap these potential benefits requires drinking high quantities of alcohol, thus creating other potential health problems. Resveratrol supplements may not be absorbed that well. Look for other good sources in foods like blueberries, peanuts, and plain old unfermented grapes!
Bacon. Crispy. Crunchy. Delicious.
Is there any dish that can’t be improved by its presence?
Bacon may be the most controversial and beloved food in existence. In the wake of the paleo dietary movement and a shift in the way our country views dietary fat intake, bacon has become the “little cheat food that could”.
Bacon is made from pork belly and contains high levels of both monounsaturated and saturated fats. Bacon also contains oleic acid, found in other healthy fats like olive oil. The ratio of different fats in the diet, genetics, and lifestyle choices all contribute to how much saturated fat we can consume for optimal health.
While bacon may not be so bad for you after all, you have to be choosy. Consider the quality of the pork and the processing it undergoes during curing. The process generally involves curing cuts of pork belly with salt and sugar, then applying heat through a smoking process. There is also generally the application of some form of nitrates or nitrites to help preserve quality and appearance of the bacon.
When selecting your bacon product, focus on where the pork came from and how it was raised. The best brands will be pasture or humanely raised and organic. The ingredient list should be short and not too sweet. That means pork, water, sea salt, and a small amount of sugar in the form of brown sugar or maple syrup. If you see a long list of preservatives and words you don’t recognize, steer clear (true for all foods!)
Finally, some brands will use different sources of nitrates, and even if the brand claims to be nitrate free it will often contain an ingredient like celery powder which has naturally occurring nitrates. Nitrates can convert to a carcinogenic compound known as “nitrosamines” under high temperatures. If you like your bacon crispy, then you increase the chance of consuming these compounds. Our body blocks the effects of these carcinogens in the presence of Vitamin C, so grab a slice of orange or grapefruit with your bacon to play it safe!
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be sure to enjoy your “healthy” vices in the most appropriate ways possible. If you have questions about nutrition and how other dietary and lifestyle choices are affecting your training we can help! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule time with our Nutrition Coach, who can help you create a personalized diet plan to fuel the best you possible!