Nutrition and Physical Activity FAQs

Weight Management

Q: I am an athlete training to decrease my body fat percentage, decrease my BMI, and increase lean mass. I would like to know the optimal meal plan you recommend. What type of meals should I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? How many calories should I consume a day? Would I consume only three meals or multiple meals?  The challenge with eating in the dining hall is measuring the amount of calories. Is there a way to measure the amount of calories in a piece of chicken breast?

A: Sounds like you have some good goals in mind.  To answer your questions specifically:

1. Timing of meals and snacks is very important during training. There is no set rule on how many times you should eat per day.  However, most athletes will find they prefer eating 4-6 times per day. You want to have something within 2 hours of getting up in the morning or before you work out (if that’s in the morning). Then eat every 3-5 hours during the day.

2. Composition of meals and snacks should include foods from 2-3 food groups each time. You need carbohydrates and protein so I encourage balanced meals where ~1/2 your plate is fruits/veggies, ¼ plate lean protein (chicken, fish, lean red meat or vegetarian meats) and ¼ plate complex carbohydrate choices like whole grains, beans, etc.

3. Although our chefs use their own recipes, the calories for basic foods are very similar. If you want more information regarding calories, visit the Nutritional Analysis section.

Nutritional Content 

Q: Do you have the nutritional content of food we eat at the Bon Appétit café? I try to watch what I eat but additional information would be helpful. Could you give me some pointers on which choices are best without being limited to salad and soup everyday?

A: I can certainly give you tips on eating healthy in the Bon Appétit cafés. However, it is difficult to give exact calorie values for each food. Our chefs cook from scratch which means each chef has the responsibility for the recipes within his or her kitchen, so there are no standardized recipes that we analyze. In fact, our chefs are encouraged to utilize seasonal and local ingredients as much as possible so many times a recipe will vary slightly each time it is prepared.  It is important for you to know that we incorporate as many healthy cooking techniques as possible. Chefs are required to use healthy oils, fresh ingredients and are aware of making healthy selections available. Although our chefs use their own recipes, the calories for basic foods are very similar. If you want more information regarding calories, visit the Nutritional Analysis section.

As for specific healthy choices:

1. Go for items you can “have your way”. At the exhibition stations, deli or any other station where we are cooking to order, you can request exactly what you want (i.e. more veggies, less oil, dressing or sauces on the side). In addition, the exhibition station allows you to have anything in the dining hall cooked to order so if you do not care for the selection of veggies that day, choose what you want from the salad bar and we will prepare that for you.

2. At the grill, choose veggies burgers or grilled chicken and pair it with grains and veggies from other areas of the cafe for a balanced meal.

3. If you want to go for pizza, stick with more vegetable toppings, 1-2 slices as each slice will average ~200 calories. Pair pizza with a big salad and/or veggies and fruit.

4. Avoid the fried options as a rule. But if you decide to include them do so occasionally. Bon Appétit uses only non-hydrogenated canola oil in our fryers so there are no trans fats in fried foods served in our cafés.

5. The tex-mex / latin station can also be a healthy options if you choose whole grain wraps and add beans, vegetables and lean meat.

6. Pair all meals with fresh fruits and vegetables that you will find throughout the café.

Q: I read that you give free nutritional advice for students, so I was wondering how about Alfredo pasta sauce is for you. I’ve heard it’s really fattening, but I’ve also heard that fattening products that are liquid at room temperature aren’t as bad for you because they move through your body quicker. Can you add insight on this? Is Alfredo sauce bad to eat if one is trying to eat healthy?

A: When it comes to sauces, Alfredo is certainly one of the highest in calories and fat. ½ cup of Alfredo sauce will average 250-300 calories and contain 25-30 grams of fat mostly from the more unhealthy saturated fats found in whole milk dairy products. Even high calorie foods like this can be part of a healthy diet.  However, you just have to watch how much and how often you have them. If you really love Alfredo sauce, have it once in a while but try to stick to healthier options on a daily basis. Healthier pasta sauces include red sauces, which are generally lower in calories and fat and contain about 50-100 calories per ½ cup. Pesto sauces are made from healthy oil, olive oil and nuts, but also tend to be very high calorie.

As far as the notion that room temperature fats move more quickly through the body, I do not know of any science to back this claim and do not consider this to be true.  In general, fats that are liquid at room temperature are better for your body because they contain less or no saturated or trans fats that tend to raise blood cholesterol and promote heart disease. This is based on the chemical structure of the fat molecule NOT the speed at which the fats are digested. Fats that are solid at room temperature, such as fats on meats, shortenings, butter, and some margarines tend to have more saturated fats that have negative effects on blood cholesterol.

Q: Are potatoes considered a vegetable or a starch?

A: Potatoes are a vegetable, but they are starchier (contain more carbohydrates) than most other vegetables. So, when you prepare a meal with potatoes, think of them as a grain: use them instead of bread, rice, or pasta, not instead of broccoli.

Q: Is there a significant nutritional difference between regular brown rice (that takes so long to cook) and instant brown rice that comes in a box?

A: Nutritionally, there is one major difference between traditional brown rice and the instant variety: the fiber content. A 1/2 cup serving of traditional brown rice has twice as much fiber as a 1/2 cup serving of instant brown rice.

Eating Patterns

Q: I am trying to learn to eat slower, because I think that causes me to eat too much. I eat quickly, but I never feel like I’m eating fast… it’s just how I eat. Do you have any tips for slowing down?

A: You are wise to consider the amount of time it takes for you to eat in the equation for healthy eating and you are correct…eating too quickly usually does result in over eating. The rule of thumb is that it takes 15-20 minutes for the signal to get to the brain that you are eating/getting full…that is enough time to really over do it especially if you are eating high calorie foods. Here are some suggestions:

1. Examine your overall eating patterns. Eating too quickly can be a sign that you are too hungry at meal times or that you are not allowing yourself enough time to have a meal. Try to get to meals before you are too hungry and carve out at least 20-30 minutes for a meal.

2. Watch the clock at meal time.  See how long a typical meal lasts for you, and then try to extend that time without increasing the amount of food you choose. Some tricks include putting your fork down between bites, cutting each bite (like meats) as you eat them instead of cutting it up at the beginning of the meal, and taking smaller bites of foods and taking your time chewing.

3. Try choosing a hot food such as a cup of soup as a “starter” then go back for your entrée. Eating a broth based soup to start with can start to fill you up.

4. You can also choose several low calorie items to start you meal such as veggies, fruits, or salad so you can fill up on foods that have a lower calorie impact. You still need the balance of other foods just try to not overeat the higher calorie items.

Physical Activity

Aerobic Exercise

Q: I take an aerobics class that includes toning. Is that the same as strength training?

A: No, it isn’t. Toning classes are a generally a form of cardiovascular exercise with some muscular endurance blended in, but they should not replace your regular strength training routine. In order to build strength, you need to work with weights that you can only lift about eight to twelve times. If you work with weights that are easy to lift many more times than that, you are not giving your muscles enough of a challenge to become stronger.

Q: What is the best type of aerobic exercise?

A: The best type of aerobic exercise is the one that you enjoy the most. It is hard to find the time and the energy to begin an exercise program and it will only become more difficult if you force yourself to do something that you don’t like to do. Experiment with different activities, machines, or classes until you find something you enjoy and can look forward to doing on a regular basis. If it is at all possible, make sure that you incorporate some weight bearing activities such as walking or jogging into your routine to help your bones.

Q: I have a glider and a stair-stepper and both provide good aerobic exercise. Do they help me build bone since my feet never leave the surface? Or must my feet “pound the pavement” to get that benefit?

A: While these activities are weight bearing, they don’t create as much force on the skeleton as exercises in which your feet actually “pound the pavement.” For the best benefits to bone, choose higher-impact exercises like walking or jogging (as long as your joints can handle the challenge) and of course, add two to three days per week for strength training for optimal results.

Strength Training

Q: I am struggling to get back into a regular routine with strength training. I jumped back in (sporadically) using 8-pound weights. Is that correct or should I have started with less?

A: Be careful not to jump back in to your routine with the same amount of weight you were using when you stopped. Your body needs a chance to ease back into your routine. You should start with a weight that you can easily lift for 8 to 12 repetitions (about half the amount you were lifting when you stopped). As you become stronger, slowly begin to increase the weight as needed.

Q: Is there any problem weight lifting on a vegetarian diet? Would there be a difference in the amount of muscle mass acquired?

A: Weight lifting is a great muscle and bone-building activity, regardless of your dietary preferences. Weight lifting helps to build strong muscles and bones. As long as you are following a well-balanced diet, and getting an adequate amount of protein (from animal sources or a balanced vegetarian diet) you will see the same results. Remember, there is no need to take in extra protein when you begin a weight lifting program. Just be sure you are meeting the daily requirement: 15 to 20 percent of caloric intake should be from protein. Good sources of protein on a vegetarian diet are soybeans, other legumes, seeds, some grains, and nuts (and dairy and eggs if you are ovolactovegetarian).

Exercising with Health Conditions

Q: I have a cold. Should I keep up with my regular exercise routine or would it be better to rest for a few days?

A: If your symptoms are from the neck up (e.g. runny nose, sneezing, sore throat), light exercise is usually OK and may even help you to feel a little better. But, if your symptoms are below the neck (e.g. diarrhea, vomiting, intense coughing, fever), it is generally better to rest and wait until the symptoms subside before you jump back into your regular exercise routine. If you are unsure, talk with your doctor.

Q: Are tummy tucks a safe exercise for a person with osteoporosis? I wasn’t sure because I have heard that a person with osteoporosis should always keep her spine in a neutral position.

A: It is true that people with osteoporosis need to observe certain precautions when exercising. Exercises that require you to bend your back forward in flexion (i.e. abdominal crunches) should be avoided. However, tummy tucks, which are the “partial sit-ups” where only your shoulders come off the ground, do not require this movement and are safe for people with osteoporosis.

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