Roller Derby Workout Challenge
As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to take part in the Roller Derby Workout Challenge 2012 (RDWC2012), an 8 week training program designed specifically for roller derby. The organisers repeatedly told us that it was not a weight-loss program, that is was designed to gain strength. This was perfect for me. I have no desire to lose weight, my only goal being to build fitness for derby, and strength to prevent yet another injury. Sounded too good to be true.
Turns out, it may well be.
After a few days following the meal plan as closely as allergies and availability allowed, I was getting sick of feeling hungry within half an hour of eating. As well as that, I felt flat, was having trouble concentrating, and just generally feeling like crap. A quick look at the group told me that several other girls were experiencing hunger pangs too. What concerned me, however, was that it was just being brushed off as ‘sugar/carb withdrawal’. Ok, that might fly for some people. Sugar is a hard thing to come off of. It makes you crave, it makes you cranky. But I didn’t have a high sugar intake to start off with, and my refined carb intake (White flours, pastas, rice, etc.) is usually pretty low (I think my two weeks in Italy in December could be forgiven!). For me, I didn’t feel like sugar withdrawal was the answer to what I was experiencing.
What’s a molecular nutritionist to do?
I work in a molecular nutrition laboratory. We routinely do trials that involve analyzing food diaries, designing nutritional interventions, and creating meal plans designed to combat a multitude of problems. So, naturally, I decided to run the meal plan through our typical protocol, and see what turned up.
We run a program in our lab called “Foodworks”, a software package developed by Xyris. It allows us to enter data from meal plans, food diaries, etc, utilizing a large database of items, just about any food you can think of, which can be modified as products change, or new data becomes available. It gives a full nutrition profile of kilojoules (or Calories), carbs, proteins, vitamins, minerals, breakdowns of fatty acid types. You name it, it probably looks at it. We are then able to compare this profile to recommended daily intake (RDI) guidelines, which we can tailor to reflect age, weight, gender, fitness and activity levels, whether you’re pregnant, or depending on your specific goals.
I tailored the protocol to give me Australian RDIs for, well, me. 24, female, 65kg, 165cm, with a light activity load. This means I sit at a desk for most of my week, skate a few hours, and walk most places. I then transferred the meal plans (Week 1 & Week 2). Wherever possible, I have matched like for like. Where there has been a low salt option listed, I have selected that instead of the standard. Any salad was automatically assumed to contain lettuce/spinach, cucumber, capsicum and snowpeas (because they are representative, and correlate well to most substitutions), and was not dressed unless explicitly stated. If an amount was not specified, I went with the generally accepted serving size. The only two changes I made were the addition of 2L (8 glasses) of tap water per day, and string cheese, which due to lack of data I substituted for 2 slices of Colby cheese. How did the first two weeks of the diet stack up?
READ ME FIRST: Before starting any new diet plan, always consult your doctor or nutritionist. The data presented is tailored for my situation only, and should not be taken as nutritional advice, but rather as “food for thought”.
|Fig 1. Based on average daily intake calculated form Weeks 1&2 of RDWC2012.|
Your EERM, or estimated energy requirement for maintenance is “the dietary energy intake that is predicted to maintain energy balance… in healthy individuals or groups of individuals at current levels of body size and level of physical activity” (Source). Basically, that means for me to stay at the same level as I am now, I need to consume this amount of calories.
If I follow the meal plan to the letter, I will only obtain about 61% of the energy I require to maintain my current level, and that means one of two things: a) If I continue at the same activity level, my body will take the energy from elsewhere, i.e. start eating itself, or b) in order to maintain my current body composition, I’d have to reduce my activity level. Neither of these are things that are conducive building fitness and muscle. The fact that it is a 39% deficit concerns me even more though. That is not just cutting back a little bit. That is a hardcore, shed-your-pounds, starvation-style diet.
No wonder I was so hungry!
The protein content is more than double the RDI, but as the aim is to improve muscle, this would normally be highly desirable. You have to eat protein to make protein! The only issue at the moment is that rather than going to building muscle, it is more likely being diverted toward creating energy to keep you running. Excess dietary protein can also exacerbate hypertension, and lead to renal damage. This is just one recent study that appeared in my inbox a few months ago, there are many more out there!
The big killer though, the one thing that would have put me off this diet within moments, whether or not I was looking for a quick weight-loss fix, was the sodium content. Basically, salt.
|Fig 2. Based on average daily intake calculated form Weeks 1&2 of RDWC2012.|
29% extra ON TOP of the daily recommended MAXIMUM. That is 448% of what is called the ‘adequate’ intake, or what the average human will be able to consume and remain healthy. When that result came off, I actually went back and triple checked it was correct. The list of issues associated with a high-sodium diet is long and varied, and include increased blood pressure, heart disease, kidney problems, hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance to name a few, and that this diet is so high in sodium is cause for serious concern.
We all know that calcium is important for healthy bones, with low calcium levels increasing the risk of osteoporosis, or brittle bones, later in life. And I think we can all agree, brittle bones are the enemy of roller derby girls. However, rather than maximising calcium intake, this diet only provides 63% of the RDI (Fig 1). Iron, another nutrient that young women are often deficient in, was also only at 62% RDI (Fig 1). Iron deficiency limits oxygen delivery to cells due to anemia, resulting in fatigue, poor performance, and decreased immunity. Certainly not conducive to good derby!
Most of the B-group vitamins are well represented (with the exception of Folate, 79%RDI) as is Vitamin C and total Vitamin A (Fig 1). They fall below the suggested target for prevention of chronic disease, but that is another post for another time. There are also several issues with other micronutrients, but to write about any but the main ones would take a much longer blog than this, and I felt it important to outline the major issues, such as energy, calcium and iron.
I want to finish by saying that I *do* respect what the girls at the Roller Derby Workout are trying to do. The exercise regime is brilliant, the community they’re building is beautiful, and they are trying to encourage people to live healthier, fitter, derbylicious lives. However, their meal plan cannot be pushed as a “one-size-fits-all” dietary solution, and should only be used as a guideline, adapted to each individual's requirements. My mantra when it comes to changes in diet is “when in doubt, check it out”. Participants in any dietary plan, regardless of weight-loss goals, should always do their research, and if in doubt, consult a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or nutritionist. There are plenty of good, free food-tracking/calorie counting programs and websites online, which will give you a rough idea of how your diet is stacking up against your RDIs. For me personally, to achieve my desired results, I will have to increase my calories by almost double the meal plan in order to accommodate the extra exercise, cut the salt, and get my calcium and iron consumption back up to normal levels.
I hope this won’t discourage people from completing the challenge, but also hope that it will help some people who may be confused about why they are feeling less than stellar about the food side of things. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions, cop any criticism, and take any suggestions.