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2014 Winter Olympics

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Calorie counts: Olympic athlete's snack equals ballerina's daily total

A ballerina's diet is highly restricted in calories.
A ballerina's diet is highly restricted in calories.
Lifestyle inquirer

Most people choose to diet because they want to look and feel better. But for some professionals, dieting isn't a decision based purely on health: It's a scientifically planned formula that can enhance and extend their careers. The calories in a single meal for a football player, for example, can outweigh the total allotted to a ballerina, says Heidi Skolnik, a renowned sports nutritionist and author of "The Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance" (click for details).

For Billy Demong, U.S. Nordic Skier at the Olympics, it takes "enough to satisfy like a 5,000 calorie-per day need," he told Stack magazine. As a result, he goes "for more calorie dense [food]."

Given that some ballerinas eat a total of 1,200 calorie a day (or even less), a snack for Billy equals a dancer's total daily allotment.

And since it's Olympic season, it's worth contemplating the calories needed to fuel other gold medal sports as well. What it takes, according to Mother Nature Network:

  • Figure skating burns 245 calories in 10 minutes, while competitive speed skating burns about 230 calories in 10 minutes.
  • Downhill skiing burns about 140 calories per 10 minutes.
  • And curlers needed to watch their intake: Curling burns 70 calories.

But what if you have a sedentary desk job?

In an exclusive interview, Heidi talked with us about what really works for weight loss and why calories count. She is the former sports nutrition consultant to the New York Giants and currently works with the School of American Ballet.

Heidi also authored "Char-Broil's Grill Yourself Skinny," which includes tasty, healthy recipes for everything from Steak and Eggs on the Grill to Grilled Strawberries with Balsamic Port Glaze, Blue Cheese & Walnuts, as well as dishes from celebrity chefs such as Angelo Basilone, Executive Chef of the New York Giants and Brad Farmerie, Executive Chef at Public in New York City. (Get more information on the cookbook by clicking here.)

"Weight loss can be accomplished so many different way," reflects Heidi. Among the options:

  • Low carb diets, which "can be very effective not only for weight loss but also for improving other beneficial health markers, such as lowered triglycerides and cholesterol."
  • The Mediterranean and DASH diets, which promote a more balanced way of eating and can produce the same positive outcomes for weight and health without creating a state of ketosis.

Heidi is concerned, however, about the restricted eating required on plans such as ketogenic diets and the Paleo weight loss plan.

"The basic premise of the Paleo diet – including whole foods, proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats – is wonderful, but I find the elimination aspect extreme," she explained.

"Legumes, which are not part of the Paleo diet, are rich in fiber, protein, and B-vitamins and have been shown to help reduce disease, improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels, and can actually contribute to weight loss. Dairy, another food group eliminated on this diet, is important for providing calcium, a key nutrient for osteoporosis prevention," she adds.

In addition, Heidi points out that "grains are often under attack in weight loss diets, but the fact is, eliminating whole grains simply doesn’t make sense for the basic population."

For those concerned about sugar addiction who wonder if fruit juices are safe, Heidi says:

The research related to sugar or other food addictions is not well established and is controversial. As with all foods and beverages that provide calories, 100 percent fruit juices should be consumed in appropriate amounts that fit with an individual’s overall diet and lifestyle.

One hundred percent orange juice is a nutrient-rich beverage that provides a substantial number of nutrients per calorie. It’s also important to note that emerging research reports that the regular consumption of 100 percent orange juice does not appear to result in the development of characteristics of metabolic syndrome or other detrimental health effects such as increased body weight, negative fat/lean compositional changes, or insulin resistance.

To control blood sugar, Heidi suggests looking at "the total composition of your meal. For example, drink 100% OJ with a protein, such as eggs; or Greek yogurt that is high in protein. Want OJ with cereal? Choose a cereal with some protein and fiber and add a handful of nuts on top. Additionally, there is evidence that the inflammatory and oxidative stress caused by a high fat, high carbohydrate meal may be blunted by consuming 100% OJ in conjunction with the meal."

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