Peanut butter is an affordable source of calories. If you are a hungry athlete who needs 3,000 or more calories a day, you can spend a significant amount of money fueling yourself (especially if you routinely eat protein bars, weight gain shakes and other engineered sports foods).
Peanut butter can fuel your body without breaking the bank. One hundred calories of peanut butter (about 1 tablespoon) costs about 7 cents, far less than 100 calories of other protein sources, such as cottage cheese (55 cents per 100 calories), tuna (60 cents) and deli turkey breast (75 cents).
The cost of 200 calories of peanut butter is about 15 cents, far less than the $1.49 you'd spend on 200 calories of an energy bar ... and generally, the peanut butter is far tastier!
Peanut butter is a source of protein, needed to build and repair muscles. But take note: Peanut butter is not protein-dense. That is, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter -- the amount in an average sandwich -- provides about 7 grams of protein. In comparison, the calorie equivalent of turkey in a sandwich offers about 20 grams of protein.
Athletes who weigh 140 pounds, for example, may need 70 to 100 grams protein per day; 200-pound athletes, 100 to 150 grams. For 100 grams of protein, you'd have to eat the whole jar of peanut butter! Unlikely!
To boost the protein value of peanut butter, simply accompany it with a tall glass of milk: a PB&J sandwich + 16 ounces lowfat milk = 28 grams of protein, a good chunk of your daily requirement.
Milk simultaneously enhances the value of the protein in the peanut butter sandwich. That is, peanuts are low in some of the essential amino acids muscles need for growth and repair. The amino acids in milk (as well as those in the sandwich bread) nicely complement the limited amino acids in peanuts.
Peanut butter is a reasonable source of vitamins, minerals and other health-protective food compounds. For example, peanut butter contains folate, vitamin E, magnesium and resveratrol, all nutrients associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Magnesium is also associated with reduced risk of adult-onset diabetes. Peanut butter offers a small amount of zinc, a mineral important for healing and strengthening the immune system. As an athlete, you need all these nutrients to keep you off the bench and on the playing field.
Peanut butter contains fiber -- not a lot (1 gram per tablespoon), but some. Fiber in food contributes to a feeling of fullness that can help dieters eat less without feeling hungry.
Fiber also promotes regular bowel movements and helps reduce problems with constipation. By enjoying peanut butter on whole-grain bread, you can contribute 6 to 8 grams of fiber toward the recommended target of 20 to 35 grams fiber per day.
Peanuts contain mostly health-protective mono- and polyunsaturated fats. When peanuts are made into commercial peanut butter (such as Skippy or Jif), some of the oil gets converted into a harder, saturated fat. This keeps the oil from separating to the top. The hardened oil, called trans-fat, is less healthful.
But the good news is, commercial peanut butters contain only a tiny amount of trans fats and just a small amount of (naturally occurring) saturated fat. For example, only 3.5 of the 17 grams fat in two tablespoons of Skippy are "bad."
To minimize your intake of even this small amount of unhealthful fat, you can buy all-natural peanut butter. If you dislike the way the oil in this type of peanut butter separates to the top of the jar, simply store the jar upside down. That way, the oil rises to what becomes the bottom of the jar when you turn it over to open it. And if you eat peanut butter daily, you won't have to refrigerate it, thereby making the all-natural peanut butter easier to spread.
Caution: Peanut butter is a poor source of the carbohydrates needed for muscle fuel. Don't try to subsist on peanut butter by the spoonful! Luckily, peanut butter combines nicely with banana, bread, apples, oatmeal, crackers, raisins, and even pasta (as in Thai noodle dishes). These combinations will balance your sports diet.
Copyright: Nancy Clark, MS, RD 9/04
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD offers nutrition consultations to casual and competitive athletes at her private practice in Healthworks (617-383-6100) in Chestnut Hill, MA. Her "Sports Nutrition Guidebook" ($23) and "Food Guide for Marathoners" ($20) offer abundant information on how to enhance your sports diet. Both books are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com or by sending a check to PO Box 650124, West Newton MA 02465.