Ask the Experts: When to eat fat, when to eat protein, and managing PMS

Try a protein smoothie an hour before exercise to help build muscle and speed recovery.
I've heard it's best to eat most of your fat calories in the beginning part of the day. Is this true? And if so, why?

It's true. If you eat fat at breakfast you're more likely to burn the concentrated energy source over the length of the day -- for workouts and all the activities of your daily routine -- than if you consumed the same fat at night. High-fat foods take a minimum of two hours to digest. When you eat fat late in the day, you're more likely to store it since you're not using it for a workout or daily activities.

Since fat is a dense energy source (providing twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein), eating foods like nuts, peanut or almond butter, eggs, lean breakfast meats and low-fat cheese at breakfast will also satiate you longer, and prevent hunger pangs until lunchtime. Because fat is light in weight, it also won't leave you feeling stuffed, as high carbohydrate sources such as bread and cereal do.

A good approach when it comes to breaking up your fat calories is to eat 40 percent of your daily fat grams at breakfast and morning snack, 40 percent between your midday meal and afternoon snack, and 20 percent at dinner or dessert.

If you indulge by eating a high-fat dessert one night, do an extra 30 minutes of cardio or a combination workout (bike/swim, run/weights) the next day.

I know it's important to eat protein soon after resistance training to help rebuild muscle tissue. However, after I weight train I usually do cardio for 40 to 60 minutes and then eat some protein. Do I need to be eating protein earlier (just after weight training) to get the full benefit?

Eating a snack that fortifies your diet with additional protein between your weight training and cardio would be ideal. However, it's not realistic to chow down a protein-rich meal in the middle of a workout, and whole foods typically provide other nutrients like fat that can make them difficult to digest in a short period.

In this instance, a sports drink that provides enough protein for muscle repair can come in handy. Products like Accelerade or Endurox not only provide carbohydrates to fuel your cardio workout, but enough protein to stimulate muscle repair. An ideal ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4 to 1, which also can be found in some sports bars and gels. Try not to exceed 10 to 15 grams of protein per serving.

The most important aspect of muscle recovery is preventing muscle breakdown. Some muscle breakdown is inevitable during training, but you can prevent further breakdown by also eating protein a couple hours before a workout to help build additional lean muscle. Approximately 45 minutes to an hour before exercise try eating a sports bar or smoothie that contains at least six to 10 grams of protein.

I feel sluggish, hungry and tired during the week of my menstrual cycle. I read that dairy products and vitamin B can help with PMS symptoms and emotional distractions. Is there any truth to this?

Research does link dairy products to alleviating symptoms of PMS. Recent findings from the Nurses Health Study, the longest running study on women's health, compared the diets and supplement use of 1,057 women, ages 27 to 44, over a 10-year period.

Research revealed that women who ate four servings or more a day of dairy, including milk, were less likely to develop feelings of anxiety, loneliness, irritability, sadness and tension related to PMS. The authors attributed the preventive aspects to the calcium and vitamin D in these foods.

B vitamins are key in utilizing dietary carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and are essential in managing mood. Eating foods that include the Bs -- dairy, lean meats, beans and whole grains and bananas -- may alleviate some of the symptoms.

If you choose the dairy route to PMS prevention, choose four 100-calorie servings of low-fat or nonfat milk, cheese and yogurt. When selecting foods with B vitamins, limit your portion size to no more than eight ounces of lean meat and two large spoonfuls of grains.

Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., L.M.H.C., is sports nutritionist for the University of Miami Athletic Department and adjunct instructor in the Department of Exercise Science. Lisa's book, The Tropical Diet (Food Fitness International, 2004) is available worldwide and at her Web site,

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