CHARLOTTE DEBEUGNY on food and training
Food oh glorious food! Charlotte Debeugny is a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr) and writer living in France and working in a medical centre in Paris. She is known as the ‘No Nonsense Nutritionist’ and takes care to use the latest scientific research to support her recommendations.
How did you get into nutrition?
It involved a side step and a leap of faith! My first career was in finance. I did a degree in finance and became a chartered accountant. I then spent 14 years working in London, mainly for the American banks JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
I lived and worked in Germany for a year and met a handsome and charming ‘French frog’(!) which was followed by marriage and 3 children….all within 5 years….
I had always been interested in food and nutrition and after 4 stressful years of juggling children and work, I decided to study Nutrition with the aim of being able to work eventually in the nutrition and health domain. I gained both a BSc and Masters in Nutrition and Health.
What sort of nutritionist are you? What clients do you work with?
I am very proud to have the title of ‘Registered Nutritionist’ and I am registered with the Association for Nutrition. This title is a quality mark and an assurance to the public that I have the nutrition knowledge and necessary professional standards and ethics to be able to provide the public with nutrition and health advice. The concern currently is that ‘nutritionist’ is not a protected title and anyone can call themselves one, so don’t hesitate to check people’s qualifications and experience.
I work with a wide variety of patients – ranging from weight loss, sports nutrition, digestive issues,children and allergies.
How much does someone’s diet differ who does moderate/no exercise to someone who trains regularly (4 times a week) to full-time athlete.
The simple answer is that someone who is training extensively will need more energy.
60% of the energy we use, our basal metabolic rate (BMR) is needed to keep our bodies functioning at rest. The other 40% is variable and depends on our activity levels. It’s not just about our workouts, but how much we move in our day to day lives.
The average woman with a moderate level of activity (around 30 minutes a day) needs about 2000 calories a day to maintain her weight. If you are working out 3-4 times a week, but not moving very much outside of your workout schedule you are probably in this category.
If you are doing a lot more exercise than this (more than 1 hour a day, at a high intensity and or/moving walking a lot) you may need an additional 500-2000 calories a week.
What are the main issues you see in diets of athletes who haven’t had any guidance?
Two main issues spring to mind.
I think it’s very easy to overestimate the number of calories that we burn during exercise which can lead to people consuming more energy than they need even if they are training every day. You may need any additional 100-200 calories a day, but not 1000 calories a day – unless you are training for a marathon/competitive sporting event.
I also think athletes may consume more protein than they need. Our requirement is roughly 45 g a day for a standard woman to prevent deficiency (about 0.8 g per kg of body weight) and this requirement can double for athletes, going up to about 90 g.
There does not seem to be any benefit to muscle mass or performance in consuming amounts in excess of this.
Can you talk about protein in terms of what foods it comes from? I see people adding eggs to smoothies to ramp up the protein. Is this necessary?
Protein is essential for repair and growth. So, for an athlete, protein helps to repair muscle tissue which is damaged during a workout and can also help to build additional muscle mass.
Protein-rich foods can be either animal in origin, meat, fish, chicken, dairy and eggs or vegetable; beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
I recommend consuming protein rich foods with every meal, for example, yogurt and nuts for breakfast, fish for lunch and lentils for supper, but I’m not convinced that we need to add protein powder and eggs to our smoothies unless you are really looking to increase your muscle mass. Even then though, there’s little additional benefit to consuming more than 90 g of protein per day.
100g of meat contains roughly 30g of protein, an egg contains 8g, lentils about 8-12 g per portion. Protein powder can contain up to 20g of protein in 1 scoop.
Vegan/vegetarian/omnivore/carnivore? Obviously, it varies from person to person but what are the health benefits/things to watch out for in all of these diets?
I think it really comes down to your beliefs and ethics. A balanced and varied diet is important for our health and provided your diet contains sufficient protein (either animal, vegetable or both) lashings of vegetables and fruits, a variety of fats and whole grains, it will be healthy!
A vegan will need to take a vitamin B12 supplement or consume Vitamin B12 enriched foods. This is the main nutrient which is deficient in a vegan diet.
A vegetarian diet if eggs and dairy products are eaten, will not need additional supplementation.
The current public health guidelines recommend limiting red meat to 2-3 times a week because of the association with high red meat consumption and colon cancer.
When should you eat if you are training in the day/evening?
It depends how long and how intensively you are training for. If you are training for less than an hour, you can simply eat at your next meal (assuming that you ate your last meal 3-4 hours ago), making sure it contains a mix of protein and carbs to repair your muscles and replenish the glycogen stores. (Glycogen is a form of energy which is stored in the muscles and liver. )
If you are training for longer than 1 hour, you might want to have a snack straight after your training in roughly a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
For example, a banana and a cereal bar, a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of porridge with nuts and seeds.
The same role applies whether you are training during the day or at night, though if you are training before supper and you ate your lunch more than 4-5 hours ago, you might want to have a balanced snack as above before working out.
What do we need to eat to recover best and be able to train the following day?
A balanced meal is all you need – protein, carbs, and vegetables!
How would you suggest we deal with our sugar cravings?
It really depends on what is causing the sugar cravings. It can sometimes be linked to ‘emotional eating’ feeling bored, stressed or fed up. It can also be linked to feeling tired, exhausted and irritable and really feeling like you need an energy boost.
The point is identifying what is causing our cravings – I’ve included a fact sheet to help you do this. If it is linked to low energy levels, ensuring that every meal or snack contains a protein rich food can help to balance your energy levels. This is because protein rich foods tend to be digested more slowly, providing us with a slow, steady and stable energy release.
If you really feel that you need to eat something to raise your energy levels quickly while avoiding a ‘crash and burn’ situation, try a dried fruit and nut mix – the dried fruit will raise your sugar levels as a first stage while the protein and fat in the nuts while help to ensure that your energy levels remain balanced over the next 2-3 hours.
If the sugar cravings are linked to emotions, thetrickistofindan non-food related solution to soothing your emotions as opposed to eating them!
How do you feel about supplements? And what would be your advice on taking them? Which ones in particular are helpful/unhelpful?
I am not a huge fan of supplements. The research generally indicates that we are better off getting our nutrients from real foods unless there is a genuine risk of a deficiency.
Female athletes are more at risk of low iron levels (training increases the number of red blood cells and hence the demand for iron). You should, therefore, get your iron levels checked regularly and take an iron supplement if this is prescribed by your doctor.
There are some supplements linked with increasing muscle mass and performance (creatine, glutamine, carnitine, branched chain amino acids and CLA – conjugated linoleic acid) but the research is mixed in terms of the overall results.
In my opinion, it’s better to focus on the quality of your diet in the first instance as opposed to taking supplements.
And anything else you think is beneficial to know?
I’d just underline gently the importance of a balanced approach and attitude to working out and food. Extreme diets and extreme workouts do more harm than good. Our incredible bodies are amazing machines and we should look after them as opposed to overwhelming them! Some of my patients tend to ‘delay’ doing any sport as they want to wait until they have lost weight and feel better before starting to work out. I usually gently try to persuade them to start straight way. Regular workouts tend to create a ‘positive feedback loop’ as you feel happier, stronger and fitter and then better able to tackle other areas of your lifestyle which you would like to change.There’s more and more research which highlights the benefits of sport and exercise for our health. I think the trick is to find an activity you join doing and aim to do it regularly. Make it fun and keep it simple and this will ensure you can keep doing it!
Could you please give 5 tips to all our female athletes?
With a drumroll, I think these are my 5 top tips:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate - optimal hydration helps to support performance
Do get your iron levels checked regularly
Nourish, not punish. Aim for a balanced and varied diet which contains all the main food groups. Try not to restrict foods or follow extreme diets in order to lower your body fat percentage/build muscle
Do aim to have a food which contains protein at every meal, but you don’t need excessive amounts of protein
Allow yourself rest, recovery and repair time – possibly 1-2 days of rest a week depending on the length and intensity of your workout days