Blog - Alison Barkman Nutrition
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Get Kids Ready for Fall Sports with the Right Nutrition

Soccer goalie - illustratedSchool is just around the corner… and so are Fall sports! Whether you have younger kids playing sports for fun, or more serious athletes on middle school or high school teams, nutrition is a key piece to building healthy and successful athletes.  Even if the sport is recreational or for fun, it’s important to know the right foods to eat to keep up energy and stay hydrated.

Here are some basic tips that almost any athlete can keep in mind when gearing up for a new season:

#1: Be sure to “fuel up” within 1-2 hours before practice or a game.

Sometimes practice or games fall at odd times and are not in sync with when your child eats a meal. For instance, if practice is at 6PM and the child won’t be home until 7 or 8PM, what do you do for dinner? Holding off on dinner until after practice may not be ideal. Eating a big dinner just before practice may lead to stomach cramps and discomfort. In this scenario, if possible, try having dinner any time between 4-5PM. Keep it light and high in easily digestible carbohydrates for immediate energy. Examples could be 1 cup of pasta with veggies, tossed in olive oil and 1-2TBSP grated parmesan. Or 1/2 cup to 1 cup cooked rice tossed with veggies, grilled chicken, and some salsa for flavor.

If practice or a game is not near a mealtime, a snack is a must. For instance, if your child ate lunch at 11:30AM and has practice at 3PM, he should definitely have something to eat prior to practice. A snack at around 2PM would be a good call. Suggestions may be a small bowl of cereal with low fat milk, or an apple with a small amount of peanut butter, or one serving of pretzels plus 2 TBSP hummus.

#2: Stay hydrated.

Guidelines for hydration vary for each person based on their size, how vigorous the activity is, and factoring in the environment such as playing soccer for several hours in the hot sun vs. basketball in an climate-controlled, indoor area. The best hydration is water. For any vigorous activity over 90 minutes, a sports drink is a better choice to replace depleted glycogen stores (your body’s stored form of carbohydrates) as well as the electrolytes lost through sweat, potassium and sodium.

#3: Know the right snacks.

Snacking throughout the day can keep your energy levels up. If you choose the right types of snacks plus time them properly with your team practice and game times, snacks can be a positive game-changer. The right types include a higher carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.  Pre-game snacks should not be excessively high in protein, fiber or fat as these nutrients are slow to digest and can cause tummy troubles if consumed to soon before high levels of activity. Ideas for a pre-game/pre-practice snack include a banana, small bag of pretzels, mini bagel with 1 slice of cheese or thin layer or peanut butter, or a small (approximately 6-8 oz.) smoothie made with mostly fruit and juice. When it comes to smoothies, watch out for large sizes, a lot of dairy (milk, frozen yogurt), and too much sugar in the form of honey, agave nectar, or syrups.

#4: Beware of dietary supplements. 

For the older athletes in high school and college, dietary supplements can come into play as a perceived sport enhancer.  Many dietary supplements can be dangerous or may interfere with medications.  A registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition can help an athlete identify dietary supplements that have been well-studied and may provide a safe sport-enhancing result. On the flip side, a sports dietitian can also help to debunk any myths about dietary supplements that have little scientific evidence supporting claims that athletes may hear in the locker room. “Food first” is always a best approach – get the sport-enhancing nutrients you need from whole foods.  If you feel your sport still falls short, then begin to consider what supplements are safe and may help as an aid.


Working with a registered dietitian who is a sports nutritionist can help an athlete to strategize the best eating plan for his or her sport. Check out the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists website to locate a sports dietitian in your area and make an appointment to work on a sports nutrition plan tailored to your individual needs.

Note: I am available for sports nutrition counseling and talks for teams in and around Nassau County on Long Island. Check out my website and contact information if you’d like to discuss sports nutrition for an individual athlete or team!




Not Your Typical Jerky

Being a registered dietitian-nutritionist means I get used to being asked: “What did you eat for breakfast this morning?”
or “Do you think (fill in the blank) is a good snack?” It only makes sense for me to share my favorite healthy food and recipe finds with my Healthy Spoonful readers.  chicken-bbq-hr

Many times I’m only slightly hungry in between meals. I don’t want a huge snack in the 200-300 calorie range; sometimes I need just a little something to keep me going and a piece of fruit just won’t do it. I need protein to keep me satisfied.

Look no further …. I just found a snack that I’m OBSESSED with. It’s jerky. Beef jerky, chicken jerky, even venison. Obviously this won’t be a hit with the vegan crowd, but if you’re an omnivore looking for an awesome high protein, low calorie snack that’s savory with a dash of sweet, look no further. I haven’t tried all of them, but my favorite flavor so far is the Dried Chicken Breast with Cherries and BBQ Seasoning.

So here’s the nutrition down-low:

  • Nine varieties, each with approximately 8-11g protein and 3g or LESS of sugar
  • 60 calories in each
  • All nine varieties are gluten-free (for Celiac and gluten-sensitive folks) and eight varieties are lactose-free
  • Made with quality meats including grass-fed beef, venison, and chicken breast
  • Meats are combined with dried fruits such as apples, cranberries, blueberries, and pineapples or black beans and veggies


Oh, and the best part, you can bring this snack with you anywhere. No worries about being messy, putting it together the night before, or having to keep it cold.  A great option to drop in your gym bag, take with you hiking, or bring on a long summer road trip.

The only negative – salt. For athletes sweating regularly and in need of sodium replenishment, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. But if you were advised to watch your salt intake, depending on how much salt you eat all day long, these yummy snacks can add quite a bit of sodium to your daily intake.

Otherwise, I say dig in!


Note: I was not paid to write this post. They sent me samples and I LOVED them. Seriously.

Ditch the Diet Mentality

The 4th of July is behind us and summer is in full swing. But wait, you’re in denial that bathing suit season came so quickly. If only you could lose that excess flab. Maybe a juice cleanse will fix it.  Or dive into a Paleo lifestyle.  Just this once. Once you lose the weight, you’ll feel fabulous, you will be happy forever, and you’ll never have to deal with feeling flabby and gross again.


No, wrong.

The only way to stop feeling terrible about yourself is to end the vicious cycle of diet on, diet off. Lose weight, gain weight. Scale up, scale down. Fat jeans, skinny jeans. How many times have you been on this roller coaster? What makes you think this time will be different? Do you really think you will lose it for good?

Think about this.

  1. Dieting can trigger a dysfunctional relationship with food, ranging from obsessing about “forbidden foods” all the way to full blown eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
  2. Dieting can make you lose your sense of true hunger. It teaches you to eat portioned amounts of food per the “diet plan” rather than eating the amount of food your body truly needs.
  3. Losing weight, then gaining it back, over and over again, can lead to increased weight gain down the road. In other words, you’ll be heavier than you were when you started the diet.
  4. Skipping meals or drastically cutting calories contributes to loss of muscle tissue and decreases much-needed energy to exercise effectively.

There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Sadly, most of us have spent a lifetime believing this. Many of us have spent our lives stepping on the scale and letting that number dictate if we have been “good” or “bad”. The scale has told us if we are in control, or if we are spinning wildly out of control.

Undoing a lifetime of dieting and self-bashing is not easy. But there are ways to become an intuitive eater and ditch the diet mentality for good.  And yes, believe it or not, you can become an intuitive eater, never diet again, and actually lose a healthy amount of weight while making peace with food.


There are many resources out there to help you get back in touch with true hunger and STOP the diet mentality forever.  The book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, is a great place to start. Check out the Intuitive Eating website to learn more on how you can start listening to your body’s internal hunger cues, the way our bodies were designed to work, and stop eating for reasons such as the clock telling you it’s lunch time, stress eating, and eating beyond feeling comfortable.

The re-launch of my blog, The Healthy Spoonful, will focus on posts discussing healthy food suggestions, exercise tips, sports nutrition, pediatric nutrition, prenatal and postpartum nutrition.  Wrapped in each of these topics will be suggestions, tips, and techniques to become an intuitive eater.  Whether you are trying to fuel properly to be at the top of your game, recovering from an eating disorder, or battling with your kids at the dinner table, the tenets of intuitive eating come to play in all scenarios.  Make today a first step toward ditching diets and making peace with your body and food. Forever!

Sneaky Foods That Make You Fat

100 calorie packs can leave you feeling
hungry for more.

So you think you’re doing everything right when it comes to eating healthy. You eat breakfast daily, include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your meals, and try to limit processed and fast food as much as possible. But for some reason, those pesky 10 pounds haven’t budged. Ready to throw in the towel? Not so fast!
Most people will be surprised to learn that although their diets are very healthy, there are a few unsuspecting foods that can throw off the best of weight loss intentions. Here are three healthy foods that can sneak into your diet and throw you off track:
#1: Hidden Sugars – Granola, fat-free frozen yogurt, and protein bars all seem innocent enough. After all, it’s not like your chomping into a donut, right? You may be surprised how much sugar is lurking in your so-called healthier choices. Take a look at these comparisons:
·      1 cup Kellogg’s Froot Loops = 26 g or 6 teaspoons of sugar, compared to a “healthier” cereal, 1 cup of Kellogg’s low-fat granola = 28 g or 7 teaspoons of sugar
·      ½ cup Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream = 32 g or 8 teaspoons of sugar, compared to the “healthier” frozen yogurt version,  ½ cup Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie frozen yogurt = 34 g sugar
       3 Oreos = 25 g or 5 teaspoons of sugar, compared to a “healthy” bar, 1 Balance bar = 23 g or 5 teaspoons of sugar
Surprised? True, the Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt may have less fat, but usually less fat means more added sugar. Added sugars will contribute to your daily intake of calories and next, your waste line.
#2: Lurking Fat –  Most of us have heard of the healthy unsaturated fats vs. the artery-clogging saturated fats. Consuming unsaturated fats in the form of olive oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado and fatty fish help reduce inflammation that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other diseases. Despite the health benefits, there is such a thing as overdoing unsaturated fats.
Spreading one tablespoon of natural peanut butter on toast for a satisfying breakfast is fine. Eating peanut butter mindlessly out of the jar with a spoon can tally fat intake equal to a slice of cheesecake.
The same goes for olive oil.  Drenching veggies in olive oil for stir fry or making a homemade vinaigrette can bring calories into the hundreds if you have a heavy hand.
Always measure your fats, even the healthy ones. One to two tablespoons of olive oil or peanut butter can go a long way while keeping the calories and fat under control.
#3:  Empty calorie snacks – Within the last few years, 100-calorie packs of everything from Oreo cookies to Wheat Thin crackers have cropped up on the grocery store shelves. In-between meal snacks should balance between 100-200 calories maximum, depending on your calorie intake for the entire day. However, not all calories are created equal. A 100-calorie pack of Oreos is mainly refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs may satisfy a sweet tooth, but they will empty out of your system quickly, only to leave you hungry in a hurry and looking for something else to eat.
Be wise. Choose snacks that are nutrient-dense and will keep you full longer. This includes snack foods that have protein, fat and fiber. An example is an apple (fiber) and cheese stick (fat, protein). Both items are portion-controlled and provide the right mix of nutrients to nourish and satisfy a grumbling belly.  Other ideas include a ¼ cup trail mix plus one piece of fruit, 6 ounces Greek yogurt, or an English muffin with 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
Hopefully these tips help you identify some healthy eating pitfalls. Making these slight changes can help save a few hundred calories. At the end of the day, this calorie deficit can translate to 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week.

Healthy Ways Jazz Up Your Drinking this Summer

Coconut water is all the rage and refreshing!

I am a dietitian. I am also human, therefore I am NOT perfect when it comes to eating and drinking. Last week I had a heart-to-heart with myself and realized that diet soda is a horrible habit in my life that I’d like to rid from my daily routine.  

I am not writing this post to say that diet soda is Lucifer in disguise as a refreshing, bubbly beverage.  If you drink diet soda in moderation, as in a few glasses per week, you should be fine. Personally, I felt I was becoming addicted to diet soda, grabbing for it out of habit for an afternoon caffeine pick-me-up. I also realized I was feeling bloated after drinking it, yet wanting more. To me, that’s not how I want to feel after eating or drinking anything. 

While water is best to keep you hydrated in this sweltering heat, it is nice to have something different here and there. Check out my list of some alternatives to regular and diet soda to keep things less boring while you hydrate this summer:

  • Unsweetened Iced Tea: Try adding 1 teaspoon of agave nectar or organic honey, a slice of orange, and a few grapes cut into halves or quarters. The juices from the added fruit, along with a touch of sweet agave nectar will make this a refreshingly tasty beverage with no sugar or chemical sugar substitutes. If you don’t have time to brew your own, there are some brands that sell bottled unsweetened iced tea, although it’s not always easy to find. 
  • Coconut water: This fairly new beverage has been getting a lot of attention in the past couple of years. It took me a while to try it, but after taking my first sip last week, I was sold. I tried CoCo Exposed’s Peach & Kiwi (picture above), with a short and sweet ingredient list including coconut water, aloe vera juice, peach, kiwi, and citric acid (Vitamin C). The 12 ounce bottle only had 60 calories and 14 grams of sugar. You can’t beat that!  Coconut water is also a good sports drink alternative for any runners or bikers racking up the miles in this summer heat. Coconut water is a natural source of sodium and potassium, electrolytes we lose through sweat during intense exercise.
  • Seltzer with fruit: Buy plain or flavored seltzer. Add any fruits you desire to make it more interesting. Try oranges, grapes, peaches, raspberries … don’t be shy! You can also add splashes of your favorite 100% fruit juices to seltzer. Look for “no sugar added” on the label to be sure you’re only getting sugar from real fruit and not added white table sugar.  Instead of seltzer, you could add fruit and 100% juice to good old water as well. 
  • Honest Ade beverages: It would be nice to think we always have time to brew our own iced tea or make our own seltzer. But in our hurry-up and rush-around world, sometimes we do need some convenience in food and drinks. Honest Ade drinks are a good quick grab.  They come in a variety of flavors, such as Orange Mango, and will set you back about 50 calories and 12 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Other sweetened beverages contain double that amount of calories and sugar per 8 ounces. 
  • Gus brand soda: I’m not an advocate of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis, but every once in a while is perfectly fine. If you must drink regular soda, the Gus brand is a great alternative to your usual Coke or Dr. Pepper. I’ve tried Gus’ Extra Dry Ginger Ale. A 12 ounce bottle has 90 calories and 22 grams of sugar. Compare this with other brands that typically have 125 calories and 32 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. Plus, Gus uses natural flavors such as real ginger root extract for its ginger ale. Not bad for an occasional sugary beverage, as in once per week at most!
Hopefully some of these suggestions will liven up your drinking routine or help you to get some diet soda out of your life. Cheers! 

Lazy Summer Days = Mindless Snacking?

A few days ago I officially kicked off summer with my first visit to a local beach. Looking around, I saw people snacking out of huge bags of Doritos or standing in line for hot dogs and fries at the vending stands.  These foods aren’t good for us in general. Do we really need to be eating mindlessly out of an endless bag of chips while we are doing nothing more than lounging in a beach chair?

During the lazy days of summer, it’s time to get smart about eating. Here are some tips to help keep you feeling better about yourself in a bathing suit during these summer months:

  • Bring your lunch and snacks.  Most of us haul a cooler to the beach or pool already, so why not fill it with healthy options? Make a turkey or roast beef sandwich with mustard or hummus and lettuce on whole grain bread. Bring cut up veggies and fruit, yogurt, nuts, or cheese sticks. Any of these items are a better choice than fried food.
  • Make your own snack bags.  It’s a dangerous idea to bring a large bag of chips to the beach. You are more prone to continuously dig in and can do some serious damage in the calorie department.  First, choose a healthier snack option such as pretzels, lower fat chips like Pop Chips, or mixed nuts. Portion them into snack-size zip lock bags at around 100-200 calorie portions. To be more “green”, invest in some small snack-size reusable containers and ditch the plastic bags. 
  • Invest in a large, soft cooler.  Soft, insulated coolers are lightweight and have a shoulder strap for easy transportation. Hard, plastic coolers are heavier and more cumbersome, making it tempting to leave it behind and forget about bringing your own food. 
  • Eat like you normally would eat at home or work.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re having a great day at the pool, why not eat “junk” the entire time you are there?  If you’re there around lunch time, have lunch like you normally would and perhaps a small snack a few hours later. Again, there is no need to load up on excess calories.
  • Sneak in some exercise. Swim, play ball, go for a long walk along the shore. You are outside and should take advantage of some calorie-burning fun time. 
The biggest takeaway is to plan ahead. Bringing your own food to the beach or pool doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Get things ready the night before. Find easier ways to carry them such as a lightweight cooler, or even invest in a push-cart or wagon to haul all your stuff. You would be surprised how following a few of these tips can save extra calories and, in the end, prevent the scale from creeping up on you this summer.