Liz Baugher - Fiber isn’t a new subject; our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed a wide range of fiber-containing plants, and many historical figures have acknowledged and promoted fiber’s benefits. Over time, our understanding of the powerful role that fiber plays in keeping the body healthy has developed significantly. Various studies have demonstrated that a diet adequate in fiber is linked to a lower risk of disease (IFIC 2008). And yet, despite strong scientific evidence touting the advantages of fiber, most Americans consume less than the recommended amount and eat too many empty calories. What is it exactly? Fiber fallas into the macronutrient class of carbohydrate, and like starches is made mostly of sugar units bonded together. Unlike starches, however, fiber bonds cannot be broken down by the digestive system and therefore pass intact into the large intestine. Fiber has many definitions and many define it with the goal of emphasizing its measurable food component (IFIC, 2008).

  • Total Fiber is the aggregate amount of fiber in a food product and is displayed on the Nutrition facts panel on food labels. (ADA, 2008). Fiber is a non digestible form of carbohydrate and lignin.
 
  • Dietary Fiber is intact within the plant matrix and the human digestive enzymes are unable to hydrolyze or break it down. It is made of of 3 components:
  • Polysaccharides (plant fibers such as bran, pectins from fruits and veges, and beta glucans from oats and rye)
  • lignin (found in stalks and stems, and present in very small amounts in diet)
  • Resistant starches (naturally occurring part of fiber that resists digestion and stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria)
  • Functional fiber consists of isolated or purified non digestible carbohydrates. This includes animal carbohydrates, synthetic fibers and resistance starches formed during processing.
Why is it good for you? As I mentioned fiber has been linked to many health benefits. Some of those include:
  • Heart Health - Lowering of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, improved blood pressure, and protective against cardiovascular disease.
  • Weight Loss- Research suggests that fiber acts as a physiological obstacle to energy intake by doing at least one of the following: displacing available energy and nutrients from the diet; increasing chewing, which limits intake by promoting secretion of saliva and gastric juices and thereby expanding the stomach and increasing satiety; and/or reducing the absorption efficiency of the small intestine (Heaton 1973)
  • Diabetes- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Cancer prevention
  • Mental health -Researchers at the University of Cardiff, Wales, found that subjects with higher fiber intakes had less emotional distress, fewer cognitive difficulties and less fatigue than their counterparts who consumed less fiber (Smith et al. 2001). In addition, the study found that by increasing overall fiber intake, participants experienced a 10% increase in energy levels and reduced fatigue within 2 weeks. Researchers suggested that this overall improvement was likely related to improvements in digestive health
How much should I eat? Alright, well I think I have proved to you that fiber is a "mighty fighter". But how much is enough? Americans dont generally consume enough, while us athletes might be afraid to consume too much. However, athletes are more likely to be consuming enough because of the healthy diets (fruits, veges, and density rich foods) that we eat to try and impact our performance. I am not going to give you the recommended amount of fiber because it is different for everyone. However, I am going to encourage you to try to incorporate a little more fiber into your diet each week. Note that I say week. Adding too much fiber too quickly can cause alot of GI distress and problems. Thats the last thing you want to worry about when you have  a race coming up or an intense workout to do. Also to be cautious,  athletes who want to increase fiber intake may do so on a rest day or after workouts. "If an athlete aspires to include more fiber, she should do so gradually, while keeping fluid intake high. Since a diet high in fiber naturally leads to regularity, and the moisture content of stool is 70%–75% (ADA 2008), an athlete who consumes adequate fiber should pay careful attention to overall fluid intake in order to prevent  dehydration and/or constipation". Also,  avoid fiber during activity and if you have been on a high fiber diet for a while, cut back on it the days leading up to a race. A pre-race meal should provide sufficient fluid to maintain hydration, be relatively low in fat and fiber to facilitate  gastric emptying and minimize GI distress, and be relatively high in carbs to maximize maintenance of blood glucose, be moderate in protein and be composed of familiar foods. To give you an idea of how to incorporate some healthy fibrous snacks into your meals, here is a sample list of the fiber amounts in some healthy options:

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