Six of the best carbohydrate foods to improve your training and performance

Not all carbohydrate foods are equal.  For athletes, it’s not just about eating mounds of rice and pasta.  The quality of your carbs counts.  Smart carb choices can help athletes to feel great and perform at their best.  You can get more nutritional value from your fuel foods with selective choices.  It could be as simple as wild or brown rice sometimes instead of white all the time, or choosing a wholemeal pasta.  Or a wholegrain mix such as the one pictured above. 

Here are 6 of my favourite carbohydrate foods for athletes, to boost nutrition, health and performance.

Sweet potato

Sweet potato is a terrific carbohydrate source for training and energy levels.  Sweet potato has a lower glycemic index than white potato (remembering white potato is still good for you too!).  Sweet potato contains more carbohydrate than white potato, but lower in carbohydrate than rice, pasta, and many other grains (for example, the carbohydrate content of white potato is ~12g/100g cooked, sweet potato ~15g/100g cooked, brown rice ~30g/100g cooked). More benefits - fibre, vitamins such as Vitamins A (beta-carotene) and C, and taste!

Barley

Not a fancy expensive ancient grain, and when you think of barley you may be reminiscing about your grandmother’s lamb and barley soup!  But barley is now back in vogue and for good reason.  Barley is a low GI wholegrain, packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre.  Barley, like oats, contains beta-glucan, a soluble type of fibre applauded for its heart health benefits. 

Super versatile, barley goes well in soups, casseroles, breakfast dishes, cold in salads and great in risottos – there is a great Barley Risotto recipe in my book Eat Right for Your Life.

Sourdough rye bread

If you love to eat bread, make it sourdough.  Research is showing that sourdough bread, although it still contains gluten, can be more easily digested than regular wheat-based breads.  Try to select fresh baked sourdough from a local bakery and experiment with the different varieties to see what works for you – rye or spelt are terrific options for nutrition and low GI energy pre-training.

Bananas

A banana is the perfect portable pre-training snack – just enough carbs to fill that space in your tummy and give you an energy boost for the session ahead.  On their own, or part of a recovery smoothie or fruit/yoghurt/granola mix, bananas are a winner.

Sweetcorn

Sweetcorn is a sneaky source of nutritious carbohydrate, also packed with nutrients and fibre, and a similar carbohydrate content to white potato at ~13g/100g cooked.  Great in salads, soups, main meals or a cob of corn as a snack.

Oats

One of the cheapest and best carb options around are oats.  A small amount goes a long way and can keep your engine running for hours.  Rich in fibre and nutrients, and with a surprising protein content, you can find more detailed info in one of my more popular blog posts Oats vs quinoa for health, energy and performance.

Sorry if I’ve missed your favourite, there are plenty of great carbohydrate-rich foods out there!  Performance isn’t just about carbs though - plan your meals and snacks to meet your day-to-day, training and performance nutrition needs.

For more performance nutrition info, check out my blog page.  You can also leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ if you would like me to send you freeperformance nutrition updates and recipes, plus you can fllow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Do you really need carbohydrates to train and perform, and are some better than others?

Carbs are evil. Aren't they? We are regularly reminded of this by sensationalist headlines suggesting sugar is toxic and white refined sugar is positively poison. The rationale behind these accusations is perhaps not without merit.  Over time the availability and intake of sugar-filled foods and drinks has sky-rocketed. Excess consumption of overly processed, low-nutrient foods can have a negative impact on our health. But does this make refined sugars lethal on their own? And should we really be using the words ‘sugar’ and ‘carbohydrate’ interchangeably. 

What starts with a jump onto the anti-sugar bandwagon can progress into joining the anti-carb club. Working in sports nutrition I am increasingly concerned about the number of athletes who take these messages to the extreme. Sure, if your health and well-being would benefit from losing weight then reducing carbohydrate and sugar can help. But it still doesn’t mean you need to eliminate carbs, or sugar, completely. Nor does it mean that replacing refined sugar with 'natural' sugar is any better for you. It really comes down to working out the best amount and types of carbohydrate to suit your individual needs. If you are someone who likes to keep fit and active, then cutting out carbs is not likely to do you any favours when it comes to training results and performance.            

Here’s why…..                                                                                               

Fuel

Yes, you can train your body to use fat better as a fuel by eating more fat, but does this improve energy levels and performance? No. Fat is pretty useless at fueling higher intensity efforts. Carbohydrates are far more effective when you need to work hard. 

Brain function

Stable blood glucose levels help to keep your brain fueled, helping with concentration, co-ordination and judgement – all pretty important for most types of athletic pursuits.

Muscle gains

If you are training for improved muscle condition, strength and size, carbohydrate can provide the energy to help this happen, in conjunction with adequate protein. Well planned carbohydrate intake won’t just turn to fat, but will be used effectively by the body to enhance muscle mass gains. 

Gut health

By choosing nutrient-dense, fibre-rich carbohydrate sources you will be providing your digestive system with the nutrients to feed your good gut bugs and keep them active, plus fibre to promote healthy nutrient absorption and bowel habits.

Immune function

Carbohydrate has been shown to have a positive effect on immune system for those doing regular or heavy training.  Exercise creates stress, but stable blood glucose levels can reduce the body's stress response and carbohydrate has been found to be effective in counteracting immune depression following exercise.

 

If you like to train, carbohydrates are your friend (even bread!). Get the portions, type and timing of intake right and carbohydrate will help you to get the best out of your training and performance. Look out for my next post where I will discuss the best types of carbohydrate foods for an active lifestyle. In the meantime you might like to take a look at a previous post 'The 10 best wheat and gluten-free carbohydrate foods if you train a lot'.

 

For more info like this, please leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ for performance nutrition updates, and you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Dairy vs soy vs almond vs other milks - how to make the best choice for your nutrition needs

Non-dairy milk options are well and truly mainstream these days. While soy milk has traditionally saved the day for many dairy intolerant individuals as a milk substitute, today there is a wide range of milk choices that allow food and drinks to be enjoyed that may not otherwise be well tolerated.  But while you enjoy your almond or soy milk latte, it’s worth a fleeting thought about the nutrition quality of your milk.  Just because a milk might look the same or be used in the same way, it doesn’t make all milks equal from a nutrition perspective.  There are significant nutrient differences across the various milk options and these are important to consider (in conjunction with our overall nutrient intake from foods).

How do the milks differ?

The nutrition composition of a milk will depend on the source. For plant-based milks, the nutrition composition of the wholefood is not automatically translated to the milk.  For example, almonds are rich in a range of vitamins and minerals and provide protein, however almond milk is far lower in protein and minerals like calcium.  

Small differences in carbohydrate, sugars and fats between the different milks aren’t generally too much of a concern, other than perhaps the higher fat content in some coconut milk products and the higher sugar content of oat and rice milk.  More important is the protein and calcium content.

Protein

Most alternative milk options contain little or no protein, and the protein present is often low quality.  Soy milk is the exception - it has a similar protein content to dairy milk and it is high quality.  The quality of protein becomes particularly important if you are using milk in a recovery smoothie or shake after exercise. 

If your preference is rice or almond milk over dairy for example, ensure to add in a high quality protein source eg. try adding protein powder, almond meal, chia seeds to a smoothie with an almond milk base.

Calcium

The other nutrient to look out for is calcium, although many commercial products are now fortified with calcium up to a similar content as dairy milk.  If you choose organic non-dairy milk varieties, these are the ones less likely to be fortified with calcium, a quick check of the label should tell you.

Milk facts and figures (based on a selection of brands available in the supermarket, please read the label to determine the specific nutrient content of the brand of milk you use).

*Milk and low-fat milk refer to dairy varieties

*Milk and low-fat milk refer to dairy varieties

Dairy foods are a rich source of high quality protein and calcium.  If you can’t tolerate dairy or choose not to eat dairy, check your milk’s nutrition profile and adjust your daily food intake if necessary to fill some of the gaps for protein and calcium.

If you are interest in performance nutrition updates, please leave your details here for my newsletter and recipes.  You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and keep an eye out for my new book due out later this year.

 

 

Salmon and Ricotta Frittata

Image by Bec Doyle Photography, from the book Eat Right For Your Life, Wilkinson Publishing

Image by Bec Doyle Photography, from the book Eat Right For Your Life, Wilkinson Publishing

Looking for a protein-packed lunch or easy dinner?  Eggs can be prepared in so many ways and this delicious frittata combines the protein from eggs, salmon, cheese and milk to make a filling dish.   The salmon adds healthy omega-3 fats plus calcium, so along with the cheese and milk, this dish will help you to meet your calcium requirements.  If you don't tolerate lactose well, use a lactose-free milk and mix in some tasty cheese instead of the ricotta.  You could also add some leftover roast vegetables, or serve with a delicious big green salad.  Leftover frittata is great for breakfast or snacks the next day too!

Salmon and Ricotta Frittata

Serves 4

 Ingredients:

2 tsp oil

2 spring onions (scallions), sliced

100g/3.5 oz baby spinach leaves

400g/14 oz tin of salmon, drained and flaked

100g/3.5 oz low-fat ricotta cheese, crumbled

6 eggs, whisked

1/3 cup (80ml) low-fat milk

1 tbsp chopped dill

½ cup/50g low-fat cheese, grated

 Method:

  1. Heat the oil over a low heat in a non-stick fry pan with a heatproof handle, add the spring onions and spinach and cook until the spinach wilts.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the drained salmon and crumbled ricotta, stir gently so it is evenly spread over the bottom of the pan. 

  2. Whisk the eggs lightly, combine with the low-fat milk pour into the pan and continue to heat on low until the eggs are almost cooked, being careful not to burn the base of the frittata.

  3. Sprinkle with chopped dill, grated low-fat cheese and salt/pepper to taste then place under a pre-heated grill until the cheese is melted and the frittata is cooked through. Serve with a green salad.

This recipe is from my book Eat Right For Your Life.  If you love healthy recipes, I have a new book due for release later this year also, all about performance nutrition.  Plus don't forget to leave your details here on my blog page so I can send you more recipes and performance nutrition info in the meantime.  You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram, where I put lots of photos of dishes eaten at home and out and about.

Brain food for work and study - how to prevent the mid-afternoon brain fade

Do you sometimes find yourself sitting in front of your computer in the middle of the afternoon, staring into space and unable to focus on the task at hand? This happens in workplaces and schools all around the world every day at around 3pm. Think about what you eat for lunch. Does it include foods that will boost your brainpower or more likely to leave you feeling drained? The foods you eat at work or school can make a big difference to concentration, focus, productivity and learning later in the day. Not to mention the positive effect on mood and stress levels. Here are some nutrition tips to help keep you thinking clearly and on top of your game all day. 

Eat foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids

You may have heard before that eating fish is good for your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are a prominent component of neuronal membranes – and fish are our best dietary source of these fats. The best way to increase your omega-3 intake is to eat more fish and seafood. Research has also shown that EPA predominant fish oil supplements may have benefits for individuals with diagnosed depression (however please see your qualified health professional to discuss your individual needs when it comes to nutrition supplements).

 Choose Low Glycemic Index

Stable blood glucose levels help to the brain continuously fuelled. High glycemic index foods which are quickly absorbed into the blood stream may cause erratic blood sugar levels which can effect energy levels and mood. If you choose wholegrain over high-sugar you can help to keep blood glucose stable and this means consistent brain fuel. Protein and healthy fats can also reduce the glycemic impact of a meal or snack.

Don’t go hungry

‘Hungry grumpy’ really is a thing! If you haven’t eaten enough you feel hungry and blood glucose levels can get quite low, leaving it hard to concentrate and having an impact on brain function. Keep your brain well-fuelled to improve your mood.

Drink enough fluid

Numerous studies have shown the benefits to athletic performance from being well-hydrated, from concentration to co-ordination to judgement. These same performance principles can apply to work and school scenarios, so keep up fluid intake in the morning and as the day progresses.

Drink tea

Sometimes we use caffeine as a pick-me-up, but this doesn’t address the real reason why you need that extra boost. By eating more wholefoods and less processed, you may not need the coffee. Nothing wrong with a daily coffee, but tea is a great option for your brain. Tea contains theanine, a compound which can have a direct impact on the brain to keep you alert but relaxed at the same time.

Mix up your fruits and vegetables

Several studies have shown a link between fruit and vegetable intake and improved mood and feelings of depression. It is difficult to determine which particular nutrients or antioxidants are of most benefit, but just another reason to include a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables every day.

Add probiotics

More and more research is showing links between the health of the gut and other body organs. A healthy gut may reduce inflammation throughout the body, and can impact on your brain and mood. More research is required, but by including probiotics from yoghurt, fermented foods and drinks we can help to keep our mind and body healthy.

If you are interested in more updates about the links between the food we eat and performance at work and sport, I would love to send you my free newsletter, just leave your details here. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more regular nutrition updates, recipes and food ideas.

Best fluids to hydrate at work (including coffee!) and why you don't need 2 litres of water per day

 Are you someone who carries a water bottle with you everywhere you go?  Or do you struggle to gulp down a few mouthfuls of water in between coffees? If you are not hydrating well it can impact on your concentration at work, energy levels, motivation, general well-being and the results you achieve through training. It’s not just all about water though!

How much do I need to drink?

You have probably heard that you need 2 litres of water per day to stay hydrated. This may be a reasonable estimate for some people, however individual fluid needs vary quite a bit. A petite female is unlikely to need as much water as a 100kg+ active rugby player.   If you are not drinking a 2 litre jug of water every day don’t despair, you may not need that much (or you may actually need much more).

Is water the best drink for hydration?

Although water should make up a fair volume of your daily fluid intake, it’s not the only drink that will hydrate well. Other nutritious fluids such as milk, tea, coffee, blended fruit smoothies and soup all help (for more about the hydrating qualities of soup and smoothies check out my posts Best Fluids For Hydration - Look No Further Than Soup and Why Juice is Not as Bad as You Might Think - Tips For Making a Top Choice). 

Tea vs coffee

Yes, even coffee can help with hydration!  If you work in an office, it’s pretty common to be drinking several cups of tea or coffee per day. Coffee CAN have a diuretic effect, so it’s not as effective in helping your body to hold onto your daily cup full as some other fluids, but it doesn’t make it all go straight through either!  It all comes down to how much you drink. Black tea has far less caffeine (<20mg per cup) vs coffee (>80mg per cup, depending how it is made), so if you like both, tea may be better for helping hydration. 

‘I don’t like water’

If you don’t love plain water, try adding ice, sliced lemon and lime, frozen berries, fresh chopped fruit or herbs and spices to give water a fresh flavour, or choose bubbly plain mineral water for a taste and texture change. 

How do you know if you are drinking enough?

Try the pee test. Pale yellow to clear is what you are looking for. No need for it to be crystal clear but you don’t want it to look like the colour of beer either. (the urine colour test doesn’t work if you take vitamin/mineral supplements because these often cause urine to be darker in colour).

 

So drink up, and remember that the average body is made up of over 60% water and your body doesn’t function at its best without it.

 

If you are active, you might also be interested in the best fluids for training in my recent post Hydration is Important, But What is the Role of Sports Drinks and Electrolytes and Who Needs Them.

If you would like me to send you nutrition updates and recipes direct to your inbox (I won't bombard you, only once a month or so!), please leave your details on my Thoughts page and check out some of my other blog posts while you are there.  You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Nicoise Salad

Nicoise salad is one of my favourites, light but protein-rich and great for an easy dinner on a hot night or a portable and filling lunch.  The dressing works well for other salads too.  This recipe is from my book Eat Right For Your Life.

Nicoise Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

500g/1 lb baby new potatoes, quartered

200g/7 oz green beans, topped and tailed

1 medium red (Spanish) onion, sliced thinly

150g/5 oz mixed lettuce leaves

250g/9 oz cherry tomatoes

400g/14 oz canned tuna in oil, drained, flaked

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup/90g seeded black olives

3 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and cut in half lengthways

 Dressing

Combine ¼ cup/60ml of lemon juice with one crushed clove of garlic and 2tsp of Dijon mustard (add 60ml olive oil also if desired).

Method

  1. Steam potatoes and beans until just tender, drain and allow to cool.
  2. Combine onion, lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl. Top with potatoes, beans, flaked tuna, eggs, olives and anchovies. Serve with dressing on the side.

 

For more recipes like this, sign up to my free newsletter here. 

 

Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?

Summer in Australia can get hot!  Daily fluid intake is essential, but how much, and what type, do you really need for optimal energy levels, performance and health?  If you train regularly you need to drink regularly, but it’s not just about drinking as much water as you can.  Working out your individual needs can help you hydrate to train and perform at your best.

Why hydrate?

When we exercise we sweat, leading to higher fluid losses and increased fluid needs.  Starting training hydrated means setting yourself up to: 

- improve concentration and judgement

- improve co-ordination

- improve energy levels and delay fatigue

- make exercise feel easier, so you feel better and can work harder

Best fluids for training

For most exercise and sport, water is the drink of choice and totally adequate.  However many active people are turning to the wide range of sports and electrolyte drinks to help power their performance.  But are all the fancy formulations worth the effort and investment? 

Sports drinks vs electrolyte drinks

The key question to ask is whether you need fuel, fluid and/or electrolyte replacement.  Commercial sports drinks generally contain both carbohydrate and electrolytes and can be useful during prolonged training, hot and humid conditions and any time that sweat rates are high and when additional fuel in an easily consumed form is required. 

If your main priority is hydration, there are a number of pill and powder options that provide electrolytes without the carbohydrate and sugars.  The main electrolyte that drives hydration is sodium, so in essence you are purchasing a high salt solution to aid in fluid absorption and retention. 

If you don't do large amounts of prolonged training, enough sodium will likely be consumed through foods, and additional electrolytes may not be required.  However if you participate in long-duration exercise or have a high sweat rate with the potential to lose significant fluid and sodium, an electrolyte supplement could be pretty useful.  Salty carbohydrate-rich snacks can be handy too for those longer pursuits as a fuel and electrolyte source – just add water!  But if the event makes eating difficult, a sports and electrolyte drink or combination might work well (worth practicing in training to see what works, but for most shorter training sessions water may be fine).  Sports drink swishing is another strategy if you want the effects but not the fuel and carbs, might need to write a post on this down the track. 

When you are not exercising, other nutritious fluids such as milk, soup, blended fruit smoothies, juice, tea and coffee all help you to hydrate.  In fact milk can have a higher electrolyte content than many sports drinks!  Coffee can have a diuretic effect, so is not as effective in helping your body to hold onto the fluid you drink, but can still contribute to hydration goals. *For more hydration info, see my previous blog post Best Fluids for Hydration - Look No Further Than Soup.

Individual fluid needs vary significantly due to a number of factors.  Work out how much you need and the best fluids for you for different scenarios, and ask an accredited sports dietitian if you need some help working it all out.

For more nutrition updates I would love you to send you my free newsletter every month or two, please leave your details on my website Thoughts page.  I am now on Instagram too, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous-cous

Image by Bec Doyle Photography from the book Eat Right for Your Life, Wilkinson Publishing.

Image by Bec Doyle Photography from the book Eat Right for Your Life, Wilkinson Publishing.

Looking for a salad to serve on Christmas day?  For this recipe the salad is served with lamb, but it goes just as nicely with roast turkey or a BBQ!  It can be made ahead of time, but here is a quick tip - add the spinach and mint at the last minute!  Look closely at the picture above - your salad will look a lot greener than this as I tried to be clever and freeze the cous-cous mix for our photo shoot day and soon realized that spinach doesn't freeze so well and ends up a limp soggy mess.  So do a better job than me and you will have a fresh, vibrant and tasty salad! 

For more Christmas eating ideas, have a read of my blog post Christmas eating for athletes - tips to eat well through the festive season and leave your details on my Thoughts page for nutrition news and recipes sent directly to your email.

Or if you are looking for a last minute gift idea, I have copies of my book Eat Right for Your Life available at a special Christmas price of $10.  Contact me via the Get In Touch tab on my website to order copies. 

Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous-cous

Serves 4 as a main

1 cup/185g dry couscous

300g/10.5 oz can of chickpeas, drained

100g/3.5 oz spinach leaves

2 tbsp chopped mint

¼ cup/42g dry roasted almonds, roughly chopped

¼ cup/30g cranberries

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil

Extra oil for cooking

600g/1.3 lb lamb filet or lean lamb steaks

Salt and cracked pepper

Low-fat Greek yoghurt

 

1. Cook the couscous according to packet instructions and allow to cool.

2. Stir through the chickpeas, spinach leaves, mint, almonds and cranberries. 

3. Combine the lemon juice and oil, drizzle over the salad and stir to combine. 

4. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and cracked pepper. Heat oil in a pan and cook lamb for 3-4 minutes each side, or until cooked to your liking. Rest for 5 minutes.

5. While the lamb is resting, place the salad onto warmed serving plates then slice the lamb and serve with the couscous salad and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

Sushi rolls vs rice paper rolls – what you should choose for energy levels, weight and performance

The first time I ever ate a sushi roll was in Sydney - tuna and avocado as I was a bit wary of anything raw at that stage!  It would have been over 15 years ago and I remember how excited I was about this ‘new’ take-away option that was nowhere to be found in Melbourne back then! 

Sushi rolls and rice-paper rolls are easy to buy and easy to eat for a quick lunch or snack on the run.  Sushi rolls are a combination of rice, seaweed and protein/veg filling while rice-paper rolls are based on rice noodles, vegetables, herbs and protein. 

Although they are a similar shape, size and cost, sushi and rice paper rolls can be different nutritionally:

Carbohydrate

It’s all about rice for both sushi and rice paper rolls, great news for those who follow a gluten-free style of eating. 

Sushi rolls – Although white rice is often high glycemic index (GI), the combination of the rice with vinegar and protein/fat in the filling help to reduce the GI.  However, sushi rolls pack A LOT of rice into each little roll.  Choose brown rice when it’s on offer – not lower GI but boosts fibre and nutrient content.

Rice paper rolls – Rice noodles are lower GI and the amount of carbohydrate is usually a lot lower than sushi rolls. Rice paper rolls are also available in a lower-carb varieties, with more vegetables packed in, increasing the fibre and nutrients and reducing carbohydrate. 

Protein

Both types of rolls commonly contain fish, chicken, tofu, duck or beef for protein.  Rice paper rolls often fit in a bit more protein serve, but it depends where you get them and exactly how they are made.

Fat

Both varieties of rolls are generally quite low in fat, but fillings like avocado and fish will provide some healthy fats.  A salmon sushi roll doesn’t take the place of having a fish fillet meal however .  If the filling is crumbed and deep fried, or combined with mayonnaise, this will bump up the fat also.

Kilojoules

Sushi rolls range from 150-200 calories each, depending on filling and size, while rice paper rolls are general a lot lower and often under 100 calories per roll. This is without sauces – which can be high in sugar and salt, so keep sauce to a small serve.

So which is best?

Overall nutrition

Please remember that both sushi and rice paper rolls are decent take-away food options!  But if we are comparing, rice paper rolls most likely take the prize for the most nutritious, especially those packed with fresh vegetables, herbs and fish.  HOWEVER – brown rice sushi, with the iodine-rich seaweed, brings sushi up a couple of rungs on the nutrition ladder.

Energy levels

Rice paper rolls may be lower GI but they contain a lot less carbohydrate, so although they may theoretically help blood glucose levels, they may not keep you going for quite as long as sushi handrolls.

Exercise performance

Sushi rolls contain more carbohydrate so may keep you going for longer as a pre-exercise lunch or snack.  Rice paper rolls can contain more vegetables and herbs however, which are important for day-to-day health and performance, but not so much a fuel source. 

For more pre-exercise snack ideas, go to High performance snacks you should be eating at 3.30pm to get the best out of your post-work workout.

Weight management

Rice paper rolls are a clear winner with significantly less kilojoules, especially if packed with more vegies vs noodles.  Sushi rolls are still a great option however, and will likely fill you up for longer if you need to keep going for a busy afternoon ahead.  For more weight management tips 5 secrets of the French - how to eat the foods you like and not get fat.

In perspective

Both sushi and rice paper rolls are delicious and nutritious options to enjoy as a quick take-away choice….there are slight differences in carbohydrate and nutrients but either are going to be better than many other high-fat, high-sugar take-aways.

 

I would love to send your free performance nutrition updates, recipes and news about my new book I am working on about super food for performance, please add your details on my Thoughts page.

High performance snacks you should be eating at 3.30pm to get the best out of your post-work workout

Do you sometimes feel like you are working super hard at the gym, but not seeing the results you are after?   If you head straight to training after work, you may not have eaten since lunchtime, or maybe since breakfast!  Your fuel stores will be low, and heading into your session hungry and depleted will make it difficult to get the best results from your training.

Even if you are trying to lose weight, it can still be useful to have some fuel on board for energy, so you can work harder during your session.   If you are trying to gain muscle then you also need energy to lift, pull, push and build.  Regardless of your specific goals and whether you work out at the local gym or train as an elite athlete, nutrition can make a difference to training results and performance.

What to include in your pre-exercise snack

Protein

Protein is often the neglected nutrient when it comes to snacking, as many of our typical snacks are carbohydrate based (think fruit, biscuits, bars, etc.).  Including protein in a snack will keep you full for longer, help keep blood glucose levels stable, and assist with muscle growth and repair.  You can read more about protein in another post of mine Back to Basics Protein.

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate provides fuel for muscles to work hard and for your brain to focus and get you through your session. Low GI foods are sometimes recommended before exercise for sustained energy levels, however many low GI foods are rich in fibre which can cause gut problems pre-running for some people.  Play around with it to work out the best types of nutrient-dense carbohydrate foods that sit well for you. Amount is important too - if your goal is to get fit and lose weight you won’t need as much carbohydrate as someone in heavy training for a marathon. For more on carbohydrate for exercise please click here.

Healthy fats

It's important to include healthy fats in your diet, however fat takes a while to digest, so it may be best not to over-do it pre-workout.  

Snacks for pre-exercise

Below are some pre-exercise snack ideas that will help to keep your energy levels high and your muscles firing.

* Fruit salad with natural/Greek yoghurt and chopped almonds         

* Rye or corn based dry biscuits with cheese and sliced tomato

* Fruit smoothie, made with dairy or soy milk, yoghurt and fruit (note – rice, oat, almond, coconut milks are low in high quality protein)

* Sushi roll

* Mountain bread wrap with turkey and salad

* Natural muesli with Greek yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

* Rice paper roll

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Banana and a handful of nuts

If you love reading about nutrition for exercise and performance, I would love to offer you free nutrition updates and recipes, just leave your details on my Thoughts page and feel free to have a read of some of my other articles while you are there.

Need some help planning the best meals and snacks for you? Look up an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you at Sports Dietitians Australia.

Training before, during or after work - 6 super foods to lift your game

Image by Bec Doyle Photography from Eat Right For Your Life (Wilkinson Publishing)

Image by Bec Doyle Photography from Eat Right For Your Life (Wilkinson Publishing)

If you are stuck in the office all week, getting out for some exercise is a great way to improve your health, fitness, concentration and motivation. It's the natural way to reduce stress too.  Whether you join friends for a social game of soccer or netball after work, or enjoy a lunchtime run with a colleague, the benefits of regular exercise are enormous, and making it social can make it more enjoyable and keep you on track.

Not everyone has the genetic make-up to be an elite athlete, but we still may want to perform to the best of our ability. It doesn’t matter what level you compete at, or if you just train for yourself, you can use nutrition to your advantage for that extra spring in your step or extra seconds off your time.

Here is a sneak peak at some of the best foods to support your weekday workouts, straight from my book Eat Right for Your Life. There are 10 foods in total in the book, but we just have room for 6 of the most super here.  

6 of the best foods for performance

Fish

Many people don’t eat enough fish and seafood. If you know that includes you, then make it a goal to have fresh fish for dinner at least once per week then build from there. If you’re not a huge fan of fresh fish, the canned option is also good. Oily fish are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than standard white flesh fish. Sardines and salmon are particularly good for omega-3 fatty acids but are also a great way to get extra calcium if you eat the canned version with the bones (IMPORTANT – don’t eat the bones in fresh salmon!). One small can of fish can provide about 20g of protein, making it a convenient and portable source for muscle recovery after exercise.

Avocado

Some people avoid avocado with the fear it will add weight but what they don’t realise is the monunsaturated fat in avocado is good for you and could actually help with weight loss because of its effect on satiety. The good fats also mean you’re adding important fat-soluble vitamins. You may also be surprised to learn that avocados contain fibre, which assists with helping you feel full. Add avocado to salads, use as a spread, or for a delicious breakfast combined with fresh tomato, coriander and feta on rye toast, or with eggs for a lower-carbohydrate option.

Greek yoghurt

By choosing natural or Greek yoghurt you avoid the extra sugar and additives that are found in many yoghurts. Yoghurt gives you high-quality protein and is low glycemic index so will provide sustained energy for training or a game. With a combination of protein and naturally occurring carbohydrate, yoghurt is also great in the hours post-exercise for improved recovery. If you’re not a big milk fan, yoghurt will help you to meet your daily calcium requirements for strong bones and muscle function. But the greatest benefit of all is that the good bacteria in yoghurt can help to boost your immune system, keeping you healthy to train and compete at your best.

Kale

Normally I am not a big fan of so-called ‘superfoods’, however the thing I love about kale is it is not super expensive like some. Most of the ‘flavour-of-the-month’ superfoods seem to build a reputation that allows producers to charge exorbitant prices, but this does not seem to have happened with kale. Kale is a highly nutritious vegetable but it doesn’t mean you need it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other green leafy vegetables and herbs will provide similar benefits, so try to vary your options and include kale as one of your regular greens. Kale and other dark green leafy veg also contain nitrate, just like beetroot.

Beetroot

Studies show that regular intake of beetroot juice by cyclists helped to improve endurance performance. You might not need to down litres of purple juice, but you can increase your intake of the active ingredient nitrate by including more beetroot in your diet. There is also research indicating that beetroot juice may reduce blood pressure, an added bonus. Other foods that also contain nitrate include leafy greens such as rocket lettuce (arugula), another good reason to eat your greens, and your purples.

Watermelon

Watermelon is one of the few fruits with a higher glycemic index. High GI foods are ideal for post-exercise to ensure carbohydrates are quickly absorbed.   Watermelon (or any melons) also has a high water content, which can assist with rehydration. Like tomatoes, watermelon also contains lycopene, which may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. So forget the oranges for post-game, hook into a plate of watermelon for fast recovery.

If you are keen to learn more about the best foods (and beware foods) for different stages of life, you will find these, plus the recipe for Baked Fish with Warm Lentil and Beetroot Salad pictured above, in Eat Right for Your Life

I have a new book due for release next year with a specific focus on foods for performance, not just for sport but performance in business and everyday life.  If you are interested in regular performance nutrition updates, simply leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ . 

Why juice is not as bad as you might think - tips for making a top choice

I am the first to admit that I am one of those dietitians who was never a big fan of juice.  My standard line was always to ditch the juice and eat a piece of fruit with a glass of water instead.  You have probably heard that one before!  Over time my views on juice have changed.  This is because juice has changed.  No longer is juice just the bottled reconstituted supermarket variety, or the sugary juice box that would be a school lunch order ‘treat’.  Today more and more juice is fresh.  Juice bars provide a range of juiced and blended options, which contain a whole lot more than just the liquid extracted from fruit.   With the variety of juice options out there, it’s possible to make fresh, smart choices that can help you meet your nutritional needs.  

Many dietitians are likely to recommend you keep juice intake to a minimum.  The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest a maximum of 125ml of 100% juice as an occasional substitute for a piece of fruit.  This is based on the fact that many juices (sugar-added or not) contain over 10% sugar, just like soft drink.  It’s easy to drink that sugar and just a 300ml glass can give you over 6 teaspoons.  With obesity being a national health concern, public health messages to reduce sugar intake are warranted.  Many people consume too much from drinks that are loaded with sugar but low in important nutrients - these don't fill you up at all, making it easy to drink and drink and drink.

But with the age of the whizz-bang super blenders and superfood smoothies, a new variety of fruit and vegetable-based drinks has emerged.  Unlike old-school bottled juice, the new-age juices are more than simply sugar, water and a sprinkle of vitamin C.

Blended fruit drinks, with the inclusion of whole fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, milks, nuts and seeds have seen traditional juice turned on it’s head.  Coconut water is now apopular base for fruit and veg drinks, along with dairy, soy, rice and almond milks.  Juice is often not ‘juice’ at all.

Nutrients such as protein, healthy fats and fibre are becoming more prominent in blended juice drinks as a result, providing health benefits and fullness.  A blended fruit drink can really become more of a meal or snack rather than just something to drink.

One criticism of regular juice is that the fibre and pulp are removed during the juicing process.  Many of the nutrients in fruit are found near the skin.  When whole fruit is blended, the skin is included, boosting fibre and nutrients.  Blending is best! 

Yes, there is still sugar in blended fruit drinks or smoothies.  But when the sugar comes from fresh fruit or milks, it brings with it other beneficial nutrients, an important point of difference compared to soft drink and other high sugar, empty-calorie beverages.  The presence of a wider range of nutrients replaces some of the sugar, which ends up reducing the overall sugar content of the drink (especially if vegetables are incorporated).  If you know your vegetable intake needs a boost, a blended fruit and vegetable smoothie is a great way to sneak a in a few extra serves to help you reach your 5 per day.

A recent study by the University of New South Wales* compared a range of on-the-go drinks for their overall nutrition quality and found the drinks that contained blended whole vegetables or fruits to be the most beneficial for nutrients overall.  It's important to consider the overall nutrition value of a drink rather than just focusing on one nutrient or the kilojoules.  By keeping informed about the nutrient balance of on-the-go drinks, you can make an appropriate choice of drink, serving size, frequency and timing of intake to meet your individual needs and preferences.

For example, someone looking for a lower-kiojoule but nutrient-dense refreshing drink may choose a green smoothie with plenty of blended vegetables and a coconut water base.  Someone who is super-active and trying to gain some muscle mass may benefit from a dairy based smoothie higher in protein with some fruit, nuts and seeds providingextra nutrition and energy.  Everybody's needs are different.

One concern about juice is that it can be acidic, creating an environment for potential damage to teeth. A number of factors contribute to your likelihood of dental issues, including the acidity, sugar content, 'stickiness' and frequency that foods and drinks are consumed.  You can reduce your risk by drinking fruit/vegetable based drinks through a straw to reduce contact with teeth, and make sure to always rinse and swish with water after drinking higher acidity drinks.  Incorporating dairy with whole fruit to make a smoothie can be protective for teeth compared to drinking juice on its own.  

Water is important for daily fluid needs (tea is right up there for hydration too), but if you are looking for a nutritious and tasty choice, a blended fruit and vegetable drink can provide a range of important nutrients, keep you full and put a smile on your face!

For more nutrition info, recipes and tips, sign up to my free newsletter below or check out my other blog posts on my Thoughts page.

* Reynolds, R & Lin, S. (2016) Nutritional analysis of a selection of on-the-go drinks, Full Analytical Report, UNSW Australia.

 

Inside the world's most multi-cultural dining hall - feeding Olympians

Benefit of volunteering at the Olympics - watching the athletes in action!

Benefit of volunteering at the Olympics - watching the athletes in action!

Way back in the year 2000 I was one of a handful of very fortunate sports dietitians who had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the Sydney Olympics, as part of the nutrition kiosk within the athlete village dining hall.  I had only graduated from dietetics a couple of years prior, and as a young professional with a passion for sports nutrition this was an event of a lifetime.  These days there are a host of dietitians who travel to Olympic Games and other major events throughout the world, but at that stage there were very few who ever got to set foot in the athlete's village, so for me it was pretty exciting!

The nutrition kiosk was created in conjunction with the catering group, and was co-ordinated by Fiona Pelly, an experienced accredited sports dietitian who is working with the catering in Rio this year and Dr Helen O'Connor from the University of Sydney.  Fiona and Helen are both fellows of Sports Dietitians Australia and Fiona was the chief nutrition advisor to the caterers, a mammoth job that Fiona did brilliantly.  The kiosk was a service for the athletes, coaches and support staff, where they could come and speak to a sports dietitian for information about the food items available, special dietary requests, allergies and intolerances, upcoming menus, and any other nutrition questions they may have.  The dietitians each day were provided with menus and a detailed breakdown of the nutrition composition and ingredients/allergens for each food item on offer.  Each dish was clearly labelled with nutrition and allergen information, and part of our role included quality checks to ensure all dishes and labels matched.  Most of us felt pretty comfortable with these roles, however what we didn't expect was the large number of athletes approaching us for training and competition nutrition advice.

Looking pretty happy with myself at the nutrition kiosk!

Looking pretty happy with myself at the nutrition kiosk!

In Australia at that point, sports dietitians were being sought by many sports for nutrition consulting and sports nutrition was growing (thanks to many passionate individual sports dietitians and organisations providing top-notch servicing and Sports Dietitians Australia working hard to promote the role of sports nutrition for athletes).  However many other countries, from all areas of the world, did not have the same access to sports nutrition services.  We had international boxers and rowers looking for making weight strategies (many who had over-consumed at the buffet), individuals with coeliac disease wanting nutrition education and even runners asking what to eat pre-, during and post-race.  Nutrition concerns that for many Australian athletes would have been addressed well before the Olympics.   It certainly opened my eyes to the bigger global picture, having never travelled too far at that point, and also the immense natural athletic talent concentrated at one sporting event.  So many athletes who didn't have access to high performance programs, sports science or sports nutrition support but were still out there competing and winning! 

One of my best memories from the Olympics, and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006 (where I was also lucky to be back in the dining hall, thanks to Karen Inge), was the genuine gratitude shown by these athletes towards all staff involved. They were just so thrilled to be there competing, having an amazing time and learning and absorbing as much as they could from the experience. 

When it came to the food, I had never seen anything quite like an Olympic dining hall.  If you love a good buffet, this is the stuff of fairytales.  Every athlete, cuisine, culture and taste preference is catered for.   Different buffets for different continents.  Pre-prepared dishes, plus dishes made-to-order.  Plus never-ending bain-maries and fridges and cupboards and shelves of everything and anything you could imagine.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos, but I have included some links at the end of this post that include some dining hall pictures from previous Olympics and Rio! 

The buffet was open for most of the day, from very early in the morning until late at night to allow for early and evening competition times, and it was always busy.  Because athletes would enter the village well before competition for some of them, we spent a lot of time talking to those athletes about managing volumes when eating buffet-style every day.  You know when you are at a buffet and you want to try a bit of everything, at this buffet it would take weeks to give everything a go.  Plus the menu changed daily.  Athletes also need to take care to eat foods that sit well, for example if you weren't big on spicy foods and got stuck into the hot curries you may run into some less-desirable gut symptoms.  Buffet management was a big issue for some athletes, particularly those where weight and body composition are critical to performance, and those who needed to 'make-weight'.

McDonalds have presence in all Olympic dining halls, which originally I found a bit strange, but this aligned with sponsorship arrangements and the foods were thoroughly enjoyed by many athletes post-competition, and for some pre-event!   The range of dietary habits, and levels of interest and education in sports nutrition intrigued me.  I clearly remember seeing an athlete, who I assume was a thrower or lifter of some sort, sitting down to a breakfast of cheese, cold meats and bread (not a vegetable in sight) on a table next to a group of gymnasts with tiny bowls of fruit salad and yoghurt.  Athletes loved to meet athletes from other sports, and it was funny to see superstar athletes star-struck by other athletes in high-profile sports.  I certainly learnt a lot from observing and talking to athletes during my time in the dining hall!

These type of opportunities would not be possible if not for inclusive organisations like Sports Dietitians Australia and generous professionals like accredited sports dietitians Fiona Pelly, Helen O'Connor and Karen Inge who saw the opportunity to offer their colleagues an experience they would never forget and chose to create an initiative that allowed a team of dietitians to be involved rather than just one or two.  

I imagine that the dining hall in Rio will surpass anything that was previously provided for Olympic athletes.  Hygiene and food safety are a critical concern for every dining hall and controls are in place to ensure a positive food experience for all athletes and staff.  No doubt the athletes in Rio will be well-fuelled and hydrated with their favourite and usual foods to be able to perform at their best when their important competition day arrives. 

For more information about the catering and dining hall at Rio 2016, and some pictures of what the dining halls look like, here are some interesting articles and a link to the formal summary around the catering for these games:

So much yoghurt: what athletes in the Olympic village will be eating - interview with Fiona Pelly

http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/dining-room-athlete-village-1.3574905

https://www.rio2016.com/en/news/athletes-at-rio-2016-olympic-and-paralympic-village-to-be-offered-a-taste-of-brazil

Rio 2016 - Taste of the Games official booklet (pdf)

You can also read more about what Oympic athletes eat on my other two blog posts:

Marathon running nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman:

Recover like a champion - what top Australian athletes eat after training and competition

Recover like a champion - what top Australian athletes eat after training and competition

Salmon Patties 01.jpg

Salmon Patties Image by Rebecca Doyle from Bec Doyle Photography (from the book Eat Right for Your Life)

 

Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople eat after training or competition?  Elite athletes have specific nutrition and hydration goals post-exercise to ensure they recover for their next session or event.  An athlete's recovery meal will be tailored to meet the specific need of the sport, and the goals and preferences of the individual.

We have heard from Lisa Weightman, Olympic marathon runner, in a previous blog post and gained an insight into her approach to nutrition Marathon Running Nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman.  Lisa mentioned that her favourite recovery meal is her mum's salmon patties, and she was generous enough to share the recipe with us (hope she checked with her mum!! Recipe further on).   These salmon patties contain all the components that are important for athlete recovery, and believe it or not, they are not even dairy-free or wheat-free or low-fat or 'free' anything else, they are just nourishing home-cooked food.  Plus they tick all the boxes for recovery, providing the key nutrients: 

Protein

Carbohydrate

Healthy fats

Vitamins/antioxidants

What do some of our top Australian athletes eat?

There are plenty of great options that can make the perfect recovery food.  It's great to understand the theory about the nutrients required post-exercise but the meal also needs to taste good if an athlete is going to choose it regularly as a recovery option. It was great for Lisa to share her favourite post-run meal with us, and this got me thinking about other athletes from different sports and what they personally choose for recovery.    So I asked them!  Here are the favourite recovery meals from some of Australia's best athletes, if you want to know more about the athlete simply click on their name:

 

Todd Blanchfield - Professional Athlete at Melbourne United Basketball Club and Emerging Boomers Australian team

Favourite recovery meal: Grilled chicken with rice

Todd has a great understanding of foods for recovery and makes sure his organized with food ready to go after training and games.  He is handy around a BBQ, which is a great way to cook meat, chicken and fish for a quick and easy meal after training.  Combine with vegetables or salad and some sweet potato, corn, rice or quinoa for re-fuelling.

 

Alexander Carew – Australian 400 metre runner

Favourite recovery meal: Burritos

Track athletes train hard and need to recover well.  'One of my favourite post-training meals is making burritos, a great one to add a variety of vegetables to the daily intake.

It's a great option because it's simple to prepare and easy to make lots. Sometimes it's hard to predict exactly how much you'll need after a day of training, so this meal you can always go back for seconds (and thirds) if that's what your body requires! And if you're not a bottomless pit, like I am, you may even have enough for lunch tomorrow! 

My favourite race day food is protein pancakes (1 egg, cup of oats, a little water and a scoop of Sustagen Sport). But that's normally pre-race.'

 

Simon Clarke - Professional Cyclist, Cannondale Pro Cycling

Favourite recovery meal: Tuna and rice

Road cyclists burn a lot of energy, and recovery nutrition is especially critical for heavy training phases and multi-stage events.  Many professional teams have their own private chefs, but meals don't necessarily need to be complicated.  With timing being important for recovery, quick and easy works well, or try to prepare ahead of time.

'My favourite post stage race (ie. Tour de France) recovery meal is a protein shake made with half rice milk and half water, then a bowl of rice with a tin of tuna and a little bit of balsamic glaze for taste'.

 

Glenn Manton – Speaker, Author and Athlete (various sports, from AFL to bobsled!)

Favourite recovery meal – Banana smoothie

'I can't begin to describe how much I enjoy eating (not drinking) my banana smoothie post training. It weighs more than most of the weights I lift!'

'Clean, fresh, organic and healthy' is how Glenn describes his vegetarian-style approach to nutrition, he loves to eat tasty and fresh food.  Glenn's smoothie is no ordinary banana smoothie - it's a giant!  Glenn is aware of including some protein and carbohydrate and likes to mix it up.  His standard ingredients include a non-dairy milk base like almond milk or rice milk, bananas, granola, nut butter, mesquite powder and a vegetarian protein powder. 

If you want to learn more about Glenn's approach to fitness, nutrition and overall health and well-being, check out his, and other athlete, programs at Better Body 12 weeks.

 

Leigh Montagna – Professional Athlete at St Kilda Football Club, Director of Football - Boost Sport

Favourite recovery meal - Pizza (healthy-style) 

'Good mix of fats, carbs and protein, and easy to get down as a snack straight after a game.  I try to go for the higher protein toppings like chicken.  My motto is "if you deserved it, treat yourself"....not every week but more likely after a win!  

'My next proper meal post-game is never the same. I might go out for dinner or have something in the fridge, anything from burritos, to a chicken dish or a pasta.  It just depends what I feel like. I really sharpen up and eat healthy the rest of the week in the lead up to the next game.'  

 

Jessica Morrison - Athlete at Mercantile Rowing Club and VIS Rowing (previously AIS Swimming)

Favourite recovery meal: Smoothie (oats, FC milk, yoghurt, honey & chia seeds) & scrambled eggs on toast. 

Typically rowers burn a lot of energy in morning training so recovery nutrition needs are high.

'My smoothie takes two seconds to make, I enjoy it while I am making eggs. It's instantly satisfying & eggs provide good sustenance & I like something warm with a bit of protein after training. Sometimes I'll make the smoothie with chocolate milk & would normally have all of this after a morning row.

I eat to train, not train to eat!'

 

Madi Robinson - Athlete at Melbourne Vixens Netball Club and Australian Diamonds Team member

Favourite recovery meal: Varies!

Madi is super passionate about good nutrition and knows the benefits that eating well can bring for health and performance (check out Madi's great website by clicking on her name).

'Straight after a game I have a protein shake and two rick cakes with peanut butter and banana.  I then have my main meal within 2 hours of the game for home games and this can be:

Chicken burger with salad

OR

Fish or chicken with veggies (beans, broccoli, sweet potato) cob of corn

OR

Sweet potato - with chicken, beans, spinach & salad

To rehydrate, I have an SOS rehydrate sachet after matches to help replenish my fluid losses.  I sweat a lot and change dresses at half time so its important I not only get the right food into my body but also fluid as well to recover'.

 

Jessica Rothwell – Australian Race Walker and Accredited Practising Dietitian

Favourite recovery meal – Oats with yoghurt, fruit and toppings

Jess is a hard-working athlete, and knows a bit about nutrition being a dietitian herself.  Note the use of herbs and spices in her recovery meal.....

‘My favourite breakfast after a morning training session is milky soaked salted oats, heaped with natural yoghurt, blueberries, cinnamon & sprinkled with nuts & seeds.

I like to alternate the blueberries with grated apple or banana & use nutmeg, cocoa, vanilla bean or mint depending on the fruit! For additional energy I will add in tahini, honey or more nuts!

I enjoy this because its nutrient dense, providing nearly all 5 food groups, delicious & versatile! The dairy is helpful for maintaining my lean muscle mass, bone health, refueling & very hydrating.  

Bircher muesli is also convenient to transport in a portable container if you’re on the go & making a big batch is an effective way of saving time!’

 

Prue Rothwell – Cyclist with National Road Series team Bikebug – NextGen Racing

Recovery meal - Colourful vegetable/rice/protein bowl

Prue is passionate about wholefood nutrition, cycling and farmers' markets, a great combination for optimal recovery for an athlete.

Prue meal.jpg

'After a milk based recovery drink/yoghurt, when I’m ready for something more substantial I generally throw together something that is quick and colourful… a bowl of rice, 2x boiled eggs, cottage cheese, grated carrot, kohlrabi, beetroot, purple cabbage, leafy greens and chilli sauce…..plus some tuna or kangaroo if I want to add some meat!'

 

So many choices.....

As you can see, there is not one perfect recovery meal, a range of different foods can combine to create the right balance.  If you are keen to learn more about recovery and the best recovery foods you can have a look at one of my other blog posts Eat your way to muscle recovery - 5 of the best post-training meals. If you train early in the morning, pre-breakfast, then you may want to read about some of the more breakfast-specific recovery options at Best post-run breakfasts for recovery vs weight loss.

Or you can try Lisa Weightman's mum's recipe below!

Salmon Patties

Makes about 10 patties

Ingredients:

1 x 415g/14 oz can of salmon, drained and mashed with a fork

1/4 tsp salt

Cracked pepper

2 tbsp chopped parsley

½ medium onion, chopped

2 cups/400g cooked rice

White Sauce

55g/2 oz butter

1/3 cup/50g self-raising flour

1 cup/250ml low-fat milk

Coating

Cornflake crumbs

2 eggs, whisked

Olive oil for cooking

Method:

  1. Make the white sauce by melting the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan and adding the flour. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from from heat and gradually add the milk while stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Return the pan to the  heat and stir continuously until thick.
  3. In a large bowl place the white sauce, salmon, salt and pepper to taste, onion, parsley and rice, mix together. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
  4. Roll the mixture into patties and coat with egg then roll in Corn Flake crumbs.
  5. Cook the patties in a non-stick pan with a little olive oil and serve with steamed vegetables.

 

 

 

 

Marketing 101 for nutrition and exercise professionals - bikini shots guarantee 'likes' and sales

I searched and searched for a picture to go with this post, and I came across this one that I think sums up the topic perfectly.  A fictitious character with a physique unattainable for most, tanned and toned, bouncy hair and made-up face, wearing clothing which couldn't possibly be comfortable for whatever activity she is attempting.  The rise of the celebrity/model/attractive person becoming the next nutrition and fitness guru is getting under the skin of many, who are vocal with their concerns. 

I am certainly not the first person to write about this topic.  Not that I am particularly bothered by the endless pictures of young gorgeous creatures parading around in the tiniest of bikinis and active wear, promoting all manner of things health, nutrition and fitness.  It doesn’t seem to bother their millions of followers either. Funnily enough, there is a huge market for this form of health-promotion/self-promotion and these entrepreneurs are tapping in.  Is it just harmless (and clever) entertainment or is there a more serious side to the creation of these glossy images that so many people seek for fitspiration?.

No question, some people in this world, whether natural or cosmetically enhanced, are absolutely beautiful to look at.  The problem is that just because something is attractive to the eye, it doesn’t automatically equate to knowledge and expertise in all things beauty, health, fitness and wellness.  Of course, you can have perfect bone structure and be intelligent at the same time, but there are plenty of people out there using their appearance to their advantage (and to be honest why wouldn't you?).  But using an attribute to your advantage in a genuine way is very different to misleading people to believe that you are something that you are not. 

A beautiful AND intelligent colleague, Sarah Nehme, a first class strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer recently posted on Facebook ‘So over these fake-boobed, naked girls on Instagram calling themselves "fitness professionals" or "master trainers". If you need to get naked to sell it then you don't know much about it.’

Sarah’s post got a great response and created a lot of interesting discussion.  My immediate response was to agree with Sarah, although it has also got me thinking about the concept from different perspectives.

From a sports nutrition angle, you don’t see too many Accredited Sports Dietitians (personally I coundn’t name one) who work with professional sporting teams parading themselves on social media in their short shorts and crop tops.  Not that there is anything wrong with that- we can all wear whatever we like, but in the world of professional sports medicine and high performance sport, flaunting your body is not really the done thing (for the staff anyway!).  In fact I would say most sports dietitians almost go the opposite way and cover up a bit more at work compared to what they may do in other environments.  But is this necessary?  Do females working in predominantly male environments, which many professional sporting teams present, need a more conservative dress code?  This is perhaps another point of debate in itself, professional conduct and what is appropriate or not…..

When we move from the workplace to the social media domain we are looking at a totally different scenario.  Competition is fierce, direct and consistent.  Amongst the millions of nutritionist and personal trainers some individuals feel they need to show off their assets to stand out in the crowd.  I must have missed the marketing classes in my nutrition and personal training studies that recommended you should prove that you have knowledge and applied skills by stripping down to your smalls to show your worth.  But as a marketing strategy it works a treat.  Many self-described ‘nutrition gurus’ are very savvy business people who know what creates attention and do a great job promoting their wares.  You know what, good on them I say.  If they really do have a useful product or service that is sound then well done on your marketing skills and success. 

If you work hard to train and eat well then why not show off your result?.  Just don't promise to those who lack your amazing genetic make-up that they can look like you by doing what you do.  Don’t claim to be something that you are not, while giving out incorrect and potentially dangerous information that in the long-run can have a negative impact on a person’s health and psychological well-being (long after they have generously donated to your bank account).  It might be worth considering your own longer-term health too, both physical and psychological.  Receiving positive feedback from strangers about your appearance must feel great at the time, but how long will it last.  What about negative feedback?  If your messages are not authentic or accurate then negativity will eventually come your way.

In the end, these bikini-clad babes are holding the dreams of many of us in the palms of their fake-tan stained hands.  Most of us want to try to look and be our best.  Perhaps these online role-models are providing us with hope – who am I to ruin the dreams of thousands and bring reality crashing down to earth with my claims that the majority of these starlets don’t know what they are talking about.  'Surely if I eat like Miss M I will start to look like her?'  You know, I think most people aren’t naiive enough to think that. Maybe it’s the fantasy of it all that is compelling.   Perhaps that’s what it’s all about, the unattainable reality but with the glimmer of belief that we could look or be a little bit more like these new-age role-models of health and fitness?   Who am I to destroy anyone’s dreams and motivations.  Or should more of us be standing up and speaking up against those who take advantage of people’s vulnerability as they yell ‘so long suckers’ and ride into the valley on a white horse with their blond hair flowing and bags of cash in tow??

Or maybe the bikini babes have it spot on.  Perhaps exactly what I need is a good boob job, a fake tan, exceptional lighting and angles, filters and strategic photoshopping.  This seems to be what people are interested in these days.  Forget the science and evidence-based strategies, let’s just go for the latest active wear and and inspiring pose to get people out of their chairs and making salads.  One thing’s for sure, I would definitely have a lot more followers and be a lot richer!  Or I may just stick to my everyday clothes and continue my current day job……I'll keep you posted!

For regular nutrition updates, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to my free newsletter via the tabs below.

 

Marathon running nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman

Lisa and her family training for Run for the Kids earlier this year. Image courtesy of Herald-Sun article.

Lisa and her family training for Run for the Kids earlier this year. Image courtesy of Herald-Sun article.

Lisa Weightman is one of Australia's best runners - an Olympic and Commonwealth Games marathon runner.  Lisa has been training hard over recent months in preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics, after a break following Peter's birth.  You can learn more about Lisa at www.lisaweightman.com.

I first met Lisa when I was working at the VIS a number of years ago, when marathon training was relatively new for Lisa after much success at shorter distances.  I have loved hearing of Lisa's marathon achievements since, and her efforts to get back into training and competing at the elite level. 

I ran in the Run for the Kids this year with Lisa.  Well maybe not with her, she didn't actually know I was there, but I cheered her on as she was passing the other way towards the finish line as I was pretty much just starting (she did get a head start though as she would have had pole position while I started a little further back in the field)!

Lisa has been generous enough to take the time to share with us some of insights into nutrition and hydration for long-distance running:

What are your three top priorities when it comes to nutrition?

1. Balance.  I don't believe in fad diets or new products on the market that claim to be the fix for everything!  I believe that if we have a range of healthy food in our diet then we have a better chance of covering all the bases for great performance, recovery and general good health.

2. Chocolate isn't all bad.  A piece of chocolate or a slice of birthday cake because you are celebrating a milestone shouldn't be feared.  Keep the healthy balance going and don't sweat a small treat occasionally.

3. Don't forget to drink.  Hydrating is just as important and requires constant attention as the weather changes and your training loads and locations vary.  I don't use sports drinks on a regular basis now that I know what works for me in a marathon.  Water, some electrolytes and a good cup of tea works well for me.

How does your day-to-day nutrition vary compared to the days leading up to a marathon?

It varies a great deal.  Day to day I eat a balanced diet that is pretty consistent.  Cereal, fruit, meat, lots of green vegies.  When I move into the final week before a marathon I change the amount of protein and carbohydrates I eat that week with the final 3 days leaning to almost a full carbohydrate intake.  This is necessary to ensure the muscles have enough glycogen to get me to the finish line.

What is your favourite recovery meal and why?

Post marathon it’s always a lean meat beef burger and hand cut chunky potato chips.  I assume that is because the body has seen enough energy gels and sports drink to last a lifetime and all it wants is a big chunk of protein and to replace the salt that is missing! 

Post training recovery I love my mum's salmon pattie recipe with a big plate of seasonal vegies (recipe to be posted on Thoughts page in the near future!).  The salmon patties contain rice, so they are a good combination of protein-carb-fats and the vegies fill you up ready for a good night sleep post session.

Do you have any special strategies to stay hydrated with your large volume of training?  Different from summer to winter?

I don't always get this right as I am a busy mum, working part time and training like an elite athlete (you ARE an elite athlete Lisa!).  At times I struggle to remember to drink I must be honest.  But it doesn't take much to spring me into action if I do get it wrong as your sessions give it away pretty quickly.

I think winter is harder than summer as you don’t have the same trigger of heat to remind you to drink.  So I try to have the same big favourite glass on my desk all the time to remind me to drink.  Water bottles go everywhere with me now.  My bright "Girl that runs" bottle and my little Pete's "Paw Patrol flask"!  Pick a good bottle that you want to take with you, an accessory! That will help!

Any final tips for distance runners?

You need to have a bit of an obsessive nature to be a distance runner, but don't let that take over your common sense.  It is ok to have a treat and it is also ok to have a rest day when you need it. 

Best wishes for a great run in Rio Lisa!!  Follow Lisa on Twitter for training and Olympic preparation updates.

 

 

BMI for athletes - is it relevant?

Feet_on_scale.jpg

When it comes to assessing body composition for athletes and active people, there are plenty of options.  Some methods are more useful than others, and often a combination of measurement tools provide the best insight into body composition change.   I often have clients who have concerns about their Body Mass Index (BMI) and believe, or have been told, that they are overweight when in fact their fitness and health can be anything from reasonable to exceptional.  My answer to these clients is always the same, and I recently wrote a post about this for the Premax website BMI for the fit and healthy.  Click on the link to read more.

 

The Great Sugar Con - why 'refined sugar-free' is a waste of time

It has raspberries, so it must be healthy.....

It has raspberries, so it must be healthy.....

‘Refined Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free Choc Caramel Cupcake’.  This was the latest ‘free-from’ delicacy that popped up on my screen, one of many that I see daily.  I can’t help but cringe, and rather than making me salivate these images just make me more and more agitated.  Refined sugar-free treats are everywhere, from raw slices, to bliss balls, to smoothies to cakes.   These creations look absolutely delicious and of course they are touted as guilt-free as well as sugar-free - but are they either?  They are often promoted by a celebrity or nutritionist or the latest sugar-free café or recipe book, to convince us of their goodness.  So how do the creators manage to formulate alternative options that are made from healthy ingredients and match the textures and taste of the real deal??  How is it possible to cut out all the wheat, animal products and sugar while achieving such remarkable taste, texture and visual results. 

Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but we are all being conned - big time.  The reason these ‘free-from’ treats look and taste so superb is because in fact they do contain sugar, and often lots of it.  But how can that be so, when they are labelled sugar-free.  Look a little more closely – ‘refined sugar-free' does not equal free from sugar.  It simply means the sugar is not in the white powder form, everyday table sugar that is labelled as everything from dangerous to toxic.  But there is no limitation on the huge number of sugars that are considered ‘natural’, or not refined, and these are often used amply.    I’m sorry, but it is impossible to make a cupcake taste evenly remotely like a cupcake without adding sugar. 

Pick up many of the trendy low-sugar recipe books and you will find the widespread use of products like rice malt syrup, agave, coconut sugar, etc.  If you asked the cafes and bakers the ingredients of their ‘’free-from’’ caramel cupcakes you would most likely find the same thing.  I honestly don’t know how the promoters of these products feel comfortable, knowing that their products contain just as much sugar, if not more, than the traditional product counterparts.  Maybe because 'no sugar' sells.  Even if it is a misrepresentation, or in fact a blatant lie.

For example, just flicking through some online recipes from a well known nutritionist and quickly came across a Choc Coconut Cupcake recipe.  Sounds innocent enough, except that the recipe makes 15 and contains a whopping 3 cups of coconut sugar in the icing - nearly ¼ cup coconut sugar PER cupcake!  But it is still technically refined sugar-free.  Or another website about quitting sugar that simply uses rice malt syrup instead of white sugar to make it sugar-free. (For more details about what coconut sugar and rice malt syrup really are, have a read of my previous post The facts about sugar - are natural sugars really healthier than white?)  Education on Sugar 101 is seriously lacking.  The other downside is that many of these recipes can be complicated to make and you may be wasting your time and effort thinking you are making the healthier option.

Of course overconsumption of refined sugar is a serious problem.  I just read in the paper today some data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that boys aged 14-18 years are consuming on average 92 grams per day (nearly 20 teaspoons) of free sugar (and 38 teaspoons/day in total), with much of this coming from soft drinks alone.  This is quite alarming considering that WHO recommends we aim for less than 12 teaspoons of free sugar, or less than 6 for dental health.  Products that contain pretty much just sugar with no other nutritional value, like soft drinks, are a major contributor to free sugar intake.  But if you think you are doing your best to reduce sugar by choosing the organic low-refined options you may not be doing yourself any favours.   Natural syrups and unrefined sugars are still considered free sugars, and although claimed to provide nutrients, the trace amounts are pretty much negligible (other than honey, but you still don’t’want to overdo it).  Perfect example, a small drizzle of honey on some porridge is not going to over-do your sugar intake for the day and can add to the enjoyment of an otherwise nutrient-dense meal.  However using honey in a refined sugar free choc honeycomb cupcake that is also loaded with other ‘natural’ sugars is probably not a great representation of a healthy option. 

Bottom line – many of us should reduce our total sugar intake, not just white sugar.  Think back 50 years where something sweet was enjoyed wholeheartedly on a special occasion, but not everyday.  When you do indulge, choose something you really like that is going to satisfy you.  If  the refined sugar-free raw raspberry slice from the vegan café does it for you then go for it, or you may be happier with a good old-fashioned piece of home-made cake now and again.  Choosing refined-sugar free does not guarantee lower sugar and higher nutrient content.  Don’t be fooled - most of the ‘refined sugar-free' treats should be treated the same as a piece of regular chocolate mud cake or a chocolate brownie.

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Image by Whitney - originally posted to Flickr as Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Raspberry Buttercream, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10390035 (may or may not be refined sugar-free?)

Best post-run breakfasts for recovery vs weight loss

What do you eat after your Sunday morning run?  I pondered this question a few weeks ago as I ran along a beachside track on the Mornington Peninsula.  An amazing mix of different people were out and about that morning, from elite runners who had their energy gels strategically placed along the route, to holiday-makers working hard on their new year's resolutions to get fit.  I thought about the different goals of the various runners and wondered what they had in mind to eat after their run. 

From walking down the main street during the days prior it was very obvious that many of the holiday makers had no hesitation in choosing the full cooked breakfast, as you might well do when you are in relaxation mode and someone else is preparing it for you.  Other runners may have been going home to a bowl of cereal, or perhaps home-made pancakes as a holiday special.  Or just a quick piece of toast before heading out to their next activity.

With so many breakfast choices, what are the best options to meet health, recovery and performance goals? 

The biggest mistake I see people make when it comes to breakfast is the bias towards carbohydrate and a relative lack of protein.  Have a quick think about typical breakfast foods - it's a carb-fest of cereal, bread, fruit, juice and maybe even a muffin or pastry.  Where is the protein??  Add some milk to your bowl and you will bump up the protein, or a spoon of yoghurt with fruit or muesli, but a token portion with your brekky may not quite cut it.  If you are doing a decent run, and you run regularly for fitness, or are training for an event, then protein post-run should be high on your agenda.  Ideally you should be squeezing in at least 20g of protein into your post-run breakfast for muscle recovery.  Protein is sometimes considered the nutrient most important for strength training, but endurance type exercise such as running can increase protein requirements too.  And don't think protein is only for elite runners doing lots of kms and hills.  Regardless of your speed or distance, if you are working hard you need protein due to increased muscle damage and the need for repair.

You probably need some carbohydrate also after longer runs to assist with recovery, but the amount you need will vary according to training and body composition goals, and the timing of your next training session.  If you are heading off to a busy day after your run, you most likely will benefit from some fuel for energy during the morning, in combination with your protein.

Don't forget the vitamins and minerals!  It's not all about protein and carbs.  By including some fresh fruit or vegetables, maybe some nuts and seeds, and choosing carbohydrates that are wholegrain you will be boosting your overall recovery nutrients.  Some healthy fat is beneficial at breakfast too.

Here are some suggested high performance post-run breakfasts that meet the above criteria and importantly contain at least 20g protein:

- 200g Chobani natural yoghurt with fruit salad and 2tbsp nuts/seeds

- 2 poached eggs with spinach, mushrooms, tomato and 2 multi-grain toast

- Small bowl of natural muesli with milk, topped with a few big scoops of Greek yoghurt and berries

- Large banana and berry smoothie (use milk, yoghurt and almond meal for protein, or maybe add some whey protein)

-  1 small tin of tuna, with sliced tomato, avocado and fresh basil on rye toast  

- Leftovers eg. beef/vegetable stir-fry with quinoa

1 cup home-made baked beans on rye toast, sprinkled with cheese

- Chia pudding made with milk and topped with blueberries and macadamias

- Omelette with herbs and crumbled feta (may need to add some carbohydrate)

- Bowl of porridge made with milk, topped with yoghurt and chopped almonds

- Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and grilled asparagus (may need to add some carbohydrate)

If you are trying to lose weight, remember that you don't need to go low-carb all the time.  For recovery it can be helpful to include some carbohydrates in the immediate recovery period.  Always eat a good post-run meal, then you can adjust food and portions later in the day to meet body composition goals.

If you need help in planning your nutrition for your health and performance goals, please get in touch, or find an accredited sports dietitian close to you at Sports Dietitians Australia.

I would love to send you free nutrition updates and recipes, just leave your details on my Thoughts page.  You can also follow me on Facebook and I have just set myself up on Instagram too!