Lose the lollies - why lollies should not be seen at kids’ sport

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Lollies are for parties. 

They were when I was a kid anyway.

How confectionery has become part of post-game culture at junior sporting venues has me bewildered.  Somehow, the practice of elite endurance athletes, who are known to use simple forms of sugar as fuel during prolonged training and events, has transcended to kids’ being handed a bucket full of colourful jellies as primary recovery food following a 36-minute basketball game.  Why?  Or why not should be of greater concern for parents across Australia who are effectively the gatekeepers of the regular post-game sugar fest.

How did this happen?

Jelly lollies have become popular with endurance athletes as a convenient, portable and enjoyable carbohydrate source for lengthy training sessions.  Long rides or runs, where it may be difficult to consume adequate solid foods, make lollies an easy choice for a quick energy boost.

A typical junior sporting event usually takes less than 1 hour.  I am talking typical team sports here, in particular the ones I attend on a regular basis - basketball and footy.  Every time I attend a game, at any venue, I almost always spy lollies or chocolate in some form (ok, Saturday 8am basketball perhaps less likely, but not completely unexpected…).

This concerns me……a 10 year old does not need a quick acting carbohydrate immediately before, during or after a game, especially if they have eaten well beforehand.  Yes, kids do get hungry after sport, and recovery may also be a consideration for particularly active children.  Give the child some proper food to eat.   There is absolutely no need for lollies post-game. 

Why am I so angry!

Lollies and junior sport should not be used in the same sentence and here’s why:

-        Feeding children lollies after a game creates the perception that lollies are an everyday food, or even worse teaches kids that lollies and sweet foods are a reward for effort.

-        During and after sport a child’s saliva production is reduced and teeth are vulnerable to attack (so my wonderful dentist thoughtfully reminds me) – introducing a sticky, sugary sweet is asking for trouble.  Want a massive dental bill – keep giving your kids lollies (and sports drink) every time they run around a court.

-        There are SO many better choices out there to help kids recover, feel good and fill them up after sport. 

Sure, it may just be a jelly snake here and there and you may think I am over-reacting, but kids get enough opportunities to eat lollies at other times.  Keep the lollies where they belong – in beautifully packaged little bags handed to guests as a birthday celebration thank you.  Not in the sports bag.

Banana bread

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This recipe is not really my own, it’s kind of a mix of a few different ones I have used over time – the great thing is that it seems to work out ok every time – no need to weigh your flour for this one, get it about right and it should be fine! 

Quick and easy to make, with staple ingredients from the fridge and cupboard, so as soon as you have a couple of brown looking bananas you can whip one up.

Yes, it has a bit of sugar, but still on the low side.  I make it often for my active kids and they love it as a snack.  At least it’s home-made, which means none of the additives that many of the store-bought varieties contain. 

Nice on it’s own, fresh from the oven, and also lasts a couple of days in an airtight container.  It might last longer but we never have any left to know!

Feel free to adjust recipe to suit tastes – you could add sultanas or change the topping to any sort of nuts or seeds.

 

Ingredients:

2-3 ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup wholemeal plain flour

¾ cup white plain flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Chopped walnuts (optional)

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper. 

In a large bowl, combine mashed banana, eggs, brown sugar and olive oil.  In another bowl, sift flours (if you have time, mostly I don’t bother!) and mix well with bicarb of soda and cinnamon.  Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well.  Pour into prepared loaf tin. Top with chopped walnuts if desired.  Bake for ~45 minutes until golden brown and a cake skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean

Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.  Serve warm or cold.

The truth about celebrity online nutrition programs - why Chris Hemsworth’s 'Centr' is one of the best

Image courtesy of Centr

Image courtesy of Centr

You would not be alone if on first impressions you thought Chris Hemsworth’s new Centr health and fitness program was just another celebrity program with plenty of hype but not necessarily substance.  Celebrity programs have received much criticism for their lack of evidence-based content, however not all online health and well-being programs are the same…..some take their nutrition seriously - and they do it well.

Centr for example uses a range of ‘experts’ to provide varied nutrition content, including recipes, articles, cooking tips and meal plans.   I know first hand that all of their nutrition content is carefully planned, created and reviewed by the experts and the team at Loup (a complete digital business that produces online health and fitness programs) which includes an Advanced Sports Dietitian.   Loup are super passionate about health, nutrition, food (and food enjoyment), and provide ongoing support and expertise to the Centr program (in addition to other programs such as Tiffany Hall’s TiffXO). Great care is taken to provide nutrition content that is based on science, and approved by a dietitian for accuracy and consistency.    

Centr DOES provide meal plans, but with significant flexibility built in, and a focus on food enjoyment and listening to your body rather than counting calories and macros. Recipes incorporate seasonal, nutrient-dense wholefoods, to help nourish our bodies and brain rather than promoting a  ‘diet’ approach.  Yes, there are some issues with prescriptive meal plans in general, but Centr provides meal plans as a starting guide - in fact many, if not most, members do not follow the meal plans to the letter, but use them for recipe ideas to suit their food preferences and lifestyle.  The overall nutrition program aims to educate and empower individuals to actively change habits for a positive impact on both physical and mental health and well-being.    Clear recommendations are provided to seek individualized advice from an Accredited Dietitian for those with specific needs.

Online programs and meal plans are often criticized, and I admit a few years back I was one of those criticizing, but the feedback from Centr speaks for itself – individuals making better lifestyle choices and creating new habits leading to improvements in health, well-being, body composition, energy levels, confidence and happiness.  Thousands of individuals, from vegans (Centr has the most amazing vegan recipes!), to pescatarians to those who enjoy all foods.  The potential benefits for participants seem to far outweigh any perceived negatives.

Of course online programs are not for everybody – there will always be an important role for individualized advice and private consultation with dietitians like myself.  But if an online program can have a positive impact on individuals by providing credible and accurate nutrition information, delicious recipes, and practical meal ideas, this can only be a positive.

Pumpkin and Pinenut Spinach Salad

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Roasted pumpkin is a delicious base for a salad (and lower in carbohydrate than most people think!). If you need a higher carbohydrate option, you could use sweet potato instead of the pumpkin. Combined with feta and crunchy pinenuts, you can have a gourmet vegetarian dinner any night of the week, or a great salad addition to a summer BBQ.

Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life.

Serves 4-8

Ingredients:
750g butternut pumpkin, peeled
2tbsp olive oil
40g pine nuts
150g baby spinach leaves
80g feta cheese
Additional 2tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Method:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.  Chop pumpkin into small cubes and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Drizzle with the olive oil and turn to coat.  Roast for 30 minutes or until tender and leave to cool.
Towards the end of cooking, place the pine nuts on a baking tray in the over for a couple of minutes to lightly toast, or this could alternatively be done in a small non-stick frying pan on the stove.  Allow to cool also.
Place spinach in a serving bowl, top with pumpkin, pinenuts and crumbled feta.  Whisk additional 2tbsp olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper.  Serve salad with dressing.

Fibre-rich, Low-Fructose, Vegetarian, Gluten-free

Chicken and Avocado Salad

An easy salad rich in protein, healthy fats, probiotics and green goodness. This recipe is low in carbohydrate, but could be adapted for training needs by adding some cooked quinoa or brown rice. Leftover salad also makes a tasty lunch option or sandwich/wrap filling.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 continental cucumber, thinly sliced

2 stick of celery, finely chopped

200g mixed lettuce leaves

1 roast chicken, skin removed OR 800g lean chicken breast,grilled/BBQ’ed

3 tbsp mayonnaise

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Pepper

 

Method

Combine cucumber, celery, 1 of the spring onions and lettuce leaves in a large bowl. Remove chicken from the bones and chop roughly, or slice pre-cooked chicken breast.  Mix through salad.  Combine mayonnaise and yoghurt, mix well and dollop on top of salad.  Sprinkle with remaining chopped spring onion.

Fresh Tip

For a portable lunch on the go, use leftover salad as a delicious filling for a wholegrain sandwich, roll or wrap. Line the bread with lettuce leaves that have been washed and dried to create a barrier between the filling and bread to avoid a soggy lunch.

 

Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life

Dahl

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Dahl     

Serves 6

A popular vegetarian soup option, dahl is also one of the easiest and quickest soups to prepare. Red lentils don’t require soaking so you just rinse them and add to your soup. This meal freezes beautifully too, so feel free to make double and keep individual serves in the freezer for easy winter lunches.       

*Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life                                              

Ingredients:                                  

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tsp cumin, ground

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

½ cup red lentils, rinsed

400g tinned diced tomato

1½ cups vegetable stock

2 tsp lemon juice

Chopped coriander and Greek yoghurt to serve (optional)

Method:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or non-stick pan. Cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the cumin, garlic, ginger and lentils and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes until soft (you may need to add more water/stock, especially if you like a thinner-style soup).

Add the lemon juice and process in a food processor if desired. Serve with finely chopped fresh coriander and natural Greek yoghurt.

 

Fibre-rich, Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-free (if gluten-free stock is used)

Is soft drink the new sports drink for junior sport?

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I usually don’t feel alarmed too often when it comes to food, but a recent observation at a children’s sports camp left me certainly shocked, and genuinely disappointed.

As you may have guessed, this disappointment relates to soft drink, and children.  I know there is an entire aisle in the supermarket dedicated to sugary, bubbly drinks but I never really thought about who actually buys and drinks this stuff….until I saw it with my own eyes – and I didn’t like it.

When I was a child, the only time we ever had a bottle of soft drink in the fridge was for someone's birthday or Christmas!  It was a special occasion drink, and contributed to the excitement associated with kids’ parties and resultant sugar highs!  I'm just not quite sure when carbonated water with sugar and additives became an everyday drink? 

Research shows that a large proportion of the population’s sugar intake comes from sweetened beverages.  This includes children, but I naively have never really taken much notice of what kids drink.  I am pretty aware of the amount of sugar that my own children consume from foods and drinks, but I am not over-the-top when it comes to avoidance.  I think that being a dietitian the assumption is that kids’ lunchboxes will be filled with only organic beans and kale crisps – so far from the truth!  They eat what I would consider pretty standard school-age fare, including whatever they want when they are at a party (I don’t send them with a personalized bag of chopped vegetables!).  But one food habit I am particularly solid on with my own children is the sugar-rich drinks, and I have now discovered this does make me a bit of an outlier when it comes to family fluid habits.  

I am usually not one to bother too much about what other people are eating or drinking - adults can make their own food choices and we all have different needs at different times so I am certainly not one to judge.  But I couldn’t look away, and to be honest felt really sad, when I saw the drinks popping out of the childrens’ lunchboxes at the junior camp.  I just happened to be in attendance over the lunch break and noticed a group of girls  who each had a can of soft drink in hand.  I was then compelled to look around me a little bit more and honestly, I was truly shocked at the number of soft drink cans I saw.  There was no canteen at the venue, so all of these primary school-age children had been sent to a sports camp, where they were going to be active all day, with soft drink packed in their bag?!  I don’t understand.....

I am not sure whether the perception is that these kids will be active all day so a bit of sugar won’t hurt for energy, or that they need extra fluid for hydration so throw a can in?   I totally get it that packing super-nutritious lunches everyday for kids is a challenge with busy lifestyles, but I don't understand the need to add a can of drink – especially for kids doing sport.  Even traditional sports drinks aren't necessary most of the time for active kids (see my article Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?)

The obvious downside of sweetened beverages is the sugar content, but we also need to consider the additives and acidity - the combination of sugar, acidity and reduced saliva production with exercise leaves young teeth exposed and particularly vulnerable to decay.  

Water, milk and dairy-based fruit smoothies are all great options to hydrate and fuel young athletes.   

Active kids don’t need sugar in a can for energy to run and play. 

 

Keep an eye out for my next Thoughts post about infused water and making water more appetising if you don't love plain water. 

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 and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

10 of the best restaurant meal choices for athletes

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Sleep, train, recover, eat, work/study, eat, train, recover…..the life of an athlete can be super-structured and this repetition can also apply to meals and snacks. Some athletes feel it is too difficult to eat out at restaurants when they are trying to meet their performance nutrition needs, so end up avoiding eating out, or find it quite difficult and stressful to make choices when they do venture away from home.    

But looking after yourself doesn't mean you have to lock yourself in an altitude tent for a month and live on steamed chicken, broccoli and rice! There are a feast of nutritious eating out options around that contribute to athlete health, nutrition and performance goals. Here are 10 of the best choices to help you enjoy eating out with friends and family, while keeping your training goals on track:

  • Eye fillet steak with vegetables

Dinner at the pub should never be a problem - you can always find a grilled steak on the menu. Order with steamed vegetables and baked/roast/sweet potato instead of chips for a meal rich in lean protein, iron, zinc and vitamins. You may need to add some extra carbohydrate to help meet your training needs.

  • Thai beef or chicken salad

With plenty of fresh herbs, garlic, chilli and fresh vegetables for vitamins and antioxidants, a Thai salad is terrific choice. Vermicelli noodles will provide some fuel, while the meat or chicken provides high quality protein and minerals.

  • Prawn and vegetable stir-fry

Seafood is a great eating out option, but it’s often served deep fried. Prawns in a stir-fry give you extra vegetables, and by ordering the rice or noodles separately you can vary the amount of carbs to your needs.

  • Poke bowl

You can get just about anything in a bowl these days, even smoothies (which I still don’t quite understand!). Poke bowls originate from Hawaii but are now widely available and traditionally contain plenty of fresh vegetables, rice, pickled vegetables, seaweed, edamame, rice and raw fish.

  • Steamed fish and greens

Most menus these days will offer a grilled or steamed fish options, and it will often be served with green vegetables and soy/ginger/garlic/chilli style sauce. Check out my Instagram for some examples of these, it’s one of my favourite choices when I go out for dinner!  If you don't eat much fish at home, choosing it when you are out will help to boost your omega-3 intake.

  • Grilled haloumi and vegetable stack

For a vegetarian option, grilled vegetable stacks can be a great choice, just make sure there is a decent source of protein like haloumi or ricotta cheese or tofu.

  • Fajitas

Fajitas are the perfect Mexican dish to share with friends. Everyone can pick their own favourite fillings - lean meat or chicken, plenty of vegetables and soft tortillas make for a well-balanced and filling meal.

  • Lamb Greek salad

Protein, minerals, healthy fats, vitamins – lamb and Greek salad are the perfect match.  Like many salad meals, you may need to serve with some bread, rice, quinoa or sweet potato for extra energy, depending on your goals and needs.

  • Vietnamese Pho

Asian-style vegetable/noodle soups are a great eating out option, containing lean protein like beef or chicken, plus fresh herbs, vegetables and noodles.  Soup is hydrating and assists with recovery and fuelling. 

* You may have noticed some common elements to all of these meals - vegetables, herbs, good quality protein, healthy fats and adjustable carbohydrate according to individual needs.  Go for nutrient-density and quality for health and performance benefits                 

* Of course, if you don't eat out too often and are heading out for a celebratory dinner you can throw all this advice out the window and just choose what you really feel like! You never know though, it could still be one of the options above.....

If you are interested in more sports nutrition info, recipes and tips, please add your details for my free newsletter, at the bottom of any page on my website.  You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and look out for my new book Super Food for Performance available for pre-order now, due to arrive in December 2017!

Best foods for reducing stress and improving work performance

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Long and demanding work hours can really take a toll, with health and fitness commonly becoming a lower priority when work demands are high. Regular exercise can become difficult, and planning and preparing nutritious foods drops down the to-do list. Ironic really, when eating well and exercise are even more important when you are busy and need to be energised and functioning at your best.  

Many people find they might get through the morning ok, but by mid-afternoon can really start to slide. Lack of energy and focus can quickly lead to a hand in the biscuit barrel or a quick break to grab a different kind of sugar hit. The problem with this reactive approach is that after the initial energy rush, your blood glucose levels can drop which leads to a crash in energy levels and work performance. 

Here are 5 of the best foods and fluids to help your brain and body get you through to the end of your working day in top shape (from Eat Right For Your Life):

5 Best Foods and Fluids

Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are a prominent component of neuronal membranes – essential for normal brain function. Many of us don't consume anywhere near enough omega-3 in our diets, and the best way to increase your intake is to eat more fish and seafood, particularly oily varieties such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.

Tea (black or green)

If you love your hot drinks at work, tea is the perfect option. Tea contains theanine, a compound which can have a direct impact on the brain to keep you alert but relaxed at the same time.  There is evidence suggesting that a good cup of tea is a great way to reduce stress. Tea also contains high levels of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that has a positive effect on overall health. 

Fruit

Instead of reaching for the biscuits, keep your own fruit basket at work. Stock it up at the start of each week for a constant supply of nutritious snacks to boost energy levels and concentration for a busy working day. Any fruit is great, and variety is important, aim for at least six different fruits over a week. Bananas may be particularly beneficial for stress, they contain potassium, which can be good for blood pressure, and are low GI, which keeps your blood sugar and mood stable. 

Substantial Salads

A big salad with lean protein is the perfect lunch for a busy work day, and it doesn’t have to be rabbit food. A light and fresh salad can fill you up without leaving you feeling sluggish. For a different high-fibre spin, try your salad with chickpeas or 3-bean mix, or stick to the traditional protein sources of chicken, tuna, salmon or leftover lean roast meat. You can also try adding some nutrient-dense carbohydrate with sweet potato, sweet corn or quinoa.

Calamari

If you are looking for a nutritious lunchtime salad when you are away from the office, search for calamari on the menu.  But not the golden crumbed deep-fried rings - if you choose the marinated grilled or seared variety in an Asian style salad then you are on to a winner.  Seafood provides protein that is easily digested compared to a heavy steak and will help you to feel energised for the afternoon. Plus additional omega-3 fats for a healthy brain and body.

 

You will find the other 5 of my top 10 foods for corporate and high stress workers, and the best 10 foods for other stages of life, in my book Eat Right For Your Life.

My new book Super Food For Performance, in Work Sport and Life is due for release late October 2017, check it out for more info on high performance eating and practical snack and meal ideas and recipes.

Recovery smoothie

Image courtesy of  Bec Doyle Photography

Image courtesy of Bec Doyle Photography

This smoothie is the perfect option post-exercise, containing carbohydrate, protein, antioxidants, electrolytes and fluid for recovery.  Rice milk is great to include in smoothies after training for fast recovery, due to its high glycemic index, but dairy milk could also be used.  Rice milk doesn’t contain any protein, so we have added protein from yoghurt, almond meal and skim milk powder.  You can use a whey protein powder if you like, but you can get enough high quality protein for recovery using real food.  This smoothie contains banana and berries, but you can vary the fruit you use to suit your individual tastes.

Serves 1

 1 cup/250ml rice milk (calcium fortified)

100g/3.5 oz protein-rich Greek yoghurt

1 medium ripe banana, chopped

¼ cup/40g frozen berries

1 tbsp ground almonds

1 tbsp skim milk powder

Combine all ingredients and blend, pour into a tall glass to serve.

 

 

 

Can jelly heal tendons? Maybe.....

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Much hype surrounds the role of gelatin in the repair of connective tissue injuries, but can it really make a difference, or is it just another nutrition fad? Nutrition trends like this can quickly grow wings and before you know it every injured athlete is making jelly for dessert.  Unfortunately in the case of gelatin it’s not as simple as daily bowl of jelly – the dose and timing are critical if it’s going to have an impact. 

Should home-made jelly concoctions be the new norm pre-training in the rehab gym, or are we all getting a bit carried away? 

Collagen and tendons

Connective tissues like ligaments and tendons are made up primarily of collagen fibres. It is the amount of collagen and cross-links within collagen that can impact on performance. Stiffness in the tendon allows for greater force production and subsequent strength, power and speed, but an imbalance between the strength of the muscle and the strength of the tendon or ligament can increase injury risk. 

Following a tendon injury, repairing the crosslinks is a high priority. Both training and nutrition can influence the number of collagen crosslinks.

 The role of gelatin

Glycine and proline are the common amino acids in collagen, and are both found in gelatin.  Vitamin C is also important for the process of collagen synthesis. Making these nutrients available in the bloodstream prior to exercise can promote absorption into the tendon.

A recent study by Shaw et.al. (2016) demonstrated that the increase in amino acids one hour after consuming a gelatin supplement was sufficient to increase collagen content. They showed a doubling of collagen synthesis by doing exercise that loads the tendon, and a further doubling of collagen synthesis with the addition of 15g gelatin pre-exercise (vs minimal impact of a 5g gelatin dose). Further research is required to determine effective dosages of both gelatin and Vitamin C, and whether doses should be scaled to body size also.   

These data suggest that adding gelatin with Vitamin C to an intermittent exercise program improves collagen synthesis and could play a beneficial role in both injury prevention and tissue repair. This has implications for reducing time to return to training, improved tendon functionality and potential performance outcomes.

Palatability problems

Consuming 15g of gelatin pre-training is easier said than done! The Shaw study mixed gelatin powder into Ribena for immediate consumption. Gelatin can be mixed with juice, made it into home-made ‘firm’ jellies/lollies or even used to create gelatin-rich pancakes! Whatever works....but just be prepared that 15g gelatin can be pretty heavy going.

Is gelatin worth the effort?

The problem when interesting research appears is that everyone suddenly becomes an expert and wants to jump on the bandwagon. There is still much to learn about dosages of both gelatin and Vitamin C and expected outcomes. On the other hand, if it does no harm and may speed up return from injury, which is ultimately the goal of an injured athlete, then it becomes an attractive option.

One note of caution - gelatin is increasingly being sold as a commercial product by supplement companies, posing a potential risk of contamination, so athletes who fall under any anti-doping code should be cautious. 

If you are interested in gelatin, and nutrition for injury in general, a session with a sports dietitian can help to ensure you are meeting your specific needs. 

For more sports nutrition info like this, I would love to send you free updates and recipes, just leave your details here. You can also follow my pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or check out my Thoughts page for more articles.

 Want to learn more:

 Shaw, G., et al. (2016) Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr.

 Sigma Nutrition Podcast:

SNR #143: Keith Baar, PhD – Tendon Stiffness, Collagen Production & Gelatin for Performance & Injury http://sigmanutrition.com/episode143/

 

How 'food porn' marketing of health foods misleads us towards temptation

We see them on social media every day - gorgeous food photos, stacked and styled to perfection with delicious looking fresh ingredients. But are these artistic creations of fritters, stacks, smoothies and bowls really good for us? If we are using these beautiful bowls of goodness as inspiration for our daily meals are we doing ourselves a favour or doing more harm than good? 

I am relatively new to Instagram, but I feel more and more concerned about the way nutritious foods are portrayed and promoted. Others share my concerns!  Nina Mills from What's for Eats (an experienced Instagrammer!) has written Why I post food photos on Instagram that is well worth a read and I certainly share many of her sentiments. 

Below are some things to think about as you scroll through your favourite food photos.....

Is that really healthy?

The two health food photos that frustrate me the most are breakfast related – pancakes and smoothie bowls. Although those high protein maple and berry pancakes look amazing and sound super-healthy, if you replicated this at home you may be shocked at the sugar content. Same for smoothie bowls – some of the ingredients may be nutritious, but there is also often a lot of hidden sugars. Nut butters, seeds, dried fruit, coconut, avocado…..all nutritious ingredients but the energy can quickly add up. Natural sugar is still sugar (think maple syrup, rice malt syrup, agave, etc.) and not a more nutritious substitute for table sugar. Your protein bliss balls washed down with a cacao salted caramel smoothie could very well be equivalent to breakfast and lunch put together!  *You can read more about natural sugars in my blog post 'The Great Sugar Con....'

Size matters

Let’s face it, most Instagram serves are not small. Unless you are a 120kg+ rugby player, that plate may not be the best amount for you.  Fine dining portions don't always look as enticing as a platter-sized meal.  Large portions that look tasty can make healthy food more appealing, but the serves depicted are not going to suit everyone. 

Eating well can be boring

I don’t tend to share photos of my daily breakfast. A standard bowl of porridge with yoghurt and fruit/nuts is probably not going to create too much excitement on Instagram. We want to see fun and interesting food that excites our tastebuds!  But as Nina mentions in her post, seeing images of everyday foods can be useful to help us to feel ok when we aren't whipping up exotic dishes three times per day.

To eat well day-to-day, you don’t need to be making corn fritters with avocado salsa every morning. Social media images can create pressure on people to spend hours in the kitchen using expensive ingredients. As much as I hate to say it, healthy eating in most households is not particularly flamboyant, especially as part of a busy lifestyle. Many of us could put in the effort to make our meals a bit more exciting, but we don’t need the extravagance of healthy eating portrayals on social media. 

Social media can provide some great food inspiration, but don’t be blinded by the dazzle and hype. Think about what is in your food, your individual needs and food that makes you feel good - and enjoy an over-the-top over-styled Instagrammable feast now and then! 

Interested in nutrition?  I would love to send you free updates and recipes, just leave your details here.  You can also follow my pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or check out my Thoughts page for more articles like this.

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.