Performance Nutrition

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!

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/

 

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.

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.

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/ . 

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.

 

 

 

 

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?

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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.

 

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!  

 

 

Christmas eating for athletes - tips to eat well through the festive season

Image by  Bec Doyle Photography , Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous cous from  Eat Right for Your Life

Image by Bec Doyle Photography, Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous cous from Eat Right for Your Life

While the majority of the population are enjoying the Christmas cheer at this time of year, if you are training you may not find December quite so joyful.  Christmas is considered a time for some rest and relaxation, but if you are an athlete in pre-season or with competition in early January, this is not the best time to be in holiday mode.

Your nutrition and fitness goals may be very different to most of those around you, who seem to have absolutely no concern or interest in your training needs (and are quite happy finishing off their bowl of chips right under your nose).  Instead of cocktails and canapes and all night parties, many sports people are more about water, early dinner and watching the clock so they can be in bed for a solid 8 hours sleep.  Some even find it easier to knock back invites….alcohol and late nights don't seem quite as appealing when you have an early morning training session that requires a reasonable amount of effort.

Just because it is Christmas, it doesn’t mean you forget about your nutrition and training goals, and here are some of the reasons why:

Recovery -

Late nights and party food are not the best recipe for optimal recovery, and if you have repeated instalments of this combination you might find yourself feeling tired, sore and lacking motivation

Body composition -

If you are in pre-season or the early stages of competition, you may have some body composition goals, such as increasing muscle mass or decreasing body fat.  Either way, Christmas can have an impact by ensuring you are super busy and have less time to shop, cook and plan your eating around your day and training.  Add in a few dinners and functions and it can be a challenge to get the results that you are striving for.

Injury risk -

If you are not recovering well, and not fuelling well, then you may be increasing your potential risk for injury.  Not to mention the effect of alcohol when you are out late and judgement is impaired.  Not a great outcome for an athlete to get an injury from tripping over something or falling down some stairs at a nightclub.

Immune system -

Late nights and a busy schedule can leave you tired and run-down, plus add training to that mix and the stress on your system can leave you at risk of getting sick.  This time of year is when nutrition becomes more important than ever.

Energy levels and Fatigue -

If you are not fuelling and recovering as normal, it can impact on energy levels for training and competition, and ultimately performance.

 

It can be difficult to stay on track when everyone else seems to be in relaxation mode, but looking after yourself doesn't mean you have to lock yourself in an altitude tent for a month.  Here are some tips to help you enjoy the festive season while eating well for your sport.

  • Eat before you go

    • This sounds terribly boring, but it can save you from getting too hungry.  I was at a function recently and I was glad to have had a snack prior as there was very little food on offer and it was mostly deep-fried.  If you are not sure what will be on offer, be sure to have a snack or small meal before you leave.

  • Enjoy the healthy options

    • With an increasing interest in health and nutrition these days, a lot of caterers are providing healthy options.  Parties where finger foods are served can be the hardest, but try to find yourself some fresh seafood (prawns, oysters, grilled calamari, fish), vegetables/dip, sushi, fresh sandwiches, smoked salmon, salad or stir-fry bowls to enjoy. 

  • Choose mains over appetisers

    • If your function involves a sit-down meal, think about how many pre-dinner snacks you really need.  Think about what food will be offered over the entire event and be selective (you may even be able to see the menu beforehand or when you arrive).

  • Plan your portions

    • If you do get caught out at a function that is over-flowing with deep-fried snacks and pastry, it’s the portions that will make all the difference.  The same applies to dinners with shared dishes, or buffet style eating - it is often the volumes consumed that can be a problem, not just the type of food.    For more info about portions, read about 5 secrets of the French... and how they manage portions so well.

  • Drink plenty of fluid

    • If you are going to be standing up at a function for a number of hours, in warm conditions, and have training the next morning, it’s important to stay hydrated.  Water or mineral water are probably your best bet, try with fresh lime or lemon to make it a bit more interesting.  Or even a fruit-based mocktail can be a good option for some extra carbohydrate.

  • Don’t compensate the day before or after

    • Some people prepare for a night out by eating less that day, or cutting back the day after.  If you are an athlete this is not all that helpful as you need consistent nutrition for ongoing recovery and training.  Don’t starve yourself or it will show in your performance.

  • Host a party

    • The best way to be sure that you can eat well at a function is to host one yourself!  That way you have complete control over what is offered, and others will probably appreciate some healthy options too.

  • Choose your night

    • If you like to have a drink, then maybe pick one event where you can have a couple of drinks.  For example maybe choose between Christmas Day and NYE to have a drink, not both.  Plan ahead, and try to pick the time that will have the least impact on your training.

  • Re-gift the chocolates

    • Resist the urge to rip into the chocolates straight away, hold onto these as a perfect new year gift for someone else.  Or if you really want one, open them on the spot and share them around so everyone gets to enjoy the fun, and you won’t end up eating the whole box.

  • Plan ahead!

    • If you continue to plan your nutrition during busy times, and maintain consistent training, you can enjoy yourself in the lead up to Christmas

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 www.lisamiddleton.com.au. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Best snacks for before exercise to perform at your best

Is fruit on its own the best pre-exercise snack?

Is fruit on its own the best pre-exercise snack?

Performance nutrition is a topic I am lucky enough to talk about pretty much every day.  I love talking about exercise and nutrition, and helping people get the best out of their training efforts, whether they workout at the local gym or train as an elite athlete.  I find a lot of people feel like they have their nutrition mostly under control, but don’t seem to be getting the best out of their training.   A lack of appropriate nutrition before and after training may be contributing to this, and may especially be a problem if you train in the late afternoon.  I see a lot of clients who head straight to training after work or school, but haven’t eaten for 4 or 5 hours since lunchtime.  By then, your body will have digested and absorbed many of the nutrients from lunch and there may not be much left to fuel your training session.  If you are trying to lose weight, it can still be useful to have some fuel on board to provide the energy to train harder and burn more kilojoules.   If you are working hard in the gym to put on weight, then you need energy to lift, pull and push.  If you are going into your session fatigued and low on fuel, you can’t expect to get the best results from your training (unless you have a planned strategy to complete some sessions lower on carbohydrate, but I will save that for another post).

 So what should you look for in a 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, flour-based products).  Including protein in a snack means it will keep you full for longer, but can also help manage blood glucose levels, and is an essential nutrient for muscle growth and repair.  If you are doing a lighter cardio session then the protein is probably less important and you may be fine with a small carbohydrate snack (if anything), but for longer, heavier sessions there are benefits from including protein.

Carbohydrate

Low-glycemic index carbohydrate foods are those that are more slowly absorbed over time, resulting in more stable blood glucose levels and potential benefits for energy levels.  However many low GI foods are also high in fibre, and too much fibre pre-exercise can cause stomach upset for some people (especially runners).  Include carbohydrate in pre-exercise snacks, and choose low-GI if you tolerate it.  But the total amount of carbohydrate is potentially more important than the glycemic index, so it is a matter of working out which carbohydrate foods sit best for you before you train.

Healthy fats

It's important to include healthy fats in your diet if you are fit and active.  Fat can take a while to digest, so you may be better to add more of your healthy fats and oils to meals after exercise rather than before .  Avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil and fish all provide healthy fats.  

Snacks for pre-exercise 

Below are some pre-exercise snack ideas that will help to keep your energy levels high, contain some protein but not too much fat.  The serving size that is best for you will vary according to your goals, the type of training you do, and individual needs. 

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chopped fresh fruit with natural yoghurt and chopped almonds         

* Quinoa tabouli with chickpeas

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

Fruit smoothie, made with low-fat dairy or soy milk, yoghurt and fruit (most other milks are low in high quality protein eg. rice, oat, coconut, almond)

* Bean and rice salad

* Sushi handroll

* Greek yoghurt with berries

* Mountain bread with turkey and salad

* Tuna with rice and vegetables

 Natural muesli with low-fat natural yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

 * Home-made popcorn (mix in some almonds)

 * Fruit/grain toast spread with ricotta cheese

* Rice paper roll

* Corn Thin with smoked salmon, low-fat cream cheese and dill

Trail mix - almond, walnuts, cashews and sun-dried apricots

Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Toast or wholegrain crackers with avocado and salmon

 If you are unsure about the best type of snacks and amounts for your needs, talk to an Accredited Sports Dietitian who can help you plan your daily meals and snacks to meet your nutrition and training requirements.  To find a dietitian in your area, go to Sports Dietitians Australia.

If you are interested in learning more about nutrition for exercise, training and sport, please sign up for my free newsletter at the bottom of this page, and you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more nutrition updates.

 

 

 

Energy For the Mountains - Tour de France Nutrition

TdF2009

If you love sport, then July is possibly your favourite month of the year.  In Australia we are in the middle of our busy winter sports seasons, but we are also spoilt for choice with international events, meaning lots of late nights and bleary-eyed mornings for armchair spectators! 

I have developed an interest in the Tour de France over the years, although I must admit I haven’t seen too many live stages this time around.  As I get older the timezones don’t seem to work so well for me!  I do love watching the amazing TV coverage of this gruelling endurance feat, and being a sports dietitian I take great interest in what the cyclists eat and drink, as well as when and how.  Juggling food and fluids on two wheels is a skill in itself! 

Getting the food and fluid right on multi-stage events like the 21-day Tour de France can impact on how the athletes feel on the bike, how they recover and how they perform.  Extreme sporting events present a number of challenges, with fuelling and hydration being critical for overall success. 

I had initially planned to write a detailed piece about nutrition for the Tour de France, however over the recent two weeks I have seen plenty of great content already published on other sites.  So rather than re-writing,  I will highlight the nutrition priorities below and provide either my own thoughts or link back to other experts. 

So much food, so little time:

When you are on the bike for a fair chunk of the day, plus all of the travel, preparation and commitments, it can be difficult to find time to eat enough.  A recent post from Asker Jeukendrup, exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist,  highlighted some of the research on multi-stage cycling and predicted energy requirements. The amount of energy expended per day for the major cycling tours is estimated to average 6,000 calories.  On the big hill stages, expect up towards 9,000 calories per day.  There are a number of factors that contribute to energy expenditure and there will be wide individual variation, however these figures are a good indicator of how hard to body is working during these events.  The calorie requirement can be 2-3 times what the average male needs to eat in a day! When you consider that 5-6 hours of the 15 or so awake hours is on the bike it doesn’t leave a lot of time to consume that amount of energy.  Particularly when you think that riding up a mountain at altitude (sometimes in the wind and rain) does not make eating an easy task.

For a short but detailed read on how much energy is needed to fuel an elite professional cyclist go to Asker Jeukendrup’s blog, which also provides a visual comparison of what 9,000 calories looks like in burgers!  Can you guess how many?

Food on the bike:

As mentioned, eating while riding is a practiced skill in itself.  Different types of foods and fluids suit different individuals.  Professional teams these days have support staff including dietitians, sports scientists and chefs who help the athletes to achieve optimal performance nutrition during tours.  For more information about the carbohydrate requirements of cyclists during stage events, go to the Premax blog 'Sugar for Cycling Performance. Part 1: How Much is Enough?'.  I have recently started writing for the Premax blog as a guest nutrition contributor, excited to be involved!.

For some practical ideas for home-made snacks on the bike, The Feed Zone website is a great resource, plus they do some great recipe books about the food the pros eat that you can also do yourself at home.  I have the Feed Zone Portables book at home and it’s great.

Food off the bike:

After a day’s racing is when nutrition really needs to step up.  Recovery goals are similar to other sports, with a focus on protein, carbohydrate, electrolytes and fluid.  Elite cyclists working at such high intensities burn a lot of carbohydrate, particularly during hill stages.  Although carbohydrate and protein are essential, it’s important to also think about overall nutrition and incorporating vegetables – not just endless bowls of spaghetti bolognaise.  If you want an insight into see what professional cyclists REALLY eat, follow Orica-Greenedge’s chef Nicki Strobel on Twitter……definitely not just endless bowls of pasta!

 Hydration:

If you have been watching the Tour this year, you would have noticed that some days are raced in the heat of the day with the European sun beating down on sweat-soaked jerseys, while other days jerseys are drenched by the soaking rain, wind and cold.  Hydration is important in all conditions, but fluid losses are likely to be higher in the heat.  The big challenge for multi-stage events is that you only have overnight to recover before you do it all again, so rehydrating strategies are essential to ensure athletes are hydrated on the starting line the next morning.  Sweat means fluid loss, but also potential salt, or electrolyte, losses.  No room for low-salt diets on the Tour trail, with savoury snacks on the bike also being important rather than predominantly sweet options which seem to be popular with cyclists.

Immune system:

Fuelling and recovery are priorities, but with the stress on light and lean bodies at their physical peak, there is also the risk of illness during an unpredictable event such as the Tour de France.  Food options shouldn’t just focus on protein, carbohydrate and fluid, but also the overall nutrient density of foods.  Intake in the lead up to multi-stage events is also important for preparing the body to be in the best condition prior.

 

This is just the base of the mountain when it comes to Tour de France and endurance nutrition.  Each team and individual athlete will have their own specific nutrition strategies.  Even with the best support team and planning, endurance events are unpredictable, so nutrition plans need to be flexible, and a plan B is always handy.  By the end of the Tour, cyclists will be physically and psychologically exhausted and often a bit lighter on the scales.  Sports nutrition strategies can help throughout a Tour, but are also important in transition periods between events in preparation for the next physical challenge.  

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Best fluids for hydration - look no further than soup

Image courtesy of  Bec Doyle Photography

Image courtesy of Bec Doyle Photography

There is nothing better than a piping hot bowl of soup to warm you up on a cold winter's day.   If you are an athlete, that delicious bowl of goodness can be functional too.  Soup is one of the most hydrating fluids you will find and with the right mix of ingredients can tick all the boxes for recovery.  Different types of soup can provide different benefits, and you can create your own soup to match your specific recovery needs.  Did I mention soup can be a great option for weight loss too?

Soup for Hydration

The best way for our body to cool down during exercise is to sweat.  Some people sweat more than others.  Hydration is important for performance, however in winter we may not sweat quite as much and tend to neglect our fluid intake in comparison to the thirsty summer months.  What do athletes usually drink to hydrate?  Water, sports drinks and electrolyte replacement supplements immediately come to mind.  These provide fluid as a priority, but also contain various amounts of carbohydrate for fuel and electrolytes for hydration.  Sports drinks are often designed to provide both carbohydrates and electrolytes, while electrolyte replacement supplements focus more on electrolytes and less on carbohydrate.  Both sports drinks and electrolyte supplements can be beneficial under certain exercise conditions, and can be particularly useful for during training and competition of long duration.  But if you are looking for a pre- or post-exercise option for hydration you really can't go past soup. 

What is so magical about soup??  The main electrolyte in sports drinks and electrolyte replacement powders/tablets/drinks is sodium.  If you look at the nutrition composition of soup it is clear that most soups contains significantly greater amounts of sodium compared to electrolyte replacement supplements.  Why?  Because soup is often high in salt, which is high in sodium.  So unless you are following a low-salt diet for health reasons* and making home-made low-salt soups, you will find that most soups are high in sodium (although it does vary between styles of soup and the exact amount of salt added).  Soup might not always be the first choice of fluid to drink DURING exercise, however it can be well suited to many types of training and competition.  For example, ultra-endurance pursuits where exercise intensity is lower and there may be more opportunity to consume a wider variety of foods/fluids.  Intake during exercise doesn't always have to be sweet!  If soup is not your thing during exercise, it could be worth trying pre- or post-training or an event.  

Check out these figures for sodium and other nutrients, per 100ml of fluid:

Nutrient information per 100ml of fluid.     Ranges provided take into account different brands and preparation techniques, and are estimates only.  Exact composition of specific soups will vary accordingly . For more detailed nutrition composition data for soups in Australia, have a look at the  product comparison  chart by Dietitian Connection.

Nutrient information per 100ml of fluid.

Ranges provided take into account different brands and preparation techniques, and are estimates only.  Exact composition of specific soups will vary accordingly. For more detailed nutrition composition data for soups in Australia, have a look at the product comparison chart by Dietitian Connection.

* Some people need to reduce salt intake for health reasons, however I find that athletes often restrict sodium believing it is good for them, when in fact many athletes require additional sodium to address their losses via sweat.  If you have a health condition that requires a reduced salt intake then it is important to follow guidelines provided by your health practitioner, but if you are unsure of your individual salt and sodium requirements speak to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, in conjunction with your GP.

Some soups are extremely high in sodium.  I am not advocating for excessively high salt intakes.  The salt content is high in many processed foods, as you have probably noted from the table above.  Many people get more than enough sodium through food and drinks.  However if you are eating mostly fresh and minimally processed foods, and you lose sodium via sweating during exercise, you may need to consider strategies for adequate sodium intake, particularly around exercise.  It can be difficult to work out exactly how much sodium you need to consume to account for sodium losses, if you unsure about your individual needs have a chat with a Sports Dietitian to help you plan your intake safely and effectively. 

Soup for Pre-exercise

Soup provides fluid, fuel and electrolytes as a perfect pre-exercise package.  Soup can be easy to digest and terrific for stomachs that feel the effects of nerves.  Some people find a solid meal prior to exercise a little hard to manage, so a liquid option can solve the problem.  Smoothies are great too, but if hydration is a priority and heavy sweating is on horizon, then the additional sodium can be useful.  Milk contains sodium too, around the same amount as many sports drinks, but soup tops smoothies for electrolytes. The great thing about soup is that you can tailor it to exercise needs.  Add in some barley or noodles for carbohydrate if fuel requirements are high and try using low GI ingredients such as sweet potato and quinoa if you are looking for sustaining carbohydrates.  Or use rice if you want something quickly digested.  You can also adjust the salt to your taste and hydration needs.  If your training or competition is demanding or lengthy, add extra protein or carbohydrate for a more sustaining chunky style soup.  Or keep it light for before easier sessions where fuel needs are not as high.

Great soups for pre-exercise:

Sweet potato soup, Quinoa and vegetable, Chicken and Sweetcorn, Won Ton soup with noodles

Soup for Recovery

Time to add the protein and carbohydrate for a soup that will help your body re-hydrate, refuel and repair.  Fluid and salt will help you rehydrate.  Ensure recovery soups also contain a decent amount of high quality protein such as meat, chicken or fish to start the muscle recovery process. You may need some extra carbohydrate too, as most soups contain more water and vegetables than carbohydrate.  Choose a soup with a potato/sweet potato, noodle or quinoa base or a minestrone style with pasta and beans.  You may need some bread or crackers too, depending on your carbohydrate requirements.

Great soups for recovery:

Lamb and barley soup, Minestrone soup with beef, Asian style noodle soup with seafood, Chicken and chickpea soup

Soup for Weight Loss

Talk about multi-talented, soup can not only fuel, hydrate and repair, but can help you lose weight too.  The best type of soups for weight loss incorporate broth style rather than cream or carbohydrate base.  Pack as many vegetables in as you can for filling fibre, plus some lean protein, for a low-kilojoule, satisfying and nutritious meal option.  You don't need to have soup 3 meals per day, but maybe take for lunch or a quick and easy dinner.  Make soup in big batches and freeze in individual portions for fuss-free preparation. 

Great soups for weight loss:

Spring vegetable soup, Broccoli soup, Broth style soup with vegetables, Beef and vegetable soup

Want more good news about soup - it's a great way to use up your leftover vegies and add cheap and cheerful legumes for maximum nutrition at minimal cost.  Pull out your biggest pot and make some soup today!

 

The recipe for my Pumpkin and Lentil Soup as pictured, is from my book Eat Right for Your Life

Top nutrition tips for travelling athletes

A quick meal or snack that is easy to prepare in your hotel room

A quick meal or snack that is easy to prepare in your hotel room

Travel brings a range of challenges for athletes, and careful planning is required to make any trip a success.  I was recently on holiday, and did a lot of observing of how people eat when they are travelling and thought about what I do on holidays in an attempt to feed myself and my family well.  Then my mind turned to athletes.  Travelling for training or competition can be a particularly daunting prospect for athletes who have specific nutrition preferences and goals.  If you are staying within your local area, or country, it can be a little easier to manage, but even if heading overseas many of the basics remain the same.

Here are my top ten tips for travel nutrition on the road to ensure you are well nourished and prepared for success:  

(1) Do your research

No matter the length of your trip, if you want to eat well while you are away, you need to research and plan ahead.  Questions you need to ask include:  

- How long will I be in transit for and will there be stops along the way?

- Will any food or fluids be provided, or can I buy, or do I need to take my own food with me?

- If staying for a number of nights, where is the closest supermarket?  Big or small?  Opening hours?

- Where can I stay that has cooking facilities and a fridge?

- Local eateries - restaurants/cafes, take-away options, types of foods and costs involved?

- Food safety - do I need to be careful of what I eat and can I drink the tap water?

These questions are just a starting point, you may need to look even further into the specifics of what foods are available, depending on your individual needs.  If you know a bit about where you are staying and where you can buy food then you will save time, money and stress.

(2) BYO

If you have a specific food that you eat regularly, and it is portable, then take it with you.  Your favourite cereal, snack or spread may be hard to find in some locations, or could be extremely expensive.  Particularly for atheltes, if you have a specific routine for before/after training and competition then it may be worth taking those important items to be sure you can keep things as familiar as possible.  If you know you are organised it will put you at ease and allow you to focus on the training or event rather than scrambling to source a pre-event meal on the day.

(3) First stop - supermarket

Your first destination upon arrival should be the supermarket.  If you are travelling by plane, use the time to write a shopping list of the essentials.  Stocking up on arrival saves you time and money, and most importantly means that you can be organised to eat well from the outset.  Breakfasts are easy to self-cater, so too are snacks.  Lunches and dinners can be more of a challenge, depending on your cooking facilities and schedule, but if you plan ahead you can easily make it happen.

(4) Check opening hours

I mentioned this one earlier.  Not all supermarkets are open 24 hours.  Or Friday nights.  Or Sundays.  Check local supermarkets and eating establishments for standard opening hours in that location.  Living in Melbourne, I am spoilt to have shops open pretty much all the time, but not all locations have this luxury.  It was like when I was away recently on holidays and the first Saturday happened to be Anzac Day. There was chaos - people didn't know what to do or where to turn, and some were actually angry, when they realised shops were CLOSED......some ALL day.  Some may have struggled to put food on the table that night.......plan ahead!  Especially if you are arriving in a country town on a Saturday afternoon and you have a major competition on the Sunday night.  Get to the supermarket ASAP or your pre-event meal could be a packet of chips from the service station.

(5) Take containers

You have been to the supermarket and have everything ready to go, only to start putting together your snacks and lunch for your first day with no way to transport them!  I have made this mistake on several occasions, but now I always bring some plastic containers with me to ensure economical and environmentally friendly food storage.  Sure you have to wash them each night, but it takes probably less time than it would to be lining up to purchase snacks and lunch out and about.  It might be worth taking a small plastic chopping board and bowl also for food preparation if you won't have a kitchen.  Take a sturdy drink bottle from home too for re-filling each day.

(6) Eat in, and don't forget your kettle

Eating at home-base is a great way to know exactly what you are eating and there are plenty of quick and easy meals that you can whizz up with minimal ingredients.  Don't try to make things too complicated while travelling, stick to simple and nutritious.  Even if you are staying in the most basic of hotel rooms, you will still usually have a kettle.  Boiled water can be the base for a surprisingly large number of meals.  Cous-cous for example.  Or Hokkien noodles, or rice noodles.  You can easily get your carbohydrate option sorted (just remember you need a bowl to prepare), then you can add some fresh salads, and perhaps some tinned corn or other vegetables.  For protein you could add canned tuna, salmon or legumes, or sliced roast beef from the deli or even roast chicken.  Or you can buy some souvlaki-style meat from the local take-away to add to your meal.  Plus you could add cheese and/or nut/seeds/pestos for extra flavour, texture and nutrition .  The combinations are endless, how about these quick and tasty dishes:

- Cous-cous with rocket, chick peas, capsicum, feta and pepitas

- Asian style salad with rice noodles and sliced roast beef

- Chicken or lamb pieces (take-away), tabouli salad (purchased) and tzatziki with pita bread  

- Hokkien noodles with roast chicken, corn, spinach and pesto 

- Cous-cous with mixed salad, tuna and avocado

(7) Take advantage of convenience foods

Convenience foods are often processed, and therefore lumped into the 'avoid' category.  But the reality is that pretty much all foods are processed to some degree, the key is to look for minimal processing and few additives. 'Convenience' foods such as pre-packaged salad leaves, frozen vegetables in microwavable sachets, canned fish and vegetables, and even individual serves of rice or quinoa that can be easily heated can save time, money and mess.

(7) Are you really hungry?

One of the big problems when travelling is that we are often faced with hours and hours of either waiting around or in transit.  As a result we can get bored, and easily pass the time by eating and drinking for something to do.  Find some other activities to pass the time!  Head off armed with ideas to help avoid eating being the main activity.  Think about whether or not you are really hungry or not.  If you are an athlete and you are travelling over one or two days you may not be doing your regular training and most likely won't need to eat as much as you normally would on a training day.  It's great to take a range of snacks in your bag, but it doesn't mean you need to eat them all in the first hour.  Pace yourself and listen to your body.  Same with fluid, you may not need to drink the same volume as usual, although for plane travel you may need to drink extra to allow for the dehydrating effects of the cabin.

(8) Eating out

Of course when you are travelling there will be times when you want to eat out, or grab a take-away meal.  These days we are lucky and, in Australia at least, it is usually not too hard to find a half-decent option when eating at a restaurant or even choosing take-away.  My biggest tip is to just keep it simple.  Stick to basic proteins like meat, chicken or fish with vegetables or salad and not too many heavy sauces or dressings.  Examples include fish and salad, steak with vegetables, Asian-style soups or a chicken and vegetable stir-fry.  Same with carbohydrates, some athletes need more than others and if you are someone who needs lots then choose pastas or dishes served with rice, noodles or cous-cous....just watch the dressings and sauces.   Steer clear of the fried stuff and watch your portions too, it's easy to over-eat when travelling so tune in to your hunger signals.

(9) Food hygiene

Probably one of the most annoying things that can happen to a travelling athlete is gastro.  It is relatively common to have some alterations in bowel motions when travelling, but if you get food poisoning you will soon know about it, and it can ruin any well-planned preparation.  You have put in the hours over months or even years, so the last thing you want is to be suffering on the big day.  You can never totally eliminate the risk, but you can be smart about your food and fluid choices.  Don't eat from roadside food trucks or carts, don't eat food unless it is piping hot, don't eat foods that are meant to be cold if they haven't been in a fridge and don't drink the water, consume ice, swallow water in the shower or when brushing teeth, or eat salads and unpeeled fruit in areas where you are warned not to drink the water.  These are just a few tips, so again, do your research on t your destination to eat well and eat safely.

(10) Enjoy the local hospitality

We have focused a lot on maintaining a relatively normal routine while travelling, but of course it is important to enjoy the local cuisine, especially if you are travelling to a new or different country to your own.  One of the things I love about travelling is the opportunity to experience different tastes, textures and styles of food.  Food experiences are often our best memories of travel.  But perhaps do your experimenting after your event, just in case!  Try to eat at reputable food establishments, and just because locals eat there doesn't mean it is safe for you....what the locals can tolerate can be very different to what you can!  Plan ahead and enjoy the opportunities and fun that travel brings.

Carbohydrates and sugars for athletes during exercise - type, total amount and teeth

Are home-made carbohydrate snacks better than gels?

Are home-made carbohydrate snacks better than gels?

Let's face it, most people eat too much sugar.  Far more sugar than our bodies need for energy levels and health.  But if you are an endurance athlete, your body needs carbohydrate, which ultimately breaks down to sugar.  Your body needs sugar during  long duration exercise to perform at its best.  If you are a strength athlete you need some carbohydrate too.  When it comes to performance, the key is to consume the right type of carbohydrate, at the right times and in the right amounts.  Not all carbohydrates and sugars are equal, but neither are individual needs, and athletes often need a mix of sugars that will be different to someone who doesn't train.   We talk about carbohydrates and sugars, but, this doesn’t mean eating a bag of lollies every day, weighed to the gram.  Far from it.  Not all sugars are equal and there is even more to the story if you train a lot.

 

WHAT IS SUGAR?

The word sugar automatically creates visions of sugar coated sweets, lolly pops and coloured sprinkles.  The other images that may come to an athlete’s mind with regard to sugar are carbohydrate gels, chews and sports drinks.  Sugar is everywhere, and for those of us following a largely sedentary lifestyle it is easy to eat too much.  In a country where around 2/3 of the population are overweight, sugar is rarely seen in a positive light, but for athletes there are benefits. 

All carbohydrate foods and drinks we consume are converted to sugars in the body.  However, this does not make all carbohydrate-based foods unhealthy. 

Carbohydrates are made up of chains of various sugar molecules.  These chains are broken down in the body to release individual sugars, which can be used as an effective fuel by the muscles and brain.  Sugar is not always nasty, and can be a valuable energy source for optimal human performance.  Different types of individual sugars can be used by the body, and the right balance can be beneficial for providing the best fuel to sustain endurance efforts.  Although it sounds like I am talking up the benefits of sugar, there is a time and a place for different types.  Some athletes may need to tailor their carbohydrate intake around training and competition in light of other nutrition goals, while others with elevated fuel needs and revved up metabolisms may need regular carbohydrate throughout the day.

 

HOW MUCH SUGAR FOR ATHLETES?

If you are an athlete that burns a lot of carbohydrate, then sugar will help to fuel performance.  But just because you train a lot, doesn't mean you necessarily need to carbohydrate load for every training session.  Every athlete has different requirements for carbohydrate and sugars based on a range of factors including gender, body weight, body composition, training program, training phase, health status, altitude and genetics.  Two people doing exactly the same training could in fact have quite different carbohydrate requirements.  An athlete’s daily carbohydrate needs can be estimated based on body weight and current training, and this can be adjusted over time to accommodate other individual factors as just listed.  

For exercise less than one hour duration, carbohydrate fuel requirements may be low, but there is evidence for performance benefits of a small amounts of carbohydrate during exercise due to potential central nervous system effects.  As the duration of exercise increases, so too does the requirement for carbohydrate, with 60-90g/hour recommended for athletes during endurance activity (or even higher for some ultra-endurance athletes working at a high intensity, up toward 110g/hour). 

I recently attended a nutrition for ultra-endurance sports symposium run by Monash University and there seems to be a wide range of carbohydrate intakes during competition and different types of training sessions.  As you may expect, many individuals find it physically difficult to consume 90g/hour during exercise, and may struggle at even half of this (45g/hour).  This is often due to gastrointestinal symptoms, which can be related to individual factors and the type of activity.  It is easier to eat and drink riding a bike at a moderate pace compared to running at elite marathon pace for example.  Some people also may simply use carbohydrate more effectively than others.  For serious athletes, it may be worth seeking a laboratory that can test your individual ability to oxidise carbohydrate and to help you work out the best type and amount of carbohydrate for during exercise. 

 

TYPES OF SUGAR

The recommendation in recent years has been for endurance athletes in events >2 hours duration with high carbohydrate needs (>60g/hour) should consume multiple transportable carbohydrate during exercise in a 2:1 glucose:fructose ratio.  Fructose has a different transport system for absorption from the intestine, so adding some fructose to the glucose consumed allows a greater amount of carbohydrate to be absorbed by the body.   An increasing number of people are being identified as fructose malabsorbers, and trying to increase fructose as a fuel option for exercise may be problematic in terms of gut comfort.  Fructose malabsorption may be exacerbated with exercise due to increased irritation of the gut, even though there may not be any gastrointestinal symptoms day-to-day. So it comes down to looking at maximizing carbohydrate intake within individual tolerance levels and exercise needs.

 

NATURAL SUGARS VS REFINED

Some endurance athletes have taken an interest in ‘natural’ forms of carbohydrate and sugars as an alternative to formulated sports products eg. gels.   This involves preparing home-made snacks rather than relying on commercial sports nutrition products.  As per my recent blog, natural sugars are not always as innocent as they may seem, and are not necessarily healthier than refined sugar.  I am all for reducing intake of processed food and additives across the board, but when it comes to athletic performance we really need to think about the type of individual sugars from a more scientific perspective.  Home-made cookies, balls and cakes are terrific, and there are a range of sweet and savoury options that work well.  The only problem is that many natural sugars are often high in fructose, which can cause major gut issues for long-duration exercise. Natural options are often low glycemic index, which means they may be more slowly digested….great if you are trying to lose weight and need help staying full for longer but not so great if you want food to empty rapidly from the stomach while exercising.  Finding the right balance of carbohydrates takes planning, and also some trial and error.  If you are set on going all natural then go for it, but if your gut is telling you ‘no’ then you may need to mix it up a bit.  Pre- and post-exercise is where unrefined carbohydrates come into their own, but during exercise the focus should be on glucose vs fructose rather than natural vs processed.

 

DO ATHLETES REALLY NEED ALL THAT CARBOHYDRATE?

There is so much discussion about carbohydrate as a fuel, but athletes don’t need to be carbohydrate loading for every session.  There are potential benefits of training with low fuel stores for selected training sessions to encourage physiological adaptations that optimize fuel systems.  In reality, a competitive situation may lead to low carbohydrate stores with limited carbohydrate availability, so an improved ability to rely on fat oxidation for fuelling may be of benefit. Some athletes are following the low carb trends and there is a movement by some ultra-endurance athletes to train their bodies to use predominantly fat as a fuel, replacing gels and bars with tubes of nut butter to fuel exercise.  Fat is a slow-burning fuel, so although this approach may work well for some individuals, to truly maximize endurance performance, sugar throughout will help.  Numerous studies show that faster finish times for endurance athletes correlate with higher carbohydrate intake during an event– if you can use more carbohydrate you can move faster.  However if your exercise is of shorter duration, you won’t need to be so aggressive with carbohydrate intake.  If you are not sure how much carbohydrate you need, speak with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to tailor your intake.   

 

WHAT ABOUT STRENGTH ATHLETES?

Strength athletes may benefit from carbohydrate prior to sessions for improved energy levels, work capacity and muscle mass gains.  So it’s not just all about protein -  carbohydrates and overall kilojoules are just as important.  Strength-based activities don’t use the same volume of carbohydrates as endurance pursuits, therefore carbohydrate needs may be more likely to be met through meals, without the need to consume large amounts during exercise.  However some athletes with very high energy requirements may benefit from taking in kilojoules, including carbohydrates, during strength sessions.

 

WEIGHT LOSS

Athletes trying to lose weight often reduce carbohydrates.  This can be an effective strategy, but it is important to be selective about where in the day carbohydrates are reduced and by how much, with the priority to time carbohydrate for training needs to produce the best training outcomes and adaptations.  There has been recent interest in ‘train-low’ and ‘sleep-low’ concepts of carbohydrate timing, which may improve fuel utilization but may also be appropriate to support body fat goals.

 

TEETH

Dental health is often compromised in athletes.  With reduced saliva production during exercise, coupled with high sugar intake and the acidity of most sports drinks, the teeth of an athlete are constantly at risk.  Dental problems are the result, so it is wise to try to reduce the contact of sugars with your teeth and try to get plenty of water rinses to reduce the risk of tooth damage.

 

SUMMARY

Sure, carbohydrates are beneficial for athletic performance, but this doesn’t mean you have to be on a constant carbohydrate load.  The type, timing and amount will vary according to specific exercise requirements, gastrointestinal tolerance and personal preference.  Choosing natural sugars is not necessarily better for during endurance activity.  Work on finding the right mix for your individual needs. 

Please feel welcome to subscribe to my regular newsletter, you can do so at the bottom of this page, and I am more than happy for you to share this article with others who may be interested in performance nutrition.

Further reading:

Jeukendrup, A (2011) 'Nutrition for endurance sports: marathon, triathlon, and road cycling' JSpSci 

Stellingwerff, T & Cox, G (2014) 'Systematic review: carbohydrate supplementation on exercise performance or capacity of varying durations' ApplPhysNutrMetab

 

Back to basics protein - foods that contain the most and best protein for recovery and training

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Following on from my recent post about recovery meals, I have been asked by a few people if I could provide some more information about protein, what it is and specifically how much is found in different foods.  Protein is one of those nutrients that receives a lot of attention for a range of reasons.  People who are training want to know about protein for recovery and muscle mass.  People trying to lose weight want to know about protein for its effect on satiety and reducing hunger.  People who are low in iron want to know about protein foods for iron.  Some people just love meat and don't want to know anything about protein, they just want to get the BBQ started and eat a juicy steak! 

Following is a brief run-down as to what protein is, which foods provide protein and how much and the best options and timing of protein for training.

Proteins of varying composition are found in a wide range of plant and animal foods.  You may have heard the term 'high quality' or 'high biological value' protein, and this relates to the composition of amino acids within a protein.  A variety of amino acids makes up a protein, and it is the amino acids which are the important building blocks for muscle and other body structures.  Some proteins contain all of the essential amino acids and are considered to be higher quality than those with some lacking.

Active people need protein to build and repair muscle. To achieve muscle mass gain you need to eat enough protein and overall kilojoules, but you also need a carefully planned training program to stimulate the muscles to develop and grow.  Unfortunately there are not too many shortcuts when it comes to getting your best results - training and eating should be  specific to  your needs and goals.

Resistance training seems to be synonymous with protein supplements, and the bigger and more expensive the bucket of powder, the greater the perceived effectiveness for building muscle.  Having protein powder after gym is far less important for recovery and overall muscle mass gain compared to eating enough protein and kilojoules and overall nutrients in the hours and days post-training.  It's great to get the immediate post-exercise recovery nutrition right, but if you don't back it up for the rest of the day then you won't be maximizing your results.

So do you need to take a protein supplement?  Supplements are extremely popular as a guaranteed way to get the right type and amount of protein for the initial recovery phase.  Whey protein is a complete protein, rich in essential amino acids, including leucine, that will promote muscle synthesis.  There is certainly a time and a place for appropriate protein supplements, however don't forget that many everyday foods are high quality protein sources too.  If you are training hard and want results, you need to have a plan in place with regard to food first and supplements if necessary.  Be careful how much you spend on the latest whizz-bang powders though.  Those with lots of added extras, that you pay for, are often filled with unnecessary ingredients which your body may not need.  Sometimes it is best to keep it simple, and stick to a pure whey protein product, or a food option.  

Complete proteins, such as whey protein, contain the full range of essential amino acids.   Plant sources of protein, other than soy protein, tend to be lacking one or more essential amino acids and are considered incomplete proteins. This can be a challenge for vegetarians, but all it really takes is some additional planning to achieve the key amino acid balance from non-animal sources.  I have listed below a range of foods and that are often considered as good protein sources, with the amount of protein listed per average serve and per 100g.  Note that values are approximates only, and will vary according to the specific variety of the food.   These are in no particular order:

                                                                                Per serve                        Per 100g

Medium chicken breast, 160g cooked                    44g                                 28g

Medium beef steak, 150g                                         47g                                  31g

Lamb fillet, 150g cooked                                          48g                                  32g

Medium fish fillet, 120g cooked                               38g                                  32g

Small tin of tuna                                                        20g                                  28g

Eggs, 2 medium                                                         10g                                   10g

Cow's milk, 300ml                                                     10g                                   3.5g

Greek yoghurt, 200g                                                10g                                     5g

Cheese,20g                                                                 6g                                   30g                          

Almonds, 30g                                                              6g                                   20g

Cottage cheese, 2tbsp                                               4g                                    10g

Tofu, firm, 100g                                                           13g                                   13g    

Dried beans, 100g cooked                                         7g                                      7g

Soy milk, 300ml                                                          10g                                    3.2g

Whey protein powder                                            ~22-30g                           75-90g+

(the content of supplements varies greatly depending on whether whey protein concentrate or isolate is used and any other ingredients, check labels)

As you can see from this list, the animal-based proteins are particularly rich in protein.  Meat, chicken and fish are all around 30% protein, so if you think about achieving regular protein intake spread over the day, only small portions of these foods are required to achieve adequate intake.  Dairy and eggs provide great quality protein, but you need to eat more of these to get the same amount of protein.  I have not included grain foods in this list as most of them contain quite small amounts of protein, although it all adds up over a day.

You may look at the chicken, meat and fish and automatically think that because they contain more protein they must be better choices.  But just because tuna contains a lot more protein per serve than eggs, this doesn't mean it is the preferred option.  Massive serves of protein aren't required to get results....regular intake at the right times will make the difference.

It is also clear that vegetarian foods are relatively low in protein, and if you combine that with the lower quality of non-animal proteins you can run into trouble.  But if you plan carefully you can ensure amino acid intake to support your recovery, training and performance needs.  Leucine is a particular amino acid that has been identified as important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and can be a little bit hard to find for vegetarians, especially those who don't eat soy products.  This is where vegan-friendly supplements can be of great use, but always be careful with supplement use in terms of their safety, actual benefits and cost.   

Active people should try to include high quality protein in all of their meals, and potentially snacks also, and should plan the type and timing of protein around specific training sessions.  It is a good strategy to spread protein intake over the day, ~20-25g is all you need to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.  Taking in more than this will not provide any further benefit, but won't hurt you either (unless you have a particular medical condition where protein intake needs to be limited).  Saying this, many people eat a lot more protein than they need....especially the animal sources.  You don't need 1/2 a chicken or 2 steaks at each meal, and research is showing that you are potentially better to stick to smaller protein serves more frequently over the day.  Over-consumption of protein can lead to excess kilojoules, which is ok if you are trying gain weight, but if you want to condition your muscles and stay reasonably lean then you may need to consider your protein portions.  More protein does not = more muscle. 

If you are trying to lose body fat, protein can help keep you full for longer and help keep blood glucose levels stable, reducing hunger and cravings.  You will need to consider your overall portions and nutrient intake related to your overall goals.  Sometimes protein supplements are useful for people trying to lose weight, as they give a good dose of protein with minimal calories.  It might be worth seeing an Accredited Sports Dietitian (www.sportsdietitians.com.au) if you need more specific advice and assistance with reaching your body composition, training and performance goals.

There is still much to learn about protein and its importance for recovery and muscle mass.   Researchers are still interested in the ideal amount of protein around training and timing of intake, the importance of leucine or other amino acids and specific recommended intake, and the variety of protein requirements for different individuals, based on specific characteristics such as gender, body size and shape, genetics and activity levels.