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

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

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

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

Is that really healthy?

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

Size matters

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

Eating well can be boring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet potato

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

Barley

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

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

Sourdough rye bread

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

Bananas

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

Sweetcorn

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

Oats

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

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

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

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

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

How do the milks differ?

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

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

Protein

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

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

Calcium

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

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

*Milk and low-fat milk refer to dairy varieties

*Milk and low-fat milk refer to dairy varieties

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

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

 

 

Salmon and Ricotta Frittata

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

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

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

Salmon and Ricotta Frittata

Serves 4

 Ingredients:

2 tsp oil

2 spring onions (scallions), sliced

100g/3.5 oz baby spinach leaves

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

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

6 eggs, whisked

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

1 tbsp chopped dill

½ cup/50g low-fat cheese, grated

 Method:

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

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

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

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

Nicoise Salad

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

Nicoise Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

500g/1 lb baby new potatoes, quartered

200g/7 oz green beans, topped and tailed

1 medium red (Spanish) onion, sliced thinly

150g/5 oz mixed lettuce leaves

250g/9 oz cherry tomatoes

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

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup/90g seeded black olives

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

 Dressing

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

Method

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

 

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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.

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

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

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

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

Carbohydrate

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

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

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

Protein

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

Fat

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

Kilojoules

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

So which is best?

Overall nutrition

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

Energy levels

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

Exercise performance

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

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

Weight management

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

In perspective

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BMI for athletes - is it relevant?

Feet_on_scale.jpg

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

 

Ten weight loss 'super' foods that taste good too

Many people spend January trying to undo the fun of the festive season.  The good news is that you don't have to detox or live on spinach smoothies to get back on track.  There are plenty of delicious foods that taste great and will enhance your enjoyment of foods, but will also help you reach your new year health and nutrition goals. 

Here are just a few to start adding to your trolley:

Strawberries

Sweet and luscious, nothing beats a bowl of freshly picked strawberries.  The great news is that you can enjoy your berries in abundance, at not much more than 50calories for a whole punnet!  Berries on your breakfast or yoghurt are the perfect sweet substitute for sugar or honey, with the added bonus of Vitamin C to help you absorb the iron from cereal. Delicious on their own as a snack to satisfy mid-afternoon or late-night sweet cravings.

White fish

Are you eating lots of salmon for omega-3's?  Salmon contains the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids of all fish, but also contains more fat in total.  Oily fish are good for you, but don't forget about white flesh varieties - they do contain less omega-3, but are also lower in calories, so are a terrific option if you are trying to lose weight.  The protein content of fish makes it a terrific main meal option to keep you full and help prevent unnecessary snacking between meals.  Make your fish interesting, by adding fresh flavours from herbs, vegetables, garlic and citrus. 

Prawns

Prawns are often considered an indulgent food, but it's good to know they are protein rich and very low in energy (one king prawn = 15 calories).  Fresh, BBQ or stir-fry options are great, but the creamy garlic and tartare sauces or battered and deep fried options will reduce the efficiency of prawns to help you lose weight. Other shellfish such as oysters and mussels are also great to eat regularly.

Herbs

If you are serious about improving your health, think about planting a herb garden in your backyard or on the windowsill.  Fresh herbs contain negligible caloriees but pack a concentrated nutrient punch.  Using a range of different herbs will provide a variety of health (and taste!) benefits, making meals more interesting. Don’t forget the chilli!  Hot and spicy foods often take longer to eat, and all that water you drink to dampen the heat helps to fill you up and stop you from over-eating!

Green Tea

The list of benefits of green tea seems to be growing all the time.  If you love green tea you are in luck, as many of the benefits for health seem to kick in with 4 or more cups per day.  Green tea is a great substitute for other higher kilojoule beverages and a creative way to increase your fluid intake.  Green tea contains an antioxidant called EGCG that may have a mild positive impact on fat burning. Recent research shows that green tea could have an impact on depressive symptoms and a number of health conditions too, so go for green for health and happiness.  But remember that green tea contains caffeine, so take care if you are sensitive.

Nuts

We often hear about almonds being good for health and weight management, which they are, but other nuts are nutritious too!  Research shows that a handful of nuts per day can bring benefits.  If you really love nuts just watch your portions....more is not better as although nuts are nutritious they are also energy dense.  Eat nuts regularly as a filling snack or add to stir-fries and salads.

Green leafy vegetables

Green leafy vegetables are your new best friend when you are trying to lose weight.   You can basically eat as many as you want!  Greens are great for your waistline but also your health, containing a range of vitamins and minerals such as folate, Vitamin A, B, E, K and spinach also provide calcium and non-haem iron.   Cook up a storm with silverbeet, or try a spicy stir-fry with Asian vegetables such as bok choy, pak choi and gai larn. To compare the nutrient content of kale vs spinach vs rocket, click here for one of my most popular blog posts.

Lemon

Lemon can assist with weight loss in a number of ways.  Lemon juice contains hardly any kilojoules, but can add delicious flavours to food and drinks.  We know the importance of drinking enough water but many of us don’t like it plain from the tap.  By adding fresh lemon and lime, it can change the way you think about water.  Add sliced lemon and fresh herbs to plain soda or mineral water with ice for an evening drink or add lemon to boiled water as a morning beverage.  Lemon juice also makes a great dressing for salads, and enhances the flavour of fish, seafood and chicken dishes.

Natural yoghurt

There are so many yoghurts on the market, a wall of ‘light’, ‘extra light’, ‘diet’, ‘no fat’, ‘low sugar’…where do you start?  Avoid the confusion and stick with a plain natural or Greek-style yoghurt.  Add your own flavourings, such as fresh or frozen fruit, fruit puree, chopped nuts/seeds or a couple of spoons of natural muesli.  Natural yoghurts are rich in ‘good’ bacteria, important for optimal digestive health.  Yoghurt contains high quality protein and has a low glycemic-index, making it a filling snack for between meals.

Oats

The great thing about oats, and the reason they help with weight loss, is that you only need a small serve to make a meal.  Being high in fibre and low glycemic-index, oats can keep you going for hours.  The perfect breakfast option for busy days when you need to be performing at your best.  If you are not a porridge lover, go for bircher muesli or a home-style natural muesli (home-made with lots of nuts and seeds is even better!). To find out how oats compare to quinoa in the nutrition stakes, click here for my previous post.

 

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Five reasons why red meat is good for athletes

By jules (ginger beef stir fry) [CC BY 2.0 ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons

By jules (ginger beef stir fry) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I remember my first sports nutrition lecture at university, where sports nutrition at the time was compared to what athletes may have been eating centuries ago.  Red meat was clearly on the menus of our athletic ancestors with ancient Greek marathon winners awarded cattle for their endeavours, and a hearty steak pre-race may not have been uncommon.  The science of nutrition has come a long way since then, and although steak may not be a pre-race meal of choice, the nutrition benefits of red meat for athletes continue to be recognised. 

Nutrition fads come and go, and the popularity of red meat has catapulted from one extreme to another.  Current dietary guidelines suggest a prudent intake of red meat, however not everyone follows these guidelines, with the recent jump onto the Paleo bandwagon keeping the grass-fed beef farmers in business.  Regardless of the style of eating, when it comes to sports nutrition, red meat is a winner.  We don't always talk about meat as a food on it's own, often you hear about the importance of nutrients like protein or specific minerals for athletes, but when we break it down, meat is amazingly rich in a range of nutrients.

Here are my top 5 reasons why red meat is good for athletes:

Number 5 - Healthy fats

Discussions around red meat and health usually focus on saturated fat content, or more recently cancer risk.  If you look closely at the fat composition of Australian beef and lamb you will find that they do in fact provide omega-3 fats.  Not as much omega-3 as fish, but meat isn't all 'bad' fat. If you are concerned about your body fat levels, you can reduce the calories of meat by choosing lean cuts or trimming fat from meat, or cooling casseroles after cooking and skimming fat from the top. 

With regard to the impact on cancer risk, it is the cured and processed meats that seem to be the main concern.  It is still wise to vary your protein foods and not eat red meat all of the time, but for most people you don't need to omit fresh meats. 

Number 4 -  Minerals

Beef and lamb are a great source of zinc and Vitamin B12, important for athletes.  Zinc is important for muscles and immune system, and may play a role in testosterone levels in males. 

Vitamin B12 is important for a range of body systems and may impact on immune function and energy levels.  Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, and a small-medium size steak will provide your daily RDI.

Number 3 - Satiety

Do you usually find you are still hungry after a meal of steak and vegetables??  No, most likely not.  Red meat is filling due to the high protein content, and is broken down slowly in the digestive system so can keep you full for longer.  You don't need a huge serve either.  Protein in a meal can also lower the glycemic index, helping to keep blood glucose levels stable.  Red meat can help to manage hunger, as do other protein-rich foods, if you are an athlete trying to manage your weight or body fat levels.

Number 2 - Iron content

Iron is an essential nutrient for athletes.  Red meat contains haem iron, which is more easily absorbed than the non-haem iron found in plant sources. The easiest way to meet your dietary iron needs is to eat small serves of red meat regularly (x3-4 per week), plus include a range of other iron-rich foods.  Don't forget to add a food containing Vitamin C to your iron-rich meal for optimal iron absorption.

For more information about why iron important and a table of different foods and their iron contents, have a read of my article on the 2XU website, Iron Tough or Rusty.

Sports Dietitians Australia also have a great Fact Sheet Iron Depletion in Athletes.

Number 1 - Protein

Probably the best thing about red meat is the quality and amount of protein.  Red meat contains all the essential amino acids, making it high quality.  This includes leucine, the critical amino acid for stimulating muscle protein synthesis to promote muscle recovery and growth.  Meat is also protein-dense, so you only need a small serve for a big dose (lean beef contains approximately 30g protein per 100g, this can vary according to cut of meat).

For more information about protein and other foods that are great protein options, Back to Basics Protein - Foods That Contain the Most and Best Protein for Recovery and Training

If you choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons there are other foods such as dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds.  For athletes who follow a vegan style of eating it can be very difficult to meet needs for nutrients such as protein, iron, calcium and Vitamin B12.  It's not impossible, there are plenty of vegan athletes out there, but it takes significant time, effort and planning, as well as supplementation, to get nutrition intake spot on.

If you are an athlete who does eat red meat, then it's worth making a special effort to eat small amounts of fresh red meat regularly, in combination with other high quality protein sources,  for energy levels, recovery and performance.

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Vitamin D for athlete health and performance

It is quite likely that you may have low Vitamin D levels.  Recent estimates indicate that over 75% of the general population may be Vitamin D deficient.  If you are an athlete, you may be at even higher risk of having low levels, and this is a problem because Vitamin D is important for health and potentially performance.  In recent weeks I have found myself talking to many athletes about Vitamin D.  The end of winter is approaching in Australia, a time of year where Vitamin D levels can be on the downward slide.  I have also read a number of journal articles of late that highlight the important role of Vitamin D for athletes.

I am prone to low Vitamin D levels.  I am not a great one for regularity in taking supplements, so I am probably Vitamin D deficient right now if I am honest.  Particularly as we are continuing to endure a pretty cold winter here in Melbourne, and most of us in the southern states will find that our Vitamin D levels decline by the end of winter when we haven’t seen much sun for a while.  So what is all the carry-on about Vitamin D?  Why do we need it, who is at risk of deficiency and how can you improve your Vitamin D levels?

Why are so many people Vitamin D deficient?

Vitamin D is a pretty clever little vitamin and plays an important role in many of our body systems.  The big problem with Vitamin D is that we generally don’t know that our levels are low until something major happens eg. bone issues.  Unlike iron, where our body will often let us know via various symptoms that our levels are on the decline, Vitamin D isn’t quite as helpful and we can go for a pretty long time without being alerted to low levels.  The only reason I found out that my levels needed a boost was through a routine blood test when I was pregnant, so goodness knows how long my levels had been low for.

Unfortunately sometimes when you address one issue it can create another.  Sunscreen is essential for protecting our skin from the sun’s rays.  If you block the sun, you help to reduce the risk of skin cancer.  But you also block the sun’s amazing ultraviolet (UV) radiation which is required for the production of Vitamin D in the skin.  So all of our slip, slop, slapping, which is absolutely important to avoid burning our skin, doesn’t do much for our Vitamin D. 

Who is at risk?

Lack of sunlight is the number one risk factor for low Vitamin D.  So if you spend a lot of your daylight hours inside, like a number of athletes I work with who train predominantly indoors, your levels may be low.  Athletes may also have increased physiological demands for Vitamin D, compared to the general population.

Other individuals at higher risk include:

  • indoor lifestyle eg. work, study.

  • if you cover your skin for religious reasons.

  • if you have naturally very dark skin.

  • if you avoid the sun for cosmetic reasons or skin protection.

  • specific medical conditions.

There is some debate over the cut-off values for Vitamin D levels in the blood, and whether the set levels are in fact too high, meaning that more people are being diagnosed as being low in Vitamin D.  It is important to speak with your GP or medical professional to determine the best way to address your Vitamin D status and needs.

Why is Vitamin D important?

Bones - Vitamin D controls calcium levels in the blood and is required for the absorption of calcium from the gut, which in turn is important for bones.  Low Vitamin D can increase the risk of musculoskeletal problems, including bone conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis.  For athletes, an increase in bone turnover with low Vitamin D can increase the risk of bone injuries such as stress fractures.  Sufficient Vitamin D may help to prevent this.

Immune System - Vitamin D is thought to have a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, and some studies suggest that Vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of viral respiratory tract infections. Winter is often when Vitamin D levels decrease, so if you are prone to getting sick in the cooler months make sure your Vitamin D levels are kept up throughout.

Mental health – There seems to be a link between Vitamin D and mental health, including moods and even depression.

Muscle strength – Vitamin D may have a particularly important role for improving muscle strength in athletes.  There is a potential for increased size and number of type II fast twitch muscle fibres and a study in athletes showed a positive impact on muscle function with Vitamin D supplementation if levels are low.

Injury prevention - Low Vitamin D may increase the risk for inflammatory-related injuries.

Performance - Few studies have looked at Vitamin D and its direct effect on performance in young adults, however multiple performance studies in older adults have related low vitamin D levels to decreased reaction time and poor balance.  There may also be a potential impact on VO2 max.

Strategies to increase Vitamin D levels

  • Spend some time out in the sun without sunscreen on  

    • Find a balance between sun exposure for Vitamin D and protecting your skin against skin cancer.  The amount of time required for exposure will vary depending on where you live.  Check the SunSmart website for more details on exposure times in Australia.    

  • It's difficult to obtain enough Vitamin D just from foods.  Only 5-10% of our Vitamin D may come from food.  Foods that are rich in Vitamin D include– salmon, dark-flesh fish, egg yolks, fortified foods (like milk), UV mushrooms.

  • Vitamin D supplementation may be required for certain individuals.  Speak with your health professional about appropriate dosages if you have been found to have low Vitamin D levels

Summary:  For athletes, there is limited evidence to support vitamin D as a direct performance enhancer, however optimal Vitamin D is important for health, immune function and reduced risk of bone injuries such as stress fractures, and muscle injury. Although Vitamin D is not shown to have a direct performance effect, the indirect impact could make a significant difference to performance and health/injury outcomes.  Further research is required to determine the magnitude of effect of vitamin D on performance, in particular the areas of strength, power, reaction time and balance.

This post presents information of a general nature only.  For individual advice about nutrition and supplementation you should consult with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or appropriate health professional.
References: 
  • Ogan,D. & Pritchett, K.  Vitamin D and the Athlete: Risks, Recommendations, and Benefits. Nutrients 2013, 5:1856-1868

  • Von Hurst, P.R. & Beck, K.L. Vitamin D and skeletal muscle function in athletes. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2014, Nov;17(6):539-45

  • SDA Fact Sheet – Vitamin D

  • AIS Fact Sheet – Vitamin D

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

Best 10 foods if you love going to the gym

Back cover of my new bookazine, photo courtesy of Bec Doyle Photography

With my new book 'Eat Right For Your Life' being released earlier this week, I thought it was timely to share with you a snippet of what it's all about.  If you love going to the gym and enjoying the health and fitness benefits that regular exercise provides, then this postis particularly relevant for you.  Not that the book is all about sports nutrition - it covers a range of lifestyle stages, but of course I had to include reference to nutrition for active people.

It's amazing how much time and effort goes into producing a small book, from research, to writing content to developing recipes, to photography.  It was a pleasure to work with my good friend and talented photographer on the images (a busy weekend at my place last September cooking, styling and snapping).  The book looks at different life stages and lifestyles and provides nutrition tips and a list of some of the 'best' and 'beware' foods for each, followed by recipes based on the needs of each particular group. 

I thought I would share part of the introduction and the ten 'best' foods from the 'Gym Junkie' chapter, which focuses on nutrition for individuals who go to the gym regularly with the goal of building fitness, strength and improved body composition (I dont' love the word 'junkie' but it does get the idea across as to who that chapter may appeal to):

.....'In order to help build muscle you need adequate protein.  This doesn’t necessarily mean spending your weekly pay packet on fancy supplements, but you will definitely need to eat protein-rich foods regularly, and extra kilojoules to support muscle gains.

Protein is made up of individual amino acids, and it is likely that you will be able to achieve adequate amino acid intake from a carefully planned and timed dietary intake.  Protein supplements may be useful in a number of situations and they are formulated to meet the specific amino acid needs of training.  Perhaps the main benefit of supplements is the convenience factor, considering most high-quality protein sources require an esky to transport. 

Sure, protein is important, but you also need to make sure you have some nutritious, low-GI carbohydrates to keep you energised, as well as including some healthy fats.  Vitamins and minerals are critical for energy levels and recovery from training, so don’t neglect your daily fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

10 best foods

Milk

It’s in everybody’s fridge, but few of us realise the amazing potential of milk.  Milk is a naturally high biological value protein supplement, containing all of the essential amino acids the muscles need to repair and grow.  One 300ml glass of milk contains about 10g of high quality protein.  In a smoothie, milkshake or just on its own, milk is great for pre- and post-exercise or as an extra source of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  Milk also contains more electrolytes than many sports drinks, making it a terrific option as a rehydrating fluid. 

Turkey

Chicken has long been a favourite food for body builders because of its high protein content but it is not the only poultry option to help build muscle.  Remove the skin and turkey is a super-lean way to meet your amino acid needs.  Versatile and quick to cook, turkey makes the perfect sandwich filler or post-gym meal. 

Greek yoghurt

If you are serious about your health and fitness, yoghurt will be a staple on your weekly shopping list.  Sure, yoghurt is rich in protein and is a convenient pre- or post-gym snack, but it will also help to keep your insides healthy.  Yoghurt contains ‘good’ bacteria, important for optimal digestive health.  Aim for at least 1 cup of good quality yoghurt every day.  Natural or Greek yoghurt is lower in sugar and additives than fruit yoghurts, and make sure you read the label because some Greek yoghurts are higher in protein.  

Bok choy

If you are working on your muscles, the focus is often on protein rather than the importance of variety for optimising fitness and performance.  Green vegetables are a perfect example, rather than just cooking up chicken and rice, add in some Asian greens such as bok choy, pak choy, wom bok (Chinese cabbage), choy sum (Chinese silverbeet) and gai lan (Chinese broccoli).  These delicious vegetables are brimming with nutrients including calcium, iron and folate. Why not try including one new green vegetable every week. (To find out whether kale is king, visit my previous Thoughts article  Green Leaf Goodness: Kale vs Spinach vs Rocket, and the winner is.....)

Oats

Low in fat, high in fibre and low glycemic index, a delicious bowl of porridge will keep you going all morning, the perfect start to a busy day.  Make with milk and add some extra yoghurt or chopped nuts/seeds for extra protein.  If you are not a porridge fan, oats are just as nutritious in natural muesli or made into homemade Bircher muesli (such as the one pictured at the start of this post, recipe featured in 'Eat Right For Your Life').

Eggs

Eggs have fallen in and out of favour over the years, but current research shows that eggs can be enjoyed regularly, even if you do have high cholesterol.  For an active person, eggs are one of the highest biological value proteins you will find.  The egg white is practically pure protein, but don’t neglect the yolk!  Egg yolks are rich in minerals and important fat-soluble vitamins, which are often lacking in active people who keep to a low-fat way of eating.  If your cholesterol is on the edge you may need to be careful beyond six yolks per week, although you may be able to enjoy more.  Eggs are a tasty and nutritious option if you are active.

Rice milk

You may not have tried rice milk, but it is one of the best fluids to mix with your protein powder after the gym.  Why?  The carbohydrate in rice milk has a high glycemic index, which can aid in in recovery and promote absorption of the amino acids from protein powder post-exercise.  Rice milk does not contain much protein itself, but mixed with a protein supplement it provides an effective stimulant for muscle synthesis.

Herbs (including garlic and chilli)

If you are serious about improving your health, you should be eating herbs. Herbs add flavour to foods and contain negligible kilojoules when used in a mixed dish, but pack a concentrated nutrient punch.

Many fresh herbs have been found to contain vitamin, mineral and antioxidant concentrations many times that of standard vegetables, and using a range of herbs will provide a variety of health (and taste!) benefits.  Common herbs that you can be grown at home include basil (great in salads and with tomato based sauces), parsley (use with omelettes and fish), coriander (terrific in Asian style dishes, especially with chicken and seafood), rosemary (lean lamb and potatoes) and mint (both sweet and savoury dishes). 

Kangaroo

One of the leanest meats around, and packed with iron and zinc, kangaroo will help you meet your protein needs and keep you energised. It is also an economical option if you are watching your budget.  If you haven’t tried it, have a go but be careful not to overcook or the meat will become tough (marinate prior if possible).   Beef is a great choice too for quality protein and minerals.

Oranges

It is widely accepted that oranges and other citrus fruits are good for our immune system due to their Vitamin C content (one orange contains double the recommended daily intake).  But this isn’t the only benefit of eating oranges.  Oranges contain antioxidants (including vitamin C) that can help the body recover from exercise.  Vitamin C also helps the body to absorb iron.  If that’s not convincing enough, oranges are often recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis due to their anti-inflammatory effect.  The anti-inflammatory potential of oranges may be due to flavonoid antioxidants, vitamin C itself or something else entirely, but this effect may potentially play a role in reducing the risk of a range of chronic diseases that are related to inflammation.

You can learn more about the best and beware foods for different life stages and lifestyles in 'Eat Right For Your Life', available now at bookstores, newsagents and various online retailers.

P.S. If you are a keen gym-goer, it may be useful to consult with an accredited sports dietitian to discuss your food and supplement requirements in more detail, and work with an exercise physiologist or appropriately qualified personal trainer to develop a training program for best results.

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

 

5 secrets of the French - how to eat the foods you like and not gain fat

Believe it or not, it is possible to eat whatever food you like and not put on weight.  Lots of people do it.  French people have perfected it. Although there are a few conditions.

My title is a little misleading, the French aren't really keeping anything secret, they showcase their remarkable way of life to every visitor who crosses their borders.  They eat beautiful, fresh, amazing food.  Some nutrient-rich, some not.  First impressions of French food don't usually remind you of 'clean eating' (for want of a better term), but somewhat surprisingly their everyday way of life is conducive to good health and managing weight well.  The graph below compares the trends in obesity in different countries.  Many countries are on the increase, including France, but they are starting at a lower waist measurement, and are a long way from catching the US or Australia.  Remarkable really when you think of all those croissants, pastries and creamy sauces.  If the French can maintain their traditional food culture and customs this will help to keep them at the bottom of this graph, but as fast food culture infiltrates this may see their country sloping further and further towards the top. 

Obesity trends in selected OECD countries, source:  www.oecd.org/

Obesity trends in selected OECD countries, source: www.oecd.org/

So what are the secrets of the French that has been keeping their obesity rate around half that of Australia?

1) Small portions

Number one habit of the French that works every time - small portions.  I truly believe that how much we eat is more important than what we eat when it comes to weight management.  Not as important for health perhaps, as 1500 calories worth of chocolate and sweets per day is not going to be all that sustaining or nutritious.  The foods that make up your portions are important for keeping you full and also to give your body nutrients, but getting the volumes right is key.  In France they enjoy their pastries, breads (white!), cream, cheeses, wine and rich, rich sauces but they also eat salads and vegetables.  Most of their food is served petite. 

 

Image courtesy of  www.ribbonsandbowscakes.com.au

I am not claiming that there is not one person in France who is overweight or overeats.  With an obesity rate in 2012 at 15% and overweight 32%, the French are still considered the thinnest people in Europe and doing better than most developed countries.  

Eating less is not all the French do well...... 

 

2) Enjoy and savour food - eat slowly and sit

Everyone is busy and it seems very few family meals are enjoyed at the traditional dining table, sharing news of the day and a delicious home-cooked meal.  The French have refined the art of sitting down (often at a café facing the footpath) to enjoy a coffee or something to eat.  French children are more likely to sit down to a hot lunch rather than a sandwich, with a small dessert to follow, which may in fact be fruit of some description.  When we eat on the run we usually eat quickly and don't have time to think about the flavours and textures, or how much we are consuming.  Eating out of a bag or a packet is common, while eating from a plate has greater benefits.  If you put your food on a plate you can see exactly how much there is, and using utensils also helps to slow down the rate of consumption.  You may yourself have been shocked by tipping a take-away carton of noodles or curry onto a plate and realising the sheer volume that was about to go into your stomach.  Eating from a plate will help to reduce your portions.  If we are eating while doing something else, like working on the computer or sitting on the couch in front of the tv, then we are also eating mindlessly and this increases the speed we eat and the likelihood of over-eating.  Sitting down to eat a meal and focusing solely on the food and our dinner companions is worth the time and effort.    

3) Meticulous preparation

French people take the time to eat, and perhaps this is because they are admiring what they are about to enjoy.  Just think of a French pattiserie and the sparkling clear glass cabinets full of intricately designed and crafted pastries and cakes.  The structure and artistic appeal is of equal importance to flavour.  Petit fours is a French term meaning 'small oven', as these miniature sweet morsels were traditionally made in a small oven next to the main larger oven.  Most enjoyment of food is in the first couple of bites, and in France they recognize this.  What is the point of having a huge piece of chocolate cake, all the one flavor, when you can have a range of different flavours and food experiences.  Nothing is just slapped onto the plate in France, pride is taken in food preparation and presentation.  Not everyone's lifestyle can accomodate hours in the kitchen, but allocating a small amount of time to improving your food skills and making food look nice can make eating so much more fun, and help your health and weight at the same time.

4) Mealtimes are for eating

It seems that the French eat their food at mealtimes and don't rely on too much snacking for their daily nutrients.   I don't really know why there is less snacking, but eating a 'proper' meal at lunch may mean that hunger in the afternoon is less of an issue?  Three square meals per day won't suit everybody, but it may be a useful strategy for reducing overall calorie intake, as the types of foods we eat between meals are often higher-calorie and lower-nutrient density than the type of foods we eat for main meals.

5) Good habits start early

Most of the food habits described above begin during childhood in France.  The child obesity rate in France has historically been one of the lowest in the world, while in other developed countries children are becoming more and more overweight.  If you want to learn more, check out this post by Karen Billon  'French Kids Don't Get Fat' which is a terrific insight into the eating patterns of French children.

 

Although we can't all move to France to live, we can make the effort to understand some of their everyday habits and apply them to our own lifestyles and eating patterns.  With Christmas and associated food-related celebrations ahead, there is no better time to start thinking about your own choices.  Portions really are the key, whilst enjoying a range of nutritious foods eaten for pleasure. Bon apetit!! 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Effect of LCHF on blood test results PLUS ketogenic diets PLUS coconut oil

bacon

I have been thinking about this whole LCHF movement and some of the passionate advocates of this style of eating, and I continue to be bewildered as to why they are SO passionate about spreading the LCHF word?  Perhaps their own personal experience has been so overwhelmingly powerful that they feel no option but to help others to experience the same?  Or is it to challenge the exisiting dietary guidelines and advocate for change (not that too many people actually follow the current dietary guidelines anyway)?  Or is it to promote the next diet book they have at the publishers, just about ready to hit the shelves.  You know what, I am really not sure, and there are probably different incentives depending on the individual.  The wide range of characters promoting LCHF makes things even more confusing – some scientists, doctors and dietitians are gunning for it, and so too celebrities, chefs, and everyday Australians.  Interestingly, Australia is the number one country at present where the LCHF message seems to be getting air time.  Apparently in the US and other countries, there is no such interest, and LCHF may just be viewed as another fad diet.  Jimmy Moore, a speaker at LC Downunder seminars is from the US and he was congratulating Australia on their interest and uptake of LCHF (and for supporting his livelihood via purchasing his books and other resources).  So are we just all being sucked in, when other countries don’t seem to give two hoots about LCHF, or are followers on the crest of the next wave of nutrition truth……..

My curiosity about why LCHF supporters are so passionate extends to Associate Professor Ken Sikaris. His name may sound familiar to you if you live in Victoria and received a blood test report in the last ten years or so - his name may have been printed at the top of each page.  Ken Sikaris is a pathologist, specialty biochemistry, with a particular interest in cholesterol.  A/Prof Sikaris has an impressive resume in the world of pathology.  I hope I am not being naïve, but his apparent neutrality in the commercial world (unless he has plans to release his own brand of coconut oil/fat/paste/milk/cream*see end of post), along with his vast professional experience in pathology, makes it difficult to predict any reason why he would want to be talking about LCHF at the Low Carb Downunder seminar, other than because the research is indicating something.  A/Prof Sikaris has also tried LCHF himself and he credits this for his personal weight loss and improvements in blood lipid profile, which he presented as one of a number of case studies.  He also showed some real research, a pleasant change from the heavily weighted anecdotal and case study format of most of the seminar sessions.  Admittedly, I have not critiqued every study that was presented, but the trends that were observed in the large number of studies he discussed shone quite a positive light on LCHF for cholesterol, triglyceride and blood glucose levels.

I don’t want to simplify the complexities of blood testing and interpretation, but to summarise the content and research within the presentation, the trends observed in blood parameter changes with LCHF from the studies presented are something along the lines of this:

- Increase in Total Cholesterol

- Increase in LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol)

- Increase in HDL cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol)

- Decrease in small dense LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol)

- Decrease in triglycerides

- Decrease in HbA1C

  • Please note, these are observed trends that were presented based on studies during one session of the Low Carb Downunder conference and are not indicative of expected changes in ALL individuals.  For some people, a LCHF diet may produce unfavourable results which may be of significant risk to health.

Reading through the list above, the first impression is that eating more fat through LCHF will increase total and LDL cholesterol. Higher fat intake is likely to increase total, LDL and HDL cholesterol, but reducing carbohydrate helps to reduce triglycerides, which A/Prof indicated may be the key element in reducing cardiovascular risk.  He indicated that as triglyceride levels increase >1.5mmol/L, more LDL will be in small dense (modified) form, that hangs around in the blood, rejected by the liver and may end up in blood vessels.  On the other hand, if triglycerides are <1.5mmol/L, LDL are likely to be in the larger form that may be taken up by the liver.  It may be that small dense LDL could potentially be the new marker of CVD risk, and that even if total and LDL cholesterol are higher, CVD risk could be reduced if small dense LDL% is lower.  And this could all link back to carbohydrate and their impact on TG's.  On a low-fat, higher carbohydrate intake, it was observed that more small dense LDL is formed. It was suggested that a short period time of only 3 weeks could potentially show blood changes of decreased triglycerides and small dense LDL.

With regard to HDL, observed increases have been quite large in magnitude, and it was suggested that there is no drug that can increase HDL to that extent. 

HOWEVER, it was acknowledged that not ALL individuals experience positive changes to blood cholesterol profile with LCHF.  For some people, LCHF increases total cholesterol excessively, and this is likely related to genetics.  This is often due to an increase in Lp(a), a modified LDL particle that the liver does not particularly like and so, like the small dense LDL, it can end up in the blood vessels, which can be dangerous for cardiovascular health.

So to summarise the presentation by Ken Sikaris, LCHF can have a positive effect on blood lipid profile, but can have a negative effect in some people.  The dilemma for me is how do you know who will have the favourable outcome and which individuals should be wary. 

During the Q&A panel session, the question was asked if LCHF would be suitable for someone after a stroke or heart attack.  The overwhelming response from the panel was yes, it would be a better dietary strategy for future health, but how do they know how that person will respond to LCHF.  Can a favourable outcome be guaranteed??

The other question is whether the change in blood results is due more to the actual change in macronutrient intake, or related to the associated loss of weight?

During the panel discussion it was also suggested that individuals may be better to go very low carbohydrate to start with, rather than easing into it, to achiever results sooner and allow the body to fat adapt.  Many of the blood parameter changes in the studies presented were based on very low carbohydrate intakes of <40g/day, or what would be considered a ketogenic diet.  The word 'ketogenic' sounds very clinical and a little bit daunting, but is basically the lowest carbohydrate form of LCHF, where ketones and fat replace carbohydrate as fuel.

Jimmy Moore calls ketones 'super fuel', but indicates that you need to keto adapt to become a ketone burner.  I am sure there are a variety of approaches, but his recommendation is to start eating unlimited fat to become fat adapted, then decrease intake over time so it allows stored fat to be broken down for energy.  So it is not a matter of eating as much fat as you like, effectively there calorie control.  With regard to carbohydrate, 30-80g seems to be deemed acceptable for 'keto', and protein is recommended not to be overdone, in case it is converted to glucose (there was lots of talk about gluconeogenesis), which may impair ketogenesis.  Of course, you need to buy a ketone monitor to carefully track ketone levels.  After about 1-4 months you become keto-adapted, and on your way to health and happiness by all accounts.

Many dietitians have scoffed at LCHF as just another fad.  But how many dietitians recommended VLCD programs like Optifast?  I know I do, not routinely but for individuals where it is deemed appropriate.  These programs create ketosis, and can be very successful for weight loss, but they are not for everyone and are not representative of longer term healthy eating patterns.  Is there a difference between VLCD programs and LCHF diet??  There are many, the most obvious being that Optifast for example is designed for a short period of time, not forever.  There are a lot of things to consider when making decisions about the best approach to food and nutrition for any one individual.

It seems that nutrition is becoming more and more complex when really in a practical sense when it comes to food choices we should be getting back to the basics of simple, fresh, delicious food.  The foods you choose are up to you, and based on a range of factors that are unique to you.  If you are finding your nutrition a challenge, speak with a dietitian who can help you work through it.  (although some dietitians may not recommend eating coconut oil by the spoonful as an afternoon snack, see below....)

* Just as a side note from earlier in this post, I really don’t get the coconut oil thing, nor do I understand the current interest and obsession with all things coconut.  Why is coconut oil considered so much better than any other fat?  It’s basically just saturated fat, although it does contain significant amounts of medium chain triglycerides (MCT's) with about 50% of the MCT's being lauric acid, which has been reported to have health benefits.  Coconut oil is great to cook with and adds flavour to foods, but the evidence that it does a lot more is currently lacking.  I heard Professor Andrew Sinclair, Chair in Nutrition Science from the School of Medicine at Deakin University, speak at a recent nutrition seminar in Melbourne, the topic being his area of expertise – fats.  He didn’t have anything particularly groundbreaking to say about coconut fat, but did mention that researchers at Deakin are looking into reviewing the literature on coconut oil and health…..perhaps they will find something exciting, until then.....

This Thoughts post provides informational content only, and is not for individual nutrition prescription purposes.  For more specific nutrition guidance and recommendations tailored to your individual needs you should speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.