Energy

Best foods for reducing stress and improving work performance

work-stress.jpg

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

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

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

5 Best Foods and Fluids

Fish

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

Tea (black or green)

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

Fruit

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

Substantial Salads

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

Calamari

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

 

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

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

Recovery smoothie

Image courtesy of  Bec Doyle Photography

Image courtesy of Bec Doyle Photography

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

Serves 1

 1 cup/250ml rice milk (calcium fortified)

100g/3.5 oz protein-rich Greek yoghurt

1 medium ripe banana, chopped

¼ cup/40g frozen berries

1 tbsp ground almonds

1 tbsp skim milk powder

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

 

 

 

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

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

Eat foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids

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

 Choose Low Glycemic Index

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

Don’t go hungry

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

Drink enough fluid

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

Drink tea

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

Mix up your fruits and vegetables

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

Add probiotics

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

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

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.

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

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

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

What to include in your pre-exercise snack

Protein

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

Carbohydrate

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

Healthy fats

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

Snacks for pre-exercise

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

* Fruit salad with natural/Greek yoghurt and chopped almonds         

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

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

* Sushi roll

* Mountain bread wrap with turkey and salad

* Natural muesli with Greek yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

* Rice paper roll

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Banana and a handful of nuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 of the best foods for performance

Fish

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

Avocado

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

Greek yoghurt

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

Kale

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

Beetroot

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

Watermelon

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

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

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

Best snacks for before exercise to perform at your best

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

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

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

 So what should you look for in a pre-exercise snack?

Protein

Protein is often the neglected nutrient when it comes to snacking, as many of our typical snacks are carbohydrate based (think fruit, biscuits, flour-based products).  Including protein in a snack means it will keep you full for longer, but can also help manage blood glucose levels, and is an essential nutrient for muscle growth and repair.  If you are doing a lighter cardio session then the protein is probably less important and you may be fine with a small carbohydrate snack (if anything), but for longer, heavier sessions there are benefits from including protein.

Carbohydrate

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

Healthy fats

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

Snacks for pre-exercise 

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

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chopped fresh fruit with natural yoghurt and chopped almonds         

* Quinoa tabouli with chickpeas

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

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

* Bean and rice salad

* Sushi handroll

* Greek yoghurt with berries

* Mountain bread with turkey and salad

* Tuna with rice and vegetables

 Natural muesli with low-fat natural yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

 * Home-made popcorn (mix in some almonds)

 * Fruit/grain toast spread with ricotta cheese

* Rice paper roll

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

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

Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Toast or wholegrain crackers with avocado and salmon

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

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