Enjoy food

10 of the best restaurant meal choices for athletes

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

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

  • Eye fillet steak with vegetables

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

  • Thai beef or chicken salad

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

  • Prawn and vegetable stir-fry

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

  • Poke bowl

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

  • Steamed fish and greens

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

  • Grilled haloumi and vegetable stack

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

  • Fajitas

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

  • Lamb Greek salad

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

  • Vietnamese Pho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!! 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Why dietitians are great dinner companions

'I don't want to eat in front of you!' she says, as our meals come to the table.  Eating out for dinner with friends can be an interesting experience when your job involves nutrition.  'I can't eat this while you are here, I'll feel guilty' is another common response that I've heard many times over the years.   Some people have a real fear that I am going to be analyzing their every bite and they will be overwhelmed with guilt and anguish about their choices.  Some people couldn't give two hoots and tuck into their parma and chips with not a care in the word about who is watching, but apparently a percentage of the population cannot stand to eat in the presence of a dietitian, their dining experience ruined.

If you have eaten with a dietitian before you will most likely have found that he or she is more interested in perusing the menu , making their own selections and enjoying their own meal than having any concern about what you are eating.  Wow, that sounds particularly selfish doesn't it?  I love working as a dietitian because I love food and eating, and I am of course intrigued by what people eat and why.  But if you are out for a dinner with me, you can choose whatever you like, I am certainly not going to judge you or embarrass you for the choices you make, and I most likely won't even think twice about your meal.  Besides, even if you happened to choose the most fatty and sugary food on the menu, it is only one meal....which means absolutely nothing in the scheme of things.   If I ate out for dinner with you three times per week and you were choosing a 3-course meal of fried entrees, creamy pastas and rich desserts every time then I may take a small mental note, but as a one off meal I am not really all that concerned. 

I love eating out with my dietitian friends.  I know what you are thinking, I love it because we can order quinoa with kale and a side of lettuce, but this couldn't be further from the truth.  I love eating out with dietitians because we can eat out without being judged.  It works both ways.  People may worry about what dietitians think about their choices, but dietitians often experience far from positive feedback on their choices along the lines of 'You shouldn't be eating that, should you?' or 'I didn't think you would eat that?' or the worst one 'Of course you would order the salad!!".  Eating with other dietitians means you can choose the healthier option if you want to, or not, with no comments, disappointments or stereotyping.  Dietitians love to share different dishes to try new things, so eating with them is fun.  FYI contrary to popular belief, dietitians love buffets, so many amazing foods to try!  Although I must admit that the behaviour of a dietitian at a buffet may be slightly different to the image of an overweight person at a budget US All-You-Can-Eat style establishment. 

So, do dietitians eat dessert?  Personally, I am someone who reads the dessert menu first and then I choose my main meal accordingly.  If I like the look of something for dessert, I don't want be too full from my main and not be able to choose dessert IF I FEEL LIKE IT.   The 'if' is the key word there, and important to consider when you are eating any meal and thinking about whether you need seconds or another course.  Remember, if you see a dietitian choosing a lighter style meal like a chicken salad for main, don't be fooled, it may mean they are saving room for dessert.  Although to be honest, with the serving sizes of meals in many restaurants these days it is not unusual to feel too full from the main to want a dessert.  This is where I could launch into a discussion about mindful eating, but Dr Rick Kausman already does a pretty good job of that.  Hunger awareness and consideration of whether or not you really want or need that extra serve is something worth working on.

Sometimes I feel like dessert, sometimes I don't (and sometimes I just don't feel like paying $14 for a slice of cake).  If I decline dessert, I admit that I do have that annoying female habit of asking for 'just one bite' of someone else's dessert, and this often surfaces during the food envy stage when other desserts come out.  My favourite desserts when eating out don't quite fit the image at the start of this post, ie. fruit salad.  It is also important to declare that I am not eating out overly frequently, which impacts on my likely intake and choices, but when it is an option I love a fresh lemon tart (that is quite 'tart'), a basic cheesecake (no fruit purees or salted caramel please) or sticky date pudding with ice-cream, not cream, (or if available just a small piece of caramel slice).  I often go halves.  A fair percentage of the enjoyment of food is in those first few bites, and I think that's why my dietitian friends love to share different dishes.....you can get a whole range of food experiences and enjoyment without necessarily over-doing the portions.   On a side note, it's so interesting that the more you pay for a meal the less you get.....probably better for your health to fine dine infrequently than go for a cheaper pub meal every week.

So relax and enjoy eating out with a dietitian, and if you feel like sharing a dessert with someone, ask the dietitian, they just could be the one at the table most likely to help you out.  Or if you order a whole one, move away from the dietitian as they are probably the most likely to try and steal a spoonful.

* Note - these views are based on my personal experiences, I cannot speak for the views of all dietitians, but I can comment about what I know about my dietitian friends.  I welcome comments if other dietitians feel differently.