Lisa

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.

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.

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.

 

Recover like a champion - what top Australian athletes eat after training and competition

Salmon Patties 01.jpg

Salmon Patties Image by Rebecca Doyle from Bec Doyle Photography (from the book Eat Right for Your Life)

 

Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople eat after training or competition?  Elite athletes have specific nutrition and hydration goals post-exercise to ensure they recover for their next session or event.  An athlete's recovery meal will be tailored to meet the specific need of the sport, and the goals and preferences of the individual.

We have heard from Lisa Weightman, Olympic marathon runner, in a previous blog post and gained an insight into her approach to nutrition Marathon Running Nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman.  Lisa mentioned that her favourite recovery meal is her mum's salmon patties, and she was generous enough to share the recipe with us (hope she checked with her mum!! Recipe further on).   These salmon patties contain all the components that are important for athlete recovery, and believe it or not, they are not even dairy-free or wheat-free or low-fat or 'free' anything else, they are just nourishing home-cooked food.  Plus they tick all the boxes for recovery, providing the key nutrients: 

Protein

Carbohydrate

Healthy fats

Vitamins/antioxidants

What do some of our top Australian athletes eat?

There are plenty of great options that can make the perfect recovery food.  It's great to understand the theory about the nutrients required post-exercise but the meal also needs to taste good if an athlete is going to choose it regularly as a recovery option. It was great for Lisa to share her favourite post-run meal with us, and this got me thinking about other athletes from different sports and what they personally choose for recovery.    So I asked them!  Here are the favourite recovery meals from some of Australia's best athletes, if you want to know more about the athlete simply click on their name:

 

Todd Blanchfield - Professional Athlete at Melbourne United Basketball Club and Emerging Boomers Australian team

Favourite recovery meal: Grilled chicken with rice

Todd has a great understanding of foods for recovery and makes sure his organized with food ready to go after training and games.  He is handy around a BBQ, which is a great way to cook meat, chicken and fish for a quick and easy meal after training.  Combine with vegetables or salad and some sweet potato, corn, rice or quinoa for re-fuelling.

 

Alexander Carew – Australian 400 metre runner

Favourite recovery meal: Burritos

Track athletes train hard and need to recover well.  'One of my favourite post-training meals is making burritos, a great one to add a variety of vegetables to the daily intake.

It's a great option because it's simple to prepare and easy to make lots. Sometimes it's hard to predict exactly how much you'll need after a day of training, so this meal you can always go back for seconds (and thirds) if that's what your body requires! And if you're not a bottomless pit, like I am, you may even have enough for lunch tomorrow! 

My favourite race day food is protein pancakes (1 egg, cup of oats, a little water and a scoop of Sustagen Sport). But that's normally pre-race.'

 

Simon Clarke - Professional Cyclist, Cannondale Pro Cycling

Favourite recovery meal: Tuna and rice

Road cyclists burn a lot of energy, and recovery nutrition is especially critical for heavy training phases and multi-stage events.  Many professional teams have their own private chefs, but meals don't necessarily need to be complicated.  With timing being important for recovery, quick and easy works well, or try to prepare ahead of time.

'My favourite post stage race (ie. Tour de France) recovery meal is a protein shake made with half rice milk and half water, then a bowl of rice with a tin of tuna and a little bit of balsamic glaze for taste'.

 

Glenn Manton – Speaker, Author and Athlete (various sports, from AFL to bobsled!)

Favourite recovery meal – Banana smoothie

'I can't begin to describe how much I enjoy eating (not drinking) my banana smoothie post training. It weighs more than most of the weights I lift!'

'Clean, fresh, organic and healthy' is how Glenn describes his vegetarian-style approach to nutrition, he loves to eat tasty and fresh food.  Glenn's smoothie is no ordinary banana smoothie - it's a giant!  Glenn is aware of including some protein and carbohydrate and likes to mix it up.  His standard ingredients include a non-dairy milk base like almond milk or rice milk, bananas, granola, nut butter, mesquite powder and a vegetarian protein powder. 

If you want to learn more about Glenn's approach to fitness, nutrition and overall health and well-being, check out his, and other athlete, programs at Better Body 12 weeks.

 

Leigh Montagna – Professional Athlete at St Kilda Football Club, Director of Football - Boost Sport

Favourite recovery meal - Pizza (healthy-style) 

'Good mix of fats, carbs and protein, and easy to get down as a snack straight after a game.  I try to go for the higher protein toppings like chicken.  My motto is "if you deserved it, treat yourself"....not every week but more likely after a win!  

'My next proper meal post-game is never the same. I might go out for dinner or have something in the fridge, anything from burritos, to a chicken dish or a pasta.  It just depends what I feel like. I really sharpen up and eat healthy the rest of the week in the lead up to the next game.'  

 

Jessica Morrison - Athlete at Mercantile Rowing Club and VIS Rowing (previously AIS Swimming)

Favourite recovery meal: Smoothie (oats, FC milk, yoghurt, honey & chia seeds) & scrambled eggs on toast. 

Typically rowers burn a lot of energy in morning training so recovery nutrition needs are high.

'My smoothie takes two seconds to make, I enjoy it while I am making eggs. It's instantly satisfying & eggs provide good sustenance & I like something warm with a bit of protein after training. Sometimes I'll make the smoothie with chocolate milk & would normally have all of this after a morning row.

I eat to train, not train to eat!'

 

Madi Robinson - Athlete at Melbourne Vixens Netball Club and Australian Diamonds Team member

Favourite recovery meal: Varies!

Madi is super passionate about good nutrition and knows the benefits that eating well can bring for health and performance (check out Madi's great website by clicking on her name).

'Straight after a game I have a protein shake and two rick cakes with peanut butter and banana.  I then have my main meal within 2 hours of the game for home games and this can be:

Chicken burger with salad

OR

Fish or chicken with veggies (beans, broccoli, sweet potato) cob of corn

OR

Sweet potato - with chicken, beans, spinach & salad

To rehydrate, I have an SOS rehydrate sachet after matches to help replenish my fluid losses.  I sweat a lot and change dresses at half time so its important I not only get the right food into my body but also fluid as well to recover'.

 

Jessica Rothwell – Australian Race Walker and Accredited Practising Dietitian

Favourite recovery meal – Oats with yoghurt, fruit and toppings

Jess is a hard-working athlete, and knows a bit about nutrition being a dietitian herself.  Note the use of herbs and spices in her recovery meal.....

‘My favourite breakfast after a morning training session is milky soaked salted oats, heaped with natural yoghurt, blueberries, cinnamon & sprinkled with nuts & seeds.

I like to alternate the blueberries with grated apple or banana & use nutmeg, cocoa, vanilla bean or mint depending on the fruit! For additional energy I will add in tahini, honey or more nuts!

I enjoy this because its nutrient dense, providing nearly all 5 food groups, delicious & versatile! The dairy is helpful for maintaining my lean muscle mass, bone health, refueling & very hydrating.  

Bircher muesli is also convenient to transport in a portable container if you’re on the go & making a big batch is an effective way of saving time!’

 

Prue Rothwell – Cyclist with National Road Series team Bikebug – NextGen Racing

Recovery meal - Colourful vegetable/rice/protein bowl

Prue is passionate about wholefood nutrition, cycling and farmers' markets, a great combination for optimal recovery for an athlete.

Prue meal.jpg

'After a milk based recovery drink/yoghurt, when I’m ready for something more substantial I generally throw together something that is quick and colourful… a bowl of rice, 2x boiled eggs, cottage cheese, grated carrot, kohlrabi, beetroot, purple cabbage, leafy greens and chilli sauce…..plus some tuna or kangaroo if I want to add some meat!'

 

So many choices.....

As you can see, there is not one perfect recovery meal, a range of different foods can combine to create the right balance.  If you are keen to learn more about recovery and the best recovery foods you can have a look at one of my other blog posts Eat your way to muscle recovery - 5 of the best post-training meals. If you train early in the morning, pre-breakfast, then you may want to read about some of the more breakfast-specific recovery options at Best post-run breakfasts for recovery vs weight loss.

Or you can try Lisa Weightman's mum's recipe below!

Salmon Patties

Makes about 10 patties

Ingredients:

1 x 415g/14 oz can of salmon, drained and mashed with a fork

1/4 tsp salt

Cracked pepper

2 tbsp chopped parsley

½ medium onion, chopped

2 cups/400g cooked rice

White Sauce

55g/2 oz butter

1/3 cup/50g self-raising flour

1 cup/250ml low-fat milk

Coating

Cornflake crumbs

2 eggs, whisked

Olive oil for cooking

Method:

  1. Make the white sauce by melting the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan and adding the flour. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from from heat and gradually add the milk while stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Return the pan to the  heat and stir continuously until thick.
  3. In a large bowl place the white sauce, salmon, salt and pepper to taste, onion, parsley and rice, mix together. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
  4. Roll the mixture into patties and coat with egg then roll in Corn Flake crumbs.
  5. Cook the patties in a non-stick pan with a little olive oil and serve with steamed vegetables.

 

 

 

 

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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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

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

 

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.