Lisa Middleton

Pumpkin and Pinenut Spinach Salad

Pumpkin+salad.jpg

Roasted pumpkin is a delicious base for a salad (and lower in carbohydrate than most people think!). If you need a higher carbohydrate option, you could use sweet potato instead of the pumpkin. Combined with feta and crunchy pinenuts, you can have a gourmet vegetarian dinner any night of the week, or a great salad addition to a summer BBQ.

Recipe from Super Food for Performance in Work, Sport and Life.

Serves 4-8

Ingredients:
750g butternut pumpkin, peeled
2tbsp olive oil
40g pine nuts
150g baby spinach leaves
80g feta cheese
Additional 2tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Method:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.  Chop pumpkin into small cubes and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Drizzle with the olive oil and turn to coat.  Roast for 30 minutes or until tender and leave to cool.
Towards the end of cooking, place the pine nuts on a baking tray in the over for a couple of minutes to lightly toast, or this could alternatively be done in a small non-stick frying pan on the stove.  Allow to cool also.
Place spinach in a serving bowl, top with pumpkin, pinenuts and crumbled feta.  Whisk additional 2tbsp olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper.  Serve salad with dressing.

Fibre-rich, Low-Fructose, Vegetarian, Gluten-free

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.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Is that really healthy?

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

Size matters

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

Eating well can be boring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet potato

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

Barley

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

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

Sourdough rye bread

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

Bananas

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

Sweetcorn

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

Oats

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

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

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

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

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

How do the milks differ?

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

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

Protein

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

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

Calcium

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

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

*Milk and low-fat milk refer to dairy varieties

*Milk and low-fat milk refer to dairy varieties

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

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

 

 

Salmon and Ricotta Frittata

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

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

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

Salmon and Ricotta Frittata

Serves 4

 Ingredients:

2 tsp oil

2 spring onions (scallions), sliced

100g/3.5 oz baby spinach leaves

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

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

6 eggs, whisked

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

1 tbsp chopped dill

½ cup/50g low-fat cheese, grated

 Method:

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

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

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

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

Nicoise Salad

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

Nicoise Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

500g/1 lb baby new potatoes, quartered

200g/7 oz green beans, topped and tailed

1 medium red (Spanish) onion, sliced thinly

150g/5 oz mixed lettuce leaves

250g/9 oz cherry tomatoes

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

4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters

½ cup/90g seeded black olives

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

 Dressing

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

Method

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

 

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Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?

Summer in Australia can get hot!  Daily fluid intake is essential, but how much, and what type, do you really need for optimal energy levels, performance and health?  If you train regularly you need to drink regularly, but it’s not just about drinking as much water as you can.  Working out your individual needs can help you hydrate to train and perform at your best.

Why hydrate?

When we exercise we sweat, leading to higher fluid losses and increased fluid needs.  Starting training hydrated means setting yourself up to: 

- improve concentration and judgement

- improve co-ordination

- improve energy levels and delay fatigue

- make exercise feel easier, so you feel better and can work harder

Best fluids for training

For most exercise and sport, water is the drink of choice and totally adequate.  However many active people are turning to the wide range of sports and electrolyte drinks to help power their performance.  But are all the fancy formulations worth the effort and investment? 

Sports drinks vs electrolyte drinks

The key question to ask is whether you need fuel, fluid and/or electrolyte replacement.  Commercial sports drinks generally contain both carbohydrate and electrolytes and can be useful during prolonged training, hot and humid conditions and any time that sweat rates are high and when additional fuel in an easily consumed form is required. 

If your main priority is hydration, there are a number of pill and powder options that provide electrolytes without the carbohydrate and sugars.  The main electrolyte that drives hydration is sodium, so in essence you are purchasing a high salt solution to aid in fluid absorption and retention. 

If you don't do large amounts of prolonged training, enough sodium will likely be consumed through foods, and additional electrolytes may not be required.  However if you participate in long-duration exercise or have a high sweat rate with the potential to lose significant fluid and sodium, an electrolyte supplement could be pretty useful.  Salty carbohydrate-rich snacks can be handy too for those longer pursuits as a fuel and electrolyte source – just add water!  But if the event makes eating difficult, a sports and electrolyte drink or combination might work well (worth practicing in training to see what works, but for most shorter training sessions water may be fine).  Sports drink swishing is another strategy if you want the effects but not the fuel and carbs, might need to write a post on this down the track. 

When you are not exercising, other nutritious fluids such as milk, soup, blended fruit smoothies, juice, tea and coffee all help you to hydrate.  In fact milk can have a higher electrolyte content than many sports drinks!  Coffee can have a diuretic effect, so is not as effective in helping your body to hold onto the fluid you drink, but can still contribute to hydration goals. *For more hydration info, see my previous blog post Best Fluids for Hydration - Look No Further Than Soup.

Individual fluid needs vary significantly due to a number of factors.  Work out how much you need and the best fluids for you for different scenarios, and ask an accredited sports dietitian if you need some help working it all out.

For more nutrition updates I would love you to send you my free newsletter every month or two, please leave your details on my website Thoughts page.  I am now on Instagram too, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous-cous

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 salad to serve on Christmas day?  For this recipe the salad is served with lamb, but it goes just as nicely with roast turkey or a BBQ!  It can be made ahead of time, but here is a quick tip - add the spinach and mint at the last minute!  Look closely at the picture above - your salad will look a lot greener than this as I tried to be clever and freeze the cous-cous mix for our photo shoot day and soon realized that spinach doesn't freeze so well and ends up a limp soggy mess.  So do a better job than me and you will have a fresh, vibrant and tasty salad! 

For more Christmas eating ideas, have a read of my blog post Christmas eating for athletes - tips to eat well through the festive season and leave your details on my Thoughts page for nutrition news and recipes sent directly to your email.

Or if you are looking for a last minute gift idea, I have copies of my book Eat Right for Your Life available at a special Christmas price of $10.  Contact me via the Get In Touch tab on my website to order copies. 

Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous-cous

Serves 4 as a main

1 cup/185g dry couscous

300g/10.5 oz can of chickpeas, drained

100g/3.5 oz spinach leaves

2 tbsp chopped mint

¼ cup/42g dry roasted almonds, roughly chopped

¼ cup/30g cranberries

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil

Extra oil for cooking

600g/1.3 lb lamb filet or lean lamb steaks

Salt and cracked pepper

Low-fat Greek yoghurt

 

1. Cook the couscous according to packet instructions and allow to cool.

2. Stir through the chickpeas, spinach leaves, mint, almonds and cranberries. 

3. Combine the lemon juice and oil, drizzle over the salad and stir to combine. 

4. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and cracked pepper. Heat oil in a pan and cook lamb for 3-4 minutes each side, or until cooked to your liking. Rest for 5 minutes.

5. While the lamb is resting, place the salad onto warmed serving plates then slice the lamb and serve with the couscous salad and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

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

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

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

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

Carbohydrate

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

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

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

Protein

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

Fat

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

Kilojoules

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

So which is best?

Overall nutrition

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

Energy levels

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

Exercise performance

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

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

Weight management

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

In perspective

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BMI for athletes - is it relevant?

Feet_on_scale.jpg

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

 

Ten weight loss 'super' foods that taste good too

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

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

Strawberries

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

White fish

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

Prawns

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

Herbs

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

Green Tea

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

Nuts

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

Green leafy vegetables

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

Lemon

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

Natural yoghurt

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

Oats

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

 

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Five reasons why red meat is good for athletes

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

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

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

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

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

Number 5 - Healthy fats

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

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

Number 4 -  Minerals

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

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

Number 3 - Satiety

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

Number 2 - Iron content

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

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

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

Number 1 - Protein

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

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

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

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

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Vitamin D for athlete health and performance

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

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

Why are so many people Vitamin D deficient?

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

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

Who is at risk?

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

Other individuals at higher risk include:

  • indoor lifestyle eg. work, study.

  • if you cover your skin for religious reasons.

  • if you have naturally very dark skin.

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

  • specific medical conditions.

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

Why is Vitamin D important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategies to increase Vitamin D levels

  • Spend some time out in the sun without sunscreen on  

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • SDA Fact Sheet – Vitamin D

  • AIS Fact Sheet – Vitamin D

Energy For the Mountains - Tour de France Nutrition

TdF2009

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

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

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

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

So much food, so little time:

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

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

Food on the bike:

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

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

Food off the bike:

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

 Hydration:

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

Immune system:

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

 

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

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Best fluids for hydration - look no further than soup

Image courtesy of  Bec Doyle Photography

Image courtesy of Bec Doyle Photography

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

Soup for Hydration

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

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

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

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

Nutrient information per 100ml of fluid.

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

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

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

Soup for Pre-exercise

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

Great soups for pre-exercise:

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

Soup for Recovery

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

Great soups for recovery:

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

Soup for Weight Loss

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

Great soups for weight loss:

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

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

 

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

Kids' party food - go healthy or sugar-laden free-for-all?

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This post has absolutely nothing to do with sports nutrition, as my nutrition focus has switched to kids party fare with my son's recent birthday.  If you have ever known a 5 year old, then you probably understand that when you are 5, birthdays are a big deal.  We had two small parties and co-ordination of catering was required for both.  My biggest dilemma when it came to planning was whether to go super healthy or stick with traditional.  As a dietitian I feel a responsibility to a degree to provide some nourishment, but then I don't want my kids to feel like their parties aren't quite as exciting and just full of everyday foods either. 

One party option was the local pub, a child-friendly venue with a fantastic playground and low-maintenance for the host parents, BUT as you would imagine, there were no date & chia balls or frozen fruit pops on the pub catering menu!  So my dilemma was this - have a party at home with the risk of inclement weather and 12 kinder kids and toddler siblings squashed into a space designed to really only cater well for 5 or 6......or head to the pub.  Home party means healthier menu, pub means typical party fare from packets and either fried or mostly pastry.

I was torn...the pub menu wasn't really negotiable, other than the additional fruit platter I could order.  I love a  party at home, but last year's proved to be challenging when it poured rain all day and we were stuck indoors.  However a home party allowed total control of the menu, and the preparation of at least a few healthy options.  I swung to and fro and deliberated on my decision, but in the end the low maintenance pub won out.

I know there may be some of you reading this who are horrified to think I would expose my children to such toxic food.  I also know there are many parents, and party venues, who go the whole distance when it comes to healthy parties - organic, raw, no sugar, no nuts*, no dairy.   That's great if you can make it exciting.  I am not sure that kids get quite as excited about high-fibre bran muffins as they would blue cupcakes with sprinkles!  Or maybe I'm not being creative enough??  I know for myself that many of the special memories of parties were related to the food.  If the food at a party is the same as what a child gets in their lunch box every day then it wouldn't be a party would it?   I believe in the fun of parties and enjoying special foods, especially when it comes to birthdays. 

*When catering for children you do need to be careful when it comes to nuts and other allergies.  There were two children out of 15 with nut allergies on the day, and avoiding nuts in party foods is pretty standard these days. 

So, the pub party food it was, although I couldn't help myself and ordered a fruit platter to go with it!  I didn't think the kids would touch the fruit, but to my surprise they actually had a good go at it.  And do you know what?  Even with all the high fat, processed foods available, most kids didn't actually eat that much of it.  Children seem to be so much better than adults at regulating intake, and have a great sense of hunger and appetite.  At a birthday party there are usually lots more exciting things to do than sit around eating all day.  So maybe that's the big tip for kids parties, make sure there are some activities on the go and they may not eat that much sugar anyway.  Oh, and you probably don't need to serve soft drink or juice.  Water is perfect, there is probably going to be enough sugar in everything else.  No soft drink also means no artificial colours too.

When it comes to parties, I do have a concern about the amount of artificial additives consumed by kids, so my effort to make the party fare healthier was to use natural food colourings and use lollies in the lolly bags without added flavours/colourings.  The lollies were easy, but the natural food colourings were a new experience, especially with my history of regular cake making and use of super-concentrated food colourings.  My Octonauts Amazon Adventure cake, as requested by my son about 6 months prior to his party, required both blue and green food colouring.  One word to describe natural food colourings - pale.  Unless you use almost the whole bottle at $10 a pop.  In the end, I kept on adding and managed to get a reasonable colour, see below (minus the Octonauts who were yet to be added).

Now for the second party, the family gathering, which was straight after the pub.  I love home parties and planning the menus, and my philosophy for home is to incorporate traditional party foods, with a few healthier options on offer (a sushi/rice paper roll platter and fruit salad).  I don't try to mess with delicious traditions in an attempt to make them healthier, by substituting with spelt flour or coconut oil, I let everyone enjoy party foods as they are meant to be (other than the colours).  At least if you some of the options are home-made it will help with reducing the level of processing and intake of additives.  As a dietitian I sometimes feel a bit of pressure, or feel like I am being judged by what I provide at children's parties, or in their lunchboxes for that matter......but in the end it comes down to enjoying a range of food and avoiding 'good' or 'bad' food labels with youngsters who are developing their relationship with food. 

So in summary I think parties are great!   Traditional party foods are fun, watch the artificial stuff though and maybe throw in a few healthier options as the kids may actually enjoy them.  Or they may be so busy they don't eat much at all.  Occasional party foods are totally fine, HOWEVER, the big issue is that young children can end up going to A LOT of parties.  If you are going to a party nearly every weekend, all those party food add up, and that's where I can see the value in providing healthier party foods.  But how do you know how many parties your guests are going to that weekend?  My strategy this year to help the parents out was to only put a small number of lollies in the lolly bags so that what is eaten at the party is done at the party, and the sugar intake doesn't continue on for weeks after via lolly bags bursting at the seams.  My boys have about 4 lolly bags in the cupboard that they are gradually trying eat their way through, one lolly at a time! 

The important thing is for everyone to enjoy the party, from planning, to preparation, to playing!  Your decision to provide more or less healthy options will depend on a range of factors individual to you and your guests.  Make choices that create the least amount of stress and maximum amount of fun!