Meal ideas

The truth about celebrity online nutrition programs - why Chris Hemsworth’s 'Centr' is one of the best

Image courtesy of Centr

Image courtesy of Centr

You would not be alone if on first impressions you thought Chris Hemsworth’s new Centr health and fitness program was just another celebrity program with plenty of hype but not necessarily substance.  Celebrity programs have received much criticism for their lack of evidence-based content, however not all online health and well-being programs are the same…..some take their nutrition seriously - and they do it well.

Centr for example uses a range of ‘experts’ to provide varied nutrition content, including recipes, articles, cooking tips and meal plans.   I know first hand that all of their nutrition content is carefully planned, created and reviewed by the experts and the team at Loup (a complete digital business that produces online health and fitness programs) which includes an Advanced Sports Dietitian.   Loup are super passionate about health, nutrition, food (and food enjoyment), and provide ongoing support and expertise to the Centr program (in addition to other programs such as Tiffany Hall’s TiffXO). Great care is taken to provide nutrition content that is based on science, and approved by a dietitian for accuracy and consistency.    

Centr DOES provide meal plans, but with significant flexibility built in, and a focus on food enjoyment and listening to your body rather than counting calories and macros. Recipes incorporate seasonal, nutrient-dense wholefoods, to help nourish our bodies and brain rather than promoting a  ‘diet’ approach.  Yes, there are some issues with prescriptive meal plans in general, but Centr provides meal plans as a starting guide - in fact many, if not most, members do not follow the meal plans to the letter, but use them for recipe ideas to suit their food preferences and lifestyle.  The overall nutrition program aims to educate and empower individuals to actively change habits for a positive impact on both physical and mental health and well-being.    Clear recommendations are provided to seek individualized advice from an Accredited Dietitian for those with specific needs.

Online programs and meal plans are often criticized, and I admit a few years back I was one of those criticizing, but the feedback from Centr speaks for itself – individuals making better lifestyle choices and creating new habits leading to improvements in health, well-being, body composition, energy levels, confidence and happiness.  Thousands of individuals, from vegans (Centr has the most amazing vegan recipes!), to pescatarians to those who enjoy all foods.  The potential benefits for participants seem to far outweigh any perceived negatives.

Of course online programs are not for everybody – there will always be an important role for individualized advice and private consultation with dietitians like myself.  But if an online program can have a positive impact on individuals by providing credible and accurate nutrition information, delicious recipes, and practical meal ideas, this can only be a positive.

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.

Top nutrition tips for travelling athletes

A quick meal or snack that is easy to prepare in your hotel room

A quick meal or snack that is easy to prepare in your hotel room

Travel brings a range of challenges for athletes, and careful planning is required to make any trip a success.  I was recently on holiday, and did a lot of observing of how people eat when they are travelling and thought about what I do on holidays in an attempt to feed myself and my family well.  Then my mind turned to athletes.  Travelling for training or competition can be a particularly daunting prospect for athletes who have specific nutrition preferences and goals.  If you are staying within your local area, or country, it can be a little easier to manage, but even if heading overseas many of the basics remain the same.

Here are my top ten tips for travel nutrition on the road to ensure you are well nourished and prepared for success:  

(1) Do your research

No matter the length of your trip, if you want to eat well while you are away, you need to research and plan ahead.  Questions you need to ask include:  

- How long will I be in transit for and will there be stops along the way?

- Will any food or fluids be provided, or can I buy, or do I need to take my own food with me?

- If staying for a number of nights, where is the closest supermarket?  Big or small?  Opening hours?

- Where can I stay that has cooking facilities and a fridge?

- Local eateries - restaurants/cafes, take-away options, types of foods and costs involved?

- Food safety - do I need to be careful of what I eat and can I drink the tap water?

These questions are just a starting point, you may need to look even further into the specifics of what foods are available, depending on your individual needs.  If you know a bit about where you are staying and where you can buy food then you will save time, money and stress.

(2) BYO

If you have a specific food that you eat regularly, and it is portable, then take it with you.  Your favourite cereal, snack or spread may be hard to find in some locations, or could be extremely expensive.  Particularly for atheltes, if you have a specific routine for before/after training and competition then it may be worth taking those important items to be sure you can keep things as familiar as possible.  If you know you are organised it will put you at ease and allow you to focus on the training or event rather than scrambling to source a pre-event meal on the day.

(3) First stop - supermarket

Your first destination upon arrival should be the supermarket.  If you are travelling by plane, use the time to write a shopping list of the essentials.  Stocking up on arrival saves you time and money, and most importantly means that you can be organised to eat well from the outset.  Breakfasts are easy to self-cater, so too are snacks.  Lunches and dinners can be more of a challenge, depending on your cooking facilities and schedule, but if you plan ahead you can easily make it happen.

(4) Check opening hours

I mentioned this one earlier.  Not all supermarkets are open 24 hours.  Or Friday nights.  Or Sundays.  Check local supermarkets and eating establishments for standard opening hours in that location.  Living in Melbourne, I am spoilt to have shops open pretty much all the time, but not all locations have this luxury.  It was like when I was away recently on holidays and the first Saturday happened to be Anzac Day. There was chaos - people didn't know what to do or where to turn, and some were actually angry, when they realised shops were CLOSED......some ALL day.  Some may have struggled to put food on the table that night.......plan ahead!  Especially if you are arriving in a country town on a Saturday afternoon and you have a major competition on the Sunday night.  Get to the supermarket ASAP or your pre-event meal could be a packet of chips from the service station.

(5) Take containers

You have been to the supermarket and have everything ready to go, only to start putting together your snacks and lunch for your first day with no way to transport them!  I have made this mistake on several occasions, but now I always bring some plastic containers with me to ensure economical and environmentally friendly food storage.  Sure you have to wash them each night, but it takes probably less time than it would to be lining up to purchase snacks and lunch out and about.  It might be worth taking a small plastic chopping board and bowl also for food preparation if you won't have a kitchen.  Take a sturdy drink bottle from home too for re-filling each day.

(6) Eat in, and don't forget your kettle

Eating at home-base is a great way to know exactly what you are eating and there are plenty of quick and easy meals that you can whizz up with minimal ingredients.  Don't try to make things too complicated while travelling, stick to simple and nutritious.  Even if you are staying in the most basic of hotel rooms, you will still usually have a kettle.  Boiled water can be the base for a surprisingly large number of meals.  Cous-cous for example.  Or Hokkien noodles, or rice noodles.  You can easily get your carbohydrate option sorted (just remember you need a bowl to prepare), then you can add some fresh salads, and perhaps some tinned corn or other vegetables.  For protein you could add canned tuna, salmon or legumes, or sliced roast beef from the deli or even roast chicken.  Or you can buy some souvlaki-style meat from the local take-away to add to your meal.  Plus you could add cheese and/or nut/seeds/pestos for extra flavour, texture and nutrition .  The combinations are endless, how about these quick and tasty dishes:

- Cous-cous with rocket, chick peas, capsicum, feta and pepitas

- Asian style salad with rice noodles and sliced roast beef

- Chicken or lamb pieces (take-away), tabouli salad (purchased) and tzatziki with pita bread  

- Hokkien noodles with roast chicken, corn, spinach and pesto 

- Cous-cous with mixed salad, tuna and avocado

(7) Take advantage of convenience foods

Convenience foods are often processed, and therefore lumped into the 'avoid' category.  But the reality is that pretty much all foods are processed to some degree, the key is to look for minimal processing and few additives. 'Convenience' foods such as pre-packaged salad leaves, frozen vegetables in microwavable sachets, canned fish and vegetables, and even individual serves of rice or quinoa that can be easily heated can save time, money and mess.

(7) Are you really hungry?

One of the big problems when travelling is that we are often faced with hours and hours of either waiting around or in transit.  As a result we can get bored, and easily pass the time by eating and drinking for something to do.  Find some other activities to pass the time!  Head off armed with ideas to help avoid eating being the main activity.  Think about whether or not you are really hungry or not.  If you are an athlete and you are travelling over one or two days you may not be doing your regular training and most likely won't need to eat as much as you normally would on a training day.  It's great to take a range of snacks in your bag, but it doesn't mean you need to eat them all in the first hour.  Pace yourself and listen to your body.  Same with fluid, you may not need to drink the same volume as usual, although for plane travel you may need to drink extra to allow for the dehydrating effects of the cabin.

(8) Eating out

Of course when you are travelling there will be times when you want to eat out, or grab a take-away meal.  These days we are lucky and, in Australia at least, it is usually not too hard to find a half-decent option when eating at a restaurant or even choosing take-away.  My biggest tip is to just keep it simple.  Stick to basic proteins like meat, chicken or fish with vegetables or salad and not too many heavy sauces or dressings.  Examples include fish and salad, steak with vegetables, Asian-style soups or a chicken and vegetable stir-fry.  Same with carbohydrates, some athletes need more than others and if you are someone who needs lots then choose pastas or dishes served with rice, noodles or cous-cous....just watch the dressings and sauces.   Steer clear of the fried stuff and watch your portions too, it's easy to over-eat when travelling so tune in to your hunger signals.

(9) Food hygiene

Probably one of the most annoying things that can happen to a travelling athlete is gastro.  It is relatively common to have some alterations in bowel motions when travelling, but if you get food poisoning you will soon know about it, and it can ruin any well-planned preparation.  You have put in the hours over months or even years, so the last thing you want is to be suffering on the big day.  You can never totally eliminate the risk, but you can be smart about your food and fluid choices.  Don't eat from roadside food trucks or carts, don't eat food unless it is piping hot, don't eat foods that are meant to be cold if they haven't been in a fridge and don't drink the water, consume ice, swallow water in the shower or when brushing teeth, or eat salads and unpeeled fruit in areas where you are warned not to drink the water.  These are just a few tips, so again, do your research on t your destination to eat well and eat safely.

(10) Enjoy the local hospitality

We have focused a lot on maintaining a relatively normal routine while travelling, but of course it is important to enjoy the local cuisine, especially if you are travelling to a new or different country to your own.  One of the things I love about travelling is the opportunity to experience different tastes, textures and styles of food.  Food experiences are often our best memories of travel.  But perhaps do your experimenting after your event, just in case!  Try to eat at reputable food establishments, and just because locals eat there doesn't mean it is safe for you....what the locals can tolerate can be very different to what you can!  Plan ahead and enjoy the opportunities and fun that travel brings.

Eat your way to muscle recovery - 5 of the best post-training meals

Man eating steaks.jpg

Here are some quick ideas for anyone training hard and trying to get the best results in terms of muscle recovery.  I am not just talking about guys lifting heavy weights, guzzling protein and eating stacks of steaks.  Muscle recovery is important whatever type of exercise you do, be it for building muscle mass, or for a marathon, or for general fitness or training to lose weight.  If you are getting sore muscles, you are doing muscle damage and this needs to be repaired to progress your muscle condition and function. Whether you are an elite athlete or going to the gym after work to get fit, these recovery meals are for you. 

When we think of recovery we often focus on the immediate post-exercise 'window' where intake has been shown to optimize muscle recovery.  well done if you are planning ahead and taking a snack or drink containing 20-25g high quality, leucine-rich protein for straight after training, but sometimes it can be easy to forget about planning for the next meal after the initial recovery period.  Jose Areta and The Exercise and Nutrition Research Group at RMIT have done a lot of work in the area of protein and muscle and have indicated that regular protein doses spread every 3 hours over 12 or so hours post-exercise may result in optimal stimulus of muscle protein synthesis.  Recovery doesn't stop after the recovery 'window' is closed.  Your nutrition in the day/s after exercise will also impact on muscle recovery and conditioning. 

Recovery is not only about protein, but addressing your protein needs is a good start. Also include foods that provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats in your recovery meal.  Carbohydrate needs vary significantly depending on training just completed and the timing and type of your next session, as well as overall training, health and body composition goals.  Some days you may need more, sometimes you may not need too much at all in your recovery meal, and at different stages of the year your needs may differ also.

The 5 meal examples below will help you get your post-recovery recovery meal right.  Get your shopping list ready for better results at the gym or on the track. 

* Salmon with sweet potato mash and steamed greens, with soy/sesame dressing

Salmon is great for protein and healthy omega-3 fats.  Add some nutrient-rich green vegetables like broccolini, asparagus, green beans steamed only lightly to reduce heat exposure and therefore preserve vitamins.  Add a light Asian-style dressing with a base of soy sauce, maybe some fish sauce, toasted sesame seeds and chilli if you like.  Sweet potato will provide some nutritious carbohydrate.

* Beef and vegetable stir-fry with rice/grain/seed mix

A stir-fry is such a quick and easy meal after training, have everything chopped up ahead of time so all you have to do is cook it up.  Throw in a mix of colourful vegetables, like sliced capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy and mushrooms.  Maybe some cashews or almonds for extra protein, healthy fat and crunch? Serve with one of the range of rice/grain/seed mixes available at your local supermarket for a taste change and nutrient boost, especially good for endurance training sessions.

* Fish with white bean mash and salad

Don't be afraid of fish, it can be quick and easy to cook, in the pan or baked in foil or baking paper with herbs and lemon in the oven.  Instead of traditional mash, try white beans such as cannellini beans, canned are fine!  Heat with some garlic, chilli and oil and mash or keep it simple with lemon and parsley.  Don't forget some spinach or rocket for your greens.  This meal may be a bit light on carbohydrates for some. 

* Chicken with warm roast vegetables and quinoa

Grill chicken fillets and serve on top of cooked quinoa with pre-roasted vegetables.  Add some salt, oil and garlic to the vegetables when cooking and you won't need too much dressing on the salad, just a bit of lemon juice (pepitas are a great for texture, taste and nutrition added on the top).  Leftover salad is great for lunch the next day too!  A great option for all types of training, with a mix of protein and carbohydrate.

* Lamb with Greek salad

Simple lamb fillets or small lamb steaks or skewers can be easily grilled or cooked in pan, extra tasty if marinated ahead of time with lemon, garlic and herbs.  Serve with a tasty Greek-style salad with feta and olives.  Try adding some cooked pasta spirals to the Greek salad, keep the lettuce on the side, to create a quick pasta salad for lunch the next day.