Red meat

10 of the best restaurant meal choices for athletes

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

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

  • Eye fillet steak with vegetables

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

  • Thai beef or chicken salad

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

  • Prawn and vegetable stir-fry

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

  • Poke bowl

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

  • Steamed fish and greens

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

  • Grilled haloumi and vegetable stack

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

  • Fajitas

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

  • Lamb Greek salad

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

  • Vietnamese Pho

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

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

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

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

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.

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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Back to basics protein - foods that contain the most and best protein for recovery and training

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Following on from my recent post about recovery meals, I have been asked by a few people if I could provide some more information about protein, what it is and specifically how much is found in different foods.  Protein is one of those nutrients that receives a lot of attention for a range of reasons.  People who are training want to know about protein for recovery and muscle mass.  People trying to lose weight want to know about protein for its effect on satiety and reducing hunger.  People who are low in iron want to know about protein foods for iron.  Some people just love meat and don't want to know anything about protein, they just want to get the BBQ started and eat a juicy steak! 

Following is a brief run-down as to what protein is, which foods provide protein and how much and the best options and timing of protein for training.

Proteins of varying composition are found in a wide range of plant and animal foods.  You may have heard the term 'high quality' or 'high biological value' protein, and this relates to the composition of amino acids within a protein.  A variety of amino acids makes up a protein, and it is the amino acids which are the important building blocks for muscle and other body structures.  Some proteins contain all of the essential amino acids and are considered to be higher quality than those with some lacking.

Active people need protein to build and repair muscle. To achieve muscle mass gain you need to eat enough protein and overall kilojoules, but you also need a carefully planned training program to stimulate the muscles to develop and grow.  Unfortunately there are not too many shortcuts when it comes to getting your best results - training and eating should be  specific to  your needs and goals.

Resistance training seems to be synonymous with protein supplements, and the bigger and more expensive the bucket of powder, the greater the perceived effectiveness for building muscle.  Having protein powder after gym is far less important for recovery and overall muscle mass gain compared to eating enough protein and kilojoules and overall nutrients in the hours and days post-training.  It's great to get the immediate post-exercise recovery nutrition right, but if you don't back it up for the rest of the day then you won't be maximizing your results.

So do you need to take a protein supplement?  Supplements are extremely popular as a guaranteed way to get the right type and amount of protein for the initial recovery phase.  Whey protein is a complete protein, rich in essential amino acids, including leucine, that will promote muscle synthesis.  There is certainly a time and a place for appropriate protein supplements, however don't forget that many everyday foods are high quality protein sources too.  If you are training hard and want results, you need to have a plan in place with regard to food first and supplements if necessary.  Be careful how much you spend on the latest whizz-bang powders though.  Those with lots of added extras, that you pay for, are often filled with unnecessary ingredients which your body may not need.  Sometimes it is best to keep it simple, and stick to a pure whey protein product, or a food option.  

Complete proteins, such as whey protein, contain the full range of essential amino acids.   Plant sources of protein, other than soy protein, tend to be lacking one or more essential amino acids and are considered incomplete proteins. This can be a challenge for vegetarians, but all it really takes is some additional planning to achieve the key amino acid balance from non-animal sources.  I have listed below a range of foods and that are often considered as good protein sources, with the amount of protein listed per average serve and per 100g.  Note that values are approximates only, and will vary according to the specific variety of the food.   These are in no particular order:

                                                                                Per serve                        Per 100g

Medium chicken breast, 160g cooked                    44g                                 28g

Medium beef steak, 150g                                         47g                                  31g

Lamb fillet, 150g cooked                                          48g                                  32g

Medium fish fillet, 120g cooked                               38g                                  32g

Small tin of tuna                                                        20g                                  28g

Eggs, 2 medium                                                         10g                                   10g

Cow's milk, 300ml                                                     10g                                   3.5g

Greek yoghurt, 200g                                                10g                                     5g

Cheese,20g                                                                 6g                                   30g                          

Almonds, 30g                                                              6g                                   20g

Cottage cheese, 2tbsp                                               4g                                    10g

Tofu, firm, 100g                                                           13g                                   13g    

Dried beans, 100g cooked                                         7g                                      7g

Soy milk, 300ml                                                          10g                                    3.2g

Whey protein powder                                            ~22-30g                           75-90g+

(the content of supplements varies greatly depending on whether whey protein concentrate or isolate is used and any other ingredients, check labels)

As you can see from this list, the animal-based proteins are particularly rich in protein.  Meat, chicken and fish are all around 30% protein, so if you think about achieving regular protein intake spread over the day, only small portions of these foods are required to achieve adequate intake.  Dairy and eggs provide great quality protein, but you need to eat more of these to get the same amount of protein.  I have not included grain foods in this list as most of them contain quite small amounts of protein, although it all adds up over a day.

You may look at the chicken, meat and fish and automatically think that because they contain more protein they must be better choices.  But just because tuna contains a lot more protein per serve than eggs, this doesn't mean it is the preferred option.  Massive serves of protein aren't required to get results....regular intake at the right times will make the difference.

It is also clear that vegetarian foods are relatively low in protein, and if you combine that with the lower quality of non-animal proteins you can run into trouble.  But if you plan carefully you can ensure amino acid intake to support your recovery, training and performance needs.  Leucine is a particular amino acid that has been identified as important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and can be a little bit hard to find for vegetarians, especially those who don't eat soy products.  This is where vegan-friendly supplements can be of great use, but always be careful with supplement use in terms of their safety, actual benefits and cost.   

Active people should try to include high quality protein in all of their meals, and potentially snacks also, and should plan the type and timing of protein around specific training sessions.  It is a good strategy to spread protein intake over the day, ~20-25g is all you need to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.  Taking in more than this will not provide any further benefit, but won't hurt you either (unless you have a particular medical condition where protein intake needs to be limited).  Saying this, many people eat a lot more protein than they need....especially the animal sources.  You don't need 1/2 a chicken or 2 steaks at each meal, and research is showing that you are potentially better to stick to smaller protein serves more frequently over the day.  Over-consumption of protein can lead to excess kilojoules, which is ok if you are trying gain weight, but if you want to condition your muscles and stay reasonably lean then you may need to consider your protein portions.  More protein does not = more muscle. 

If you are trying to lose body fat, protein can help keep you full for longer and help keep blood glucose levels stable, reducing hunger and cravings.  You will need to consider your overall portions and nutrient intake related to your overall goals.  Sometimes protein supplements are useful for people trying to lose weight, as they give a good dose of protein with minimal calories.  It might be worth seeing an Accredited Sports Dietitian (www.sportsdietitians.com.au) if you need more specific advice and assistance with reaching your body composition, training and performance goals.

There is still much to learn about protein and its importance for recovery and muscle mass.   Researchers are still interested in the ideal amount of protein around training and timing of intake, the importance of leucine or other amino acids and specific recommended intake, and the variety of protein requirements for different individuals, based on specific characteristics such as gender, body size and shape, genetics and activity levels.