Sports nutrition

Pumpkin and Pinenut Spinach Salad

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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

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!

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.

 

 

 

Can jelly heal tendons? Maybe.....

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Much hype surrounds the role of gelatin in the repair of connective tissue injuries, but can it really make a difference, or is it just another nutrition fad? Nutrition trends like this can quickly grow wings and before you know it every injured athlete is making jelly for dessert.  Unfortunately in the case of gelatin it’s not as simple as daily bowl of jelly – the dose and timing are critical if it’s going to have an impact. 

Should home-made jelly concoctions be the new norm pre-training in the rehab gym, or are we all getting a bit carried away? 

Collagen and tendons

Connective tissues like ligaments and tendons are made up primarily of collagen fibres. It is the amount of collagen and cross-links within collagen that can impact on performance. Stiffness in the tendon allows for greater force production and subsequent strength, power and speed, but an imbalance between the strength of the muscle and the strength of the tendon or ligament can increase injury risk. 

Following a tendon injury, repairing the crosslinks is a high priority. Both training and nutrition can influence the number of collagen crosslinks.

 The role of gelatin

Glycine and proline are the common amino acids in collagen, and are both found in gelatin.  Vitamin C is also important for the process of collagen synthesis. Making these nutrients available in the bloodstream prior to exercise can promote absorption into the tendon.

A recent study by Shaw et.al. (2016) demonstrated that the increase in amino acids one hour after consuming a gelatin supplement was sufficient to increase collagen content. They showed a doubling of collagen synthesis by doing exercise that loads the tendon, and a further doubling of collagen synthesis with the addition of 15g gelatin pre-exercise (vs minimal impact of a 5g gelatin dose). Further research is required to determine effective dosages of both gelatin and Vitamin C, and whether doses should be scaled to body size also.   

These data suggest that adding gelatin with Vitamin C to an intermittent exercise program improves collagen synthesis and could play a beneficial role in both injury prevention and tissue repair. This has implications for reducing time to return to training, improved tendon functionality and potential performance outcomes.

Palatability problems

Consuming 15g of gelatin pre-training is easier said than done! The Shaw study mixed gelatin powder into Ribena for immediate consumption. Gelatin can be mixed with juice, made it into home-made ‘firm’ jellies/lollies or even used to create gelatin-rich pancakes! Whatever works....but just be prepared that 15g gelatin can be pretty heavy going.

Is gelatin worth the effort?

The problem when interesting research appears is that everyone suddenly becomes an expert and wants to jump on the bandwagon. There is still much to learn about dosages of both gelatin and Vitamin C and expected outcomes. On the other hand, if it does no harm and may speed up return from injury, which is ultimately the goal of an injured athlete, then it becomes an attractive option.

One note of caution - gelatin is increasingly being sold as a commercial product by supplement companies, posing a potential risk of contamination, so athletes who fall under any anti-doping code should be cautious. 

If you are interested in gelatin, and nutrition for injury in general, a session with a sports dietitian can help to ensure you are meeting your specific needs. 

For more sports nutrition info like this, 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.

 Want to learn more:

 Shaw, G., et al. (2016) Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr.

 Sigma Nutrition Podcast:

SNR #143: Keith Baar, PhD – Tendon Stiffness, Collagen Production & Gelatin for Performance & Injury http://sigmanutrition.com/episode143/

 

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.

Do you really need carbohydrates to train and perform, and are some better than others?

Carbs are evil. Aren't they? We are regularly reminded of this by sensationalist headlines suggesting sugar is toxic and white refined sugar is positively poison. The rationale behind these accusations is perhaps not without merit.  Over time the availability and intake of sugar-filled foods and drinks has sky-rocketed. Excess consumption of overly processed, low-nutrient foods can have a negative impact on our health. But does this make refined sugars lethal on their own? And should we really be using the words ‘sugar’ and ‘carbohydrate’ interchangeably. 

What starts with a jump onto the anti-sugar bandwagon can progress into joining the anti-carb club. Working in sports nutrition I am increasingly concerned about the number of athletes who take these messages to the extreme. Sure, if your health and well-being would benefit from losing weight then reducing carbohydrate and sugar can help. But it still doesn’t mean you need to eliminate carbs, or sugar, completely. Nor does it mean that replacing refined sugar with 'natural' sugar is any better for you. It really comes down to working out the best amount and types of carbohydrate to suit your individual needs. If you are someone who likes to keep fit and active, then cutting out carbs is not likely to do you any favours when it comes to training results and performance.            

Here’s why…..                                                                                               

Fuel

Yes, you can train your body to use fat better as a fuel by eating more fat, but does this improve energy levels and performance? No. Fat is pretty useless at fueling higher intensity efforts. Carbohydrates are far more effective when you need to work hard. 

Brain function

Stable blood glucose levels help to keep your brain fueled, helping with concentration, co-ordination and judgement – all pretty important for most types of athletic pursuits.

Muscle gains

If you are training for improved muscle condition, strength and size, carbohydrate can provide the energy to help this happen, in conjunction with adequate protein. Well planned carbohydrate intake won’t just turn to fat, but will be used effectively by the body to enhance muscle mass gains. 

Gut health

By choosing nutrient-dense, fibre-rich carbohydrate sources you will be providing your digestive system with the nutrients to feed your good gut bugs and keep them active, plus fibre to promote healthy nutrient absorption and bowel habits.

Immune function

Carbohydrate has been shown to have a positive effect on immune system for those doing regular or heavy training.  Exercise creates stress, but stable blood glucose levels can reduce the body's stress response and carbohydrate has been found to be effective in counteracting immune depression following exercise.

 

If you like to train, carbohydrates are your friend (even bread!). Get the portions, type and timing of intake right and carbohydrate will help you to get the best out of your training and performance. Look out for my next post where I will discuss the best types of carbohydrate foods for an active lifestyle. In the meantime you might like to take a look at a previous post 'The 10 best wheat and gluten-free carbohydrate foods if you train a lot'.

 

For more info like this, please leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ for performance nutrition updates, and you can also follow 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.

 

 

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.

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.

High performance snacks you should be eating at 3.30pm to get the best out of your post-work workout

Do you sometimes feel like you are working super hard at the gym, but not seeing the results you are after?   If you head straight to training after work, you may not have eaten since lunchtime, or maybe since breakfast!  Your fuel stores will be low, and heading into your session hungry and depleted will make it difficult to get the best results from your training.

Even if you are trying to lose weight, it can still be useful to have some fuel on board for energy, so you can work harder during your session.   If you are trying to gain muscle then you also need energy to lift, pull, push and build.  Regardless of your specific goals and whether you work out at the local gym or train as an elite athlete, nutrition can make a difference to training results and performance.

What to include in your pre-exercise snack

Protein

Protein is often the neglected nutrient when it comes to snacking, as many of our typical snacks are carbohydrate based (think fruit, biscuits, bars, etc.).  Including protein in a snack will keep you full for longer, help keep blood glucose levels stable, and assist with muscle growth and repair.  You can read more about protein in another post of mine Back to Basics Protein.

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate provides fuel for muscles to work hard and for your brain to focus and get you through your session. Low GI foods are sometimes recommended before exercise for sustained energy levels, however many low GI foods are rich in fibre which can cause gut problems pre-running for some people.  Play around with it to work out the best types of nutrient-dense carbohydrate foods that sit well for you. Amount is important too - if your goal is to get fit and lose weight you won’t need as much carbohydrate as someone in heavy training for a marathon. For more on carbohydrate for exercise please click here.

Healthy fats

It's important to include healthy fats in your diet, however fat takes a while to digest, so it may be best not to over-do it pre-workout.  

Snacks for pre-exercise

Below are some pre-exercise snack ideas that will help to keep your energy levels high and your muscles firing.

* Fruit salad with natural/Greek yoghurt and chopped almonds         

* Rye or corn based dry biscuits with cheese and sliced tomato

* Fruit smoothie, made with dairy or soy milk, yoghurt and fruit (note – rice, oat, almond, coconut milks are low in high quality protein)

* Sushi roll

* Mountain bread wrap with turkey and salad

* Natural muesli with Greek yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

* Rice paper roll

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Banana and a handful of nuts

If you love reading about nutrition for exercise and performance, I would love to offer you free nutrition updates and recipes, just leave your details on my Thoughts page and feel free to have a read of some of my other articles while you are there.

Need some help planning the best meals and snacks for you? Look up an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you at Sports Dietitians Australia.

Training before, during or after work - 6 super foods to lift your game

Image by  Bec Doyle Photography  from  Eat Right For Your Life  (Wilkinson Publishing)

Image by Bec Doyle Photography from Eat Right For Your Life (Wilkinson Publishing)

If you are stuck in the office all week, getting out for some exercise is a great way to improve your health, fitness, concentration and motivation. It's the natural way to reduce stress too.  Whether you join friends for a social game of soccer or netball after work, or enjoy a lunchtime run with a colleague, the benefits of regular exercise are enormous, and making it social can make it more enjoyable and keep you on track.

Not everyone has the genetic make-up to be an elite athlete, but we still may want to perform to the best of our ability. It doesn’t matter what level you compete at, or if you just train for yourself, you can use nutrition to your advantage for that extra spring in your step or extra seconds off your time.

Here is a sneak peak at some of the best foods to support your weekday workouts, straight from my book Eat Right for Your Life. There are 10 foods in total in the book, but we just have room for 6 of the most super here.  

6 of the best foods for performance

Fish

Many people don’t eat enough fish and seafood. If you know that includes you, then make it a goal to have fresh fish for dinner at least once per week then build from there. If you’re not a huge fan of fresh fish, the canned option is also good. Oily fish are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than standard white flesh fish. Sardines and salmon are particularly good for omega-3 fatty acids but are also a great way to get extra calcium if you eat the canned version with the bones (IMPORTANT – don’t eat the bones in fresh salmon!). One small can of fish can provide about 20g of protein, making it a convenient and portable source for muscle recovery after exercise.

Avocado

Some people avoid avocado with the fear it will add weight but what they don’t realise is the monunsaturated fat in avocado is good for you and could actually help with weight loss because of its effect on satiety. The good fats also mean you’re adding important fat-soluble vitamins. You may also be surprised to learn that avocados contain fibre, which assists with helping you feel full. Add avocado to salads, use as a spread, or for a delicious breakfast combined with fresh tomato, coriander and feta on rye toast, or with eggs for a lower-carbohydrate option.

Greek yoghurt

By choosing natural or Greek yoghurt you avoid the extra sugar and additives that are found in many yoghurts. Yoghurt gives you high-quality protein and is low glycemic index so will provide sustained energy for training or a game. With a combination of protein and naturally occurring carbohydrate, yoghurt is also great in the hours post-exercise for improved recovery. If you’re not a big milk fan, yoghurt will help you to meet your daily calcium requirements for strong bones and muscle function. But the greatest benefit of all is that the good bacteria in yoghurt can help to boost your immune system, keeping you healthy to train and compete at your best.

Kale

Normally I am not a big fan of so-called ‘superfoods’, however the thing I love about kale is it is not super expensive like some. Most of the ‘flavour-of-the-month’ superfoods seem to build a reputation that allows producers to charge exorbitant prices, but this does not seem to have happened with kale. Kale is a highly nutritious vegetable but it doesn’t mean you need it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other green leafy vegetables and herbs will provide similar benefits, so try to vary your options and include kale as one of your regular greens. Kale and other dark green leafy veg also contain nitrate, just like beetroot.

Beetroot

Studies show that regular intake of beetroot juice by cyclists helped to improve endurance performance. You might not need to down litres of purple juice, but you can increase your intake of the active ingredient nitrate by including more beetroot in your diet. There is also research indicating that beetroot juice may reduce blood pressure, an added bonus. Other foods that also contain nitrate include leafy greens such as rocket lettuce (arugula), another good reason to eat your greens, and your purples.

Watermelon

Watermelon is one of the few fruits with a higher glycemic index. High GI foods are ideal for post-exercise to ensure carbohydrates are quickly absorbed.   Watermelon (or any melons) also has a high water content, which can assist with rehydration. Like tomatoes, watermelon also contains lycopene, which may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. So forget the oranges for post-game, hook into a plate of watermelon for fast recovery.

If you are keen to learn more about the best foods (and beware foods) for different stages of life, you will find these, plus the recipe for Baked Fish with Warm Lentil and Beetroot Salad pictured above, in Eat Right for Your Life

I have a new book due for release next year with a specific focus on foods for performance, not just for sport but performance in business and everyday life.  If you are interested in regular performance nutrition updates, simply leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ . 

Inside the world's most multi-cultural dining hall - feeding Olympians

Benefit of volunteering at the Olympics - watching the athletes in action!

Benefit of volunteering at the Olympics - watching the athletes in action!

Way back in the year 2000 I was one of a handful of very fortunate sports dietitians who had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the Sydney Olympics, as part of the nutrition kiosk within the athlete village dining hall.  I had only graduated from dietetics a couple of years prior, and as a young professional with a passion for sports nutrition this was an event of a lifetime.  These days there are a host of dietitians who travel to Olympic Games and other major events throughout the world, but at that stage there were very few who ever got to set foot in the athlete's village, so for me it was pretty exciting!

The nutrition kiosk was created in conjunction with the catering group, and was co-ordinated by Fiona Pelly, an experienced accredited sports dietitian who is working with the catering in Rio this year and Dr Helen O'Connor from the University of Sydney.  Fiona and Helen are both fellows of Sports Dietitians Australia and Fiona was the chief nutrition advisor to the caterers, a mammoth job that Fiona did brilliantly.  The kiosk was a service for the athletes, coaches and support staff, where they could come and speak to a sports dietitian for information about the food items available, special dietary requests, allergies and intolerances, upcoming menus, and any other nutrition questions they may have.  The dietitians each day were provided with menus and a detailed breakdown of the nutrition composition and ingredients/allergens for each food item on offer.  Each dish was clearly labelled with nutrition and allergen information, and part of our role included quality checks to ensure all dishes and labels matched.  Most of us felt pretty comfortable with these roles, however what we didn't expect was the large number of athletes approaching us for training and competition nutrition advice.

Looking pretty happy with myself at the nutrition kiosk!

Looking pretty happy with myself at the nutrition kiosk!

In Australia at that point, sports dietitians were being sought by many sports for nutrition consulting and sports nutrition was growing (thanks to many passionate individual sports dietitians and organisations providing top-notch servicing and Sports Dietitians Australia working hard to promote the role of sports nutrition for athletes).  However many other countries, from all areas of the world, did not have the same access to sports nutrition services.  We had international boxers and rowers looking for making weight strategies (many who had over-consumed at the buffet), individuals with coeliac disease wanting nutrition education and even runners asking what to eat pre-, during and post-race.  Nutrition concerns that for many Australian athletes would have been addressed well before the Olympics.   It certainly opened my eyes to the bigger global picture, having never travelled too far at that point, and also the immense natural athletic talent concentrated at one sporting event.  So many athletes who didn't have access to high performance programs, sports science or sports nutrition support but were still out there competing and winning! 

One of my best memories from the Olympics, and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006 (where I was also lucky to be back in the dining hall, thanks to Karen Inge), was the genuine gratitude shown by these athletes towards all staff involved. They were just so thrilled to be there competing, having an amazing time and learning and absorbing as much as they could from the experience. 

When it came to the food, I had never seen anything quite like an Olympic dining hall.  If you love a good buffet, this is the stuff of fairytales.  Every athlete, cuisine, culture and taste preference is catered for.   Different buffets for different continents.  Pre-prepared dishes, plus dishes made-to-order.  Plus never-ending bain-maries and fridges and cupboards and shelves of everything and anything you could imagine.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos, but I have included some links at the end of this post that include some dining hall pictures from previous Olympics and Rio! 

The buffet was open for most of the day, from very early in the morning until late at night to allow for early and evening competition times, and it was always busy.  Because athletes would enter the village well before competition for some of them, we spent a lot of time talking to those athletes about managing volumes when eating buffet-style every day.  You know when you are at a buffet and you want to try a bit of everything, at this buffet it would take weeks to give everything a go.  Plus the menu changed daily.  Athletes also need to take care to eat foods that sit well, for example if you weren't big on spicy foods and got stuck into the hot curries you may run into some less-desirable gut symptoms.  Buffet management was a big issue for some athletes, particularly those where weight and body composition are critical to performance, and those who needed to 'make-weight'.

McDonalds have presence in all Olympic dining halls, which originally I found a bit strange, but this aligned with sponsorship arrangements and the foods were thoroughly enjoyed by many athletes post-competition, and for some pre-event!   The range of dietary habits, and levels of interest and education in sports nutrition intrigued me.  I clearly remember seeing an athlete, who I assume was a thrower or lifter of some sort, sitting down to a breakfast of cheese, cold meats and bread (not a vegetable in sight) on a table next to a group of gymnasts with tiny bowls of fruit salad and yoghurt.  Athletes loved to meet athletes from other sports, and it was funny to see superstar athletes star-struck by other athletes in high-profile sports.  I certainly learnt a lot from observing and talking to athletes during my time in the dining hall!

These type of opportunities would not be possible if not for inclusive organisations like Sports Dietitians Australia and generous professionals like accredited sports dietitians Fiona Pelly, Helen O'Connor and Karen Inge who saw the opportunity to offer their colleagues an experience they would never forget and chose to create an initiative that allowed a team of dietitians to be involved rather than just one or two.  

I imagine that the dining hall in Rio will surpass anything that was previously provided for Olympic athletes.  Hygiene and food safety are a critical concern for every dining hall and controls are in place to ensure a positive food experience for all athletes and staff.  No doubt the athletes in Rio will be well-fuelled and hydrated with their favourite and usual foods to be able to perform at their best when their important competition day arrives. 

For more information about the catering and dining hall at Rio 2016, and some pictures of what the dining halls look like, here are some interesting articles and a link to the formal summary around the catering for these games:

So much yoghurt: what athletes in the Olympic village will be eating - interview with Fiona Pelly

http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/dining-room-athlete-village-1.3574905

https://www.rio2016.com/en/news/athletes-at-rio-2016-olympic-and-paralympic-village-to-be-offered-a-taste-of-brazil

Rio 2016 - Taste of the Games official booklet (pdf)

You can also read more about what Oympic athletes eat on my other two blog posts:

Marathon running nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman:

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

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.

 

 

 

 

BMI for athletes - is it relevant?

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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.

 

Christmas eating for athletes - tips to eat well through the festive season

Image by  Bec Doyle Photography , Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous cous from  Eat Right for Your Life

Image by Bec Doyle Photography, Lamb salad with chickpea, spinach and mint cous cous from Eat Right for Your Life

While the majority of the population are enjoying the Christmas cheer at this time of year, if you are training you may not find December quite so joyful.  Christmas is considered a time for some rest and relaxation, but if you are an athlete in pre-season or with competition in early January, this is not the best time to be in holiday mode.

Your nutrition and fitness goals may be very different to most of those around you, who seem to have absolutely no concern or interest in your training needs (and are quite happy finishing off their bowl of chips right under your nose).  Instead of cocktails and canapes and all night parties, many sports people are more about water, early dinner and watching the clock so they can be in bed for a solid 8 hours sleep.  Some even find it easier to knock back invites….alcohol and late nights don't seem quite as appealing when you have an early morning training session that requires a reasonable amount of effort.

Just because it is Christmas, it doesn’t mean you forget about your nutrition and training goals, and here are some of the reasons why:

Recovery -

Late nights and party food are not the best recipe for optimal recovery, and if you have repeated instalments of this combination you might find yourself feeling tired, sore and lacking motivation

Body composition -

If you are in pre-season or the early stages of competition, you may have some body composition goals, such as increasing muscle mass or decreasing body fat.  Either way, Christmas can have an impact by ensuring you are super busy and have less time to shop, cook and plan your eating around your day and training.  Add in a few dinners and functions and it can be a challenge to get the results that you are striving for.

Injury risk -

If you are not recovering well, and not fuelling well, then you may be increasing your potential risk for injury.  Not to mention the effect of alcohol when you are out late and judgement is impaired.  Not a great outcome for an athlete to get an injury from tripping over something or falling down some stairs at a nightclub.

Immune system -

Late nights and a busy schedule can leave you tired and run-down, plus add training to that mix and the stress on your system can leave you at risk of getting sick.  This time of year is when nutrition becomes more important than ever.

Energy levels and Fatigue -

If you are not fuelling and recovering as normal, it can impact on energy levels for training and competition, and ultimately performance.

 

It can be difficult to stay on track when everyone else seems to be in relaxation mode, but looking after yourself doesn't mean you have to lock yourself in an altitude tent for a month.  Here are some tips to help you enjoy the festive season while eating well for your sport.

  • Eat before you go

    • This sounds terribly boring, but it can save you from getting too hungry.  I was at a function recently and I was glad to have had a snack prior as there was very little food on offer and it was mostly deep-fried.  If you are not sure what will be on offer, be sure to have a snack or small meal before you leave.

  • Enjoy the healthy options

    • With an increasing interest in health and nutrition these days, a lot of caterers are providing healthy options.  Parties where finger foods are served can be the hardest, but try to find yourself some fresh seafood (prawns, oysters, grilled calamari, fish), vegetables/dip, sushi, fresh sandwiches, smoked salmon, salad or stir-fry bowls to enjoy. 

  • Choose mains over appetisers

    • If your function involves a sit-down meal, think about how many pre-dinner snacks you really need.  Think about what food will be offered over the entire event and be selective (you may even be able to see the menu beforehand or when you arrive).

  • Plan your portions

    • If you do get caught out at a function that is over-flowing with deep-fried snacks and pastry, it’s the portions that will make all the difference.  The same applies to dinners with shared dishes, or buffet style eating - it is often the volumes consumed that can be a problem, not just the type of food.    For more info about portions, read about 5 secrets of the French... and how they manage portions so well.

  • Drink plenty of fluid

    • If you are going to be standing up at a function for a number of hours, in warm conditions, and have training the next morning, it’s important to stay hydrated.  Water or mineral water are probably your best bet, try with fresh lime or lemon to make it a bit more interesting.  Or even a fruit-based mocktail can be a good option for some extra carbohydrate.

  • Don’t compensate the day before or after

    • Some people prepare for a night out by eating less that day, or cutting back the day after.  If you are an athlete this is not all that helpful as you need consistent nutrition for ongoing recovery and training.  Don’t starve yourself or it will show in your performance.

  • Host a party

    • The best way to be sure that you can eat well at a function is to host one yourself!  That way you have complete control over what is offered, and others will probably appreciate some healthy options too.

  • Choose your night

    • If you like to have a drink, then maybe pick one event where you can have a couple of drinks.  For example maybe choose between Christmas Day and NYE to have a drink, not both.  Plan ahead, and try to pick the time that will have the least impact on your training.

  • Re-gift the chocolates

    • Resist the urge to rip into the chocolates straight away, hold onto these as a perfect new year gift for someone else.  Or if you really want one, open them on the spot and share them around so everyone gets to enjoy the fun, and you won’t end up eating the whole box.

  • Plan ahead!

    • If you continue to plan your nutrition during busy times, and maintain consistent training, you can enjoy yourself in the lead up to Christmas

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 www.lisamiddleton.com.au. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Best snacks for before exercise to perform at your best

Is fruit on its own the best pre-exercise snack?

Is fruit on its own the best pre-exercise snack?

Performance nutrition is a topic I am lucky enough to talk about pretty much every day.  I love talking about exercise and nutrition, and helping people get the best out of their training efforts, whether they workout at the local gym or train as an elite athlete.  I find a lot of people feel like they have their nutrition mostly under control, but don’t seem to be getting the best out of their training.   A lack of appropriate nutrition before and after training may be contributing to this, and may especially be a problem if you train in the late afternoon.  I see a lot of clients who head straight to training after work or school, but haven’t eaten for 4 or 5 hours since lunchtime.  By then, your body will have digested and absorbed many of the nutrients from lunch and there may not be much left to fuel your training session.  If you are trying to lose weight, it can still be useful to have some fuel on board to provide the energy to train harder and burn more kilojoules.   If you are working hard in the gym to put on weight, then you need energy to lift, pull and push.  If you are going into your session fatigued and low on fuel, you can’t expect to get the best results from your training (unless you have a planned strategy to complete some sessions lower on carbohydrate, but I will save that for another post).

 So what should you look for in a pre-exercise snack?

Protein

Protein is often the neglected nutrient when it comes to snacking, as many of our typical snacks are carbohydrate based (think fruit, biscuits, flour-based products).  Including protein in a snack means it will keep you full for longer, but can also help manage blood glucose levels, and is an essential nutrient for muscle growth and repair.  If you are doing a lighter cardio session then the protein is probably less important and you may be fine with a small carbohydrate snack (if anything), but for longer, heavier sessions there are benefits from including protein.

Carbohydrate

Low-glycemic index carbohydrate foods are those that are more slowly absorbed over time, resulting in more stable blood glucose levels and potential benefits for energy levels.  However many low GI foods are also high in fibre, and too much fibre pre-exercise can cause stomach upset for some people (especially runners).  Include carbohydrate in pre-exercise snacks, and choose low-GI if you tolerate it.  But the total amount of carbohydrate is potentially more important than the glycemic index, so it is a matter of working out which carbohydrate foods sit best for you before you train.

Healthy fats

It's important to include healthy fats in your diet if you are fit and active.  Fat can take a while to digest, so you may be better to add more of your healthy fats and oils to meals after exercise rather than before .  Avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil and fish all provide healthy fats.  

Snacks for pre-exercise 

Below are some pre-exercise snack ideas that will help to keep your energy levels high, contain some protein but not too much fat.  The serving size that is best for you will vary according to your goals, the type of training you do, and individual needs. 

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chopped fresh fruit with natural yoghurt and chopped almonds         

* Quinoa tabouli with chickpeas

* Rye or corn based dry biscuits with low-fat cheese and sliced tomato

Fruit smoothie, made with low-fat dairy or soy milk, yoghurt and fruit (most other milks are low in high quality protein eg. rice, oat, coconut, almond)

* Bean and rice salad

* Sushi handroll

* Greek yoghurt with berries

* Mountain bread with turkey and salad

* Tuna with rice and vegetables

 Natural muesli with low-fat natural yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

 * Home-made popcorn (mix in some almonds)

 * Fruit/grain toast spread with ricotta cheese

* Rice paper roll

* Corn Thin with smoked salmon, low-fat cream cheese and dill

Trail mix - almond, walnuts, cashews and sun-dried apricots

Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Toast or wholegrain crackers with avocado and salmon

 If you are unsure about the best type of snacks and amounts for your needs, talk to an Accredited Sports Dietitian who can help you plan your daily meals and snacks to meet your nutrition and training requirements.  To find a dietitian in your area, go to Sports Dietitians Australia.

If you are interested in learning more about nutrition for exercise, training and sport, please sign up for my free newsletter at the bottom of this page, and you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more nutrition updates.

 

 

 

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.

AFL Grand Final nutrition - what and when the players will be eating and drinking

Game day nutrition plans are usually well practiced and refined by the time grand final day arrives, but on the big day these strategies are often challenged by a number of September factors.  I cannot claim to know the exact nutrition plans for the Hawthorn and Sydney FC players this week, but I can write from my previous experiences with finals football.  I have been fortunate enough to work with AFL teams in five grand finals, including the week leading up to the game, and at the ground as the players arrive for their last warm up for the year.  I have seen nutrition strategies work well but have also seen some on shaky ground due to factors which are largely difficult to control but need to be considered and planned for.

Grand final week is a week like no other for an AFL player.  In fact, it may be the only time they experience grand final week from a player perspective in their entire life.  During the season, nutrition plans are created and trialed to ensure optimal fuelling, recovery, health and body composition and most players have a fine-tuned pre-game nutrition routine that is flexible depending on game times and location but reasonably consistent week-to-week.  Players work with an accredited sports dietitian at most clubs to determine what works best for them the day before a game and then on game day.  Players will have different requirements in terms of the type of foods, nutrients and timing depending on a number of factors including playing position, body weight, individual hydration considerations, climate and travel.  By the end of the season it should all be pretty well rehearsed.  Often things do run pretty smoothly up to preliminary finals, but those 7-8 days prior to the grand final bring various challenges.  Of course the club tries to keep things as normal as possible and treat it as just another week and another game, but it obviously isn't.   In terms of nutrition, a grand final brings significant challenges that are not always controllable.  There are additional activities that are compulsory for the players and quite unlike a normal week, in particular  the Grand Final parade which is scheduled just over 24 hours pre-game.  Who came up with this concept I am not sure....it is great for building the excitement in the city, and for the wider community and supporters who can't get to the game because of all the corporates, plus a great activity for kids on school holidays, but in terms of preparation it is probably less than ideal for the players!  Players have to travel into the city, wait around for the parade to start, then sit in the trays of utes (often out in the blazing sun), all when they could be relaxing and preparing.  Considering that usually on the day before a game players have their own individual routine that might be quiet and low-key, with no restrictions on timing of meals and fluids, players need to be organized to ensure adequate nutrition and fluids during this time.   

Speaking of fluids, September in Melbourne is ridiculous when it comes to weather.  I recall one grand final I was involved with was hot and windy, another winter-like conditions and rain.  If it is hot, it can often be the hottest day for 6 months and players are not accustomed to playing, and drinking, in that type of heat.  At least players from both teams are subjected to the same conditions but how it is managed in terms of cooling and hydration strategies could become important.  So, the weather can impact on hydration but there is a bigger factor that can play havoc with the best laid nutrition plans, and this is not specific just to AFL football but any major sporting events - nerves (for want of a more technical description).

In many ways a grand final is just another game, but in other ways it is not.  If you play in a grand final and your team wins, you are a premiership player for life.  If your team loses, you are not, simple really. The winners will be recognized for life and earn a coveted medal that all AFL players crave.  I am certainly not a psychologist, but it is clear that there is both internal and external pressure created, and some players manage this better than others.  I have frequently heard athletes say that if they don't feel nervous they won't perform well, so butterflies in the stomach can be helpful, perhaps because if you feel anxious it means whatever you are nervous about means a lot to you and you really want to do well.  Some players thrive on the 'big-game' pressure and it brings out their best, others may be terribly nervous but can turn this around into a positive, and others can have a terrible time that interferes with them performing at their best.   These nervous feelings can have a psychological impact, but also a physical impact that can impact on nutrition and hydration strategies. 

A common side-effect is stomach upset, which can impact on appetite and make it difficult to consume regular pre-game intake both the night before and on game day itself.  This effect is not exclusive to AFL.  I see a lot of elite and recreational athletes who train for events such as a marathon or ironman triathlon, events difficult to simulate in training and that require extensive preparation for that one day, whose nutrition plans are severely impacted by nervousness on the day.  The type of foods that are usually consumed may need to be altered, for example a change from a dense oat-based cereal breakfast to a lighter toast option, lower-fibre options and avoidance of dairy for improved gastrointestinal comfort.  

Often nutrients are more easily tolerated via fluids rather than solid foods, so these can be a good option for athletes who struggle to eat pre-event.  But over-drinking can be another concern.  Fluid intake can easily be over-done pre-game when nerves are involved, with players taking sip after sip as they count down the minutes to game-time, so fluid intake should be monitored so players don't feel bloated and racing to the toilet all the time.   If gastrointestinal symptoms are severe, players may struggle to eat much at all.  I will always remember one grand final where we were providing regular small doses of lemonade, rice crackers and electrolytes throughout a game to one player who was really struggling and it was all he could manage.  Not quite the usual theoretical sports nutrition recommendations, but it worked for that player on that day, sometimes you have to compromise and be creative. 

Of course not all players experience disruptive physical symptoms, but they still have the challenge of timing their nutrition on the day.  Ideally it would be good to wake at the usual time and stick to the usual breakfast then snack and/or light lunch before heading to an afternoon game. But players always like to make sure they get to the ground in plenty of time on Grand Final day, so with a 2.30pm start it means that players are likely to be in transit in that 2-3 hours prior to the game, when theory indicates is an ideal time for pre-event nutrition.  With lots of things on a player's mind on the day, prior organization is paramount to ensure optimal fuelling in those critical hours.

As important as nutrition is, it is one of a number of factors that contribute to performance.  Never is this more evident than on grand final day.  Just think of those players who are injured and play out the game with a broken hand or finger, those who have ran and ran all day but still find that extra few metres of speed, and those who I have observed that you know would literally have no fuel left in the tank but still, somehow, manage to reach the contest and punch the ball away.  It's why we love sport and why we love Australian Football.  The psychological drive seems to be able to over-ride a lot of the physical aspects that would normally limit us (happy for any experts who may have research papers on this to chip in here!).  That quest for a premiership....an individual medal, but more importantly a win with your team who have worked so hard all year, and for your club, to be remembered in history for years to come.   A premiership win is the ultimate for AFL players, and although it may seem like I am over-dramatizing a little, for AFL players on grand final day, and many other athletes at their pinnacle events, they are playing for their lives.  Not playing to stay alive (well perhaps to keep their career alive), but playing to achieve something that to date they have dedicated their whole life to. 

Even if the parade and grand final day means nutrition is not always perfect in terms of sports nutrition strategies, any potential benefit that nutrition can still bring makes me feel happy!  We know that pre-game and during the game nutrition can often be slightly different for a grand final, but what about recovery on grand final day?  There are no specific recovery strategies on grand final day because there is nothing immediate to recover for.  But one thing is certain, after the siren sounds, half the players on the ground will be swallowing tears of utter joy and jubilation, and the other half will be stuck with tears of absolute disappointment and despair.  Let's hope all the players in this years Grand Final can manage their nerves and nutrition as best they can and play their best game for the year.

*Photo courtesy of www.sherrin.com.au