concentration

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.

Brain food for work and study - how to prevent the mid-afternoon brain fade

Do you sometimes find yourself sitting in front of your computer in the middle of the afternoon, staring into space and unable to focus on the task at hand? This happens in workplaces and schools all around the world every day at around 3pm. Think about what you eat for lunch. Does it include foods that will boost your brainpower or more likely to leave you feeling drained? The foods you eat at work or school can make a big difference to concentration, focus, productivity and learning later in the day. Not to mention the positive effect on mood and stress levels. Here are some nutrition tips to help keep you thinking clearly and on top of your game all day. 

Eat foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids

You may have heard before that eating fish is good for your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are a prominent component of neuronal membranes – and fish are our best dietary source of these fats. The best way to increase your omega-3 intake is to eat more fish and seafood. Research has also shown that EPA predominant fish oil supplements may have benefits for individuals with diagnosed depression (however please see your qualified health professional to discuss your individual needs when it comes to nutrition supplements).

 Choose Low Glycemic Index

Stable blood glucose levels help to the brain continuously fuelled. High glycemic index foods which are quickly absorbed into the blood stream may cause erratic blood sugar levels which can effect energy levels and mood. If you choose wholegrain over high-sugar you can help to keep blood glucose stable and this means consistent brain fuel. Protein and healthy fats can also reduce the glycemic impact of a meal or snack.

Don’t go hungry

‘Hungry grumpy’ really is a thing! If you haven’t eaten enough you feel hungry and blood glucose levels can get quite low, leaving it hard to concentrate and having an impact on brain function. Keep your brain well-fuelled to improve your mood.

Drink enough fluid

Numerous studies have shown the benefits to athletic performance from being well-hydrated, from concentration to co-ordination to judgement. These same performance principles can apply to work and school scenarios, so keep up fluid intake in the morning and as the day progresses.

Drink tea

Sometimes we use caffeine as a pick-me-up, but this doesn’t address the real reason why you need that extra boost. By eating more wholefoods and less processed, you may not need the coffee. Nothing wrong with a daily coffee, but tea is a great option for your brain. Tea contains theanine, a compound which can have a direct impact on the brain to keep you alert but relaxed at the same time.

Mix up your fruits and vegetables

Several studies have shown a link between fruit and vegetable intake and improved mood and feelings of depression. It is difficult to determine which particular nutrients or antioxidants are of most benefit, but just another reason to include a wide variety of different fruit and vegetables every day.

Add probiotics

More and more research is showing links between the health of the gut and other body organs. A healthy gut may reduce inflammation throughout the body, and can impact on your brain and mood. More research is required, but by including probiotics from yoghurt, fermented foods and drinks we can help to keep our mind and body healthy.

If you are interested in more updates about the links between the food we eat and performance at work and sport, I would love to send you my free newsletter, just leave your details here. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more regular nutrition updates, recipes and food ideas.

Best fluids to hydrate at work (including coffee!) and why you don't need 2 litres of water per day

 Are you someone who carries a water bottle with you everywhere you go?  Or do you struggle to gulp down a few mouthfuls of water in between coffees? If you are not hydrating well it can impact on your concentration at work, energy levels, motivation, general well-being and the results you achieve through training. It’s not just all about water though!

How much do I need to drink?

You have probably heard that you need 2 litres of water per day to stay hydrated. This may be a reasonable estimate for some people, however individual fluid needs vary quite a bit. A petite female is unlikely to need as much water as a 100kg+ active rugby player.   If you are not drinking a 2 litre jug of water every day don’t despair, you may not need that much (or you may actually need much more).

Is water the best drink for hydration?

Although water should make up a fair volume of your daily fluid intake, it’s not the only drink that will hydrate well. Other nutritious fluids such as milk, tea, coffee, blended fruit smoothies and soup all help (for more about the hydrating qualities of soup and smoothies check out my posts Best Fluids For Hydration - Look No Further Than Soup and Why Juice is Not as Bad as You Might Think - Tips For Making a Top Choice). 

Tea vs coffee

Yes, even coffee can help with hydration!  If you work in an office, it’s pretty common to be drinking several cups of tea or coffee per day. Coffee CAN have a diuretic effect, so it’s not as effective in helping your body to hold onto your daily cup full as some other fluids, but it doesn’t make it all go straight through either!  It all comes down to how much you drink. Black tea has far less caffeine (<20mg per cup) vs coffee (>80mg per cup, depending how it is made), so if you like both, tea may be better for helping hydration. 

‘I don’t like water’

If you don’t love plain water, try adding ice, sliced lemon and lime, frozen berries, fresh chopped fruit or herbs and spices to give water a fresh flavour, or choose bubbly plain mineral water for a taste and texture change. 

How do you know if you are drinking enough?

Try the pee test. Pale yellow to clear is what you are looking for. No need for it to be crystal clear but you don’t want it to look like the colour of beer either. (the urine colour test doesn’t work if you take vitamin/mineral supplements because these often cause urine to be darker in colour).

 

So drink up, and remember that the average body is made up of over 60% water and your body doesn’t function at its best without it.

 

If you are active, you might also be interested in the best fluids for training in my recent post Hydration is Important, But What is the Role of Sports Drinks and Electrolytes and Who Needs Them.

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