Female athletes are special because we can process oxygen more quickly than males, which means we’re naturally more athletic. Yes men have more testosterone and so find it easier to build muscle, but our oestrogen and progesterone means we’re more suited to endurance exercise. Not only that but these female sex hormones if kept in the right balance help keep our bones strong, protect against heart disease, and improve mood. Diet is key in helping our bodies produce these hormones.
I regularly see girls and women in my nutrition clinic who have lost this advantage as a result of under-fuelling, and start to suffer the consequences of reduced hormone production. The traditional view of under-fuelling female athletes was full blown eating disorder, leading to periods stopping, and osteoporosis with subsequent recurrent bone fractures. But I often see Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, or RED-S in a more subtle way. No deliberate restriction in eating, but an increased training schedule not matched by increased nutrition intake (often due to lack of time), causing more coughs and colds, low mood, muscle strain, stress fractures, and much, much frustration!
So how do you know if you have RED-S? As women we can keep a check on our hormone production from our menstrual cycle. Teenagers should have started their periods by the age of 15, cycle length should be 28days – longer or shorter could indicate RED-S. Lack of periods in athletes should never been seen as a badge of honour gained from intensive training, but a warning sign that injury and poor health may be just around the corner. Supplementing iron or calcium may be necessary, but more important is getting the calorie balance right, so increasing diet intake, or reducing training until normal periods return.
So where do we get the extra food from, and how do we know how much? As a general rule of thumb I recommend eating an additional meal with every additional daily training session. Rest days can be 3 meals with fruit between meals, one training session a day and one of those snacks turns into a mini meal e.g. a sandwich or bowl of cereal, two sessions a day and add in an extra full meal on top of that e.g. two breakfasts – one before a morning training session, and another after.
Another great way to sneak in the extra calories when you’re training hard but too busy or tired to eat and prepare food all the time is a smoothie. I call these catch up smoothies as I often recommend a smoothie at the end of the day to catch up on calories as well as other key nutrients: calcium for bones, vitamins for immunity, protein to rebuild muscle, carbs to refuel glycogen stores, healthy fats to reduce inflammation after training. This recipe contains 20g protein which is the ideal amount for our bodies to process after exercise. Gulp one of these within your 30minute recovery window after exercise and be reassured you’re Refuelling, Rebuilding, Rehydrating, and most importantly providing the calories your body needs to produce our precious hormones that keep up so healthy, fit and strong.
- 200ml milk
- 3 tbsp natural bio yoghurt
- 2 tbsp frozen berries
- 1 banana
- 1 tbsp linseeds
- Put ingredients into blender. Blend!
- If you're vegan replace dairy with calcium-fortified dairy alternatives. Even better if you're peri-menopausal replace with soya for added phyto-oestrogens which may help to ease hot flushes.
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Using Oviva telehealth software I can work with you direct from your mobile phone or tablet. By downloading the free Oviva app onto your phone or tablet you’ll be ready to receive a 30 minute video consultation followed by a month of secure messenger-style follow up to help with motivation and guidance when you need it the most.
£65 for one month of nutrition coaching, or book 3 months for £150
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I was pretty confident in my abilities to meet the 5-A-Day guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake. I would exceed this target and feel virtuous about my fantastic 7 or 8 rainbow portions of lovely fruits and veggies that I had eaten that day. I felt I’d pretty much optimised my fruit and veg intake. Turns out I was wrong!
On 23rd Feb news from a large review into fruit and vegetable intake health hit the headlines. The study revealed a reduction in disease and mortality with each 200g/day increase in fruit and vegetables. A daily intake of 800g (about 10 portions) was linked to:
- 33% reduced risk of stroke
- 31% reduced risk of all-cause mortality
- 28% reduced risk of cardio vascular disease
- 24% reduced risk of coronary heart disease
- 14% reduced risk of total cancer.
The UK guideline of 5-A-Day had been set as a realistic goal – yes its a healthy intake, but more – up to 10 portions a day – is better. So how can we boost our fruit and veg intake further?
Here are my 10 top tips to meet your 10-A-Day:
- Pimp your f&v
- Even I sometimes get bored of the same old fruit and veg. So pimp it up! Try new things – how about wasabe peas, or chocolate coated edamame (Itsu do these – find in your local supermarket)
- Yup, it’s an obvious one, but it’s often so much easier to eat large volumes of the green stuff when it’s been blended into a tasty soup
- Roasted veggies
- Again, the cooking process turns another 240g of veggies (3 portions) into a tasty meal accompaniment with far less chewing involved.
- Veg snacks whilst cooking dinner
- I get super-hungry whilst preparing the family meal in the evenings and use this as an opportunity to graze on an extra portion of goodness: carrot sticks, olives, celery sticks, sliced peppers, all gone in seconds when presented at this time of day
- Pickled, frozen and tinned veg
- It’s so hard to always have fresh veg and salad in the fridge. Have a larder full of back ups either to supplement meals or use as the veg component for when the chiller drawer is depleted!: Kimchee and saurkraut have the added bonus of boosting your gut bacteria, and the many benefits this brings.
- Catch up smoothie
- Whether you’ve had a busy day, or you’ve been out and the food choices have meant your way short of your 10 a day, you can always catch up with a smoothie in the evenings. Make your own for the full benefits – shop bought are often sieved so contain little fibre (the good stuff!).
- Make it available
- If fruit and veg is there, it will usually get eaten. Keep the fruit bowl topped up, leave it where the kids can reach and help themselves. Get into the habit of always leaving the house with a few of pieces of fresh fruit, you’ll be thankful for them later. Keep dried fruit and seaweed snacks in your drawer at work.
- Starters and sides
- Both at home and when your out these can boost your intake of the good stuff. Transport yourself back to the 80’s and treat yourself to garlic mushrooms, steamed asparagus with butter and lemon or some melon slices to start. And always order extra vegetable sides or the trusty side salad – veg portions are hardly ever big enough in restaurants to help towards your 10 a day.
- Increase variety
- Try a different fruit or vegetable that you’ve never eaten before every week. Great for increasing the variety of nutrients in your diet as well as increasing overall intake.
- Switch all snacks to fruit and veg
- think carrot and celery sticks, edamame beans, dried fruit and nuts, seaweed thins, fresh fruit, dates stuffed with nut butter, banana on toast
So enjoy your new nutrient packed diet! I look forward to celebrating with you when we all get to 100 🙂
Virtual nutrition consultations for just £30 this month with me at Ringwell. See me from the comfort of your own home, or slot me in during your lunch break at work for an online video consultation.
I hold my virtual consultations via RingWell.com. It’s super easy, quick and free to register – here’s the all important voucher that provides a 50% discount for your first 3 online nutrition consultations on RingWell:
This works out at just £30 for each individual 45 minute consultation, saving you £35 on the usual face to face rate. Or pay just £75 for three 30 minute virtual consultations for weight loss. Let me work with you to compile a bespoke nutrition plan to meet your needs whether they be to loose weight, ease irritable bowel symptoms, or perform better in your sport.
Just take a minute to register at Ringwell.com, search for my name, and book a package. You can even chat to me immediately when I’m flagged as ‘available’. Daytime and evening appointments available.
We’re well into Summer now and if like many men and women you regularly experience bloating, you will be having wardrobe dramas in addition to the miserable abdominal discomfort bloating brings. No matter if you are a size 16 or a size 8 a bloated belly is not compatible with bikinis or bodycon dresses. The good news is that making some simple changes to your diet and the way you eat can help to ease symptoms.
Not everyone can eat anything they would like without suffering abdominal discomfort. If you regularly experience abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, wind, or a change in bowel habit like diarrhea or constipation you may be suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. According to The IBS Network this condition affects around a third of the population at some point in their lives. You may be thinking ‘that’s me! I have IBS!’ but remember it is important not to self-diagnose, and to see your GP so that other conditions such as Coeliac Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease can be ruled out.
As a freelance dietitian I am seeing an increasing number of clients with IBS. It often comes up as a side issue to the main reason for seeking dietary intervention, but inevitably ends up being the main focus of their dietary aims. The symptoms may be embarrassing but immense relief can be gained from simple dietary interventions.
So what actually causes IBS? Well even the experts don’t really know, but we do see that mind-gut sensitivity is increased in sufferers. The concept of mind-gut relationship is only too apparent to people even with ‘normal’ gut health put into stressful situations. For myself this manifests as butterflies, nausea, and the need to fully ‘evacuate’ in the nearest possible loo before any sporting event I take part in. This mind-gut sensitivity is amplified in IBS sufferers. In some cases this is possibly due to difficult experiences in your past, which makes you permanently more sensitive to stress and symptoms of pain and discomfort.
But nevermind the cause, what can we do about it? The great news is that you can take control and help ease IBS symptoms by optimizing your dietary intake. Very simple changes such as eating three regular meals a day, and not skipping meals can help. Stay hydrated. Reduce irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, high fat and spicy foods. Overall ‘Just Eat Real Food’, take time out for your food, and chew well. The British Dietetic Association have a great ‘Food Facts’ sheet that covers first line diet changes in more detail www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/IBSfoodfacts/pdf .
Most people with bloating and IBS in my experience will have taken note of basic healthy eating habits already. At this stage if you are still experiencing symptoms you may be ready to try a low FODMAP diet. Recent research has shown that certain carbohydrates contribute to IBS symptoms. These are Fermentable, Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides , Mono-saccharides And Polyols or FODMAPs. Reducing intake of FODMAPs has been shown to improve gut symptoms in most people with IBS like symptoms. In general a low FODMAP diet will exclude wheat and rye, chickpeas and lentils, lactose, and various fruits and vegetables. For many IBS sufferers reading this list will be like an epiphany – these are the foods that have been hurting me all this time!
A low FODMAP diet can be intimidating at first as it is extremely restrictive in the initial stages. A registered dietitian can help guide you through the process of eliminating high FODMAP foods for 4-8 weeks, and then reintroducing them to ascertain which you are able to tolerate, and in what quantities. Dietitians will also be able to balance your diet to ensure you are meeting all essential nutrients during this period.
Let me get you started on your low FODMAP journey towards a flat stomach, your bikini and that bodycon dress! Here’s a delicious low FODMAP recipe for the whole family to enjoy.
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
- 500g lean pork mince
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped chives
- 280g jasmine rice
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- 240g baby leaf spinach
- 4 eggs
- 1 cucumber
- juice of ½ a lime
- large dash of fish sauce
- Cook one cup of jasmine rice as per packet instructions.
- Heat 1 tbsp rapeseed oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the pork mince and fry until browned. Mix in the soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a large serving bowl. Cover to keep warm.
- In the same pan add the remaining 1 tbsp oil and add the cooked rice and chives. Mix and heat until you get some nice crispy bits, then transfer to the serving bowl with the pork. Cover.
- In the same pan add the sesame seed oil and then the washed spinach. Cook until wilted then transfer to the serving dish.
- Spiralize the cucumber and add to the serving bowl – dress with lime juice and fish sauce. If you don’t have a spiralizer just grate long strips with a vegetable peeler.
- Fry the eggs sunny side up and put on top of the finished family rice bowl.
- Serve immediately – mix the egg yolk into the rice and pork for the best effect!
- Rice bowls are a popular south east Asian home cooked dish. They are easy to make, delicious, nutritionally balanced, and with just a couple of flavouring adaptations completely FODMAP free. My kids especially love the spiralized cucumber.
My name’s Helen and I’m a snackaholic! My clients often tell me it’s my advise on snacking that improves their energy levels, mood, and outlook on food in general. My ethos is to focus on nourishing your body, feel good about those in between snacks, and think of the extra nutrients you’re sneaking in between meal-times. Increase your vitamin and mineral intake, reduce over-eating at main meals, regulate your blood sugars and appetite…. SNACK!
Do you find some snacks just make you feel more hungry? When you’re truly hungry but your next meal isn’t for another couple of hours you want something that will sit in your belly for a while filling you up. Think healthy fats and fibrous nutrient dense foods that will be registered by your body and cancel out those hunger signals. Steer clear of highly processed carbohydrate snacks, which get absorbed very quickly, and leave your stomach grumbling, or even worse make you more hungry. So put that skinny muffin down, start looking after yourself, and pick up one of these tasty morsels instead:
- Edamame beans At 10.8g protein per 100g snack-sized bowl these are a dream for cancelling out hunger. Usually found in either the prepared salad or frozen sections of the supermarket. Simply dress with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and if you’re feeling adventurous a sprinkle of chilli powder.
- Seaweed thins Hunger can be driven by nutrient deficiencies. Vegetarians can find it hard to eat enough vitamin B12 – seaweed thins contain 360% or your daily recommended intake per packet which would solve this problem. Deliciously crisp and salty these are available in all major supermarkets.
- Home made vegetable crisps Take your favourite root vegetable: parsnips, beetroot and carrots all work well. Slice using a mandolin as thin as you can, coat with 1 tbsp olive oil, season, and lay flat on baking parchment. Bake for 20min at 200 degrees, then turn the oven off and leave crisps in there until they crisp up. Ovens vary so modify cooking time/ temperature according to your own ovens temperament! These go lovely with a glass of wine at social gatherings.
- Padron peppers As with the home made veggies crisps these often make an appearance alongside a glass of wine at social gatherings, but are great anytime. Simply rinse and pat dry then shallow fry until skin has blistered, dab off excess oil with kitchen towel, season and serve.
- Poppadoms The chickpea flour that these are made out of make these 20% protein and fibrous, and therefore satiating. No need for any oil, just pop some plain uncooked poppadoms in the microwave for 30 seconds and watch them puff up. Nom nom!
- Celery sticks with nut butter I never liked stringy old celery until I used a trick from Gok Kwan & peeled the outer string of with a vegetable peeler. Delicious crunchy celery but without the dodgy stringy bits! All that chewing helps your body acknowledge you’ve eaten something. Add nut butter for healthy fats and protein.
- Apple slices with nut butter Apples contain pectin which helps keep you fuller for longer. Add nut butter and you wont get bored half way through the apple!
- Almond stuffed dates Adding nuts to dates helps to blunt the insulin spike produced by the glucose they contain. Almonds help with weight control but personally I usually eat them alongside something else to jazz them up a bit.
- Dark chocolate Clinically proven to lower blood pressure. Take the stress out of a Friday afternoon with a few squares of >70% cocoa solids dark choc!
- Bliss balls Still a fave in this house: blitz your fave nuts and dried fruit, roll into balls, pop in the fridge and consume one ball at a time when hunger strikes. See my recipe for pecan brownie bliss balls in my July 2015 blog post.
“You look tired, you should get more sleep”. Well thank you concerned friend/ family/ stranger at till in supermarket. I am well sold on the extensive health benefits of a good nights rest: improved mood, immunity, memory, longevity, reduced inflammation, reduced weight gain. However there are two main barriers: my children & my life. Sometimes the stars align and my children actually sleep in their own beds, I’ve completed the bare minimum household chores, ticked off the daily ‘to do list’ and yet I lie awake, waiting and wishing for sleep to come.
Luckily one thing always in our control is our diet. Our nutritional intake can directly affect how easy it is for us to fall alseep, and to help us stay asleep, waking up well rested. Try these diet tips to help improve your intake of sleep, or as its now being coined ‘Vitamin Z’:
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine from chocolate, tea and coffee can hang around in our bodies for several hours. Even decaf varieties still contain caffeine, so better to stick to herbal teas after 2pm.
- Nicotine is a stimulant too – just another reason to kick the habit.
- Alcohol is initially a sedative but can lead to a restless night causing you to wake in the early hours, and prevents you entering a deep sleep.Stop drinking alcohol 3 hours before you hit the sack.
- If you suffer from heartburn avoid acidic and spicy foods in the evenings.
- Eat Tryptophan containing foods. Tryptophan is an essential amino-acid that along with vitamin B6 makes serotonin which in turn regulates sleep and appetite. Tryptophan can be found in oats, meat, fish, soybeans, chickpeas and bananas.
- Don’t skip carbs. Carbohydrate makes Tryptophan more available to the brain so the best bed-time snack combines protein and carbohydrates. This is a big one for anyone watching their weight. Cutting down on carbs can aid weight loss, but eliminating them can lead to problems sleeping, which in turn reduces the body’s production of ghrelin leading to hunger.
Smoothies are great post dinner if you always crave something sweet but want to stay healthy. I love smoothies but find them unappealing when the weather’s not hot, which lets face it is most of the time in the UK!! Hot smoothies however hit the spot for a sleep inducing pre-bed hot drink and dessert in one.
- 200ml milk (your usual) heated for 1min in the microwave at full power
- 1 banana
- 1 medjool date
- 3 walnuts
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Put all ingredients into blender and whizz up till smooth and creamy!
- If using a glass blender you will have to heat the drink up after blending to avoid an explosion!
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 347g serving||%RI|
In need of a nutrition MOT? I am now practicing from Nevill Ave, Hove for one to one nutrition consultations. Call ahead for a free 10min phone consultation on 07779 021767. If you can’t make it to see me in person I can offer remote nutrition consultations via Skype, phone and e-mail.
See ‘services‘ for more details of what I can offer you.
As with many athletes I like structure, and a clear set of rules to work to. I believe in evidence-based rules. Carbs: 6-10g/kg body weight/day. Protein: 1.2-1.7 g/kg body weight/d. Fat: 20-30% total energy. Recovery: 1-1.5 g carbohydrate / kg body weight/30min. Hydration: 500ml/ 0.5kg body weight lost during exercise. Eat 2 hours pre exercise. Eat within 30min post exercise. Thanks ACSM for giving us structure to our training week.
But what about rest days? There are no guidelines as there are no studies around this, so what do we do? My clients tend to go to either extreme on rest days. There are those who can only justify eating through exercise and cut back on calories, carbs and frankly spend most of rest day thinking about food and feeling hungry. Then at the other end of the spectrum we have those that embrace the freedom to break free from ‘the rules’ and have a cheat day – pizza, pasta, ice-cream, burgers, fries – and that’s just breakfast 🙂 So how do we get the balance right?
It’s actually a lot simpler than you might think. Don’t change a thing. Your body needs nutrition on rest days to recover and refuel. The calories you are not expending on exercise will be used for topping up your glycogen stores, and continuing the muscle repair which carries on for 24hours post workout. The only reason to change what you are eating would be if you are trying to lose weight and you find yourself constantly hungry on rest days. In this case the best thing to do is to focus on healthy fats and protein as well as filling fibrous foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Think eggs & beans for breakfast, avocado on rye for lunch, and quinoa salad for dinner.
Find it hard to take a rest day at all? I find yoga a great way to recover and stretch – a perfect activity for any athlete who finds it hard to sit still and has a tendency to overtrain. Gentle exercise such as yoga is also an appetite suppressant, so good for those watching their weight.
Fancy a tipple on rest day? Go ahead! Alcohol inhibits glyconeogenesis (and therefore prevents you stocking up your energy stores post workout), as well as inhibiting protein synthesis, so should ideally be avoided during training days. Rest day is therefore the best day to enjoy a glass of wine without leaving your legs feeling heavy & unresponsive at the next training session.
Here’s my favourite recipe from that clever man Jamie O’s new recipe book Superfoods. I love all the tasty recipes in this book, as well how the nutritional properties of the ingredients are celebrated. Each recipe also has it’s nutritional breakdown so you can plan your 4:1 carbs: protein recovery meals and snacks, and check you’re reaching your 20g protein recovery target. Also packed full of healthy fats and wholegrains, perfect for rest day nutrition. I modified this recipe to boost the healthy fats and protein and simplify the prep.
- 250g quinoa
- 1 ripe avocado
- 300g tomatoes
- 2 limes
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 corn on the cob
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 fresh red chill
- 2 salmon fillets
- 20g feta
- 1/2 bunch fresh coriander or mint
- Cook the Quinoa according to packet instructions
- Peel avocado and roughly chop with tomatoes
- Toss with lime zest and juice, 2bsp olive oil, salt and pepper
- Grill corn cobs on a direct gas flame, then slice off the kernels
- Peel garlic and slice with chilli, add to pan with oil and fry salmon fillets skin side down until cooked and the skin has gone crispy (about 10min)
- Remove skin and slice into 'salmon crackling' strips
- flake salmon into veg, add quinoa and corn and toss together
- Sprinkle with feta, herbs, and salmon crackling
Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 307g serving||%RI|
A green light for the hot, smooth, dark, freshly roasted coffee you’ve been craving all morning? Fancy a cuppa? Go ahead, the nerd is sanctioning caffeine.
During the month of January there’s a lot of nutrition noise around cutting foods out, making changes to your diet. Well how about just focussing on what you’re doing already and feeling good about it.
I love tea. I love coffee. I love caffeine. Four years of post-kids cumulative sleep deficit combined with an increasingly hectic work schedule, not to mention moving with my family 6 times through 3 continents in the past 5 years has pretty much sealed this relationship. I love caffeine and caffeine loves me. It dusts out the cobwebs, it lets me see brighter and it makes me run faster.
So what’s the science, nerd? Caffeine has long been embraced by athletes to enhance sporting performance. Caffeine spares glycogen stores. Once a banned substance it was removed from the prohibited list for professional athletes in 2004. Robust scientific studies involving meta-analysis have shown improvements in endurance activity and capacity as well as reduced perceived effort when exercising after taking caffeine at the dose of 3mg/kg body weight 1hr pre-exercise. For an average 70kg person this equates to 200mg which is not a huge amount. You can get this via:
- One mug of home brewed coffee
- Two shots of espresso (and therefore one latte/ flat white)
- Two mugs of tea
- Four mugs of green tea (or 800ml)
There are side-effects if too much caffeine is consumed: headaches, anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia are warning signs you’re overdoing it. The Mayo Clinic recommends capping caffeine intake at 100mg/d for adolescents, 200mg/d for pregnant women, and 500mg/d for the general population. So for most of us 5 cups of tea or coffee is the limit.
Remember some people are ‘responders’ to caffeine, and others ‘non-responders’. This explains my husbands ability to knock back a double espresso after eating out and then fall straight asleep. You don’t know if you don’t try, so have a go at dosing yourself up with some green tea and dark chocolate before your next work-out, and see how you feel.
I use green tea for the extra anti-oxidants. For an optimal caffeine hit I drink 250ml of my green tea as a hot drink, then add ice and lemon to the remaining 250ml and sip from my drinks bottle pre-workout. All to be enjoyed with a few squares of good quality dark choccie to provide 200mg caffeine – remember the higher the cocoa content the greater the caffeine content. Enjoy!
- 500ml boiled water
- 1 green tea bag
- 1 slice lemon
- handful of ice cubes
- 3 cubes 80% cocoa dark chocolate
- Brew the green tea bag with 500ml water in a jug
- Pour half into a mug
- Pour half into a drinks bottle and add a handfull of icecubes and a slice of lemon for your iced tea
- Enjoy with chocolate
- Now go and WORK OUT!