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!
As I dusted the heels off last Friday for a rare night out on the town with some equally excited local ‘mum friends’ I felt smug in my hangover prevention preparations: I was well hydrated; I’d eaten a wholesome balanced dinner with the family before heading out; I snacked with my drinks when out; and the old classic – I downed a pint of water before going to bed.
I can report that this wasn’t enough. A pounding headache and teenage moody tendencies followed my Friday night of cocktail abandon, and lasted for the entire weekend. I’ll put my hands up and admit there are confounding factors here 1. age, 2. children, 3. lack of sleep (see point 2). I’ve realised I need to up my game in the prevention and subsequent treatment of my potential hangovers this festive season. And here I present my research findings!
- Avoid drinks that are darker in colour. That’s right – our beloved red wine causes a worse hangover when drank in the same quantities as white wine, and takes less glasses to tip us over into hangover territory. It contains more congeners – substances which colour and flavour drinks – along with Brandy, rum and whisky. image from www.alcoholhangover.com
- Get a good nights rest. mmm – that would be nice, and so much easier said than done, but many hangover symptoms are actually a result of sleep deprivation.
- Stay well hydrated. I do love a martini glass, but I must get into the habit of ordering a glass of ice water alongside my dainty cocktail. Alternatively stick to long drinks, and remember the best way to avoid hangovers all together is to stick to the recommended limits of 2-3 units a day for women, 3-4 for men.
- Include healthy fats in your pre-drink meal. If you ‘line your stomach’ before you drink you’ll be slowing down your gastric emptying from the stomach to the small intestine where alcohol is absorbed. Fat slows gastric emptying more than other macronutrients and will stop you getting too tipsy too quickly. Next time I’m on the cocktails I’ll order nuts instead of the wasabi peas and olives from last Friday nights misadventure.
- Eat mindfully post drinking. Towards the end of the night talk turned to cheesy chips and ‘special burgers’ including cheese, fried egg and topped with kebab meat (an Oxford classic I may just have indulged in in the past!). We crave such delights when alcohol causes our blood sugars to drop and make us insanely hungry. An healthy and cheaper alternative to this greasy junk is a bowl of high fibre breakfast cereal as soon as you get home – perfect for rehydrating at the same time as correcting low blood sugars, and keeping them up with slow release carbs until morning.
And so I’ve found the answer to hangover prevention is – beyond drinking in moderation – getting a good nights kip and eating good food. I’ve found this banaganoush and parsnip chip combo works great alongside a glass of pre-dinner bubbles or gin and tonic. Cheers!
- 2 large parsnips sliced finely
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 aubergine
- 1 clove garlic
- 1tsp tahini
- 1tbsp olive oil
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- sal and pepper
- Preheat oven to 160 degrees C
- Peel and finely slice the parsnips using a mandolin
- Pop in a bowl and mix in 1tbsp olive oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper
- Lay one slice deep on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper
- Bake for 20mins turning once
- Turn off oven and leave crisps inside for another 20min to fully crisp up, checking every now and then.
- Blacken the aubergine all over on a direct gas flame or under the grill
- allow to cool in a bowl and then peel the skin off and discard
- chop the garlic and crush it with coarsly ground pepper, add to the aubergine
- mix together with all remaining ingredients
- add a sprinkling of sumac if you're feeling particularly fancy
- These vegetable crisps are great with butternut squash or beetroot too.
It’s a crazy busy time of year. Christmas shopping is in full swing and the social calendar is fully booked. There are now meagre seasonal pickings from the garden, and sub-zero temperatures mean a few kilos weight gain can be easily disguised under a stylish Winter knit. Discussing healthy fresh meal ideas is less of a priority and is replaced with debating the best mince pies, or the best choccie from the tub of Quality Streets.
Oh dear. How many calories in that strawberry cream? How many squats to work off that mince pie? How many marathons will I need to run to earn my Christmas dinner?
STOP. Think. Relax. Eat.
If you’re starting to feel out of control of your eating habits, or feeling negative towards food it might be time to focus on mindful eating. Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction. The more we are in tune with why we are eating, the more control we have over it. I like the HALT acronym for identifying if you are eating because your body needs some food, or if you are eating for emotion. Next time you find yourself reaching for the seasonal post dinner mince-pie or chocolates ask yourself am I:
If you find yourself eating for emotion don’t panic. It’s very common to get into the habit of emotional eating. Try to accept that this is the way you feel, and try some distraction techniques so that you put off that urge until you are truly hungry:
- Go for a short jog.
- Go for a drive.
- Have a bath.
- Surf the web.
- Talk to a friend.
- Work or play on your computer.
- Immerse yourself in a project or hobby.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Work in the garden.
- If you have children, play some games with them.
- Clean the house.
It can be easy to over-eat at usual mealtimes when not being mindful. In particular it’s easy to super-size carbohydrate portions in your evening meals, especially when ‘double carb’ ing – think pasta with garlic bread. Are you actually eating this big meal for a reward after a hard week at work? Are you eating an entire pizza in a restaurant because you were brought up to always finish your plate? But it’s also easy to then remedy this problem by hitting the other extreme and eating too little carbohydrate. I find in my practise clients who limit carbohydrates in the evenings report frequent hunger, sugar cravings, low mood and disturbed sleep. This can all be linked back to limited carbohydrate intake affecting blood sugars and stress hormones.
Including a fist-sized portion of slow-release carbohydrate can help address hunger, mood, sugar cravings and sleep: think oats, rye bread, sweet potatoes and brown rice or pasta. Here’s a great recipe for embracing a low carb technique (spiralizing veg) but incorporating it into a healthy balanced nourishing meal with a sensible fist sized portion of slow release brown spaghetti. Help yourself to a modest portion first, enjoy and savour every mouthful. Eat mindfully and enjoy!
- 1 large courgette
- 150 wholemeal spaghetti
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 2tsp olive oil
- 200g prawns
- salt and pepper
- one large handful of pine nuts
- 1/2 red chilli (optional)
- Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions
- meanwhile spiralize your courgettes (with a spiraliser or a vegetable peeler)
- Cook the garlic in the oil for 20 seconds
- add & toss the courgette noodles and prawns for 2-3 minutes
- add cooked spaghetti to the pan
- season with salt, pepper, chilli and cheese
- Serve with salad or steamed vegetables
Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 432g serving||%RI|
As a nutrition expert I feel pressure to look the picture of health at all times. Glossy hair, long nails, glowing skin and a skip in my step are all evidence of the nutritious healthy lifestyle I live. However sometimes the odds are stacked against me and over-training, stress, a change in seasons and lack of sleep lead to a depressed immune system… and a snuffly nose to match. So I have spent the past week counselling junior athletes on how to boost their immunity through diet, whilst trying to disguise my own coughs and sneezes.
Exercise boosts the immune system, but too much then weakens it, increasing the frequency of coughs and colds in those who undertake intense exercise. Research has also shown that athletes are more susceptible to cough and colds for 1-2 weeks following race events. This is most likely due to adrenaline and cortisol suppressing the immune system. It’s important to avoid over-training – think quality over quantity and make sure you are on a sensible training schedule which includes adequate time for recovery.
“So what supplement should I take?” is what I then hear. Vitamin C? Echinacea? Glutamine? There’s big bucks to be made in this area and so many research studies have been funded to see if these nutrients help reduce the immune-supressing effect on exercise. None of these studies have shown any significant benefit. However there are adjustments you can make to your diet that have a proven benefit towards ensuring your coughs and colds are less frequent and shorter in duration:
- Eat sufficient carbohydrates and protein: If you are well-fuelled with carbohydrates your body produces less stress hormones during exercise. Taking carbohydrates during exercise (such as sports drinks during exercise lasting longer than 60minutes) also reduces these stress hormones further, which protects your immune system.
- Avoid excessive fat intake
- Ensure adequate intake of Iron and Zinc from food in your diet. Think seafood and lean meat.
- Eat plenty of vitamins A, C and E. ‘Eat a rainbow’ to get these anti-oxidant ACE vitamins in.
- Eat loads of vitamins B6 and B12. Choose wholegrain bread, pasta and rice to maximise B vitamin intake.
So back to ‘healthy eating’ and timing your intake around exercise – try not to run on empty and always take your recovery snack immediately after exercise. For more practical tips and links to the primary evidence on this subject check out this Australian Sports Commission article.
Here’s another recipe to try to help you get all the immune boosting nutrients from real food – the only proven way to boost your immunity via nutrition. Have a look at the nutrient breakdown, there are plenty of anti-oxidant vitamins here. For even more zinc choose seafood such as oysters or mussels. For an iron boost how about mackerel – with more iron per 100g than steak plus it’s omega-3 content it makes a perfect dinner choice for athletes.
- 2 tuna steaks
- 1 large sweet potato
- 1 red pepper
- 1 orange pepper
- 1 red onion
- 1 portabella mushroom
- peel the potato and cut into thick wedges
- chop the vegetables
- coat the veg and potatoes with 2 tbsp olive oil in a bowl and toss
- spread in a thin layer atop greaseproof paper on 1 or 2 large baking sheets
- roast in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 40minutes
- meanwhile griddle the tuna for 4 minutes each side
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 602g serving||%RI|
The biggest guys at the gym all take protein powder, celebrity athletes endorse it, and just look at the photos on the tubs, these powders get you ripped! Or do they? Are protein supplements just burning a hole in your wallet? Are they replacing fibre containing meals and leaving you constipated? Or worse still are they negatively affecting your health from contaminants undeclared on the label?
Some people have higher protein requirements than the general population, and could potentially benefit from a protein supplement:
– endurance athletes in heavy training
– Strength athletes in the initial stages of training
– athletes trying to gain body mass.
Most people will meet their protein needs easily through regular diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan you may need to consider protein powder. Protein powders could also be more convenient for time-restricted carnivores. The key number to remember is 20g protein. This should be high biological value (i.e. animal or soy protein) to contain all the amino acid building blocks to repair and grow your muscle. Any more protein than this does not stimulate any more muscle growth. Taking 20g protein several times a day can keep muscle protein synthesis maximised during the 24hrs after a workout. To achieve this through normal diet see my blog post on ‘Tone up with your 20g recovery protein’.
The main issue here is that the supplements industry is unregulated. Protein powders are not classed as food or medicine, and so many brands when randomly tested have been found not to match up with the label. There have been several lawsuits over the past year over protein supplements containing half the amount of protein promised on the label, but containing extra carbohydrates. They can also be contaminated with steroids and stimulants, which is a risk you cannot take if you are undergoing doping for elite level sports (visit WADA for more information on this).
If you have made the decision that you would benefit from a protein supplement you will need to consider how to take it effectively and safely.
Effective: – Take the supplement in portion sizes equivalent to no more than 20g protein, any more than this cannot be used by the body.
– Aim to take the supplement within the 30minute ‘recovery window’ after exercise.
– Take alongside carbohydrates in a ratio of 4:1 carbs:protein. The carbohydrates will encourage muscle synthesis by stimulating the release of insulin, a natural anabolic hormone.
– Choose a brand that has been tested so you know the contents match up with the label: look for the Informed Sport logo on the packet.
Safe: – I would not recommend taking any supplement that has not been safety tested in a laboratory. Look for the Informed Sport or NSF mark on the packet. Don’t worry there are absolutely loads who go through this quality assurance process, you will still have a wide choice.
In conclusion I’d say yes, protein powders can be safe, but are they necessary? No. You can get the same protein from REAL FOOD, it’s not that time consuming, and it tastes better. Seeds whizzed up into smoothies are almost flavourless, and once blitzed give a lovely angel delight texture with no grainy bits. Chia seeds particularly are great for adding extra protein and have the added bonus of omega three oils, perfect for anti-inflammatory effects post exercise. I’ve been making this ‘recovery smoothie’ for years and absolutely love it. Give it a go, its beats anything out of a tin or a packet.
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 banana
- 1 heaped tsp chia seeds
- 4 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
- 300ml semi-skimmed milk
- Put all ingredients into a blender.... and blend!
- use a frozen banana if you like your smoothies extra thick, or if you fancy a smoothie bowl for the added satisfaction of eating your smoothie with a spoon
- Substitute in unsweetened, calcium fortified soya milk and soya yoghurt for a dairy free alternative
- A full portion would constitute one of your 5 daily meals/ snacks
Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 723g serving||%RI|
A request for ‘man snacks’ came recently from one of the alpha males in my extended family. I laughed initially at the thought of snacks being gender aligned, until I took myself and my husband as an example:
Snacks for me: – Fresh fruit, dates, dried apricots, dark chocolate, home made oat cookies, bliss balls.
Snacks for hubby: – Crisps, nuts, meat sandwich. Sometimes all three combined.
I see a theme here. Unsurprisingly this topic has already been extensively researched. A well referenced article in the Guardian concludes that there is little science to explain why men should eat in a different way to women, but it’s a cultural thing. Men eat steak to show they are men. Women eat chocolate because we have learnt that it’s a forbidden treat just for us.
Whether it’s culture or innate the fact remains that men generally prefer savoury foods. This clashes with many sports nutrition products. Sports shakes, gels, bars, drinks are all generally sweet. There’s also the problem with healthy snacks, if you’re not after something sweet but you need a snack vegetable crudites may not cut it for you, and will certainly not enhance sports performance.
So I offer you my top 3 savoury man snacks. High in protein, nutrients and healthy fats these snacks will keep you full and help you sidestep the mid-afternoon empty calorie hiccup. If you’re trying to build muscle at the gym a high protein snack will help contribute to your 5-6 /d protein based meals or snacks. Your body cannot utilise more than 20g protein in one sitting so spacing it through the day helps encourage muscle growth during the recovery phase post resistance training (research).
- Jerky: Lean seasoned ready to eat meat. Good for kit bag post workout or briefcase post long day at the office. Pretty much the ideal high protein snack if you’re careful about which you buy if going for shop-bought. Check the labels and choose the ones that have less salt and sugar and are actual meat slices rather than reconstituted meat. Preferably make you own form the recipe below, or if beef’s not your thing substitute in turkey, pork or salmon. One 30g portion provides Calories: 89 kcal Protein: 12 g
- Almonds: Almonds are high in fibre, high in satiating healthy mono-unsaturated fats and low in calories relative to other nuts. Studies have shown that eating a handful of almonds daily leads to less calories consumed overall and enhanced weight loss and fat loss when compared to diets higher in carbohydrates without almonds (summary of research on livestrong.com). One handful (22 nuts) provides Calories: 164 kcal Protein: 6g
- Vegetable crisps with humous: If you don’t own a mandolin buy one now! Homemade veggie crisps are a healthy & delicious alternative to potato crisps (chips). Eat with humous for the protein and healthy fats to make it a satiating snack. Experiment with different veggies – personal favourites here are beetroot, parsnip and butternut squash. Coat with favourite seasonings – I love smoked paprika or garlic salt. Thinly slice, spritz with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning and pop in the oven for 15min at 180degreesC. Leave in the oven for an extra hour with the heat off checking every now and then to see if crisp.
- 500g lean beef steak eg sirloin
- 70ml sweet cider (or unsweetened apple juice)
- 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1tbsp fish sauce
- 1tsp dijon mustard
- 1tbsp honey
- 1tsp liquid smoke
- a good few grinds of a black pepper mill
- 1tsp smoked paprika
- 1tbsp garlic powder
- 1tsp onion powder
- 1tsp salt
- 1tbsp sesame oil
- 1tsp crushed red chilli
- Cut away all visible fat from the steaks
- Put in the freezer for 60min to firm up and make slicing thinly easier
- Cut into 6mm thick strips. Cut at an angle to the grain of the meat.
- Put into a zip lock bag and add all remaining ingredients. Mix well.
- Leave in fridge to marinate for 24hrs.
- Lay marinated steak slices directly onto your oven rack. If they fall through use a cooling rack on top of the oven racks.
- Lay an oven tray or a sheet of foil over the base of your oven to catch drips.
- Dry out in oven at 70degreesC with door wedged open with a wooden spoon. Leave in oven for 3hours, then turn over and leave for another 3hrs.
- The jerky is ready when you can tear a piece of meat off but it doesn't snap (which means its overdone).
- If you don't eat beef try pork, turkey or salmon.
- Liquid smoke can be hard to come by in shops but is easy to order online. The recipe works well without it too.
Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 30g serving||%RI|
I spent the weekend just gone slightly in awe of delicately framed French women savouring traditional rich French cuisine. The French Paradox that struck me here was not so much the lack of heart disease in a country consuming foods so loaded with saturated fats, but the lack of pot belly. How do these ladies maintain a bikini body on a diet full of cheese, fois gras and red wine?
As with all dietary studies there are confounding factors. It’s not just diet that plays a role in attainment of a perfect bikini body but also exercise, genes, socio-economic status etc. However my own personal observational study of the plates of these lean women in question drew parallels with existing research and theories already reported:
1. Mindful eating. The French take time out to eat. A 35 hr week allows time for a leisurely lunch break to sit down in a cafe and eat a proper balanced meal with friends. Each mouthful is chewed, savoured and acknowledged and so more satiating than a sandwich eaten whilst answering e-mails at the work computer (more in ‘Todays Dietitian’).
2. More fruit and vegetables. Yes, it will come as no surprise to anyone that has visited France that the French consume more fruit and veg per capita than British or Americans (report). Any serving of cheese, fois gras or steak comes with a mountain of salad and vegetables, and local markets are always full of people shopping for fresh fruit and veg.
3. The 50% rule. The portions are not all huge, and if they are they are not always finished. Leaving yourself just 80% full at the end of a meal, or only asking for a half portion to start with is common in France (there are several books on this point alone).
4. Cook from scratch. Convenience foods are much less common in France. Just Eat Real Food, hashtag JERF is certainly not a new concept but just a way of life to majority of those on the continent.
So there is a way to enjoy rich high calorie foods as part of a diet that will keep you slim and healthy. Eat them mindfully, not too much, and alongside all the other healthy fruits, vegetables, fish and wholegrains we know we should be eating. I’ve incorporated all those principles into my fig, stilton and chicory cheese course ‘recipe’ here. Eating this after exercise will provide you with 17g protein for recovery and the natural sugar from the figs makes up the ideal 4:1 ratio carbs: protein to ensure your glycogen stores are replenished efficiently. Exercise boosts your healthy HDL cholesterol production, and so post exercise is the best time to eat this as the HDL will ferry away the bad LDL to the liver to be metabolised. Bon appetit!
- 5 large ripe figs
- 2 heads of chicory (endive)
- 100g stilton
- Eat the fig flesh and cheese with the chicory leaves as if they were crackers
Front of pack nutrition labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 228g serving||%RI|
As a nerd I like to have a set of rules to work to. I like numbers, and I like it when they’re based on research. It also helps when that number answers a question I get asked a lot: how much protein should I eat? For ideal recovery post workout that’ll be 20 grams.
Does protein help you build big muscles? Yes. Does it help repair muscles after a workout reducing risk of injuries and soreness? Yes. Does it help with glycogen replenishment? Yes. So the more protein the better? No! Research has shown that the most protein your body can benefit from in one hit is 20 grams above which you could be doing more damage than good (full study here).
Over the course of the day you need 1.2g/kg -1.7g/kg protein, and so 10-20g protein portions can be spread over 5-6 meals/snacks during the day, making sure there’s always some protein in your diet within the 30minute recovery window after exercise. 20g protein is equivalent to a small chicken breast, a fillet of fish, half a block of tofu, a can of beans, 3 eggs, a handful of prawns or a large pot of yoghurt.
No need to spend all your money on sports supplements, you can get your high quality protein from REAL FOOD. There’s plenty of evidence for chocolate milk in recovery also due to it’s 4:1 carb: protein ratio – just a glass of milk and Nesquick, or a bottle of Yazoo will work. If you’re thinking the same as a previous junior athlete I worked with “but I don’t like the chocolate flavoured ones” then don’t panic, it’s OK – the other flavours work just as well!
The recipe for todays blog could have been a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or smoothie. I’ve got loads of 20g 4:1 carbs:protein recipes up my sleeve, but I decided to share this one with you because 1. I think it makes me look quite clever, 2. It’s delicious, 3. I’ve over-dosed on salmon recently and am looking for alternatives sources of omega-3’s. Omega-3 fats are excellent post exercise for their anti-inflammatory properties, and reduce muscle soreness after exercise (Clin J Sport Med 2009).
So get bulked up on your 20 grams, and make it fishy!
- 2 rainbow trout fillets
- 20g sea salt
- 40g caster sugar
- 1tsp fennel seeds
- 1tsp corriander seeds
- 1/2tsp black peppercorns
- Put all cure ingredients into food processor and blitz till fine
- cut a piece of foil 4 times the size of the trout fillet
- Use 1/4 of the cure mix to make a bed for the trout in the centre of the foil
- place trout on salt mix skin side down
- sprinkle 2/3 remaining cure onto fish
- place other fillet on top flesh to flesh
- sprinkle remaining cure on top
- fold up foil into a neat parcel and place on a dish to catch juices
- top with a wooden board and leave in the fridge for the cure to work its magic over 6 days
- after 6 days rinse the fish and pat dry with kitchen paper
- Finely slice off the skin and serve with rye bread and salad
Front of pack nutrition labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 553g serving||%RI|
I’ve become a weekday quasi-vegetarian. It happened by accident really. My husband has been working away from home Monday to Friday and so I’ve been cooking what I crave and what the children like – which is mainly cheese, beans, fish and vegetables. Sometimes chicken – but since our move we no longer have a decent local butcher, and the long aisles packed full of meat from variable backgrounds at the supermarkets have put me off carnivorous activity.
So I came to question the quality of our fully vegetarian dinners, and whether they could actually be healthier and better for sport than the meat alternative. Look at Martina Navratilova and Dave Scott, if it works for them maybe going veggo is the way forward. Clearly some athletes thrive on a vegetarian diet, and part of the reason is that removing animal protein from our diets often results in reduced fat intake and weight loss. Also protein is replaced with carbohydrate which helps performance particularly for endurance athletes.
One main issue with a vegetarian diet is to be sure that high quality protein is consumed to allow for muscle growth and repair. Plant proteins often miss one or more essential amino acid, and so different types of plant foods need to be combined to provide the all amino acids e.g beans and grains, or nuts and seeds. The Australian Institute of Sport recommend that vegetarians consume 10% more protein than general athlete recommendations as plant proteins are less well absorbed. They also suggest experimenting with vegetarian meat alternatives when your training load is high. At other times good sources of vegetarian protein are: lentils, beans and peas, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein. There’s also a higher requirement for iron and calcium as they are less easily absorbed from a vegetarian diet. See the AIS’s nutrition tips for vegetarian athletes.
So you really can excel in sport on vegetarian diet, you just need to get the balance right. Just think ‘must eat nuts and beans’…. or ‘must eat lentils and tofu’ (but that’s less catchy). Whatever your veggie protein keep it varied and don’t be afraid to experiment with other meat alternatives. And try out my Thai red curry recipe – I’ve made this perfectly balanced for recovery with 4:1 ratio carbs:protein, and hits the recommended 20g protein per portion, so it’s perfect for after a training session.
- 1tbsp red thai curry paste
- 400ml coconut milk
- 1/2 butternut squash (0.5kg), peeled and diced into bite sized pieces
- 200g green beans
- 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
- 1tsp rapeseed oil
- 300g plain compressed tofu, cut into 1" cubes
- 1tbsp fish sauce
- juice of 1/2 lime
- a handful of fresh coriander
- 2 cups Brown rice
- Bring a pan of water to the boil and add brown rice - boil for 25minutes or until cooked
- Add the red curry paste and the solid top layer of coconut milk to a large heated saucepan, cook for a minute
- add the rest of the coconut milk and the butternut squash, simmer for 7min
- add the beans and chickpeas, simmer for 5 minutes
- meanwhile in a separate pan heat the rapeseed oil and fry the tofu cubes until brown and crisp on the outside
- add the fish sauce and lime juice to the curry
- serve on a bed of brown rice topped with the crispy tofu cubes, a sprinkling of fresh coriander, a wedge of lime and a few cashew nuts.
- Keep tasting - I love loads of lime juice so keep adding till it tastes right to you. You can also add more fish sauce or soy sauce if it needs more salt, and freshly shopped red chilli if it needs more heat.
- Do you eat fish? This curry taste great with salmon and/or prawns instead of the chickpeas and tofu. I also love it with pakchoi and sugarsnap peas.
Front of pack nutrition labelling:
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 553g serving||%RI|
About a year ago my mum commented on how many recipes she was finding containing coconut oil. ‘Is it really that good for you?’ she asked me. My life at that time was a blur of nappies and playgroups, so I really hadn’t taken much notice to the ‘food revolution’ that had been taking place. The revolution which had meant that my own mother who has happily drank milk her whole life with no adverse side-effects and stocks no less than 6 different types of cheese in her fridge had inadvertently started embarking on a dairy free baking spree.
So what was my answer? Well ‘yes’ I said, it’s very healthy for people with a dairy allergy. Why are you using it?! But as I came gradually out of the abyss of nights with 5hrs broken sleep, and Mumsnet being my only reading material, I also found what a massive following the free-from movement had. Then my own friends started cutting out the white stuff for the sake of their own bloated tummies and their poor newborn babies with green frothy poo’s. And so those people with lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, and breastfeeding mums whose babies have milk protein or lactose allergy or intolerance could now finally feel comfortable speaking openly about the nasty side effects many suffer from ingesting too much dairy. Not just that but they now had a plethora of recipes to choose from to help ease their symptoms.
However there has also been a huge swathe of young health conscious social media addicts that have been caught up in all this. Those who have never had any negative symptom associated with ingesting dairy going the whole hog & totally cutting it out. Many believe they are helping to prevent disease and that it is just not natural to eat dairy. And others I fear are just following a trend, and trying to mirror the intake of the svelte lifestyle guru’s out there on the net. Even the most educated of my friends are shocked when I tell them almond milk is no more nutritious than cows milk. This is dangerous. Dairy is a major food group and when cut out could lead to inadequate calcium intake leading to brittle bones. If you think you may be intolerant to dairy you should see your GP to obtain a referral to see a dietitian who will help balance your diet. see the advice at Allergy UK
My personal opinion is to celebrate the dairy free recipes that work. Modify them to suit the contents of your pantry or your tolerance. I will often use recipes including coconut oil and just substitute butter as I luckily have no intolerance to dairy. If you are able to there are advantages to using butter over coconut oil. Butter is 50% saturated fat, the ‘bad fat’ that is thought to increase cholesterol compared to 87% saturated fat in coconut oil. It also has more healthy mono-unsaturated fat at 20%, compared to 6% in coconut oil.
But these free from recipes – thank you Deliciously Ella – are there for when we do need to cater for ourselves or our friends feeding their colicky baby, or with irritable bowel or genuine milk allergy or intolerance. Get baking!
- 3 large ripe bananas
- 4 tablespoons almond butter or peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 1/2 mugs oats (180g)
- 100g dark (at least 70% cocoa, the darker the better) chocolate, cut into small chunks
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees C, (fan 180)
- Mash bananas with a fork until smooth
- add nut butter, oil or butter and maple syrup to the bananas and mix
- add oats and chocolate chunks
- line a baking tray with baking paper, and scoop tablespoons of the mixture onto the tray
- Bake for 18-20 minutes
- Remove when cookies become brown and leave to cool for 5 minutes
|Nutrient||per 100g||%RI||per 71g serving||%RI|