Three top nutrition trends and their impact on Sports Nutrition: Ketogenic Diet, Alternate Milks & Veganism

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Instagram. Google. Facebook. Television. Every day we are bombarded with information about food and nutrition. Not only can this be confusing! If we act on wrong information it can end up impacting negatively upon both our sports performance as well as our health.

Accredited Sports Dietitians are trained in best science and have to keep up to date to provide safe recommendations to the public about nutrition on a daily basis. About time you stopped listening to the girl on Instagram who tells you skinny tea to lean up or that to be a great athlete you have to be vegan? We think so! 

Today we share some recent health “trends” we seem to be seeing in common media and why this would potentially not be appropriate for athletes. Many of these are diet not lifestyle approaches which can be very unsustainable and unhealthy.

“There are no magic bullets when it comes to optimal performance, following the key fundamentals of sports nutrition through sound education and individual integration is what is going to set you up for success”

The Ketogenic Diet

The Ketogenic Diet is a low carbohydrate (<20g/day), high in fat and adequate protein diet. When the body is starved of carbohydrates it has to look for another source of energy, so the liver turns fats into “ketones” which can be used as energy. This diet was originally designed for epilepsy and has been commonly used to try and lose weight.

Why it doesn’t always work for athletes? 

Firstly, let’s think about how practical this actually is... 20g of carbs is as much as you find in banana. Day over after that – No more… cereal, fruit, milk, yoghurt, bread, pasta, chickpeas, lentils, crackers or yummy home-made protein balls. Suddenly we are also cutting out a bunch of different food groups and missing out on key micronutrients, compromising body function.

Additionally as athletes, your body NEEDS carbohydrates, especially for high intensity exercise. If there is none there at all we feel flat, have a greater risk of getting sick and lack energy to get the most out of our training.

Did I also mention that carbohydrates fuel our brain? As athletes we also be sharp with our attention and memory to assimilate information and improve our skill, technique and competition decision making.

Lastly: Keto is also low in fibre and can mess with our digestion leaving us feeling bloated and uncomfortable for training and competition.

Dairy vs. Alternate Milks 

I went to order a coffee the other day and was offered either skim, soy, almond or macadamia milk! With many new milks popping up in the supermarket, it seems everyone is getting curious.

The point stands that original dairy milk is still wholesome and appropriate for athletes as it provides calcium and phosphorus (for strong bones and teeth), protein (for recovery), iodine (for metabolism), potassium (for blood pressure regulation), and vitamins B2 and B12 (for brain function).

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Unfortunately many alternate milks are:

a)     Low in protein

b)    Low in calcium or not even fortified with calcium

We usually recommend skim, light milk or high protein milk to our athletes as it digests better when lower in fats. Remember that we recommend ~20g of protein within 30 minutes of exercise completion for recovery too, and dairy has the perfect blend of amino acids for repair.   

Plant Base Diets/Veganism 

It seems the modern world is started to gravitate towards many more plant-based options or diets. First of all, these diets can be great and adequate IF DONE CORRECTLY.

Typical vegan and vegetarian diets can make it harder sometimes to reach protein requirements for an athletes recovery, immunity and generating healthy hormones. It can also be a struggle to meet iron requirements. Iron is used to deliver oxygen from your lungs to tissues whilst exercising.

If you decide to follow a purely vegan diet, you can compromise other nutrient intakes such as B12 which is only found in animal-based foods. 

And guess what?! You can still increase your intake of plant-based foods to get healthy benefits such a high-amounts of fibre for gut function, immunity and vitality whilst you are eating meat. All it involves is a little creativity such as learning how to integrate things like chickpeas into your diet, trying some traditional dahl, or incorporating tofu into a meal or two every week.

Dietitian's are great with guidance in this area, so never be afraid to check in whether you are already vegetarian/vegan, considering a change OR just want to balance your diet with some more plant-based foods. It’s a great idea to make sure you are getting all the nutrition you need for your training evaluated by a professional. 

And there you have it! Three top nutrition trends/myths laid out with the right science so you can make informed decisions to make sure that nutrition is always supporting you to train and compete to the best of your ability.  

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Do you need a wellness weekend?

You know what it’s like – work consumes the majority of your week, you’re always on the go with family/spouse responsibilities and whether you are aware of it or not you are probably spending most of your energy stressing about what you should have done or what you still have to do. You are asking a lot of your mind and body when you are constantly running on this type of anxious energy. I found myself in the same position recently, so a timely trip away at the Blue Mountains turned out to be the wellness weekend.

The spot: If you have never been before then I recommend you add the Blue Mountains to your must see list. I couldn’t believe I had never visited despite living in Sydney my whole life. The trip up is so quick now, especially with the motorways, our drive only took 1 hr 20 mins.

DAY 1

 Leura: My partner and I began our first day in the mountains with a walk around Leura, a quaint village town. Its main street had splattering of small cafes, bakeries and some finer restaurants. A small community hall sold honey, handmade beanies and scarves and chatting to the locals showed me that time for them was simply something to guide them from one part of the day to the next. This was a wonderful reminder that although we have to live our regular days by ‘clock time’ you don’t need to live out that same clock in your head.

Mind tip: Don’t let time be a problem, don’t let it create stress. You will get there/do that/ see that/ eat that whenever you do. There is no right or wrong time to do it in.

Being the foodie that I am I had already scoped out a vegetarian café called Rubyfruit for lunch. My partner and I are not vegos by any means, but these cafes always seem to serve something a bit different – plus my body always feels better when it’s had a good dose of vegetables.

The café was small and a single waitress greeted all customers and the sole chef delivered each meal to its designated table. I ordered the Dragon Bowl, a deconstructed salad with soba noodles, avocado, an array of vegetables, grilled tempeh (a new favourite of mine) and a ponzu dressing. We also ordered the Moroccan spiced ‘chicken’ burger, which was actually a piece of Seitan. Never heard of it before? I hadn’t either, but it is made of gluten and has a slightly meaty flavour. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, it has a very similar nutrient profile to tofu and a great protein source for vegetarians.

BODY TIP: Trying something new can be challenging and scary. Something simple as a vegetarian dish will give your body a more nutrient dense meal, topping up your micronutrients giving you more energy.

 Katoomba was the next town we visited after our lunch on Day 1. It’s best known for its proximity to the Three Sisters, Scenic World and Echo Point. We took the typical tourist photograph with the mountains in the background – our first realization of how enormous the mountain area actually was. Then we began our first walk of the trip, taking the popular track from Echo Point around to Scenic World and back.

The mountain air was invigorating to say the least. I was a little unprepared for the cool temperatures and couldn’t feel my fingers for most of the afternoon. However the stunning views of distant sandstone cliffs, green carpeted rolling hills and rocky outcrops distracted me from most of my minor complaints.

Mind tip: Complaints are verbal expressions of the negativity of your brain. Why are you letting this mental ‘garbage’ pollute your world and those around you? Acknowledge your negative thought then drop it, like you would anything else that would be causing you pain.

Wentworth Falls is a very small community where we stayed in a roomy studio apartment with a gas fire and giant spa. There isn’t much to see around Wentworth Falls town centre but it wins in terms of location because of its close proximity to the falls and some amazing hiking trails.

Back to Leura.. After a soak in the enormous spa bath and relax by the gas fire we drove 15 minutes back to Leura for dinner at Zest, a modestly priced restaurant that had a modern Australian twist on Mediterranean classics. We shared some spicy prawns for entrée which were on the oily side, a reminder of how rich eating out can be. One Mediterranean tradition they upheld was drizzling olive oil on their bread, two thumbs up from me!

We chased this with their falafel plate that had a small sampling of hummous,  tahini dip, roasted eggplant, mashed pumpkin and a spicy chilli relish as well as one of their specials, which was a vegetable ragout served on spiced sweet potato mash and goats yoghurt. It actually inspired me to trial some new spices in my own home cooking.

Food tip: Sweet potato mash is easy enough to do yourself, so elevate yours by experimenting with cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg.(Sorry no photos this time!)

 Day 2

I started day 2 with my first Iyenga yoga class in Katoomba. The class began with a hindu chant before it launched into handstands, balances and stretches. Not only did it provide my body with a great stretch but settled my noisy mind – a great headspace to be in to start the day.

Body tip: Trying a new version of a normal activity creates new movement patterns in your body. You will recruit different muscle fibres that help you strengthen in areas you didn’t know you had.

 National Pass Walk: After a sneaky coffee and morning tea we headed back to begin the National Pass Walk at Wentworth Falls. To be honest, this was my favourite part of the weekend. The track took us across to Wentworth Falls, where there are plenty of photo opportunities. It descended down a very steep sandstone staircase (yes, you have to climb up more stairs at the other end) and delivered us to an undercliff path. The track weaved its way underneath waterfalls, through pockets of rainforest and lookouts perched along the way. The scenery was just breath taking. The only sounds were those of the birds. It was just serene.

We powered on, climbing the last set of stairs at the other end with ‘just one more step’ approach. I suggested we sing a song to distract ourselves, but I turned out to be the only voice so resorted to humming in my head so not to disturb the wildlife. We reached the end point, Conservtion Hut, in a very timely manner. I think we power walked more than we realized. We rehydrated and peeled off a few layers, of which I was wearing about five – including gloves. The return trip was nowhere near as strenuous, 20 minutes along the ‘short track’ took us back to the starting point at Wentworth Falls carpark, 5 minutes from our apartment.

Mind/ body tip: Use a mind over matter approach whenever you are challenged. Break down whatever ‘problem’ exists (remember this is one you have created in your head) into smaller pieces and tackle it one step at a time.

We stopped back in Katoomba for a refuel at a local café – between us we tried a very filling breakfast plate with homemade baked beans, eggs, tomato and sourdough and a chicken, avocado and haloumi salad. 

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Blackheath: We decided to take a drive further west to Blackheath, another small town by the side of the highway.  There we took it down a notch and walked a paved path to Govett’s Leap Lookout. We called this this grandma and pram walk in comparison to what we had done earlier. The views from the lookout stretched as far as the eye could see – again, putting things into perspective. We legged it back to the main shops for an afternoon coffee at Anonymous. Many friends had recommended the trendy place to us so we simply had to go, safe to say it did not disappoint. We quickly stopped in the historic antique shop where you can play dress ups in some crazy clothes or pick up a piece of jewelry (if you bring your $$) on our way back to the car.

Food tip: Caffeine is always controversial in the food world, however more studies are showing it is helpful in reducing risk of diabetes and possibly Alzheimers, not to mention it helps you feel energized to perform athletically at your peak. Choose your poison, coffee or tea but remember to enjoy it with small amounts of added extras, hold the sugar.

The sunset – Lincoln Rock: With time ticking away we decided to venture back to Wentworth Falls to find a sunset spot that is famous amongst photographers. Lincoln Rock as it is known was hidden down a short dirt path with huge potholes, we weren’t brave enough to take the car. The photos just don’t do this place justice. We stood at the edge of this flat white rock and looked out into the horizon, watching the sun slowly slip below the mountains. The sky turned from a light blue to a dull golden yellowy orange. Taking the time to breath in the fresh air and watch something truly beautiful made me realize how thankful I was for all of the things I had. Something I don’t do on a daily basis.

 

Mind tip: Say thank you for three things in your life every morning. Set yourself up positively in the day and remind yourself of these good things! 

 We treated ourselves that night to some well-deserved R&R with another soak in the tub and a lovely three course dinner at nineteen23. The wait staff were exemplary, taking our coats on arrival and never letting our water glasses go empty. Some of the dishes almost looked too good to eat (see below) and danced on the tastebuds. It was a wonderful indulgent night even though we were secretly looking forward to getting into our trackies!

The last morning – Leura Falls & Megalong Valley Tea Rooms

We woke with tired legs however wanted to squeeze in a couple last sights. We drove to Leura Falls and took a short rainforest walk to the lookout where we say a blanket of clouds over the valley. Shortly after we headed down a very windy road to Megalong Valley Tea Rooms. When we arrived in the valley we drove through the very same clouds of fog we had just seen from the top of the waterfall. Incredible!

he tearoom is quaint and quirky, it had a log fire and served a hearty breakfast with tea brewed in the same pot as ‘grandma’ had over 60 years ago. Unfortunately they don’t sell any leaves so I couldn’t bring any home.

So, that brings us to the end of our short but jam-packed mountains retreat. It reminded me that health is not just about the food you eat and the exercise you do. It is state of mind and state of being. I encourage you to take the time in your own life to check in mentally, take a deep breath and use that energy to make ‘healthful’ decisions each day. I highly recommend a trip to the mountains – just remember to pack your winter woolies this time of year! 

Nutting out nutrition nonsense

There are studies being thrown at us left right and centre, one day we are eating too many carbs so you cut the toast at breakfast, the next we are avoiding skim milk because it is too high in sugar or maybe you have heard that cooking your food in copious amounts of coconut oil is fine because saturated fat isn’t a problem. All the while we continue to wonder, will this help us lose weight? Is this healthy?

STOPPPP right there, if you’re starting to get confused about what to actually believe then it is time we nut it out once and for all. Let’s start off by getting a few simple, common things straight.  

1.    You can’t believe everything you read.

2.    If it sounds a little to obscure then it probably is.

3.    No single food/ nutrient is the cause of any major chronic disease, it is ALWAYS a combination of factors.

Now that we have that out of the way, how do we begin to understand what is being printed in the newspaper, magazines, on TV and wherever else we are fed information? You need to get a little bit suspicious!

Let’s take an article and have a bit of a closer look. This study was published in the American Journal of Nutrition and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald the other week1. It highlighted that people who ate a diet with a high glycaemic load (GL), heavy with refined grains, starches and sugars, gained more weight. Here your first questions should be:

1.    How many people?

2.    What type of people?

3.    In comparison to who else?

Whenever you read the phrase ‘a recent article published by …’ you need to put your critical thinking hat on. Ask yourself what are these scientists trying to test? In what type of people are they testing it? Is the test fair and accurate?

In this study for instance they were actually trying to test the effect of protein on weight. This article did a pretty good job of listing all the key findings, which you should keep your eyes out for. Then you need to put the findings into CONTEXT! I would say this is the most important part because if we can’t apply the evidence to real life then what is the point? When findings are taken out of context this is when we get begin doing all sorts of crazy things like avoiding entire food groups, not eating noodles after 5.34pm and telling others that gluten is an enemy.

Here are a couple of key findings of this article and the explanation of what they actually mean (or don’t mean) in reality:

Increasing intakes of red and processed meat were most strongly associated with weight gain.

What this means:

Amongst the people who gained the most weight, they also happened to eat larger amounts of red and processed meat. So, people who ate more red/processed meat were more likely to gain weight.

What this does not mean:

That red/processed meat directly causes weight gain. A whole host of factors influence weight gain, but one of the factors that those people who gained weight had in common was that they had higher intakes of red/processed meat.

Take home message: If you are struggling to lose weight and eat red/processed meat more than 2 – 3 times per week than some of the following suggestions may help you:

·      Swapping processed meat (salami, sausages etc) over to leaner options (chicken, turkey, fish, tuna)

·      Reducing your portion size of meat (no more than palm size at one time)

·      Eating more vegetarian based meals

Increasing other dairy products, including full-fat cheese, whole milk, and low-fat milk, did not significantly relate to either weight gain or weight loss.

What this means:

The types of dairy products that people were eating didn’t seem to affect any weight gain or weight loss.

What this does NOT mean:

That low fat or full fat dairy products are good or bad.

It doesn’t matter how much cheese or milk you eat, neither will affect your weight.

Full fat dairy is not a significant contributor of saturated fat to many peoples diets or that you should swap all dairy products to full fat varieties without making educated decisions about other things you may need to compensate for in your diet.

Take home message:

·      Think about dairy in the context of your diet. Full fat dairy products are still sources of saturated fat, so for those aiming to reduce their total energy intake then swapping to low fat varieties will save you energy, better spent on eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

·      If you are a consumer of low fat dairy be mindful about the added sugar or artificial sweeteners, which can bump up the carbohydrate total of that product.

·      Stick to the recommended 3 serves of dairy per day; 1 glass of milk, 2 slices of cheese and 200g yoghurt.

My last piece of advice is to look up the jargon or words you don’t understand. This article talks about GL – glycemic load. But what is that? Basically it is a number that estimates how much a food will raise a person’s blood glucose level. Don’t let the scientific language trick you! If you want to know what is best for you to eat then come and talk to a dietitian aka nutrition professional – yes we have spent time examining articles with a thin toothcomb, so we can give you the low down. 

 The scientist from this study summed up what they thought was the main point pretty well saying that ‘this study encourages people to focus more on eating a nutritious diet than just filling up on nutrient – poor, highly processed ‘diet products’. So if all of the above is too much for you, skip to the conclusion and remember that the more whole, fresh foods you eat in moderation the better! The end.

 1. Link to article 

Sunday Runs, Markets and Muesli (Recipe Included!)

Imagine this:

On the horizon sits the sun, a bright yellow beginning, slowly climbing its ladder up the coloured sky. A light breeze pushes you into a rhythmic run, right along the sleepy beach and up to a grassy green headland. You stop to catch you breath, your heart hammering gratitude as you drink in the 360-degree view.

A couple of more minutes. A couple of more colours… Time to go.

Following the seagulls down the sandy path, past the receding aqua wash and waving to the local surfers, you finally reach the end of your journey. With the salty ocean breeze brushing your face, you turn like a magnet to the sparkling ocean. With a start, you run in to meet your old friend with a joyful laugh, still fully clothed. There you float. Free. Happy. Alive.

With exhilarated rosy cheeks and slight regret, you drag yourself away from the caring hands of the ocean… time for the markets!

 And this is just the way my Sunday began.

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I am a big fan of local markets in Sydney. They offer fresh produce, you can meet and support local farmers and taste before you buy. It’s such a sensory experience. They smell of warm crusty bread, cinnamon sticks and freshly blended citrus juices all of which mingle in with a sea of interesting people as you weave your way in and out. My fresh produce lasts about twice as long and tastes about twice as good!

This Sunday I was on a mission. A client had given me a delicious muesli recipe and brought some in as a gift (thank you, you know who you are). It tasted phenomenal and I was committed to making my own variety.

As I wondered amongst the bustling stores I bartered over buckwheat and nutted out the best place to buy my pecans. Half an hour later I was content with a bag full of goodies. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so excited.

Experimentation took the good part of my Sunday afternoon but this is what I came up with:

Ingredients:

  • 300g sprouted buckwheat
  • 1 cup of oats (you could use quinoa flakes if you want gluten free)
  • 1/2 cup of amaranth
  • 200g pecans or walnuts
  • 100g sesame seeds
  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 2 long (10-12cm) cinnamon quills
  • 2 tsp. dried nutmeg
  • 120g medjool dates (deseeded and cut into small pieces)
  • 300g dried apple (cut into small pieces)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 80g Canadian Maple Syrup

Optional (makes it a little higher in energy but a lot more crunchy!)

  • 50g coconut oil
  • 100g shredded coconut

Method:

1.     Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

2.     With mortar and pestle or end of rolling pin bash/grind cinnamon to break up sticks. With your hands then break/rip up cinnamon into small bits (as small as you can!).

3.     Add all other ingredients into a big mixing bowl, melting coconut oil if necessary. Mix well to coat with oil and maple syrup.

4.     Put into 1 or 2 large baking trays lined with baking paper.

5.     Periodically check muesli over next 30-40minutes, using a wooden spoon to slowly turn over the muesli when it looks brown.

6.     Leave to cool for 20 mins.

Nutrition:

  • Amaranth is a great source of iron (~5mg/cup).
  • Oats contain beta glucan, a soluble fibre to reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Apples contain polyphenols and flavonoids, which prevent oxidation in the body, preventing  disease and ageing.
  • Buckwheat is a good source of magnesium, a micronutrient responsible for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, including enzymes required for maintaining stable blood glucose levels.
  • All the grains, nuts and seeds are an excellent source of fibre, which makes you feel full and aids digestion.
  • This mix is also high in healthy omega 3 and omega 6 fats, which promote clear cognition, boost HDL (healthy) cholesterol, maintain hormone production and lubricate joints.
  • Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, vital for promoting immunity, clear skin, strong hair and nails.
  • Sesame are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals including Calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc and selenium.

How to eat this delicious mix:

  • Portion out ½ a cup (trust me doesn’t look like a lot but its so filling!). Add some milk, yoghurt and a piece of fruit for breakfast. Wouldn’t be surprised if you are content until lunch ;)
  • Nibble on as a snack during your work day.
  • Add over the top of some ice cream as a treat.