My role within Taranaki Rugby, and now ‘The Chiefs’, is a ‘Performance Nutritionist’.
The word ‘performance’ covers many bases.
I like the idea of using food and nutrition to improve performance. Given I am a physical being myself, I understand when ‘performance’, and wanting to improve it, is related to sport and exercise.
A lot of people want to maximise their performance on game day, or for a specific event. Although this makes sense, it’s like getting advice on completing an Iron Man when you’re running 5-kilometres through the park.
What you do on the day of the event is certainly important, but your training and nutrition leading up to it, in my opinion, should be your initial priority. If you don’t train or refuel smart then you’re dancing with the chance of injury, getting sick or psyching yourself and missing the event. If you prioritise training and refueling like a machine, hello to the potential of a personal best sporting performance.
The way to fuel a training program depends on black and white, but also the grey areas.
To me, the black and white areas are things like – type of exercise, current body composition, the duration and frequency of training sessions and estimated requirements to complete the performance. This is textbook information.
If you know the role of macro-nutrients in your sport you can fuel the black and white. Carbohydrates are an easy fuel for the body and brain to utilise, protein helps our muscles, fat is a concentrated source of energy that may help hormone production and the decrease of inflammatory markers. The amount, and timing of macro-nutrients is what changes.
The grey areas are things like - understanding of nutrition principles, desire to change body composition, relationship with food, current eating behaviours, appetite, triggers to eat, ability to cook, budget, hormones, physical demands and commitments outside the sport. This is not textbook information but it’s what makes us human. Although harder to factor into a training program, the ‘grey’ needs to be.
Once you have identified the event that gets your wheels spinning, think about the training required to get you there. If you know how active you are going to be, have identified and factored in your grey areas then start thinking about fueling your training.
The importance of food and nutrition is overlooked by many, but you try driving a car with the wrong fuel.
If the chance of death isn’t enough, know that water may help our skin glow, aid weight loss by helping us feel ‘full’, help us hit a 6 instead of a 4, or stay out in the surf longer.
Whatever the selling point, water and hydration is our friend.
Most people aim for around 8 glasses of water a day, and although this may be enough for some, a lot of us need more.
You can estimate fluid requirements and monitor hydration status. But for the everyday person the colour of your urine is an easy indicator of hydration. A transparent ‘honey’ yellow is considered normal. But regularly passing a concentrated ‘Amber’ yellow is not. Also, if you tend to get constipated or suffer from headaches, drinking more water may help.
The sun seems to be sticking around longer and hotter and hopefully you’ll be getting out and about - going to the beach, surfing, playing cricket and catching up with friends. Physical exertion, especially in hotter temperatures is likely to increase how much you sweat. Water lost in sweat should be replaced.
Catching up with friends sometimes means a beer, wine or cider.
A ‘diuretic’ is a term chucked around in reference to food and drink components that make you pee more. Alcohol is a diuretic. Not drinking enough fluids alongside alcoholic drinks may be a part of the reason you wake up with a headache after a few too many.
These activities are a part of what makes our lives fun.
But without accounting for hydration, enjoyment can be taken from them.
Easy - It’s hot, you’re active, you will sweat - Fill up a drink bottle before you leave for your adventures.
Or - You have planned a get together - Have some water in between alcoholic drinks, before you go to bed; Or, dare I say It, don’t drink so much.
Just, drink water, It’s so simple.
Treats – what are they, can I have them and if so, how often?
The answer to the above is - it depends; yes, and you’re an adult so as much as you want.
More time at home may mean more time at the pantry thinking about food.
The result of this could be trialing new recipes, experimenting with new flavours and having quality interaction within your bubble.
Or it could be grazing on whatever is around, increased cravings or eating as a result of everything but your hunger cues.
Whatever changes you have noticed throughout the lockdown - it’s okay there will be a reason for them and good news, you can probably identify the reason, if you want to.
Any food you love should be a part of your life. And understanding the inclusion of these foods is the icing on the healthy lifestyle cake. But if you are eating foods out of habit or craving as a result of restrictive or unstructured eating patterns, then some changes may serve you well.
Maybe you’re craving sweets. This is extremely common and especially around 3pm, in the evenings or dare I say it; before us girls get our periods.
Reflect on your previous meals and see if anything is missing, especially quality carbohydrates i.e. oats, quinoa, lentils, grainy bread etc. If there are little to no quality carbohydrates, try adding a little the following day and assess your cravings at the same time – maybe there’s a link?
And ladies, track your cycle, it may provide insight to why and when you want to eat 3kg of chocolate.
If it’s salty or fatty foods you want, think about your hydration and how much water you have had. If you are notoriously bad at drinking water, aim to add an extra 500ml/day and then assess cravings.
Our bodies want to be nourished well so they can look after us. Out of respect for our bodies, I will always encourage putting good fuel in.
But sometimes our soul needs to be nourished too. Out of respect for this, I encourage the inclusion of foods you love; being present when you eat the food and stopping when you are satisfied.
The past few weeks have been an unforeseen curve ball which no doubt has derailed some well-oiled machines. These machines may need to park up for a bit of maintenance to identify the changes in their eating and find the reason why. This will help get the machine chugging again and maybe even faster than before
Or, I guess it needs to be said - if your biggest complaint is you ate too much banana bread during lockdown, you’re pretty lucky.
Most workplaces are stitching their employees up.
The expectation is that your work well, don’t need sick days, meet targets and be the best well-oiled machine ever paid.
These are high expectations considering a lot of workplaces either provide no food or junk food. But yes, thank you for the sausage rolls and cake for morning tea, I’ll get back to my emails now.
At the risk of sounding like I don’t appreciate treats please know that I do, especially chocolatey treats, there just seems to be a disconnect.
Improving productivity is going to be an objective in any business, this makes sense. Expecting this and encouraging the consumption of food that doesn’t support optimum energy levels does not.
If you’re working a 40 hour week and banking 7 hours of sleep a night then over 30% of your waking hours are spent at work. It’s likely you’ll have around 1-3 eating experiences per day at work and more when you count the meals and drinks outside of your paid work hours i.e. work functions, Friday night wines, travel to conferences and food choices as a result of emotions or stress.
Long story short, you eat a lot at work or, because of work.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of businesses recognise the relationship nutrition can have on productivity, mental health and even injury prevention. I also understand that food is often provided as a ‘Thank You’, which is positive. But I would also argue that eating food at a morning tea shout because it’s there or because everyone else is, probably isn’t a decision based on hunger; or even desire. And if this is the case, it would be nice to have food options available that help get you through the 3pm slump, not exacerbate it.
Instead of pastries have a quiche; veggie sticks and hummus.
Instead of cakes have some fruit; dark chocolate, bliss balls or nuts.
And if you’re trying to make lifestyle changes and you know there are usually no healthy options available, make sure you pack enough lunch and stay hydrated. This will help get you through your day.
A lot of people have the best intentions to eat well at work. And I’m sure a lot of business owners want their employees to be well. These intentions are worth being actioned on both accounts.
Employees – Treat yourself with food and company that feeds your soul, not with party pies every Wednesday during a staff meeting.
Workplaces – Stop stitching your employees up, set them up for success by providing them with foods that promote health and wellbeing, or at least provide them the choice.
I imagine those with children are looking for ideas to keep them occupied so they can work from home and hopefully stay sane.
This could mean reading, puzzles, board games, art etc. It could also mean teaching your children to cook or to help you in the veggie garden.
It might be a hard sell, especially to some older children. But no doubt rewarding to grow your own food; to see an improvement in their cooking skills, to spark an interest in nutrition, to introduce new flavours and textures to family meals and perhaps making breakthroughs with picky eaters.
The tasks delegated to children will differ and be determined by a few factors i.e. age, food preference and the child’s overall interest in food.
Try giving younger children tasks like cracking and whisking eggs, measuring ingredients, mixing dressing, using scissors (safe ones) to chop ingredients i.e. fresh herbs.
Slightly older children might have more involvement. They may even get to choose the food you create or champion the main meal one night a week on a regular basis. This is fantastic, try to encourage them to pick a recipe that the whole family can eat and enjoy.
It’s also a great time to experiment with new flavours and cooking techniques. Try to add spices, ingredients and textures you normally wouldn’t cook with. This may feel impossible or you may have tried this before. Just remember, it can take a few times (i.e. 12-20) before a child will accept, or even try certain foods. So maybe not impossible, just an endurance event that requires training, patience and mental strength.
The sooner children know about where food comes from the better.
If you have an existing vegetable garden encourage your children, especially if they are young, to help you collect and wash the veggies.
If you don’t have a vegetable garden, could you? If a child is involved from digging the garden to dishing up, you would hope two things.
One, they’re encouraged to eat the food grown, especially as they have been a part of the process.
And two, realise that vegetables don’t start their life looking supermarket chic - imperfect and covered in dirt more like.
It all sounds very textbook; clean, green and easy and I hope it is.
But I understand that it may not be. If any of these suggestions are simply not an option for your family, no drama.
Do your best to eat well during this time and hopefully have genuine connection over meals together – there’s a lot to be said for that
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