Athlete’s Top 10 Shopping List

For professional, elite and serious amateur athletes, heavy training schedules can mean massive amounts of calories need to be eaten each day. 4500kcal for a rugby player is normal, for a tour cyclist this could be 7000kcal, while for a 45kg gymnast they may only need 1700kcal. Whatever the calorie needs, athletes need to pack in as much nutrition punch as possible. That means forgoing nutrient empty junk food, and swapping for food and drinks that will fuel the training and recovery. So what are the things that regularly appear on the pro’s daily shopping list?

For optimum nutrition, performance and health, there is nothing better than REAL food. The incredibly complex makeup of food simply cannot be artificially produced in a supplement powder or pill. Real food provides phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein and possibly, many other beneficial constituents that science hasn’t identified yet.

Sports drinks, supplement shakes and bars can be useful as a stop gap, when good food is not readily available, or when calorie requirements are so high that it is difficult to achieve with food alone. I often use an analogy of the bricks of a house being food, and supplements being the chimney. If you don’t have the nutrition basics of food (walls and roof) in place, it is daft to think that there is any point to having a chimney (supplements).

Here are some top foods that should feature on your shopping list. These are all mostly ‘nutritionally dense’ meaning that they are choca-block full of good nutrition allowing your body to train, perform and recover to it’s maximum potential:

  1. Vegetables – often overlooked in favour of carbohydrates and protein, and served as an after thought with just a spoonful on the plate. Vegetables are absolutely essential to maintain health, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phyto chemicals, fibre etc. all of which simply cannot be bottled or put in a pill. Vegetables also ‘feed’ the healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Easy staples include broccoli, onions, spring onions, peppers, and carrots – not very adventurous, but that is fine! Fresh, frozen, boiled, steamed, microwaved, stir fried, raw…….just get. them. in!LN_012697_BP_9.jpg
  2. Oats – for breakfast, you can’t go far wrong with oats. They are high carbohydrate, so idea to have before or after training. Oats come in various textures, from the very fine in Ready Brek, to the chunky Flahavins. You can add all sorts of things to basic oats to add some oomph: milk, raisins, sliced banana, cocoa powder, cinnamon, desiccated coconut etc. You can also put them in a smoothie for breakfast or for post training recovery. 10 ways with oats
  3. Milk – protein, carbohydrate, low fat, calcium for bones and muscle function. Added to tea, coffee, porridge and breakfast cereals. Research shows that milk post-exercise is just as effective and recovery and rehydration, if not more so, than commercially-available sports drinks005045.jpg
  4. Coffee – because it’s one of life’s pleasures, but also when taken before/during exercise, caffeine has been proven to enhance athletic performance. A recent study showed that two cups of coffee improved endurance performance by 4%.
  5. Peanut butter – good for protein, energy and good fats. If you are trying to drop body fat/weight then go easy as it’s very high in calories – too much is often one of the biggest mistakes for my weight loss clients! Mix a tablespoon in to porridge or spread on oatcakes/rice cakes.
  6. Eggs – one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: high in protein, omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and iron.  Omelettes, poached, scrambled, fried or to make egg fried rice. You can even mix one in to hot porridge (just don’t put in the microwave with the oats or you’ll get scrambled oat-eggs……yak!)
  7. Rice – carbohydrates are very important for fuelling exercise,
    for recovery, and for the immunity. White rice can be particularly useful when there is only an hour or two between training sessions and fast release carbs are needed. Whole grain rice is higher in fibre, digested more slowly, and is more filling.
  8. Chicken – high protein, low fat, and very versatile. There are endless ways to use chicken: plain grilled, a whole chicken roasted, stir fried, mixed with light mayo and veg in wraps, stuffed with pesto and cheddar cheese. One of the easiest ‘recipes’ is a whole chicken in a slow cooker for 6 hours.
  9. Yogurt – the high protein ones can be particularly beneficial for athletes eg. Total greek yogurt, Danio, Liberte etc These have double the protein of normal yogurts (greek ‘style’ is not usually higher in protein), so good for muscle repair and maintenance. Yogurt also contains ‘probiotics’ which are beneficial for the digestion and immunity.
  10. Salmon – or any oily fish (mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna). Oily fish is the best food source of anti inflammatory omega 3 fats which is essential in every athlete’s diet to reduce muscle inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness. Aim to take at least 2-3 times a week. If you don’t like any of these fish, then I advise taking daily fish oil supplements.288543.jpg

 

For loads of recipes using all of the above ingredients click…….here!

Flaxseed Bread

MIMG_0498.JPGy middle daughter, Evie (7), has serious issues with gluten (and oats!). She’s tested negative for coeliac disease, but if she has even a small amount food of bread, cake or pasta she will be doubled up in pain a few hours later. As for many people with gut issues, stress and worry are also a major factor in making the problem worse. She desperately misses London since we had to move to N. Ireland 8 months ago: our
house, her school, her friends, and most of all her Dad who still lives there.

It’s lucky that I’m a dietitian, as I’m well used to managing patients with coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, but practically it can be tough to avoid gluten. Birthday parties are notoriously difficult to negotiate (what kid can’t resist a tiny bit of cake!). The availability of gluten free foods is a million times better than 10 years ago, but they can be expensive and often loaded with sugar. I like making as much of my family’s food as possible, and this bread is fab for her……….the flaxseed is brilliant for gut health and constipation, and the eggs and almonds provide terrific sources of protein. And very importantly, it’s so easy.

If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, needing gluten free, or simply want a highly nutritious healthy bread, then I highly recommend this very easy ecipe. For anyone who has tried Irish wheaten bread, this has a very similar texture.IMG_0861.JPG

Flaxseeds for dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and omega-3 healthy fats. Almonds are a source of vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high quality protein, fiber, and phytosterols. Eggs are a very good source of high quality protein, vitamin B2, selenium, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

There is about 1000 kcal, 54g protein, 5g carbs in the whole loaf. So if you cut 6 slices, that’s about 170kcal per slice.

Ingredients: 

Ground flaxseed – 1 cup

Ground almonds – 1/2 cup

Eggs – 4

Baking powder – 1 teaspoon

Method:

1) Beat together eggs & 3 tablespoons of water

2) Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl: 1 cup ground flaxseedUnknown copy 9, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 cup ground almonds

3) Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix well. Put in a loaf tin, cook for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.

A Short Cut Saviour Meal

Nutrition Nuts, Food Evangilisim, Nutritionally Holiness. These are all good descriptions for people who are absolutely convinced (and will try to convince you too) that their way of eating is the only way to health and happiness. Unprocessed whole foods may be the ideal, but in reality, life can get in the way.

A few weeks ago I was working on the cancer wards at Belfast City Hospital, filling a gap inIMG_0095-1 the staff shortage for a couple of months. At the same time I was single parenting three ‘lively’ children, shopping, cooking, cleaning, refereeing sibling rivalries, homeworks etc. etc. blah blah

Sometimes we need food that we can just throw together in minutes, pulling stuff from the cupboard and not requiring a recipe book. This pasta meal is one of my saviours.

 

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Cooked Pasta

Tin of tomato soup

Tin of tuna

Grated carrot, onion and cheese

 

In a frying pan with oil, soften the grated carrot and onion (and what ever extra veg you would like to chuck in). Add the tin of tuna, and the tin of soup. Stir in to the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

If I was a nutrition nut, I’d say that tinned tomato soup is loaded with salt and sugar. In reality, I use the reduced salt version, and the tin is divided between 4 of us. A wee bit of the ‘bad’ stuff can help the really good stuff go down more easily 🙂

 

 

 

Yogurt Hack: one simple way to half the sugar

We all know that flavoured yogurts can be laden with sugar. In an ideal world we’d choose natural or plain yogurt which will have none of the added sweetness. But flavoured yogurts taste goooood! So if you find being nutritionally holy with the unadulterated natural stuff tough, here’s a simple tip for taking things in the right direction……

You will need:

  1. pot of flavoured yogurt 
  2. pot of natural yogurt

Simply pour or scoop out half of the flavoured yogurt and replace with the natural yogurt. Give it a good stir.

You will still have plenty of flavour, but much less sweetness.

 

For more info, here’s another post on Choosing a Healthy Yogurt

Seriously Healthy Pancakes (2 ingredients)

It’s Shrove Tuesday, yay for pancakes! But do they seem like a chore to make? Would you like a super speedy, easy AND healthy pancake recipe??

This pancake mix takes about 1 minute to prepare using a banana and 2 eggs. It’s ready to cook immediately! They are awesome with a big dollop of greek yogurt and some warm berries……I use frozen berries that have been blasted in the microwave to defrost 🙂

The pancakes mix is easier to make with a blender – just blast all the ingredients together,  but it can also be done with a fork.

Ripe bananas

1 Ripe banana

2 Eggs

2 Eggs – high protein

  1. Mash the banana very well – the more ripe the banana the easier this is
  2. Crack in two eggs and mix with a fork. (You can also do this in a blender).
  3. Optional: add in a handful of oats to increase the carbohydrate and fibre for sustained energy.
  4. Pour some mixture in to a lightly greased frying pan (ideally a non-stick one), allow to cook on a medium heat for a minute or two. You’ll see little bubbles appearing, take a peak underneath to see if it turning brown. Flip over and cook the other side.

Extras: a simple drizzle of honey/maple syrup, or greek yogurt topped with berries.

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Take to work or school (pic courtesy of my sis!)

 

Tip: if you are watching your weight, studies show eating eggs for breakfast can help. Eggs seem to help you to feel full up for longer and keep your blood sugar levels steady.

 

Wee Bytes – Sausages & Ham

I’ve been astonished by the amount of bacon, sausages and ham that my Northern Irish Unknown-1.jpegclients eat everyday. One 19 year old, who has recently been diagnosed with a bowel condition called Ulcerative Colitis, seemed to be eating bacon or sausages at breakfast, lunch and dinner!

So what’s wrong with sausages and ham?

Research has shown that processed meats like these increase your risk of bowel, stomach and pancreatic cancer.

One of the reasons may be that chemicals called nitrites are often used to preserve processed meat. In the bowel nitrites can be converted into cancer-causing chemicals called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). The presence of these chemicals may explain why many studies have found that processed meat increases the risk of cancer to a greater extent than red meat.

 

Can I buy sausages and ham that don’t contain nitrites? YES!

My children LOVE sausages and ham. For years, I have borne the ‘Mummy Guilt’ of giving them food that could potentially be carcinogenic, so I tried to limit the amount they were having. It has taken me this long to find my personal Holy Grail of reasonably priced nitrite free versions (I am still on the hunt for nitrite free bacon!)

The Good Little Company – Good Little Sausages, Great Big Sausages and Teeny Weeny Sausages

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Established in 2011, The Good Little Company is a Northern Ireland based sausage brand which gives 50% of its profits away to three charity partners in Africa- ChristianCv3wBhcWIAEMiw0.jpg Aid, Mulanje Mission and Samburu Trust.

Where To Buy: Waitrose, Ocado, Tesco (NI) and Dunnes Stores (NI)
So what’s the verdict of the family taste test? They were definitely a big hit with my 3 kids (and their friend Charlie who joined us for dinner after school on Tuesday night!)

Other nitrite free sausage options: look out for organic sausages as these should be nitrite free

Denny 100% Natural Ham

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Denny is the only ham available in supermarkets that has 100% natural ingredients. The Traditional Style Ham has just Pork with Sea Salt, Demerara Sugar and Natural Flavouring (celery and rosemary). Perfect for quick ham sandwiches in the packed lunches!

Where to Buy: As far as I am aware, unfortunately this ham isn’t available outside of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Available in NI at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda.

 

Although nitrite free, it is still important not to go crazy on these sausages and ham, as there is also an association between red meat and some cancers. I try to mix meal times up with fish, chicken, turkey and eggs for other good protein sources. And of course plenty of veggies, fruit and wholegrain foods.

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “We already know that not smoking, cutting down on alcohol, getting plenty of fruit and veg and staying active can reduce the risk of developing cancer. Keeping a healthy weight will help to reduce your risk of cancer, so try and be physically active and eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg and fibre, and cut back on red or processed meat, saturated fat, and salt.”

 
Here’s a helpful and simple infographic from Cancer Research UK on how to reduce your risk of food related cancers:

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Wee Bytes – Ready Brek

Ready Brek – it’s such a kiddie food, surely no self respecting grown up would be eating
this for breakfast?! And isn’t it loaded with sugar?

Well you could be missing out…….this is pretty great stuff, and doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush as other sugary breakfast cereals.

Ready Brek is simply ground up oats with vitamins added (there is no added sugar). The ingredients are: Wholegrain Rolled Oats (60%), Wholegrain Oat Flour (38%), Calcium, Niacin, Iron, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B6, Thiamin (B1), Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12. Add some milk, and you’ve a wonderful combination of carbohydrate, protein, soluble fibre and all those lovely vits and minerals.

Two ways with Ready Brek:

In a bowl: Put a mug full of milk in a bowl, microwave for about 90 seconds, or until boiling. Sprinkle in the Ready Brek and mix until you get your desired consistency. Tasty extras to add:

  • cinnamon
  • raisins
  • chopped banana
  • a scoop of protein powder
  • a teaspoon of cocoa powder
  • an egg – yes really, crack one in and mix well while the RB is piping hot

Add more milk if it’s too hot or you like it extra milky.

Smoothie: Blend together 200-300ml milk, 1 banana or some berries, 1/2-1 mugful of Ready Brek, drizzle of honey. Quantities of ingredients depends on how hungry you are, or how hard you training. I came up with this smoothie idea for one of my little GB gymnasts who was struggling with fatigue due to training coming up to the World Championships…… they got a Gold by the way 🙂

Perfect for sport

Because the oats are ground up, Ready Brek is easily and quickly digested, therefore brilliant to have 1 hour before an intentse training session e.g. a swim, run or bike; or after for recovery refuelling.

Before a 6am run or swim, I usually have a ripe banana and milky coffee, and then have a Ready Brek Smoothie as soon as I get home. I need very quick recovery food otherwise I feel very tired later in the afternoon.