Why Bliss Balls changed my life!

This may seem like a bit of an over-exaggeration but making my own bliss balls changed my outlook on chocolate!

Over the last 10 years or so I’ve tried to improve my diet and although I was eating a mainly wholefood diet I still struggled with cutting out chocolate bars. I’m not too sure if it was psychological or physiological but I regularly craved shop bought chocolate bars. I also had the idea that chocolate is very unhealthy and I should be able to eliminate it from my diet. No wonder I thought that with the ingredients of one of my favourite chocolate bars containing so many highly processed ingredients and different forms of sugar!!

Table 1: Ingredients in a shop bought chocolate bar

Milk, sugar, vegetable fat (palm, shea), glucose syrup, dextrose, dried skimmed milk, cocoa butter, wheat flour, fat-reduced cocoa, cocoa mass, humectant (glycerol), dried whey (from milk), emulsifiers (E442, E471), flavourings, dried cellulose, salt, barley malt syrup, raising agent (sodium bicarbonate), tartaric acid, magnesium stearate.

I began to eat dark chocolate but usually the dark chocolate bars that were readily available only contained 50 to 60% cocoa, and there was still quite a lot of sugar present. About 3 years or so ago my lovely friend Claire shared some bliss balls she made. They were so tasty and chocolatey, and when she told me that she only used a mixture of nuts, seeds, dates and cacao I was very surprised!  How could this taste so good and not contain a lot of rubbish ingredients?! She told me about Deliciously Ella website and from there I started to make my own bliss balls. There is a simple bliss ball recipe from her website on the following link https://deliciouslyella.com/classic-almond-and-cacao-energy-balls/

From then I haven’t looked back. Every week I make a batch of bliss balls and I have one or two as a snack at around 3-4 pm to keep me going before the gym or whatever it is I’m doing before I have dinner later. It’s great to know that I’m eating ingredients that are really going to nourish my body. I also find that I’m satisfied after one or two and less likely to over do it as you easily can with regularly chocolate!

Now I just mix up whatever I have and see how it goes. Yesterday I mixed almonds, milled linseeds, sesame seeds, cacao, and as I didn’t have any dates I tried mashing up some fresh mango to make all the ingredients stick together and to give some sweetness. These all worked really well together!

If you don’t have a food processor you can buy ground up nuts and seeds. Cacao can be quite expensive so you can use cocoa instead. Cocoa undergoes more processing than cacao but it still contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. Also, you can use any dates really as medjool dates can be expensive.

So there it is, I still love chocolate but bliss balls have allowed me to have my guilt free chocolate fix!

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

Sports supplements: Are they worth all the hype?!

Sports nutrition continues to boom with interest in sports supplements extending beyond athletes and body builders. Your everyday gym goer wants to be lean and strong; strength has become a greater priority than the figures on the scales. There is a surge in fitness and health bloggers with their photos on Instagram and Facebook creating a desire and motivation to achieve a leaner body. Non-professional sports are becoming more and more competitive and individuals are increasingly more open to taking supplements in hope they will gain an added edge.

Although there is continued research and funding to show a given supplement can improve body composition or performance, very few supplements have been shown to be effective. Those that show effectiveness are often based on research conducted on a small number of male athletes (such as cyclists) and therefore, how can we be convinced that this will work for everyone?

Below are my top 5 supplements that have the most robust evidence and a good safety profile, but of course there is no substitute for disciplined training and a proper diet!

  1. Creatine:

Creatine phosphate is stored in your muscles and provides an excellent store of energy for very high intensity exercises (when oxygen supply to the muscles is insufficient). You will be using your creatine phosphate stores when you do an “all-out sprint” or lift maximum weights. Both of these examples cannot be maintained for very long and this is because the creatine phosphates are spilt to produce energy and they must be recycled. The recycling process requires oxygen so you will need to get your “breath back” in order to make more creatine phosphate.1

We consume creatine via meat and fish products and we can also make it in the liver; both of which amount to about 2g/day.  An average (70kg) athlete stores around 120g of creatine. Supplementation studies have shown that muscle creatine concentration can be increased by up to 20% using creatine supplements.2

This is achieved by creatine loading: 2

  • Consume 20-25 g/day of creatine over 5-6 days followed by 2g/day as maintenance or
  • Consume smaller amounts (around 3g/day) over 1 month.

Improvements in performance have been shown in weight lifters who loaded with creatine. Creatine supplementation can also cause weight gain (1-2 kg increase in total body mass has been documented after 20g/day loading with creatine for 4-28 days).2 Supplementation increases intracellular water in the muscle which may stimulate glycogen storage. However, there are responders and non-responders; it does not work for everybody! Lastly, anyone with kidney disease should avoid creatine supplementation as it may affect creatinine clearance.

Summary: Creatine supplements may allow maintenance of top speed/strength for longer but this does not always equate to improved performance.

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  1. Caffeine

Caffeine is a socially acceptable stimulatory drug. Caffeine can improve performance in endurance exercises such as running and cycling and also in high intensity sports such as rugby and soccer (from 1 to 3%).3 Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and works by reducing an athlete’s perception of effort and/or pain threshold.2 It has been used as an adjunct to weight loss but caffeine alone has not been shown to have an substantial effect on weight loss.  Unless you are already dehydration, caffeine has not been shown to negatively impact hydration status. Caffeine tends to work when 1-3 mg per kg body weight is consumed before or during exercise.4 A typical cup of coffee contains 80-100 mg of caffeine. You can also take caffeine supplements but if you drink coffee then you can just get your caffeine hit with coffee!

Caffeine is considered safe but excess (greater than 500 mg or greater than your own tolerance level) causes side effects such as increased blood pressure at rest and during exercise, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal distress and insomnia. Caffeine addiction has been documented with doses as low as 100 mg/day and sudden withdrawal can result in severe headaches, drowsiness, and inability to concentrate.1

Personally, I find a cup of coffee (although not a supplement!) before a run or the gym great for a boost but I do not take it before a competitive match because coffee heightens any nervousness I already have coming up to a game!

Summary: Caffeine can improve performance as it is a nervous system stimulant but in excess/above personal tolerance it can cause gastrointestinal distress, increased heart rate and insomnia.

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  1. Protein

The benefit of protein supplementation is more down to convenience than anything else! Protein supplements can be helpful for those going from work to training, or when it may not be possible to have a descent meal soon after training or for those with very high protein requirements; but protein supplementation itself is not more or less effective for increasing muscle mass than protein from food.2  Whey protein is a “fast acting” protein that is absorbed easily and therefore, its amino acids such as the branched chain amino acids- leucine, isoleucine and valine are quickly taken up by muscles. Ricotta cheese contains the highest amount of whey of any wholefood because it is made from whey protein. Casein is a “slow acting” protein with slower absorption compared to whey protein but it provides a more sustained rise in amino acids which may help supress muscle breakdown. Milk contains around 20% whey and 80% casein but all dairy products will contain a mixture of whey and casein. Milk is also rich in leucine which can minimise protein breakdown and is the only amino acid that by itself can stimulate protein synthesis! Research on other individual amino acids is mixed.2 For more on protein please read my recent blog what and when to eat to optimise sports performance

Summary: Protein supplements can be beneficial in enhancing muscle growth and recovery but has not been shown to be more superior to protein from food sources.

  1. Beetroot

Beetroot, spinach, rocket, carrots and most root vegetable contain nitrates. Nitrates can be converted in the body to nitric oxide which improves blood flow via vasodilation. Nitrate intake has been associated with enhanced exercise performance.1 A study by Murphy et al. in 2012 showed that whole beetroot consumption improved running time in 11 recreational fit men and women who ran 5km compared to those who consumed cranberry relish (12.3±2.7km/hr versus 11.9±2.6 km/hr).5  Furthermore, during the last 1.8 km of the 5-km run, running velocity was 5% faster (12.7±3.0 vs 12.1±2.6 km/hour; P=0.02) in the beetroot group. Although beetroot is a food and not a supplement it is worth a mention as the results have been very positive. Perhaps you could have a beetroot, spinach and carrot based smoothie pre-training!

Summary: Consumption of beetroot or an equivalent nitrate dose from other vegetables improves running performance in healthy adults.5

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  1. Probiotics

Athletes with prolonged, intense training often experience diarrhoea and upper respiratory tract infections. This is because vigorous exercise increases gastrointestinal permeability causing ‘leaky gut’. In 2011 West et al. showed that supplementation with a probiotic called Lactobacillus fermentum reduced the severity of self-reported symptoms of lower respiratory illness, use of cold and flu medication, and severity of gastrointestinal symptoms at higher training loads in Australian male athletes.6 Although this research was specific to male Australian athletes it may be worth a trial of this strain if you experience re-occurring diarrhoea and/or respiratory tract infections.

Summary: Athletes experiencing diarrhoea may benefit from a trial of probiotic bacteria called Lactobacillus fermentum.

If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

References:

  1. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015). Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage:
  2. Helms et al (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11:20
  3. Noakes, T.M. (2002). Love of running (4th Ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
  4. Burke, L.M. (2008). Caffeine and sports performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33, 1319-1334.
  5. Murphy, M. et al. 2012 Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112;4:548-552
  6. West N.P, et al. (2011) Lactobacillus fermentum (PCC®) supplementation and gastrointestinal and respiratory-tract illness symptoms: a randomised control trial in athletes. Nutrition Journal, 10:30

What and when to eat to optimise sports performance

“What should I eat before, during and after exercise?” is a question I am asked a lot. The other question is “What supplements do you think I should be taking?” I’ll cover supplements in an upcoming blog but getting your overall nutrition sorted first is the key priority!

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Sometimes in sports there is a focus on macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) but little emphasise on vitamins and minerals but these are essential! For example iron is an essential component of haemoglobin which transports oxygen to your body cells, magnesium acts in the enzymatic conversion of intermediate substances during ATP (energy) production, and B vitamins such as thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3) are essential in generating large amounts of energy in the cell! So without having these vitamins and minerals present in adequate amounts you will find it hard to reach optimum performance and will likely fatique early.

The best way to get all of these vitamins and minerals is through a good diet. Improving your diet a week or two before a competition is beneficial but the greater benefit is seen in those who have integrated a good healthy eating plan during the year!

What is a good healthy eating plan?

A healthy eating plan includes plenty of vegetables (a mixture of dark green leafy vegetable, purple, yellow and orange vegetables); adding a few lettuce leaves and a slice of tomato to a sandwich is just not enough! Ideally you should be having 4-5 portions of vegetables a day (2 cups of salad leaves or 1 cup of carrots/peppers/tomatoes is considered one normal portion size). Two to four portions of fruit per day is sufficient for most people (depending on energy requirements).  Remember vegetables and fruit contribute to your overall carbohydrate intake!

The next thing is to ensure any grains you eat are wholegrain. These provide a range of B vitamins and plenty of fiber to support good bowel movement! My favourites are quinoa (keen wah) which has a good range of amino acids, oats and wholegrain rice. For anyone who follows a fat-adapted diet plan please read my previous blog on fat adaptation: Getting fat adapted

Good sources of protein rich foods should be included in every meal. Great protein sources are beef steak, lamb chops, chicken breast, tuna steaks, milk and eggs. Salmon and other oily fish also contain great sources of omega 3 which helps to dampen down inflammation in the body. Omega 3 is particularly important in regard to immunity and recovery from injury. There are also good non-animal sources of protein such as chick peas (hummus dips), kidney beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. The beauty about nuts and seeds is that they are convenient and contain an excellent range of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, selenium and zinc. Including some brazil nuts, cashews nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds is a great way of upping your protein intake and getting some healthy polyunsaturated fats into the diet. Protein requirement for the general population is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight but depending on your sport and body composition you may need 1 to 2 g per kg of body weight.1,2 For a 75 kg individual this equates to 60 g (general population) and 75 g up to 150 g of protein for athletes. To give you an idea; a portion of meat will provide about 25-30g of protein and an egg around 8g of protein. From my experience most people easily meet their protein requirements through diet alone. Unless you are lifting heavy weights and there is continued hypertrophy then you are unlikely to require any extra protein. Excess protein which is not used by muscle cells or for other functions will instead be used for energy, ultimately sparing fat stores; which is not good for anyone trying to reduce their body fat percentage!

In regard to fat, don’t be afraid to include some olive oil (for low heat) or coconut oil/macadamia nut oil (for high heat) at your main meals. Fats are also important for the structure of our cell membranes and hormone production but a low fat meal is best close to exercise.

What should I eat and drink before exercise/training/match/game?

This will all depend on whether you are elite, well-trained or a recreational sports person. Some people eat like they are an elite athlete but are not training or competing at a high level, and therefore may not need extra carbohydrate, protein shakes or supplements etc.

Before exercise you should eat to satisfy hunger and ensure glycogen is replenished. If you had a hard training session the evening before and are training again the next day you may need to have some extra carbohydrate on board to ensure your glycogen stores are topped up. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate in your muscle and liver. We have a limited capacity to store glycogen but the more we have stored then the greater ability there is to use it as a quick fuel sources during exercise. Remember any carbohydrate that is not converted to glycogen can then be stored as fat so it’s important to find your sweet spot (eating enough carbohydrates to replenish glycogen but not too much to increase fat storage).

Individuals with greater muscle mass have a greater ability to store glycogen. For a big match or competition you may wish to try carbohydrate loading. This is where you taper training for a few days before a game and eat a large amount of low fiber carbohydrates (to maximise the amount of carbohydrate consume). However, many people do not tolerate large amounts of carbohydrate and the gastrointestinal symptoms may offset the extra glycogen stored!

The focus before exercise is on carbohydrates but including some branched chain amino acids (BCAA), may help improve time to exhaustion, maximise power output and stimulate protein synthesis after exercise.2,3 BCAAs include three amino acids; isoleucine, leucine and valine. Good sources of these are meat, dairy, egg whites, nuts and seeds.

Another important aspect is to leave time for digestion. If you are eating 3 to 4 hours before exercise then you can have a normal balance meal e.g. sweet potato with some green beans, peppers and a tuna steak. Or if you are going straight from work to training (around 1 to 2 hours before exercise) then it is better to eat something that can be easily digested such as some fruit, nuts and yoghurt. The higher the intensity the exercise is then the greater time you need to allow for digestion. Timing is also quiet individual, some people feel better eating at least 3 hours before training and others can tolerate food up to 1 hour before exercise.

There should be plenty of water on board before exercise and ideally only water should be consumed within an hour before exercise. Having a sugary drink may cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a surge in insulin release that rapidly lowers blood sugars (in people who are sensitive to sugar). You do not want to risk having low blood sugar just before you start training or a match! But in the last 10 minutes before exercise it is ok to drink a sports drink for example as there is not enough time for the body to pump insulin into the blood and by the time exercise starts your body has downregulated its insulin release!

2-3% body water loss can reduce performance but be aware that excess can cause low sodium levels (hyponatremia). It is important to sip water throughout the day and not gulp a liter or two just before training!

Table 1: Pre-exercise nutrition

Time before exercise Example
1 hour or less 500 ml water (no food), a sports drink or homemade sports drink 10 minutes before starting exercise
2 hours Smoothie made from yoghurt and low fiber fruit such as banana, peaches, honeydew and watermelon. Fibrous fruits that are best avoided too close to exercise include apples, berries, dates, figs, grapes, pears, mango and pineapple (but this will depend on personal tolerance level)
3 to 4 hours Quinoa with broccoli, cauliflower, cod fillet with a tomato based sauce

 

What should I eat and drink during exercise/training/match/game?

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For exercise up to 90 minutes the priority should be hydration with water. For endurance exercise such as running, water is sufficient but if you are exercising at high intensity and especially in the heat you may wish to drink a sports drink. Sports drinks will contain carbohydrates and electrolytes which help to maintain water balance in and out of the cells. A number of recent studies have shown that rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate solution without actually consuming the drink has a positive effect on exercise performance. It may be that the carbohydrate drink stimulates rewards centers in the brain!2 If you decide to make your own sports drink make sure it does not contain fructose as the main sugar as it will not be absorbed very well and main create gut problems. A good idea is to use coconut water with a pinch of salt!

There will be significant glycogen depletion when exercising for greater than 90minutes. Sports drinks or gels with water will help to maintain carbohydrate. Glycogen depletion can cause muscle wasting as protein is then used as a fuel source.

What should I eat and drink after exercise/training/match/game?

Topping up low or empty glycogen stores after prolonged high intensity exercise is essential to guarantee stores for the next session. This can be achieved by consuming a high carbohydrate snack within 2 hours or within 30 minutes if you plan to exercise again within 8 hours. Liquid carbohydrate sources will be absorbed more quickly but this is only a priority if you are training again soon i.e. the next morning. Drinking juice or eating fruit is also sufficient to replace nearly all electrolytes.

In a 1 hour workout you can use up to 30g of protein (again this depends on the type pf exercise, intensity and your own body composition). If you are having a meal with some animal protein or good non-animal protein sources as mentioned earlier then that should meet your protein and BCAA needs. However, if you are not having a meal and are on the go then it is a good idea to have some nuts and yoghurt with you. Homemade or shop bought bought bliss balls can be great,  and a protein shake or a protein bar can also be useful.

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Conclusion

In the long term your nutrition goals should focus on adequate:

  • energy intake to meet the energy demands of training
  • replenishment of muscle and liver glycogen with dietary carbohydrates
  • protein intake for growth and repair of tissue, particularly skeletal muscle
  • hydration
  • overall diet to maintain good health

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If you would like to read more of my nutrition blogs then please like my facebook page Our Food Karma. For more regular updates and interaction please add me on snapchat with username: sharuuu000 and instagram as ourfoodkarma

 

Reference:

  1. NHMRC Nutrient reference values for Australia & New Zealand. Including recommended dietary intakes. (2005). National Health and Medical Research Council: Australia, & Ministry of Health:NZ.
  2. Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2015) Nutrition for sport and exercise. (3rd edition) Stamford, CT: Cengage.
  3. Cordain L, & Friel J. (2012). The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance. 2nd Ed, Rodale Inc, New York.