I get a lot of messages from people asking me for advice on what kind of foods they should be eating. Some people want to change their habits to healthily lose a few pounds, others want to know what foods to eat when exercising so that they can fuel their bodies but not gain bulk. I decided to put together this post with some advice and information that might help.
First thing’s first, each and every one of us are individuals and what may work for one person may not for the next. I don’t do and never have done diets. Yes all diets work, they make you lose weight because they usually involve some drastic food changes for a short period of time. However, most people usually regain this weight (and more!) once they return to their normal lifestyle. Nutrition and our attitude towards food has to be about a sustainable, healthy way of life that is appropriate for the time and needs You have, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ diet.
Secondly, nutrition and well-being is not just about the food we eat. Sleep, water and exercise are so important. I cannot encourage all three enough. Exercise doesn’t have to be about grueling regimes or running marathons – literally any move will do. It is about leading an active lifestyle. Walking to work, parking the car further away from the shop, cleaning the house or washing your car by hand all count. Additionally surrounding yourself with the right people – those that are positive and uplift you and reducing your stress levels are vitally important. If you are stressed your body produces higher levels of the hormone cortisol which make our bodies cling to fat, particularly around the stomach area.
It is important not only to eat well but to eat regularly. Snacking at regular intervals, every 2-4hours, throughout the day keeps our metabolism ticking over and avoids getting to a point where you are over-hungry and eat everything in sight. Eating three large meals in the day leaves our metabolism stagnant. Our now slowed metabolism is less efficient at breaking down these larger meals and this inefficiency leads to fat storage as our bodies cannot break down foods quickly enough to use as energy. This usually leads to us feeling sluggish after eating larger meals because our digestive system is under greater strain.
What to cut out?
Cut out anything processed or chemically altered, e.g.: white rice, white bread. All of these have nasty additives and ‘flavourings’ that are toxic for our bodies because they are man-made and when ingested are identified as foreign-bodies which need to be removed. Our body then has to work extra hard to detoxify itself of these toxins. Be aware that many “healthy foods” are actually packed full of these additivies along with high levels of sugar. Just because something is marketed as healthy or sold in a health food store does not mean it actually is healthy. Case in point – granola/cereal bars.
Read the labels. If you can’t pronounce or don’t recognise an ingredient on the label neither can your body and it’s going to have a hard time getting rid of it after it’s eaten. Any other refined sugars, sweets/crips, fizzy drinks should be cut out and meat and dairy should be limited. I know this may seem difficult at first but these products are taxing for our bodies to break down.They again slow digestion and suck our energy. Almond milk is the best dairy alternative and actually contains more calcium than cow’s milk. Store bought versions can often contain a lot of extra sugars and very little almond so make sure to read the label first. I like the Rude Health Almond Milk but ideally, making your own is best. Check out my Almond Milk recipe to discover how.
No matter what you love to eat there are always alternative healthier ways to make these foods every bit, if not more delicious – you just need to learn how.
What to include?
Whole foods! Fruit and veggies in every shape, colour and size. Whole grains such as quinoa, brown or wild rice; beans and legumes like chickpeas and lentils; potatoes – sweet and regular, nuts, seeds and dried fruits in moderation. Plus as many superfoods as possible. Top superfoods to include should be cacao, spirulina/chlorella, bee pollen, goji berries (known as the ‘longevity berry’ in Chinese medicine – *Tip* get this guy much cheaper in Asian markets rather than health food stores), maca, hemp, flax and chia seeds. All of which I will be regularly using in my recipes so you can understand their benefits and find out how to use them in really delicious ways!
Pre-exercise you should be eating low GI (glycemic index) food. These provide slow release energy and won’t spike your blood sugar levels. A great example is porridge before a morning workout.
Post-exercise: Contrary to popular belief we don’t need massive amounts of protein post-exercise. You need simple carbohydrates along with some protein. Approx 4 or 5 to 1 ratio. Foods should be high GI to replenish depleted glycogen stores – this is the name given to stored carbohydrates in our body that we take in from food and is readily available to use as fuel when needed. Good examples of high GI foods include bananas and brown rice.
Great Workout Snacks:
- Rice/buckwheat cakes with mashed avocado, a squeeze of lemon and black pepper & boiled eggs (Pictured below is buckwheat cake with mashed avo, dried cranberries, za’atar and sprouts)
- Hummus and veggies or My Wheat-Free Bread with hummus or mashed avocado (see avo with za’atar & beetroot hummus below)
- Add a poached egg to the above recipe to increase protein and make it extra filling
- Smoked salmon on flaxseed crackers with pesto and sprouts (see smoked salmon with carrot hummus and sprouts below ready to go on crackers)
- Smoothies – see my Spirulina-Acaí , Creamy Dreamy Chocolate or Joyful Almond Smoothie recipes .
- Coconut/greek yoghurt with berries and cinnamon (ensure its 100% greek yoghurt and not greek style) I added some mint leaves and cacao nibs to my cacao flavoured Coyo coconut yoghurt – available in health food stores; pictured below.
- Apple/pear slices with nut butter
- My ‘Cleantella’ recipe or nut butter on my ‘Wheat-Free’ bread with banana (and some mashed raspberries & cinnamon as seen below)
- Oats with berries
- Eggs with a sprinkle of cayenne/turmeric (see information below for why); Place a slice of lean turkey breast in a bun-tray mould and fill with one egg then bake until the white is set for a real protein punch.
- Quinoa with veggies
- Chia seed pudding (chia seeds soaked in milk) with cinnamon banana, berries and some nuts
- Chocolate milk (post-exercise)- contains simple carbohydrates and protein for recovery; caffeine in chocolate also helps to relax and dilate blood vessels
- Self-popped popcorn from whole kernels – not store-bought bag; seasoned with some cayenne, paprika or nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste (see my sweet potato falafel post for more info on this)
- If after exercising late at night – hot milk with cinnamon and a banana with almond butter is an excellent choice. Almonds, milk and bananas all contain chemicals that help boost sleep and it has a great mix of calcium, magnesium and fatty acids to aid muscle repair and joint pain.
Top Foods for Optimal Health:
Fruit & Veg:
- Avocado – high in healthy fats for muscle repair, keeps you fuller for longer and aids digestion
- Sweet potatoes – higher in nutrients and lower in calories than regular potatoes
- Beetroot – increases red blood cells, dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow to muscles
- Berries – antioxidants that help remove free radicals in the body that form after physical activity
- Bananas – approx. 100 calories, easy to digest sugars, natural electrolytes & potassium to prevent muscle spasm/cramping make these a great choice for athletes
- Cherries for muscle pain & inflammation and they boost sleep
- Pineapple – muscle pain & inflammation, plus they help to reduce swelling/bruising; *Mangoes are also good
- Lentils, quinoa, brown/wild rice, amaranth, beans
- Quinoa is actually a sprouted seed rather than a whole grain. It is a complex carbohydrate with almost twice as much protein as other whole grains. It is one of the only foods to contain all 9 amino acids our bodies need to build lean muscle and it helps to relax muscles and blood vessels making it ideal for post-exercise recovery.
Beans & Legumes:
- Chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas – great sources of plant-based/vegetarian forms of protein; they also contain no saturated fat (unlike meat) and are a great source of fibre, keeping you fuller for longer
Meat, Fish & Eggs:
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein and reduce inflammation. Aim to eat these twice a week to reap their benefits
- Eggs – great low calorie source of protein
- Lean meats such as vension, turkey and chicken are good low-fat options
Dried Fruits, Nuts, Seeds & Oils:
- Nuts in any shape or form (but never more than a small handful at any one time) or try them in nut milk or nut butter form – each provides wide and varied benefits but all contain protein and healthy fats.
- Walnuts are calories dense which would make them more suitable for longer, endurance sports
- Dried fruit (figs, prunes, cranberries, dates) are a great alternative to sugary sweets – they’re like nature’s candy! Enjoy them with nuts by making your own lunchbox trail mix and keep it in your bag/car for when hunger strikes and you need a quick snack on the go!
- Chia seeds – high in fibre, fatty acids, protein, calcium & anti-oxidants; they keep you fuller for longer and are great for hydration thanks to their expansion and absorption properties; they can also help stabilise blood sugar levels
- Hemp – one of natures richest sources of complete protein, bettered only by spirulina; anti-inflammatory, fatty acids and fibre.
- Tahini – made from ground sesame seeds which are a good source of iron
- Coconut oil – cook everything with this. A little goes a long way. This superfood can actually boost metabolism and increase the energy our bodies use despite being high in saturated fat. **It also makes a great hair mask or body moisturiser.
- Cinnamon – helps control blood sugar levels and decrease fat storage
- Ginger – anti-inflammatory, reduces muscle pain **Add ginger oil to a hot bath**
- Cayenne – can help with joint pain and weight loss as it has been found to boost metabolism *Also chili/paprika
- Turmeric – a powerful anti-inflammatory; I love adding this to omlettes, curries and even warm milk with some cinnamon, bee pollen and fresh grated ginger! *Liquid gold*
- Quinoa, brown rice, almond, coconut and buckwheat flours all make great baking alternatives
- Dates, honey, pure maple syrup, stevia (health food stores) and ripe bananas
- Green tea – provides caffeine for performance and contains flavonoids for recovery
- Coconut (water/milk) – one of the highest sources of electrolytes to help replace salts lost through sweat when exercising. It also improves digestion, increases metabolism and coconut milk is high in healthy fats.
- Supplements such as spirulina or chlorella are great additions to smoothies to provide iron especially if you are a female athlete as our red blood count tends to be lower and this means a reduction in the amount of oxygen being carried to our cells. **Spirulina contains the highest concentration of protein on the planet. It is anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, amino acid containing and all round super-duper-food!
- Maca – has a milk nutty taste and is excellent energy source (add to morning smoothies rather than later in the day so it doesn’t disrupt sleep patterns)
- Cacao – yes chocolate in it’s unprocessed form is the number 1 antioxidant in the world! Found to boost energy and aid weight loss.
- Fish oil tablets for joints – especially if not a fish fan
At the end of the day – enjoy your food! Don’t try and adopt all these changes at once. Small steps are key. Try one new superfood at a time and see what suits your body. Embrace whole foods and throw away anything with additives. When you do you won’t believe how quickly your body can metabolise what you eat and by being able to do this – how much energy you’ll have!
*Extra Info & Helpful Diagrams*
This link I think is fantastic. I would strongly recommend having a look at it. It has 24 really nice easy to follow diagrams that are educational and make eating healthy very achievable. Check it out: Diagrams To Make Eating Healthy SuperEasy