Nutrition for exercise: be at your best with these 5 top tips

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer


Whether you’re a seasoned exerciser or you’ve just signed up for your first marathon, nutrition should be at the forefront of your mind. What you put into your body is absolutely key to success in your chosen sport, and the harder you’re training, the more important this becomes.

Here are some top nutrition tips from Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer to help you achieve your fitness goals.

shutterstock_183622835 strawberry smoothie Apr15DITCH THE JUICES

In a world that has gone ‘juicing mad’ this may sound strange!  However, whilst juices are great for bringing a wealth of health benefits, they’re a ‘no-no’ for anyone wanting to train hard, because they simply do not provide enough energy.  If you are training it is much better to opt for smoothies which still retain the fibre from vegetables, and you can also add some essential fats in the form of almond butter or coconut oil to give you the energy you’ll need to perform.

These essential omega 3’s are also really important to help manage any inflammation that may occur in the body after hard training.  And don’t forget avocadoes are great in smoothies; they are filling and full of the antioxidant vitamin E to help support your immune system.

AVOID DEHYDRATIONshutterstock_127629347 glass of water with splash Feb15

Dehydration is one of the most common nutritional problems which occurs in sport.  In most cases, it is quite challenging to take in enough fluids during hard exercise or competition to match the rate of sweat loss; therefore it’s essential to start the session well hydrated and ‘pre-hydrate’.

Fluid intake before an event should include at least 300-600 ml of fluid with your pre-event meal and then 150-300 ml of fluid every 15-20 minutes up until around 45 minutes before the event.  During an event or competition, generally you’ll need around 200 ml every 20 minutes or so, balanced with some form of carbohydrate (for example a sports drink) to provide effective rehydration.

shutterstock_164830661 Quinoa Feb15WATCH OUT FOR PHYTATES

Phytates are the ‘bad boys’ of nutrition, found primarily in whole grains, potatoes, beans and nuts.  They are chemicals that can stop the body absorbing essential minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc – all vital nutrients, but especially important if you’re exercising hard.  Whilst they do have antioxidant qualities, it’s a good idea to balance your consumption of high phytate foods by eating other foods such as sweet potatoes or quinoa.  You can also reduce the phytate content by cooking whole grains or soaking nuts.

Oats contain much less phytate than wholewheat flour for example, therefore your breakfast staple of porridge is still on the menu.  Additionally, make sure you’re soaking lentils, chickpeas or white beans before using them in a salad, although, better still, eat them cooked.

FUEL UP BEFORE AN EVENTshutterstock_250057099 cereal with berries May15

Clearly, what you eat prior to any form of prolonged activity will depend entirely on the length and type of endurance event in which you are participating; your food intake should also be carefully balanced depending on your individual needs.  However, if you are about to attempt your first half or full marathon, for example, you should always ‘practice’ both your pre-event meal and your mid-event fuel beforehand.

In general terms, it’s good to have a primarily low GI diet in the three to five days leading up to an event.  This means ‘power breakfasts’ such as porridge, beans, baked beans, wholemeal bread, quinoa, oranges and natural or soya yoghurt . These foods will also provide some protein, particularly the quinoa. Additionally, these low GI foods provide sustained energy release, particularly good for on the day of the event or prior to a prolonged workout.

Good breakfast choices would be baked beans on toast, porridge with low fat milk and fruit juice, pancakes with maple syrup or wholemeal toast with jam.  Generally, high glycaemic foods will only be required in the hour leading up to the event, such as bananas, or a sports bar, for that extra boost.

Kshutterstock_250462048 Artichoke Feb15EEP YOUR GUT FRIENDLY!

Don’t be alarmed to read that you have billions of different bacteria in your gut!  However, some of these are good, or what we call ‘friendly bacteria’ and others are not so good.  The trick here is to ensure that you have more good than bad.

Many people who exercise or train hard will have some form of gastrointestinal disturbance, particularly runners, due to the impact on the body. If you frequently suffer from bloating or flatulence, then the chances are that you have an imbalance of gut bacteria and would benefit from taking some probiotics, readily available from any good health food store.

Friendly bacteria also play a key role in keeping a strong and healthy immune system – vital for when you are training hard – as well as being responsible for manufacturing key vitamins, such as vitamin K and some of the B vitamins.  Foods that help to feed the friendly bacteria are asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, green tea and green leafy vegetables, so make sure you are including these in your diet when you can.

So, fuel up, make sure you’re properly hydrated and you will be in tip top health ready to be first off the starting blocks!  Good luck!


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Mood Foods: mood-boosting nutrition and well-being tips

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer


We all have our own individual ways of finding happiness and contentment.  Whether it’s a good shopping spree, a cross-fit class at the gym, or an evening out at the movies, it doesn’t really matter what you choose; the important part is maintaining a ‘good mood’ and feeling of happiness.  Suzie Sawyer – Consultant Nutritionist for Alive! – shares some of her mood-boosting foods and well-being tips for leading a happier life.

shutterstock_273419525 women jumping in the air May15It’s a well-researched fact that the happiest people live the longest – a happy disposition is definitely one of the keys to longevity.

So what can we do to help keep our mood balanced?  What we put into our bodies is key – certain foods can help improve our mood – and there are also simple yet effective lifestyle changes you can make to keep your ‘happy’ up!

Here are my five top tips to achieving a happier balance and a happier mood:


shutterstock_156407993 Blueberries Feb15Blueberries

Any toxicity in the body can leave you feeling sluggish, lacking in energy, and generally less content.  Blueberries are packed with antioxidants which help to mop up these stress-causing toxins.  Add a handful to your cereal or porridge every morning.

Walnutsshutterstock_227756329 walnut May15

These delicious nuts, which serve as a great snack, are filled with mood boosting omega 3 fats; the foremost fats in your brain, responsible for the production of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.  Your body cannot make omega 3’s on its own so you need to eat some every day!

shutterstock_231423346 oysters May15Oysters

Often referred to as a natural aphrodisiac, these little gems are filled with zinc – the most important mineral for fertility and reproduction, hence their seductive claim to fame. However, they are also great mood enhancers, particularly when coupled with a glass of champagne!

shutterstock_208631824 dark chocolate May15Dark Chocolate

Apart from being delicious, dark chocolate can slow the release of the stress hormone, cortisol.  Eating a couple of squares will really help to boost your mood and also provide you with some health-enhancing antioxidants.

shutterstock_198572555 banana May15Bananas

Apart from being detrimental to your overall health, having raised blood pressure can make you feel agitated and stressed. Bananas are very high in the mineral potassium which helps to regulate blood pressure which in turn will help you feel more relaxed. They are a great addition to smoothies or make a good mood-boosting mid-morning snack.

shutterstock_49969261 coffe cups May15CUT THE STIMULANTS:

Filling your body with stimulants, particularly caffeine, will have a detrimental effect on your mood: it will help to boost your energy initially, but the post caffeine slump will cause your concentration levels to drop and your mood and energy to be low.  Try changing to decaffeinated tea and coffee or certainly, limiting caffeinated drinks to no more than one or two cups daily.

Most of us have suffered with the ‘morning after the night before’ hangover after drinking alcohol. Whilst it seems like a fun evening out at the time, alcohol is actually a depressant and can leave you feeling quite miserable the next day. This is partly due to alcohol delivering toxins into the body and putting pressure on liver – the body’s organ of detoxification.  In naturopathic medicine, the liver is described as the ‘organ of anger’ – so if it’s challenged it will growl at you!  You can support your liver by taking the herb Milk Thistle before a night out, which helps to dissipate some of the toxins, and should leave you feeling less sad in the morning.

shutterstock_229899757 woman sleeping on pillow Apr15GET MORE SLEEP:

We all know how grumpy we can feel if we’re tired. Having enough sleep is really key to maintaining a balanced and happy disposition.  Interestingly, it has been shown that waking at the same time each day seems to be beneficial; people who sleep in at the weekends tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol because the body is going against its natural circadian rhythm, thereby putting it under more stress.

Try to switch off electronics earlier. Looking at a backlit laptop or tablet screen in the two hours before going to bed can disrupt sleep patterns. It’s much better to turn off all electronic equipment and get stuck into a good book with a warm cup of soothing camomile tea instead.   Additionally, have a snack before bedtime; an oat cake or small glass of warm milk, which both contain the amino acid tryptophan, help the body to produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

shutterstock_190410035 woman hiking May15GET MOVING:

Maintaining an active lifestyle, and enjoying the great outdoors will also help to enhance your mood. Getting your daily dose of sunshine might be difficult in the often grey UK but research carried out on people living in the northern hemisphere has found that a lack of vitamin D, known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’, may actually encourage clinical depression[1]. So getting out and about in natural daylight is a great mood-booster and helps your body produce much-needed Vitamin D. Take a brisk walk every day for 30 minutes during your lunch break or after work – it can really lift your spirits as well as burn some extra calories at the same time!

shutterstock_273515099 enjoy the moment May15BE ‘IN THE MOMENT’:

Try to be present; this is often easier said than done when modern day life often necessitates that we endlessly chase our tails, never really stopping to fully enjoy ‘the moment’.  Many people find daily meditation to be helpful.  However, if this is not your bag, try to take a few minutes each day to be in the moment – just sit quietly, clear your mind and be at one with your surroundings. Our lives are overflowing with stimuli and all the forward planning that we do to make our lives easier can make it more difficult to just relax and enjoy each moment as it happens. Remember, you can’t ever go back!

I hope these tips will help you get into the habit of creating some ‘down-time’ for yourself every day alongside introducing some mood-boosting foods into your diet: these small changes can really balance your mood and help you to manage stress levels.  Enjoy the moment!

[1] Kerr DC et al.  Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women.  Psychiatry Res.2015 May 30;227(1):46-51.

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Nutritious and healthy meal ideas to turn your kids into sporting heroes!

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

If it’s down to you to keep churning out the family meals, then there’ll definitely be days when you’ll be lacking inspiration for nutritious and wholesome meals. And if you have some budding sporting heroes in the household you may need to up the nutrition-content of meals to help them be at their best. What can you serve up that the whole family will enjoy? Suzie Sawyer – Consultant Nutritionist for Alive!shares some of her nutrition inspiration.

shutterstock_11312950 family playing football May15In any family home, there’ll always be some faddy eaters!  There may even be days when you end up cooking different meals to meet all the different tastes – especially if you have some budding sporting heroes needing nutrition-rich meals with that added extra to help boost energy and performance.

It’s great to get into the habit of thinking about each meal as an opportunity to gain some real nutritional benefits; breakfast, lunch and dinner are all opportunities for ‘fuelling up’ and obtaining the nutrients the body needs on a daily basis, together with providing sustained energy throughout the day and for sports later on.

So, here are some of my favourite nutritious meal options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breakfast ‘get-up-and-go’!shutterstock_250057099 cereal with berries May15

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  After a good night’s sleep, it’s time to ‘break the fast’, get your blood sugar levels balanced for the day and provide your body with its much needed energy boost.  Additionally, your sporty children need to start the day right, or they will be seriously ‘flagging’ as the day progresses.

It’s all too easy when in a rush to just grab a cereal bar or a banana.  Save these for snacks for pre- exercise boosts, and instead choose something more substantial and sustaining for breakfast, especially for your children.  Two great choices are muesli, or a wholegrain cereal such as Weetabix, served with a little semi-skimmed or almond milk, some natural yoghurt and a handful of berry fruits.

Muesli’s are generally based on oats as well as whole grains which are have a low glycaemic index (Gi), meaning they keep energy levels more sustained throughout the day and stop you reaching for sugary snacks.  Additionally, nuts (included in some mueslis), and especially hazelnuts, uprate your metabolism, making it easier to burn calories and the seeds provide those all-important omega 3 fats; these will help your children to better concentrate in the classroom.

The extra protein from milk and yoghurt will also help maintain level blood glucose and berry fruits will pack a punch of vitamins, particularly vitamin C, plus they taste great! Top nutrition in a bowl!

shutterstock_187591727 egg and avocado wrap May15Lunch on the run

If you are stuck for nutritionally-rich lunchbox fillers to keep your little sports stars active, then a wholewheat wrap is your answer!  Additionally, if you want to prevent the 3pm afternoon ‘slump’ for your children, then eating protein as part of a meal is essential.  It will also keep them feeling fuller for longer.

So a salmon, tuna or egg wrap will really ‘hit the spot’! Eggs are perfect protein foods.  They contain all the essential amino acids – the components of protein that are needed for growth, repair and hormone production.  Salmon, and to some extent tuna, provide essential omega 3 fats, which are crucial for brain function but also aid metabolism – great for your avid exercisers!

Add some mashed avocado, which contains lots of vitamin E, which is great for the immune system, together with some lemon and rocket and a dash of mayonnaise, and you’ve got a fabulously healthy, but easy to prepare lunch.

Evening Protein Boostshutterstock_193607849 home made burgers May15

Humble beef burgers are often seen as an unhealthy food choice, mostly due to the poor quality of those sold by fast food chains. However, homemade beef burgers, using lean mince, some breadcrumbs, onions and mixed herbs, are quick and easy to make, provide a great source of protein, plus will gain you massive kudos with your kids!

Additionally, beef mince provides an excellent source of zinc which is needed for tissue repair, and is especially important after exercise.  Burgers are great served with a good helping of salad including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and some feta cheese for an additional protein ‘hit’.  If you sprinkle the salad with some delicious munchy seeds, you’ve also got some healthy omega 3 fats to boost their brain and mood.  And there’s nothing wrong with serving the burger in a bap to provide your children with some carbs to replenish their energy stores.

I hope my ideas have given you some of your own: you can develop a repertoire of balanced, nutritious and interesting meals, without anyone spending hours in the kitchen, and which give you and your family plenty of energy to participate in some fun sporting activities.

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Nutrition-rich spinach: 5 reasons to love this green veg!

From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

“Spinach makes ya strong” according to Popeye, but is there actually any truth to back up this cartoon fact? Suzie Sawyer – consultant nutritionist for Alive! – tells us why this nutrition-rich vegetable is a true hero of the vegetable world.

shutterstock_57165961 spinach in a heart May15Spinach is very rich in iron, which is needed for growth and helps our muscles to store and use oxygen. It would take a lot more work than just eating mountains of spinach to get muscles like Popeye of course, but what’s so good about spinach?

Here are my five top reasons to channel your inner Popeye and make Spinach a diet staple:

shutterstock_244012162 pregnancy tummy loading May151: It makes us grow

The most well-known ‘claim to fame’ of Spinach, partly thanks to Popeye, is that it is rich in iron.  Once cup of uncooked spinach – far less than you would eat in a normal portion – has nearly 2mg of iron; our daily Nutrient Reference Value (NRV – or recommended daily amount) for iron is 14mg – so a normal portion of spinach goes some way to meeting this.

Iron is essential for normal growth and is frequently deficient in pregnant women simply because the baby is using it to grow and develop, hence they are often given supplemental iron.  Iron is essential for the formation of the main oxygen-carrying molecule haemoglobin, and is needed for red blood cell formation, so you can see why it is so important to have enough iron in your daily diet.

shutterstock_133874900 women and brain May152: It makes us clever!

Iron is essential for normal brain development – another reason why pregnant women are frequently checked to make sure the iron levels in their blood are adequate enough to provide for their growing baby.

Eating spinach can sharpen our minds due to the iron content, so it makes sense to try to encourage children to eat some, even it has to be disguised in a Bolognese or soup!  In addition, if our body’s store of iron becomes too low, symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and lack of concentration can develop – all best avoided.

shutterstock_189624995 hands holding word nutrition May153: It’s packed with nutrients

So, we know that spinach is full of essential iron.  However, it’s also high in vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight, folic acid – needed for growth – and other minerals such as manganese, magnesium and bone-building calcium.

As a Nutritionist, I frequently talk about the dark colours in fruits and vegetables providing other nutritional highlights; Spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, from the family of carotenoids (just like carrots) and which are especially important for healthy eyesight and helping to prevent macular degeneration (a painless condition but which can cause blurred vision over time).

shutterstock_270632453 woman healthy glow May154: It keeps us ‘in the pink’!

Iron is a key part of haemoglobin within our red blood cells, and it can actually be responsible for giving us a rosier glow.  Some of the first signs of low iron is weakness, fatigue or loss of stamina and looking pale: because there is less oxygen being pumped around the body, skin colour can look much whiter.  Iron-deficiency, known as anaemia, is fairly common, with these being some of the first symptoms.  So eating spinach can give you a healthy glow!

shutterstock_249543424 spinach and egg May155: It’s so versatile!

Unlike many other vegetables that retain better nutrient content when they are raw versus cooked, raw spinach carries a high amount of oxalic acid which can stop the body absorbing other minerals, therefore it’s actually much better lightly cooked, preferably steamed.

Luckily, it’s great in many recipes!  Its taste and enviable nutritional profile makes it a winner in so many dishes.  The taste of spinach pairs particularly well with nutmeg for a buttered spinach treat; it’s great in pasta with ricotta cheese, adds a definite lift to a frittata and combines to make a mean soup with lentils and bacon.  The list is endless!

So was Popeye right? We think so! Spinach can indeed contribute to making you stronger, and even better, it’s in season right now, so enjoy it at its best.

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