Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Eat well: five ways to overhaul your diet

Close of up happy woman eating breakfast bowl of porridge and banana

We can all get ‘stuck in a rut’ with our diet at times.  Maybe you have run out of ideas as to what to eat or get confused as to what’s good and what’s not. Or perhaps you are struggling to get your normal food items during the current situation.

This may be the time to try some new foods or mix it up and try some different meal ideas and recipes.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for overhauling your diet for maximum health benefits.

Add some mood-boosting foods

During these rather glum times with everyone feeling low in mood, give yourself a turbo-charge with these foods to help put a smile on your face.  First-up is salmon; oily fish is loaded with mood-boosting omega-3 fats.  Plus, it’s so easy to cook. The simplest way is baked in the oven with some lemon juice and chopped chives or tarragon.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

Bananas are high in vitamin B6, needed to produce brain neurotransmitters.  Why not added some chopped bananas to your morning cereal or porridge or eat as a mid-morning snack?

Squares of dark chocolate

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate. It contains tryptophan – an amino acid which produces our happy hormone, serotonin. There’s much research to suggest that people who eat dark chocolate suffer fewer depressive symptoms.  You can officially now eat dark chocolate guilt-free!

Look after your liver

Liver health is key to feeling happy or sad; if your liver is sluggish, then you can feel ‘down in the dumps’. Vitamin C-rich foods such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges are all liver-friendly.

Citrus fruits including lemon, orange and grapefruit

Additionally, berry fruits and green foods such as leafy vegetables as well as green algae, including chlorella, really aid good liver detoxification.  Why not whizz up a morning smoothie and throw in as much as you can, plus include some powdered chlorella and hemp protein to power-up your morning?

Eat enough protein

People often think about carbohydrates for energy, but protein is equally as important.  Crucially, protein is needed for good immune-system function, especially key right now.  Make sure you’re eating some protein at each meal, whether from animal or vegetable sources.

A range of food high in protein

Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, meat, offal, soya, beans, legumes ……. there’s so much choice.  Plus, grains contain some protein; quinoa is especially protein rich.  However, whilst pasta does contain some protein, if you’re making a dish with just a tomato-based source and nothing else, then it’s best to add some other protein source. Protein also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so you’ll not be looking for snacks during the day.

Keep your immune system in good shape

We know protein is essential for a good immune system.  However, there are other nutrients equally as important.  Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and the mineral zinc are top of the list.

A range of colourful fruit and vegetables

Red, yellow and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene which the body turns into vitamin A as needed, so carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers are your best friends right now.  The most useful source of vitamin D is from sunlight, which is sadly lacking at the moment, so ensure you’re supplementing daily to keep your immune system in good shape.

A range of colourful fruit and veg rainbow

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables so check your plate at every mealtime to ensure you’re eating part of a rainbow.  Plus, zinc is found in seafood, whole grains, eggs and red meat so keep a check on how much you’ve got in your diet.  Its advisable to be supplementing with a good multivitamin and mineral as it’s especially important to plug any nutrient gaps.

Keep it simple

Overhauling your diet doesn’t need to be over-complicated.  Sometimes just taking simple steps can make a whole difference.  For example, one of the best investments you can ever make is to buy a slow cooker.  You can literally throw everything in at the start of your day and you’ll have a delicious meal by dinner time, with very little effort.  All the nutrients are retained because it’s cooked in the same pot.

Slow Cooker with chicken legs and vegetables

Stir-fries, one pot meals, and simple pasta meals take very little time.  Try to have some frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer – their nutrient content is great – so you’ll never be without your rainbow!

So, with a few simple dietary changes, you can really boost your energy, immunity and overall health during the coming weeks and months.

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Boost your happiness with these five top mood foods

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

We could probably all do with a little mood boosting right now.  On a positive note, we know that what we eat can have a massive bearing on how happy, sad or anxious we feel. 

There is an inextricable link between gut and brain, mainly due to brain neurotransmitters, many of which are produced in the gut.  Furthermore, the microbiome, which includes those friendly guys that live in your gut, also plays a role.

 

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to help keep you feeling happy.

Spinach

Spinach is high in magnesium, nature’s natural tranquiliser, which is great for keeping our mood calm and balanced. Plus, spinach is rich in vitamin B6, needed to produce serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’.

Spinach leaves made into a heart shape

Spinach is so versatile and can be used in dishes hot and cold.  Whilst some of the vitamin content is lost through cooking, lightly steaming is the way forward.  Spinach leaves are great added to a salad with some stronger flavours such as goats’ cheese, beetroot and walnuts.  Alternatively, spinach, lightly steamed with garlic, makes a great vegetable side.

Chicken

Chicken is high in the amino acid, tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin.  Tryptophan is actually found in quite a number of protein-based foods but is especially high in chicken.  Try to choose organic chicken, where possible.

A roast chicken

Why not rustle up a delicious Mediterranean chicken salad?  Use cooked chicken breasts or thighs with spinach leaves, shredded red cabbage and cherry tomatoes.  The delicious flavour comes from the dressing which you can make with Dijon mustard, basil leaves, virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  An easy, tasty and mood-enhancing lunch.

Eggs

Eggs can help raise dopamine levels, another brain neurotransmitter needed for good mood and motivation. Interestingly, dopamine levels are also increased when bright light hits the back of the eye, which is one of the reasons why so many people suffer from SAD during the darker, winter months.

POached egg on wilted spinach on rye bread

Eggs make a brilliant start to the day not just because they raise dopamine levels, but they’re also high in protein. Protein is needed to keep blood sugar in good balance, which has a direct impact on mood and energy. Poached eggs on wholemeal toast with a few wilted spinach leaves is certainly a top breakfast!

Brown rice

Brown rice is a slow-releasing carbohydrate so it will not only help give you energy and balanced mood, it stimulates production of serotonin.  We all tend to crave more starchy foods during the winter months.  Maybe this is partly because the body is ‘asking’ for serotonin?

Salmon, brown rice and asparagus dish

Brown rice is a staple food that can be added to many meals.  It’s great with baked salmon (another mood-boosting food), with stir-fry veggies or cold as a lunch-time salad base. Whole grain foods are also high in fibre and B-vitamins helping your bowels to be more regular, which will also have a positive impact on your energy and mood.

Natural yoghurt

Natural yogurt is high in tryptophan but also helps balance the friendly flora (or goood bacteria) in your digestive tract.  Both factors are key to good mood so eating natural yoghurt regularly is an easy win.

Pot of natural yoghurt

Adding natural yoghurt to your cereal (homemade muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds is a good start), is an easy breakfast. It is also transportable if you like to eat breakfast on the go or when you get to work. Plus, it’s a great source of protein so blood sugar levels will start the day evenly rather than out of balance.  Furthermore, it feeds all the good guys in the gut; the better shape your gut bacteria, the more serotonin you’ll be able to produce, as that’s where most of it comes from!

Enjoy trying these five easy nutrition tips to help boost your mood and put a smile on your face!

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Are you getting enough sleep?

Woman awake in bed looking fed up as she cannot get to sleep

According to the Sleep Council one third of us in the UK sleep for just five to six hours per night. It’s generally accepted, and has been well-researched over many years, that the body needs more sleep than this, ideally around seven or eight hours each night. 

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

So, what’s going wrong and why are we generally so sleep deprived?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at why our shut-eye is so important and shares some tips on how to get more.

 

Why is sleep so essential?

It’s no secret that the body repairs and re-generates during sleep. It’s also a time of growth as specific growth hormones are released during the night. However, when sleep is problematic, the body and brain are fatigued and it becomes increasingly difficult to function effectively.

The body’s sleep hormone, melatonin, is naturally released during the hours of darkness. This is likely to be why night shift workers, who have to sleep during the day, will generally need to get their much-needed rest in a fully darkened room.

What to eat

What you eat and drink during the day and before bedtime can have a significant baring on how you sleep. For example, caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea blocks our sleep-inducing chemical, adenosine. It’s best, therefore not to drink either of these after 3 pm.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

The amino acid tryptophan is needed to make melatonin, therefore eating tryptophan-rich foods is really going to help you get some shut eye. These foods include turkey, eggs, soya, cheese, nuts and oats. However, tryptophan also needs carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, grains and beans) to work most effectively. Therefore, having a carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich snack before bed-time can really help. Great choices would be oatcakes with cottage cheese, natural yoghurt (soya or dairy), a small bowl of oats or some sliced apple with nuts.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is also needed for the production of melatonin and one of its best sources is bananas. In fact, bananas hit the spot as a pre-bedtime snack because they’re also high in carbohydrates. The best advice is to change your snack each night and see what works best for you. Even more important, is not to go to bed hungry – you’ll certainly be counting sheep into the wee small hours if that’s the case.

Adopt a bed-time routine

It may sound strange, but going back to babyhood with a fixed bedtime routine can really promote good sleep. Most importantly, phones and other electronic equipment emit blue light which stops you from sleeping. Therefore, all these devices should be turned off two hours before bedtime. Ideally your phone should never be by the side of your bed as some studies suggest that the radio waves emitted may prevent sleep.

Have your main meal at least three hours before bed. Whilst going to bed hungry is not good, equally, being over-full may cause digestive upsets and acid reflux. About an hour before bed time try a warm, relaxing bath with some Epsom salts. It may be an old wives tale but they contain plenty of the mineral magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Have that bed time snack about half an hour before turning in, spray some lavender onto your pillow and enjoy some bed time reading. And as much as you can try and go to bed at the same time each evening and get up at the same time too. Once you’ve adopted a strong routine, your body will really start to enjoy and expect its nightly ritual.

Enjoy some evening yoga

Yoga is an ancient practise but is wonderful for encouraging controlled breathing, strength, flexibility and relaxation. Hatha yoga is particularly good and really helps the mind and body to de-stress and switch off. Many people have found that attending a yoga class or doing some at home in the evenings has really helped them to sleep better afterwards.

A woman practising yoga in her living room

Practicing yogic breathing techniques is also beneficial, even without the moves. Additionally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep or you’ve awoken in the night, then adopting the 5-7-11 routine can really help; breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for seven seconds and breathe deeply out for 11 seconds. You should be able to feel your body relaxing after a few rounds of this and hopefully you’ll quickly fall back to sleep.

For more information visit the sleep council website.

Sleep is so important for our overall health, so make getting enough a priority and you will feel the health benefits longer term.

 

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts