By Kristy Hitchens
Pink Belt Project
Do you wish you had more energy? Balancing family and work while trying to eat healthy, smash out your martial arts training goals and not lose the plot completely is hard. So I’ve sought the advice of qualified sports dietitian Erica Stephens for some quick and easy hints that will not only improve your overall health, but somewhat magically deliver your body with more energy so everything just seems a little bit easier…
Once I travelled with my husband for two hours to arrive at the gates of a concert I had been hanging out to see for months only to have the gate attendant point out that our tickets were for the next night.
“See! Says so RIGHT THERE on the TICKETS!” *cue teeny emotional meltdown.
Life is busy am I right? Things had been so hectic in my house the previous few weeks with preparing my son for his Black Belt grading plus working behind the scenes on my Pink Belt Project and on top of all the usual work/family guff.
So hectic in fact that I hadn’t even taken the two seconds it would have cost me to double-check the date on my tickets. *Urrrrrgh
We did drive home and then drive back again the next night and it was awesome but Sheeeeeeesh! What a turkey!
I realise I’m not alone here. Balancing family and work while trying to maintain an active healthy lifestyle sometimes feels impossible and overwhelming.
It leaves us feeling tired. And when you have a passion like Taekwondo or Karate or other form of martial arts, it can be easy to fall into the trap of skipping training and not putting in the practice because you just don’t have the energy.
Progress falters, goals are compromised and interest dwindles. Given the incredible all-of-life benefits martial arts training brings to our lives, we need to ensure we give our bodies the energy they demand to keep going.
Don’t roll your eyes at me! I know what you’re thinking.
I’m too busy, it’s too complicated, it’s too expensive. All those admittedly understandable excuses we use when it comes to trying to eat healthy.
Enter qualified sports dietitian Erica Stephens!
Erica formerly represented Australia in Taekwondo and went on to become an accredited sports dietitian with a seriously impressive list of experience and qualifications. She provides expert advice to everyone from us normal folk to elite athletes.
She’s even written an e-book called Nutrition for Taekwondo.
I asked her specifically for easily achievable changes I could make to my diet that would give me more energy for training. There couldn’t be a more qualified person to ask. This is what she came up with…
1. Drink more water
It seems so simple. It’s even free but so few of us keep ourselves properly hydrated.
But get this! Making sure you’re properly hydrated will actually make your Taekwondo training feel easier.
According to Erica, a noticeable symptom of dehydration is an increased feeling of fatigue during exercise. Everything feels harder than it should.
She says the general consensus among experts continues to be that we should aim for 8 glasses or (2 litres) of fluid per day.
And that includes other drinks like tea, coffee, milk, juice. Also if you’re in warm weather or very active, you would need more than that.
Here’s an interesting fact! Erica says it’s a misconception that coffee and tea are dehydrating. Caffeine does increase urination but not over and above the amount of fluid consumed with those drinks.
1. Aim to drink 2 litres of fluid before 2 pm!
2. Keep an eye on your urine colour – pale is good, dark = drink more water!
2. It’s ok for caffeine to help!
I don’t know about you, but I’m liking Erica more and more with every passing sentence!
We all know caffeine can boost your energy and concentration and Erica says it’s ok to make the most of that as long as we stick to safe, moderate amounts. If we do that, it’s even been shown to reduce our risk of various chronic diseases.
So what’s a safe amount because one instant a day is just not going to cut it for me.
Erica says up to 400mg a day is the sweet spot. One instant coffee is only about 80mg of caffeine. Similar story for a coffee pod or cup of tea.
Espresso coffee like you get from your favourite coffee shops vary quite a bit though so Erica says no more than two of those a day.
High five for me!!
But she does warn that keeping your caffeine consumption to earlier in the day is best to avoid it affecting sleep quality.
Erica says our bodies don’t metabolise caffeine very quickly so even 3 to 6 hours after consumption, you can still have half the amount of caffeine from your last cuppa in your blood. Wow!
1. Keep your caffeine containing beverages to before 12 noon!
2. Consume no more than 400mg of caffeine per day
3. Eat regularly and aim to include low GI carbs at meals and snacks
Keeping our blood sugar levels constant is an excellent way to ensure we feel more energetic, according to Erica.
Energy levels fluctuate with our blood sugar levels. As many would be aware, eating sweet, easily digestible foods cause our blood sugar to peak rapidly and then plummet.
The sharp drop leaves us craving something sweet again to bring the level back up but doing so only repeats the cycle. So as your blood sugar rises and falls like this so too does your energy level.
As a result we feel tired, lethargic and unable to concentrate for long periods.
Erica says keeping a nice constant blood sugar level means eating regularly, avoiding long periods of not eating.
And secondly she says aim to include low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates at meal and snack times.
Low GI foods are better because they provide a sustained release of energy over time rather than a spike and then a crash, therefore facilitating that nice constant level we’re aiming for.
Erica says low GI foods tend to be the ones our gut digests more slowly such as wholegrain or wholemeal bread, high fibre or wholemeal pasta, high fibre cereals like oats, Weet-Bix or All Bran, wholegrain crackers like Vita Weats or Ryvitas, fruits like apples, pears and berries, brown and basmati rice.
Examples of high GI foods are sugar, lollies, chocolate, soft drink, biscuits, white bread, white pasta, white rice (besides basmati) and white flour crackers.
Foods that do not contain carbohydrates (like meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and unsweetened dairy products) do not affect our blood sugar strongly and therefore are not considered high GI foods.
1. Swap white bread for wholemeal or wholegrain
2. Swap white flour crackers for wholegrain crackers
3. Swap white pasta for high fibre or wholemeal pasta
4. Check your iron levels
If you’re suffering from fatigue, lethargy, shortness of breath and difficulty concentrating, it might NOT be just your hectic life!
You could be suffering from an iron deficiency and given Erica says it is the most common nutrient deficiency in both the developed and developing world it’s not actually that unlikely!
On top of that, Erica says women need more than double the amount of iron compared to men to avoid these symptoms of fatigue and lethargy AND it is almost impossible for women to meet their recommended daily intake of iron through diet alone.
The best source of iron comes from red meat and Erica says we should be having 3 to 4 serves of about 120g each week.
With the risk of deficiency so high, Erica also recommends getting your iron levels checked by having your GP order a blood test.
1. Ask for a bloods check-up at your next GP appointment!
2. Include 120g of red meat 4 times per week.
5. Unlock hidden energy with B Vitamins
Here’s a fun fact about vitamins. The B varieties are involved in energy metabolism which means if we don’t consume enough, we won’t be getting sufficient energy from the foods we are eating.
It’s like all the energy in your food is delivered to your body in a locked box and B Vitamins are like the key that unlocks the box. So if you want more energy, it’s possible there’s hidden stores of it inside you already!
Erica says this doesn’t necessarily mean we need supplements but we do need to pay attention to getting enough whole foods in our diet which are rich in B Vitamins.
Things like chicken, beef, fish, pork, wholegrain cereals, eggs, cow’s milk and other milk products as well as fortified cereals (check the nutrition panel on cereals to find out which ones).
In Australia there is mandatory fortification of bread with thiamine (B1).
1. Incorporate wholegrain cereals and bread in your daily diet
2. Use cow’s milk rather than almond or soy milks (if you aren’t intolerant to lactose)
6. Get your 2 & 5
What is 2 & 5? Two serves of fruits and five serves of vegetables per day!
Erica says a whopping 94% of Australians don’t eat the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.
That’s pretty much everyone right?
And as a result, we are all missing an opportunity to lower our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
One of the great things about Taekwondo and martial arts generally, is that people passionate about its health benefits, practice it long into their senior years.
But if we want to be able to do that, we need to make the right choices now to preserve our good health for as long as possible.
Erica says fruits and vegetables are large sources of micronutrients and antioxidants. They keep us healthy and therefore energised.
One serve of fruit = 1 medium piece (like one apple) or 2 small pieces (like 2 kiwi fruits or 2 plums)
One serve of vegetables = 1 cup of salad or ½ cup of cooked vegetables or ½ a medium potato
1. Aim for a piece of fruit at morning and afternoon tea each day!
2. And add an extra handful of salad or vegetables to lunch or dinner than you normally would!
Try these little tweaks to your diet over the next month and let me know if you notice a difference.
- Sincere thanks to the wonderful Erica Stephens for agreeing to share her expert knowledge so freely and openly with readers of the Pink Belt Project Blog. If you would like to learn more from Erica, you can visit her website at: https://www.sportrition.com.au/