Sunday, 25 May 2014

Nutrition and Cramps

I recently investigated the topic of nutrition and cramps as part of my role as dietitian at Gippsland Power Football Club. After educating the Power boys about cramps, I thought I'd share this information with you too, so you can minimise your risk of experiencing the dreaded cramp.  

Cramps which occur during exercise, scientifically known as 'Exercise Associated Muscle Cramping' (EAMC) are painful, involuntary muscle contractions which stop any sports person dead in their tracks!

Even though cramps have been affecting sports professionals and 'weekend warriors' alike for years and years, still no one is 100% certain as to exactly WHY they occur. The following points detail the risk factors for cramps and how to manage each one respectively: 
  • Fatigue - cramps are more likely to occur in over-worked, tired muscles, so be sure to rest between training sessions. Ensure you don't over-do things and of course stretch well before and after exercising. Cramping is less likely to occur in athletes who are well trained and conditioned for their sport. Keep your fitness levels up and take things slowly when returning to exercise after injury or time off training.  

  •  Dehydration - hydration is important for heat regulation and electrolyte balance. Be sure to start exercise well hydrated. Depending on the type and duration of your exercise, you may also need to drink fluids during your exercise. This is the case in a game of AFL; players should sip fluids on-field and also during break times. After exercising, ensure you replace all fluids lost; this is done by weighing yourself before and after exercise. You need to drink 1.5 times as much fluid as you lost in order to fully rehydrate. 
  • Sodium imbalance - some athletes lose large amounts of sodium (a.k.a salt) in their sweat, leading to sodium imbalances. This can be minimised by taking in some salt before, during and after exercise. This may be in the form of a sports drink such as Powerade or Gatorade, a handful of salted nuts or pretzels, or an Aussie favourite - a vegemite sandwich!! 

  • Potassium imbalance - like sodium, potassium is an electrolyte which is lost in sweat and is crucial for optimal muscle function. Potassium levels can be kept topped up by drinking potassium rich sports drinks, again such as Powerade or Gatorade, and eating potassium rich foods such as bananas or oranges, before, during or after exercise. 
  • Calcium imbalance - calcium is another electrolyte involved in muscle function. Keep calcium levels maintained by drinking or eating calcium rich foods such as milk, yoghurt or cheese. These make great pre- and post exercise snacks. 
  • Magnesium imbalance - magnesium is yet another electrolyte which assists the muscles to contract. Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are rich in magnesium as well as calcium, so eating these pre- or post exercise is like getting 2 nutrients for the price of 1!!! Ensure you also include other magnesium rich foods in your day-to-day diet, by eating foods such as dark green veggies, wholegrains and nuts. You can read more about the legendairy role of dairy foods in sport nutrition, along with some tasty dairy recipes, here
  • Baseline diet - don't get caught in the trap of over-focusing on your diet on the day of, and before exercise. Your day-to-day, baseline diet is just as important. Eating a wide variety of foods will supply you with a diverse range of nutrients and lots of energy to train and allow your muscles to grow and repair themselves. Avoid foods which are very high in fat, as having too much fat in your arteries will reduce blood flow to your muscles.   

As you can see, there are a number of factors which affect your risk of developing cramps. At the end of the day, I think the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of cramping is to eat a well balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids, train well and rest well each day.

- Em xx 

For more information on cramping, sports nutrition, or to find an Accredited Sports Dietitian, check out the Sports Dietitians Australia website.


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Superfood Crumble

On these dark, cold and drizzly autumn (and winter) evenings, there is no better end to a meal than a sweet, delicious fruit crumble. Well, that's my opinion anyway.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty bored with the 'typical' crumble that's re-hashed year in, year out; the butter, sugar, flour, oats combination just doesn't cut it for me anymore. So I decided to do something about it. I tuned in to my tastebuds and got my creative juices flowing. 

This recipe is a heavily modified version of the apple crumble recipe in Mum's 35 year old 'Cookery The Australian Way' cookbook:

  Mum's retro Cookery The Australian Way cookbook. 

Emily's Superfood Crumble

Serves 8-10 people. 
Note: I had extra crumble mixture left over; you may use more or less depending on the size and depth of your baking dish. I cooked the leftover crumble mix on a baking tray for 20 minutes - it was delicious as a crunchy 'nibble mix' or addition to yoghurt. 
For the fruit filling:
- 10 apples (I used a combination of Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples)
- 1/4 cup boiling water 
- 500g frozen raspberries

 For the crumble:
- 1/2 cup wholemeal self raising flour 
- 1/4 cup ground LSA mix 
- 6 tablespoons rolled oats (rolled spelt would be a nice variation)
- 6 tablespoons dessicated coconut 
- 5 tablespoons Mayvers' unhulled tahini 
- 4 tablespoons honey 
- 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds 
- 3 tablespoons pepitas 
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 
- 3 tablespoons dried blueberries 
- 3 tablespoons sultanas 

1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celcius. Peel and roughly slice the apples. Place apples in a large saucepan with boiling water and simmer until apples are softened (about 20 minutes on low heat). 
2. When the apples are softened, add frozen raspberries and cook for a further 5 minutes to combine. Remove from heat. 
3. In a bowl, rub the flour and LSA mix into the tahini to form a crumble. 
4. Once combined, add the oats, coconut and honey and mix well. 
5. Add the sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts, blueberries and sultanas and stir well to combine all ingredients.
6. Pour the apple and raspberry mixture into a baking dish (the one I used was about 30x15cm) and spoon crumble mixture over the top.
7. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until filling is warmed through and crumble topping has browned. 
8. Remove from oven and serve with vanilla custard, yoghurt or ice cream. Enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my Superfood Crumble - please give it a try let me know how it goes! Until next time, happy eating! 

- Em xx

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Things I Love: Cinnamon

This is my first post dedicated to 'Things I Love.' 

First cab off the rank is cinnamon. I've got somewhat of an addiction to cinnamon - I go through a sachet of cinnamon powder each week. My Dad actually asked me if I was snorting the stuff!! (I'm not, for the record).

Looking back, I think my love affair with cinnamon began after I visited a spice garden in Sri Lanka 4 years ago. A local spice merchant gave us a tour and allowed us to witness how various herbs and spices were grown. We were also able to sample some of the products and learn of alternative uses.

Cinnamon is such a versatile 'spice' and it's uses expand far beyond the cinnamon doughnuts and cinnamon buns with which it is often associated.

Natural cinnamon powder, specifically cinnamon cassia not only tastes great but may also provide numerous health benefits.

Cinnamon is traditionally grown in south east Asian countries. 'True cinnamon' which is usually grown in Sri Lanka, is only a thin layer from under the bark of the cinnamon tree and thus has a mild flavour. Conversely, 'Cinnamon Cassia' has a higher content of the bark of the tree and thus has a much stronger flavour. Cinnamon Cassia is typically grown in India, Indonesia and Burma.

Cinnamon can be purchased in sticks of the bark (as pictured above), or ground into a powder for easy incorporation in cooking.

As mentioned, it is a versatile ingredient which adds warmth to an array of dishes, both sweet and savoury. Take for example this traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry by the incredible Charmaine Solomon, this Moroccan lamb tagine or this comforting fruit crumble. I get my daily dose of cinnamon on my breakfast, either in my porridge or on my muesli and yoghurt.


Aside from being a tasty addition to foods, cinnamon, specifically the Cinnamon Cassia variety, also boasts some health properties. It is rich in B vitamins, polyphenols and antioxidants. There has been quite a lot of research done regarding the health benefits of cinnamon, including it's use as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent.There have even been claims it could reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and cancer!

Recently, studies have been investigating the role of cinnamon in Type 2 Diabetes, with claims that regularly consuming cinnamon may help people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels by reducing the rise in blood glucose after eating. At this stage the evidence is inconclusive, with some studies providing conflicting results. More well-designed research studies are needed before we can fully understand the effects of cinnamon consumption and just how much we need to consume to reap the benefits of this wonderful spice. 

At this stage, however, we do know that cinnamon tastes delicious, can be easily added to our meals, and is readily available in the supermarket (that's if I haven't bought it all....). There are no risks to using cinnamon in cooking and it's a great way to give an all-natural, slightly sweet flavour to your food without the addition of sugar - this itself could be enough to help lower your blood glucose levels!

So, 'watch this space' in terms of the health benefits of cinnamon, and start experimenting with adding it to your foods.

Now excuse me while I sit back with a mug of cinnamon chai tea....

Em xx