Chewing the Fat: the good, the bad & the greasy


It’s one of the longest-running nutrition debates and it has us saying – “what the FAT?” Ah, yes. Fat. Should we eat it? Should we avoid it? What about coconut oil? Is full-fat dairy better or worse?

For the longest time we were told to avoid fat and to choose low-fat where possible. There are so many opinions and mixed messages around this macronutrient, even nutrition experts don’t ever seem to agree. Confusing, much!?

Nutrition is an ever-evolving science – the more research that’s done, the more we know.

The latest evidence suggests that we should be including fats in our diets – the key is choosing the right type and amount!

Why do we need fat?

In addition to regulating cholesterol levels and maintaining heart health, fat also provides our bodies with energy, keeps us warm and protects vital organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Fat is important for proper brain function – in fact, did you know that 60% of your brain is made out of fat.

Fat is vital for the production and regulation of hormones such as leption (the satiety hormone) and reproductive hormones – women who don’t have enough fat may lose their period and may become infertile.

An adequate supply of fats also helps keep your skin healthy and hair shiny. And it’s important in helping our bodies absorb nutrients, in particular the fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E, K.   

Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) help regular blood clotting and control inflammation in joints, bones and other tissues.  

Adding healthy fat to your meal will also slow down the digestion of that meal, helping you to feel fuller for longer.

Phew! Is there anything this macronutrient doesn’t do!

So, yes, we definitely need fat in our diets but we need to choose the right type because different fats will have a different effect on your body and most importantly your heart health.

Cholesterol – The Good and The Bad

Before we launch into the story around fats, we need to take a closer look at cholesterol because the different fats found in food will have a direct impact on your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is found in all cells of the body – it’s an important part of cell membrane structure. What’s more – your brain is 25% cholesterol and cholesterol is used by your body to make Vitamin D, Glucocorticoids (a steroid that plays a role in inflammation) and sex hormones (progesterone, testosterone, estrogen). So it’s kinda a big player!

The great thing is that our bodies are able to make the amount of cholesterol they need. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School, ‘your liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol we need to stay healthy’. Only about 20% comes from the food that we eat.

We have different types of cholesterol in our blood. In general, the two types are classified as good cholesterol, which is known as HDL cholesterol and bad cholesterol which is typically LDL cholesterol.

It’s important that what we eat supports the production of good cholesterol rather than the bad – good cholesterol is heart protective, while bad cholesterol leads to clogged arteries and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Supporting healthy cholesterol levels can be done by eating a diet rich in unsaturated fats like fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, oils such as olive oil, and leafy greens.   

On the flip side, according to the American Heart Association, a diet high in saturated and trans fats (more on the types of fats later) ‘causes your liver to make more cholesterol than it otherwise would and for some people this added production means they go from normal cholesterol levels to a level that’s unhealthy’.  

What are the types of fat in our food?

The food we eat will generally contains one (or a combination) of the four types of fat – monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats. Some are good for us, some not so good and some are downright nasty!

  • The Good – Unsaturated Fats (Mono- and Polyunsaturated fats)  

Fats that are well-known to have positive health benefits and that are good for us and our hearts are unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

These fats help to raise good cholesterol levels in the blood (HDL-cholesterol) while decreasing the bad type (LDL-cholesterol). This positive effect on blood cholesterol helps to reduce your risk of heart disease (which results from clogged arteries) and stroke.

Polyunsaturated fats can be further broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids (meaning you must get them from your diet because your body can’t make them) with key roles in maintaining heart health, inflammation, immune function and blood pressure control.

The key with the essential fatty acids is getting the ratio right. Make sure your diet is skewed towards the omega-3’s because a diet too high in omega-6 fatty acids (common in the Western diet) leads to inflammation and increased blood pressure.    

Where do I find unsaturated fats?

Monounsaturated fats are found in avocado, nuts (peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds) and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish, seafood, nuts (walnuts and Brazil nuts) and seeds.

  • The Bad – Saturated Fats

It has long been known that saturated fats raise the risk of heart disease and stroke because they raise the bad cholesterol (aka LDL cholesterol) levels.

Where do I find unsaturated fats?

Saturated fats are commonly found in commercial products such as biscuits and pastries, and takeaway foods. They are also found in full fat dairy (yoghurt, cheese, cream), butter and meat products, most deep-fried foods, coconut oil and palm oil.

A quick word about coconut oil

Over recent years coconut oil has been touted as the miracle cure for almost everything! From having antibacterial properties, controlling blood sugar levels to boosting metabolism it seems coconut oil is some sort of an elixir!

But hold the train.

Before you head to your local health food store or the healthy section of your local supermarket, it’s important to remember that coconut oil is mainly saturated fat. While it might not be ‘the devil’ due to the various benefits of the particular saturated fats found in this oil, its antioxidant properties, and its stability when used in cooking, it’s not a miracle cure and you should use it sparingly.

Don’t lather everything in the stuff because too much saturated fat is linked with raised cholesterol levels. Moderation and use in combination with other, unsaturated oils, is certainly the key here.     

  • The Down Right Nasty – Trans Fats

While we do get a small amount of trans fats in animal foods, particularly milk, cheese, beef and lamb, they are mostly created during the manufacture of commercial baked goods such as pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits and buns through a process called Hydrogenation.

It’s important to limit (or avoid if possible) these fats because not only do they raise bad cholesterol levels thereby increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, they also lower good cholesterol levels – this makes them doubly bad!

How much fat should I be eating?

Generally speaking (and of course this will vary between individuals, individual goals and whether or not you’re on a specific diet such as the Keto Diet), it is recommended that fat should make up no more than ~20-35% of your total caloric intake. This means that if you consume 8000kJ/day, you should be eating no more than about ~43-76g of total fat per day.

It’s also recommended that you should limit your intake of saturated fats to no more than about 10% of your total energy (kJ) intake or about ~22g if you’re consuming an 8000kJ diet.

Key Takeaways

  • Including healthy fats in your diet is important for overall health – don’t fear fat!
  • The key is including mainly healthy fats such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats and limiting saturated fats
  • Where possible try to limit or avoid foods high in trans fats

If you’re concerned about how much fat your eating and wondering how this is impacting on your cholesterol levels and heart health, get in touch! I’d love to chat and help! 🙂

Fermented Foods – Do They Live Up To The Hype

This article was originally published in Australian Triathlete magazine 

Born into an Eastern European family (we’re Polish), my family and I immigrated to Australia, dubbed ‘the lucky country’ and ‘the land of milk and honey’, a month before my fifth birthday. However, it wasn’t until I started Primary School that I began to notice just how different our diet actually was.

While my friends had lunch orders or vegemite sandwiches for school lunch, I’d have pickle sandwiches. I was mortified by the smell that came out of my lunch box at lunchtime.

While my friends had meat and three vegetables for dinner, we’d have kefir with potatoes, butter and salt and sauerkraut. My mum even went as far as pickling her own beetroots and making a fermented beetroot drink. “Because it’s good for you”, she’d say as she forced us to drink it. Maybe she was onto something.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, kombucha and kimchi have unquestionably come into vogue over recent years. Walk into any trendy health food shop and you will see shelves lined with these foods. But do they really stack up? Or is it just hype?

Gut health and athletes

Most athletes typically only think about their gut health when something goes wrong, when gut issues cost them a spot or two in a race or when they are bee-lining it to the nearest tree during a training session. However, as new evidence emerges (or as my mum likes to say – “science is finally catching up!”) athletes would be wise to pay attention to their gut health every day, rather than only when things go wrong.

Gut issues, such as gut cramps and diarrhoea, are common among athletes, especially endurance athletes, and can impair performance and recovery. The three main causes of gut issues are physiological, mechanical, and nutritional. For example, during intense training or exercise, there is a reduction in blood flow to the gut, which increases the likelihood of gut issues. This happens particularly if an athlete is hypohydrated (if you’re not drinking enough!).

Training the gut (that is, practising your race day nutrition strategies in training) helps to minimise this gut discomfort by guaranteeing rapid gastric emptying and absorption of water and nutrients under stressful conditions. Moreover, being adequately hydrated will also help to prevent and minimise the chances of gut issues in training and competition.

While it’s important for athletes to use and practice strategies that will minimise gut discomfort in competition, it’s just as important, if not more so, for athletes to follow daily nutrition principles to ensure general gut health.

The gut is inhabited by diverse species of bacteria (the more diverse the better!) that are important to optimal immune function and that protect the body against infection and inflammation. It is well known that a disruption of the microbial flora is linked with infection, autoimmune diseases and cancer. Evidence also suggests that gut bacteria can help to prevent the immunosuppressive effects of intense exercise. So, athletes who want to stay fit and healthy, and avoid catching the latest winter viral plague need to pay attention to their gut health.

Furthermore, recent evidence is now starting to show support for the connection between gut health and weight management. So, athletes who want to achieve a certain race weight or who have a desired body composition goal should also pay attention to their gut health.

Foods that support gut health

Outside of supplements such as Inner Health Plus, the first food that comes to mind when thinking probiotics (the good bacteria) and gut health is yoghurt.

Yoghurt is a well-known source of probiotics. However, try to steer clear of sugar-laden varieties and opt for plain, natural and/or Greek-style yoghurt. A brand I like to recommend is Chobani. Chobani yoghurts are generally higher in protein and lower in fat and sugar compared to other varieties. If plain, natural yoghurt doesn’t sound too appealing, flavour it with frozen berries, nuts, chia seeds, honey or ground cinnamon, or add it to your favourite smoothie. Yoghurt is great as a snack between meals if you’re hungry and also a great post-training recovery snack.

Don’t like yoghurt? Not a problem. Yoghurt is not the only probiotic option.

Kefir, a fermented milk drink made by fermenting milk with kefir grains comprised of yeast and gut-friendly bacteria, is also a great source of probiotics. In fact, it tends to have more probiotics than yoghurt! A brand of kefir I love is Babushka Kefir ( Babushka Kefir is available online or in your favourite health food store. But if drinking fermented drinks aren’t appealing, don’t worry – Babushka Kefir comes in all forms including yoghurt, frozen yoghurt, probiotic cheese and probiotic smoothies. The choices are endless!

Other food sources of probiotics that are great for gut health include sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi (a traditional Korean dish) and the increasingly popular Kombucha (a fermented tea).
You can buy Kombucha from almost any supermarket these days and it comes in a variety of flavours. My favourite is Remedy Kombucha ginger and lemon – it tastes delicious! Kombucha a great alternative to juice or soft drinks, especially if you feel like drinking something flavoured.

If fermented cabbage doesn’t sound like something you would choose for dinner, make sure you try the recipe below before you make up your mind.

Sauerkraut Salad


  • 1 jar Polish sauerkraut
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Parsley, chopped
  • Caraway seeds (these are a great source of iron, copper, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  1. Place approximately two tablespoons of sauerkraut into a mixing bowl. Mix in the grated carrot, chopped onion and parsley. Sprinkle caraway seeds as desired, to taste. Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive oil and mix in. Serve and enjoy!

This salad is typically served with mashed potato.

What about Prebiotics?

But it’s not all about the probiotics. Prebiotics and resistant starch are also important for gut health. Prebiotics work in conjunction with probiotics to promote the growth and function of good bacteria in the gut. Food sources of prebiotics include onions, leeks, celery, green vegetables, bananas, garlic, wheat bran, rye, barley and raw oats. Nuts and nut skins are also a great prebiotic.

Resistant starch is also a powerful prebiotic (food for gut bacteria). It’s a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion – it bypasses the small intestine and is fermented in the large intestine. Resistant starch is found in a range of foods, including legumes, lentils, beans and whole grains.

How much should I eat? 

Variety is key here! In general, if you eat a varied diet and aim to include food sources of both probiotics and prebiotics once or twice per day, you’ll be on the right track. When I’m working with athletes I’ll typically recommend one serve of natural/Greek yoghurt daily, about 30g nuts each day and at least half a plates worth of vegetables at lunch and dinner. I’ll also typically recommended adequate serves of whole grains, legumes and lentils for each athlete.

Unless you have a known food allergy or intolerance, it’s important to avoid cutting out whole foods and food groups unnecessarily. This might result in a poor intake of foods that are great to keep your gut healthy.

In short…

Whether you’re an athlete preparing for a race and you want to minimise your chances of gut issues during the event, or if you’re an athlete wanting to support your immune system to prevent winter colds and flu, or if you’re an athlete wanting to achieve a certain body composition goal, don’t forget about your gut. Your health starts in your gut! A healthy gut is your key to wellbeing and problem-free racing.

If you’d like to find out more about how your nutrition can impact your gut health, contact me for an appointment today!

The Female Triad – Don’t let your athletic aspirations be sidelined

This article was originally published on 

Have you ever trained so hard that you missed your period? Did you think – ‘Awesome! I don’t have to worry about that dreaded monthly disturbance’? Well, don’t get too excited. As much as that menstrual cycle can make you feel bloated, tired, emotional, a little grumpy and well if you’re anything like me when I have my period, the last thing I want to be doing is training – they are a part of our genetic makeup as females. Missed periods can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. This is why one of the first questions I ask my female athletes in clinic is – ‘are you getting regular periods?’

What causes menstrual dysfunction in female athletes?

One of the main causes of athletic amenorrhea (the technical term for loss of regular periods) is low energy availability.

Energy availability is the energy we get from the food we eat (energy in) minus the energy we use up in training (energy out). It is the energy left over, or available, to support normal bodily processes, such as maintaining reproductive function. So, if an athlete is in a state of low energy availability it means that she isn’t getting enough energy in to support both her training and her normal bodily functions. This then typically causes these bodily functions to become impaired. For example, she stops getting her period, in a bid to reduce the amount of energy that is being used up by the body.

What about the training load? Can an increased training load cause menstrual dysfunction?

Not directly. Training itself does not suppress reproductive function as such, however, it can impact on energy cost and therefore energy availability. So, the more an athlete is training (the higher the intensity and the longer the duration) means more and more energy is being used up in training. If the athlete isn’t compensating that energy expenditure by eating enough, then less energy is available to support normal bodily function, putting the athlete at risk of being in low energy availability.  As mentioned above, one of the consequences of being in low energy availability is menstrual dysfunction.

Do you know how much you need to be eating?

It can be easy to assume that when a female athlete presents with low energy availability this is due to restrictive eating habits (excessively restricting calories) or due to disordered eating. And while this may be the case for some athletes, often it is due to athletes not realising what their energy requirements actually are – and they can be pretty high, especially for long course triathletes – and how much they actually need to be eating to meet these requirements.

It is vital for female athletes to understand how important eating the right amount of calories is and how important proper nutrition is for athletic performance and longevity in their sport.

Low energy availability and your bones

Low energy availability, not only leads to menstrual dysfunction, but it also suppresses estrogen and other metabolic hormones that promote bone formation and increase bone loss. Bone loss in amenorrheic female athletes is irreversible and warrants the earliest possible intervention to prevent further loss. The short-term consequence of this is increased fractures (do you really want to be sidelined by fractures just before an A-race?), with the long-term consequence being osteoporosis.

How can I prevent low energy availability, amenorrhea and ultimately bone loss? 

The first step in preventing or treating low energy availability, restoring regular periods and preventing bone loss is eating enough to meet training demands. Food really is fuel, and to ensure adequate energy availability, dietary intake may need to be increased to better meet the demands of training.  Those athletes who are trying to achieve a certain race weight, under the guidance of a Sports Dietitian; race weight can still be achieved, without sacrificing reproductive and skeletal health.

If you are unsure if you are eating enough to meet the demands of the training you are doing, or if you are concerned about any of the above, contact me for an appointment today, to discuss ways to achieve your athletic goals without compromising your nutrition and your health!


AIS Sports Nutrition. ‘Female Triad’. 12/3/14

Burke, L and Deakin, V. ‘Clinical Sports Nutrition’. Fourth Edition. © 2010. McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd.

Brukner, P and Khan, K. ‘Clinical Sports Medicine’, third edition. © 2007 McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd.

Javed, A et al. ‘Female athlete triad and its components: toward improved screening and management’. Mayo Clinic Proceeds. 2013 Sep;88(9):996-1009. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.07.001.

Mallinson, R et al. ‘A case report of recovery of menstrual function following a nutritional intervention in two exercising women with amenorrhea of varying duration’. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:34

Mineral Spotlight: Calcium – The Miracle Mineral

One of the body’s most important nutrients is calcium. We all know calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis – and for athletes, a big one is preventing stress fractures and bone breaks. But did you know this miracle mineral also plays a role in normal blood clotting, muscle functioning, conduction of nerve impulses, regulating fluid balance, regulating blood pressure (calcium has been linked to lower blood pressure), reduced colon cancer risk and reducing PMS. Calcium plays a big role in maintaining health and well-being. It makes sense that we need to make sure we’re getting enough from the food we eat.

Where is calcium found?

Of the body’s calcium, 99 per cent is stored in bone and teeth. The remaining one per cent is found in body fluids and soft tissues.

Tight Regulation

Because of its many vital functions, the level of calcium in the blood is tightly regulated by a delicate balance between the bones (our biggest calcium reservoir) and the blood. If there is not enough calcium in the blood and we’re not getting enough from the food we’re eating, the body draws calcium out of the bones. Over time, if there is a chronic shortage of calcium from our diet, the storage supply in our bones will gradually become depleted – a little bone loss each day can result in osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) later in life. This is why it’s important to get enough through the food we eat!

How much do I need?

Sex Age RDI
Men 19-70 1000mg
70+ 1300mg
Women 19-50 1000mg
50+ 1300mg

Where do I get it?

Food Source
Dairy – milk, buttermilk, cheese, yoghurt
Fish – sardines and salmon
Calcium-Fortified Foods – breakfast cereals, fruit juice and bread
Green leafy vegetables – broccoli, okra, spinach, kale, bok choy
Pinto beans
Sweet potato
Tofu and Tempeh
Nuts and Seeds – almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds
Almond milk
Coconut milk
Soy Milk
Hemp milk
Almond butter

Calcium Absorption

Things that aid calcium absorption:

  • Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. The recommendation for sun exposure is around 15-20minutes of sun a couple of times per week (but avoid peak UV times so that you don’t get sunburnt). Vitamin D is also found in food such as cod-liver oil, oily fish, eggs and butter.
  • Vitamin K – research shows that not getting enough vitamin K from the diet may lead to weaker bones and increased risk of stress fracture. Vitamin K has also been shown to keep calcium in your bones (it helps to reduce bone loss). Fermented soybeans (Natto) are the richest source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is also found in green leafy veg, broccoli, cauliflower, liver, meat, eggs and dairy foods (especially fermented foods such as yoghurt).

Things that hinder calcium absorption:

  • Salt – a diet high in salt has been shown to speed up bone loss. It has been shown that for every 2000mg of sodium removed by the kidneys in the urine takes with it 60mg calcium. So, while salt is important, avoid too much!
  • Caffeine – a large intake of caffeine (6+ caffeinated drinks per day) acts as a diuretic and flushes more calcium through the kidneys. Caffeine drinks include coffee, cola and tea.
  • Fizzy drinks – research has shown that fizzy drinks are associated with softer bones and a higher risk of stress fracture.
  • Excessive alcohol – drinking too much alcohol inhibits the stomach’s ability to absorb calcium adequately. It has been shown to interfere with the pancreas and its absorption of calcium and vitamin D.  

Putting it into practice:

So, that’s all well and good but how do you put it into practice? Try the following:

  • Make sure you fill up on plenty of green leafy vegetables
  • Snack on almonds, Brazil nuts
  • Include chia seeds and sesame seeds in your Bircher muesli
  • Use almond butter as a spread on toast
  • Have natural Greek yoghurt at breakfast or as a snack with added almonds for extra calcium and protein!
  • If you eat animal products aim to have salmon twice a week
  • Make sure the plant-based milk you use (e.g. almond milk) are fortified with calcium
  • Get some sunlight
  • Avoid excessive drinking, caffeine and salt

If in doubt:

Not sure if you’re doing it right and if you’re getting enough calcium in your diet? Contact me for an appointment today.


Catherine Saxelby’s Complete Food And Nutrition Companion, The Ultimate A-Z Guide, ©2018 Hardie Grant Books.

Web links:

Mineral Spotlight: Magnesium

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of magnesium? Eye twitches/tics? Muscle cramps? …A school science experiment? Well, you’re not far off.

1 avocado has 58mg magnesium (USDA)

When it comes to minerals we often talk about sodium and potassium but what about magnesium. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body (one of the minerals we need in large amounts) and is responsible for a load of important chemical reactions and also for strong bones. If you’re an endurance athlete, or if you simply want to thrive and to reach your potential, you can’t go past this key mineral. Thankfully we can get it in the food we eat, especially plant foods. And for the chocolate lovers – it’s also found dark chocolate (yum!).

Why do I need magnesium? 

Magnesium has a number of key roles in the body, including:

  • Provides structure for bones – so important because who wants to be sidelined by weak bones and stress fractures!
  • It’s a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme reactions, including protein synthesis, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, muscle and nerve function, DNA and RNA synthesis and energy production.
  • It helps to support your immune system.
  • It’s important for heart health – regulates blood pressure and helps to ensure a steady heartbeat and rhythm.
  • Maintains normal muscles contractions (goodbye cramps) and nerve function.
  • Improves sleep quality.
  • Maintains hormonal balance.

How can I tell if I’m low in magnesium?   

Our bodies have been designed to heal and to survive, so things are pretty tightly regulated. This means that if you’ve just come off an off-season, which has meant poor food choices (Plant foods? Pfft.. no thanks. Give me takeaway.), more nights out than usual (booze!) etc., our kidneys will typically help conserve magnesium levels when acute/short-term intakes are low. But if you’re making poor food choices over an extended period of time, this can lead to deficiency.

Symptoms that indicate something is a little NQR* include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Low mood and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Eye tics

*NQR = Not Quite Right 🙂 

How much do I need? 

The Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) for magnesium for adult men and women are as follows:

Men 420mg/day

Women 320mg/day

Where do I get it? 

Plant-based food of course! Some of the richest sources of magnesium are plant foods, especially the green leafy’s.

  • Spinach (1 cup raw = 24mg magnesium)
  • Parsley (1 cup chopped = 30mg magnesium)
  • Kale (1 cup raw = 7mg magnesium)
  • Broccoli (1 cup chopped = 19mg magnesium)
  • Avocado (1 avocado = 58mg magnesium)
  • Bananas (1 medium = 32mg magnesium)
  • Almonds (30g almonds = 77mg magnesium)
  • Brazil nuts (30g Brazil nuts = 107mg magnesium)
  • Walnuts (30g walnuts = 45mg magnesium)
  • Cashews (30g cashews = 83mg magnesium)
  • Brown rice (1 cup cooked = 86mg magnesium)
  • Buckwheat (1 cup = 86mg magnesium)
  • Oats (1 cup = 276mg magnesium)
  • Pumpkin seeds (1 cup = 168mg magnesium)
  • Kidney beans (1 cup = 254 magnesium)
  • Lentils (1 cup = 90mg magnesium)
  • Edamame beans (1 cup = 99mg magnesium)
  • Peas (1 cup cooked = 62mg magnesium)
  • Raw cacao (30g  = 76mg magnesium)
  • Dark chocolate (30g = 65mg magnesium)
  • Tofu (1/2 cup, firm tofu = 73mg magnesium)
  • Salmon (1 fillet = 53mg magnesium)
  • Mackerel ( 1 fillet = 85mg magnesium)
  • Yoghurt (170g, low fat = 30mg magnesium)
  • Whole milk (1 cup = 24mg magnesium)
  • Soy milk (1 cup = 61mg magnesium)

Source: USDA Food Composition Database 

Putting it into practice: 

OK. So, that’s all well and good but how do you put this into practice? Try the following:

  • Have oats at breakfast, topped with a banana and some crushed almonds or LSA mix
  • Include 2-cups of veg (especially green leafy veg) at meals
  • Have a handful of almonds/walnuts/brazil nuts daily
  • Include lentils/legumes at meals (magnesium but also protein)
  • Include whole grains like buckwheat or brown rice at meals
  • Include avocado with meals – on toast in the morning or chopped and added to salads
  • If you feel like something sweet in the evening, have a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate

If in doubt: 

Not sure if you’re doing it right and if you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet? Contact me for an appointment today!

Race Report: Melbourne Half Marathon 2018

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two weeks since the Melbourne Marathon Festival – where has the time gone! Since then, after a small break to recover from all the excitement, I’ve started to get back into the training routine and, together with my coach – Sarah Grove, Complete Per4mance Coaching – have decided on some exciting future running and triathlon goals (more on that another time – stay tuned!).

But before I look too far ahead into what the future may bring, I thought it was a great time to reflect on the half marathon – what I did, how I went, how I fuelled and more – to give you a little insight on how a Sports Dietitian might prepare, fuel and execute a half marathon event.

Baseline Diet

To give you a bit of background, in January 2018 (start of the year) I decided to overhaul my diet due to some serious issues with whole body eczema and allergies, and autoimmune issues. After a lot of reading and research (as it turns out, dairy is one of the big culprits that make eczema symptoms worse), and because conventional methods weren’t working, I decided to “go vegan” – well, plant-based with largely no animal products. I have had the occasional egg-containing baked good over the last few months (#parttimevegan ha!) but for the most part, I’ve steered away from all animal products. And I’ve never felt better. I find I’m recovering better after training sessions, have a lot more energy, I’ve been able to get to race weight easily and, most importantly my eczema is under control – it’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than what it was. So, leading into the half marathon I was eating a largely vegan/plant-based diet, tailoring my nutrition around my training to ensure I was fuelling correctly and recovering well. The specific things I was focusing on as far as my nutrition goes were things like nutrient timing (pre/during/post training fuelling) and practising my race day nutrition and hydration. With all the racing I’ve done this year – Challenge Melbourne, IRONMAN 70.3 Cairns, Gold Coast Half Marathon, IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships – my baseline nutrition/diet has been essentially dialled in, so leading into the half marathon it was really all about maintaining status quo and making sure I stayed on top of my daily nutrition and hydration.

Race Week 

I didn’t do anything too different with my diet/nutrition leading into the half marathon. I was mindful to include good carbs with every meal and to make sure I was hydrated (combination of water and water + electrolytes) but that’s about it. I didn’t specifically ‘carb load’ as such – I don’t do that before a 90-minute long run on a weekend, so it certainly wasn’t a good idea to change things too much days out from a goal run race (hello potential gut issues).

If you maintain your regular training nutrition in taper – so if you eat what you would normally eat in peak training e.g. including good carbs with meals and around training (pre/during/post), adding that to a reduced energy output (training volume is typically reduced in taper) you will load up the fuel stores because you’re simply not using as much energy in taper. Of course, this will be different for everyone and for different/longer races; e.g. I would have ‘carb loaded’ more specifically for a full marathon, and I certainly up the carb intake leading into a half and full iron distance event.

Speaking of all things carbs, one of my pre-long run/race day rituals is popcorn. Those who know me will know how much I love the stuff. I can’t get enough! Specifically, I am pretty much obsessed with Cobs Natural Popcorn Sea Salt. So good. I had a bag of that the day before the event – it’s my secret weapon 🙂

I will confess, I think I did make an error with my pre-race dinner though. Yup! Even Sports Dietitians are human. Shocking, I know. For dinner I had my usual – gnocchi with basic pasta sauce – I like to keep things pretty simple, being mindful to limit the fibre to avoid too many visits to the ladies room the next day. BUT I also had a bottle of The Juice Lab Cool Beets beetroot juice that I came across in the supermarket (WHY!). Normally, there is nothing wrong with doing this but beetroot can be problematic for sensitive guts, and I think it may have contributed to some (not too significant because I ran through it) gut issues for me during the race. So learn from me – keep things simple the night before, don’t try anything new and limit the fibre and anything that might upset your guts.

Race Morning

The alarm went off at about 3:30am on race morning. Ridiculously early given the race start was 8am BUT Kona (the IRONMAN World Championship) was also on and I had people to track 🙂 Plus, I love, love, love Kona… so if you spotted me pre-race you would have seen me glued to my iPhone on the tracker before the half mara. Side note: towards the end of the half mara, when I was charging to get back to tracking Kona, a male runner did say to me: “I want to finish this quick too, to get back to Kona tracking.” Triathletes everywhere 🙂

OK. What did I eat and drink?

I recently discovered the glorious world of Seven Sunday’s Bircher and Quinoa Muesli. Holy moly! So good. I soaked a bowl of the muesli in So Good Almond and Coconut milk overnight and had that with a chopped banana on top, along with a strong instant coffee when I got up. Oh, actually, backtrack for a second – before all that I had a glass of water with half a lemon and then I had my breakfast. Anyway, I’ve been having bircher before all my long runs lately and it’s like magic. I’m in love with bircher *insert heart eyes emoji*!

Once breakfast was in and done, I did some pre-run yoga (Yoga with Adriene, get on it guys and gals! The best.) and I was off – to the race we go!

In the car and throughout the early morning, as I waited for the half mara to start (I had like two hours to kill – I got there super, super early!) I sipped on a bottle of water that had a couple of tabs of Hydralyte Sports in it and had snacked on a Clif Bar. I also had some Black Cherry Clif Bloks as well. Then about 30-minutes before the start I had a Clif gel – Razz  with some water and a No Doz . And I was ready to rock and roll.

21.1km of Bliss

Leading into the race I really wasn’t too sure what to expect as far as times go. I had done a massive PB at Gold Coast half mara earlier in the year (my breakthrough half mara) but the Melbourne course is harder (GC is known for being flat and fast) so speaking with my coach the plan was to run to my set pace targets and then just to see what would happen. I know, all a bit vague but because this year has been my breakthrough year (I’ve never hit these targets before. Amazing what consistent training does!) every race I do at the moment has a little unknown factor in it as far as my times go. So, I didn’t have a time goal going in as such, although I knew that I could probably do the run in about 1:35-1:40 (depending on the course, weather etc.). Mainly, I wanted to ‘nail’ the run – as in, I wanted to hit my pace targets, but I also just really wanted a good, solid run (no matter the times). I wanted to give it my all because I didn’t want to walk away disappointed – my mental game still needs work sometimes and I get easily disappointed when a race doesn’t go to plan.

And I’m stoked to report that I nailed it!

I lined up near the front, with the 1:30 pacer. While 1:30 for 21.1km is a touch ambitious for me at the moment, I figured if I tried to hold on to this pacer for as long as possible I would hit my expected time (I was happy to run anywhere between 1:35-1:40. And to put it in perspective, in GC I did 1:36).

It worked. After dodging about 4000 runners at the start I got into a rhythm and held on for dear life, even managing to stay in front of the 1:30 pacer for the first ~8-ish km. This strategy meant I ran a PB for the first 10km (~44minutes) too. Very happy. I didn’t quite manage to negative split the run though. Things slowed down a touch in the second half of the run – it was hot, windy and I was feeling some fatigue. But I held on and came away with a course PB (and almost an overall half mara PB too). My official time was 1:37:06 and I came 11th in my age category. Say, WHAT?! Holy moly! So stoked! This is what happens when you need to run quick to get back to Kona tracking 🙂

My Race Nutrition

Nothing wild or revolutionary here. The guidelines say about 30-60g carbs/hour for an endurance event, which is basically what I did. I had a Citrus Clif gel (because it contains caffeine = a little pick me up!) at about the 11km mark and sipped on water to thirst at aid stations, which wasn’t that much in the end. I took a sip of water with my gel and then maybe at one other aid station. That’s it. For the most part, I ran through. I find I don’t need too much during a half mara these days. I try to keep it simple because the aim is to run as fast as I can over the 21.1km distance. And because I was fuelled and hydrated going in, I had enough fuel on board to get me through. The gel was a little fuel top up to make sure I got to the finish as fast as possible. NB: This is what works for me – everyone is different though, yeah?! 🙂 And this is what I do in training, so I know it works for me.

Post Race Recovery

I’d love to be here all like: “Oh, yes, I nailed my post-race recovery nutrition. I got straight onto the protein and carbs to replenish the fuel stores…” Blah, blah what a perfect little Dietitian. Right? Wrong. Oops. Sadly this was not the case (shame on me!). I’m not going to lie. I thought I would be able to buy something to eat pretty quick after the run but there were a lot of people around, my appetite and desire for food disappeared, I then decided to drive to get food at a cafe but couldn’t find a car park… Bah! I was not organised at all with my post-race recovery (DO NOT FOLLOW MY LEAD ON THIS). I didn’t bring any snacks with me to have in the event of not being able to get to a proper post-race meal. And so my recovery nutrition went to poo a little bit. But I did have a sports drink and half a banana in the race compound once I finished. So at least there was that.

The Takeaways 

  • Don’t try anything new before the race – no pre-race beetroot juice for me
  • Be mindful to include good carbs with meals/snacks leading into an endurance event but you don’t have to go overboard
  • Get organised with your post-race nutrition

So, there it is – the 2018 Melbourne Half Marathon report. Next up – a local 10km race. Coach and I decided it’s time for a little 10km TT to see how fast I can run over that distance.

Post-race chat with coach: 

Coach: “I’d love to see you do a straight 10k. See what speed we can get.”

Me: “Yeah! Let’s do it. Prob induce vomiting but let’s try.”

Coach: “Haha. Nothing like a lil spew on the finishing line.” 🙂

Stay tuned.