Healthy Lunch Tips For The Office

I have been very lucky as a number of my jobs have been working remotely from home.  This set-up has its pros and cons but a definite pro is that it’s much easier to be healthy.  It’s not a coincidence that when I moved to an ‘at office’ job a few years ago, I gained weight.

The workplace is never an easy place to be the healthiest ‘you’.  You don’t have access to your own fridge and stock of foods, social influence generally works in a negative direction, you often feel pressured to take as little time as possible to eat (meaning grab-and-go (not so healthy) lunches).  Also, the biggest thing that would catch me out when I worked in an office was the commute home.  By the end of the day I was tired, hungry, and ready and willing to snack on anything I could get a hold of (usually a bit of chocolate from the office vending machine).

Sound familiar? 

Here’s a few hints for keeping up your healthy eating habits in and out of the office.

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Why Nutrition Belongs In The Workplace

As an employer, you may wonder what your role is in maintaining or improving the health of your employees. Can’t they take care of themselves? Is it even appropriate to intervene in their lives? Is this appropriate in the workplace? Will people be interested?

Should you take an active role in their health and wellbeing? The answer is YES. You should at least provide an opportunity for your employees to better their health. Employees generally spend over half of their waking hours working and the most commonly cited reason we see for not taking positive step towards health is time. Coupled to that is knowledge (or lack thereof) and insufficient resources to gain knowledge.

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Testimonial: How Corporate Health Helped Me Lose Weight

Allison N., late-30s, busy mom of a young child  

I am an almost 40-year-old with a demanding career and a very demanding 4-year-old. I am, what I consider to be, moderately over weight. I have always enjoyed being active and playing sports but find it hard to schedule these things into my daily life. I was finding this especially hard because of an afternoon energy slump that was incredibly demotivating. More days than not, I’d have massive sugar cravings that went along with my afternoon energy slump. These cravings were appeased with junk food from the office canteen and handfuls of chocolate chips consumed while preparing dinner. In fact, my eating patterns consisted of a lot of “toddler scraps,” “a bite of this” and a “handful of that", as I tried to satisfy food cravings.

Allison and daughter.jpeg

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5 Ways to Promote Corporate Health After Your New Year's Resolutions

2017 is in full swing. The holidays are over, and so are those New Year's Resolutions everybody was so excited about. Now is the time when the gym starts to empty out and old unhealthy habits may begin to creep back into our lives. As a company, it is important to continue to promote wellness at the office and to follow through with your company's New Year's Resolutions. 

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People with High Emotional Intelligence Have These 5 Things in Common

Emotional intelligence comprises of the ability to accurately perceive, recognize and express emotion, understand and incorporate emotion in the way we think, and importantly, regulate emotion. Because EI is such an important contributor to success, we have broken it down into 5 specific abilities that can be learned, practiced and mastered.

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Fuel for The Active Body

Firstly, to get the most of this blog you need to be sure you understand the basics of nutrition.  I encourage you to re-visit my previous blogs on basics of nutrition, sugar, and fats and the Q&A on high protein diets.  For the most part, the same basic nutrition principles apply to those who do high levels of activity and athletes. Eat a varied diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein.  If you do this, you should meet the daily recommendations for all your macro and micronutrients.

In this blog, I will run through some of the principles of exercise metabolism and how this impacts nutritional needs.  I want you to better understand what is fuelling your body during exercise (mainly carbs!).  I will then go through how you can assess your own nutritional needs based on your activity.

Before I begin, it’s important to point out there are various levels of physically activity ranging from casual exercisers, weekend warriors, fitness buffs, and up to high performance athletes.   Therefore, sports nutrition is not a ‘one size fits all’ prescription and needs must be adapted to your particular situation.   For example, it’s highly unlikely you need energy gels/drinks during your daily pilates class, however, a marathon runner benefits greatly from these products while training intensely.  Recommendations vary greatly because sports and/or physical activities vary so much, making it difficult to encompass the needs of everyone into a generic formula.

I will try to summarise general guidelines but feel free to send through specific question if you want more clarity on individual recommendations.

Energy Systems

For all those who hate science, I warn you. STOP HERE!  Skip to the end (and no, it won’t count as your daily exercise) and look at some of the practical advice.  For you science geeks out there, I want to run through exactly what is happening to your metabolism during and after exercise.  Once you understand this, you can better decide what type of nutrition will benefit YOU.

Your body has 3 sources of energy to fuel your exercise (called energy systems).  Energy in the body is stored in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  For simplicity’s sake, I won’t go into any more detail except to say that breaking this down provides energy.  The amount of energy stored in your muscles is very limited; essentially enough to fuel you for 1-3 seconds.  Therefore, the body needs to generate energy from other sources. 

The first energy system is the ATP-creatine phosphate (ATP-CP) system.  In this system, CP acts as a shuttle within the cell providing substrate for ATP to be regenerated after its been broken down thus creating more energy.  However, this system is very limited and only can last from 3-15 seconds.  It is termed an anaerobic reaction (without oxygen) and is used most during very intense, short burst of energy like lifting, jumping, or sprinting

The next energy system is glycolysis, which is a breaking down of glucose.  This glucose comes from both blood glucose and muscle glycogen (stored glucose in the muscle).  This is also an anaerobic process and can fuel activities lasting from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. After that, the cells need oxygen to continue to fuel the exercising muscle. 

This brings us to the last energy system, the aerobic system.  This system supplies the most energy to the body but it is not fast and the energy is not readily available unlike the other 2 systems.  Here, the end product of glycolysis (pyruvate) is able to go through additional metabolic pathways in the presence of oxygen (hence the name aerobic system) yielding 18 times more energy than glycolysis.  In addition, triglycerides (coming from stored fat) can be broken down and metabolized resulting in an (almost) endless supply of energy. 

Now, your body does not use each of these system exclusively, but sources the energy from wherever is more appropriate.  For example, a quick sprint for the ball playing football is likely fuelled by ATP-CP or glycolytic system while the jog back is fuelled by the aerobic system.

You note that in general, you are using glucose (carbohydrate) and to a lesser extent fat to fuel exercise.  The lower the intensity of the exercise, the more the body is able to rely on fats as there is time for it to be broken down for energy.  Interestingly, training actually increases your ability to breakdown fat and use it as energy at higher intensities. However, don’t be fooled by the ‘fat burning zone’; the idea that you don’t want to work too hard because you will stop metabolizing fat and rely on glucose.  In the end, it’s the total intensity (i.e. calories burned) which will make a difference, not the energy system used to burn them.  In fact, you burn the greatest proportion of fats sitting still and as great as it would be, sitting is not an effective form of exercise ;)!

So, what do we need to be eating if we are exercising? 

Well, it depends.  If you are participating in moderate intensity exercise (eg. working out once a day, 5 days a week with a mix of cardio and weights) your macro and micro nutrient requirements will likely be met by following the USDA dietary recommendations discussed previously.   The ranges are: carbohydrate 45-65% of total energy, fats 20-35% of total energy, protein 10-35% of total energy.

Unless you are trying to lose weight, total daily caloric intake will need to increase to support the energy demands of exercise.  Your total energy needs can be assessed using an equation which takes into account you reported level of activity.  There are a few different versions out there but this one gives you a good idea:

BMI calculator

As your total daily calories go up so can the absolute numbers (grams) of carbs, fats, and proteins.  There are some more specific recommendations for these absolute numbers depending on your type of physical activity.

Dietary protein is very important for those who are exercise training.  It is a building block for contractile and metabolic proteins.  In addition, it plays a role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and preventing muscle degradation.  For those participating in strength training, protein intake is recommended to be between 1.3-2.0g/kg of protein.  Higher levels (over 2g/kg/day) have been shown to be advantageous to prevent loss of lean mass during energy restriction and inactivity due to injury.

However, it’s also important that energy needs are met (generally through carbohydrate intake) to prevent muscle protein breakdown.  Particularly, those doing endurance training need to ensure they have adequate carbohydrate availability to perform. Remember, your body is highly dependent on carbohydrate for fuel during endurance sport and you cannot store a large amount in the muscle (as compared to fat). Carbohydrate needs increase with more intense and longer duration activity to prevent you from ‘hitting the wall’ which is essentially when carbohydrate stores are diminished.

Below is a summary of the recommended levels of carbohydrates for athletes based on recommendations by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Summary of carbohydrate needs for athletes

Light (Low intensity or skill-based activities)  = 3–5 g/kg of athlete’s body weight/day

Moderate (Moderate exercise program (eg, ~1 hour per day))  = 5–7 g/kg/day

High (Endurance program (eg, 1–3 h/d mod-high-intensity exercise)) =  6–10 g/kg/day

Very High (Extreme commitment (eg, 4–5 hour/day mod-high intensity exercise)) = 8–12 g/kg/day

 While these guidelines are based around ‘athletes’, here’s how I would apply them to ‘Joe’, a 30 year old male, 80 kg, 180 cm, moderate exercise program (1 hr per day, 5 days/week including resistance training).

 Sports Nutrition graphic.png

The large caloric needs due to high levels of physical activity allow ‘Joe’ to eat the required amount of carbs and protein to support his activity and still fall within the recommended ranges for macro nutrients.  His intake needs to be fluid and change according to his daily needs and how he responds to the meals.  As he is not doing solely cardiovascular training (i.e. it’s mixed with resistance training) I selected a carbohydrate intake on the lower end of the range and a protein intake on the higher end.

So, what does he eat?  Its right back to what I am always saying. Lots of colourful fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a variety of protein (nuts, seeds, fish, lean meat, eggs), healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, salmon), and low fat dairy to support strong bones.  Eat a small mixed meal (protein, carbs and fats) a few hours before exercise and be sure the replenish following a session.

Following the guidelines above, you should have sufficient micronutrients to support your needs.  Note: as the B vitamins (Vit B6, Thiamin, and riboflavin) are used in energy metabolism, you may need 1-2 times the RDA, however this should be covered in a higher calorie, nutrient dense diet described above.

We have covered a lot of information, and in actuality, we barely skimmed the surface of nutrition and exercise.  Please use this as a guide but DO send in questions around your specific needs.  It all seems so complicated and I often get asked: Do I need to be calculating my ‘macros’ and analysing everything I put into your mouth?  Most likely no.  Just follow the guidelines above, space out your meals, and be aware of works for YOU in terms of your exercise performance.





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Is a Gluten-free Diet Healthier for You?

Gluten and or/wheat free diets are another very popular fad these days.  Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye therefore if you eliminate wheat from the diet, you also eliminate gluten (or vice versa).  The gluten-free market in the US is predicted to be worth $24 billion by 2020 with 1/3 Americans expressing a desire to reduce gluten in their diet.

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