• NK’s Thoughts

It’s all relative

Who singles out food, labelling them as ‘good or bad’? Did you know that this is the foundation of many nutrition myths. There is no such thing as a good or bad food and these labels can often be associated with guilt or shame. Yes, one food may be healthier than the other in terms of its nutritional composition, but it is all relative to the amount you consume and the frequency of that consumption. If I have an apple once a week does that mean my diet is healthy? Similarly, if I have a bar of chocolate once a week does that mean I’m unhealthy? We need to look at the quality of our entire diet rather than just particular foods as a determinant of health.

We think it’s also important to remember that health is multifaceted. The impact food can have on other components of our health besides aesthetics kand performance can sometimes be overlooked or undermined. Food has always been a central part of social environments and even more so in recent years (brunch is a popular phenomenon that we at NutriKate thoroughly enjoy). Sometimes it’s important to consider the value of these experiences from a different perspective. Yes, it is often harder to control the calories on your plate however most menus are flexible and offer a range of options. A few extra calories in a meal enjoyed with friends/family every now and again can be worked into our goals. The positive benefits these interactions have on our mood however, can’t be ignored!

Minimising or erradicating the feeling of shame or guilt that we often associate with foods that are less nutrient dense is something we at NutriKate wholeheartedly support. While yes, overconsumption of these foods can compromise body composition goals/performance, they can be included as part of a balanced, healthful diet.

Fats: what’s the fuss?

Fats have many different roles in our health including hormone production, immune function and providing structure to the walls of our cells! They are also an energy source. In fact, fat is the most energy dense macronutrient. Every 1g of fat contains 9kcal compared to protein and carbohydrates, both of which contain 4kcal/g.
There are different types of fat, some of which are better for us than others! Fats that contribute to our health are known as mono and polyunsaturated fats. They can be found in many foods including nuts/nut butters, avocados, olive & rapeseed oil. Oily fish is a great source of omega 3s, in particular the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Our bodies capacity to make these is limited so (as the name suggests) it’s essential that we include them in our diet!
Saturated and trans fats are mainly found in processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat. Foods like biscuits, cakes, processed meat (bacon/salami) and takeaways are high in these types of fats. These foods should be included sparingly in our diet, as overconsumption can have negative implications on our health.
As mentioned above, fat is an energy-dense macronutrient so the portion of fat on your plate should be slightly smaller compared to your protein or carbohydrates to account for this.

How can you increase your intake of healthy fats?

  • Add 1/2 an avocado to scrambled eggs and toast
  • Add a handful of nuts/seeds to a smoothie or yogurt with berries
  • Use olive oil on your salad/when cooking
  • Have oily fish 2 times/week. If you have a different source of animal protein usually try replacing it with salmon/mackerel for example on these days

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the role of fat in the diet so we hope this article has helped to clear some of them up!

An intro to carbohydrates

There are carbohydrates in lots of foods, however in this post let’s talk specifically about starchy carbohydrates. Foods that fall under this umbrella include bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and oats to name a few!
Often carbohydrates and weight gain might be heard in the same sentence. However, because of their palatable nature it is overconsumption of these foods rather than the foods themselves that can cause weight gain. Another important point to note with regards to carbohydrates is that they can cause water retention. In fact, for every 1g of carbohydrate stored, the body also retains 3g of water. This may result in bloating and an increase in the number on the scales, however this is not a reflection of your true body weight.
Sweet potato mash
In terms of performance, carbohydrates are our main fuel source during high-intensity exercise. Before an intense training session, have an additional portion of carbohydrates in your pre-training meal. This will help to provide fuel for this activity. A good visual aid to use when measuring your portion of carbohydrates is your fist. 1 fist = 1 portion of carbohydrates. An important factor to consider when trying to determine carbohydrate intake is activity levels. Intake should be adjusted based on activity levels. For example, a sedentary 25-year old adult will require less carbohydrates than a 25-year old who plays inter county football.
It is important to recognise what type of high-intensity exercise requires increased carbohydrate consumption. For example, a mixed meal (containing carbohydrates, protein and fat) will provide sufficient energy for a 60 minute weight session however an increase in carbohydrates is recommended for a 60-90 minute  pitch session.

So what can you do to improve variety?

  • Opt for brown/whole meal alternatives where possible as these contain more fibre. This will help to increase the nutrient density of your meal.
  • Alter your sources – are you a pasta/bread fiend? While pasta and bread are both excellent sources of carbohydrates they are not as nutrient dense as some of the other choices e.g rice/oats. Switching up your sources every so often means you get different nutrients. For example, sweet potato contains more vitamin A than quinoa, which has more iron per 100g.
Despite what various online sources and the media might say, carbohydrates are not the enemy and should be included as part of a well-balanced diet. Intake will be dictated by activity levels – opt for extra fruit & veg on your plate if you have a more sedentary lifestyle!

Let’s talk protein

Protein; what art thou?

Protein is one of the macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats complete the trio). It is involved in many bodily functions including transport,storage, cell/hair growth and production of hormones/enzymes. From an athletic, and indeed a health perspective, protein is the building blocks of muscle (our healthy tissue). It plays a key role in muscle strength, retention, growth and repair.

So what food sources should we look to for our protein?

Red meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are all high quality protein sources. Legumes, tofu, tempeh and seitan are nutritious plant-based protein options.  All of these foods contain protein but why is it important to include a variety? Well, red meat is a good source of iron and vitamin B12, oily fish has those all important omega 3s while Greek yogurt and milk contain calcium for them bones and legumes are full of fibre! Switching up your protein sources means not only are you getting a variety of flavours but also a variety of nutrients!
Greek yoghurt

Tips on how to improve your intake

A few important things to remember when it comes to protein:
  • Try to split your protein intake evenly throughout the day. This is particularly important for muscle protein synthesis. Many people tend to have a big protein feeding at dinner, a small one at lunch and little to none at breakfast.
  •  Protein is essential to support proper recovery after exercise. While it is important to include some protein in your pre-exercise meal it is even more important to have a protein feeding after to allow the muscles repair and prevent injury!
  • Protein is the most satiating of the three macronutrients. Including it in meals/snacks will help to keep you feeling full for longer.

We are recommended to have 6+ portions of fruit & veg per day. If that target seems unattainable to you right now, start by trying to add a portion at each meal and go from there. There are so many fruit & vegetables out there so if you don’t like one, try another and remember variety is the spice of life!

Fruit & Veg: the benefits

I’m sure we are not the first people to tell you how important fruit & vegetables are. However, hopefully we can help you understand why. First of all, fruit and vegetables contribute to the flavour in your meals. They also help to support the immune system and enhance recovery. All fruit & vegetables contain important vitamins & minerals for our body however variety is essential. For example, sweet potatoes and red peppers are good plant-based sources of beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A in the body!), while spinach and lentils are good plant-based sources of iron. Berries are packed with anti-oxidants which help to prevent damage to the cells in our body. Fruit & veg are packed with fiber so including a variety has also been recommended to maintain a healthy gut.

Tips on how to improve your intake

  • Include fruit/vegetables in all your meals. e.g. banana/berries within porridge, tomatoes/spinach in a sandwich, salad or wrap & peppers/corn/green beans in a curry
  • A smoothie is a great option, it’s an easy way to include 2-3 portions of fruit and veg in one meal!
  • A wide array of vegetables can be packed into a nutritious home-made soup
  • If you (or those you are cooking for!) struggle with textures or the way certain vegetables look try to disguise them! Add fruit or veg to a smoothie or blitz a curry/bolognese sauce to create a smooth consistency
  • For main meals fruit/vegetables should account for half of the space on your plate

We are recommended to have 6+ portions of fruit & veg per day. If that target seems unattainable to you right now, start by trying to add a portion at each meal and go from there. There are so many fruit & vegetables out there so if you don’t like one, try another and remember variety is the spice of life!

Fish Oils

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

So, you wanna talk about mmothh… fish oils? Good, me too! ?

There are a tonne of benefits from ensuring omega 3 fish oils are part of your diet. Fish oils contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which are the magic makers behind all the great health and performance (yes, so to athletes reading this you should take notes) benefits of eating oily fish or by supplementing with fish oils.

Ok, so in what way are they good for us?

Fish oils:

  • Reduce inflammation in the body that may be induced by exercise or other environmental stressors
  • Support immune function and joint health (a lot more evidence supporting fish oils compared to glucosamine for joint health FYI)
  • Improves our thinking ability
  • Compliments the benefits of strength training
  • Reduces heart rate at sub-maximal exercise intensities

Another reason that Omega 3’s are important in our diets in this day and age is because the majority of the food we eat are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. This is associated with many health implications such as different cancers and cardiovascular diseases for example.

The beauty about fish oils is that you can get enough EPA and DHA from your diet but here’s the catch (forgive me, no pun intended), you need to eat 3-4 portions of oily fish per week.

I get that fish isn’t for everyone and that 3-4 portions/week mightn’t be achievable for us also, in that case you may want to consider a supplement? Fish oils are sold in most local supermarkets so if this is something you decide to do that’s a good place to look. When it comes to dosage, an intake of 2000mg, twice daily, each intake to be accompanied by a meal.  It is important to note that the health and performance benefits mentioned above occur over a few weeks so don’t be disheartened if you’re not seeing immediate improvements.

Ok so the above is all grand but what about those of us that don’t ‘do’ fish or fish oils? Algae omega 3 oil is a great alternative for my vegan and vegetarian friends as it contains a great source of EPA and DHA too. Flaxseed oil has been recommended countless times because it contains a fatty acid called ALA (alpha linolenic acid) which our bodies convert to EPA and DHA. However, it turns out we aren’t actually very good at this hence why algae omega 3 oil is a better option for vegans and vegetarians alike. And you thought I was forgetting about you!

So hopefully from this piece you can identify that Omega 3 Fatty Acids have a very important role in our diets. I will always recommend food first but no harm done for those of us who need a helping hand every now and again!

FYI – Examples of the fish that are the oily ones:

  • Anchovies
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herrings
  • Tuna steak



Where I got some of the above info from (aka references):

  • Doughman S.D, Krupanidhi S. and Sanjeevi C.B, 2007. Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Nutrition and Medicine: Considering Microalgae Oil as a Vegetarian Source of EPA and DHA. Current Diabetes Reviews (3): 198-203.
  • JW Alexander, 1998. Immunonutrition: The Role of Omega-3 fatty acids (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9684267)
  • Simopoulos A.P, 2002. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential amino acids, Biomed Pharmacother (56): 365–379