Regarding Covid-19 and sport, there won't be much change in these next few weeks. It’s going to be another while yet before sport returns to our screens or our local pitches.
Personally, I should be helping to prepare the Cork Con rugby team for an All-Ireland final against Lansdowne but none of my coaching involves rugby at the moment.
My coaching is very much focused on nutrition and exercise in these last few weeks and will be for another while yet. Clients routines are changing and staying on top of their dietary habits is becoming more difficult as long as there’s no end in sight for social distancing. What are the main things we are focusing on at the moment with good nutrition habits in mind?
Nutrition is paramount at these times, not just to stay physically healthy for sport, but for your mental health, your energy, your mood and then also to stay in shape and maintain any progress you’ve made with sports or exercise.
We should be aiming to stick with whole, nutrient dense foods as much as possible. Having a routine or adapting your own routine will help here. It is when we are out of routine and skip meals or don’t fill ourselves up with high-fibre carbohydrates such as brown bread, porridge oats, fruit and veg that we start looking for quick fixes and easy snacks when the hunger gets too much. That starts a cycle of quick solutions, poor satiety and often negative mood states.
We should also be looking for four or five protein servings per day to maintain muscle mass, support recovery from exercise and training, and also to keep ourselves full. High-quality protein sources such as lean meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains and legumes will keep you full for longer and balance blood sugars so you won’t feel like snacking on poorer quality foods throughout the day.
As always, you should try to have more than five portions of fruit and vegetables. For some people they could do this with one stir fry or fruit bowl in the morning but others find it quite tough. There are ways of increasing your fruit and veg intake without having to snack on fruit all day. Make a soup or smoothie where you can add fruit or veg that you may not normally eat. You might also be able to have bigger portions when the food is blended.
Making soup is a simple enough task of boiling and simmering a mixture of vegetables and then blending them. The other thing you could do here is to blitz sauces for curries or a bolognese which contain onions, garlic, tomatoes and red peppers etc. If texture is your concern when eating your protein servings, then these tips can really help.
In saying that, you will not fight off Covid-19 altogether by just eating more fruit and vegetables. The nutrient density of these foods means that you will support your immune system as much as possible but unfortunately there is no way of 'boosting’ our immune systems beyond what they are capable of.
There will be many supplements doing the rounds in the current climate advising you that all will be fine if you pay €X to stay healthy by boosting your immune system but there’s little truth in it. We do, however, want to be as healthy as possible by supporting our immune function with whole foods containing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants throughout the day.
When working in the office it can be easier to stay hydrated. It’s a good excuse for a stroll to the water fountain or to take a break from the constraints at your desk. Maybe you keep a certain bottle on the desk that you are focused on getting through.
When you’re working from home these are the type of habits that can fall away. Staying hydrated, mostly with water, is good for your mental and physical energy so avoid adding to any unnecessary lethargy around the house that may come from an unfamiliar routine working of working from home.
Some people find the weighing scales controversial and have hopped on the band wagon of saying the scales is a waste of time. This isn’t necessarily true. If you’re happy with how you look and feel or if you prefer to take judgement from your clothes then that’s fine and you should work away with those subjective measures. The scales does, however, give us a cheap and straightforward objective measure once you know the pitfalls of how weight can change in the acute sense.
"There's no getting away from the fact that if your weight is trending upwards across a period of three to four weeks you are probably eating too much food"
Eating more high-fibre carbohydrates, increasing salt or water intake, eating later in the evening are all reasons why the scales may fluctuate the next morning. You shouldn’t react to one fluctuation on the scales, up or down. It is better to watch the trend by weighing yourself at a routine part of the day across a period of time. This can be anywhere from once a week to every day of the week depending on the person.
There’s no getting away from the fact that if your weight is trending upwards across a period of three to four weeks you are probably eating too much food.
This is something that easily happens when you spend your free time making healthy snacks to keep you going but when you make them so nice that you can’t stop eating them then you can still be eating too much. It doesn’t mean that you have to do anything drastic. Adjust your portions slightly and see where it takes you, no swearing, no emotion, just a small action taken to improve your situation.
That is of course unless you are lucky to have a lot of gym equipment at home and you’re adding loads of lean tissue from the amount of resistance training that you are doing, however this isn’t the case for most people.
For others, you may have more time on your hands to get away from the desk. You might have more jobs to do at home, the legs are walked off the dog or you’re not sitting at a desk and commuting for eight-to-ten hours a day. Your weight may drop as a result.
If that’s not the goal then you should think about increasing food slightly from whole foods such as nuts, seeds, avocado, grains, fruit and veg etc. That’s not to say you have to eat more, perhaps you wanted your weight to decrease, which could be a positive to take from this isolation.
I’m not saying there isn’t room to have some chocolate or a bit of dessert. It’s important to enjoy yourself and to stay sane while we’re all confined to our homes but make sure you’re looking after your health too with a balanced approach.
These areas of improvement are no different from our every day and non-isolation nutrition focuses but it is important to look after your mental and physical health, now more than ever. Let’s try to use our time wisely.