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A Better You | On-the-Go Nutrition


Food tips for a hectic lifestyle

By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT

Staying healthy while being in a studio all day and eating on the run is one enormous challenge. And wouldn’t it be great to go beyond maintenance by achieving optimal health?

People who live the performing-arts life prolong their youth by being so active in their 20s and 30s. Yet what an effect it has on the body. Dancers who start at age 8 or 10 and pursue a teaching or performance career have packed in a lot of mileage by age 30. And just think about 40- and 50-somethings! So if you’re going to go into the sunset in your dancing shoes, how can you stay the course?

Any worthwhile project requires R&D, research and development. Knowledge is powerful. But a little knowledge plus the plethora of trendy eating diets, articles, and supplements can be dizzying. Thinking simply, life boils down to three physical requirements: water, food, and rest. How do you regulate, and enhance, all three while multitasking?

When it comes to being on the go, strategy pays off. One of the biggest pitfalls for even the most dedicated health nut is being caught off guard. Plan, plan, and plan some more, so that you not only have nutrients and water within your grasp but also time for rest. Let’s look at water and food. Being nourished and hydrated are two great ways to boost your energy level and keep up with a busy lifestyle.

All-essential water
Drinking plenty of water is one of best ways to stay afloat. Your body is 75 percent water; losing as little as 2 percent of that can cause foggy thinking. Physical performance starts to decline. Slowness can be dangerous when you need to be mentally alert: driving, crossing the street, bicycling. Slurring words impairs your ability to command authority and confidence. Slowed reactions make preparing a class, organizing, and doing analytical tasks take longer than necessary.

To make sure you get enough water in your busy day, drink one tall glass in the morning and one before bed. Have another glass if you get up during the night. In general the advice is to drink eight glasses per day, although the new thinking is that consuming water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables contributes to this amount.

Try keeping a pitcher of water available with sliced lemons or strawberries in it for an extra lure. When traveling, fill your own big bottle or buy one after you pass security at the airport. We often mistake thirst for hunger, so next time you feel a hunger pang, reach for a water bottle before heading to the fridge.

Dancers lose a significant amount of water when performing under the lights, and they feel it in their legs. But it doesn’t happen only onstage—that heavy-leg feeling you sometimes get from teaching and rehearsing means you’re getting dehydrated. Another way to stay hydrated is to take Epsom salts baths. Mix about a half-cup of salts in a warm bath to hydrate and soothe muscles. They’re especially helpful after a flight.

We often mistake thirst for hunger, so next time you feel a hunger pang, reach for a water bottle before heading to the fridge. 

Hydrate and energize
Another quick energy/hydration tip for morning jumpstarts, afternoon lows, and jet lag is Emergen-C®. A combination of vitamins and minerals available in health food, drug, and grocery stores, each packet has 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C. The Joint Health formula includes glucosamine, recommended for dancers because it may protect joint cartilage.

Emergen-C’s carbonated formula fizzes up in water, which gives it a quicker entry into the gut. (That’s why champagne gets you high so much more quickly than wine.) The minerals potassium and magnesium replenish electrolytes, which are essential to recovery after exercise. If you can refrigerate it, try adding it to a homemade carrot juice smoothie. The carrot juice stabilizes blood sugar and the fruit gives a quick jolt of energy.

What about solid food on the go? Again, it breaks down to three categories: home packaging, pre-packaging, and restaurant food. With food, there’s truth to the adage that if you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself.

Strategy pays off when you crave a meal. As I mentioned in the January issue, preparing food—chicken, salmon, or tofu for protein, plus veggies and a dressing—in containers for the upcoming week will ensure lean, healthful meals. Taking a salad with you is easy. Combine the salad and eat it with green tea, which contains antioxidants and is a safe metabolic accelerator (weight-loss agent). It also has caffeine for a boost of energy. If you can’t mix the ingredients on site, fix a single-serving salad in the morning and take it with you. Try cottage cheese, fruit (strawberries, papaya, avocado), walnuts, and low-fat crackers for a quick, easy-to-digest lunch.

Energy bars
What about the darling of pre-packaged food, the energy bar? There are a staggering 900-plus bars on the market, ranging widely in nutrient content, ingredient quality, and calories. Select a bar that has protein, carbohydrate, and fat in a ratio of, respectively, about 40/40/20. It should be high in fiber and low in saturated fat, with no trans-fat. A bar with 200 to 300 calories can substitute for a meal, especially when combined with a glass of dairy or soy milk and a piece of fruit.

But should bars make up most of your meals? Registered dietician Nancy Clark, in private practice at the Boston area’s Healthworks Fitness Center, has plenty to say about energy bars: Look for quality bars made from whole foods such as fruits, nuts, and fiber. Analyze the name—some bars may be dessert substitutes rather than healthful, compact nutrition. Remember, by law the first ingredient listed is the most plentiful.

Choose a bar that is as unprocessed as a processed food can be. My favorite does have a dessert name: “Cherry Pie” from Larabar. However, this brand is all fruit and nuts, with no added sugars, fillers, supplements, or flavorings. They are gluten- and dairy-free and kosher to boot. Even the most discerning vegan (but not those with peanut allergies) can partake of these raw bars. Clif® is another high-quality brand that is organic and trans-fat free, although it’s higher in fat content than others.

Another pre-packaged fast food I cannot live without is oat cakes (often confused with hockey pucks). I carry them on trips for an inexpensive breakfast or quick meal when stranded at airports. Listed as having 2 points in the WeightWatchers® system, they might be sweet for some tastes.

Variety: key to good nutrition
Clark cautions that eating bars on the run is one thing and good, wholesome nutrition is another. She advocates consuming 20 to 30 different foods per week. Variety ensures that we get the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for optimal functioning. And don’t forget those five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables each day.

Eating a variety of foods also ensures that we don’t develop allergies over time to cultural favorites like wheat. Counting on energy bars to regulate your caloric intake will get you into a nutritional rut, and eating them in lieu of desserts or whole foods will take away the skill of portion control when navigating social events and emotional highs and lows.

The restaurant trap
One surefire way to double your weight is to eat every meal in a restaurant; think the freshman 20, or as my relatives in New Orleans say, the Katrina 40. When you’re traveling, or even just busy, it makes sense to eat out—but restaurant fare can pack in all kinds of hidden calories, saturated fats, and other enemies of healthy eaters. Restaurants have improved their listing of heart-healthy meals, but they may add calories, salt, and sugar to enhance flavor. Another difficult ingredient is MSG, which provides flavor but can cause headaches and water retention.

The best strategy when dining out is to not eat all the bread on the table. Instead, order a bowl of soup—the warm liquid feels good in the stomach and the volume helps you feel full. Avoid cream soups unless you’ve really got to have that chowder on a wintry day. For entrees, choose grilled meat or fish and vegetables over combination foods such as lasagna, cream dishes such as fettucine alfredo, or even pizza.

What to eat when
The order in which you eat makes a difference in literally trimming the fat. Eat meat and veggies before baked potatoes, rice, and french fries. The starches are the fillers of nutrition, depending upon your caloric needs. If you are a farmer, or an endurance athlete like Lance Armstrong, you should eat pancakes, bread, eggs, bacon, and grits for breakfast—easily a 1,000-calorie meal.

Yet for most people, filling up on starches prevents you from eating the foods with the most nutritional value, such as fresh vegetables for vitamins and roughage, protein for building muscle and bone, and minerals. Another mind-blowing fact, according to performance researcher Dr. Clyde Wilson, is that the liver can metabolize only small amounts of food at a given time. The rest gets stored away for future use—read: fat.

Vitamin D
Next month’s column will focus on the crucial role of Vitamin D for a strong musculoskeletal system and in helping our bodies cope with cancer risk and autoimmune disorders. So stay tuned for more on Vitamin ‘D’ancing!

I have faith in you.

Quick Tips for Healthy Eating
  • Keep hydrated. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning and again before bed. Aim for eight glasses a day. Make water more enticing by adding sliced lemons or strawberries. Try Emergen-C for an energy and nutrition boost.
  • Use energy bars sparingly, and choose those with a 40/40/20 ratio of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Opt for the least-processed bars on the market, such as Larabar and Clif bars. Oat cakes are another good option.
  • Prepare healthy meals ahead of time to grab and go: Proteins (salmon, chicken, tofu, cottage cheese), nuts, veggies, and fruits make good salads and snacks.
  • In restaurants, choose lean meats, soups, and veggies. Eat the protein and vegetables first to avoid filling up on carbohydrates like bread and potatoes.
  • Take a good-quality multivitamin that includes 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin D.

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