By: Petra Najafee, Registered Psychotherapist

The holidays can be so much fun!(And so stressful!)…We meet up with old friends (and suddenly we’re feeling really old), we go to parties (and sometimes we’re thinking “Why am I here? I don’t even like most of these people. I should be doing x, y, and z”), we give gifts to special people (and then we stress about how much we spent and whether we can really afford all this), we spend time with our families (we love them but let’s face it, sometimes they can drive us bonkers!). On top of that we bake, we wrap, we completely disrupt our routine, we eat foods that are bad for us, we stay up late and for a solid month or so we are go, go, go and we just don’t stop. Well folks, it’s time to stop. Slow down. Take a few moments for yourself to regroup and just be. Come on, you can do it. Take just 10 minutes to remove yourself from the thought stream that creates so much stress. It might be just what you need to be able to go back in and enjoy the time you have with your family and friends.

Here are a couple of simple mindfulness practices you can do to help you take a time out.

The Mindful Shower (You’re going to shower anyway, right?):

When you’re in the shower, try to concentrate on the sensations of showering. Pay attention to the feeling as the drops of water touch your skin. Notice the temperature of the water. Be aware of the sound of the water as it drips down over your hair and ears, as it hits the shower floor. When your mind wanders off to the events of the day and what needs to get done (as it will inevitably do), gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the shower. Focus on the feeling of shampoo as you lather it into your hair. Notice the scent of the soap. And when your mind wanders off again, gently bring it back to the sensations of the shower. At the end of the shower, notice how you feel. What was it like to be out of the thought stream for just a few moments of your day?

Taking out the Garbage Mindfully (this one has the added bonus of looking selfless)

Offer to take out the garbage. Make sure you put on your coat and boots because you’re going to be out there for a few minutes. Once you’ve disposed of the trash, take a few steps away from the bin and take a few moments to notice what’s around you. Notice the temperature of the air as you breathe it in. Feel the breeze as it brushes against your cheeks. When your mind starts to wander off to everything else that’s been going on during the week, gently remind yourself to step out of the thought stream and come back to paying attention to what’s happening in the moment. Notice the sound of the bird in the tree, or the traffic going by, or even the siren in the distance. But try not to judge it, just notice it and let it pass. Focus on the feeling of the soles of your feet planted firmly on the ground. Be aware of the texture and temperature of the snowflake that is gently falling on your nose. Continue this for a few moments. And before you go back in, notice how you feel. What was it like to step out of the thought stream for just a few moments of your day?

If you enjoy those practices, imagine what it would be like to incorporate more mindfulness into your daily life. New Year’s resolution anyone?

Wishing you a very happy holiday and a peaceful new year.

By: Nicole Korodetz, MScA, RD.

Ah, the magical time of the year where coffee shops switch out their boring cups for red ones, create a winter wonderland atmosphere, and convince us to spend $6 on a holiday drink. While a Peppermint Mocha or Eggnog Latte may be exactly what you crave during those cold December days to lift your holiday spirits, they can pack in a ton of extra empty calories, fat and sugar. Since we know it can be a challenge to maintain weight during the holidays (stay tuned for my upcoming blog post), specialty drinks are one area that we can limit and modify to help keep our weight, blood sugar, and overall wellbeing in check.

While I don’t usually encourage fixating on numbers when it comes to food, I don’t think that many people understand what goes into a holiday drink. I looked up the Starbucks Beverage Nutrition Information (found on their website) and posted the nutrition facts of a few classic holiday drinks here:

Caramel Brûlé Latte, Grande, 2% milk, whip: 440 calories, 13g fat, 54g sugar

Gingerbread Latte, Grande, whole milk, whip: 360 kcal, 18g fat, 38g sugar

Eggnog Latte, Grande, soy milk: 460 kcal, 19g fat, 48g sugar

Peppermint Mocha, Tall, 2% milk, whip: 350 kcal, 13g fat, 42g sugar

Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha, Venti, whole milk, whip: 710 kcal, 26g fat, 99g sugar (YIKES!)

Pumpkin Spice Latte, Tall, 2% milk, whip: 300 kcal, 11g fat, 39g sugar

As you can see, these drinks are just as much or even more calories than a whole meal, and account for more added sugar than should be eaten over the whole day! Add in a holiday cookie, and your quick coffee break can wreck serious havoc on your health goals!

I don’t mean to scare you and turn you off of your favourite holiday drinks, but just wanted to outline these facts, as they were even surprising to me! But have no fear; here are some tips for modifying these festive lattes to make them a little bit healthier!

1. Seasonal drinks. Holiday drinks may only be marketed at the start of #pumpkinspice season (early September), but are actually available all year round! A similar latte base is used for most drinks, but the flavour is altered based on the combination of syrups and toppings. If you want a Peppermint Mocha in the middle of July, chances are your barista can make one for you (it may not come in a red cup, but it will taste the same!) Therefore, the excuse "I need to drink a lot of these during the holiday season while they're available" is NOT valid!

2. Skip the whip! I know that the crushed candy cane and gingerbread crumble sit perfectly on that mound of creamy whip, but it adds about an extra 80 calories to the drink! There's no rule that says you have to get whip in order to have the toppings. Alternatively, ask the barista to spray less on top.

3. Type of milk. To cut down on calories and fat, ask for skim or 1% milk rather than whole milk. While soy milk is a great non-dairy alternative, it is not much lower in calories than low fat milk (a common misconception). Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, so should be enjoyed in moderation. Lastly, nut milks are a low calorie and fat alternative, but contain little protein and may not steam or froth as well.

4. Cut down on the syrups. Even a Tall sized drink has 3 pumps of syrup, and that number increases as the cup size does. Because the syrups are such a concentrated source of flavour and sugar, asking for half sweet (aka half the pumps) will likely still be flavourful and sweet enough. You can also ask for sugar-free syrups or add spices at the counter (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc).

5. Cup size. Of course we all have those days where even a Venti coffee doesn’t seem like enough to wake us up. However, as listed above, this size is like eating more than a meal, but with little nutrients and satiating calories. A more appropriate portion size would be a short or tall, and rather add an extra espresso shot for that caffeine boost without the additional calories.

6. Limit a holiday drink to once per week. I get that a daily Starbucks may be part of your morning ritual, which is hard to break. But 1 holiday drink per day, can add up to $30 and 1000 extra calories per week!! Therefore, limiting these special drinks will really save both your financial and caloric budget. Instead, aim for drip coffee, teas, or unsweetened skim milk lattes the rest of the week.

7. Make it yourself! There’s no denying that homemade is always the best option in terms of taste, nutrition, and cost. Here is my recipe for a healthier peppermint mocha:

  • 1 bag chocolate mint tea (President's Choice has a version), steeped
  • ¼ cup skim milk, frothed (using a milk frother or on the stove)
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp crushed candy canes
  • Boil water and steep tea in a mug. While steeping, froth milk. Once frothy, pour on top of tea. Sprinkle cocoa powder and crushed candy canes on top of milk.

Final message: There will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy holiday drinks and festive treats at upcoming parties. Have these treats only during that time, where you can savour the taste and truly enjoy the experience, rather than mindlessly sipping your coffee while working.

Happy Holidays!

By: Nicole Korodetz, RD

I’m just a few days away from running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon with a fellow RD friend! All of our training, including early morning and evening runs, in the sweltering heat or cold rain, will be put to the test as we attempt to run 21km along Toronto’s lakeshore. We successfully completed this same run last year, with the only goal of just finishing the course (and ended up beating our anticipated time by 25 minutes!) This year, with a faster goal time in mind, I know that proper nutrition is key for optimizing my performance during training and on race day.

If you are an endurance runner, this information may come in handy to prevent you from burning out early and finishing your race strong.

There’s nothing worse than feeling overly full and bloated during a run, which can cause acid reflux, cramping, and a slower pace. Choosing the right foods to fuel your workout is key, and should be based on the duration and intensity of your exercise, the climate, your sweat rate, and personal preferences. Some people can eat a large meal right before a run and feel great, while others need a particular combination of foods a few hours before. Regardless, it is important to try out your pre-run eating regimen before race day to ensure that you know how your body will respond.

Important Nutrients:

Carbohydrates: This macronutrient is the main source of fuel for your muscles and brain. Your muscles (and liver) store carbohydrates as glycogen, which is broken down during exercise to supply energy to your working muscles. Without adequate glycogen stores, you may feel tired and fatigued, leading to less than optimal performance.

Carbohydrates are separated into complex and simple carbs. Complex carbs are part of a healthy, balanced diet, including whole grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice, starchy vegetables, and legumes. These should be consumed throughout a training regimen, as they provide long lasting energy and keep blood glucose levels stable. Simple carbs provide a quick energy boost, which can come in handy during long runs (> 1 hour). These include white flour, sugary cereal, juice, dried fruit, sports drinks and gels.

Before exercise: Include a source of complex or simple carbohydrates 1-4 hours before exercise to allow for proper digestion.

During exercise: Aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour if running for longer than an hour. Examples include: 1 bagel, 1 large banana, 5 dates, 2 cups of fruit-flavoured sports drink, 13 saltine crackers, or 1 energy gel. These should be lower in fibre and easy to digest to avoid bloating and cramping.

After exercise: If exercising for more than hour, it is important to consume a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack (with protein) afterwards to replenish glycogen stores. This will ensure that you are energized for your next run. Examples include: chocolate milk, a peanut butter or turkey sandwich, fruit and yogurt smoothie, chicken with sweet potato and vegetables, or egg and vegetable scramble with toast, depending on how long your run was. It is important to eat at least a snack within 30 minutes post-exercise, and a balanced meal within 2 hours.

Protein: This macronutrient is important for repairing, building and maintaining muscle. While the recommended protein needs for an average healthy person are 0.8 grams per kilograms of body weight (g/kg), those who exercise regularly and intensely can require 1.0-2.0 g/kg. So, for a 70kg individual, that would be anywhere from 56 to 140 g/d, depending on their level and type of physical activity.

Before exercise: Protein can help you feel satisfied longer, which is important during a long run. However, since it takes longer to digest, limiting the portion size and consuming it a few hours before can help prevent discomfort. Choose protein sources that in lower in fat, such as skim milk, 0% yogurt, chicken breast, fish, nut butters, tofu, and lentils.

During exercise: Pure protein will not provide you with the quick energy burst the same way that carbohydrates do.

After exercise: To promote muscle repair and growth, adequate protein during recovery is key. It is recommended to have 15-25g of protein within 30 minutes after the run, in combination with carbohydrates, and every few hours afterwards to continue muscle protein synthesis. Examples include: 75g of meat/poultry/fish, 2 eggs, ½ cup cottage cheese, ¾ cup Greek yogurt, ¼ cup hemp seeds, 1 scoop protein powder.

Fluid & Electrolytes: Hydration is absolutely key on any regular day, but especially during intense exercise where fluid and electrolytes are lost through sweat. Daily fluid requirements are 2-3 L for adequate hydration. Dehydration can cause extreme thirst, dizziness, muscle cramps, and overheating. Salt is the main electrolyte lost with sweat, so it is important to replenish this during long exercise as well.

Before exercise: It is recommended to drink 1-2 cups (250-500mL) of fluid 4 hours before, and ½- 1 ½ cups (125-375mL) 2 hours or less before exercise. Although water is the best choice, 100% fruit juice, sports drinks, milk, tea, and coffee also count as fluid, but may cause discomfort. Ensuring plenty of fluid the night before is also important.

During exercise: If exercising for less than an hour in a mild temperature, water should be adequate. For longer duration, intensity, and in hot climates, sports drinks will provide the necessary fluid, carbohydrate, and electrolytes to properly hydrate and energize you.

After exercise: If you notice immediate weight loss after exercise, this is water loss. For every 1 pound of weight lost, consume 2-3 cups of fluid (ideally water and sports drinks). Continue to hydrate throughout the day. In addition, high protein liquids (e.g. protein smoothie, chocolate milk) may be better tolerated immediately after a long run when appetite is suppressed.

My race day plan:

  • Breakfast: a peanut butter & jam sandwich on white bread, ½ cup orange juice, 1 banana, a coffee and water.
  • During the run: 1 gel, 3 carb gummies, water/sports drinks from the stations.
  • Right after the run: chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, sports drink (and whatever other free samples they are handing out).
  • Post-run meal: hamburger, fries, milkshake (I deserve it! Plus, it supplies carbohydrate, protein and fat).

Note: This is what I know works best for my body. Overall, you know your body best and how it responds to various foods and beverages with exercise. AGAIN, do not try anything new on race day! Nutrition plays a huge role in sports performance, so nourish your body with the nutrients that it needs!

To all marathoners running this weekend, and endurance runners training for their next event, good luck!!


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