Performance consultant offers tips for a healthy and nutritious holiday

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
holiday meals, vegan, nutrition, Thrive book series, nutrition
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Tis the season to gather with family and friends and enjoy tasty—but not necessarily healthy—meals. Brendan Brazier, vegan, professional Ironman tri-athlete champion, and performance nutrition consultant has a few tried and true methods to thriving during the holidays. He is also the best-selling Thrive book series, which focus on healthy eating. He is hosting a free Webinar on 6 p.m. PT on December 3, 2012. The Webinar will present simple ways to reduce stress and strengthen immunity this season, through plant-based performance nutrition. Brendan Brazier will share tips from his new personalized e-learning program, Thrive Forward, launching in January of 2013.

His strategy for surviving during the holidays is presented below:

Managing nutritional stress
Food is not necessarily synonymous with nutrition, especially not during the holidays. Being fed is not the same as being nourished. When the body doesn’t get the “biological building blocks”— the nutrients—it needs to keep pace with cellular regeneration, it experiences nutritional stress. And the body reacts to nutritional stress just as it does to mental or physical stress.

The holidays are not completely within our control. Fortunately, what we choose to eat is. Therefore, we can have a commanding influence on our overall stress levels. Once we have lowered our overall stress by eating well, we can more easily address some of the other daunting issues causing us traditional stress. But nutrition is a good place to start. Make sure you are getting plenty of nutrient-dense plant-based nutrient-dense whole foods, every day. A salad day is a great place to start.

Enhancing sleep quality
Sleeping during the holidays with a running “to do” list in your head can be difficult, but nutrition can help. Balanced nutrition provides building material to replace aging cells with new, vibrant ones. Since nutrient-dense food reduces stress, a healthy diet improves cortisol levels and thus the quality of sleep. Better rested people do not crave sugary and starchy foods, since they simply do not require their stimulating energy. And in turn, high-quality sleep makes it easier to maintain a healthy diet. A person needs to have his or her nutrition needs met through quality food, or quality sleep can’t be had at all.

Getting high net-gain nutrition
So many processed foods and snacks during the holiday season are really just empty foods. With little if any nutritional value, such foods still have plenty of “empty” calories, and usually starch and sugar, all of which can lead to quick weight gain and a feeling that hunger is never being satisfied. Instead, opt for foods with high “net gain.” Net gain is the term I use to refer to the usable nutrition the body is left with once food is digested and assimilated. Food that is nutrient dense and requires little energy to digest and assimilate can be referred to as high net-gain food. The higher the net gain of food, the more energy that can be garnered from it.

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Immune function
The holidays are of course smack in the middle of the flu and cold season, so building your immunity is very important. A great way to give yourself a boost is to aim for a high percentage of raw and low-temperature cooked foods, or foods that have not been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are several advantages to eating a large quantity of raw food in place of its cooked counterpart. Ease of digestion and assimilation, which directly translates into additional energy by means of an increase in net gain, is the most significant. Enzymes that contribute to overall health and aid digestion are not present in cooked food; heating above 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroys them. Before the body can turn cooked food into usable fuel, it must produce enzymes to aid in the digestion process. A healthy person can create these enzymes, but it costs energy, which creates a nominal amount of stress. As well, as we get older, our enzyme production naturally slows down; if we are not getting enough enzyme-rich foods in our regular diet, our enzyme-production system will have to work even harder.

Overtaxing the system can weaken it further and lead to major digestive problems. Including enzyme-rich foods in our diet on a regular basis will help safeguard our bodies’ ability to manufacture enzymes.

Enhance your efficiency and conserve energy
It’s no coincidence that the cultures that have their largest, heaviest meals for lunch are the same ones who have afternoon siestas. Digestion is tiring.

When the body doesn't have to expend a lot of energy digesting, it can conserve energy for other functions. High-net-gain foods deliver us energy by way of conservation as opposed to consumption. At the onset of eating, we begin spending digestive resources in an effort to convert energy stored within food—also known as calories—into usable sustenance to fulfill our biological requirements. And, as we know, whenever energy is transferred from one form to another, there’s an inherent loss. However, the amount of energy lost in this process varies greatly and depends on the
foods eaten.

Highly processed, refined, denatured “food” requires that significantly more digestive energy be spent to break it down in the process of transferring its caloric energy to us. While it’s true that a calorie is a measure of food energy, simply eating more calories will not necessarily ensure more energy for the consumer. If there were such a calorie guarantee, people who subsisted on fast food and other such calorie-laden fare would have abundant energy. And of course they don’t. This is a testament to the inordinate amount of digestive energy required to convert such “food” into usable fuel.

To sign up for the free Webinar, click on this link.

See also: Performance nutrition consultant offers healthy winter recipes

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