Focus – How To Hone It In Four Easy Steps

We are fast approaching that time of the year where energy supplies might be taking a hit.  Focus and concentration are fairly important at any time of the year but when the finish line of December beckons, sometimes it take a bit more effort to push through right?

This brings me to Craig Lowndes, the Australian V8 Supercar champion.  Prior to his retirement, he spent a vast majority of his time at work skillfully driving powerful cars around a track at warp speed. The specialised skills that Craig developed led to him achieving global excellence and enabled him to become a V8 Supercar champion.

V8 Supercar driving requires 100% focus. Legendary British racing driver Stirling Moss describes competitive high speed driving perfectly, “It is necessary to relax your muscles when you can. Relaxing your brain is fatal.” Losing focus and concentration in whatever we do at work or at home can indeed have major consequences.

 

How can YOU increase your focus?

In our time poor world, it is so easy to get caught up in trying to do twenty things at the same time, aka multi-tasking.  Hordes of us believe that this is a prized skill and do the proverbial octopus dance every day.  Clinical research shows that the reality of multi-tasking is quite different.  We are not wired to juggle several tasks at a time because we just can’t concentrate and focus on any of them, resulting in lacklustre performance and complete lack of effectiveness while at work. Focus on one thing at a time and you will be amazed at how quickly and effectively you can complete a task or job.

 

 1. Be as fresh as a daisy

After breathing, sleep is our most fundamental need.  Its also the first thing we are willing to give up in an effort to get more done. The fact is, that even small amount’s of sleep deprivation makes us vastly less effective.

If you are not currently sleeping at least 7 hours each night, look at what you need to do to make that a reality, and then start pushing your bedtime earlier by 15 minutes until it becomes natural. Make getting 7-8 hours sleep your highest priority and your desire to make the most of each day skyrockets.

 

2. Focus on Taking a Break 

Research has shown that working in 90-minute cycles of intense effort followed by a brief recovery period is crucial to maintaining focus and concentration.  This means focusing intently on one task at a time.   The break doesn’t need to be mammoth and can be as simple as a deep-breathing exercise, getting up from your computer for 5 minutes, having a stretch or taking a fuel stop. The fuel stop will replenish both your brain and your body – setting you up for the next 90-minute bout. We all know how easy it is to work for hours on end without a break, so set a timer if you need to. I am personally truly unreliable in this department, so I do set a timer.

Taking regular breaks is crucial to your energy maintenance and recovery. Some healthy snacks for your break could include:

  • ½ cup of grainy cereal like oats or Weet-bix with milk
  • A handful of nuts (not the whole bag!)
  • 1 piece of fresh fruit or punnet of strawberries or blueberries
  • 1 small tub yoghurt + banana
  • Small tin of baked beans or tuna

 

3. Coffee Culture

Our coffee culture around the world is a thriving phenomenon and many people will swear by their first cup of the day to get them prepared for work.  It’s true that caffeine is a stimulant that speeds up parts of the body and brain and may enhance your performance and focus if used properly.

Most authorities agree that the safe daily upper limit for caffeine is around 300mg – equivalent to 3-4 cups of brewed coffee (cafe latte, cappuccino, flat white etc.) and consuming more than this can lead to issues with sleep, excessive alertness (more than you actually need), nausea and anxiety.

The important thing here is to be aware of the amount of caffeine that is right for you and treading that line between enhanced focus and over stimulation, when its hard to get any work done at all.

4. Drink up

It is so easy to get dehydrated in an air-conditioned work environment, hot or cold. You know that feeling of your brain winding down, down, down? You have just said hello and how are you to dehydration, which can very quickly lead to a headache, nausea and inability to focus clearly or work effectively.

Drinking coffee and tea often becomes the go to choice at work and although these beverages do provide some fluid, alternating with water is a simple way of staying hydrated. 

Our bodies are not great at sending a reliable thirst message as sometimes we mistake it for hunger and other times by the time we get the memo, our bodies and brain are already gasping for a drink. Positioning a bottle or glass on your desk or bench is a constant reminder – just aim to drink around a glass each hour.

The image that you can see above is my daughter who has just retired from from her gymnastics career at the ripe old age of 16 years.  She has been in the sport since she was four years old, so its been a while.

There is nothing quite like being suspended in mid air to truly make you focus on what you are doing. However, no matter what you do everyday, remember to……

“Be like a postage stamp – stick to one thing” – Beverley Sills

Snacks and the environment – what do they have in common?

Long before I met Barb de Corti, she was in my life. She didn’t know it but every time I cleaned my house, this passionate advocate for the environment was right there next to me. Of course, Barb (aka ENJO) was in my home and many others around Australia, in a virtual rather than a physical sense. 

Born in a small Austrian village with a population of just 1000 people and the eldest in a family of eight, Barb moved to Australia with her husband and young son in the mid 80’s without fluent English. A former bleach queen, her liberal use of bleach and other chemically based products were taking their toll on her young son, Mark. He suffered debilitating asthma attacks, the cause of which turned out to be the chemical cleaners. An accountant by trade, though working as a fitness instructor at the time, Barb discovered a unique range of Austrian cleaning products using microfibre technology and just water. Using these mitts and cloths and ditching the chemicals, proved to be a lifesaver for her son as his health improved dramatically. Barb’s belief in this product was such that she decided to take a leap and invest her family’s life savings of $40,000 to import the ENJO products into Australia.

Like many businesses, ENJO has endured some really tough times, which have come close to destroying the company but Barb’s passion for helping people has never wavered. Barb explains that the main purpose of ENJO is to be planet friendly and it is this passion and purpose that has pushed her on through the speed bumps. In perfect alignment with the ENJO purpose, in 2007 Barb was chosen to become part of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s climate project and was trained by Al Gore to deliver cultural change around the area of climate change. If just 10% of Australian households possessed ENJO cleaning products, this equates to around $2.3 million people potentially having a smaller environmental footprint. This goal is quite real and a work in progress.

ENJO is not available in supermarkets but instead based on a party plan structure with a community of consultants known as ENJOpreneurs. Although initially sceptical of this method of selling, Barb knows that the face-to-face nature of their business has been a cornerstone of their success.  ENJO is also available online to enable customers 24/7 access. Over the past few years, several competitors have emerged in the microfibre cleaning arena in retail outlets but Barb believes there are none like ENJO. “Our products are designed to last a long time and they come with exceptional customer service,” she explains. “At the end of their lifespan the products are recycled into felt in carpet underlay used in homes and cars.

Life is not just about running a hugely successful company for Barb. For some years now, she has dedicated much time and effort in raising money for a charity very close to her heart, Youth Focus. She has been totally committed to raising the awareness of depression and youth suicide through taking part in the 5 day Hawaiian Ride for Youth, a 700km bike ride between Albany and Perth. This ride had its beginnings in 2003 when a small group of recreational cyclists in Western Australia decided to combine their resources with the aim of raising money to assist in the prevention of youth suicide. Since then, more than $17, 000,000 have been raised, which is truly remarkable. Barb has completed three Ride for Youth events with Team ENJO with her trademark enthusiasm and today the team continues to be part of the event. Not one to rest on her laurels, she is a very keen endurance runner and has completed the London Marathon. 

Just like her renowned cleaning products, Barb has a unique way of approaching her exercise routine. It is easy to see that this woman is highly motivated in all areas of her life and clearly dedicated to her physical well-being. However, her exercise goals and routines are all driven by something much deeper, the desire to help others.

Barb and I first met when she needed assistance with managing fatigue, which is not surprising when she packs so much action into her life, while immersed in the day to day running of a large company! Like so many others, Barb was continually under time pressures while juggling competing priorities and ensuring a regular food intake often took a back seat. Through trial and error, she has learnt that eating regularly is not just a luxury but also a necessity. This not only enables her to put 100% effort into her physical training but also to be present and engaged whilst running an international company. This way she is a role model for her team and the thousands of people that she speaks to each year.

 

Avoid the energy speed bumps with regular snacks

For some of us, snacking is an essential part of keeping energy levels high, whilst for others, it doesn’t even rate a mention. Snacking can be great for keeping hunger pangs at bay, controlling weight, satisfying small appetites and providing important nutrients. However, in our current climate of upsizing, snacks can contribute significantly more kilojoules (calories) than are required. Larger portions have more kilojoules and more kilojoules can mean weight gain.

Your lifestyle and routine will probably dictate whether you are a three meal per day person or a ‘grazer.’ The term ‘grazing’ is so called because cows like to do the same thing. You may not like to think of yourself out in the field chomping down on grass but ‘grazing’ usually means snacking or having five to six smaller ‘meals’ spread out over the day. It doesn’t matter if you have three large meals or three smaller meals and three snacks each day. Weight maintenance is achieved when your food intake matches your expenditure (exercise), regardless of when you consume them.

Snacking can be a great way of keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable but keep a check on what and how much you are actually eating over the day. It can be easy to exceed your daily energy requirements through regular snacking, so make sure that you don’t fill up on biscuits, cakes, lollies, chocolate and chips or whatever is handy from the vending machine. These types of foods are high in sugar, fat and salt and low in fibre and are certainly not good for your health.

Snacker, snacker, snacker

To be a healthy snacker, organisation is a key ingredient. Shopping regularly and having healthy snacks on hand makes it less likely that you will reach for fatty and sugary foods containing massive amounts of kilojoules. It will also save you money as snacks purchased from vending machines and convenience stores are often priced at a premium. Regardless of whether you are at work, at school or university or at home, planning and packing your food intake the night before is a strategy employed by many to ensure healthy snacks. The routine of packing a lunch bag for school works just as well when heading off to work although your containers and boxes may not be quite as colourful as they used to be!

A problem area for many people is the third quarter of the day, which kicks off just after lunch and finishes around one of the least energetic parts of the day at 3pm. This is often when your body sends you a signal to do something to ward off the desire to lie down on the desk or carpet. Snacks are often required to boost blood sugar levels but they can be a nutrition trap. It is so tempting to grab something quick and easy, none of which will give you the long-lasting energy that you need for the rest of the day.

Watch out for Snacccidents

When choosing snacks, the following guide may be useful when looking at their size and energy value to ensure they don’t totally eclipse your total daily food intake:

For Weight Loss Choose 420kJ/100calories at each snack

For Weight Maintenance Choose 840kJ/200calories at each snack

For Weight Gain Choose 1260kJ/300calories or more at each snack

 

Quick and easy snacks 

  • 1 slice of fruit or raisin toast with thinly spread jam
  • Wholegrain toast or crumpet with a light spread of peanut butter or vegemite
  • Fruit Smoothie
  • Wholegrain crackers with cheese
  • 1 punnet of strawberries
  • Piece of fruit such as an apple, banana or pear
  • Low fat regular sized coffee (latte, cappuccino, flat white)
  • 200g low fat yoghurt
  • 20 almonds, cashews or pistachios
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 100g tin tuna in brine or spring water
  • 1 small pack of tinned fruit in natural juice

What about you – do you try and avoid the energy speed bumps like Barb?

Movies and Popcorn anyone?

It is school holiday time here in Australia and in my house, that can also mean lights, camera, action aka the movies.

I do love the whole process of going to the movies but one thing I just don’t get is the side serve of literally everything from the candy bar. While waiting to pick up my tickets I stand and watch in fascination as queues of people run out of the candy bar and snake through the foyer.

I never got to the movies much as a kid, so the whole eating at the movies thing just didn’t exist for me. Mum and Dad were great fans of the drive-ins and of course with four kids, this was the affordable option, especially if a few of them were hidden in the back seat! Mum would make a picnic and for an extra special treat, we got to walk up to the kiosk between movies to get a drink to share between the four of us.

I sound like a nanna writing this but things have most certainly changed. The food available at the movies now is a mammoth smorgasbord of lollies, chocolate, fizzy drinks, ice-cream and buttered popcorn. The question is, when did the food become the feature rather than the movie?

If you love going to the movies and swinging by the candy bar – it might be time to reassess your choices. Lets start with good old popcorn.  Popcorn usually comes in three sizes at the movies – small, medium and large, although I consider the small version to be huge! If we consider 100g of the movie variety (the small box) alongside air popped and microwave popcorn, the numbers are interesting.

                                     Calories                               Fat                           Sodium

Movie                           464                                       24                            980

Air Popped                343                                       4.5                            8

Microwave                 390                                       12                             699

As you can see, there is a massive difference in salt and fat content between the different varieties. Air popped refers to any plain popcorn that has been cooked without fat, such as in a saucepan, air-popper or microwave.  My childhood memory of popcorn is standing by the stove while mum cooked it in the saucepan.  Instead of cooking in a saucepan, try whipping some up in the microwave in a microwave safe container, its quicker and it doesn’t burn.  Having said that, don’t walk away and leave it either!

Movies aside, the beauty of popcorn is that it is classified as a wholegrain, is high in fibre at 14.5 grams per 100g and it takes a while to eat. The glycemic index (GI) of popcorn will differ depending on the brand but is around 55, making it a moderate GI carbohydrate food and therefore providing you with a longer lasting energy source than many other carbohydrate rich snacks.

And what about popcorn’s friends and their calorie count?

Choc Top – 348

Maltesers (40g) – 201

Twisties (200g) – 448

Peanut M&M’s (200g) – 1024

Coke (600ml) – 258

Snakes Alive (200g) – 680

Ouch!

I promise that I am not the fun police but really? These pack sizes are the common varieties found at most movie candy bars. Do we need to buy a 200g bag of Peanut M&M’s? No, but when those brightly coloured packages are beckoning us, it is inevitable.

My kids get great pleasure out of making up their own goodie bags to take to the movies and if you are a regular at both the movies and the candy bar – it might be worth doing the same. Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the movie!

Orange, Chocolate and Sweat – Three Tops Tips to Fuel your Football Game

Chocolate and Oranges - how they can change your game

I so love the start of the footy season. The anticipation of a new beginning and a clean slate, the sound of the siren cutting through the slight crispness in the air and the whack of a boot connecting with the ball.

This past Easter weekend has marked season kick-off for Australian Rules Football.  One eyed supporters all over the country have breathed a collective sigh of relief that finally, their beloved game is back.

Having worked as the Sports Dietitian for the Fremantle Dockers for six years means that my favourite colours on the paddock are simple and easy to remember. Purple and white.  That is all.

This time of the year gets me thinking about what the players will be doing before, during and after the game because I know they have quite a routine to follow. Fortunately, professional football players are blessed with fantastic support and access to sports nutrition expertise.

But the thing is, this does not apply to the almost half a million junior and senior players who run out onto the field every weekend between March and September. As a result, many of these players and their families have lots of questions about how to fuel themselves or their kids and there are three questions that I often get asked.  The answers to each of them can easily be applied to any sport.

1.  Should I eat a chocolate bar prior to playing a game of football?

A 50g plain chocolate bar has a medium Glycemic Index (GI) of 49 and contains 15 grams of fat. Fat slows down the emptying of the stomach and therefore digestion and these factors combined mean that chocolate is best enjoyed at a time not associated with exercise.

Some of you will remember the television advertisement that was aired in the 1980s for Mars Bars®. The theme song contained lyrics suggesting that Mars Bars® helped you ‘work, rest and play’. There was definitely a sports theme to the advertisement and over time, this has led to the belief that chocolate is a good pre-game snack. Great advertising – but not so great for your body!

Any pre-exercise snack or meal should provide you with sustained energy to perform the activity to the best of your ability, and be easily digested. The food should be mostly carbohydrate with a small amount of protein and minimal fat. Ideally the food should be of low to medium Glycemic Index and consumed 1 ½ to 2 hours prior to the game or event.

Some healthy low-fat pre-game snacks include: cereal and milk, toast with baked beans or spaghetti, bread or toast with low-fat spread, Up and Go® drink or Sustagen Sport®, creamed rice and fruit and low-fat muesli bars.

2.  Does eating an orange assist performance during sport?

In Australian sporting culture the orange (neatly cut into quarters of course) has long been a part of weekend sport and something to look forward to at half-time. Eating an orange will provide you with some fluid, Vitamin C, and a small amount of carbohydrate (an average orange contains approximately 110 mL of water and 10 grams carbohydrate) so go ahead and enjoy one!

3.  Can athletes drink more alcohol than the average person because they will ‘sweat it off’ the next day?

In short – no. On average your body can process one standard drink of alcohol per hour through your liver. This does depend on quite a few factors including age, gender, body mass, drinking experience and food eaten and may be more or less accurate, accordingly. This is true of athletes and non-athletes alike.

It is true that after a heavy drinking session you can often smell alcohol on one’s body, but it is generally bad breath, not alcohol being excreted through sweat. In the mid 1980s, two sports medicine experts made an interesting assessment on the nutritional knowledge of a group of elite athletes in Australia. Twenty-six percent of the athletes believed that alcohol contained no kilojoules, reduced inhibition and actually improved their performance. Wrong! Drinking alcohol before a game or any exercise increases the risk of dehydration and injury, and more than likely very ordinary performance on the day.

It would be interesting to see how much that perception has changed but given that the sports culture in Australia still encourages alcohol consumption in the name of team spirit and friendship, perhaps the change has not been significant.

You can find more practical and expert advice plus free downloadable fact sheets from Sports Dietitian’s Australia.