Muscle Cramps - Part 1

Over the next few weeks we look at the latest evidence on what cramps are, why we get them, how to prevent them and how pickle juice may be able to help.

What are muscle cramps? 

Ah cramps! They make me nervous just thinking about them! Most of us have had one at some point or another but what are they exactly?  

A cramp is defined as a painful spasmodic involuntary contraction of a skeletal muscle which occurs during or after exercise. There are actually two main types of cramps: 

  • Whole body cramping, but thankfully these are not as common;  

  • Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC). This type of cramping involves individual muscles or groups of muscles and is common in the calf, hamstring and quadriceps. Think a calf cramp as you go to push off the wall in the pool. It typically involves the muscle being used.

Cramping prevalence has been reported to be as high as 6-20% during Ironman events, 30-50% in marathon runners, 60% in cyclists and 30-50% in team sports.

Although localised and short in duration, EAMC may lead to musculo-skeletal dysfunction, reduced performance and muscle damage, making prevention key for optimum performance. 

What Causes Muscle Cramps?  

There are many theories on why we cramp...

For many years it's been believed that cramping is caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, in particular, sodium.  This is based on earlier research with underground miners and marathon runners. A heat exhaustion study discovered that miners who cramped were more dehydrated and more sodium depleted than those who didn't cramp. In marathon runners, they found the athletes that cramped were more likely to be saltier sweaters and have lower serum sodium at the end of a race. 

However in contrast to these earlier studies, more recent research has failed to show an association between EAMC, dehydration or abnormal serum electrolyte imbalances.... 

A more recent theory suggests that altered neuromuscular activity in the central and peripheral nervous system is the cause of EAMC. Fatigued muscles disrupt the normal functioning of peripheral muscle receptors, altering the excitability of the central nervous system. This causes an imbalance between increased muscle contraction (afferent activity) and relaxation (inhibitory afferent activity) leading to a decreased ability for the muscle to relax after contraction. This is particularly the case when working in a shortened position such as shortened calves when pointing toes in swimming or quads when pedalling while standing on the bike. This theory also helps explain why stretching out a cramping muscle can be the most effective way to relieve it. 

So which theory is it that causes cramps? The bottom line - we don't know.....cramping is still poorly understood!

Despite exercise-associated muscle cramping being a common complaint among athletes, the exact cause remains uncertain due to a lack of quality scientific evidence to guide management. Perhaps for the heavy and salty sweaters amongst us, doing some sweat testing and developing your own personalised hydration plan will assist in your management of cramping. For others, regular massage, neural stretching, adequate strength and muscle conditioning may assist.

Tune in next time where we discuss prevention and the new kid on the block - pickle juice.

Putting the FUN back into school lunches

by Marzia Bell - Dietitian to be and Mum to 2

Schools are back .... "Phew!" I hear you say... Kids are kept busy for the term and parents can find their sanity again.

With back to school also comes the challenge of school lunches. They can be fun for the first week or two and then boredom sets in for both parents and kids alike. Here are a few tips on packing school lunches to make your life easy and fun.

1. Have your tools ready

Containers of different shapes and sizes make packing lunch easy and allow you to separate foods so juices from one don't run into the other. Have an insulatedbag to put all your containers into to keep lunches fresh in this hot weather.

2. Cold packs:

Food safety is important; especially with the summer heat, cold packs are a must to keep your kids food cold until lunch time.

3. Stick with a basic structure 

(it is much easier to slot things in if you have a basic plan): 

  • Brain snack: small apples, pears, carrot or cucumber sticks, strawberries or snacking tomatoes are perfect for this quick snack. (not all schools do this)    
  • First break: aim for a fruit or veggie serve plus a yoghurt or healthy home baked goodie
  • Second break: a protein and salad sandwich or wrap, leftovers, snacking lunch (e.g. cut up cheese, tinned tuna/salmon, boiled eggs, veggie sticks, almonds)

4. Save time, bake ahead:

make home made quiches, muffins, banana bread, muesli bars etc. ahead of time and freeze them in individual portions. The night before or morning of, take them out of the freezer and they will defrost in time for first break. They can also help keep lunch boxes cold.

5. Yoghurt

is a great mid morning snack. The protein in yoghurt will keep little people full and energised until lunch time. There are great little yoghurt containers with an outer shell that can be frozen, helping to keep it cold all morning. Choose plain Greek yoghurt and add some fresh or frozen fruit for flavour. Don't forget to pack a spoon!

6. Make school nights easy. Prep ahead of time - utilise your weekends. 

Try washing and cutting salad items up into containers in the fridge for lunches, so all you need to do is take your bread or wrap, add protein quickly (ham, cheese, egg, tuna, beans, chicken) and you're set! Try different combinations to keep things interesting e.g. egg & lettuce, ham, spinach & tomato, grated carrot, lettuce and beetroot.

Have your veggie sticks and fresh fruit cut and prepped in a large container of time (perhaps twice a week for optimal freshness). It's then easy to putting individual serves in a container, add a little hummus,salsa, guacamole or tzatziki for dipping. Little salad dressing containers are perfect for this (find in your local supermarket in the containers aisle).

7. Leftovers are the best!

Full of nutrients and ready to use, these can really help save you time. Get yourself a hot food container (Thermos make some fancy ones, but you can also buy cheaper alternatives at Kmart for under $10). In the morning fill it with boiling water, leave it for 5 minutes, meanwhile heat up the leftovers in a container. When the 5 minutes are up just empty the water and put the food in, easy! You can also use it for warm baked beans with a slice of wholemeal bread. Don't forget to pack a fork or spoon!

Make sure the lunch box is full of nutrient rich foods; Kids brains and bodies need them to stay focused all day. Pre-packaged snacks are easy and tempting but are often nutrient poor and will slow them down.

Have fun, experiment and find some new family favourites!

Turmeric – the next big sports nutrition supplement?

As the Turmeric latte surges to the front of the trend list, what is it about this spice that’s causing all the hype? We take a look at what it is, the potential benefits and how to include it in your diet.

Why the hype?

Turmeric is a golden yellow spice that has been used for centuries in Indian cooking. Turmeric contains the bioactive compound Curcumin, which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s claimed to have a positive effect on heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, colorectal cancer and many other conditions. Be mindful though that research for these benefits has been done in vitro (in a petri dish) or in animal models (mostly rats) which is difficult to extrapolate to humans. The research in humans is limited and more trials are needed.

How much Turmeric and Curcumin may benefit?

It’s not as simple as adding a little turmeric to your latte or smoothie. Curcumin makes up <5% of turmeric. In its naturally occurring state, curcumin has very low bioavailability in humans (i.e. it’s poorly absorbed). Partly due to its low intestinal absorption and partly due to its rapid metabolism. Based on research to date, oral supplementation in the range of 80-500mg is likely to be required, however studies have shown doses as high as 8000mg being insufficient to increase levels of curcumin in the blood (1, 2, 3). The jury is still out on exactly how much curcumin and in what form is required to reap the benefits.

Increasing Curcumin bioavailability

Laboratory testing is currently underway to explore better ways to take curcumin so that it’s more bioavailable, absorbed better and delivered directly to the required tissue. Taken orally, it seems to stay in our digestive system and pass through without being absorbed into the blood stream.

It is possible to enhance curcumin absorption by combining it with piperine, a black pepper extract. One study found that 20mg of piperine paired with 2000mg of curcumin increased curcumin bioavailability by 2000% (4).

Curcumin is also fat soluble so it’s possible to increase absorption by consuming with fat soluble components e.g. oils or traditionally gum ghatti. There is also current research occurring to produce water soluble curcumin supplements.

Curcumin – the next big sports nutrition supplement

In the sports nutrition space – it has been suggested that Curcumin supplementation may acutely blunt DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), improve tendon healing and play an anti-inflammatory role in tendinopathy. Preliminary studies however (5, 6, 7) have failed to show a statistically significant difference between curcumin supplementation and placebo groups. There are a number of reasons why (small sample size, curcumin dose and bioavailability, fitness level of participants) and further work is required to develop appropriate protocols for athletes.

Is there any risk associated with supplementing curcumin?

Due to its low bioavailability and low concentration in turmeric, it is unlikely that you can over consume curcumin in its naturally occurring form. However, supplementation has shown side effects when taken in higher doses.

Curcumin has potential interactions with antiplatelet and anticoagulant medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, salicylates, and thrombolytic agents which may cause bleeding. Taken on an empty stomach, especially in high doses, it may cause nausea and diarrhoea. The safety of curcumin supplements during pregnancy and lactation is also not established. As with any supplement, speak to your doctor or sports dietitian to see if it is suitable for you.

Take home message

Watch this space. Curcumin potentially has some benefit but it’s not a miracle spice that will cure the qualms of the world. There’s no harm in using it in a normal dose – but be careful with a high dose supplement until we know more.

Tips to include more turmeric in your diet

  • Sprinkle on your oats: this works well with the flavours of coconut milk in particular
  • Add to a smoothie or juice
  • Stir through scrambled eggs, it takes a mild, interesting flavour and gives it a beautiful colour
  • Add to rice during cooking
  • Add to mince mixes: whether it’s burger patties or cottage pie, a little spice will brighten the flavour
  • Soups, casseroles and stews: a curry is not a curry without turmeric, but you can add a mild Indian flavour to soups, casseroles and stews with a little turmeric
  • Sprinkle on roast vegetables, particularly root vegetables such as potato, parsnip and sweet potato
  • Spice up your salads with a pinch in your salad dressing. This works well with lemon based dressings


Turmeric Scrambled eggs


1. Lao, C.D., Ruffin, M.T., Normolle, D., Heath, D.D., Murray, S.I., Bailey, J.M., Boggs, M.E., Crowell, J., Rock, C.L. and Brenner, D.E. (2006) BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6(1), p. 10. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-6-10.

2. Cheng, A.L., Hsu, C.H., Lin, J.K., Hsu, M.M., Ho, Y.F., Shen, T.S., Ko, J.Y. and Lin, J.T. (2001) ‘Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions’, Anticancer Research, 21(4B), pp. 2895–2900.

3. Dhillon, N., Aggarwal, B.B., Newman, R.A., Wolff, R.A., Kunnumakkara, A.B., Abbruzzese, J.L., Ng, C.S., Badmaev, V. and Kurzrock, R. (2008) ‘Phase II trial of Curcumin in patients with advanced Pancreatic cancer’, Clinical Cancer Research, 14(14), pp. 4491–4499. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.ccr-08-0024.

4. Shoba, G., Joy, D., Joseph, T., Majeed, M., Rajendran, R. and Srinivas, P. (1998) ‘Influence of Piperine on the Pharmacokinetics of Curcumin in animals and human volunteers’, Planta Medica, 64(04), pp. 353–356. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-957450.

5. McFarlin, B.K., Venable, A.S., Henning, A.L., Sampson, J.N.B., Pennel, K., Vingren, J.L. and Hill, D.W. (2016) ‘Reduced inflammatory and muscle damage biomarkers following oral supplementation with bioavailable curcumin’, BBA Clinical, 5, pp. 72–78. doi: 10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.02.003.

6. Tanabe, Y., Maeda, S., Akazawa, N., Zempo-Miyaki, A., Choi, Y., Ra, S.-G., Imaizumi, A., Otsuka, Y. and Nosaka, K. (2015) ‘Attenuation of indirect markers of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage by curcumin’, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(9), pp. 1949–1957. doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3170-4.

7. Drobnic, F., Riera, J., Appendino, G., Togni, S., Franceschi, F., Valle, X., Pons, A. and Tur, J. (2014) ‘Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): A randomised, placebo-controlled trial’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), p. 31. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-31.

Stay on Track in 2017

2017 is here and motivation is at its peak! It can be easy to jump headfirst into New Year's resolutions, only to run out of puff after a few weeks. If you want long term change, set realistic goals using our top tips to help you achieve them…

Top tips to Stay on Track this New Year

1. Forget Detoxes

From colon cleanses to juice fasts (*face palm), detoxes are believed to be the best way to rid your body of toxins, lose weight and kick start a healthier lifestyle. The truth is though, there is no evidence to support such practices. Our body is well equipped with 2 kidneys and a liver to filter our blood and eradicate toxins. By simply eating a healthy, balanced diet and ensuring healthy habits each day, we help our body to maintain a balance in the long-term, without the need to “detox”…..whatever the heck that means. 

2. Choose SMART goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. By making your goals these factors, you'll have greater chance of keeping them throughout the year. Write them down and hold yourself accountable to them! Tell your accountabilabuddy (yes that’s a word) what your goals are so they can help keep you on track too.

3. Slow and steady wins the race 

If weight loss is your goal, the steadier the loss, the more likely it is that the weight will stay off. A healthy weight loss is approximately 0.5kg to 1 kg per week. It may sound small but it can quickly add up to a considerable change. Slow and steady, while not sounding particularly “sexy”, is more achievable and can be maintained long term, increasing your chance of overall success.

The same goes for diving head first into exercise - if you overdo it, the more likely it is you'll never want to do it again. Consistency is key; one huge work out that induces so much pain you cannot walk for a week will not make you stronger or fitter! Regular exercise that builds on the previous session will ensure long term change for the better. Start easy, and build as your fitness increases.

4. Make many small goals instead of one big one

Map out your Ultimate Goal and then break this up into smaller, bite sized goals. It will be easier to achieve your overall goal if you can imagine the outcome occurring in the not so distant future. Smaller chunks will help you keep working steadily and more consistently on your Ultimate Goal. Onwards and upwards!

5. Reward yourself (but not with food!)

When you reach your goal/s, celebrate! Choose an activity that is special for you such as a gold class movie, some time with your favourite people, an indulgent massage or beauty treatment, a new outfit or set of wheels :) I like to treat myself to a swim in the Ocean, it's completely up to you. As long as it’s not food.

6. Get back on the horse

If you had planned to go running every day and today you sat on the couch and ate a block of chocolate instead (we know, sometimes it just… happens), pick yourself up and get back out there tomorrow.  Don’t wait for Monday to roll around. Remind yourself that consistency is the key. You haven't let anyone down and every day is a new day! Which brings me to the next point...

7. Make every day your New Year's resolutions day 

Get away from the "all or none" mentality; incorporate healthy behaviour into your everyday lifestyle! Our Healthy Lifestyle Challenge aims to achieve just that! It's those small, daily habits we consistently repeat over time that become entrenched. Make the choice and stick to it.

8. Practice makes perfect 

Keep practicing those great healthy habits. A study by researchers from the University College London shows that it takes 66 days for a new habit to become the norm. Don’t give in - recognise it takes time to turn new behaviours into habits, so keep going and you’ll soon see they become second nature.

Happy New Year!

Dietitian Approved




Festive Season Survival Guide - Cheers!

The festive season is a time to celebrate. Celebrate the great year that has been, the new adventures ahead, the special people in our lives. We aren't here to be the fun police, but here's some information about the elephant in the room....alcohol.

Enjoyment is the key, we don’t need to drink ourselves silly to enjoy the silly season, honest. Pick your favourite drink and have a couple. Enjoy every sip so you can also enjoy every moment of your holidays, potentially avoiding the dreaded hangover.

Drink plenty of water with your alcohol; this will help you to pace yourself and will ensure you remain hydrated and ready for action the next day. You can spice up your water with some great summer flavours by adding fresh/frozen berries, cucumber & orange slices or fresh lemon and lime. 

Plan to have at least two alcohol free days a week: this will help your body recover, give your liver a break and is good for your health long term.

We're going to leave you with these....


This holiday season, share some treats with your loved ones, find new ways to be active with friends and family, drink in moderation but most of all have a happy holiday season filled with love and laughter.

A very Merry Christmas from all of us at Dietitian Approved. 

Festive Season Survival Guide - Move!


The festive season is a great time to get active. With time off work (hopefully) you'll have so much extra time for activities! 


Aim to do something for at least 30 minutes everyday. Early summer mornings are fantastic for getting outside and enjoying a walk, run, swim or ride before it gets too hot. They are also great opportunities to catch up with friends and family. Why not plan an activity together and post-session coffee catchup - the perfect start to a day! Get it done early and it leaves the rest of the day free. It also increases your chance of getting your daily 30minutes in before life gets busy.

Family bush walks are also a fantastic way to spend time together. They can be all inclusive activities enjoyed by all ages and fitness levels. A light picnic at the end might make for a great day out. A game of cricket or soccer on the grass makes for fun family time.


If the heat is getting to you, find a pool for a refreshing swim or head to the gym for an air-conditioned work out.

It does not matter what activity you chose, the important thing is to remain active. Use the holidays as a chance to try something new or stick with an old favourite and move your body!


Festive Season Survival Guide - The Entertainers Guide

Entertaining is a great way to spend time with your loved ones during the holiday season.  Depending on your stress levels, you may decide to cater for the whole event yourself, ask people to bring a plate to share or utilise some of your local catering companies. Whichever way, here are some ideas from us to help make entertaining easy(er).


Catering yourself (full credit to you!)


Finger food is a great way to start a meal....
Chose vegetable based options such as veggie sticks and dip. Lay foods such as carrot sticks, cucumber, capsicum. cherry tomatoes, purple cabbage and mushrooms out in a rainbow so they're visually appealing. Dips like hummus, guacamole and tzatziki are easy to make and taste great. Or try Chobani's new Meze range of dips - they're made on their high protein yoghurt and are absolutely delicious. (In case you're wondering, we didn't get paid to say that. Nor did we get free stuff)  
Add home-made pita bread chip to your platter for a healthy carbohydrate source. Simply split the pita in half, lightly spray with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle a little paprika, salt, pepper or whatever herb or flavouring you prefer. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 5-10 minutes until crispy. That's almost as easy as buying a packet of high fat crackers. 


Choose plenty of salad and vegetable based dishes. Keep an eye out for our SUMMER SALADS eBook available soon! Salads are perfect in summer, so why not try something new? 

Choose salads with fresh ingredients and healthful dressings. Look for dressings based on olive oil, vinegar, fresh citrus juice or natural yoghurt. Avoid really creamy dressings such as caesar or dark leafy greens, fruits, seeds or nuts dressed with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar or lemon or a natural yoghurt based dressing, avoid creamy dressings. Quinoa, cous cous or brown rice are also great additions to salads.

The Aussie summer classic of prawns is a great way to include some protein rich foods in your meal. If meat is a favourite, go for a lean protein source such as turkey, chicken, steak rather than fatty processed meats like sausages, wings or salami.


 To finish your meal with a sweet bite, cut your favourite dessert into mini bites, a fantastic way to enjoy a treat in moderation.

Or what about a fresh fruit platter? Get creative and turn your fruit into a decorative Christmas Tree like this one. It's almost too good to eat!

Christmas Fruit Tree


Everyone bring a plate

Our favourite method of entertaining as it's always fun to taste other people's cooking. Why not pick a theme? It could be a dish from your guests home town/country or their family’s favourite Christmas recipe.

It is often easiest to prepare the protein rich foods yourself as they are often harder to transport safely.  A turkey, ham, chicken, whole fish or veggie patties are easy to prepare, will look and taste great and feed all your guests.  

Be specific with your guests, asking them to bring a salad, or dessert or nibbles. Let them know what protein source you're preparing so they can match tastes and flavours with what's on offer. If two people are bringing a salad, maybe suggest one brings a leafy salad while the other a coleslaw style or a quinoa/cous cous/rice based salad. This will avoid double ups as well as help your guests have a balanced meal on offer. 

When asking your guests to bring dessert, you can suggest a healthy option like fruit salad or fruit based dessert to finish the meal with a light and refreshing choice. Warning: You may not be so popular though :) Try these cute little strawberry santa's as a healthier alternative (recipe on our instagram)

Strawberry Santas

The catering option 

If you would like some help with the catering, there are loads of companies that make delicious healthy meal options such as salads, sushi platters and desserts.

If you live in Brisbane, Australia, there is a great company called Botanica that make scrumptious salads. (We also didn't get paid to say that). If you're not a local, do some research as I'm sure there are some delicious and healthy catering options near you. 

Try your local sushi shop for a tasty platter or one of the many bakeries for a ready-made dessert. Just make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment.

Supermarkets also offer pre-made salads such as coleslaws or kaleslaws, combine those with a yoghurt based dressing for a quick and delicious side dish. Some supermarkets and fruit shops may also offer pre-cut fruit platters.

Whichever option or combination you choose - we hope you have a delicious Christmas day full of tasty, healthy food.

Sports Supplements

Words by Accredited Sports Dietitian, Taryn Richardson, Dietitian Approved

Sports Supplements are everywhere!  I struggle to keep up with the latest products on the market with new brands popping up every week. As many athletes search for that ‘magic bullet’, sports supplements have become a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, a recent study found that 40-70% of athletes take supplements.

A nutrition supplement, as the name suggests, is designed to supplement the diet and should never replace it. My approach as a dietitian is always “food-first” as your day-to-day nutrition is where you will see the greatest health and performance benefits long term. Supplements are considered the sprinkles, on the icing on the cake. It’s important to get the foundations of a balanced, healthy diet in training right first (the sponge), before adding the icing and even considering the sprinkles.

Supplements typically fall into three main categories: Sports foods and fluids, Medical supplements and Performance supplements.

Sports foods and fluids

These include an extensive list of sports drinks, gels, chomps, bloks, bars, protein powders and recovery drinks. They are easily accessible, portable, convenient and provide concentrated nutrients when real food may not be practical.  In most situations though, real foods can take the place of sports foods if you’re organised. Sports foods and fluids can be expensive, may be completely unnecessary, are energy dense and can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people.

Medical supplements

Are used to treat a known deficiency such as Iron or Vitamin D for a short period of time. They can be pills, potions or powders and should only be taken when recommended by a doctor, accredited sports dietitian or other health professional after a blood test and/or diet review. Taking un-prescribed medical supplements can be dangerous and have harmful long-term effects. 

Performance supplements

Approved ergogenic aids or performance-enhancing supplements have been proven in scientific trials to provide a performance benefit, when used according to a specific protocol in a specific situation in sport. Things like caffeine, creatine and bicarb form part of this list. However there are many other popular supplements on the market promising remarkable super-human powers that don’t deliver. In some cases, these supplements may actually impair health or performance.

Stay safe

A recent study found that 80% of certain supplements didn’t contain what the label said (scary). The risk of contamination with banned substances is real and should be at the forefront of every athletes mind. Especially now that age group drug testing is a common occurrence. The supplement industry is largely unregulated, and traces of banned substances can find themselves in products by accident. You can take responsibility by checking your product on the ASADA website. You can also look for products that have been through a contamination screening process such as Informed Sport or Hasta in Australia. 

Be smart

Be an informed supplement user. Before purchasing anything, do you research and talk to a professional. Ask yourself three questions – Is it safe? Is it legal? Does it really work? If it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it probably is. Everyone has an opinion but be mindful that what works for one, may not work for another. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you work out what supplements are best for you and your sport.


Happy Training


Dietitian Approved

Why you shouldn’t go past the humble potato

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line, potato has become a forbidden food, while sweet potato joins the “superfood” ranks. The poor potato has been given the flick in preference for the miracle starchy vegetable, but how does the humble potato stack up nutritionally? 

Potato vs. Sweet Potato

Energy (kJ/kcal)

Media claims tout sweet potato as the secret switch for weight loss, yet when you compare energy contents, a serve of sweet potato provides 36% more kilojoules than potato. Sweet potato is more energy dense at the same quantity so keep this in mind if you’re trying to manage your energy intake.  


Both potato and sweet potato are starchy veggies, providing carbohydrate in our diet. Sweet potato is slightly more carbohydrate dense compared to potato. Per 100g, sweet potato contains 15g of carbohydrate, compared to 12g of carbohydrate in potatoes. Compare that to the same portion of white rice though, you’re looking at 36g of carbohydrate. Take your pick depending on what your goals and fuel needs are.


Sweet potato has the upper hand in the protein department. It contains twice the amount of protein per serve compared to potato (2g vs. 1g). Keep in mind though, we’re not talking a significant amount of protein here. For sweet potato to provide a good hit of protein, you’d have to eat 1kg!


Potato contains only two thirds the amount fibre found in sweet potato, although not incredibly high at just over 3g per 100g serve. Fibre helps to make you feel fuller for longer with recommended daily intake guidelines of 30g/day. These are relatively small values to begin with so no points can be given to either team this round.

Glycaemic Index

The Glycaemic Index (GI) of sweet potato can be consider a winner over potato, at 40 and 60 respectively. The lower GI, the slower, more sustained release of glucose into the blood stream. While sweet potato has a lower GI than potato, 60 is not much higher than the low-GI rank of 55 or less. If you’re looking for a low GI potato, try the Carisma variety from Coles which naturally has a low GI.


Both potatoes and sweet potatoes provide a range of nutrients. Potato contains higher amounts of folate, potassium and phosphate compared to sweet potatoes. While the sweet potato provides higher amounts of calcium, vitamin C, Beta-Carotene and Niacin.

So what’s the verdict? 

When looking at the sweet potato versus potato, there’s no real clear winner, much to the disappointment of the media hype. However, when comparing potato to white rice, Mr. Potato Head comes out on top as the more nutrient dense option, while providing far less kilojoules and carbohydrates.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes and rice, they’re all good and should be included in a balanced diet. More often than not, the way they’re prepared and eaten makes all the difference. Avoid boiling your veggies because this breaks down the cell walls, leaching their quality nutrients into the boiling water which you then throw out! Both sweet potato and potato are great steamed (with minimal water), mashed, roasted and grilled.  If roasting in the oven, season generously with herbs and spices, using a good quality oil such as extra virgin olive oil to bump up the nutrients even further.

Bottom line: Don’t get caught up by the media whirlwind. There’s no need to be afraid of the humble potato

Dietitian Approved

Chocolate & Sports Performance – the next big thing?

There’s been lots of talk in the media about chocolate being good for you. From lowering blood pressure to increasing HDL cholesterol, it’s the new wonder drug (apparently). Dark chocolate in particular is rich in cocoa, which is the seed part of the cocoa tree. Cocoa is rich in a compound called flavanols, a potent antioxidant also found in fruits, vegetables, tea and red wine.

Image Source:

Image Source:

Research is emerging in the general population of a positive effect of flavanols on cognitive, visual and brain function. It has also been suggested that flavonoid and polyphenol compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, improve blood flow and insulin sensitivity. There is however limited research of a performance benefit in the healthy, athletic population.

Chocolate lovers may take solace in a new study out of the UK, the first of its kind in fact.
Researchers found that dark chocolate enhanced performance in a small group of cyclists when compared to white chocolate.

Let’s take a closer look…..

A group of 9, “moderately trained” cyclists were put through their paces in the lab. Their baseline VO2max was measured before completing a 20min ride at 80% of their gas exchange threshold, followed by a 2 minute all-out time trial. In a crossover design, they then consumed 40g of either flavanol rich dark chocolate or flavanol deficient white chocolate for 2 weeks before repeating the exercise testing again. After a 7 day washout period, cyclists crossed over and repeated 14 days of the chocolate supplementation (white or dark) and repeated the testing again. 

What did they find?

Dark chocolate consumption resulted in a 17% increase in distance covered in the 2 minute TT compared to baseline (~300m) and a 13% increase compared to white chocolate (~200m). Dark chocolate supplementation also increased gas exchange threshold by 21% from baseline and was 11% higher compared to white chocolate. There was no difference between groups in the 20min moderate intensity cycle, heart rate, blood pressure or blood lactate. 

Dark chocolate/Flavanols seem to act in a similar way to beetroot juice, but through different mechanisms. Beetroot juice is high in nitrates which convert to nitric oxide in the body, assisting to reduce the oxygen cost during sub-maximal exercise. The flavanols found in dark chocolate appear to increase nitric oxide bioavailability. Are you still with me?

Critically thinking - A few things to note:

  • You can’t effectively blind participants to the trial as it would be obvious whether you were consuming dark or white chocolate due to its distinct taste – this may have caused a placebo effect if participants believed dark chocolate would be of benefit.
  • The cyclists were regular punters, within a healthy weight range (just) BMI 23.75-24.55kg/m2, but were far from elite athletes with VO2 max values only 41.90 +/- 5.4ml/kg/min. (A typical cyclists VO2 max would roughly sit around 80-90ml/kg/min; so double this). 
  • Diet was essentially only controlled in the 24hrs preceding exercise testing. There are many confounding food choices that could have affected the results such as nitrate concentration or carbohydrate quality of the diet.
  • Dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine – caffeine is well established as a performance enhancing supplement and may in part be responsible for the observed performances.
  • The flavanol concentration of the chocolates were never specifically tested so conclusions can not be based on the flavanol explicitly. 

So where to from here?

The study, while only small, certainly shows some merit and warrants further research in the area. At the end of the day, what harm can come from consuming 40g of dark chocolate each day?

To prevent unwanted weight gain, stick to no more than 40g/day (2-3 squares) and choose chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids to ensure you’re getting the highest concentration of flavanols.

Move over coconut oil, beetroot dark chocolate will be the next big thing– you heard it here first :)


  1. Baker, L.B., Nuccio, R.P. and Jeukendrup, A.E., 2014. Acute effects of dietary constituents on motor skill and cognitive performance in athletes.Nutrition reviews, 72(12), 790-802.
  2. Nehlig, A. 2013. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75, 716-727.
  3. Malaguti, M., Angeloni, C. and Hrelia, S., 2013. Polyphenols in exercise performance and prevention of exercise-induced muscle damage. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity.
  4. Patel, R. K., Brouner, J. & Spendiff, O. 2015. Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 1-8.


5 Tips for Fueling on the Bike

Words by pro cyclist Nicole Moerig

I was out riding with a old school friend the other day and we got chatting about nutrition. She has been cycling going on 1 year now and came from a running background, similar to me. Any runner would know how hard to it is to fuel your body before and during training. 'Runners Belly' is not what I would call the most pleasant experience. For this reason, runners tend to avoid eating around training. However, this is a very different story when out on the bike as you are cycling for significantly longer periods of time. 

Half way through our ride my friend went from tapping up the hills to falling out the ass of them (excuse the French). At the end of the ride we got chatting and she commented on how much food I had consumed. It went a little something like this...

Friend - 'You eat a lot!'

Me - 'ha, what have you eaten during the ride today?'

Friend - 'nothing' 

Mind you we had just banked 80km and it's 11.30am. Convo continues:

Me - 'Ok, what did you have for breakfast' 

Friend- 'Oh nothing, I can't eat before I ride' 

Me -  *face palm

When I reflected on this conversation I realised, I too was once just like this. At times I still get caught out and don't realise just how much food is needed to perform optimally. You think you're just 'struggling' today or your legs are sore from yesterday when really your body is just screaming for food! A few days after this I had an appointment with Taryn at Dietitian Approved and we set some guidelines for training to ensure I'm fuelling adequately on the bike.

Here are my top 5 tips for fuelling on the bike: 

1. Plan

The longer and harder the ride, the more carbohydrates you need to consume from the first hour on. Taryn gave me a table that I regularly refer to that breaks down the carbohydrate required based off time and intensity. I generally spend 10 minutes the day before putting my food together for the following day. That way I'm not grabbing at random food as I'm rushing out the door the next morning.

2. Eat regularly and before you feel hungry 

I know this is an obvious one but it's very easy to get rapped up in your ride and before you know it 2 hours has flown by and you haven't eaten a thing. I often get caught out because I don't feel hungry until my glycogen supplies are well depleted. By this stage I'm trying to play catchup and I generally pay for it towards the end of the ride and often well into the next days session. To combat this I tend to set an alarm on my Garmin every 30 minutes as a little reminder to eat. 

3. The Pre-ride meal is key

My pre-ride meal makes a big difference in how quickly I have to eat once out on the bike. I generally try to take in enough carbohydrates for the first hour of my ride. Being a female athlete in a non-impact sport it's also imports to consume a small amount of calcium before a ride. 

The only time I don't eat before training is on recovery days where I'm out for no longer than 1.5hrs and my focus is on socialising and coffee after training. 

4. Fluids are an easy way to get fuel in

Once you find the right sports drink for you, it can be a lifesaver! My preference is Secret Training, mango and passionfruit flavour. They are an easy way of getting nutrition on board especially during racing or more intense sessions. 

5. Change it up 

I like to enjoy what I'm eating when out on the bike as it can break up a long 5hr ride. Plus, Taryn likes to point out that if I'm going to eat some "naughty" food, why not do it during or just post-training. This is when my metabolism is running at full tilt and I'm burning off anything that's going into my mouth. NOTE: This does not mean I polish off a mud cake post-ride at the coffee shop, as much as I wish it did. More like some sweet Banana Bread with Nutella on top which is contributing to my fuel needs as well and providing nutrients to help reach my daily requirement.

A well deserved cappuccino post-ride

A well deserved cappuccino post-ride