The world has been turned upside down and our routines and schedules have changed drastically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of us, it was a no-brainer to prep meals for a busy week ahead or to head to the shops to get some ingredients for a healthy dinner. But with lockdown affecting our food shops, daily meals and let’s face it, the fridge being in arms reach, staying healthy and keeping your nutrition in check can be a challenge.
To help keep you on track during the lockdown, we spoke with Emma Crick, nutritionist and Head Coach from UN1T Qatar, for her tips on staying healthy during COVID-19.
UN1T: Thanks for joining us, Emma! Can you share a bit more about your background?
Emma: I studied at Loughborough University, and have a 1st Class Hons in Sport & Exercise Science, and an MSc in Sport & Exercise Nutrition. I’m currently a Head Coach at UN1T QATAR, and before that, I represented Scotland in Track & Field Athletics and have now switched to martial arts, recently obtaining a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
UN1T: Being in lockdown means that a lot of our daily activity levels and overall NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis, like walking, climbing stairs, cleaning etc) has fallen drastically. If we’re expending less energy, should we be changing how much we’re eating?
Emma: I think it’s a case of awareness more than anything. Portion control is really important when you’re less active than normal. Using a smaller plate can help, as it still looks like you’re eating a full meal even though you’re eating less. I also recommend plating up the salad/veggies first and filling half the plate, then adding a protein source and finishing up with any starchy carbs; this helps to reduce the temptation to pile on a load of pasta/rice/bread that doesn’t contain the same nutrient content as the rest of the meal. It’s also really important to stay hydrated; even if you’re not as active, drinking plenty of water will help the body to function efficiently and reduce the chance of mistaking thirst/dehydration for hunger.
UN1T: Are there any types of food or nutrients we should be trying to have more of during the lockdown?
Emma: I’d suggest getting in as many colours as possible (I’m talking fruit and veg, not M&Ms…). Each colour represents different types of vitamins and minerals, so aiming to eat a rainbow will help your body get all the nutrients it needs. Going for options that potentially help the body to cope with stress and support the immune system are also particularly key at the moment. Healthy fats are vital for both, so I would snack on nuts like almonds or walnuts, or add them to your morning porridge.
I’d also recommend choosing oily fish, such as salmon, as your protein source to help keep the inflammatory effects of stress/anxiety under control. Regarding specific nutrients, I would put Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc at the top of the list; these all support immune health and are easily topped up by eating a well-balanced diet and, and the case of Vitamin D, getting some sunshine.
UN1T: We’re all out of our typical routine and it can be a challenge to stay on track and eat healthy, balanced meals. Any tips?
Emma: Firstly, plan ahead. Decide what you want to cook/eat and create a list before you shop. This will help to reduce impulse buying and means you spend less time in the supermarket. If you know that you’re lazy/hate cooking, keep the meals simple and cook things in bulk and freeze, like Bolognese, chilli or stir fries.
Secondly, create a routine wherever possible. Knowing when you’re going to shop/cook/eat means you’re more likely to stick to your healthy choices and not get distracted.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up about choices that you see as “unhealthy”. If there’s a day when you have zero motivation and want to eat biscuits for breakfast, skip lunch and then order pizza for dinner, that’s ok! Eat it, enjoy it, and return to your routine the next day. Nobody is 100% on it 100% of the time, so don’t worry! Stressing about “bad” choices will actually create a hormonal response that makes you more likely to overeat and gain weight, so just relax and move on.
UN1T: And for when the cravings do it, what are your top meal or snack ideas?
Emma: There are so many different options here, and it partly depends on whether you’re someone who loves cooking and is spending all the lockdown hours in the kitchen, or if you’re someone that is being forced to cook more because you’re stuck at home. Whacking together big, healthy meals like a stir fry is usually my go-to, but I’d also suggest roasting or barbecuing meats or marinating tofu for a good dose of protein. Snack-wise, there are loads of great recipes available for chia pudding, overnight oats, and protein balls, if you’re that way inclined. Otherwise, having dark chocolate on hand for a quick sugar fix could help stop you going for more sugary, fatty, processed options. If you like nuts and seeds then these are also a good choice, but make sure you portion them up as they’re super easy to overeat! Having plenty of fruit to hand is always a good idea, especially berries as you can eat loads for hardly any calories; chuck them in a bowl with some Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey if you fancy something a little more substantial.
UN1T: Besides keeping ourselves in check nutritionally, is there anything else we can do to keep healthy during the lockdown?
Emma: Routine is key. Having a structure in place where you wake/sleep/cook/eat at the same sort of time will make it far easier to stick to healthy choices and not make as many unhealthy decisions. Sleep is key, as not getting enough sleep has implications for suppressed immunity, as well as making you more prone to making poor food choices. Making time for relaxation is important, whether it’s a hot bath, yoga, mindfulness, or working on a jigsaw puzzle. Not every minute of lockdown has to be super productive; take some time out just to breathe and focus on you. Go for a walk, jump on a Zoom call, or join a UN1T TV class! Mental stimulation is as important as physical, so keeping in contact, especially on the difficult days, is absolutely key for staying healthy in these testing times.
UN1T: And before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to add?
Emma: I just want to remind everyone that this is a temporary state of flux and we’re all in it together. Nobody is perfect and smashing through lockdown life without a care in the world, no matter what social media might have you think. Focus on what works for you, and the little things that you can control; the rest will come back around eventually.
Emma’s fast five tips:
1. Eat healthy fats like walnuts, almonds and salmon and eat the rainbow.
2. Cook nutrient dense meals like chilli or stir fries in bulk and store in the freezer.
3. Snack on chia pudding, energy balls, overnight oats and fruit.
4. Put a schedule in place for when you wake up, eat, train and sleep, and try your best to stick to it – routine is key!
5. Remember to take time for yourself, both mentally and physically, and remember that we’re all in this together.
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