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How and what to eat when you're stressed

Trinity Sport Fitness Instructor Mark McGauran gives his nutrition tips when you're going through a stressful period in your life

Published: April 16th, 2020, 15:00hrs

The stress response is an amazing consequence of evolution. It was a very useful adaption back at a time when we were being stalked by a wolf or some other apex predator. It kept us sharp and ready to fight or run! That threat to our survival was very real.

The body would prime itself by releasing powerful stress hormones like Cortisol and Adrenaline, which would temporarily make us stronger and faster. Our heart rate would ramp up and blood flow would move to our extremities and close down digestion (no time for a happy meal!). Glycogen (stored sugar) is released from the liver and muscle into the blood to increase energy levels. The clotting factor in our blood would increase in response to a potential loss of blood from an attack

Now, do you suppose this could happen in a modern setting? Well sure, you could be attacked on the street or faced with a bull in a field. What about sitting in heavy traffic day after day? An impending deadline?

You could say that there is a flaw in the survival response. The fight or flight mechanism turns on in response to a real OR perceived threat, if there is a perceived threat to our system then survival kicks in.

Digestion is affected when we are under chronic stress and the body is constantly breaking down energy, so eating large meals isn't a great option. Unless you want to be an energy yo-yo, the best approach to eating for energy when your life is stressful is to eat small, balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day. Each meal and snack should include protein, complex carbohydrates and good quality fats because each of these breaks down into glucose at different rates. This gradual, steady supply of fuel for ATP production will sustain your energy all day. Follow the tips for digesting your food in the previous section to help get the most out of your food nutritionally.

If you are stressed and tired (chronic stress)

· Emphasize good quality protein in your diet (preferably animal – fish, chicken, eggs, meat, dairy, but it can be vegetarian – soy, lentils, other legumes, nuts or seeds).

· In each meal and snack, include protein, complex carbohydrates (whole grains; starchy vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and legumes; fresh fruit), and good quality fats (fresh olive, coconut, sesame, flax or other nut or seed oils, or ghee).

· Eat small meals at regular intervals – breakfast, lunch, dinner with a snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon and in the early evening. Eat breakfast before 10 am and eat again at noon.

· Do not have fruit or fruit juice in the morning and avoid high potassium fruit like bananas and figs.

· Start your day with lightly salted (1/8 tsp. or to taste) water.

· Salt food to taste.

· Avoid caffeinated drinks, sodas and fruit juice.

If you are stressed and wired (acute stress):

· Emphasize fruits and vegetables in your diet.

· In each meal and snack, include protein (more vegetarian than animal – soy, lentils, other legumes, nuts and seeds), complex carbohydrates (whole grains; starchy vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and legumes; fresh fruit), and good quality fats (fresh olive, coconut, sesame, flax or other nut or seed oils).

· Eat small meals at regular intervals – breakfast, lunch, dinner with a snack midmorning and mid-afternoon but none or only fruit in the evening.

· Limit salt intake.

· Try unsweetened green tea