Steph Lowe: The Natural Nutritionist

Steph Lowe is a Nutritionist, a tri-athlete training for the Hawaiian Half Ironman, she is about to complete her master’s degree in nutrition and she specialises in sports nutrition using natural food and ingredients. In this episode of The Effortless Swimming podcast, Steph will talk about high performance nutrition for swimmers.

Brenton Ford:    Welcome to the Effortless Swimming podcast. This episode I have Steph Lowe on the phone with me and it is the episode about high performance food. Steph is a Nutritionist, a tri-athlete training for the Hawaiian Half Ironman, she is about to complete her master’s degree in nutrition and she specialises in sports nutrition using natural food and ingredients.

I will get into how this interview came about very shortly but first of all, welcome to the call Steph.

Steph Lowe:    Thanks for having me.

Brenton Ford:    My pleasure. The way that we met was that you sent an email to me a couple of weeks ago just enquiring about some stroke correction and some video analysis. At the bottom of your email was a link to your website which is TheNaturalNutritionist.com.au?

Steph Lowe:    That’s correct.

Brenton Ford:    So I clicked on the link and jumped on there and you had a couple of recipes that looked pretty easy to do. That night I actually made one of them which I think was a quinoa salad and it was easy to do, really tasty and then I went on to make a couple of the other recipes. I really enjoyed them, really healthy, very tasty and easy to do. In the one or two weeks that I started following the recipes I actually lost a kilo or two which I had actually been struggling to get rid off in the lead up to some events. That was the reason I wanted to get you on the call was because I like your approach to nutrition especially for sports people and athletes.

So tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a Nutritionist?

Steph Lowe:     No worries. I started in the industry with a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science that was my undergrad and so I started working in this field more of the training and a bit of Pilates with rehabilitation and I really noticed a lack of education and understanding with regard to nutrition. That made me go on to specialise so I got my post graduate degree in nutrition and I have been working in the field, specifically nutrition for a couple of years now. Like you said I am about to finish my masters so one subject to go.

Brenton Ford:  How would you say your approach is a bit different to your typical Nutritionist? I have had a lot of talks with Nutritionists being in swimming, growing up as a kid a lot of talk were organised by Nutritionists but a lot of it just seemed to be regurgitated coming from the same… It was pretty much the same presentation for the last ten years that I got, which makes people switch off when they hear the work nutrition. I found your approach a lot better, a lot different.

How would you say it is different to most Nutritionists?

Steph Lowe:    I think it is mainly different because I don’t focus on numbers. Nutrition is a science and I guess how it started was that numbers are around calories or energy requirements and that kind of spills out into the prescription. Whether it is via a plan for weight loss or sports performance; don’t get me wrong numbers certainly have their place to some degree but I like to think that my approach is more intuitive. Our bodies know much more than what the internet can tell us for calories or kilojoules and I guess my role is to teach people about it as well.

Brenton Ford:    There are two things that I guess are distinct in your recipes which you mentioned when we were chatting before the call, can you talk a little bit about those two things?

Stepha Lowe:    All of my recipes are firstly gluten free; I myself have been gluten free for seven years now. A lot of the research that we now know about gluten links it to auto immune disease but also fatigue and poor exercise recovery and digestive issues; the list goes on. My point of view I like to teach others that gluten free eating is easy and hopefully like I have they start to get the benefits in terms of their health and sports performance for the athletes that I deal with. The second element is it is all refined sugar free; so obviously being the natural Nutritionist I use natural sugar free substitutions which means that we can still enjoy a sweet treat but there is no white sugar which we know is the leading cause of obesity and is highly inflammatory. From an exercise point of view it is the worst for our recovery so I use sugar free alternatives and all my recipes are gluten free and refined sugar free.

Brenton Ford:    What made you chose that kind of approach? Was it seeing the research and then trying it or did you just try it for the sake of trying it and you liked it?

Steph Lowe:    It is everything based on research, you have to make sure that working in the science field in the industry you need to have evidence based claims and I guess the industry is finally catching up to what the facts are rather than what we are reading on a food label or what we are being brainwashed by the sugar or the wheat industry for example. I believe that it is the best approach for health, nutrition, weight loss and training. My job is to teach everyone else how easy it can be.

Brenton Ford:    Now if someone was to change one meal in the day or get one meal right, what would you suggest that be?

Steph Lowe:    Definitely breakfast because our traditional options are cereal or fruit or toast, vegemite or weet-bix and they are one or the other or both in terms of having gluten or a high sugar content, particularly when we are talking about packaged foods. Products that are in a box we don’t really call them food, they are more like food products so we can chose a more natural approach and stay away from those gluten and sugar filled products.

Brenton Ford:    I like the sound of that, something that is coming from a packet is a food product and not a food. When you see someone for a personal consultation where you would go through their diet and make recommendations, what is the process? You are chatting to someone and going through that, how would you work with someone to improve their diet?

Steph Lowe:    The first thing, obviously with an initial consultation we will discuss goals and if it is weight history or training background. The main thing I focus on first is doing a food diary analysis so we can look at the current situation and like you mentioned with which meal you would change first; I look at which changes would be the most beneficial to start. It is that old saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I would never expect someone to up haul everything and change it tomorrow. We look at where we can get the most bang for our buck in terms of changes and it might be one it might be three we just do the overview of what the current situation is and what changes need to occur.

Brenton Ford:    When you are looking for ingredients for some of the meals that you suggest, in Australian supermarkets for example they are quite good with a lot of their organic produce now and a lot of the different types of seeds and nuts that are available. Is there somewhere that you find your ingredients?

Steph Lowe:    Yeah I actually head out to the Dandenong markets believe it or not, it is about a half an hour drive from the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I buy all my gluten free flours, nuts and seeds from there purely because it is a lot cheaper per kilogram and I use that type of food every day and my pantry is always stocked so it is worth the trip for me. I think if you are getting started you can certainly buy a small amount especially say if it is almond flour from the supermarket it is not the most cost effective approach. There are more and more places opening now, there is one on Glenhuntly Road and one in Fitzroy and I am happy to share those locations with those that are interested. They are the semi health food stores/bulk whole foods where you can buy scoops of flour or a kilogram of nuts and it is a lot more cost effective than from the local supermarket.

Brenton Ford:    Do you ever buy them online? Or do you find that it is better going to the market and seeing what you’re buying?

Steph Lowe:    I do have one online resource, it is a little place in Byron Bay called Santos Trading and their coconut flour and almond flour is one of the cheapest per kilogram that I have come across. You obviously pay for shipping but I always suggest to my clients and friends that if you do an order together and share the shipping the costs it is still much cheaper than Coles or Safeway. Online is also a great option.

Brenton Ford:    I have recently made a bulk purchase of almonds and pepitas and linseed from HonesttoGoodness.com.au

Steph Lowe:    That’s another good one.

Brenton Ford:    They have a whole heap of stuff, if you are buying a lot of it and you are going to use a lot of it then it is a cheaper option that the supermarkets too as they can be quite pricy if you are buying the smaller amounts.

Steph Lowe:    It is good that we have a way around it because it doesn’t have to be expensive to eat healthy it is just about being a little bit more strategic with your purchases.

Brenton Ford:    Absolutely. What are some things that you see athletes doing, let’s say swimmers or tri-athletes for example that you would suggest they make a change and see a positive result from that. Whether that be their pre-training foods or post training recovery foods; what sort of things do you see athletes making in particular that they could change?

Steph Lowe:    I think the most important part is the post exercise re-fuelling. In the old school theory we thought that carb loading was the right approach so a night before the race we would east your body weight in food or pasta. We now know that is not the case because we have only a limited capacity in terms of our storage as muscle glycogen. If we make sure that our post exercise recovery nutrition is spot on it means that we are always topping up our muscle stores. For a subsequent performance and recovery point of view we are really accelerating that. I suggest to anyone that is training for performance that you carry a small snack, whether it is a banana or a natural muffin that you have made in your training bag so that you can eat that as soon as you have finished your session, particularly those with higher intensity. That way if you don’t get to dinner straight away or lunch straight away, you have to buy ingredients or wait for it to be cooked; you are not sacrificing your performance. You want to be eating within the half an hour window post exercise.

Brenton Ford:    I think that is one of the most important things for athletes that are training hard and they are doing big sessions, whether that is 60 minutes, 90 minutes. If you are not eating within half an hour of exercising you are not going to get as much benefit as you can from that session. You are just going to feel pretty average the next day if you are training again.

Steph Lowe:    Post exercise recovery is really important for those of us who are looking to get the competitive edge. It doesn’t apply to just your weekend warrior necessarily or those doing a half hour session. Anything over 60 minutes definitely carry that food with you to eat within that window.

Brenton Ford:    I have been guilty before of not taking something to eat afterwards, so you might pop in at the supermarket or somewhere else that isn’t to healthy just because you have a craving for food; chocolate or doughnuts in the past which isn’t ideal obviously. Being able to take that with you to training is important so a banana or a muffin that you could find a recipe for on your site. I think that is a great idea.

What is your personal favourite food or do you have more than one?

Steph Lowe:    My favourite food at the moment is avocado, I guess from the conversation we were having earlier with breakfast. Not everyone always feels likes eggs which are a great obviously sugar free and gluten free breakfast option but you don’t have to be limited to eggs. I make a smoothie for breakfast and my choc avocado smoothie is one of my favourites at the moment. I always make sure that I have avocado in the fruit bowl.

Brenton Ford:    Lovely, choc avocado?

Steph Lowe:    You will have to try it

Brenton Ford:    Is the recipe up on the website.

Stephanie Lowe:    It certainly is.

Brenton Ford:    Excellent I will get onto that within the next few days for sure. Are there some things in the kitchen that people should have if they want to eat these kinds of meals?  A blender and things like that? What are some of the kitchen accessories that they should have?

Steph Lowe:    The main things that I have are a blender. I would use that daily and another tip back on the almond flour is if you really want you can actually grind up your own almonds and make your own almond flour. That is a cheap way going about it as well. The blender is obviously for smoothies and things like that and makes it handy.

My kitchen is pretty simple I have my muffin tins that I use to make some of the sugar free treats and just a big mixing bowl, chopping board the usually really. You can go one step further and get a food processor or even a dehydrator if you are going to make your own healthy chips but you can keep it pretty simple to get started.

Brenton Ford:    If you want to find out more about these type of recipes where can they find out more about you and this kind of eating?

Steph Lowe:    My facebook page is the Natural Nutritionist so a simple like will give you access to all recipes and articles and information. My website is TheNaturalNutritionist.com.au and in the right hand corner there is a section that you can subscribe. If you put your email address in there you will get every post straight into your inbox that way you don’t miss a recipe and you can stay up to date with what we are all making.

Brenton Ford:    Great, well I am a member on the facebook page and you are regularly putting up new recipes and that is sending me to the kitchen to try out these new recipes. It’s great I absolutely love what you’re doing especially with the website there. For any swimmers or tri-athletes out these that are looking for some good recipes and looking to maybe eat a little bit healthier and lose a little bit of weight then I highly recommend going to Steph’s website because it is a great resource.

Thanks so much for being on the call Steph, I have learnt a lot from this and I have actually bought a few things for the kitchen to continue to cook the recipes. I bought a strainer for the quinoa and things like that and some muffin tins. You’ve got me hooked and really enjoying it so thank-you so much I really appreciate it.

Steph Lowe:    Thanks Brenton, thanks for having me on.