Laura Hämäläinen on nutrition, healthy eating habits and meal planning (1/2)

Laura Hämäläinen is an entrepreneur, physiotherapist, individual & online programming coach, new horse and house owner, show jumper as well as an ex-crossfit athlete. For many of us, she’s also known from her lively Instagram presence with content around physical training, active lifestyle and a holistic approach to health and well-being. This includes her insights on nutrition, sleep and other key factors affecting recovery and a healthy, productive life.

In this first part of a two-part interview, we sat down with Laura and chatted about her approach on nutrition, healthy eating habits and meal planning.

For the audience who have not been following your journey throughout the years, you have lived quite a rigid athlete life: first as a junior show jumper and later as a crossfit athlete, with full focus on training schedule, finely planned and tracked nutrition and recovery protocols around improvement. You’ve competed at the international level, experienced injuries and a physical ”burnout”, created businesses and now live as a full-time entrepreneur and one-on-one coach.

From a goal-directed, almost full-time athlete to an entrepreneur and coach, what’s your approach to nutrition today?

“Nowadays my priority is that the food I eat makes me feel good and energetic – everything I do aims to do that. Compared to the days I was living a high-level crossfit athlete’s life my approach has changed a lot, such as counting macros. Back then, all my focus was in optimizing my performance. Nowadays my life is somewhat more ”normal” which makes balanced nutrition one of the key elements in my well-being.”

What’s your definition of a healthy diet? What do you prioritize in healthy nutrition?

“In general, definitely that it’s versatile and COLORFUL – I think it tells that one’s diet includes foods that are high in nutritional content. One baseline I pay attention to is what foods are inflammatory or anti-inflammatory [Writer’s note: some studies show that certain foods have possibly greater effect or relation to low-grade inflammatory state in the body; 1,2].”

What do you prioritize in your diet?

“I do not count any macros anymore or how much I eat (given my background, I mainly know how to estimate), instead I think a lot about what I eat and check that the food as high in quality as possible. My diet includes lots of berries, vegetables, good-quality carbs and protein sources as well as good-quality, unsaturated fats which I consider to be one of the most important things in a diet.

Perhaps the biggest nutritional change I’ve experienced compared to my active athlete days is the amount and sources of carbohydrates, and hence more stable blood sugar levels [Some studies have shown possible positive effects of dietary fiber in glucose & cholesterol metabolism; 3]. As an athlete, it is important to get the adequate amount of carbs (= fuel) to meet higher energy needs, and it is in general really challenging to get it all from so-called whole food sources like sweet potato or roasted vegetables. But since my job now does not require that much moving around, I do not need to consume more and other simple carb sources like white rice.

If there’s something I sometimes ”pinch” when it comes to nutrition, it’s my eating schedule. During some of the busiest days it can be hard to stick to a proper meal timing. Sometimes it’s definitely better to eat something rather than nothing. I might ”skip” some of not-the-best options (if I for example forget to pack any snacks with me), postpone that one meal and make sure I then eat enough once I have time.”

Laura Hämäläinen

 

How do you make sure you still eat healthy when life gets busy?

“Sundays are so important for me: that’s when I prepare some good basic meals, snacks, cooked root vegetables etc. so that I don’t need to worry about the cooking part throughout the work days. Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite things – especially if I need to think about cooking or start preparing something after an already long (work) day! So preparation is key. I also make sure I have a good snack pretty much everywhere in hand when needed.

In a sense, it’s following the mantra: to prepare is to succeed. If I don’t prep my breakfast knowing my next morning’s going to be busy, it might lead to either having one banana as a breakfast or maybe even nothing. That’s why I think already one hour of prepping gets you very far.”

Your followers on social media know that holistic well-being is a passion of yours. What role does food have in that?

“I live by three basic ”pillars”, one could say – movement, sleep and nutrition – and they’re all connected to each other. What we eat affects how we sleep and sleep in turn affects how we’re able to function and recover. I see so many people struggling with sleep and trying to fix that with, let’s say, supplementing with magnesium or something else. But if we look more into this person’s eating habits, there’s a lot of room for improvement in carbohydrate quality and intake.

When you fuel yourself properly, it affects your hormonal balance as well, which supports your body’s ability to regulate satiety and hunger hormones. I can’t state strongly enough how important the role nutrition plays in that, in my opinion.” [More on hormonal regulation of eating f.ex. in 4.]

How do you incorporate FuelMe’s ready-made, nutritionally balanced meals into your healthy lifestyle?

“One of the best things is how easy it is – our food prep on Sundays covers us till Wednesday and FuelMe meals till the end of the week. It allows us to spend more time on other things affecting our well-being, for example my own training schedule.

FuelMe meals really are of good quality and taste great as well, and they bring so much variety on my plate – some meals are definitely something I’d never cook by myself. Vegetarian dishes are high in quality and variety and have lots of different vegetables. Haha, I would never try to make my own dumplings at home!”

One thing you would change in people’s diet, if the goal is to eat & live healthier?

“I would pay attention to your blood sugar levels. From what sources do you get your carbohydrates and fats and in what quality. One of the common issues is that carbs are obtained from poorer-quality, refined sources, and that a person doesn’t eat enough or good quality fat sources.

  • My tips for good carb sources (I usually suggest people to try to minimize gluten): oats and oat products, quinoa, different vegetables and root vegetables (like sweet potato, beets) and then of course berries.

  • My tips for good fat sources: avocado, nuts, quality extra virgin olive oil and flax seeds.”

  • In the second post with Laura we’ll dive into recovery, sleep and balancing hectic times in life. Thank you Laura for the chat!


    REFERENCES

    1. Uusitupa, M. & Shcwab, U. (2014). Ruokavalio ja lievä tulehdus. Lääketieteellinen aikakauskirja Duodecim. -- https://www.duodecimlehti.fi/duo11787
    2. Barbaresko, J., Rienks, J., Oluwagbemigun, K. et al. (2020). Dietary patterns associated with inflammatory biomarkers in a Northern German population. European Journal of Nutrition 59, 1433–1441. -- https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-019-02000-w
    3. Mutanen, M., Voutilainen E. & Freese, R. (2021). Hiilihydraatit ja ravintokuitu. In Mutanen, M. et al. (2021). Ravitsemustiede. Kustannus Oy Duodecim.
    4. Ukkola, O. (2003). Syömisen hormonaalinen säätely. Lääketieteellinen aikakauskirja Duodecim. 2003; 119(5): 381–387. -- https://www.duodecimlehti.fi/duo93446

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