Jet Fuel: Nutrition for Executives

Eating right when you’re pulling long workdays, running to meetings, or traveling for business is just plain difficult. But what if there were ways to mitigate the jetset lifestyle of the busy executive? Nutritionist and entrepreneur Rachel Caven of Caven Nutrition believes there are ways to ‘have it all’–at least when it comes to keeping your career on target and eating right at the same time.

Our full conversation with Rachel can be found on the IP360° Podcast.

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IP 360°: Tell us about Caven nutrition, the work you do, and how you got started.

Rachel Caven: I wanted to pursue nutrition because it’s something that affects every single person’s life day in and day out. It’s the one thing that gives you the opportunity to improve basically everything about your life. Once I figured out how to eat healthy and do what feels good for my body it’s so easy, and I feel so great. I wanted that for everyone. 

I built my business while being a single mom, trying to make enough money to support myself and my son.  It was a crazy time because I really grew empathy for people and realized that everyone is going through a hard time and nutrition does not have to be so picture-perfect. It’s really just making it work for you. So I understand how hard it can be to live a healthy life while being pulled in a million different directions. But, it is possible.

In nutrition I can teach anyone to understand the science and build a meal plan, but what you really need is a team who cares for their clients and helps them to build a plan that works for them. Our mission is to help people feel their best and work at their highest level, whether they’re CEOs, busy moms, university students, or teenagers, we want them to live their best lives and feel their best with really, really great nutrition. 

IP 360°: So, tell us a little bit more about what you learned about eating or nutrition when it comes to business life? 

Rachel Caven: The number one thing I would recommend to people, is figuring out what works for them. It took me years and years to do this. I read every single book, I tried every single diet, it took me years to finally figure out and be able to eat intuitively. So we start every client with a blank slate so we are really able to understand where a client is at in order to figure out what’s going to make them happy. Because if you hate what you’re eating, then what’s the point? You’re not going to keep up with it.

IP 360°: Many business owners don’t have the time to add more to their plate, they need a solution that fits their life not something that adds more stress to their life. It’s about finding something that actually works for their situation.

Rachel Caven: Yes, exactly. Just because someone else is doing something, doesn’t mean that’s going to work for you. The number one recommendation we make to people is to actually eat, we get people to start fueling themselves with food and nutrition instead of that caffeine and sugar rollercoaster that most people are on. That way, you have energy throughout the day, without feeling that 3 o’clock crash.

One of the most important things to focus on is eating protein. I recommend 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, especially your breakfast.  That 20 to 30 grams of protein, which is about the size of your palm, should be the first thing that you’re putting in your body. This can include meat, eggs, Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, and legumes, things like that.

So rather than giving you a list of all the things you can’t eat let’s focus on the things you should be eating. So add the protein that’s going to balance your blood sugar to avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster, that causes an afternoon crash, or trouble sleeping at night. What you eat for breakfast has the longest lasting effect on your energy throughout the day. So if you’re waking up at like two or three in the morning, every single night, it is often directly related to what you ate for breakfast.

IP 360°: You mentioned meat; often our breakfasts don’t include things like meat, but you say this is one of the best things you can eat in the morning. Can you provide more examples?

Rachel Caven: One of the most harmful things that the food industry has done is creating this concept of breakfast. In other cultures, they will eat fish and veggies for breakfast. And that’s completely normal. In North America, we focus on bagels and cereal or smoothies with a ton of sugar in them.

So I would say don’t think of it as breakfast, think of it like any other meal. In fact, leftovers for breakfast are amazing and will often provide you the protein you need. The definition of diet is very straightforward, it simply refers to the way you eat.

So, if you change nothing else in your diet, eat protein in the morning. My favorite recommendation is eggs and an avocado. It is a great source of protein, an egg has basically all of the nutrients you need and an avocado has healthy fats, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fats, which are great for your heart, skin, hair andoverall nutrition.

IP 360°: There are many times when busy executives will find themselves needing to eat on the go. How can a person read a package to understand if it is a good choice to get them the nutrition they need? 

Rachel Caven: That’s a great question. When you’re looking at a food label flip the package over and look at the ingredients. First, make sure that it’s real food, you should be able to easily understand what’s in it. And then you can look at the nutrition facts. Look for a low amount of sugar, under 20 or even under 10 grams is good.

Then look for protein, at least 20 grams per serving, or per whole meal. Lastly, I recommend you  look at the fiber, try to focus on getting at least 25 grams of fiber per day, or 5 grams of fibre per meal. For example,  I wanted to stop at Starbucks the other day, but rather than getting a cookie or muffin and a surgery lattee, I instead ordered a black coffee with oat milk, and the egg bites. Even if you want to go to Starbucks and get a cookie, that’s fine, but just make sure you have that protein first because that’s going to help you to avoid the crash effect caused by the sugar in the cookie.

You can also stop at a grocery store if you are looking for something quick, while you are running from here to there. Grocery stores have tons of pre-made, ready options that are healthier alternatives to your drive-thru options.

IP 360°: Talk to us about hydration. Is it as important as everyone always says it is? How much water should you really be drinking in a day?

Rachel Caven: You know, people want the newest supplement or diet that’s going to help them but honestly, if you’re not drinking your water, two to three liters a day, that’s going to affect your performance. Hydration contributes to your mental and emotional performance.

Often if you are hungry it’s actually because you’re thirsty. So always drink water first before anything. Staying hydrated doesn’t have to mean only drinking water. Herbal tea is a great option as well.

Things that don’t count are options including caffeine, sugar or alcohol. Those are diuretics and will make you more dehydrated. I often say hydration is one of the best ways you can start your day. While you’re waiting for your coffee to brew have a big glass of water.

IP 360°: Talk to us more about caffeine. I’ve had lots of friends and family say I’m going to cut out caffeine, it doesn’t ever seem to stick. Is there a different way to approach caffeine besides an all-or-nothing approach?

Rachel Caven: It’s funny because a lot of people say they don’t want to see a nutritionist because they don’t want to give up their caffeine. I’m happy to say I have never cut out anyone’s caffeine 100%. Your body’s cortisol hormone is highest in the morning, and that is the hormone that helps you wake up. Caffeine actually suppresses cortisol. So if you’re waking up in the morning and you’re drinking a coffee right away, that’s going to suppress your cortisol and you actually lose the ability to fully wake up without caffeine.

So what I suggest first thing in the morning, start of with a big glass of water. And then the first thing we eat is going to be protein. If you are not a food person in the morning try a protein powder or what a lot of our clients do is add collagen to their coffee. The best time to drink coffee is actually 10am, or about two to three hours after you wake up, that’s when your cortisol is the lowest, so it’s not going to affect your energy.

Use caffeine strategically, not just to survive. Caffeine is like an energy credit card, you have to pay it back plus interest later. It can actually cause you to be more tired later in the day, if you don’t give yourself the proper nutrition and hydration to support your body.

IP 360°: And how does this tie in with that three o’clock crash? Is that a time when people usually try and supplement with caffeine?

Rachel Caven: The three o’clock low is usually caused by blood sugar, which is cause by either not eating protein for breakfast or not eating enough throughout the day.  The issue with the three o’clock slump is that you don’t want to use caffeine at that time to increase your energy because then the caffeine is going to still be in your system at nighttime, and you will have trouble sleeping.

So it is much better to focus on the reasons behind that slump, make sure you’re getting a good sleep, eating your protein, drinking lots of water throughout the day. Then if you find you are still experiencing that crash, try taking a break, go outside, do some jumping jacks – do something to just step away for a minute. 

IP 360°: A lot of our executives try and fit exercise into their day. For some people that’s five in the morning, some people that’s 10 o’clock at night. How do we fit our eating around exercise? 

Rachel Caven: There are studies that show if you exercise on an empty stomach, you’re going to burn more fat during the exercise. However, if you are exercising with a fueled body, so you’ve eaten before, you’re going to burn more fat or more calories over the next 24 hours. So really, it is actually better to exercise after eating; plus, you’re probably going to get a better exercise out of that. Again, the key is to figure out what you feel best with.

I recommend that you have a snack or a meal at least two hours before you exercise, so it gives your body time to have digested it. For after exercise, again, the most important thing to focus on is protein. A lot of people say they don’t want to eat after exercise, because they think that lessens the fat burning. But that’s not true; you want to be eating something right afterward.

The best thing for right after exercise is a combination of carbohydrates and protein. That could be anything like an apple and peanut butter or a protein shake. And one thing to remember, because people always ask this question – what’s the best pre and post-workout meal – you have to realize that every single meal is a pre and post-workout meal.

The key with exercise is to eat foods that support your nutrition, because you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Also find ways to exercise that make you feel the best. Do something you love, that is not a chore, that doesn’t feel like something else on your to-do list. That’s the key.  Nutrition needs to be easy. Exercise needs to be easy. So that those things just are part of our routine. And not something that we dread.

IP 360°: My takeaway note from our chat today is to have fun and eat. Which is kind of the opposite of what you’d expect, or what you think you’re going to hear when you talk about nutrition and health. 

Rachel Caven: It’s all about figuring out what works best for you. I like to think I can eat whatever I want because I know what works for me, I don’t have to guess anymore. I would live off red wine, Reece’s peanut butter cups, and coffee. That is my ideal diet, but, I know I wouldn’t be able to function the way that I want. I would feel horrible. I know that in order to live the life that I want. I want to eat healthy, and fuel my body with what it needs and what works for me. And then, I’m still going to drink some red wine, on the weekend, because I love it and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Learn more about Rachel and Caven Nutrition on their website, and tune in for another Caven Nutrition interview: Nutrition for Retirees.

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