Feed: the foundation of an animal’s performance. As a Holstein breeder, I know that cows will only milk to the level of their nutrition. Farmers and ranchers spend a lot of money — especially these days — getting the right ration and feed into their animals. But what about our own food intake?
It’s unlikely you’ve given as much thought to your own nutrition as you have with your land or animals. We’re pretty dialed into growth rate, soil nutrients, microbial activity, rate of gain, pounds of production, and other ag measurements. But the reality is that none of those matter if we don’t first care for the people of our business — and that starts with the person you look at in the mirror. Food is an easy way to take better care of yourself and equip your body to better handle stress.
Before you think I’m judging your eating, let me be clear — I can stress eat with the best of them. I believe chocolate and ice cream should be their own food group. But I am also very careful to evaluate our family’s nutrition and cook to meet our needs. My daughter is a distance runner, and before she went to run for the University of Georgia, I would go to great lengths to increase her protein, fiber, and iron intake. I also know I’m going to feel like crap if I don’t eat well — and that’s harder during stressful times, travel, and when sleep deprived.
Because of my work in connecting people around the plate for a couple of decades, I’ve gotten to know a lot of dietitians. They’re amazing people and just like an agronomist or nutritionist on a farm provides outside expertise, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) can offer you insight on your own well-being. I know from my Food Bullying podcast RDN co-host that dietitians think farmers are cool, lean on science, and feel largely misunderstood — so RDNs are a group we in agriculture can easily relate to.
Legendairy Dietitian Kennedy Youngren is an RDN and new mom on a dairy farm in Minnesota, so she understands how hard it is to find time to eat healthy. She works with clients in her private practice and finds the culture of agriculture to be so focused on work and fixated on their operations being perfect.
“‘The cows eat before we eat’ often to leads to suppressing hunger cues and chronic underfueling, which results in the fight or flight response with elevated cortisol.” If you need a quick review of why cortisol matters, see my article on stress strategies.
Kennedy suggests “Stock the fridge, get off the Pepsi” with these ideas.
- Batch prep a bunch of smoothies in a red solo cup to get protein and high quality fiber in your system to start the day. She recommends batch freezing smoothies (follow @the.legendairy.dietitian or other RDNs for recipes/ideas) in red solo cups, defrost them overnight, and then drink them first thing in the morning.
- Pair a protein and carb together when you have time to eat for longer lasting energy. Banana and chocolate milk, apple and peanut butter, Greek yogurt and cereal, cheese and whole wheat crackers, etc. the protein and carb combination will keep your blood sugars at maintenance levels. This will avoid an energy high and the resulting energy “crash.”
- Find a way to eat every two to four hours, even if it’s a quick hit of protein and carb. Otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to meet your calorie needs (speaking from personal experience, hangry is ugly). Kennedy also suggests a quick source of sugar if you know you’re going to be climbing the silo or bouncing around in the tractor. Snickers offers that sugar plus protein/fat.
- Figure out what works for you when you’re on the road and look for quality foods at the gas station. Kennedy points to hard-boiled eggs, beef jerky, chocolate milk, or a sandwich to double up on protein if needed.
- Understand gut health is essential to your well-being; new research shows 90 percent of serotonin (think happy hormone) is produced in the gut — and it’s also responsible for 80 percent of our immune system. Stimulating the microbiome with probiotics (e.g. Kefir, yogurts, pickled food) is important, but don’t forget prebiotics (like onions, garlic, bananas, oats, asparagus). The quick answer for a happy gut is to have 30 different kinds of food weekly, but the fermented foods are the most important.
Since she minored in psychology, Kennedy understands and preaches that food can make people feel good. She tries to help people to look as food as a function. For example, more antioxidants lead to more anti-inflammatories in the ag population, which is much needed to help sleep patterns to give the body time to rest, repair, and heal. Tart cherry juice is one of her go-tos, but she tries to get clients to understand all fruits provide antioxidants.
“Overall dietary quality can help optimize mood and stress management” says Katheryn Martinez, an RDN in Texas from a Nebraska farm family. “Lack of key nutrients from fibers, fruits, vegetables, etc. has been associated with depression, anxiety, and stress.”
Follow Katheryn at Confidence in Eating for more tips. She believes that success in your body is created with a realistic, practical plan like the following.
- Create notecards with nutritious family favorites, quick fix meals, and on-the-go selections.
- Mix and match the cards according to the week’s schedule.
- Stock your pantry and freezer with basic supplies such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, dairy, and a variety of protein sources.
It stands to reason that your performance will suffer without a proper “ration.” Both your body and brain need to be fed well (and sometimes that’s chocolate and ice cream, IMHO). How can you put some of these food planning and nutrition ideas to work decrease your stress? Your body will thank you for it.
Michele Payn speaks and writes to help the people of agriculture have the tough conversations about managing stress, connecting with consumers, and making sense of science. Learn more at causematters.com/growthjournal or follow @mpaynspeaker on social media.