Supplements – what, why and how?

I’ve been asked so many times what I think about X supplement and approached by brands to promote new bizarre sounding pills claiming to solve all your training problems. Whilst some of them may have tentative supporting evidence, a lot don’t. I know the supplements market is a total minefield, so here are some of the most popular supplements out there, and evidence for and against them. Obviously research is always coming out saying X, Y or Z – I’ve included a lot of reviews and meta analyses to try to get a balanced view of the literature but always think critically about what people are trying to sell you. Just remember: there’s no magic pill that’ll suddenly make you fit or give you the perfect abs. Training is hard whatever supplements you take, and quite often it’s worth spending the £50 you spend on supplements on a personal training session or a few books on nutrition. Knowledge is power (literally in this case!).

 

Protein

Our muscles are made up of protein fibres, some of which are broken down and rebuilt each time we exercise. Protein supplements/shakes claim to enhance recovery of muscles and aid growth, thereby improving performance. However, the level of conflicting information (and the price of a lot of the supplements) warrants a closer look at the evidence of their efficacy.

The evidence: Looking at muscle recovery time, muscle soreness and muscle growth, the data are inconclusive. Some meta-analyses state that here’s no evidence to suggest that muscle recovery is faster when someone consumes protein before, after or during a workout. However, a lot of the studies looked at small sample sizes, and measures of ‘muscle soreness’ and recovery are often hard to quantify. There is, however, fairly strong evidence to suggest that people in a calorie deficit may benefit from taking protein supplements, and that protein can reduce muscle catabolism (break down) following a workout. Verdict: if you’re looking to build muscle and/or are in a calorie deficit, protein may help you out. However, if you’re looking to reduce DOMS or decrease recovery time, the jury is out on whether protein can help. Because of the mixed evidence, it may be worth trying it out, especially if you’re vegan or struggling to fit in enough protein in your diet and wanting to train hard. Find what works for you!

 

BCAAs

BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids are amino acids with side chains. There are three types: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The supplements are sold to increase protein synthesis, purportedly increasing muscle mass (even while in a calorie deficit) when paired with the right training. When taken regularly, supplementation may decrease fatigue during exercise by reducing the increase in serotonin during exercise, which contributes to fatigue.

The evidence: BCAAs are one of the most heavily studied supplements on the market. In terms of exercise (there are many other uses of BCAA supplementation), there are two main factors looked at: increased exercise performance and reduced muscle breakdown. The former has much mixed evidence, mostly suggesting that BCAAs are unlikely to significantly improve exercise performance. The latter, however, has much more evidence supporting it. Multiple studies show that supplementation before and after exercise reduce muscle breakdown after strenuous exercise, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

 

Creatine

Creatine is produced naturally in the body and stored predominantly in skeletal muscle. However, it is also sold as a supplement and marketed as helping to improve energy production for short duration, high intensity exercises. Theoretically, it is used by the body as a substrate to form ATP (the little packets of energy our body uses), and therefore supplementing with it means more ATP (energy) can be produced.

The evidence: Creatine is one of the more sound supplements on the market. According to one review paper, creatine is the most effective supplement to increase high-energy exercise capacity and muscle mass during training. As it turns out, of the 500 peer-reviewed papers looking into the effects of creatine, 70% concluded that it benefitted high intensity performance. However, when looking at more endurance exercises, the evidence is inconclusive, showing that if you want something for long-distance running, you should probably look elsewhere.

Nb/ There have been concerns that creatine supplementation may alter liver and kidney function, so if you have underlying conditions, creatine use should be avoided. In general though, it seems to be relatively safe!

 

Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is used by athletes to improve performance. Purported benefits include improving exercise capacity, building lean muscle mass and improving physical functions in the elderly.

The evidence: This supplement definitely shows some clear evidence that it can improve performance by reducing fatigue, thus making building muscle easier for those who take it. The benefits are seen most clearly in high intensity activities lasting 60s to 300s. However, the side effects are not widely studied but commonly experienced. If you’ve ever taken beta alanine you’ll probably be aware of the tingly feeling you can get, which is unpleasant at best. Few studies if any have looked into the safety of this supplement, and whilst it appears safe at recommended doses, take it at your own risk.

 

Electrolytes

When we exercise we sweat, losing salts as well as water. Salts are important for our muscles to function properly and too few of them cause the body to cramp up. If you’re into endurance exercise or workout in hot places, chances are you’ve considered taking electrolytes. Electrolytes help replenish the salts lost when we sweat, thus keeping our muscles working properly, and are provided in a way that doesn’t give our body too much of any one type of salt (e.g. sodium). Supplementation aims to reduce heat stress, muscle cramps and aid rehydration.

The evidence: electrolyte supplementation has been shown to reduce cramping caused by electrolyte loss (lots of sweating), but cramping can still occur due to other factors. It reduces heat stress, so if you’re working out hard in a hot country (e.g. racing or competing abroad) this may be something to consider. If you’re not working out in extreme heat for extended periods of time, electrolytes are probably not required for your everyday training schedule.

 

I hope this helps clarify some things for you!

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Choosing supplements to aid your workouts can be a minefield

Autumn – shoot with Kudzai

The post these photos were taken for was written for Gymshark and is featured on their blog. Go and take a read for some advice on how to keep active in winter!

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Cold weather shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve got the right clothes

As the days get shorter and weather less and less predictable, keeping active often seems a lot less appealing.

However in the winter, more than ever, it’s important to keep active to maintain a positive mindset and get some fresh air. Something that annoys me is this attitude that spring and summer are the only months when you should take care of your body, and the rest of the year your health just doesn’t matter.

 

To read the rest of this post head to the Gymshark blog. Or, scroll down to see more pictures.

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Rhiannon – Winter wellness

This is a guest blog post by leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, taking us through some advice to keep us fit and healthy this winter. Find Rhiannon’s socials at the bottom of the post and enjoy!

 

As we enter these next few cold wintery months, our immune system can often get shot down by illness, whether that is cold and flu, sore throats or generally feeling exhausted. But what can we do to keep our wellness high and working in the winter?

Following a balanced diet full of nutrient dense foods such as complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and of course vegetables and fruit are the key to a successful healthy winter. While there is no, one food that dispels infection, there are plenty of foods that can be introduced to help prevent infection and keep your body fit and healthy.

 

5 KEY STAPLE FOODS FOR IMMUNE SYSTEM:

  1. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits are full of Vitamin C, which is known globularly for its benefits to the immune system. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in immune cells that help fight infections fast, and since our bodies do not produce or store it, we must source it from the diet! Popular citrus fruits include; oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Have a piece of fruit for a snack, or infuse your water intake with lemon and lime!

  1. Spinach

Spinach is also a brilliant source of Vitamin C. But additionally, spinach is full of beta carotene and antioxidants, which increase the ability of your immune system. Spinach is also a darky leafy green, which we hear so much about as they are full of vitamins such as A, K, C, and B and minerals such as magnesium and calcium.  Cook your spinach, or eat it cold, either way claim the benefits of spinach.

  1. Ginger

Spice up your foods. You can even try a whole range of spices such as garlic, chili peppers, and turmeric to boost immunity and enhance circulation. Ginger is great to remedy a sore throat, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Ginger is great in hot water on a cold winters morning, as well as in autumnal soups.

  1. Yogurt

When buying Yogurt, it is always important to look for one that contains “live and active cultures” as these cultures will stimulate your immune system to fight infection and disease in your body. Yogurt is also a great source of Vitamin D which can often be low during the winter months, but is needed in the diet as it can be beneficial to the immunity. A thing to note, often pre-flavoured yogurt contains high amounts of sugar so try to choose a plain yogurt and top with your own fruit for flavour!

  1. Protein

Everybody in their lifetime has been given chicken soup or broth when they are ill in bed.  Poultry, such as chicken and turkey is high in Vitamin B6. This vitamin plays a vital role in many chemical reactions in the body, such as forming new and healthy red blood cells.  Additionally, when making chicken broth, the use of boiling the bones holds benefits such as gut healing and immunity.

Vegetarian sources of protein, especially pulses, contain tons of fibre and nutrients to keep you fighting fit. Quinoa has a complete amino acid profile, which is excellent for the building blocks of protein (the structure of our body) and add some pulses to your meals. Pulses can also be a great source of iron and B vitamins providing you with energy and ensure your veggie sources are fortified as often as possible to get B12.

In total, we should be focusing on not only macronutrients, but the micronutrients that are often forgotten, such as vitamins A, B and C, and minerals such as Iron and Zinc.

Apart from keeping our diet full of goodness, there are other ways to keep your body both mentally and physically well in the next coming months.

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Follow Rhiannon on her Instagram to see delicious food like this!

EXERCISE

Getting out and about, breathing in fresh air does your health a world of good. But also exercising stimulates the release of endorphins which makes you feel “happy”.

 

CLEANLINESS

Illness can spread fast in a home, especially the common cold. Preventing infection from spreading around the entire family is vital, and cleaning surfaces, door handles and objects that everyone touches; TV remote, toilet handle can minimise contamination from family member to family member.

 

REST

Taking enough time for yourself, to recuperate can be beneficial for your health. Getting enough sleep at night can make a big difference when waking up the next morning. We all know when we don’t get enough sleep we feel grouchy, and this can affect the rest of the day, and even your immune system. So be mindful in the winter months, give yourself rest to maintain your health.

 

There are so many ways to a healthy winter, and most are basic. Eat well, sleep enough, and get out. Most seem like common sense, but making an active effort to follow through can be beneficial in the long run and the key to winter wellness.

 

Don’t forget you can pre-order Rhiannon’s book, Re-Nourish, released on the 28 December 2017!

 

Podcast recommendations

Podcasts became a huge part of my life around a year ago, when I started using them to learn more about my chosen final year Biology topics. Since then, they’ve been a constant accompaniment to my everyday life – from sitting in the tube to heading out for some long and otherwise boring cardio. Most recently, I have taken on ‘walk to school month’ as my very own #walktowork month, joined by some others throughout instagram. The health benefits of fresh air and low-intensity exercise cannot be overstated, especially as it gets darker outside, so please join in!

This article hopefully will give you some motivation to join me this October in walking to work/school/uni or wherever you spend your days. The time spent listening to podcasts is time that not only passes quicker, but is also hugely productive – from keeping up with current events to learning about niche topics, podcasts (in my opinion) make you a more interesting person all round. Let me know of any of your own suggestions and tell me how you get on! Make sure to tag me in any of your #walktowork posts 🙂

I get my podcasts on Overcast, but you can also get them on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

 

In no particular order, here is the list of my top podcasts, plus a couple of extras at the end.

 

Nerdette
“Interviews with your favorite authors, artists, astronauts and more. Because everybody is a little nerdy about something.” This is a new one for me, recommended by a fellow woman interested in the world. It looks at popular culture (one of the latest ones was on black panther, another on Chloe Kim in the winter olympics) and hot topics in the news from a ‘woman of the world’ perspective. I love it!

Personal favourites:

  • How to be aggressively delightful (23/02)
  • Feminism, Fear and Physics at the winter olympics (09/02)
  • I have a rare genetic disease. CRISPR might fix it (09/03)

 

The High Low
“A weekly pop-culture / news podcast brought to you by Dolly Alderton & Pandora Sykes – the former co-hosts of The Pandolly Podcast.” Another conversational podcast on all things popular culture, including the #MeToo movement, celebrity news and food snobbery. Very useful if you really don’t have time to read Metro or Buzzfeed everyday but also want to know what’s going on in the world (and not just the serious stuff).

Personal favourites:

  • Feminism, #MeToo and Clapham’s Sticky Carpets: The High Low Meets Oscar-Nominated Margot Robbie
  • #TimesUp – Can The Red Carpet Be A Harbinger Of Social Change? And Toadmeister’s Titty-Tweets
  • Women’s unconscious bias towards other women; and Kim Kardashian’s cultural appropriation

 

Happy Place
“This is a place where I want to collect all things that make me happy – from joyful food to a clear mind. I hope there’s something here to bring good, simple happiness to your every day” – Fearne Cotton, presenter of Happy Place. I love this podcast because it goes behind the face of many celebrities and talks in a really emotionally intelligent way about mental health, tragedy and day to day life pressures. These are the kinds of conversations I live for, and if I can’t have them myself with these people, this is the next best thing 🙂

Personal favourites:

  • Lena Headey
  • Kirsty Young
  • Stephen Fry

 

This American Life
“This American Life is a weekly public radio show, heard by 2.2 million people on more than 500 stations”. It explores themes of contemporary western living and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s one of the hardest podcasts to describe but is well worth a listen! It’s sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted but always draws you in to a story and makes you think!

Personal favourites:

  • 360: Switched At Birth
  • 550: Three Miles
  • 282: DIY

 

Freakonomics
“Freakonomics radio is an American public radio program which discusses socioeconomic issues for a general audience”. I have very little interest in economics really, but for someone who likes to understand the world this podcast brings up a whole load of things you’d just never think of. Great for lateral thinking.

Personal favourites:

  • These shoes are killing me!
  • When helping hurts
  • Evolution, Accelerated
  • Are the rich really less generous than the poor?

 

Invisibilia
“Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behaviour – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions”. I absolutely love this podcast. It’s less fact-based than the others I listen to, but explores things we wouldn’t often think about with anecdotes on a theme. Well worth a listen.

Personal favourites:

  • Future Self
  • Emotions
  • Outside In

 

The Naked Scientist
“The Naked Scientist flagship science show brings you a lighthearted look at the latest scientific breakthrough, interviews with the world’s top scientists and answers to your science questions”. I know I’m an unashamed nerd, but I have no shame in recommending this to absolutely everyone. It’s done in a way that absolutely everyone can understand, so no need to feel like you’re not into science and therefore can’t listen!

Personal favourites:

  • Can we be healthy and sustainable, conversations about climate change
  • Food security: insects for dinner?
  • Conversations about Climate Change

 

On The Media
“The smartest, wittiest, most incisive media analysis show in the universe”. I will be the first to admit that I am terrible at reading the general global news, and even worse at understanding it. OTM is good for analysing what’s going on in the world and put some kind of sense into it all. It’s sometimes a little over my head but I like to feel like at least I’m trying to keep up to date on it all!

  • I find all of these quite confusing but also they make me feel clever. I would recommend listening to them all as they come out.

 

Stuff you should know
“How do landfills work? How do mosquitoes work? Join Josh and Chuck as they explore the Stuff You Should Know about everything from genes to the universe”. Enjoying a podcast that explains just about anything you can think of pay put me somewhere on the nerd-autism spectrum, but I absolutely love it, and it gives you a basic knowledge of a bunch of stuff that people might talk about, from maps to nude beaches. Anything you can think of, it’s probably covered.

Personal favourites:

  • How giraffes work
  • How zoos work
  • What was the most peaceful time in history?

 

You are not so smart
“You are not so smart is a celebration of self delusion that explores topics related to cognitive biases, heuristics and logical fallacies”. I don’t understand what that means, but still MASSIVELY enjoy this podcast. It’s definitely in my top 3 pods ever, and also wins the ‘coolest intro music’ award.

Personal favourites:

  • The climate paradox (081)
  • Moral Arguments (088)
  • Naïve Realism (101)
  • All the ‘X fallacy’ ones (you really do realise how not-smart humans are)

 

Homo Sapiens
“Will Young and Christopher Sweeny talk to inspirational people over tea and biscuits.”. Basically described as ‘an LGBTQ version of Women’s Hour’, this podcast is like listening in to a conversation between the two hosts that ranges from hilarious to emotional and back in the space of an episode, covering a bunch of important topics. Not just for LGBTQ+ listeners! Have a listen and see what you think.

Personal favourites:

  • James Wharton (S01Ep10)
  • LGBTQ+ Sex workers (S01Ep06)
  • All the feedback episodes

 

 

The Life Scientific
“Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires and motivates them and asking what their discoveries might do for mankind”. If you’re a fan of amazing stories about people who have done amazing things, listen to this. I love to hear about the science, but even better than that is the often crazy and inspiring lives that the scientists have lived.

Personal favourites:

  • Tracey Rogers on leopard seals in Antarctica
  • Fay Dowker on a new theory of space-time
  • Simon Wessely on unexplained medical symdromes

 

 

Only Human
“Only Human is a show about health that we can all relate to. Because every body has a story”. I don’t listen to this all that often because it’s often quite heavy, but the stories told on it are often incredible and definitely make you think more about how you are as a human. Good for long walks.

Personal favourites:

  • The birth of climate change denial
  • Growing up “ugly”
  • Yes, Simba, Chimps laugh

 

Don’t salt my game
“Join Registered Nutritionist and Wellness Advocate Laura Thomas, PhD for conversations with game changers. Laura talks to people in wellness, foodies, bloggers, entrepreneurs from cool brands, creatives, nutritionists, doctors, body positivity people, mindfulness experts, and anyone else who is shaking up the wellness world, to find out how they stay on top of their game – and to help you do you, but better.” This is a somewhat reluctant addition to the list but not for the reasons you might think. I am a MASSIVE fan of evidence-based channels, and for that, Laura gets an A*. However, sometimes opinions get blurred with fact, and without keeping on your toes this can go a little bit too far down the opinion/rant road. In all, well worth a listen for a ‘be kind to your body’ outlook on wellness, but listen with caution – take some of this with a pinch of salt, so to speak.

Personal favourites:

  • All adventurous women do (EP44)
  • Izy Hossack from Top with Cinnamon (EP01)
  • Getting deep, changing your mindset and practising gratitude (EP28, ft. my friend Lawrence Price/@fafitsake).

 

The Debrief/ Nobody Panic podcast
Nb/ This has been re-branded as nobody panic pod but is essentially about all the same things!
“We all know that adulting is hard. As in, there aren’t nearly enough memes in the world to fully explain just how fantastically awkward it is to try and be an actual, legitimate grown up (because what does being a grown up even mean?). Each week The Debrief’s Stevie and Tessa will be on hand (erm, headphones?) to help you get your life together. They’ll be doing all of the hard, boring research for you into the things that you actually need to know to get by in life.” This podcast annoyed me at first, but actually has some reeeally useful tips and brings up some super important topics about being 20-something, especially as a woman. The Debrief website is also incredible, so if you like that, you’ll probably like this too. 

Personal favourites:

  • Deal With Catcalling
  • Survive Winter Without Feeling Sad And Cold
  • Deal With Jealousy

 

Science Hour
“Science News and highlights of the week” – this may sound incredibly nerdy and in depth but the whole podcast explains everything in lay terms for everyone to understand. It reports the latest research in all areas of science, from medicine to astrology to palaeontology. I love keeping up with science news but have no knowledge of anything other than the basics in lots of fields, so it’s great to have the research and its relevance explained.

Personal favourites:

  • Skin Cell Therapies
  • Where have all the flying insects gone?
  • Health and climate change

 

Shoutout to two of my friends who have also started their own podcasts recently, and are smashing it! Lauren Tickner (@laurenfitness) has started a podcast called ‘Business Meets Fitness’, which aims to share inspiring stories and evidence-based information regarding both business and fitness. I appreciate Lauren’s love of fact (the stuff that (should) run the world) and business mindset. Another friend, Kash (@kashwhiteley), has started a podcast with friend Britt, called ‘The Female Perspective’ and covers a range of topics from sex to body image, really hitting home on a lot of topics! If you’re interested in what these girls get up to outside of the instagram bubble, these podcasts are really great and thought-provoking to listen to.

 

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Podcasts whilst walking to work or out on a run can make the time pass quicker!

Nutrition pre and post workout

When you’re training hard, whether it’s for a race, match or just life in general, you’d be wrong to think that your hours spent training are all that’s important. The amount you train can only get you so far – your food intake fuels your training and so what you eat can determine your progress day by day. Trying to workout without any fuel is like trying to go on a roadtrip without filling up with petrol: you’re not going to get very far!

If you’re working hard on your regime it’s important to compliment it with a good diet. Learn the best foods to eat before and after your workout to get the most out of your training.

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Make sure you fuel yourself properly before doing intense exercise (photo by David Wren)

Before you workout

When it comes to fuelling for your workouts carbs are your best friend (hooray!). They can provide energy that is easily accessible to your body and means that you won’t burnout half way. Complex carbs will keep you fuelled for long periods of time, whereas simple carbs are immediately available for your body to use, and are helpful for that extra kick of energy. If you’re training hard you’re also likely to sweat a lot, so consider eating something that has a little salt/minerals too (bananas!).

Food is important, but be careful of eating too much, too close to your workout. After we eat (especially carbohydrates and large meals), we release melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep. Try to eat around 2h before attempting an intense workout. The smaller the snack and the less intense the workout the closer together they can be. Boost your energy without causing a food coma by eating something like these (and don’t forget to keep hydrated!):

  • Fruit (banana)
  • Slice of wholemeal toast and an egg/ ¼ avocado
  • Energy ball
  • Small smoothie

 

After you workout

Your body has worked hard for you during your training session, breaking down muscle fibres to rebuild new, stronger ones. You will have depleted your glycogen stores in your muscles too, especially with endurance exercises, so these need to be restored. However, be careful of the ‘I earned this mentality’ – whilst a protein shake or lean protein and toast may help, it doesn’t follow that an entire extra meal and packet of crisps will be better! Try one of these balanced options within 30 minutes of ending your workout to replenish your muscles without ruining your progress:

 

  • Wholemeal toast, peanut butter, ½ banana
  • Protein shake with berries
  • Low sugar protein bar or ball (preferably homemade)

 

There are so many contradictory pieces of advice out there when it comes to fuelling your workouts. It doesn’t help that all our bodies are different, as are our training styles, goals and lifestyles. What really matters is finding something that works for you and your routine. You should do what feels good and healthy to you – some people can’t eat at all before a workout, others can’t finish a workout without food. What is most important is that you’re feeding yourself enough of the vital nutrients to achieve the fitness gains you want to see – our bodies are engines designed to run on the fuel of food, and deprivation will lead to minimal improvement, if any.

 

What I do:

I eat up to 1.5h before a workout, usually something small like a homemade oat biscuit, slice of toast or banana. If I’m really tired and I know I’ll be working out later, I’ll also have a coffee a few hours before, but I save this for emergencies so it continues to have an effect! After I workout I’ll just have a simple protein shake with milk to allow my muscles to recover, but at the next meal (usually dinner) I’ll eat carbohydrates to replenish lost glycogen stores.

How to get better at running

Running is something that people usually either love or hate… But hate it or love it, there is something to be said for getting out of the house and feeling the wind on your face (not to mention the many health benefits and that runners high!). I’ve gone from HATING running to actually enjoying it almost every time, and I put that partly down to getting a lot better at it. It’s taken me about 5 years of running to actually look forward to my runs. Here are some bits of advice to help you improve too!

 

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The excitement is real

  • Ease yourself in to a new routine

Routine is very important when it comes to improving at anything and whilst in a moment of energised madness it could seem like a good idea to attempt a 10 mile run out of the blue, most of us would be put off by any programme that suggested that was a good idea. It is important to ease yourself into any new routine, and running is no different. Using different muscles can leave you with severe DOMS, and a new programme should allow for some recovery without leaving too long between runs. If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to start a programme such as a ‘couch to 5k’ or join your local running group for some motivation. Not every run you complete needs to be as fast and far as you can – leave room for enjoyment too, as 2 weeks of an intense plan before giving up is nowhere near as good as months of a slower plan that you actually enjoy.

Whatever plan you do, make sure it’s sustainable and feasible to fit into your everyday life, without allowing you to slack off and take it too easy. It should challenge you without you burning out. The key is to stay consistent week to week and then no matter how slow, improvement is still improvement.

 

  • Track your progress and set goals

As with anything, it is difficult to improve without keeping tabs on your current standard and setting goals within defined timeframes. Keeping track of runs and progress means you’re more likely to stick to your plan and be motivated for future runs, especially when you also measure how the runs made you feel.

 

  • …But don’t record every run

This is important to keep your love of the sport. Whilst it is often fun to have every analytic of your run, becoming obsessed with numbers can lead to disappointment. I used to only head out for runs if I knew I was going to smash it, which ironically led to avoiding running altogether for fear of ‘failure’. A bad run is better than no run, and a ‘bad’ run isn’t really a thing if you’re not tracking it! Enjoyment is as important as anything else when it comes to improvement.

 

  • Run FAST

Speed work is something often ignored by casual runners, because it is short-term painful and nowhere near as relaxing as a potter around the park on a Sunday morning. However, if you want to get faster, speed work is vital. In addition, mixing up your running routine is important to minimise plateaus, as your body has to work harder on every run. Speed work with active recovery also lowers recovery time, meaning that the more you do, the more you can do – it’s a positive cycle of improvement. Look up running intervals sessions and hill sprints. Some are possible to do on the treadmill (perfect for winter when it’s too miserable to go outside but you don’t want to take a day off) and others are better outside. Be strict – the point is that it pushes you as this is when you improve. Classes such as Barry’s or Best’s Bootcamps and 1 Rebel can help improve speed if you’re not sure where to start by yourself.

 

  • Stay consistent

Whilst not everything, a large part of improving your running is getting more time on your feet. After all, it’s hard to improve at something you rarely do! This means training consistently week after week, and doing as many of your planned sessions as possible. Depending on your goals, this can mean going out for a run everyday, or just doing a couple of longer runs a week. Set yourself a goal of running at least X miles/km per week to keep on track. Download Strava to keep track of your runs (and get route inspiration from others in your area). Consistency is key to improvement, and as you get better you can set yourself more and harder targets.

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Cross training is great for improving strength and reducing injury

  • Cross training

As with everything, it is possible to over-train when it comes to running. Everyone’s tolerance is different – I can’t run long distances 2 consecutive days without injuring myself! One of the best ways of improving running without over-training is to cross-train on non running days. Cross training is where you practise another kind of fitness training to complement your running, and is key to any running programme. Examples include cycling, weight-training, swimming etc. The advantages of cross training are many: it adds variety to training, which reduces chances of injury, prevents boredom and utilises muscles that aren’t used when running, building strength and stability.

The goal of cross training is to improve strength, cardiovascular fitness and/or speed up your recovery. The exercises you choose for your cross training should reflect these needs, and can vary over time. Getting the right balance of cross-training and running can be a challenge, and it’s important to remember that if you are training for a specific purpose, your training should be based around the runs, not the cross training. Too much or too little can lead to exhaustion and reduced progress with your running.

In general, you should complete 1-3 cross training sessions a week, including a lower intensity one, such as yoga or pilates if you are doing multiple sessions a week. Aim to strength train (lift weights) once a week to build muscle and strength.

Ultimately figure out what works for you, and don’t underestimate the power of recovery. Ensure your workouts are timed so you are still able to carry out your usual running routine (i.e. don’t do a heavy leg day before a sprint session). And enjoy them! Variety is the spice of life 🙂

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Whatever you do, just get out there and enjoy yourself!

The mental health benefits of sport

Exercise has lots of known benefits – improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, increased bone density etc., but the mental health benefits are, if not ignored, rarely celebrated as much as the physical – there’s no ‘before and after’ transformation photo, little obvious outwardly change… and yet for me, the mental health benefits of exercise are SO much more important than anything else. Better still than simply exercising, SPORTS can have an even larger positive effect. Initiatives such as England Athletics’ #runandtalk and Sport England’s ‘Get Set to Go‘ have started to open up the conversation about mental health, as well as make social sports more accessible to all.

Countless studies have linked physical activity to lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress, even improving conditions such as ADHD and PTSD – and there’s a particular class of exercise that does it better than any other. Sports – the kind of exercise where there’s a particular goal – has helped me and countless others both physically and mentally.

Throughout my life I have gone through various sports, training consistently, motivated by the daily mental improvements it helped me feel. When I was 15 I got into squash in a big way – it was the antidote to all negative emotions I had been feeling for many years. Constantly exhausted, depressed and feeling powerless, with low self-esteem to boot, I disliked school and struggled everyday, sadly assuming that that was just how I was meant to feel. As a teenager at a top school, I felt pressure to perform in academics whilst excelling in my social life, physical health, looks and home life – an impossible task that left me always feeling like I was running in a hamster wheel just to stay in the same place.

Getting up and doing things wasn’t always on the front of my mind during the time I was depressed. Although I was at boarding school and had little choice in the matter, I would sometimes zombie my way through the days, and sports was initially a real struggle – I hated it until I was 15 because I was bad at everything I had tried. However, school did teach me the discipline of getting up and out even when I didn’t want to. Especially when I didn’t want to. Being semi forced to play a sport 3 times a week was so tough at first, but once I paid attention to how it made me feel, I would start to look forward to the times I could leave the classroom and head to the court, ready to set aside the day’s worries and fall into the rhythm of training. For anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety, one quick piece of advice is to get out into nature. Walking is good, running is better. Just keep moving forwards – it does wonders for your mind.

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Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK and can worsen depression – get outside!

Through daily squash training I was able to see myself improving, getting stronger, fitter and faster whilst spending time with a community that was entirely focussed on enjoyment and improvement. There’s nothing better for your self-esteem than working hard to reach a goal and your hard work paying off. If it’s possible to get addicted to exercise I did, training up to 7h a week on top of other sports. The intensity at which I worked meant that over the following 2 years I became good enough to compete in the national schools championships as the number 1 player for my school. But it wasn’t the winning I cared about – the best thing about it was the way it made me feel. It was that high that I was chasing. When you feel totally out of control with your life, having that one thing that you can control is a godsend.

I also started horse riding in a serious way at this point. The unique thing with horse riding is that horses are terrifyingly good at mirroring emotions. It is impossible to feel stressed or distracted whilst jumping around a ring if you actually want to get very far. So every time I headed to the stables I learned to leave my fears and worries at the stable door and spend an hour without focussing on anything but me and the 17hh (huge) muscle machine beneath me.

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Nothing beats the feeling of horse riding

After I left school I wasn’t able to play squash or ride so much – frequent travel before heading to university meant that it was impossible to find a routine, but the discipline training taught me translated well into other areas of my life. I still revelled in playing squash when I got the chance and picked it up any time I had the opportunity. Being good isn’t the point – it’s all the other benefits that are there regardless of your standard. My year away from the stresses of education tempered my obsession with exercising, allowing me to enjoy it for what it was every time I played. I learned balance and the importance of working on all aspects of health and happiness, including taking care of my body, resting and fuelling it properly. No more 10h training weeks and hello rest days.

Once I arrived at university I picked up running and whilst I loved it, it didn’t hold the same mind-clearing properties that squash and riding had before. I spent university mixing up weights in the gym and running, but I was missing that little extra something you get when you really ‘click’ with a sport. Leaving university led me to boxing, which I now practise weekly. I’m not the first person to talk about the benefits of boxing for mental health – Prince Harry alerted the nation of the power of boxing for coping with mental stress back in April. Multiple professional boxers have done the same, despite the history of corruption in some areas of the sport. Ellie Goulding, too, voiced almost exactly my sentiments about the sport:

“It wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger. It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise – however you like to work out – is good for the soul,”

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The university athletics club kept me busy and fit

What all of the above sports have in common, I have now realised, is that they don’t allow any space or time for outside emotions and negativity to join. Focussing your attention on your goal – the next shot, the perfect line into a jump, the rhythm of your punches – leads to a sense of power and achievement at the end of a session that isn’t found anywhere else. It’s a kind of enforced mindfulness not found in all forms of exercise, banishing dark thoughts whilst simultaneously releasing endorphins and shifting your focus from the future in the outside world to the now in your personal world.

Above are three sports that have helped me more than I can tell you. The combination of the physical, mental and emotional benefits beat any pill or any diet, and now that I feel I have achieved the perfect balance of exercise, nutrition and rest, I have never been so happy.

Everyone’s go-to sport for relaxation will be different – some will find this with weights, others with running (runners high is a real thing) and still others walking round a park. The trick is to find what does it for you and do that.

I really hope you have found this article useful – I feel so lucky to have been able to find so many sports that I love throughout my life, and now want to spend time spreading the word about the benefits of sport and exercise. You don’t have to be depressed or have a diagnosed conditions to feel the benefits. They’re there for all of us. What does exercise do for you?

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Further reading:

If you struggle with depression this is pretty helpful (it’s the little steps that make all the difference!)

This goes into some depth about benefits for sufferers of OCD

See infographic below for some more benefits for everyone!

“Studies conducted on mice have shown that exercising on a running wheel helps them sprout new connections between neurons in their brains. Exercise may cause the release of “growth factors,” which trigger neurons to make new connections. These new connections may help to reduce symptoms of OCD. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, “feel good” neurochemicals, boosting mood and fending off stress.”

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Holiday fitness – how to stay on track

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Holidays are a great time to pick up something new – waterskiing KILLS my glutes

Holiday time! The moment we can get away from everyday life, relax and enjoy ourselves. But for people on a fitness and health journey, holidays can sometimes be a time of anxiety, getting away from the everyday routine that they’ve come to rely on to see results. For others it can be an excuse to abandon healthy eating and exercising, which can see you go back on months of progress.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love holidays, I love good food and I think it’s amazing to be able to take a proper rest from working out every now and again. However, I also have been in both positions here: where I have temporarily ‘fallen off the bandwagon’ and also where I overexercise in order to compensate for what I deemed ‘bad’ foods. After years of trying, I have finally got the balance of health on holiday right – I’m able to enjoy the holiday without feeling the need to overdo it – on either food or exercise.

 

You should return from your holidays feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. If you’ve got a rigid workout routine at home, think about this time as a chance to shock your body by doing different exercises, so that when you return you are able to continue seeing progress that perhaps wasn’t so fast before.

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Walk/run – it’s a great way to see lots of your destination in a short space of time

 

My top tips:

  • Eat three meals a day. It can be tempting to skip meals, or to graze throughout the day, especially if your accommodation is all-inclusive. Try to stick to regular meal times and not eat in between unless you’re actually hungry. The heat may make you feel less hungry, but having a health salad midday can help you to make healthy choices when it comes to dinnertime.

 

  • Move! Gymming is 100% NOT the only form of exercise. In fact, it is only one of almost countless ways to get your heart rate up. Walking and running are great ways to explore a city or the surrounding countryside. Ask your hotel for good running routes and don’t forget to take water. Even just walking around the local town for half a day or doing an hours swimming should be sufficient for a day’s exercise. Try not to spend entire days doing absolutely nothing.

 

  • Be wary of the buffet – fun though it may seem, buffets are an absolute killer when it comes to a healthy diet. Choose different foods everyday and try not to have a little of everything – four course breakfasts are not ideal if you’re having them everyday! Enjoy the variety, but don’t let it overwhelm you.

 

  • Try a new sport – if you’re in a hot country, maybe try horse riding, surfing or waterskiing, or maybe switch from skiing to snowboarding if you’re on the slopes. Using different muscles to normal can help you progress faster than you would usually. Not to mention it’s great fun to find new sports that you’re good at!

 

  • Drink LOTS of water. This will help keep you full and is super important, especially in hot countries even if you’re not doing very much!

 

  • Find a new gym routine. Often hotel gyms are very basic, with lots of cardio equipment and some light weights. Use this time to practise bodyweight workouts or workout different parts of the body – a 10kg dumbbell might not be much for squats but that’s plenty for an arm workout. Use this to your advantage!

 

Most of all, do what makes you feel good. If you find yourself dreading the even idea of the gym, head outside and do something totally different – it could be your body’s way of saying you’re burnt out. Spend the time remaining active and healthy, but also allowing your body and mind to rest. Enjoy your holiday!

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Maybe a little bit burned, but at least not burnt out.

National Pet Week – how dogs can improve our health

It’s coming up to national pet week, so I thought I’d do a bit of a different post, writing about the positive effects of having a dog. I hope after reading you’ll look at your pet with new found understanding, and if you don’t have one, maybe you’ll adopt, sign up to pet sitting websites like me, or just go on ‘puppy therapy’ walks in the park to get your puppy fix.

Almost everyone I know feels better after contact with a dog, cat or other domesticated animal. There’s something about their unjudging looks and innocence that just makes you feel good. Having signed up for multiple pet sitting websites at university, I know how much of a difference it makes to my happiness when there’s a dog around in the house. But why is it? What is so special about pets – dogs especially – that makes them so wonderful?

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Thomas, the lovely dog I look after in Bristol

A little background: dogs evolved around 130,000 years ago, where they are thought to have originated from grey wolves. They were thought to scavenge food around temporary human settlements (humans hadn’t even moved on from hunter-gatherer societies at this point) and become more and more closely associated with those humans. Those that were the least scared of humans survived better, and over time the friendliest, most trainable and useful dogs were later bred into the many breeds of dog we see today. Some were used for hunting, some for companionship, some as watch dogs – there were even some breeds specifically bred for keeping your feet warm in bed

So what makes dogs (and pets in general) so awesome?

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My adorable pup at home 🙂

Mental benefits

  • People with pets have higher well-being (e.g. greater self esteem, more exercise) and individuality (e.g. higher conscientiousness, less lonely)
  • Pets can alleviate social isolation and reduce negativity from bad social interactions in everyday life.
  • Spending time with animals releases endorphins, the same feel good hormones that we get when we exercise.

Physical benefits

  • Pet owners are less likely to die within 1 year of having a heart attack and elderly people with dogs have fewer medical visits
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate just from stroking a pet, and also in the long term – those with pets maintained lower blood pressure and cholesterol even when apart from their pets.
  • Encouragement to go outside and walk in fresh air – this has a multitude of physical and mental benefits all by itself.

Has having a pet helped you in any way? Could you consider adopting one if circumstances allowed?

If you’re interested in getting a pet of your own, please consider adopting at your local shelter.

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Graphic thanks to PuppySpot, find a puppy (America)

Top budget picks from MandM direct

When training everyday, it’s important to feel fresh and comfortable every time you start a workout. For me that means wearing different kit for each type of workout. Also, add in that extra motivation bonus of a new pair of trainers and you know you’re hitting a good session!

This means constantly looking for new sports gear and at least enough to get you through the week without resorting to smelly bras from 2 days ago! And when you have an activewear obsession like I do, it’s difficult to buy enough without going massively over budget.

So when I found MandM Direct, I thought I’d share my ‘top budget picks’ with you guys. They sell clothes from so many top brands, including ELLE sport, Puma and New Balance, as well as casual clothes for everyday wear at reduced prices (always up to 75% off!). You can kit yourself head to toe and still have some money left over for your favourite gym class.

I picked out my top choices from the website for under £100 total, saving £157!  That’s for 2 tops, 2 pairs of leggings, trainers and a jacket without breaking the bank.

You can click here to shop the look at MandM Direct

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Elle sport bra – £8.99, Elle sport jacket – £16.99, Puma trainers – £29.99 (!!)

These Puma shoes are my all time favourite to wear and are somewhere between comfy everyday shoes and training shoes. They look amazing and are even comfier – I have barely stopped wearing them since I got them (if you follow me on instagram you will know this)! If you’re looking for a shoe that will look equally stylish walking around London as in the gym, these are for you.

Above outfit all New Balance. Top – £11.99, capris – £16.99

This cute matching kit from New Balance is the ultimate running outfit. It is cool and comfy, and the reflective panelling on the sides mean you’re extra-visible, even at night. I have done Barry’s Bootcamp in the leggings and they definitely hold their own in terms of keeping you dry and comfy throughout. If you’re a fan of Barry’s Bootcamp, you’ll know that that’s not easy!

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 ELLE sport tights – £14.49

This ELLE jacket will really come into its own now it is spring. It’s lightweight, with mesh panels for ventilation, so it’s perfect for those cool evening runs, or heading home after a hot gym session. The zip pockets are also ideal when travelling around at speed – the amount of time I spend thinking I’ve dropped things out of my pockets because they have no zips is ridiculous! Luckily with this jacket that’s not a problem.

I would definitely buy from MandM Direct again, especially considering the diversity and quality of clothes available – have a sift through their website and you’ll find everything you could need for most sports at up to 75% off which, when you’re an active wear addict like me, is invaluable.