Common Running Nutrition Mistakes

This is a guest blog post by Renee McGregor, a dietitian who I look up to for evidence-based information, especially in regards to running and nutrition. 

Renee is a leading Sports and Eating disorder specialist dietitian with 20 years of experience working in clinical and performance nutrition. She’s worked with athletes across the globe including supporting Olympic (London, 2012), Paralympic (Rio, 2016) and Commonwealth (Queensland, 2018) teams. She is regularly asked to work directly with high performing and professional athletes that have developed a dysfunctional relationship with food that is impacting their performance, health and career. On top of this Renee is the founder of Enspire clinic, a centre specialising in supporting individuals and athletes of all levels and ages, coaches and sports science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance sports performance and manage eating disorders. This is reflected in her work on social media too, priding herself on proving an educational hub for both the professional and everyday athlete. When not inspiring others with her incredible work, Renee can be found running the mountains and chasing the trails, most likely training for a crazy ultra-marathon!

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Everyone has an opinion about nutrition – why shouldn’t they? After all, we all need food to survive. However, there is a difference between anecdotal nutrition advice and actual nutritional science. On social media we are exposed to the former a lot more than the latter. What works for one person in a sample of n=1, may not work for another. Just the other day I was on a group chat where someone very boldly stated that their new vegan regime was the cause of their newly found energy and improved recovery. However, this was based on subjective information, which they had collected over a few weeks. Is this science? No – this is one individual’s personal experience with no information of what her diet had been like previously or even if any other aspect of her life had also changed which may have resulted in how she was feeling. Presently there is no evidence in the literature to suggest that a plant-based diet can improve an individual’s performance – such anecdotal evidence could cause more harm than good.

Nutritional science, and particularly sports specific nutrition, is actually quite complex. While many simply look at the impact of one particular nutrient or process on performance, this completely ignores the fact that the human body is run on an intricate system of endocrine, biochemical, immunological, physiological and psychological pathways that all work collectively.

Let’s take the keto diet as an example. This was a huge trend a few years ago and many still promote it with the idea that if we remove carbohydrate from our diet, then our body will use more fat for fuel and improve our performance but also our body composition. While on the surface this may seem to have some gravitas – take out carbohydrate and the body will have to find another fuel source to provide the body with energy – what has been completely ignored is the importance of carbohydrate intake on the hypothalamic pituitary axis, which is necessary to get adaptation from a training response. In addition, carbohydrate has a critical role in optimising immune function in those who are physically very active.

So, with this all in mind, here are some of the common mistakes often made…

 

Carbohydrates

Numerous studies have demonstrated that carbohydrate is the preferred fuel used by the body and is definitely the key to optimal performance. That said, many runners still have little understanding of how much they actually need in order to meet their requirements with many under fuelling.

As stated above, carbohydrate availability is particularly key for the hormonal cascade needed in order to see adaptation and thus progression. This means ensuring sufficient carbohydrate before, during if your runs are over 90 minutes and within 30 minutes of completing your session. While everyone’s physiology is slightly different, as a rule of thumb the requirements set are 5g/Kg BW of carbohydrate if you are running for 60 minutes a day, with this figure increasing for longer or multiple training sessions. In general, I do not encourage fasted sessions and the recommendations state that if you are going to include these, you should not do more than 2 a week and they should be no longer thank 60 minutes, at an effort of no more than 6/10. More than this and at higher efforts, potentially can result in chromic stress on your body leading to a depressed immune system, higher risk of injury and down regulation of your hormones, particularly your thyroid gland, oestrogen and testosterone, leading to further negative health consequences.

In practise, if you are training regularly, it is unlikely that you will ever have full glycogen stores and so it is essential to ensure that you consume carbohydrate at meals and snacks throughout the day. Aim to include nutrient dense carbohydrates such as oats, potatoes, whole grains, fruit and yoghurts at 3 meals (about a 1/3 of your plate) as well as including 2-3 smaller carbohydrate based snacks such as bananas, cereal bars, 2 slices malt loaf or 2-3 oatcakes with peanut butter.

One common observation I have seen is that many people view vegetables as carbohydrate, often displacing these for pasta, grains, bread and potatoes. While vegetables play a role within our diet and should be included, they are predominantly fibre which means they add bulk to the diet but not essential carbohydrate fuel.

 

Protein

There is a lot of hype around protein in the recovery phase, with many runners stressing about not getting enough to enhance recovery. Protein does play a role in the response to training and should be included in addition to carbohydrate, particularly immediately after. The general recommendations are that a recovery meal/snack/choice should provide 1.2g/Kg BW carbohydrate and 0.4g/Kg BW protein. So for someone who is 55Kg this would be 66g of carbohydrate and 22g protein and looks like a medium size baked potato with a small tin of tuna.

It is important to appreciate that the body will struggle to utilise more than 0.4g/Kg BW post training for muscle protein synthesis and adaptation. Any additional protein consumed will be used as fuel or stored as excess. Therefore, it is actually really important to spread your protein requirements out throughout the day. Aim for palm size portion of protein at 3 meals and then half this amount for snacks. This will ensure that your body always has an amino acid pool to draw from in order to repair and rebuild muscles, throughout the day, as well as preventing blood sugar fluctuations.

 

Sugar

With so much negativity around sugar, it is hardly surprising that many runners are equally concerned about their intake. While I would never advocate a high sugar diet, there are definitely times during training and competing, where sugar is the only option. During endurance events, such as a half or full marathon, the body will need an easily digestible source of carbohydrate to keep stores topped up so that running pace can be maintained beyond 60-90 minutes. Gels, jelly babies, sports drinks are all suitable options and they all contain sugar. So in this case, sugar actually enables and potentially enhances your performance.

 

5 Nutrition Staples:

  • Don’t be drawn to the latest fad – many runners will try almost anything to improve their performance. Focus on training and getting the building blocks of your diet correct first – this is going to have more impact than whether you are gluten free or not.
  • After a very hard training session and especially when you will be training again within 12 hours, taking on something like flavoured milk is an ideal choice to start recovery as quickly as possible. The combination of added sugar to the natural milk sugar causes insulin to increase in the blood. Contrary to what you might think, this is actually really important. Only when our insulin levels are raised, can we draw carbohydrates and protein into the muscles to start the recovery process.
  • Always practise your race day nutrition – the worst mistake you can make is to use what is available on race day without previously having tried it –this could have real negative effects on your performance.
  • Work out what is right for you – just because your training partner swears by a bowl of porridge every morning, this does not necessarily mean this is the right fuel choice for you.
  • You don’t have to eat less on your rest day – for most this will fall between two training days so it is the perfect opportunity to recover and then refuel. By being consistent with your nutrition, you will also allow for consistency with your training which allows for progression.

 

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If you enjoyed this blog post, go and check out Renee on Instagram and share this post!

10 Amazing Adventure Documentaries

With many countries around the world going into near-total lockdown, it’s fair to say that there are millions of people needing an adventure fix, who will be unable to get one for the foreseeable future. The day I decided to quarantine myself (6 days before the government officially recommended it), I was due to go to Banff Mountain Film Festival, showcasing some of the best documentaries about all things adventure. I’m obsessed with watching films like this – it’s easy to convince yourself you’re nearing the limit of your abilities, but watching what other people have achieved over the years really breaks down any concept of ‘I can’t’.

Not being able to get into the great outdoors all the time doesn’t dampen my desire to experience it, so I thought I’d compile a list of some of my favourites adventure (especially running) documentaries to keep you in the zone until we’re allowed on our adventures again. Don’t forget – just because you can’t leave the house, it doesn’t mean you have to lose all inspiration.

 

Unbreakable: The Western States 100 Feature Film
Unbreakable: The Western States 100 follows the four lead men on their journey through the Western States 100, one of the hardest ultramarathons in the world. It’s an old ‘un but a good ‘un. This film is now available for free on YouTube, so make the most of it!

 

Free Solo
This documentary was released in 2018, and profiles American rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to scale El Capitan without any ropes. It is no frills, for the love of it sport at its best. Would thoroughly recommend.

 

Icarus
Less about adventure, and more about what happens when you put money and national pride above the pure nature of sport, this Oscar-winning documentary delves into Russia’s doping scandal entirely by accident. It’s a thrilling watch, although makes you question all professional sport a little.

 

Tom Evans: Zero to 100
Uploaded a mere 2 weeks ago, this documentary follows British ultra runner Tom Evans as he prepares for and runs his first Western States 100. Tom only started competing in running seriously 2 years ago, making all of his running feats quite extraordinary. This is only a short documentary, which you can watch for free on YouTube, but I have no doubt we’ll be seeing plenty more of Tom in films to come.

 

Losing Sight of Shore
Rather than beating records, when these four women set out to row across the Pacific, they will be the first to ever set the record of the 8500 mile, 9 month journey. I’ve not yet watched this, but it has been recommended multiple times, so I’ve added it to the Netflix watch list!

 

Found on the 49
If you can’t get enough of the Western States 100 (I’m pretty sure I know each aid station and the rough course by now!), give this 49 minute documentary a watch. This film follows the story of Jim Walmsley’s first 100 miler at the 2016 Western States 100 mile endurance run. The filmmakers follow Jim a few weeks out from race day through his historic day ahead of course record splits and the dramatic conclusion of being lost on highway 49.

 

Paul Tierney: Running the Wainwrights
Another great British athlete on another great adventure. This film is so perfect because of how humble and down to earth Paul is. This documentary came out late February this year and has already made a mark. It is tough racing in races such as the WS 100, but aiming to beat a record without having others to race against requires a huge amount of mental strength. Give it a watch and add the Lake District to your running holiday list post-quarantine!

 

Finding Traction
I’ve not actually watched this one, but after watching the trailer I’ve added it to my list! Women and men are equally matched at ultra endurance races, and yet so many films seem to be about the men that take part. This documentary, however, follows ultrarunner Nikki Kimball as she attempts to beat the men’s record for the 243 mile Long Trail record in the US. Watch for free on YouTube.

 

Touching the Void
One to make you want to stay inside forever, Touching the Void tells the story of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson’s 1985 descent of Peru’s 21,00ft Siula Grande. I watched this at school in 2003 and it has stuck with me since – I have re-added it to my list. You can watch on YouTube for free in bad quality, or buy from Amazon Prime and other services. 

 

Where Dreams go to Die – Gary Robbins
I was going to put ‘The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young‘ documentary on here, but it’s been taken off Netflix, and I figured most of you would have seen it anyway. I did a panel talk last year with Eoin Keith, who broke his collarbone during his Barkley Marathon attempt, and decided that anyone who even thinks of partaking is officially mad. This documentary tracks Gary Robbins’ training and Barkley Marathon ‘attempts’ over 2 years – and is free to watch on YouTube!

 

I would love to hear of some of your favourite adventure films! We’re all in need of a bit of inspiration right now, so comment below or share with me on Instagram.

10 things to do when you start running

With today’s announcement of the imminent closure of the UK’s gyms, many people will flock to other forms of exercise, from home workouts to yoga, to running. It might not be for everyone, but with limited alternative options, there’s a strong likelihood more people will be giving it a go.

First off: Do it! In terms of stress-busting ability, a good cardio session is unbeatable. Running is hard, and certainly not always pleasant, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is incredible, and while we’re putting our whole lives on hold, a sense of achievement can be hard to come by. So far, it’s still being allowed (and even recommended) by the government, so long as certain precautions are made.

However, there are some things to think about before getting started, not least because if you injure yourself, seeing a doctor or physio may be harder than usual, and there aren’t many alternative exercises you’ll be able to try instead!

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Running doesn’t have to involve seeing anyone or touching anything, so now is the perfect time to begin (if your government allows!)

  1. Start with a programme

If you’re new to running, don’t jump straight in there. In a moment of extreme motivation (or madness, or stress), it can be tempting to lace up your shoes and try to run 10km. Some people may be able to, but most won’t. Trying a couch to 5k, or if you have some experience already, a 5k to 10k, will ensure you progress at a pace that is less likely to put too much strain on your joints and muscles. It’ll also ensure you get out regularly, which is important for mental health.

2. Wear the right shoes

If you only have metcons because you’re a cross fitter, or converses, please don’t run in these! Your chance of injury will be greatly increased  – Emma Kirk Odunubi has some great information on this, so if you’re not sure, ask her! Usually I would recommend getting a gait analysis to find the right shoes for you, but this is unlikely to be possible right now. Since the postal service is still up and running, buy yourself a pair of running shoes that you think will work (I like Asics, Adidas, Nike and Hoka) and run in those. They might not be perfect, but they’re likely to be better than your lifting shoes!

3. Take rest days

If you’re doing a couch to 5k or similar plan, this will be built into your schedule, but if you’re just taking yourself for runs, make sure to allow yourself time to recover! No matter how fit you are, running places strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints, as well as your body’s energy systems. Allowing at least 2 rest days a week if important for recovery.

4. Don’t always go long

Long distance running is one of the only sports that can temporarily weaken the immune system. While exercise of 30-45 minutes a day is beneficial to your immune system, the energy systems required for long runs, and the amount of cortisol (stress hormone produced) can temporarily reduce your immune defence. Pair this with cold weather and a global pandemic, and long runs might not be in your best interest. Of course, the definition of what a ‘long run’ is varies from person to person, but bear in mind that shorter and faster may be better, at least for now.

5. Intervals

I get asked a lot why, when training for a marathon or half marathon, I include fast paced, short intervals. Intervals may make you a better runner, quicker, but also have the power to make your longer runs feel easier. It’s also just a variant of your normal long runs. Having a varied training schedule means you’re likely to work muscles (and your brain) slightly differently each time, building strength and keeping yourself interested.

6. Cross-train

OK, so the gyms are shut and the average person doesn’t have tonnes of equipment at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in other forms of training. More running doesn’t no necessarily make you a better runner, and fitting in cross training twice a week, with 3 runs a week is a great way to build strength and stave off injury. Try bodyweight exercises and physio exercises (prevention is better than cure!). Here are some great people to follow for online workouts. I also did a vlog with my physio where she talks about ways to avoid injury that’s worth a watch!

7. Eat well

This should go without saying, and most people don’t find it too hard once they start running! However, it’s easy to forget that new exercises (even if you exercised before) can be extremely energetically demanding for the body, and you need to eat to replace lost calories. Ensure your plate has plenty of colour (I don’t mean smarties) and dietary fibre, focussing on vegetables and wholegrains, and don’t forget your healthy fats (olive oil is a staple of my diet)! I don’t frequently take protein powder, but if you feel like you’re really struggling to fit in enough calories, this may be good to look into.

8. Sleep

With the start of any new exercise regime, the body can feel tired and sluggish, thanks to  a combination of having to learn a new skill and using up lots of physical energy. Getting adequate rest is vital for performance, but also your long-term health. You may need to sleep more if you are not used to exercising, so try to get to bed earlier and reduce caffeine intake if possible. Not being able to sleep is a symptom of overtraining, so if you’re feeling exhausted but unable to sleep after throwing yourself headfirst into a new running regime, maybe take a step back for a couple of weeks.

9. Keep away from people

It’s within the governmental guidelines (within the UK at least) that running while avoiding people is absolutely fine – recommended even! The benefits are notable, and will be a great thing to keep most people mentally sound. However, as mentioned above, you’re most vulnerable to getting sick for up to 72 hours after a long, hard run due to elevated cortisol levels. Combined with the inevitable bodily fluids from running, especially in the cold (spittle, sweat, snot – you name it, you’ll have it), it’s a really sensible idea to stay away from people as much as possible on your runs, for your own safety and theirs.

10. Enjoy it! 

Running is a love it or hate it sport, but if you’re in the latter camp, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I used to HATE running, but I forced myself to do it because it was my alone time (and because I wanted to lose weight). Now, however, I am quite obsessed. I’m not even that good, but the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get after each run is unparalleled. I like to share my runs to Strava (a run tracking app) to get a sense of community spirit, even when I’m not running with others. Even in quarantine, we’re in this together!

 

I hope you found these tips useful! If you’d like to share them, please tag my Instagram and encourage everyone you know to take this up! Who knows, we could all come out of this epidemic in far better shape (mentally and physically) than when we went in.  

Top people to follow for home workouts

With much of the world’s population recommended to stay at home, and some even on lockdown, I have been asked where I would look for home workouts. Thankfully, in an age where social media is so built up across society and working out is the norm, home workouts are easy to come by.

I asked you guys which you find the best, so here are my findings! Please do share this with your friends and family. Exercise keeps the brain happy and is a great way to structure the day, which is extremely important when all other structure has gone. You could all come out of this fitter than when we went in!

There are loads of paid apps that you can use/subscribe to which have some really great workouts on, but I personally want to support individuals at this time (albeit some pretty famous ones). I may well create another list of apps that you can subscribe to as I know they’re popular! Let me know your faves and if you’d be interested in a separate list of these 🙂

 

Instagram

Thanks to the advent of carousel posts and IGTV, workout videos on Instagram are pretty common. Here are some of my favourite accounts:

Natacha.oceane

Ironman and athlete Natacha Ocean has always been a favourite of mine. With her evidence-based approach to training and nutrition and ‘training’ style workouts, she is definitely one to follow. Check out her IG for workout inspo.

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Shona_vertue

Another athlete, ex-gymnast Shona shares a very balanced approach to training, far removed from the ‘no days off’ crew. As a yoga teacher, a lot of her sessions are already bodyweight based, and perfect for strengthening supporting muscles. Shona will also be hosting live workouts from her YouTube channel so get involved!

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Aliceliveing

Personal Trainer Alice shares gym-based workouts on a regular basis, but also has more conditioning workouts available too. Also, although she doesn’t post there anymore, you can find some home workouts on her YouTube channel.

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Zannavandijk

Zanna has recently been travelling, but regularly shared workouts before that, so scroll back a little for a wide variety! She also has a YouTube but I can’t find regular workout videos on there (but you might want to check it out anyway) 🙂

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Sophjbutler

Sophie became a wheelchair user after injuring herself during a workout, but if anything, she has become more determined. She shares home workouts suitable for all, and is just generally a delight to follow. Check out her (somewhat sassy) twitter too.

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Lillysabri

Lilly shares workouts on her YouTube (over 300 available!) and Instagram, so choose your platform! They’re easy to follow and she does them in a bikini, so you can pretend you, too, are in sunny Dubai.

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Annieopenshaw

Friend, squash player and all-round superb person Annie shares workouts regularly on her Instagram, including many without equipment. She also has a YouTube channel that may provide amusement.

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Hauptstadttrainer

I met Erik on our little Tour de France trip last summer, and have followed his account closely since. He is incredibly friendly, but also (possibly more importantly on IG) incredibly knowledgeable, and shares home workouts suitable for all. Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.01.56

LeenPeet

Not everyone who shares great workouts is instal-famous. Been Peeters is a certified personal trainer who shares home workouts suitable for all on her Instagram. Check it out!

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YouTube

Pamela_rf

I personally think it should be illegal for anyone to have 4.6m IG followers at the age of 23, but looking at Pamela’s Instagram account, she’s clearly doing something right! However, her workouts can primarily be found on her YouTube – she even has a ‘home workouts’ playlist.

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Les Mills

Not technically a person, but well known in the world of accessible workouts. Sometimes a little high-impact, but plenty of options there and all free!

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Lucy Wyndham-Read 

I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetics-based approach of this channel, but for many it’ll be the difference between exercising and not, and benefits are there whether you exercise for mental health, aesthetics or performance!

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Sarah’s Day

Sarah doesn’t strictly do workout videos, but has a wide variety of content. I expect, with the rise of demand, she will be posting more and more home workout content, so stay tuned!

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The Body Coach

If you’re looking for a wide variety of workouts and regular videos, The Body Coach is your guy! My friend loved his ‘7 days of sweat’ workouts, and that was before quarantine. Subscribe to stay sane.

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Madfit

For regular, easy to follow workouts (choreographed to music!), subscribe to Maddie’s channel on YouTube. You won’t get bored with the variety of content on there 🙂

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Sydney Cummings

Personal trainer Sydney shares a multitude of workouts on her channel, arranged by time or category. Want 60 minutes of workout or a no equipment workout? Check her out.

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Heart Alchemy Yoga

Looking for something a little more relaxing? Michelle is catering for those of us with slightly anxious dispositions, sharing yoga and meditations suitable for all abilities.

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Exhausted – The effect of air pollution on running

It might be just me, but it seems that air pollution has risen on the agenda of Things To Worry About in the last few months. Plastic pollution was one of the key phrases within eco-conscious circles in 2019, with laws coming into place this year in a bid to control the problem. The term pollution, however, refers not only to plastic, but also the introduction of any contaminant into the environment which may cause harm. This can take the form of noise, light, chemicals or even heat – most of which we cannot see.

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Pollution is an issue in cities (and even many rural areas) around the world

Air pollution has a devastating impact on those living in the cities. While the pollution usually cannot be seen, the impacts are felt by all, with it shortening lives and contributing to a number of health problems. In the UK, pollution is a bigger killer than smoking, and costs the UK economy over £20bn per year. The biggest culprits are Nitrogen dioxide, emitted mainly by diesel vehicles, and PM2.5, fine particulate matter linked to adverse health effects. In the EU the toxic air is causing more than 1000 premature deaths each day from PM2.5– a figure which is 10 times higher than the number of deaths from traffic accidents.

Because of this invisible nature, it has been easy for people (and thus governments) to ignore the issue, focussing instead on highly visible, highly publicised issues and ‘buzzwords’, such as banning straws (good, but of limited benefit to the plastic pollution problem). However, in October 2019, it was announced that the UK would introduce an Environment Bill to “help ensure that we maintain and improve our environmental protections as we leave the EU”, including focussing on air quality and PM2.5 in particular.

For runners and cyclists, an immediate concern, however, is how we can actively work to improve our health (and continue doing what we love) without inadvertently harming ourselves.

Unfortunately, running in heavily polluted air has been linked to inflamed lungs, increased risk of asthma (I experienced this firsthand at the age of 18, when I moved to Paris), and instances of heart attack, stroke, cancer and death. Needless to say, these risk factors are enough to put people off, and encourage them to run on a treadmill (boring), or worse still, avoid exercising outdoors entirely. But is this entirely justified?

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Live pollution meter of London (18/02/2020 10am)

Even the scientists admit the problem is complex. Andrew Grieve, Senior Air Quality Analyst at King’s College London, says “when you’re running, you’re breathing a lot more than you are just walking along the street and your inhalation rate is massive so you’re bringing in more pollution.” In fact, someone running a marathon will inhale the same amount of oxygen as a normal person would sitting down over two days. Most people also tend to breathe through their mouths, bypassing the nasal filters, which can work to reduce pollution intake. The carbon monoxide alone can inhibit the body’s ability to transport oxygen around the body, thus making running that little bit harder too.

On the plus side, running is really good for you. Although I couldn’t find any studies looking directly at the effect of running in polluted areas (other than this, for elite athletes over marathon distance), a study on people walking in polluted areas up to 16h a day or cycling up to 3.5h per day suggested that the benefits of activity outweighed any harm from pollution in all but the most extreme of cases.

Conclusions

The benefits from active travel generally outweigh health risks from air pollution and therefore should be further encouraged. When weighing long-term health benefits from PA (physical activity) against possible risks from increased exposure to air pollution, our calculations show that promoting cycling and walking is justified in the vast majority of settings, and only in a small number of cities with the highest PM2.5concentration in the world cycling could lead to increase in risk. (Tainio, Marko, et al. “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?.” Preventive medicine 87 (2016): 233-236.)

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Photo by James Purvis

However, there are things we could be doing to both decrease our risk of being negatively affected by air pollution, and also improve the air quality where we live.

  1. Choose lesser polluted routes when walking, running or cycling around cities. Choosing to walk or cycle on a quiet road instead of a busy one can sharply reduce the amount of pollution you take in. Even using a parallel road one block over from a traffic-clogged one can reduce your exposure by 50%. If you’re looking to run or cycle around London, consider downloading Clean Air Run Club on your phone to score routes by air quality.
  2. Run in the morning. Pollution increases throughout the day, especially in summer.
  3. Aim to find green spaces, or roads lined with trees – these are havens from pollution, and even a small amount of greenery between you and the traffic can dramatically reduce pollution levels!
  4. Take note of particularly bad air days using a live air quality monitor. These will often be on hot and humid days. If you can, avoid running/cycling outside on these days, perhaps getting in some cross training indoors, or a run on the treadmill.
  5. Take public transport. Although particulate pollution in tube lines is up to 30 times higher than roadside, Prof Frank Kelly, chair of Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), said people should continue to use the tube given the relatively short time spent underground and lack of evidence of harmful effects. Using public transport also reduces fumes expelled by cars, cleaning the air above ground that we breathe for the rest of the day.
  6. Eliminate wood burners and fireplace usage. Wood fires are sold as ‘eco’ or ‘clean’ alternatives to electric heaters or gas fires, but are far from it, and are a big contributor to wintertime pollution across Britain. Reducing wood burning reduces deaths and pollution-related ill-health.
  7. Switch to clean energy sources and aim to conserve energy at home and work. By switching to a renewable energy that is generated by natural sources such as solar, water and wind, you can help to fight harmful levels of air pollution.
  8. Lobby governments. For real change to be seen, governments need to prioritise pollution and other environmental issues (which go hand in hand), and now is the time to pressure them.
  9. Stop driving (especially around urban areas) unless absolutely necessary. Although you may believe driving a car protects you from the worst of the fumes, pollution levels inside cars are usually significantly higher than directly outside the car on the street, due to exhaust fumes being circulated around the enclosed space.

The good news is that we know the impact of pollution and we know what we can do to reduce it. We also know that even small improvements have substantial and immediate benefits for us all. What is needed now is for global governments to step up and reassess funding priorities. Pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe, and it’s time something was done about it.

 

This article was adapted from a piece I wrote for EcoAge. For more of a deep dive into the issue of pollution, head on over. 

Come and find me on YouTube and Instagram for more running content!

Overtraining

Fitness undoubtedly has a myriad of benefits, from the mood-boosting to the life-improving. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and over-training is an issue that can affect even amateur athletes in pursuit of their next PB or particular aesthetic goals.

When I first started training I felt invincible. Increasing my sessions per week left me exhausted but happy and no matter how much I trained, I always had the desire for more. However, long story short, recurring injuries and losing my period aged 17 left me questioning whether I really was helping my body, or whether my intense training regime was actually causing more harm than good.

It wasn’t until later that I discovered RED-S, or Relative Energy Deficiency in sport, previously known as Female Athlete Triad, which is now known to affect both men and women. If not enough food is consumed to cover the energy demands of your workouts, and the rest thereafter, chronic energy deficiency can occur – you basically run out of fuel in your body, and your body does what it can to make it up. This may mean fuelling from fat, muscle, brain and even the heart.

It is possible to be overtraining without all the symptoms of RED-S, and this can lead to a range of problems.

First, it’s important to bear in mind that overtraining is possible by:

a) Doing too much exercise (for your current level of fitness) or

b) not having enough recovery between workouts or

c) chronically underfuelling

It is possible to accidentally overtrain if you increase your training load without increasing food intake, decrease your rest times and/or reduce food intake.

Symptoms:

Decrease in training ‘gains’

We all want to make progress when we workout, but overtraining could hinder exactly that. Overtraining can lead to an increase in recovery times and decrease in performance, meaning that training sessions don’t provide the benefits that they should, so little to no improvement is seen.

Increased risk of injury

While most of us suffer from aches, pains and niggles at some point during a training regime, having recurring issues could be a sign of something more serious. When fatigue accumulates from lack of recovery, small injuries don’t have the chance to heal, and form can suffer, leaving the athlete at a greater chance of acute injuries, too. In addition, lack of food can lead to decreased bone density, especially in women, linked to fractures and osteoporosis, especially in athletes who don’t do weight-bearing exercises.

Insomnia/agitation/low mood

A good intake of food and sufficient rest are both important for our endocrine (hormone) system. When the body is under stress however, the overproduction of cortisol and disruption of other hormones can make it harder to wind down and fall asleep. This in turn can lead to low mood and agitation and, of course, less progress in training.

Recurrent illness

Training puts the body under a lot of stress, which when paired with rest can make it stronger. However, without sufficient food or rest, the body does not have enough energy to warn of viruses and other infections, making illnesses and infections more likely and more frequent.

Loss of period

When women train too hard, hormones can become unbalanced. Paired with a lack of energy availability, the body does not have the energy to support itself, let alone another life. Therefore many athletes lose their periods – whilst this is seen as ‘common’ and perhaps even ‘normal’ within the running community, it could be symptomatic of bigger issues and should never be ignored.

Often, overtraining is the result of a lack of education or an overabundance of enthusiasm for a particular sport. In these cases, recognising and resolving the problem can be quite simple. Eating more, ensuring rest days are adhered to and taking a step back from frequent intense sessions can resolve the above issues relatively quickly.

For some people however, the issues are more psychologically rooted, and may require professional help to deal with.  The paradox with RED-s and over overtraining, is that the result is reduced performance, exactly the opposite of what the athlete is aiming for. If you believe you might be suffering from overtraining, seek help from a health professional – not only will your training suffer if you don’t, but you could be putting your lifelong health at serious risk.

If you are unsure if you are suffering from overtraining, it is possible to measure bone density and hormone levels to ensure everything is in check. First, however, try reducing training intensity and/or increasing food consumption to see if any of the issues resolve themselves. A new PB is not worth the damage done from overtraining.

I hope this helps! I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject 🙂 Come and find me on Instagram and YouTube for more fitness and food content!

Sustainability in the running community

There’s no reason that running should be an unsustainable sport – powered by your own legs to places that no car could go, running should be about being at one with nature. However, with the increasing popularity of large races and the rise of trail races across national parks and remote locations, it’s hard to see how the increased footfall could not affect the environment.

Here are some of my top tips of how to train and race more sustainably. I would love to hear yours too! Come and find me over on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter.

Prioritise races in your country

One of the perks of running is that you can do it anywhere, which makes it tempting to travel to other countries to explore and attend races. However, frequently flying can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint and isn’t necessary to find some awesome races. I say this as someone who has flown twice this year for races, but I would love to use the excellent rail system more here in the UK – there will be plenty of races in your own country, and these are a great way of discovering new towns, cities and national parks closer to home! If you do travel for races, consider offsetting your carbon from the flight.

Use a hydration pack

One of the major problems in road races (also trail races but less so), is the significant use of plastic at water station. In the London marathon alone, 47,000 plastic bottles were collected from the streets in 2018, many of which cannot be recycled as they are not empty. Using a hydration pack or belt is a simple measure that means you do not have to pick up as much single use plastic during your race. The added weight can be frustrating for some runners, but I always use one for longer races and rarely struggle.

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Hydration packs are a game changer on longer runs! And no plastic bottles in sight

Avoid discarding clothes at the start of a race

Carrying waterproof or warm clothes during a race can be frustrating, but with the right gear shouldn’t be a massive hindrance. Throwing out clothes, even where they are recycled, is a huge waste of the resources used to make them. Thankfully many of these clothes are donated to local charities, but where possible, hold onto the clothes you have.

Buy sustainable activewear

When you must buy new gear, ensure it is from a more sustainable activewear brand. There is no longer a compromise between sustainability and performance – check out this article for some of my favourite brands. But remember – the most sustainable option is to wear the clothes you already have!

Use a guppy bag

Much high-performance activewear is made from synthetic fibres that may shed into waterways during washing. Using a guppy bag reduces the impact your clothes have, freeing your water from microfibres and helping the ecosystem along the way.

Use your commute

One of the great things about being able to run is to use it to travel. If you live within running distance of work, use this as some of your training runs. It doesn’t have to be everyday – even just 2 days a week can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Alternatively, run to your nearest carpool or train station if you live further away – avoid driving alone at all costs!

Don’t chuck gels/wrappers

If you can’t make your own energy supplies (gels, bars etc), pre-packaged food is sometimes necessary on a long run. However, avoid throwing packaging, even in races – it’s lazy, harmful and bad-form.

Recycle your shoes

If you’re a runner, you’re probably no stranger to having to chuck out old shoes. If they’re good enough to reuse, consider donating to refugees, charities or give to a friend. If they’re totally broken, there are several ways you can recycle. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe programme down-cycles shoes into athletic surfaces and, until the 24th November, Runner’s Need stores are accepting old trainers in return for a £20 voucher for use in-store.

Buy powdered sports drinks

You may be tempted to invest in energy, protein and/or electrolyte drinks regularly, but each of these come with disposable (usually plastic) packaging that is harmful to the environment. Instead, purchase glucose, electrolyte and protein powders or tablets. Not only are these better for the environment, they are also far cheaper and take up less space!

 

I hope you found this helpful! What are some of your favourite tips for reducing your environmental impact when running? 

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Protein – how much do we really need?

Are we whey too obsessed?

One of the questions I am asked most frequently when people learn that I am vegan is ‘but how do you get enough protein?’. It’s an understandable query – the last few years have placed so much emphasis on protein as the answer to all our health and fitness queries, it’s hard not to believe that the more protein we eat, the healthier we are.

But is protein really the be-all and end-all of a healthy diet? How much protein do we really need and what are the best sources? Are protein powders good or a waste of money?

Contrary to popular belief, if you eat a wide variety of foods containing plenty of wholegrains, meeting your daily protein requirements as a vegan is not too difficult. One argument against veganism is that there are very few ‘complete protein sources’ (protein sources containing all nine essential amino acids we need in our diet. Whilst complete proteins sources are primarily found in animal products, such as meat and eggs, consuming a mix of plant-based foods means it’s possible to consume all essential amino acids in a vegan meal, e.g. peanut butter on toast, or rice and beans.

It was indeed once thought that vegetarian and vegan diets couldn’t supply adequate amounts of the necessary amino acids, but updated views suggest that “protein from a variety of plant foods eaten during the course of a day typically supplies enough essential amino acids when caloric requirements are met”.

The protein shake market has been booming for several years now – check my last promotion of protein supplements from a year ago below! 

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I've been so excited to get back into a good routine of working out recently. Fitness will always be a part of my life, but the amount I train varies from week to week – sometimes it's only twice, occasionally it'll be everyday! 💦 The time I'm happiest though is when I've got 4 or 5 workouts planned for the week and they work a different thing every day! 🙌 I get easily bored, so planning intense, varied workouts keeps me (and my body) on my toes! 🤗 Post intense workouts I've started drinking @forgoodnessshakes vegan protein shakes because MY GOD my muscles need it 😂 I can thoroughly recommend the chai and choco flavours from @musclefooduk if you're interested! 🤤 #protein #training #trackandfield #traininsane #veganprotein

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Supplements or food?

Protein supplementation is big business – in the UK we spend more than £66m a year on sports nutrition products, and research suggests that around 25% of us have consumed some sort of sports nutrition product in the last year. Thanks to this market boom, there are plenty of great protein supplements out there (as well as some really, really bad ones), but protein is thought to be best consumed primarily in food rather than supplements for a number of reasons.

According to Euromonitor figures, which cover ready-to-drink beverages, protein powders and protein bars with a minimum of 20g of protein, the sports nutrition market has grown by about 160% since 2011. Another market analyst, Nielsen, said there was a 63% rise in sales of protein bars in 2015, compared with the previous 12 months, while Mintel figures, published in August, said there were 40% more launches of high-protein products in 2016 compared with 2015 – The Guardian.

  1. Protein powders lack vitamins, minerals and fibre that you get from eating food, which are important in every diet
  2. Many protein powders contain artificial chemicals, such as sweetener, which may have some negative health effects if consumed in large quantities, and taste kinda weird.
  3. Excess protein is either excreted in urine or stored as fat and can lead to weight gain. Just because shakes are drinks, it doesn’t mean they don’t contain calories. It is harder to overeat on a meal, which is usually much more satisfying.

Having said that, protein powders can make a quick and easy ‘snack’ after a workout, which is why so many people take them. If you struggle to hit daily calories, they can be a useful way of increasing them, but using them in lieu of a meal, for example, can lead to decreased overall nutrient intake, which is best avoided.

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How much protein should I be eating?

The recommended daily allowance of protein is somewhere between 0.8g and 1.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Certain factors can push you towards the higher end of this, such as having a very active lifestyle, and older people also have higher protein requirements, but the majority of people are fine towards the lower end of the scale. In fact, some evidence suggests that reduced protein consumption is linked to increased longevity. However,there is little evidence to suggest that eating excess protein is harmful for an otherwise healthy adult, but excess protein cannot be utilised by the body, which is why protein supplements are possibly more fuss than they are worth: excess protein will go straight though you, so you’re literally flushing money down the drain!

 

So what are the best plant-based sources of protein?

Tofu

Tofu is derived from soya (another great source of protein) and can be cooked in many ways, taking on the flavour of whatever it is being cooked in. 100g tofu provides 8g protein and is also incredibly low in fat.

Oats

While you may think of oats as a carbohydrate, they are also one of the best vegan protein sources. Oats pack a protein punch at 10g protein per 100g! Buy whole or steel-cut oats rather than instant to get the full benefits.

Quinoa

Whist not extremely high in protein (4g in 100g cooked), quinoa is one of the few plant-based foods that is a complete protein. Contrary to its appearance, quinoa is actually a seed, but makes a great alternative to other carbohydrates.

Pulses

Pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas and beans are not only extremely healthy, but also cheap and easy to chuck into any meal. Chickpeas come in at 7g protein per 100g, lentils at 8-9g protein per 100g and peas at 7g per 100g. These should make up a large proportion of any plant-based diet.

Peanut butter

Although high in fats and therefore best consumed in moderation, peanut butter contains 25g of protein per 100g, making it also an excellent (and cheap) source of protein. When combined with wholemeal bread, it acts as a complete protein source (i.e. all essential amino acids are present).

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Meal prepping is NOT my forte, but my god is it useful when you've got a busy few days ahead! I'm so organised with everything EXCEPT my weekly shop, and since last week was so manic, I was SO relieved to be able to get a same day delivery from @amazonfresh for that week's food prepping 🤗 This kale falafel salad is not only easy to make but also incredibly delicious and nutritious AND when you shop at @amazonfreshuk it's super cheap too #winwinwin 🙌🏼 Can be eaten hot or cold 😋 Recipe in comments! 🥗 Swipe to see all the ingredients! Min spend £40. First time customers only. Offer ends 30th September and code FRESH20 gets you £20 off over £60 spend 🥳 #ad #veganrecipe #mealprep #veganmealprep

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Summary

What’s important to remember is that you don’t have to eat a steak in order to consume adequate amounts of protein. All foods contain a mixture of fats, protein and carbohydrates in differing ratios. Eating a varied and wholegrain-rich diet is a simple way of ensuring you are consuming enough protein (and vitamins and minerals) everyday.

Eating a healthy plant-based diet doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult, and even if you are extremely active, you can rest assured that you are probably consuming enough protein day to day.

For what it’s worth, I consume protein powder from time to time. If there’s a chance it’ll make my DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) better after an intense workout, I’m happy to try it. Having said that, when I run out I rarely bother buying any more, because I know the benefits are marginal. Some protein powders taste great though, so they’re nice as added flavouring in cereal, smoothies etc! Just bear the above in mind if thinking about purchasing some.

What are some of your favourite vegan high protein meals? Do you take protein powders?

Header image by Caylee Hankins featuring Rickel White, my boxing coach (who doesn’t take protein as far as I know)! Check them out and come and find me on Instagram.

London’s best lunchtime fitness classes

Waking up super early in the morning or trekking to the gym after a long day at work isn’t for everyone, which is why we’re all about those lunchtime classes. With classes from 30 to 45 minutes and studios dotted around London, ‘I don’t have time’ is no longer a valid excuse to not fit in a workout. And when the classes leave you feeling positive and motivated for the rest of the day, what’s not to love?

Here are some of the top classes for you to check out in London on your lunch break:

1. Barry’s Bootcamp

Best for: Calorie burn

Studios: West (Bayswater), Central (Euston), East (Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf, SW1 (Victoria), however not all of these locations offer reduced-length lunchtime classes.

Cost: £22 per class, with package deals for multiple class purchases.

Global fitness chain Barry’s Bootcamp is based on the science of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn as many calories as possible and increase fitness. Attendees alternate between resistance training on the floor to intervals on the treadmill. Normal classes are 60 minutes, but at lunchtime (12pm and 1pm), certain locations shorten classes to 50 minutes (including stretching); to compensate for the reduced class length, free protein shakes are offered after the class. It’s a seriously intense session, but perfect for a mid-day pick-me-up if you’re feeling lethargic!

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Barry’s Bootcamp ‘red room’

2. HIIT – Another Space

Best for: Fat burn

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

HIIT at Another Space combines boxing and MMA moves with floor-based resistance training. This high-intensity class is short (35 minutes at lunchtime) and incorporates a variety of exercises to keep your body working. The studios are also beautiful, so perfect to enjoy a shake and shower in post-class.

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HIIT at Another Space, Bank

3. Hot yoga – Another Space

Best for: Flexibility

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

Held in the same studios as HIIT, hot yoga at Another Space is the perfect option if you’re looking for a less intense workout. Don’t be fooled though – expect to work on both your flexibility and strength in this dynamic, heated yoga class. The heat is held at 32 degrees for 45 minutes to gain maximal muscle benefits without the extreme heat of other hot yoga.

4. F45

Best for: HIIT

Studios: All over London! You’d be hard pressed not to find one near your office.

Cost: Cost depends on your membership, which are available as monthly to biannually. The eight-week challenges are priced separately. Intro offers available at most studios.

A concept born in Australia, F45 provides groups classes of functional high-intensity circuit training. F45 has 27 different ‘genres’ of workout, each focussing on a different aspect of fitness, such as HIIT, cardio or resistance training. At the front of each class, screens display each exercise, while multiple instructors roam the class and are on hand to motivate and correct where needed. Most studios also offer an ‘eight-week F45 challenge’, aimed at reducing body fat over the course of eight weeks. This may be too extreme for many (it encourages the cutting of carbohydrates for quick results), but could be the kick needed to get back into shape after some time off.

5. Signature Express – Barrecore

Best for: Barre

Studios: All around London, including Chelsea, Islington, Kensington, Mayfair, Notting Hill and Moorgate.

Cost: Membership starts at £200/month for 9 credits. Introductory offer available.

Barrecore’s Signature Express class promises to strengthen, lengthen and tone muscles in the space of 45 minutes. This class incorporates barre (ballet-like) moves coupled with resistance training.

6. Define Express – Define London

Best for: Low-impact sculpting

Studios: Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia.

Cost: Single credit £28 (excluding £10 off offer for new clients).

If you’re looking for a quick and dynamic workout, the Define Express classes offer all the toning and strengthening of their longer classes in just 30 minutes. Depending on the day, you can expect barre, floor workouts and strength workouts to target specific muscle groups. Lunchtime classes run from 12:30 – 1pm and 1:05pm – 1:35pm.

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Define London

7. Shake & Ride – Boom Cycle

Best for: Mood boost

Studios: Hammersmith, Holborn, Battersea, Monument.

Cost: One ride is £18 with package deals available. A one-month unlimited pass is £135.

There’s nothing quite like spinning to raise the heart rate and get the blood pumping. Boom Cycle is akin to a party on a bike, with loud music, coloured lights and an instructor who practically dances at the front. If you’re into high intensity cardio, Boom Cycle is for you – expect to leave grinning (and sweating) from ear to ear. Lunchtime classes vary in length – they are either 45 minutes or 30 minutes, and the latter includes a free shake after the class!

8. Quick HIIT – Metabolic London

Best for: All-round everything

Studios: Mornington Crescent.

Cost: Monthly membership is £100/month for unlimited classes. Single class is £20.

If you’re truly strapped for time, this 30-minute class could be exactly what you’re looking for. With a mixture of cardio and strength training, this class will leave you burning fat long after leaving the studio, and the endorphins with power you through your afternoon at work. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but you get out as much as you put in, and at only 30 minutes long, what is there to lose?

Let me entertrain you

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I was recently invited to comment on a new phenomenon, ‘entertrainment’ by the Telegraph, who were writing a piece on the rise of boutique fitness classes and the potential side effects of using these classes as your main source of training. I had first come to understand the concept of entertraining via my friend, personal trainer Lawrence Price, who published this post on the subject. It’s an interesting one to comment on, because there are two very valid sides to the argument.

So I just thought I’d share with you a little of my thoughts on the subject. What is it? Is it bad? Can it be good? Read on:

What is entertrainment?

Entertrainment is the concept of working out in the way you want to workout (often very high intensity, randomly strung-together exercises) for fun rather than function.

Why do we love it so much?

The endorphin hit we get from an intense workout, such as boxing or a Barry’s class, leaves a lot of people feeling incredibly positive. When it’s at the start of a day it can set you up feeling upbeat for your day at work, and when it’s at the end of the day it can be a way to shake off frustrations and get the body moving after sitting down all day.

Why has it increased in popularity and what are some examples?

As the wellness sector has expanded, more and more people are opting to go to fitness classes after work instead of home, the pub or even the gym. The classes provide a pre-planned workout (ideal if you’re not sure what you should be doing at the gym), a motivating trainer and, for many, a chance to catch up with friends. It’s like the gym and a club rolled into one. Many even have the flashing lights, loud music and (post-workout) drinks to match! One Rebel, Barry’s Bootcamp, Kobox, F45 and Boomcycle are just some examples.

Why is entertrainment not necessarily a good thing?

When we workout at 100% intensity, 100% of the time, something has to give. Our bodies are not very good at coping with sitting down all day, handling stressful situations, and then smashing out a day’s activity in one (often very intense) hour. Whilst workouts such as these can FEEL good, they often don’t provide the body with other things it needs, such as mobility work, stretching, and rest.

In addition, the vast majority of boutique fitness classes are done in large groups, often reaching up to 50 people. In these groups it’s impossible for a coach to be able to assess whether everyone is doing the exercises right, with the right form at their particular level. If you’re an experienced gym goer that might not be a problem, but tiredness coupled with bad form and heavy weights is a recipe for disaster.

Whilst many of us are inactive all day, our nervous systems are very much active, thanks to work stresses, juggling tasks and everyday demands. Intense workouts just put these systems under MORE pressure, ramping up our sympathetic nervous system further. Your sympathetic nervous system is also known as your ‘fight or flight’ response, and gears you up to tackle stressful/demanding situations. In the short term, this is incredibly helpful, and can help you think on your feet, run away from danger or handle stress effectively, but an excess of time spend in this state can lead to a range of acute and chronic issues, from hypertension (high blood pressure) to insulin resistance. Therefore it’s not recommended to add more stress to your body if it is in a state of heightened physical or mental stress already. Both types of stress (physical and mental) illicit a physiological response e.g. even if you’re not stressed physically, chronic stress such as that from work can have the same negative effect as extreme physical duress.

For a lot of people therefore, a calming yoga session or meditation would be far more beneficial than a sprint session, switching on the parasympathetic nervous system and calming down the body. Without rest our bodies are far more prone to burnout, injury and illness, so a daily HIIT class might not be what’s best for you, especially at particularly stressful times of the year.

 

TL;DR

  • Basically, not all fitness classes have your best interests at heart, and it is incredibly difficult for a coach/trainer to be able to assess your physical state or form during a workout catering for 30 – 50 people.
  • Since we all lead such stressful lives already, sometimes smashing out an intense HIIT class may not be best for our bodies in the long term, and we may benefit more from yoga or a stretching session at stressful times.
  • However, in general, some form of movement is better than no movement, and it’s up to each and every one of us to check in with ourselves and just be mindful of how our bodies are feeling. Still fancy that Barry’s class? Go for it 🙂

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the above! Check out my Instagram and YouTube for more.