Friday, 30 November 2012

Recipe of the Week - 29/11

This week, I had thoughts of publishing a dessert recipe, which involved a healthy and nutritious alternative to ice cream. However, after taking a look outside at the frozen windscreens and people decked out in hats and scarfs, I realised that it's probably not the most appropriate time to share it, so instead I've gone for a breakfast option..

As you've already heard me bark on about how important breakfast is (see an earlier post below), I will spare you from another lecture.. This recipe involves a staple food in my diet. Eggs. How do you like yours? I think my favourite has to be poached, with a little bit of sea salt and pepper.. My step sister keeps telling me that if I eat anymore eggs I'll turn into a chicken... anyway.. this recipe involves another method of cooking eggs which is even more simple than poached and that's scrambled. Scrambled eggs with a twist...

Again, this recipe is really easy to follow and it doesn't require much effort - perfect for the lazy chef!


1/2 tsp of Coconut Oil
3 Organic Eggs
Two handfuls of organic spinach
5 closed cup Mushrooms
Half a Red Onion
1 Leek
Pinch of Smoked Paprika (Optional)


Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan, whilst the pan is warming, chop up the mushrooms, onion and leek and add to the oil.

Brown for 3-4 mins. Once the onions have become tanslucent, add the spinach and continue frying for 2 minutes or until the spinach has wilted.

In a bowl, whisk up the eggs and then add to the vegetable mixture, turn down the heat.

Continually stir until the egg has reached your desired consistency whether thats soft verging on runny or firm and rubbery. Either way, this won't take long!

Season with Sea salt and Pepper and a sprinkle of smoked paprika to add that little extra kick of flavour.

This recipe takes approximately 10 mins. I'm not going to do a Jamie Oliver and call it a 15 minute meal when all of his take double that time.. but seriously this meal is a great way of packing in healthy and delicious veggies with a big protein food such as eggs that will keep your blood sugar levels steady, unlike conventional cereals which are packed loaded with sugar and additives leaving you unfulfilled and hungry an hour later. Alter the veg that you throw into the pan, be inventive! Push the boat out and boost the dishes' omega 3 levels by adding some smoked salmon. There you have it, scrambled eggs with a twist.

Have a great weekend!!


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Your best friend but your worst enemy at the same time..

Going on from the pre-habilitation theme of my last post, I want to talk a little bit about foam rollers or if we’re getting technical, the action of self-myofascial release (SMR). Nearly every gym that you enter these days has these strange often brightly coloured rolls of foam that could be mistaken for a rolling pin on steroids. Many are just gathering dust in the corners of commercial establishments but these little anabolic rolling pins are a fantastic tool to improve your body’s tissue quality which can heavily reduce the risk of injury, and although some of the actions may cause a little discomfort, you come off it feeling better and prepared for exercise.

Although I would always support the work of a regular sports massage, this can often prove expensive for certain individuals who also may be governed by time constraints. I like to call foam rolling a cheap-man’s version of a sports massage, because that is literally what you are doing. You’re rolling certain muscles over the roller applying pressure which helps to identify specific areas which may be tender or cause discomfort. These areas are known as trigger points, knots or areas of increased muscle density. I tell my clients to focus on their breathing as the distraction of another stimulus often helps to relinquish some of pain that finding a trigger point results in. The body can be a bit of a mine-field and you definitely know it when you stumble across a trigger point. Common areas of discomfort include the iliotibial (I.T) band:

This is because the fascia in this region is densely encapsulated around the surrounding musculature. Endurance sport athletes and regular runners find this area particularly uncomfortable, especially if they are new to the foam roller and have not been receiving regular massage. The continual pounding on the lower limbs will develop tender areas and trigger point build up. This will also filter down to the calf region where trigger points can be accumulated. Many women who regularly don a pair of high heels will find that they have tights calfs and rolling over these can cause discomfort. It can also be a tough area to roll, particularly for individuals who may lack arm strength as the position forces you to raise your hips and support your own body weight as you roll the roller over the calf musculature.

Foam rollers come in a number of different densities and sizes. They are usually colour coded according to firmness. White being the softest and black being the hardest. If you’re a real sadist and like a roller that gets in really deep, try the rumble roller:

The nodules help to locate and release the deep trigger points but the pressure is significantly firmer than other rollers. When rolling, the speed should be slow and constant and when you locate a specific area of tightness, hold the roller over it and breathe to relax. I also use other pieces of equipment such as tennis balls and I’ve even ventured into a pet shop to purchase a firm dog ball which is perfect to locate specific areas which require further attention and release.

Like all mobility work, foam rolling should be integrated into your regular workouts, whether that’s 3-5 times a week or better still, daily for 5-10 minutes. I use the foam roller with my clients at the start of every session, as I believe that it helps with a smooth transgression into a comprehensive warm-up. It can also be used at the end of a session for regeneration purposes. Although if I am with a client I like to end with some assisted static stretching, depending on what their session involved, but for the majority assisted static stretching acts a good cool-down both physically and neurologically. It’s a time when I like to go through and re-iterate nutritional habits, and recovery protocols with my client.

Below is a short video of how to use a foam roller, apologies for the poor sound, you might have to turn up your speakers a little to hear my dulcet tones!


Monday, 26 November 2012

The Dreaded Christmas Shopping Outing

I think I can safely say that the festive season is in full swing. London’s Christmas lights are up. Winter Wonderland is grid-locked as boyfriends try and impress with their throwing skills, all in order to win a crappy cuddly toy for their ‘mrs’ (I haven’t done this by the way). I’m currently sitting in a really cool café in Kensal Rise and Away in a Manger is blurting out of the sound system, Jesus! No pun intended. 

This year, I thought I would be super organized and set off on the hunt for Christmas presents early (Christmas Eve is usually my day when I blitz it). What better place than Westfield Shopping Centre, all under one-roof to get the job done with no problems. Well after endlessly marching around, I ended up purchasing zilch. No Christmas presents, no cards, NOTHING. Instead I bought myself a wooly jumper, a hat and a t-shirt. Why does this always happen? I suppose you could say I was in my comfort zone. I know what I like, what shops to go into, and how much I want to spend.

This could be said with an individuals training regime. They have certain exercises/bodyparts which they love to train and often bypass the nitty-gritty stuff . An area where a lot of people, myself included, generally neglect is that mobility and prehabilitation. As a personal trainer, fitness coach, slave driver and other expletives that I won’t share with you in this blog, I believe that my first and foremost responsibility is to keep my clients injury free. That’s why I predominantly spend the first part of a session conducting some pre-habilitation work. Foam Rolling, mobilization exercises, dynamic stretching etc.

Take you’re everyday office worker. Sitting in the same position for hours upon hours, week after week. Our muscles have a great memory, and learn to adapt. So by sitting in the same position for a prolonged period of time, our muscles envelop around that position. Meaning that our muscles that flex the hip (predominantly the psoas major, minor and iliacus) shorten and become tight. Our thoracic spine becomes more kyphosed as we slouch over the desk emulating the posture of Ephialtes from the film 300. 

It’s not the most attractive look, and over time can lead to some serious anatomical complications. If that picture doesn’t get you sitting up straight then I don’t know what will!

I’m a big fan of Gray Cook’s Functional Movement Screen (FMS), it’s a screening process that highlights areas where the individual may have muscular imbalances, certain areas of tightness and pinpoints where attention (in the form of stretching, mobilizing and soft tissue work) needs to be addressed. The FMS came out of research that suggested that most of the body’s most basic and fundamental movement patterns were going un-assessed in a training environment. Dysfunctions were being trained around. Strength was being added to a dysfunctional body and the correction of weaknesses was being ignored. As a result, this approach led to injury and the restriction of activity for that individual. From the results of the FMS, the appropriate exercises are implemented into an individuals program to improve their range of movement around a joint.

Unfortunately, there are many trainers in this world that neglect these areas of concern. Often individuals are looking for the quick fix, take the biggest loser for example. The exercises that those ‘trainers’ have those poor people doing is damn right dangerous. Due to their body shape certain muscles haven’t been functioning for years and as a result other muscles are compensating and working harder, adding increased strain on an already fragile body. For example performing a heavily weighted squat with tight hip flexors automatically brings excess strain to the lumbar spine to over-compensate. That’s a car crash waiting to happen. Talking of car crashes…

After years of playing rugby my shoulders have taken a bit of a battering. Even though I’m classified as a pretty boy as I stand-out in the backline waiting for the ball, defence and tackling is an area of the game that I love. After picking up a niggling shoulder injury, as most people do, I neglected it and continued to carry on playing. ‘Re-hab is for pussy’s” what a load of Bulls*** Because of this ‘macho’ opinion I’m now having to work hard to regain the range of movement in my shoulders in order for me to comprehensively perform overhead lifting exercises.

Now I’m not saying neglect the other aspects of your fitness work. What I am saying is that you will notice a dramatic difference in your lifting performance/running efficiency/agility and balance if you dedicate just 10-15 mins of each exercise session to some pre-hab work. Everytime I train in a gym I winch at some of the posture of  some of the gym meat-heads. Yes they may be able to shift serious amounts of weight and if that’s their goal then fine. But by having the suppleness of a stick they are only setting themselves up for a later life of restricted movement. Lets not have a population of Ephilates, get stretching and mobilising!!


Friday, 23 November 2012

Recipe/s of the week 23/11

So it's Friday, and recipe of the week time..

Today I'm going to spoil you (well it was thanksgiving yesterday!!) and give you two recipes. These two are so simple and take minutes to prepare. They go perfectly as an accompaniment to both fish, meat and vegetarian options. 

I'm aware that the daily consumption of fibrous greens and other nutritious veggies can get a little tiresome and lack texture and individual flavours. So I'm going to take two heavyweight nutritionally packed veggies - kale and cauliflower, and develop them using techniques that are often saved for carbohydrate heavy foods.

Recipe 1 - Cauliflower Mash (serves 2/3)



1 Cauliflower
3 tbsp Water


Chop the cauliflower into florets and put in a steamer for 5/6 mins until the cauliflower is soft to touch with a fork.

Empty into a food processor and add 3 tbsp of water. Blitz for 30 secs. Check that the mixture is smooth and a creamy looking.

For an extra treat, crumble in 30g of Feta Cheese and blitz.


Recipe 2 - Kale Chips



3 big handfuls of Kale
1 tbsp of Olive Oil


Preheat the oven to 175 degrees.

Add the kale to a baking tray and drizzle over the olive oil.

Put in the oven for 4/5 mins until the kale appears crispy, be careful not to burn the tips, although it just adds an extra crispyness! 

As you can see, these recipes arn't exactly taxing and take less than 10 minutes. Perfect for people with busy lives who often use the excuse of lack of time for healthy cooking. Both vegetables are cheap and easily accessible. Aim to purchase Kale organically as it's one of the dirty dozen (see previous blog). If you can't source, just wash thoroughly and dampen with a towel before putting in the oven.

Both of these veggies, once cooked, contain a compound called Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C). Numerous studies have been conducted on this compound and all have shown I3C has significant anti-cancer properties. Indole are natural anti-oxidants and help to combat free radicals.

Kale has been labelled a 'superfood,' and it's easy to see why. Packed with Vitamin K, kale can help to reduce inflammation therefore lowering blood pressure and cholestral levels.

Cauliflower is loaded with vitamin C which keeps infection at bay, improves the strength of your bones and teeth as well as quickening the body's ability to repair wounds. The fibre content per 100g of cauliflower is 12g so it will greatly help with digestive system support.

The cauliflower mash is a staple in our household. It goes perfectly with last weeks recipe of the week - Beef Casserole.

Enjoy and have a great weekend.



Friday, 16 November 2012

Friday Recipe - Hearty Beef Casserole

I love cooking, I actually wanted to be a chef in my teens, working my way up from ‘pot-wash’ to commis chef.. well I say commis chef I basically prepared salads and stuck a load of stuff in fryers in the local restaurant. I realised how hard chefs work, they basically live in the kitchen, you have to admire their dedication, commitment and for most of them, their drive to succeed and be the best they can be. However, if you look at their stress levels, they’re through the roof! Meaning that the body’s stress hormone cortisol will be sky high, not great for your overall health!

Every Friday I’m going to share with you some recipes that are quick, easy and most importantly packed with nutritionally dense foods. I’m definitely not Jamie Oliver, but if I can help give you a bit of inspiration in the kitchen department then that’s a good thing right??

Firstly, I believe that this cooking utensil should be in everyone’s kitchen: 

It’s a lazy man’s/woman's dream machine. Chuck it all in and leave it for a few hours. You can pick one up for around £20-30 quid. It’s easy to clean too..

With these winter nights drawing in, it’s cold dark and depressing outside. Warm yourself by trying this little recipe below:

Hearty Beef Cassarole ala chef Cheese :

Serves 3-4

500g Organic Beef Braising Steak – Will be hormone free and grass-fed by being organic and packed full of protein.
2 Cloves of garlic – finely chopped – A great anti-inflammatory
1 Organic Beef stock cube and 300ml of boiling water.
2tbsp of tomato puree
Veg (all preferably organic, if not just the clean 15, see earlier post) – This is personal preference but aim for root veg though such as:
3 or 4 Carrots peeled and diced – high in beta-carotene which helps to prevent cataracts.
1 Sweet potato peeled and diced – high in fibre and vitamin B6
1 Butternut squash halved and de-seeded – Packed full of Vitamin A, a powerful anti-oxidant
2 Leeks diced – High in folate, which supports our cardiovascular sytem
1 Onion diced – Packed full of Vitamin C
A handful of Mushrooms diced – Rich in Calcium
A glass of Red wine – plenty of anti-oxidants, just don’t add the whole bottle!
A  couple sprigs of Thyme – A rich source of potassium which helps to regulate blood pressure
2tsp of Cornflour (to thicken the sauce).


Sear the beef in a frying pan for 2 mins. Add the garlic and onion after 1 min. Once all the meat has browned on the outside, remove from the heat and place in the slow cooker.

Add the diced veg, beef stock, red wine, tomato puree and stir, season generously with sea salt and black pepper.

Add the Thyme to the top of the cassarole and put the lid on. Set the slow cooker to setting ‘slow’ and leave it for 4-6hrs or even longer if you want your meat really tender, I usually can’t wait that long!

About 30mins before serving add the cornflour and stir. This will help to make the broth a little thicker.

Once the broth has thickened, serve with a big ladel into a bowl and enjoy!


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It's official.. I've seen the Coca-Cola Advert!

With just under 6 weeks to go until Santa hitches up Rudolph and his mates to the trusty sled, Christmas is fast approaching. I know it’s true as I have seen the Coca-Cola Advert and am patiently awaiting the showing of Home Alone.. Home Alone 2 is the best by way.. But apart from classic films and Christmas countdowns this means endless work parties, insurmountable plates of food, and what seems like an automatic refillable wine glass. During the Christmas period it is suggested that the average person gains 5lbs through excessive consumption!

Now I’ll be the first to admit I love Christmas and everything that comes with it. It’s a time to catch up with family and friends and have a good ol’ yarn shared over a couple pints of Somerset’s finest Medium Cider (Spot the Country Bumpkin!)

Cheers Rog!!

I’m not asking you to go cold turkey (excuse the pun). Lets be realistic, there will be a high level of indulgence but how about this year, instead of getting to January 1st and feeling a tremendous amount of guilt (along with experiencing the mood swings due to the high sugar foods and bloated feeling from all those mince pies and other trans-fatty treats) try something different. Approaches that will make you feel that you have earned that Xmas Pudding. Demolish that feeling of guilt, which can subsequently lead to stress, and an increase in the hormone cortisol, which leads to fat storage (more on that at a later date!)

Just like a job, you work hard at your occupation and persist to get the rewards, i.e. a bonus, a promotion. It’s the same with exercise, you work hard, and you see results, fitting into that dress that you couldn’t 6-weeks ago. Smashing your 3k running time or nailing a PB on the Bench Press.

I like to use an analogy with training and exercise. Consider it ‘Money in the Bank.’ You’ve worked hard, be it in the gym, or at the food you consume. If you’re like me, you like to treat yourself now and again, everyone’s human right?!

Well this analogy can be used with Xmas. By training hard during this Christmas period and earning that all-important ‘Money in the Bank’ Why not treat yourself for all that hard work and dedication. The key principle is that is should all be in moderation.

What happens when you over-spend? You become over-drawn and as a result get charged by the bank. What happens when a cheeky doughnut ‘treat’ becomes a daily occurrence? Or that glass of wine becomes a bottle? You become over-weight, which can lead to all sorts of health problems..

Alcohol is a depressant, it negatively affects your training and health, it contains ‘empty’ calories and raises estrogen levels (beer mostly). It pounds your liver, ruins your sleep and diminishes muscle recovery functions. I could write an entire article on the negative effects of alcohol but I just want you to get the message that if training is important to you, you will limit your alcohol consumption.

People often wait until January to set new goals or ‘resolutions.’ The question I’m going to pose to you today is, ‘why wait until January?’ With my personal training clients I’m forever asking them what their goals are. We set long-term goals, and short-term goals.  It’s the best way to measure progression and avoid that dreaded plateau. Once a goal has been achieved, we evaluate and look to devise new ones. All under the SMARTER acronym (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time related Exciting and Recorded).

6 weeks is plenty of time to make a considerable change on your body composition, alter your nutritional habits and generally feel better in yourself. Have people commenting on how good you look over the Christmas period don’t follow the crowd and gain that extra 5lbs by pigging out at those xmas parties. Here are a couple of strategies to help get you through:

Choose the Least bad option:

One of the bonuses of this time of year is the food of choice (turkey) is high in muscle building protein. Ladies this is what you need as well – don’t panic you won’t look like the Incredible Hulk! A negative however, is the large amount of carb-heavy foods that can cause major problems for insulin health and body composition. The high levels of carbs cause a quick insulin spike that causes signals to move glucose out of the bloodstream and blood sugar levels crash. The only way the body knows how to elevate these is to crave more carb heavy foods. So it’s best to fill up on protein. If you’re invited to a Xmas drinks and are invited to bring something, take something gluten free or high in protein to keep those sweet cravings at bay.

Drink Green tea to minimize the effects of Alcohol.

You’ve probably heard by now how great this drink is but there’s no harm re-iterating what it can do for your health. Green tea is crammed full of anti-oxidants which help to diminish oxidative stress. As mentioned previously, alcohol is a massive stressor on the body. Green tea helps to detoxify the liver and can even help with feelings of a hangover. Green tea elevates glucose uptake and the polyphenols found in the drink help to boost your metabolism and intensify levels of fat oxidation.

Get enough sleep.

Sleep is so important. It is a natural weight deterrent and a stress eliminator. Studies have shown that individuals with reduced sleep crave more foods with high sugar and saturated fat. Sleep deprivation also causes a reduction in growth hormone (the hormone of youth) elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, which lead to fat storage. By getting a better sleep you make better food choices, can bang out an awesome workout and generally feel good! If you struggle with insomnia, look at taking a magnesium supplement to help with better sleep. If that fails… revert to counting sheep!!!

So why not start today?! It will be a lot tougher to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else come January 2013. Head into the gym/out in the park/into the pool, full of purpose and INTENSITY!! Make people sit up and notice you for the right reasons this Christmas. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

All About Snacking (with a touch of Barack)

I suppose I must start this morning by congratualing BO, not the kind that often dominates individuals in the gym but the re-elected President of the United States, Barack Obama. I'm not really a follower of politics, especially American politics, but I think the right man won.. He just seems far more appealing, especially to us 'over the pond,' and when his nearest rival questions the state of our readiness over the greatest sporting spectacle in history and riles our boy Boris, we know that he's trouble! One thing I would definitely question is the total money spent on the entire election campaign.. it totalled $6 billion!! That's absolutely crazy.. Instead of going on a rant about those ludicrous figures, I'll stick to something I know about, and you definitely don't need $6 billion..

I want to briefly touch on the subject of snacking. In my eyes, regular consumption of food (every 2-4hrs) is vital if you want to change your body composition. Whether it's to lose a few stubborn pounds or to add muscle, those extra meals outside the 'big three' are crucial. I know Intermittent Fasting (IF) has had some good publicity recently and results to prove it, but I think there's a specific time and place for IF and it's very dependant on the individual. I like IF because there are many ways that you can perform it and it goes on the premise of eating healthy, nutritionally dense foods during certain 'windows.' However for many of my existing clients and other individuals who have busy working days and rely on their mental clarity, I would much rather educate them to eat regularly to maintain balanced blood sugar levels and keep a sustainable energy balance throughout the duration of the day.

Like with all aspects of a successful nutrition plan, snacks/small meals come down to preparation and organisation. By being organised you wont succombe to the temptation of the biscuits/donuts/pastries/crisps that is so easily accessible in the office environment. It's also a good refusal strategy, just to say 'no thanks, I've bought my own.' So as you see your colleagues slowly crashing due to the blood sugar level dip (and their waistlines expanding), you will be more productive and feel better as the snacks I mention below all help to keep you full of both energy and your appetite satiated.

With each snack, your first thought should be protein. Protein is an essential macronutrient and is made up of amino acids which help the body with the repair and growth of muscle tissue. Protein also helps the body to burn fat as more energy is needed to break down protein than fat molecules. As mentioned above, they keep you fuller for longer. What snacks contain protein...

Nuts and seeds (unsalted) - There's a big misconception that nuts are bad for you as they contain lots of calories.. rubbish! Nuts contain essential fats (mostly mono and poly-unsaturated fats), high levels of protein and plenty of fibre. The type of nut that you eat isn't important, (be careful with peanuts - see below). Nuts also pack a heavy punch when it comes to levels of Omega 3's. They are one of the best plant based foods for levels of this fatty acid. They are also high in vitamin E which has shown to help stop the development of plaque build up in your arteries, which can cause a narrowing of the arteries and increase the risk of diabetes and heart attacks. Have a handful of mixed nuts and seeds or any nut of your choice UNSALTED!! I know they are more-ish but just keep it to a handful!

Eggs - Yes, I know they can be pretty pungent (!), but they are one of the highest biological sources of protein. Packed with vitamins, minerals, all in all a great food source. You may be a bit hesitant about eating them and raising your cholestral level, again, absolute rubbish, numerous studies have shown that by eating eggs they actively lower you ldl (bad cholestral) and increase you hdl (good cholestral) levels. They are a great source of choline, this nutrient helps regulate the brain, nervous and cardiovascular system. Choline is found in the yolk of the egg so don't throw the best bit away! In one study it showed that eggs also promote the growth of hair, this is due to their high sulphur content and wide range of vitamins and minerals. Many people found their hair growing faster when eggs were added to their diet.. I better get a couple dozen in then!!! Boil a couple up the night before and take them to work.. try it!

Hummus and Carrot/Celery/Apple - Hummus, is high in fibre and protein and contains healthy mono-unsaturated fats which are heart healthy and will keep you fuelled until your next main meal. Combine it with a fibrous veggie and you've got a great snack... just try not to eat the whole pot in one go!!

Nut Butters on oat/rice cakes - Try and source out the Meridian Almond butter - you can get it from Sainsburys, tastes great and is better for you than regular peanut butter, as peanuts are highly inflammatory because they contain a toxin aflotoxin. Add almond/cashew/hazlenut butter to an oatcake with a banana on top.... tastes amazing, perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Dried fruits - Raisons, apricots, cranberries - Dried Apricots are packed with Vitamin A which is considered an anti-oxidant so it will help protect cells from all those roaming free radicals. These are sweet and would be ideal to have a handful of these before your workout, give you that bit of energy before those burpees!!

So there's just a couple of ideas for some healthy snacks to consume in between the 'big 3.' All are easily accessible, you don't need to take out a mortgage to buy any of them and they will leave you feeling full and with bags of energy. These are snack ideas for individuals who want to improve their nutrition and perhaps shift that little bit of stubborn bodyfat.

I'm off to buy a euromillions ticket.. £121 million the jackpot is tonight!! Still, that's not even a dent on $6 billion....


Friday, 2 November 2012

Out for a bit of a trundle...

I had a change to my usual routine this morning which meant a little lie in (9.30am! Jealous?!) So what better way to start the day than to get the endorphins flowing and work up a bit of a sweat. I decided to stretch my legs and venture off for a morning jog around Clapham Common.

Running/jogging/waddling or whatever style you chose to adopt has always been a bit of a controversial topic. Now I’m a massive fan of HIIT (High intensity interval training) numerous studies have shown that HIIT melts fat at a faster rate than conventional steady state cardio – i.e Running, Cycling, Swimming. An individuals’ metabolism can fire for substantially longer due to the EPOC (Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption) theory using the HIIT method, so that fat burning furnace is ignited. Prolonged periods of running (longer than 45mins) have shown to cause hormonal stress on the body, increasing the fat storage hormone cortisol

Now I’m not telling you to stop running. Far from it. I think there’s a certain inner peace when you stomp those pavements. It’s a time to think, to mentally push yourself and if you’re like me, aim to run down the runners infront of you.

I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘Born to Run’ an incredible story about a South American tribe called the Tamarahumera, who are natural born runners. They run with small parts of leather strapped to their feet. To them, an ultra-marathon is like a gentle 3k stroll in the park. Phenominal.

One of the latest ‘crazes’ to grace the fitness industry is that of barefoot running. The Vibram five-finger shoes have ballooned in popularity over the last year. These webbed-like shoes emulate running naked. I don’t mean running through the streets streaking like Frank the Tank on the awesome film Old School. I’m talking about running like you have nothing on your feet.

What these shoes promote is running on your forefoot.  This is seen as a good thing as the muscles and tendons in the foot and ankle (achilles etc) act as massive shock absorbers which means that the forces are not transferred to the knees and hips which is where most people get injuries from running.

As a population, we have decided that the ground is too hard and have designed shoes with massive amounts of cushioning.  Unfortunately, this cushioning is still insufficient to protect all the joints in the body and probably only helps the foot to be honest.  Because we have this cushioning we feel we can run on our heels which then opens us up to the problems of a foot that pronates/supinates under massive forces.

Forefoot running does away with this problem as the foot lands fairly flat (on the toes) and absorbs the shock through the multiple joints in the foot as well as the fascia and muscles / tendons.  Of course, if we all kicked our shoes off and started to run around we would develop injuries as we are not adapted to it so caution must be used and time spent exercising barefoot must be built up gradually.

I have very low arches, and extremely flat feet. I often strut and adapt the ten-to-two look. Not cool. I’m currently suffering from a jabbing pain in my arch, and the Vibram shoes are looking pretty appealing at the moment. Although I’m going to break myself in gently, and look to purchase from the New Balance Minimus range (below). Not the Vibram Five Fingers just yet as I don’t want to look like I have just come off the set of Waterworld. (Kevin Costner is a legend by the way..) I’m interested in anything that can increase your athletic performance, not steroids obviously, but may improve biomechanics and reduce the risk of long-term injury.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Organic Vs Conventional

I remember at school there was the option of extra-curricular debating, if I'm honest, not my idea of fun. I'd rather spend my time on the rugby field with the lads (typical jock) rather than cooped up in a classroom debating political issues in a bid to enhance your ego. Or it could have been the case that I didn't want to get 'owned' by the class geek and have my ego severely dented...

Organic vs Conventional food always sparks a healthy debate. Thousands of articles/journals have been published on the differences between the two methods of food production. I'd like to give my opinion and what methods I encourage with my clients.

The term Organic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'A food or farming methods produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.'
Compared with conventional farming where pesticides are used. These are synthetic compounds which kill pests, such as weeds, insects and plant pathogens. The pesticides that are sprayed onto the land seep into the soil affecting its composition and therefore its degree of nutrients. The more nutrients in the soil, the more the plants can absorb. However not all of the nutrients are used directly, some have to be converted into a useable form by organisms that live in the soil and in return plants help the organisms out by secreting sugars and enzymes back into the soil so there is a continual cycle.

Various pesticides have been suspected to have unintended affects on human health. With studies showing that some of the synthetic chemicals used may increase the risk of cancer, neurological disorders and endocrine and immune system dysfunction. When you see the term 'may increase the risk of cancer' it may send shockwaves through your body, in a different context you're increasing the risk of cancer everytime you head out in the sun without and suncream on. Don't panic, eating a non-organic onion is not going to kill you! (It's also on the clean-fifteen list).

There's this great perception that everything organic is healthy and packed full of nutrients. Well it's not. If you eat an organic muffin, it's still going to have large amounts of sugar and contain heavily processed flour which will send your insulin levels sky high causing you to gain weight. I've even heard it myself when I was in Planet Organic "oh it's fine to have that cake, it's organic!' Brilliant!

Organic food is more expensive, but it's about putting it into context. Many people spend £5-6 everyday on lunch at sandwich outlets such as Pret and Eat, five days a week that equates to £30 a week on lunch. Organic food specialists such as Abel and Cole sell a medium sized fruit and veg box which is delivered to your door for £18, you chose what you put in the box. For an extra cost meat can also be added.

To help combat the issue of cost of organic produce, the US Government have come up with two lists titled 'The Clean Fifteen' and 'The Dirty Dozen.' These groups display a list of foods with the highest and lowest pesticide residue. The Clean fifteen are foods that show a low level of residue whilst the dirty dozen have the highest and so organic should be purchased.

The Dirty Dozen


The Clean Fifteen

Sweet Peas
Sweet Potatoes

The chart below illustrates a variety of minerals within certain vegetables and how their values differ between organic and conventional farming methods. Spinach (one of the dirty dozen) has dramatic mineral level differences between organic and conventional, magnesium levels a vital mineral which is needed to maintain bone strength, regulate blood sugar levels and support protein synthesis are considerably lower when spinach is produced the conventional way rather than organic. So this is a vegetable that I insist people buy organic. It also tastes so much better.

The debate between organic and conventional farming methods will be a continual talking poin. I believe we, more specifically the Government, need to look at is addressing the problem of obesity and getting people to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in their daily nutrition whether they are organically grown or produced using conventional methods. Obesity costs the NHS £4 Billion a year which is predicted to rise to £6 billion by 2015, a staggering statistic. Supermarkets also have a duty to the public to produce competitive prices and consistent offers on fresh healthy foods. Obesity is such a broad topic and I'm verging off the track a little, but it's a subject that I'm passionate about and it's an epidemic that needs to be halted. Anyway.. back to organics.. next time you're in the supermarket (or ideally a local farmers market) try and purchase foods from the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Principals Not Diets!!

As the London Mayor, and all-round legend Boris Johnson put it yesterday when addressing the ten's of thousands of people at Buckingham Palace at the Olympic Parade. The summer has come to a 'Tear-sodden juddering climax.' It's definitely been one to remember, and I feel priviledged to have been in the Nations Capital to witness history unfold.

As the athletes take a well-earned break and are probably nursing a sore head this morning I want to talk a little bit about nutrition. I'd just like to start by stating that I'm not a qualified nutritionist. I completed modules in my University Degree that covered nutrition and take a serious interest in the area, often reading articles and journals in an attempt to keep up with the latest research that would look to enhance my knowledge and reputation as a personal trainer. I believe that it's the cornerstone of any indivduals program and is just as important as the strength and conditioning aspect. I like the anaolgy that you can't put diesel in a petrol car.

I hate the word 'diet.' When people talk about going on a certain diet I believe that it sets themselves up for failure. Often these diets are extreme and completely change an individuals regular eating habits, forcing them to go 'cold turkey' and as a result the diet is not sustainable. The Atkins diet, The Calorie Counting Diet, The Weight Watchers Diet, the Lighter-Life Diet etc etc the list is endless. Often individuals see results during the first couple of weeks on a specific diet as they are 100% committed to the cause, but as time progresses the likelihood is that people start to fall off the track and go back to their old ways. Not to mention, these fad diets are nutritionally inadequate.

I believe nutrition should be build around principles. Principles allow variety but also give certain boundaries that should avoid being crossed (90% of the time). With the accessibilty in todays supermarkets of such a range of fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, pulses and certain grains from different cultures. It would be a travesty to limit the intake of such great fresh produce.

I'm not going to bore you with and endless list of do's and don'ts, instead four simple principles that allow freedom and choice in your daily nutrition.

1) Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods have changed from their original state. They contain high amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fat and often are laden with refined carbohydrates that have no nutritional benefit. The ease of 'cooking' these processed products might seem an attraction but with an increasing amount of research showing that processed foods can lead to an increased risks of elevated blood pressure and cholestral levels and cancer forming properties, I'd advise everyone to stay well clear and focus on eating freshly prepared meals which boast a nutritionally dense profile.

2) Consume Protein with Every Meal

Protein is a powerful macro-nutrient. It acts as the building block for the formation and re-development of muscle cells. It's also a natural thermogenic which means that it contains fat burning properties. As the protein requires more energy to get broken down than carbohydrate and fat. It also keeps you fuller for longer so it helps to stop those dreaded sweet cravings. Perfect examples are lean meats such as chicken and turkey, eggs, nuts and fish.

3) Drink Plenty of Water

The consumption of water is essential for daily living. It makes up roughly 80 percent of the body's make-up. There is conflicting research out there about the total amount of water an individual should drink over the course of the day, ranging from 2 litres to a litre for every 50lbs of bodyweight. All I would say is that everyone needs to drink more of the stuff, it will help cleanse the liver and improve kidney function. Drink preferably from a glass bottle due to rising oestrogen levels through plastic bottles which can affect your hormonal balance. I would suggest having a bottle at work and look to get through at least 2 litres during your working day.

4) Eat a large variety of Vegetables

Fresh vegetables are hugely important. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants helping to fend off disease and shed bodyfat. Green leafy veggies are your best bet. Nutritionally dense and contain something called indole-3-carbinol which helps to fend off unwanted high levels of oestrogen which can cause an accumulation of bodyfat so stock up on brocolli, kale, cabbage, spinach and sprouts (not just for xmas).

Just four simple principles which I believe will result in a far more effective nutritional plan than any fad diet. All are easily attainable, so go out and give it a try and apply it to your daily food intake. I'll leave you with an amusing video of our London Mayor... he could definitely do with applying the four principles of nutrition..

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Little bit of a HIIT for a Tuesday morning

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock for the last 4 to 5 years, short, sharp and most importantly intense workouts have been scientifically proven to melt fat far more effectively than a conventional 45 minute steady state session on a chosen piece of cardio equipment. Don't get me wrong, the fact that an individual chooses to exercise is fantastic, but when I see people come into the gym and head straight for the cross trainer and upon asking them what their goal is with most replies being 'fat loss' it seriously grates me. This may be due to a lack of education (so hopefully they will all read this blog), or just the fear of leaving the comfort of a machine that lets you watch 65 channels...

A fantastic study from the Journal 'Metabolism' compared 20 weeks of aerobic training and only 15 weeks of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) in which participants did 15 sprints for 30 seconds and lost NINE TIMES more bodyfat than the aerobic group.

The cross-trainer clan always tend to argue their case by referring to the about the amount of calories that they have 'burned' during their session. True, some energy has been expended whilst watching 'The Weakest Link' on BBC2 and it will go a tiny way to that bikini body that people crave. 

However it's not about the total calorie expenditure, take the study that I mentioned above, the energy cost of the aerobic group was 28,861 compared to the HIIT group 13,614, less than half! I'm definitely not a mathematician (B-grade GCSE) but by looking at these figures I can see why people question the whole HIIT theory. 

By performing HIIT not only does it raise Growth Hormone and Testosterone levels, which aid muscle growth, it also uses a scientific phenomenon called EPOC (or Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption if we're being specific). EPOC causes an individual's metabolism to raise AFTER training, so the body is using more energy when it's actually at rest. Studies have shown EPOC to raise metabolism by as much as 38hrs post training.

Ok so there's the science and the reasoning behind it, now it's all about devising a workout. The type of exercise and intensity is crucial. HIIT is fantastic as it can be applied to such a broad range of exercises. Just ensure that the exercises are multi-joint so a high calorific demand is placed on the body. The clue is in the name HIGH INTENSITY interval training. So be prepared to sweat and to be pushed not just physically but mentally as well. However the beauty of this type of training is the short duration. As little as 160 seconds of work has shown to aid fat loss using the Tabata Protocol (more on this in a later blog). So HIIT is not only perfect for fatloss but it's also ideal for individuals who may be pressed for time. 

If you have a rowing machine and skipping rope to hand, try the workout below. This 'circuit' hits all major muscle groups and can be completed in a short period of time. Rest for one minute between each round. Keep the intensity HIGH. Including rest time and a comprehensive warm-up, this workout can be completed in 25 minutes. Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Monday morning thoughts...

It’s a Monday morning in London, with the skies overcast and a gloomy outlook for the rest of the day, I think the weather sums up how the capital is feeling after a spectacular two weeks of Olympic action.

After discussing my favourite Olympic moments in my previous blog, I want to quote from one of the greatest ever Olympians, Jesse Owens. Jesse won 4 gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay, defying Hitler’s expectations. I think this quote really personifies the attitude and belief of an Olympic Athlete:

‘We all have dreams, but in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self discipline and effort.’

Olympic athletes do not reach the pinnacle of their sport through chance.  It takes continual commitment and hard graft. I remember watching a documentary on the British Rowing team leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics and seeing Steve Redgrave collapse from exhaustion on the rowing machine after completing his last repetition. He is one of Britain’s most celebrated Olympians and I felt that this clip just showed what levels some of our athletes go to in order to achieve their dream:

Throughout the last two weeks the British athletes have inspired more than just a generation. They have inspired the whole population. They have shown people that anyone can achieve their dream. In Mo Farah’s interview after winning the 5000m gold medal he said ‘ Anything is possible, it’s just down to hard work and grafting.’ Now I’m not saying for people to jump on the rowing machine and row until you pass-out, or run 400m reps until you throw-up, far from it. But put this into perspective, if you’re looking to drop a dress size, increase your one rep max or improve your 5km time, it is possible.

The only thing that stands in your way of fulfilling your desired goal is yourself. So on this dreary Monday morning with a large bout of post Olympics blues, set yourself a goal for the week, a realistic goal that you can measure. Start off on a small scale and reassess after the week has ended. If you believe it is attainable, increase the boundaries of that goal, this way you are always striving for improvement, give it a try. Happy Monday!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

My Favourite Olympic Moments So Far...

For the past two weeks, London has played host to the 2012 Olympic Games. It all kicked off with a spectacular Opening Ceremony Directed by the Film guru Danny Boyle, responsible for films such as Academy award winning, Slumdog Millionaire. I thought he did a fantastic job to emulate the British culture and how the country has changed throughout the centuries.

It’s hard to single out one specific moment so far during the London 2012 Olympics. So I’m going to discuss a few highlights...

Sir Chris Hoy – Track Cycling
I must start by mentioning our greatest ever Olympian, Sir Chris Hoy. With a total of six gold medals he surpassed Sir Steve Redgrave’s record of 5 golds by winning the Mens Keirin event a few days ago. At 36 years old Sir Chris can be considered one of the veterans of the Olympic Team, featuring in three successive Olympics, winning gold in Athens in 2004, three golds in Beijing in 2008 and two in London. Below is a picture of Sir Chris leg pressing 631kg... now that’s impressive.

Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase – Mens lightweight Double Sculls
Mark and Zac have been dominating the lightweight sculls for the previous three years leading up to the 2012 Olympics, winning European and World Championships. After a dramatic final, where the race had to be restarted due to Zac’s seat falling off their boat, they finished 2nd and won a silver medal.  Both pushed their bodies to the absolute limit, Mark had to be helped from the boat by British Olympic Rowing Legend Sir Steve Redgrave, and the interview, which can be seen by following the link below, is heart wrenching.

This just shows how much it means to win an Olympic gold medal.  Four years of dedication, hard work and sacrifice comes down to one race. Many of the British athletes who have ‘failed’ to win an Olympic gold have conducted interviews and apologised for their performance. In my opinion, becoming an Olympic athlete is an amazing achievement and it shows that you are at the pinnacle of your sport and a rarity in this country. The athletes have nothing to apologise for, they represent their country with pride and passion, where with other sports this could be severely questioned. I hope Zac and Mark are back in four years time to compete and win the gold medal in Rio in 2016.

Michael Phelps – Swimming
I have saved quite simply the best until last. Michael Phelps has amassed 22 Olympic Medals (18 gold) over four Olympic Games. He holds the largest amount of medals in the history of the Olympics and has bowed out at the very top of his sport, here at London 2012. Although Phelps got off to a shaky start, not medalling in his first event and then winning bronze. He came into his own and triumphed with 4 gold medals. Phelps himself believes that his record of 22 medals can be broken, I don’ think anyone has a chance...

With Great Britain overhauling their greatest medal count at these games, UK Sport and other National Governing Bodies have deemed the London 2012 Games a success. It has been enthralling to watch and I have been lucky enough to attend 6 different sports events live, the atmosphere has been electric at each one. With still a few days of competition left, and the Para-Olympics to come, London 2012 has been an amazing spectacle.