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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Why My Eyesight is Affecting My Workouts + My Journey Towards Contact Lenses and Laser Eye Surgery

I'm short-sighted and have glasses which I rely upon with increasing frequency. I went from using them just for night driving, to finding they're a necessity just to watch TV. Now, I'm struggling to workout without them.

Gone are the days when I could just scan my gym for the equipment I need; a swiss ball, resistance band, a foam roller. Now, I have to ask an instructor to point them out for me to save me embarking on an embarrassing expedition through the jungle of machinery. I struggle in exercise classes too, unable to identify the instructors' movements (Should my foot be pointed or flexed? Is that grip over- or under-hand?) and monitor my own form in the studio mirrors. I have even skipped classes before if I thought there was a chance that I'd be late and not grab a spot near the front. Another terrible side-effect of my poor eyesight is just straight up ignoring people (please say I'm not alone here!) so I can say goodbye to making any new gym buddies at this rate...

I was recently pointed in the direction of a video by Optical Express* that shows George, an ice-cream man, speaking about his personal experience of Laser Eye Surgery. The video especially struck a chord with me when George explained how much his surgery improved his sporting performance. I know of lots of people who have successfully undergone laser eye surgery so it's always something that I've been aware of, and thought I would consider in the future, but not something that I knew much about. I found it particularly helpful to know that Optical Express were able to answer the queries George had prior to the procedure. So, being ever-curious, I approached them with a few of my own questions via the online chat that I came across while browsing the Laser Eye Surgery Q&A and found them really helpful.

My main concern with any procedure is generally the recovery period as I don't like being inactive or unable to exercise. Although this would be discussed at a consultation, Optical Express advised 4 weeks before returning to any kind of weight training, for example, explaining to me that it's to do with the pressure put on your body and your eyes when lifting heavy weights. So although that's a little longer than I thought, I wouldn't rule out the option of Laser Eye Surgery.

First though, I'm going to give contact lenses a go and have already booked an appointment at my local opticians. If you are active and have experience of using contact lenses or laser eye surgery (or have any gym-based tips to help me in the meantime!), please let me know!

*This post is sponsored by Spreaditfast

Sunday, 27 July 2014

#CurrysIntroJuicing Event, My Thoughts on Juicing + An Intense Body Conditioning Class

CurrysIntroJuicing Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

CurrysIntroJuicing Philips Juicer

This week I attended the #CurrysIntroJuicing event which did a great job of showcasing how technology can be integrated into a healthy, active lifestyle. After a talk from trainer and nutritionist Derry Temple MSc on juicing, we had the opportunity to make our own concoctions in the super-efficient Philips Avance Juicers. I don't envy the guys that had to a clean up the fruit and vegetable carnage when we were finished!

My thoughts on juicing
This was my first time using a juicer. My verdict? It was a lot of fun and a really easy process. However, the reasons that this was my first time using a juicer are many. Firstly, juicers are expensive. Secondly, the sheer volume of fruit and veg that you need to use to make a single drink also works out pretty expensive. Thirdly, I don't have any issue with getting my 5-, 6-, 7-, or 8-a-day (whichever guidelines most recently advised...) as I genuinely like eating fruit and vegetables in their original state. Which brings me onto my fourth point, I actually really enjoy chewing my food. Finally, I don't like the mess (okay, I lie, I love making a mess, I just don't like washing up) associated with blending and juicing.

I think that the less we mess with our food, the better and I was pleased to hear Derry agrees that strict liquid diets are a terrible idea. Good sources of fibre, protein and healthy fats are essential to your body performing at its best, but these are rarely present, if at all, in juices. Moreover, as most of us have a bit of a sweet tooth (me included!), we tend to favour fruity blends of juices which are high in fructose sugar and therefore not great for your body. 

However, if there are some days that you are on the move and can't pack in your 8-a-day, drink a juice on the go to boost your nutrient intake. The same goes for if you're feeling under the weather and have lost your appetite, a juice will help deliver vital vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to perk you up. A great tip if you do decide to get juicing, is to include some vegetables and leafy greens. As always, what it comes down to for me is moderation

CurrysIntroJuicing Event Bloggers

Body conditioning at Urban Kings Gym
After overseeing our juicing efforts, Derry packed us into Urban Kings Gym, where he is a trainer, to put us through our paces. Unfortunately this part of the evening was not so technology-assisted and instead featured a traditional mean, sweaty body conditioning session. Against the clock, two teams battled to the death (so it felt like) to complete three rounds of a gruelling circuit. While I hated the workout itself at the time, (although I felt amazing when it was completed and slept like a baby once I arrived home!) there's no denying that it really highlighted what I love about the wellbeing community, which is that women really support and empower each other. Although we were all red-faced and short of breath, no one was short of a few screams of encouragement for their teammates. So on that note, grab some girlfriends and give this a go:

10 x lunges per leg
10 x burpees
10 x overhead press
10 x steps ups
10 x sandbag cleans
10 x press ups
10 x goblet squats
10 x bench hop-overs
10 x ladder runs

CurrysIntroJuicing Urban Kings Gym Body Conditioning Class

The kit
I thought this session was a great opportunity to put some new gym kit through its paces too, and loved wearing some pieces from Pure Simple Sport, exclusive to JD Sports. You can see the gorgeous colourful print on the Cut Out Marble Zoom Sports Bra* peeking out from beneath my Under Armour vest top in the photo above, which matched the detail on the Iron 3 Capri Tights*. Considering the range is so affordable, I was really impressed with the fit and the attention to detail including the gorgeous cut out sports bra back, and the handy zip pocket in the capri pants, as well as the fact that opacity was not compromised during those brutal burpees!

I had a fantastic evening and, as always, it was lovely to put blog names to faces! Thanks to Currys, Derry Temple of Urban Kings Gym, and to Joe Blogs Network for hosting a healthy, informative and overall brilliant event.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

An Interview with Dame Kelly Holmes at the GSK Human Performance Lab

Glaxo Smith Kline Human Performance Lab

Glaxo Smith Kline Human Performance Lab Strength

Glaxo Smith Kline Human Performance Lab

Glaxo Smith Kline Human Performance Lab Hydro Lab

I was recently invited by MaxiNutrition to join them for an evening at the Glaxo Smith Kline Human Performance Lab to learn about the facility and how the research being done there aids the development of MaxiNutrition products. I was really excited for this opportunity, not only because I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to nutrition and sports physiology, but because very few people gain access to this facility which is usually reserved for Britain's sporting elite. And, of course, I was eagerly anticipating meeting the lovely Dame Kelly Holmes. Read on to find out about what she eats to look and perform as amazing as she does, how she trains to burn fat and tone up, and what her ethos is.

The facility and the six pillars
During the tour, it was clear that the GSK HPL, opened in July 2013, is a state-of-the-art facility. The team here work with elite athletes and teams to improve performance, but also have a strong focus on research and development particularly with regard to understanding the role of protein (more on that soon!). One thing that was really clear from this event is that MaxiNutrition are using this research to try and make sports nutrition accessible and convenient for everyone's needs from these elite athletes to once-a-week runners.

The work at the HPL intends to accelerate the understanding of the role of six pillars: strength, stamina, cognition, hydration, metabolism and recovery. It's definitely worth taking a little trip to the GSK HPL website (just click on each of the six pillars listed above to take you to the relevant page) or to the GSK HPL YouTube channel to check out some amazing short videos featuring athletes undergoing testing on the different aspects, if it interests you as it does me. Another thing which is really impressive about the HPL is that they are dedicated to making their research findings as practical as possible. That's where Dame Kelly comes in...

Dame Kelly Holmes Training Research at GSK HPL

Wonder what Kelly is doing running downhill on a giant treadmill? Running downhill lengthens the eccentric component of the muscle action, inducing more muscle damage. This allows the GSK HPL team to look at the effects of different interventions, such as protein, in offsetting the degradation of the muscle from muscle damage. Fascinating stuff! (That's the geek in me talking...)

Chatting with Dame Kelly
Kelly's role at the facility is as Technical Advisor. Having asked her what that entails, she told me "I sit on a panel of experts and most of them are scientists but I'm the 'applied person'; I'm somebody to put things into perspective." Kelly, with her wealth of experience, is here to remind the team that "on the ground there’s an athlete and a coach and you need to make your information very accessible and easy so that the science can be applied to the performer". This is an issue that Kelly is all too familiar with. She recalls when she used to do VO2 max tests, "it was very basic, my coach didn't understand it at all and we didn't know how to apply it to my training".

“As sports science moves on, performance enhances”

Talking about how Kelly has seen the science change over the years, she explains "when I first started [contrast bathing], it was just in a bath with cold water. Then it went from that to being in wheeley bin of ¾ ice and ¼ water and then going into a hot bath. I had that at Athens [where Kelly achieved two Olympic gold medals] as a recovery strategy". Now, as demonstrated at the HPL Hydro Lab, the baths are precisely temperature controlled. This is just one example of how technology within sports science has developed. Kelly recognises that "lots of sports people, especially in teams, use this to get that 1% gain [in performance]", which can make all the difference. 

Dame Kelly Holmes with The Blonde Ethos Natalie

Kelly on nutrition
In terms of nutrition, Kelly recollected that nutritional advice used to all be based on food, but after training hard, the last thing she would want to do was eat a meal and so struggled with the nutritional aspect of recovery. Now, Kelly is training for Duathlons but, as this isn't her full-time focus, her recovery strategy is far less time-intensive. Therefore, she relies a lot on convenient products such as recovery formulas. 

"I have a really bad sweet tooth"

"My days are absolutely hectic", Kelly says, "I found I was missing breakfast, which is the core meal of the day because you've fasted for however many hours you sleep, and I was feeling sluggish by 11o'clock and all I wanted was a sugar hit. I was just eating fast things that were giving me a bit of a buzz and filling me up. So I decided I'd got to eat smaller portions more often. I'll have porridge in the morning, and a protein shake after training, because it's quick and easy. Then I will have already prepared my sandwich or wrap, and that will be anything like chicken or turkey, with salad, mustard - all those things that are good and easy. My snacks now could be an apple and cottage cheese, or a protein bar, all things that are accessible to me". 

However, Kelly also admits "I always say to people still have your day when you can eat what you want. I have to! I love my food, I've got a really bad sweet tooth. I will be a bit more focused during the week but Saturday is my day. Everyone needs to switch off".

Kelly on training
Now that Kelly is training for Duathlons, she is spending time at the HPL doing physiological testing and trying to improve her performance on the bike because that's her opportunity for the biggest gains when competing, as she told me she is still suffering with her calves and achilles and so can't run as much as she did. "I'm trying to change my body. I've been running all my life and suddenly I'm getting on a bike, so I know what people feel like that are just starting training".

"I'm trying to change my body"

When I asked her about strength training, Kelly said "I do more HIIT training, it's an 'in thing' now but it's always something I've done, such as circuit training, but I do a lot of strength exercises within that. I do weight training for 'toning'. A lot of women are worried about it because it builds muscle. I've got a naturally muscular frame anyway but actually doing more weights has helped me burn fat and 'tone up' so I bring that into my training quite a lot".

Kelly's ethos
"For me, to feel happy you have to feel happy on the inside and the outside. Some people think 'I don't like how I look' but actually if you start trying to make changes on the inside you feel better. I ask 'how do you feel as a person? Are you happy?' and if not, make those changes. They only have to be small. And from a fitness and activity point of view, set yourself a goal. Don't make a new year's resolution that you'll give up in two weeks' time, make a goal that you would like to achieve. It gives you a starting point to think 'how do I make those changes?' and it's more sustainable. It could just be to walk to work, or get off the tube early and walk two stops down!" 

"Are you happy? If not, make those changes"

"My goal this year was to do a Duathlon every month. I hadn't done anything competitive since I retired and this is my ten year anniversary of my two Olympic gold medal wins so I decided to set my own goal. I've done six [Duathlons] now. I'd never done it before in my life, struggled like you can't believe, but I feel good that I have that purpose".  

Kelly was incredibly friendly and inspiring and it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with her, and the rest of the team, at GSK HPL.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Prebiotics Vs. Probiotics + Bimuno Immunaid Giveaway

Bimuno Immunaid Prebiotic Pastilles

Bimuno Immunaid Prebiotic Pastilles Ingredients

Bimuno Immunaid Prebiotic Pastilles

Since the beginning of the year I have been increasingly interested in the role of the body's good bacteria. This partly came about when a friend suggested that taking probiotics could help clear up my bad skin, and at that point I was willing to try anything! Since then I've also discovered prebiotics and have recently been testing out the Immunaid pastilles* from Bimuno. As per usual, I'm super-curious about how all of these wonderful things work, and have spent lots of time researching the topic. So, here's a little overview for you...

A delicate balance
Most people know that the gut is where food is digested and nutrients are absorbed. Good bacteria help with this process but what is often unknown is that they also play a pretty massive part in the body’s immune response as our intestines actually contain more immune cells than the rest of our body. As the intestine has a surface area of around 300m² in humans, it also has the greatest contact with foreign substances that are delivered with your food, such as viruses, antigens, and other microorganisms. The delicate balance of good and bad bacteria living in the gut is increasingly disrupted by diet, illness, the overuse of antibiotics, and even the modern lifestyle (including stress!) and an increasing number of diseases are linked to these disturbances within your gut.

While this is a little off-topic, I also found it really fascinating to learn that each individual's gut microflora represents a history of their diet, disease, stress and the medications they have encountered. We are even moving towards being able to monitor health and diagnose illness based on the contents of your gut. How incredible is that?! If you want to know more, I highly recommend watching this brilliant TEDx talk on gut flora.

Back to where I was...

Supporting good bacteria
The good news is that it's possible to support the good bacteria in the gut. However, this is where the probiotic versus prebiotic debate occurs. Probiotics and prebiotics are both designed to achieve the same thing, which is to boost the good bacteria in the gut, but they do it in different ways.

Firstly, probiotics are live 'friendly' bacteria that can be consumed in food (in forms such as yogurt drinks) or as capsules to help boost your good bacteria. However, because they are live, they are perishable. Not only can they be damaged by temperatures and long-term storage, but due to a number of factors, once consumed they may be dead or damaged before they reach our gut. Alternatively, prebiotics work by feeding the existing good bacteria in our gut. In particular, an advanced form of prebiotics, Galacto-oligosaccharides (used in Bimuno), are a type of complex carbohydrate produced by combining the sugars present in milk in a way that mimics the structure of highly beneficial prebiotics naturally present in mother’s milk. Because of the structure of the bonds within Galacto-oligosaccharides, they are highly stable and resistant to the body's enzymes and acids, meaning that they reach the intestine intact. Amazing!

Yummy prebiotic pastilles
As I mentioned, Bimuno prebiotics use Galacto-oligosaccharide prebiotics in their products. However, they are also considered to be a 'second generation' prebiotic meaning that as well as supporting the good bacteria, they offer additional functionality by inhibiting the adhesion of bad bacteria to the gut wall.

While Bimuno prebiotics are also available in a powder sachet form, I really like the pastilles, not least because their texture, and slight sweetness, is like super-chewy gummy candy (my weakness!) and so they are enjoyable to eat and go some way to satisfying my cravings. They're also incredibly easy to take, I just chew a couple after breakfast.

In the week since I started taking Bimuno regularly I haven't been at all bloated, and just feel really well in myself. While I probably couldn't afford to take them on an ongoing basis due to my student budget, when it comes to the time of year that everyone is being struck down by colds, or if I'm just feeling a little stressed and run-down, I will without doubt be reaching for these.

I hope this post has gone some way to help you to understand how important it is to keep your gut happy and healthy, and hopefully this little giveaway will help too! Just use the widget below to submit your entries, and one of you will receive a two-week supply of Bimuno Immunaid pastilles to try for yourself!

Please note this giveaway is open to UK + ROI residents only.
If you have any medical conditions or are lactose intolerant, I recommend checking out the Bimuno FAQ to see if this product is suitable for you.

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