The Blonde Ethos

What You Should Know About Antibiotic Resistance

Health MonitoringNatalie GoodchildComment

There are few public health issues of greater importance than antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in terms of impact on our society. This is a global crisis. And no, I’m not being dramatic. I've been affected by it myself.

While this is an issue far bigger than any one of us, we do have some control over it, if we each take responsibility and act now. By educating ourselves, and sharing information with our friends and family (and anyone else that will listen!), we are playing an important role that shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Can Magnesium Spray Enhance Your Recovery?

Nutrition + Supplements, TrainingNatalie Goodchild3 Comments

I’ve tried out a lot of products in the past that are said to aid muscle recovery and reduce soreness, from bath soaks to arnica creams. None of them were noticeably effective at all, and in any instances where I detected a negligible difference in my recovery, I could never say with any kind of certainty that my recovery was down to a single product; it could just as likely have been due to eating better or getting more sleep.

Except for one.

But first, here's what you need to know about transdermal supplementation....

4 Must-Read Books for Better Health + Nutrition

Health Monitoring, Nutrition + Supplements, ReviewsNatalie Goodchild3 Comments

The main point I want to make with this article is that the vast majority of the information in these books should be common knowledge.

I can’t stress that enough.

It horrifies me to think that this incredibly valuable information is out there, pretty much for free, and yet some people are never exposed to it.

Here are 4 must-read books to help you improve your health + nutrition.

The Need-To-Know on Your Pelvic Floor + How Elvie Helps You To Do Your Kegels

Training, Health Monitoring, ReviewsNatalie Goodchild1 Comment

Ladies, do you do pelvic floor exercises? 

Honestly?

I’m sure, like me, you’re aware of how important they are. Yet, also like me, when it comes to training these muscles, you’ll probably remember that they exist every fortnight or so, and exercise them by squeezing ‘down there’ how ever many times you deem useful (10, 15, 20 times?) before getting distracted by something else.

Needless to say, there are lots of things wrong with training your pelvic floor muscles in this way:  
* You don’t really know if you are squeezing the muscles correctly  
* You aren’t sure if you are squeezing for long enough, hard enough, or a many times as you should  
* You don’t have any way to measure your progress  
* It’s boring as hell, making it very easy to become distracted

Thankfully, some very clever ladies out there have designed a sleek little gadget and app called Elvie to overcome all of these problems.

But first, here's why doing kegels is important in the first place...

Healthy Things To Do In Rio De Janeiro

Nutrition + SupplementsNatalie Goodchild1 Comment

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Rio de Janeiro with Swisse - the official vitamin choice of Team GB - soaking up Brazilian culture and the excitement of the 2016 Olympic Games.

The Olympic Games represent health, fitness and dedication like nothing else and it was incredible to feel a part of them when in Rio.

Of course, the Olympics only last a couple of weeks in August, and the Paralympics a couple of weeks in September 2016, so not everyone will have the opportunity to experience them when visiting Rio de Janiero. Thankfully, there are lots of other things you can do if you want to experience a fit, healthy and inspiring trip to Rio...

The Complete Guide to Heart Rate Training

Health Monitoring, TrainingNatalie Goodchild6 Comments
Heart_Rate_Monitor_Training_Guide_Fitness-blogger

What is heart rate monitoring?

Your heart rate (HR) is a useful measure of your activity level and training intensity when exercising. When your exercise intensity increases, your heart rate also increases to match the increased rate of energy expenditure and oxygen uptake.

Heart rate can be expressed as the absolute number of beats per minute (bpm) or as a percentage of your maximum heart rate (% HRmax).

Heart rate in bpm is not comparable between individuals.

Even individuals of the same gender, age and fitness background could have hugely different heart rates in the same situation. I also find that unless you have had a lot of time to familiarise yourself with your heart rate (in bpm) at different levels of exercise, the number is harder to put into perspective and to find useful.

A percentage of your maximum heart rate value, on the other hand, is comparable; the same % HRmax can indicate that two individuals are working at the same training intensity. This measurement more easily provides you with some perspective on how hard you are exercising.

It’s for this reason that % HRmax is the measurement recorded during group exercise classes that utilise heart rate monitoring, like Orange Theory or Speedflex.

Useful Heart Rate Measures

Knowing your heart rate at any point in time is not a very useful measure on it’s own. So, to put it in context, it’s a good idea to have some ideas of where you sit across other heart rate measures.

Resting Heart Rate (HRrest)

Your resting heart rate should be taken when you are awake, but relaxed sedentary, in a neutral environment without any stressors.

The resting heart rate in adults can vary from 60bpm to 100bpm.

You can find out your own resting heart rate by counting your own pulse manually. You can also use a smartphone app, fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor, or a small device called a pulse oximeter.

You can find out more in a handy article I wrote a while back on [resting heart rate][3].

Lower resting heart rates are commonly associated with better physical fitness.

Heart Rate Max (HRmax)

Your heart rate max is the highest heart rate that you can achieve through exercise, without encountering any severe issues from exercise stress.

It’s typically said that subtracting your age from 220 will provide your HRmax, and this is the formula that most commercial heart rate monitors use to calculate default heart rate zones.

Another formula that some sources suggest is more accurate, is subtracting 0.7 x your age from 208.

For each of those formulas, my results look like this:
220 - 25 = 195
208 - (0.7 x 25) = 190.5

Clearly, it’s important to realise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to your individual physiology and it’s now well-established that there’s not a clear correlation between age and HRmax.

The most accurate way to measure your HRmax is through a cardiac stress test, run by a professional, but these can be difficult and costly to arrange.

Heart Rate Recovery (HRrecovery)

Recovery heart rate refers to the reduction of your heart rate in a fixed period after exercise. This can be an indicator of your fitness level or of potential heart problems.

To measure recovery heart rate, take note of your heart rate during exercise, and then record your heart rate after 1 minute or 2 minutes of recovery. Subtract the final heart rate from the working heart rate to give your recovery heart rate. Improvements in fitness can be indicated by a greater recovery heart rate.

Heart-Rate-Training-Zones-Fitness-Blogger

Heart rate training zones

When heart rate training, it’s pretty important to know your heart rate zones.

The default heart rate zones are divided into five intensity zones based on the percentage of your maximum heart rate:

Zone 1: Very light (50–60% HRmax)

Exercising at a very light intensity is recommended for warm-up and cool-down periods around training sessions, and for recovery periods during high intensity intervals.

This intensity should feel very comfortable and easy.

Zone 2: Light (60–70% HRmax)

Training at 60-70% of your HRmax improves general fitness by developing basic endurance and aerobic capacity.

This type of training is sustainable for long duration sessions and is also used for recovery training sessions in people who train frequently and competitively.

This intensity should feel like your ‘average’, comfortable intensity, during which you could maintain a conversation.

Zone 3: Moderate (70–80% HRmax)

Training between 70-80% of your HRmax will develop your aerobic capacity, meaning that your body's ability to transport oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, working muscles can be improved. This improved efficiency has a positive impact on your general training pace.

In this zone, you will feel that you are working above average intensity and experience steady and controlled fast breathing.

Zone 4: Hard (80–90% HRmax)

Working between 80-90% of your HRmax will put you into your anaerobic zone. Training in this zone will improve your ability to sustain high intensity activity.

This is the zone where your anaerobic threshold (AT) is found. Here, the amount of fat being utilised as your body’s main source of energy is greatly reduced, in favour of using glycogen stored in your muscles. One of the by-products of using this glycogen is lactic acid. The point where your body can no longer remove lactic acid from the muscles fast enough is your AT, also known as your lactate threshold.

Working in this zone causes muscular fatigue and heavy breathing.

Zone 5: Maximum (90–100% HRmax)

Training in this zone trains your fast twitch muscle fibres and helps to develop speed.

Training in this zone is very exhausting for your breathing and muscles and can only be maintained for a very short periods of time.

Only very fit individuals and experienced athletes can train effectively at this intensity.

The Fat Burning Zone Explained

You may have heard of the fat burning zone and wonder where it fits into these 5 training zones.

The concept of the fat burning zone can be pretty misleading (and so is often now referred to as ‘the fat burning myth’), so I’ll do my best to shed a little light on it…

During exercise, your energy comes from two sources, carbohydrates and fat. Your body requires the presence of oxygen in order to metabolise fat. Therefore, in terms of training, it’s in the aerobic (meaning, oxygen is present) training zones where the highest rate of fat oxidation occurs.

What this means, is that when you exercise at a lower intensity, your body burns a higher proportion of energy from fat than from carbohydrates. Whereas, when working at a higher intensity, your body will predominantly use carbohydrates for energy.

However, bear in mind that your body also has plenty of oxygen available when at complete rest, so it could be argued that the percentage of calories burned from fat is actually highest when you’re doing nothing. And that’s not something I’d recommend basing any fat-loss plans on...

Ultimately, while you may use a smaller proportion of fat for energy working at a higher intensity, your overall energy expenditure is higher.

It would be counter-productive for your overall health and fitness to deliberately slow your workout pace down to ensure that your heart rate resides in ‘the fat burning zone’ unless you are deliberately trying to pace yourself for competitive endurance training.

Guide_Heart_Rate_Monitor_Training_Fitness-blogger

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) Explained

EPOC is an acronym that gets used more frequently lately, especially with the rise in heart rate monitored fitness classes that want to boast their benefits. Here’s exactly what is means…

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) (also sometimes referred to as ‘exercise afterburn’) is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the phenomenon whereby there is a measurably increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity, intended to erase the body's "oxygen deficit".

To be clear, you do not experience EPOC simply because you have been breathing faster and harder (consuming more oxygen) during exercise. In fact, EPOC occurs because oxygen is required for a number of metabolic processes that help to return your body to it’s pre-exercise state, once your workout is done and dusted.

To really grasp this concept, you should understand that ‘metabolism’ is a generic term for all of your body’s chemical reactions that require energy/calories.

You have a higher metabolism after exercise due to a number of physiological mechanisms within your body, including replenishment of oxygen stores, adenosine triphosphate/creatine phosphate resynthesis, lactate removal, and increased body temperature, circulation and ventilation above pre-exercise levels 1.

This higher metabolism requires a greater consumption of oxygen, leading to the term, ‘EPOC’.

This higher metabolism also means that your body is using more energy, which is why many high intensity workout classes claim that you will experience a greater calorie burn for hours (and even days!) after your workout.

However, studies have found that the extent and duration of EPOC is dependent on the intensity and duration of exercise. If your workout is low in intensity and short in duration, you will likely not experience EPOC.

If you do experience EPOC, it can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours after your workout.

Causes of heart rate variation

There are a number of other factors that can influence your heart rate, and it’s useful to be aware of these when you are training.

The main culprits for raising your heart rate a little more than usual are dehydration, heat and humidity, altitude (even if you are acclimatised) and small everyday biological variations.

What are the benefits of heart rate monitoring?

There are many benefits to using a heart rate monitor, which is why athletes and sports team, along with their coaches, have been using them for decades.

They help to keep you on track to reach your goals

Whether you want to improve your endurance, or perform better at higher intensity activity, there is a heart rate zone that corresponds to your goal.

Wearing a heart rate monitor allows you to see when you are in your ideal zone so that you know you are on target and can maintain that pace. Alternatively, if you are just short of your target heart rate, seeing how close you are using the data on the screen can give you that extra push of motivation that you need to get there.

If your goal is to develop good fitness across the board, you could use a heart rate monitor to ensure that each workout that you do favours a different type of activity, based on heart rate.

They can help you to assess your ideal pace

Especially if you’re a novice at endurance sport like running (like me), a heart rate monitor can help you to pace yourself.

On the few long runs I’ve done, I’ve found it pretty easy to be overzealous and tire myself out prematurely, and I’m sure that I’m not alone.

A heart rate monitor can definitely help to develop a sense of speed and effort.

Calculating rest periods

Heart rate monitors are typically recommended for resistance training sessions, but they can actually be very helpful in monitoring your rest periods between sets.

If you’re lifting very heavy weights as part of a strength training programme, it’s important to give yourself adequate rest between sets so that your muscles, as well as your cardiovascular system and nervous system, can recover.

Often, trainers will set a standardised rest period of, say, 3 minutes. But as we know that everyone responds differently, it may be more beneficial to instead rest until your heart rate reaches a low enough level.

On the flip side, if you are lifting lighter weights and are looking to improve cardiovascular fitness and get more out of your session, you might like to ensure that your heart rate doesn’t drop below a certain point before moving on to your next set.

Assessing if you’re unwell or overtraining

By taking your resting heart rate every morning, you can calculate your average RHR over time.

If your RHR creeps up above your normal level (probably by about 7 bpm or more), it may be that you are exhibiting signs of fatigue, illness or overtraining.

Tracking progress over time

Modern heart rate monitors are able to sync your data with an app to store your data.

This means that you can review how your heart rate has changed over time to monitor your fitness levels, or monitor how your workouts appear to have changed over time, in structure, intensity or duration.

Polar_Flow_App_Heart_Rate_Training_Fitness-blogger

How I use heart rate monitoring in my training

Interval training

I wouldn’t be without my heart rate monitor when I’m doing interval training.

As you can see from the Polar Flow app screenshots above, I like to add interval training on to the ends of my strength sessions and it's very clear how it affects my heart rate!

Currently, my preferred form of HIIT is treadmill sprints. I’ll warm up with a short walk and then sprint for 30 seconds at a time followed by 30 seconds of rest, ten times over.

I check my heart rate monitor after each interval and if it’s a little lower than where I’d like it to be for maximum benefit, I’ll push up the speed or the incline.

Weight training

I love weight training and the concept of heart rate monitoring, but it took me a while to learn to fuse the two.

Typically, heart rate monitors are aimed at people taking part in traditional cardio forms of exercise, and even some trainers that I spoke to couldn’t suggest how to make use of a heart rate monitor during my weight training sessions.

Heart rate monitoring is generally focused around monitoring the intensity of the exercise that you are performing. But with weight training, I found it was more beneficial to flip this concept on it’s head to monitor the time spent at rest.

I generally have quite short training sessions - sub 1 hour - so I want to ensure I make the most of them. Therefore, I started using a heart rate monitor to ensure that my heart rate didn’t drop below a level during rest periods, so that I could improve my cardiorespiratory fitness at the same time as working my muscles.

Sometimes, that means that I will have have slightly shorter rest periods than I have programmed for, or it might mean that I learn to super-set exercises to keep my heart rate high. For example, if I’m doing an overhead press, I may need a decent 1 or 2 minutes for my shoulders to recover before the next set, so I’ll add in some squat jumps during that time.

Polar_Optical_Heart_Rate_Monitor_Fitness-blogger

Which heart rate monitor should you use?

There are generally two types of heart rate monitor.

Heart rate monitors with chest straps use electrodes to pick up the small electrical signal that causes each of your heartbeats. This type of heart rate monitoring is called electrocardiography (ECG or EKG).

Alternatively, optical heart rate monitoring (OHRM) is now available too. They measure your heart rate by shining light through your skin and onto your blood vessels, and then analysing the amount of light that returns to the sensor. The heart rate measurement is based on the fact that light entering the body will scatter in a predictable manner as the blood flow dynamics change, such as with changes in blood pulse rates (heart rate). This method is called photoplethysmography (PPG).

The latter is far less reliable than a chest strap, especially when training. Measuring PPG when you’re in a resting state (sleeping, sitting, and standing still), such as when doctors use pulse oximeters (or when I do this at home as part of my clinical trial), is fairly simple.

However, measuring during activity is far more complex. It can be inaccurate due to a number of factors including ‘optical noise’ and measurement delays; they aren’t responsive to rapidly increasing or decreasing heart rate, such as the fluctuations associated with interval training.

Simply, the more athletic you are, the more you will benefit from wearing a chest strap.

I agree with the industry experts’ view that people should be made more aware of these shortcomings of optical heart rate monitors.

I’ve selected two of my favourite heart rate monitors, one ECG one PPG, below to give you an overview of how each of type of heart rate monitor works.

Note: I won’t focus on their functionality as a fitness tracker, although they are both able to track steps and sleep, as you would expect. They also have a vibrating inactivity alert.

Polar

I’ve always considered Polar to be the gold standard when it comes to heart rate monitoring.

It was always clear to me that the brand specialises in heart rate monitoring, even before I started to use their products. When I first decided to get a heart rate monitor, I loved browsing the Polar site because they had such a comprehensive yet accessible range of products, catering to everyone from the beginner gym-goer to the elite athlete.

Recently, I learnt that Polar’s image as a pioneer in heart rate monitoring isn’t just due to great marketing. In fact, nearly 40 years ago Polar filed its first patent for wireless heart rate measurement and in 1982, launched the first ever wire-free wearable heart rate monitor, changing the way athletes trained forever.

Polar_A300_Heart_Rate_Monitor_Strap_Fitness-blogger

Polar A300 Heart Rate Monitor with Strap

This is the first heart rate monitor that I have owned and I love it. I use it several times a week during my workouts.

Look + Feel

Obviously, the chest strap is usually discretely positioned so that the look of it doesn’t matter, but I am conscious that the watch is quite bulky. I currently use it with a black strap but will consider purchasing and switching to a white wrist band for summer.

I currently find the bulkiness most annoying if I choose to wear it as an activity tracker for an extended period of time, but in the gym, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

I find both the watch and the chest strap really comfortable to wear.

Functionality

This is really easy to use, connects effortlessly to the heart rate monitor, syncs easily with the Polar Flow app on my smartphone. It’s also simple to charge with a USB cable, with the battery life lasting around a month.

My only complaint is that I’ve felt from the very first time that I used it that there was a critical piece of functionality missing: a timer/stopwatch function. For a sports watch, I feel this is a basic element to have been omitted.

I had anticipated that one of the benefits to having my fitness tech on my wrist, would be simplicity and compactness, but it turns out I still need to carry round my phone or a stopwatch if I want to be able to time rest periods or intervals.

The device displays the total duration of your workout, including hours, minutes and seconds, but this is not an easy format to time from.

However, I’d like if the display gave the option to switch between seeing your heart rate as %HR max and bpm. Currently, the device requires you to set a single preference on the app.

Price

The Polar A300 is £74.50. Purchasing it with a heart rate sensor is £99.50.

Changeable wrist straps are £19.00.

Polar_A360_Heart_Rate_Wrist_Monitor_Fitness-blogger

Polar A360 Wrist-Based Heart Rate Monitor

Look + Feel

Unlike most fitness trackers, the A360 has a colour touch screen. It’s this, along with the slim in-line shape, that creates the sleek aesthetic that drew me to it.

The colour screen is especially beneficial in communicating the heart rate zone that you’re working in during a workout.

It’s available in a range of interchangeable colours, and three band sizes from small to large.

Functionality

Like the A300, the watch itself is really simple to set up and use, and easy to sync with the Polar Flow app. It’s also easy to charge with a USB cable, although given my intermittent use of this device, I can’t justify the relatively shorter battery life of 14(ish) days.

I like that you can pair it with a chest strap for more accurate measurement too. I’ve yet to try this out but I definitely will.

The A360 also has the functionality to give you smart notifications, drawing your attention to incoming calls, messages and other alerts from your phone. However, this isn’t something that I’ve had the need to use.

The main downside with this watch (besides the limitations of optical heart rate monitoring on the whole) is that, as with the A300, I feel that this would benefit from a timer/stopwatch function.

Plus, like with the A300, I’d like the option to see my heart rate in both %HR Max and bpm side-by-side.

Price

The Polar A360 is £149.50.

Changeable wristbands are an additional £19.00 and to buy it with an H7 heart rate strap will set you back an additional £52.50.

My Verdict on the Polar A300 + A360

I use the A300 every time that I train without fail and have done for months. It’s undoubtedly the longest that I’ve ever stuck at using a piece of fitness tech.

As I’ve mentioned before, I actually don’t find wearable fitness trackers useful on an all-day basis, so I tend to keep both the watch and the chest strap in my gym bag, not wearing either unless I’m at the gym.

While I much prefer the aesthetic of the A360, including both the wristband itself, as well as the unique colour screen, I haven’t found myself reaching for it quite so much. Partly, this is due to the inaccuracies of optical heart rate monitors in general. Also, I think this is due to the fact that the battery runs down faster than the A300 and honestly, I already have so many devices to charge that I really don’t need another one on more frequent charging rotation!

If you’re looking for a device to wear on a daily basis, I’d recommend the A360. If you’re looking for something simply to wear only while you train, I find the A300 to be perfect.

Summary

I love the concept of a quantified self. Self monitoring can be so valuable when applied correctly.

I’ve really benefited from heart rate monitoring. It has motivated me, encouraged me to push harder, rest better, and ultimately learn more about my body.

I really like that your heart rate provides an objective gauge of exertion; one which is usually more accurate than your own perception of how you’re working. No more excuses!

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14599232

Understanding Dairy Intolerance + the A2 Milk Protein

Nutrition + SupplementsNatalie Goodchild4 Comments
a2 milk dairy intolerance to casein protein

As you will know if you have explored other articles on The Blonde Ethos, I am really interested in the topic of food intolerance.

Over a year ago, I discovered through a food intolerance test that I don’t tolerate milk well. My first food intolerance test through York Test gave me no more information than that.

However, knowing that food intolerance testing of this kind tests intolerance to proteins in foods, and knowing that there are several types of milk protein, I went on a quest to find out more.

My next food intolerance test (and the one that I would recommend to anyone) from CNS revealed my ‘milk’ intolerance to be to casein specifically.

Since then, I haven’t generally consumed dairy products, and in particular, I have avoided buying and drinking cow’s milk.

Within the last month, I have bought and drunk cow’s milk again for the first time in at least a year.

Read on to find out why I did this, as well as learn more about dairy intolerance and what’s really in the milk that we as a population consume so much of...

Dairy intolerance: what is it?

Many people believe they have an intolerance to dairy. However, because there are several components within dairy (scroll down to read more on this!), it can be difficult to identify exactly what is it that doesn’t agree with you.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a sugar that naturally occurs in milk. People develop a lactose intolerance if they lack the enzymes needed to break lactose down in the body. A hydrogen breath test can diagnose lactose intolerance.

Intolerance to milk proteins

There are several proteins in milk, described in more detail below. The protein that people are commonly reactive to is casein.

A reaction to a protein elicits an igG response in the body. It is the IgG antibodies specific to antigenic food proteins that are monitored in food intolerance tests.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance and casein intolerance are similar, because all food intolerance elicits the same response: inflammation.

This can lead to digestive symptoms like bloating, wind and cramp. There are also lots of other non-digestive symptoms associated with food intolerance, which you can find detailed in my Food Intolerance Guide.

A lot of people assume that a disagreement with milk means a lactose intolerance.

However, lactose intolerance is said to affect less than 5% of the UK population. A much more common intolerance is to the A1 beta-casein found in cow’s milk.

The problem with cutting out dairy

Calcium-deficiency

By having a good awareness of what I consume, and from working with a dietician, I know that there’s a chance I might not be consuming enough calcium in my diet since reducing my dairy intake.

This can often be the case in people who do not consume dairy.

I found this calcium information sheet from the BDA (The Association of UK Dieticians) incredibly helpful in helping me to recognise which foods are calcium-rich.

So helpful, in fact, that I’m sharing a section of it here in this article to ensure that you don’t miss seeing it!

While a lot of people assume that they are still consuming enough calcium through other sources, such as green veg, the quantity of calcium in other foods is negligible compared to the quantity in dairy produce.

Calcium rich foods nutrition factsheet

Artificial ingredients

I really like milk alternatives like almond milk and coconut milk, and these are often fortified with calcium, which is great. However, I am conscious of the additives in them, such as emulsifiers, stabilisers and acidity regulators.

Problems with the dairy industry

Of course, it could definitely be argued that there are also problems besides food intolerance with consuming dairy.

It’s very hard to gain a true insight into the dairy industry, but I am conscious that antibiotics and hormones given to cows can end up in the milk that we consume. The problem is no doubt worse in countries outside of the UK where regulation isn’t so stringent, but regardless, it’s an issue that remains at the back of my mind.

a2 milk beta-casein protein

The anatomy of milk

Cow’s milk is mostly water, with about 13% solids, which is composed of carbohydrates (the milk sugar lactose), fat, minerals and protein.

The protein is around 20% whey and 80% casein. There are three major types of casein protein in milk, one of which is beta-casein. There are then two main types of beta-casein, called A1 and A2.

Anatomy of milk.png

Some milk can contain both A1 and A2 proteins, in which case A1 is usually dominant. Some milk contains no A2 protein at all.

A1 and A2 beta-casein are genetic variants of the beta-casein milk protein. These are produced by cows based on their genetic ability to produce one or the other.

The A1 and A2 type proteins differ by only one amino acid. This difference in protein composition between the A1 and A2 type of beta-casein may affect how these proteins are broken down during digestion.

To be even more specific and technical, the different between A1 and A2 proteins is this: a proline (amino acid) occurs at position 67 in the chain of amino acids that make up the A2 beta-casein, while in A1 beta-casein a histidine (amino acid) occurs at that position. Studies in cells found that the digestive enzymes that break down these proteins interact with beta-casein precisely at that location, so that A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins are processed differently by the body.

Is the solution a2 milk?

For a while I’ve known that I’m tolerant to a the casein component of dairy. I’ve heard that the milk industry caters for lactose intolerant individuals by processing milk to remove the lactose. However, I’ve wondered for a while if there is also milk out there that has had the casein removed…

And then I discovered a2 milk (by the a2 milk company). This is milk without the supposedly problematic casein protein (a1). However, it hasn’t been processed in order to remove that protein. The brand simply selects milk from cows that naturally produce a2-only milk based on their genetic profile.

It’s a fairly simple difference between whether cows are A1 or A2; like us having blue or brown eyes!

How can a2 milk be trademarked?

If the A2 protein occurs naturally in milk, I wondered how it is the case that ‘a2’ is trademarked throughout the brand’s website and other online content.

I found out that the a2 Milk Company was founded in New Zealand to test and market A2 milk. A method for identifying A1 and A2 was developed and the company has the patent to test herds and produce pure A2 milk.

What is a2 milk like?

Taste

It has been a long time since I drank regular cow’s milk. But to me, and to people around me who tried it, it tastes no different. And neither should it!

Shelf life

Another thing that I noticed about a2 milk is that the expiration date on it seems to be longer, and the milk keeps longer once the bottle is opened than is indicated on the bottle of regular cow’s milk. I’ve yet to find out exactly why this is, but it’s pretty handy!

Price

a2 milk is £1.39 per litre in supermarkets, which is a little more expensive than other milk. But then again, other milk is often sold below cost price by large supermarkets, which I don’t think is a good thing. I’d much rather pay a small premium for a product that has research behind it, especially when it’s something that I’m putting into my body!

a2 easy to digest milk

Summary

I’m not recommending that everyone go out and buy a2 milk and drink it by the litre. I’m not even saying that it will definitely make you feel better if you have any issues with dairy. But without doubt, we should be learning about the things that we put in our body.

I loved discovering a2 milk and building on my knowledge of the components of foods that I’m putting in my body. I found it really interesting to learn more about the proteins and other elements that make up such a common drink, and understanding a little more about the milk industry globally.

I also like that I have one more option available to me, to ensure that I’m not missing out on vital nutrients by having to avoid dairy products completely and consistently.

Had you heard of a2 milk before? Is it something that you have tried, or are interested to try? Let me know by commenting below or tweeting me @theblondeethos

The Products that Changed my Health & Fitness Journey + Four-Year Giveaway

Natalie GoodchildComment
The-Blonde-Ethos-Milestone-Giveaway

Four Years of The Blonde Ethos

I started writing a fitness blog when I made the decision to study for a degree, and I thought that starting a blog would be a great way to get back into the habit of writing and having a project to work on.

I had no idea that it would become so much more than that.

I’m now celebrating four years of writing The Blonde Ethos. (And running a massive giveaway to mark the milestone.. Read on!)

In those four years, The Blonde Ethos has evolved massively, from a place to document my own balanced lifestyle and discovery of various workouts and products, to what I hope you find to be a valuable resource for health, nutrition and training.

I’m really passionate about learning as much as I can about healthy living, and really, really passionate about passing my knowledge on to you, to help you find the same drive to learn about and better your body as I am lucky to have done.

I want to keep The Blonde Ethos authentic, honest and backed by science and experience. I also want to keep it evolving, so please let me know what you would love to see more (or less!) of!

Products That Played a Pivotal Role

Some of the health, fitness and nutrition products that I have come across in the past few years have played an especially pivotal role in my wellbeing journey, and I’d love for you to discover and benefit from them in the same way that I did. So...

I’m giving away a huge bundle of health, fitness and nutrition products worth over £400 to one lucky winner.

I’ve cherry-picked these items to ensure that only products and brands that I have used and loved are included. These are products that I recommend to people time and time again. As always, I won’t compromise where fit + healthy living is concerned! If you win you will recieve...

Gut by Giulia Enders

If you follow me on social media or are signed up to receive exclusive email content from me (if not, ensure you don’t miss out in future - click below!), you will know why I love this book.

Your gut is at the epicentre of your wellbeing and this book explains in a really simple way exactly why, by covering everything from the structure of the gut, to topics like food intolerance (another huge interest of mine).

I’ve understood the importance of gut health for a long time now and have poured hours into learning more about it, but no other resource that I have come across has been as useful as this book.

I grabbed an extra copy of this book with my latest amazon order to giveaway to one of you.

Probiotics

Also on the topic of gut health are probiotics. I’ve been taking probiotics for years to keep my immune system (as well as other systems relating to the gut) in check.

I’ve teamed up with my friends at BioKult to offer a generous supply of their Advanced Multi-Strain Formula Probiotics.

Fitness DNA Test

Despite still being somewhat on the fence about the usefulness of fitness and nutrition DNA testing overall, I definitely found some use in taking one of these tests myself. I learnt a lot from the testing process and from reading up on my results. I even had a few reassurances where my training programme was concerned.

While the results are by no means prescriptive, it can definitely raise your awareness of various aspects of your health and fitness.

Thanks to Fitness Genes for providing a DNA analysis kit for the lucky winner!

Collagen supplements

I recently wrote a simple yet comprehensive guide to collagen. While I don’t consider collagen supplements by any means essential, the weeks spent writing this guide were really beneficial to my understanding of our skin’s structure and how our tissues are affected by aging and other lifestyle factors. Plus I discovered one of the tastiest supplements that I’ve ever come across...

I’ve teamed up with my friends at Works With Water to include a month’s supply of my favourite collagen supplement, help: beautify skin, in this giveaway bundle.

Compression tights

I love that high-performance, technical activewear is increasingly available, and I particularly like compression clothing for its ability to improve circulation and reduce muscular damage.

Realising that there was a lot of missing and misleading information around performance compression clothing, I wrote two articles last year: an Essential Guide to Compression Sportswear, and an in-depth round up of a few pairs of compression tights leading the market.

There was a huge amount of interest around these articles, so I thought it was about time that I gave you a chance to get your hands on some of this tech for yourself!

I’m giving away a pair of mid-rise compression tights thanks to 2XU and some compression calf tights thanks to SKINS.

Protein

Protein has been a huge talking point over the past couple of years, with protein powders becoming more mainstream and more women taking them.

Last year, I wrote two comprehensive guides to protein: Protein for Women, and Protein Supplements for Women, which I’m thrilled that you’ve found useful. I’d love if you would keep sharing these guides so that you can help other people take control of their diet and health!

I have been consuming protein shakes for years now, and they have really helped me to ensure I have a balanced macronutrient intake, an optimal caloric intake, and to help my muscles recover and grow.

While I have sampled products from other brands, I repurchase Impact Whey Isolate from MyProtein time and time and time again.

Thanks to MyProtein for sending 1kg of my favourite flavour, Chocolate Smooth, plus a handy shaker, to include in the prize.

ZMA

Another supplement that had a really pivotal role in my health journey is ZMA. When I started taking this, I saw huge improvements in my sleep and recovery, and still purchase it time and time again. If you want to know more, read my complete Guide to ZMA for Women.

Thanks to my friends at MyProtein for providing a supply for this giveaway.

Omega 3s

Omega 3s are a really important nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties that we typically do not get enough of in a western diet.

I’ll be writing a guide to omegas soon as they are something that I always recommend people incorporate into their supplement stack.

I’ve been supplementing my omega 3 intake for years, but struggled to find a product that I felt was good quality and that didn’t irritate my stomach. Finally, I discovered Love Life Supplements Omega 3 Max and haven’t looked back!

Huge thanks to Love Life Supplements for offering up a supply for this giveaway.

Nutrient powders

While I love eating my fruit and veg, there are days that I feel that I can fall short on a decent intake, or times that I just feel I need an added boost.

Nutrient powders have become really popular but I have to say, I am pretty unmotivated to drink some of the grim green concoctions floating around on the market.

Since the product launched, I’ve been really liking Primal Reds from Love Life Supplements. As well as boosting my nutrient intake, I find that drinking this in the evening really helps me to sleep, thanks to the montmorency cherry in the blend.

Love Life Supplements have also provided a tub of Primal Reds to add to this awesome giveaway bundle!

Fruit teas

I have never been a tea of coffee drinker, but over the past year I have finally learned to adjust my palate to the flavours of fruit and herbal teas.

My new found love of beautiful fruity tea blends has helped me to make better beverage choices, no longer opting for sugary juices and hot chocolates whenever I frequent a cafe (which is quite a lot). Plus, I have really started to enjoy the calming ritual of making tea in the evening, especially my favourite night time blend from Pukka!

Thank you to my lovely friends at Pukka for adding some of my favourite tea blends to this prize.

Time to Enter!

To enter this giveaway and be in with the chance of winning all of these amazing healthy goodies, head over to my Instagram profile (@theblondeethos), find the picture from this article (above) and follow the simple instructions on the post!

I'll be selecting a winner at random on 10th May so hurry up and get those entries in!

Note: due to the shipping and service restrictions on some of these items, this giveaway is open to UK residents only.

The Science of Sleep: Optimising Sleep for Health + Recovery

Health Monitoring, Nutrition + SupplementsNatalie Goodchild4 Comments
Night time routine to optimise sleep

Good health is achieved from the optimisation of the elements in the ‘health triangle’; a trinity of nutrition, training and sleep. While all of these elements work together, even the best training routine and nutrition programme cannot compensate for insufficient rest from good quality sleep.

Sleep duration and quality can affect many things, including muscle recovery and building, weight loss and maintenance, hormone levels that influence your overall health, athletic performance, and cognition.

So, here's what you need to know about sleep, as well as a definitive list of all the ways (according to both sceience and my own experience) that you can induce and improve your sleep.

What controls sleep?

Our sleep cycles are affected by certain hormones, whose production are mainly dictated by our brain’s perception of light. It is our pineal gland at the base of the brain that is responsible for sensing these changes in light and secreting hormones in response. Two of the most crucial hormones here are serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin is often known as the happiness hormone, due to its mood-enhancing properties. The vast majority of serotonin is produced in your gut, which explains why research is increasingly verifying the link between gut health and your mood.

Melatonin is a neurotransmitter that is essential for sleep, but it’s also worth knowing that melatonin acts as a potent antioxidant, a neuro-protectant and even prevent the proliferation of cancer cells.

Both of these hormones are derived from the amino acid tryptophan. In your body, tryptophan goes through several stages before becoming 5-HTP, making it available for conversion into serotonin and eventually melatonin.

Serotonin is mainly secreted during the day with levels dropping in the evening causing melatonin levels to rise and prepare the body for sleep. On the flip side, a normal drop of melatonin in the morning leads to serotonin rising again.

Even slight variations in the complex synthesis and regulation of these two hormones can have huge implications for your sleep, as well as your energy levels and mood.

Low + declining melatonin production

As serotonin is a precursor to melatonin (meaning that melatonin production is dependent on adequate levels of serotonin), serotonin deficiencies can lead to sleep disorders (as well as poor mood and food cravings, due to serotonin’s other roles in your body).

However, melatonin levels are also hugely affected by age. Melatonin production peaks during early childhood, and then starts to decline most rapidly after puberty. Older people produce negligible amounts of melatonin, explaining why they often have shorter and less restful periods of sleep.

The decline in sleep duration and quality that comes with growing older can lead to significant deterioration in health because less time and fewer resources are available for your body to maintain and repair itself.

There appears to be a link between a decline in melatonin and the dramatic increase in degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's as you age.

Melatonin Production Decline with Age

Hormones affected by sleep

As well as the hormones discussed above that directly influence your ability to sleep, there are a number of other hormones in your body that are affected by sleep.

A lack of sleep can cause an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) secretion, a reduction in testosterone (which affects women as much as men) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). [1]

IGF1 is a hormone necessary for growth and development. It regulates the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which plays a crucial role in your rapid growth during childhood and continues to have an anabolic effect (promoting the building of biomolecules) on you as an adult.

HGH is especially important in the growth and repair of muscle tissue, explaining why sleep and recovery is so vital if you train hard and are looking to improve your physical fitness and physique.

The balance of hormone secretions during sleep also play a role in insulin function, affecting how efficiently your body can process carbohydrates.

Nutrition + supplements to optimise sleep

How to optimise sleep

I’ve spent a long time trying to optimise my sleep for better health and recovery and have seen massive benefits through implementing some simple things.

My general sense of wellbeing on a daily basis is hugely affected by my quality and duration of sleep, so much so that sleep is no longer something that I am willing to sacrifice to any degree.

Here are some incredibly effective ways to improve your sleep. Most (if not all) of these have scientific backing, as well as my own seal of approval from years of trial and error.

Nutrition

Some foods are hailed for their sleep-enhancing properties due to their naturally-occurring melatonin content. One example is montmorency cherries, which have been well-researched. Concentrated cherry juice can now be purchased as a sport recovery aid.

If I need a little help drifting off (and boosting my nutrient intake too!), I drink Love Life Supplements Primal Reds powder in the evening which contains a healthy dose of montmorency cherry.

Carbohydrates can also aid sleep (another reason to put the ‘no carbs after [insert random time here]’ BS to bed!) by shortening sleep onset. This works by increasing the blood plasma level of tryptophan.

I always have carbohydrates with my evening meal, and if I have an evening snack, I like to opt for something like rice cakes (usually with nut butter) and a banana (bananas also contain some melatonin and some tryptophan).

There are a lot of teas that are said to help with sleep too. My favourite is Pukka Night Time tea. However, I believe that the positive effect of having a night time tea is largely down to the calming ritual of making and drinking it.

Caffeine and alcohol both affect sleep quality in a negative way. If you’re having any sleep problems at all, it’s best to try and cut these both out, at least until you have got your body back on track. I never consume caffeine, and only occasionally drink alcohol, and I feel that this really benefits my sleep.

Supplements

There are a number of natural supplements that can have a really beneficial affect on sleep and I would recommend trying any of these before exploring prescription drug options - which often have addictive properties.

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a metabolite of tryptophan, is a direct precursor to serotonin and, ultimately, aids the synthesis of melatonin. When I need help sleeping, I take 5-HTP from Love Life Supplements. My boyfriend and friends that I have recommended it to have also had huge success in improving their sleep quality - it’s a pretty fail proof supplement option for this. It won't knock you out or make you feel drowsy like a sleeping pill, but helps get you into a deeper sleep.

Another supplement for aiding sleep, which I discovered much earlier in my health and fitness journey, is ZMA. I’ve written a comprehensive guide to ZMA including what is in it and how to take it, which I hope you’ll find useful! I tend to stock up on ZMA from MyProtein.

Zinc, magnesium and B6 can also be taken in isolation.

A really unique supplement, specially blended for recovery, is R5 Aminos from AminoMan. The blend of amino acids have been selected to support HGH release, while selected minerals assist in serotonin production, optimize testosterone release and support other antioxidant enzyme systems in the body during sleep. It tastes a bit like you’re drinking pureed Christmas tree decorations (that’ll be the clove…) but it’s really effective for sleep and recovery.

Bedding

As well as ensuring that your room temperature is optimal (around 18°C or 68°F), bedding can play a big part in night time comfort.

I recently switched to wool bedding from The Wool Room* after learning that it’s a natural thermoregulator, meaning that it will help to regulate your body temperature. This is especially useful if you share a bed!

This kind of wool bedding is also great because it’s natural and renewable, hypoallergenic, antibacterial and dust mite free. Plus, it’s naturally moisture-wicking, which keeps you feeling fresh as you sleep, and resists mould and mildew (this is especially important to me, given that I have a lung condition).

Possibly my favourite thing about this bedding though is how high-quality it feels. Several months after first using it, I still get exciting about climbing into bed; the duvet feels 5-star hotel luxurious!

Another big contributor to my night time comfort is my mattress. When I moved to London last year, I got a memory foam mattress for the first time in my life - one of the best decisions that I have ever made!

Remember, you spend a third of your life in your bed, so make sure that every element of it contributes to your wellbeing; it's worth the investment!

Supplements for better sleep + recovery

Dark Room

Since we know that light is a cue for your sleep hormones, having a properly darkened room at night time will inevitably help you to sleep better.

Blackout blinds are highly recommended and I’ve found a massive benefit from them. As I live in a rented flat without blackout blinds, we used blackout blinds from Blinds in a Box as a really inexpensive and quick fix.

In the early stages of my quest for better sleep, I found the sunset-simulation function of my Lumie Bodyclock light really helpful. The sunrise function is also very useful to avoid hormonal disruptions caused by lack of light in the morning and I still use this regularly.

Electrical Devices

It’s well known that the light emitted from electrical devices can affect sleep. This is because this kind of light is ‘short-wavelength-enriched,’ meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light, which affects levels of melatonin more than any other kind of light.

To overcome the issue of blue light, try to avoid using devices like your smartphone, tablet or laptop in the run up to bedtime. I’ve now stopped using my phone in bed all together.

I’ve heard that there are some apps that can be used to reduce the brightness of your screen, but I now use Night Shift mode on my iPhone, which became available with a recent iOS update.

Night Time Noise

While it may seem counterintuitive to add more noise to your environment, white noise is effective for enhancing sleep as other noises (such a traffic, doors opening and closing, toilets flushing, etc.) are obscured so that your brain pays less attention to them.

There are devices designed specifically to emit white noise, but a fan running in the room can work too.

I use the White Noise app by TMSoft without fail every night and my ability to drift off to sleep and stay asleep, undisturbed, has really improved. My most used sound on the app is ‘Heavy Rain Pouring’.

Relaxation techniques

There are many psychological roots of sleep conditions, of which stress is frequently cited, so implementing relaxation techniques is really worthwhile.

Not that long ago (now more than two years ago) I used to get anxiety about going to bed and would put bed time off for hours, worried that I would be lying awake for hours on end.

Eventually what changed this for me was using relaxation and mindfulness techniques to help me drift off, though I didn’t realise that was what they were at the time!

At first, I would repeat in my head things that I was grateful for in an ‘I packed my bag and in it I put…’ style (remember that game from childhood?!). Or, sometimes, I would count my breaths, or the number of seconds that it took me complete a breath. Eventually, I graduated to using the Headspace app to better guide my relaxation.

Now, I rarely have trouble dozing off, but if I do, I will take deep breaths, focusing on them completely and counting them until I reach ten, and then repeating. I rarely count past 7 anymore...

Exercise

While exercise is obviously beneficial to our health, there is also plentiful research that demonstrates that exercise, especially weight training and other high intensity training, positively affects many aspects of sleep quality.

Since I started weight training, my sleep has massively improved, although I’ve noticed the greatest improvement since I have had a morning training routine.

Routine

Cultivating a night time routine can really assist you in your quest for restful sleep. Relaxing rituals like making a hot drink, reading in bed, stretching or writing in a gratitude journal are great examples of calming elements to add to your evening routine.

You might also like to keep a notepad and pen by your bed to write down anything that is on your mind at the end of the day. It could be things that are worrying you, the next day’s to do list, or even things that you need to remember to pick up at the shops. I find that putting down on paper can really help to put your mind at ease and make way for slumber.

I've created a simple Night Time Note Sheet that you can download and use to get you in the habit of doing this. It has space for you to note down how you're feeling, what you're grateful and thing that you need to remember to go the next day, all so that you can go to sleep peacefully.

Summary

Sleep is incredibly powerful. If I’m tired, I sleep. If I’m upset, I sleep. If I feel under the weather, I sleep. Sleep is a cure for a whole host of maladies. It rests your body - physical and mental - and contributes heavily to your recovery.

I remember there was a time of my life when I constantly felt sluggish. In fact, feeling exhausted is so common in our society in general that GPs have even given the ‘condition’ its own acronym; TATT, meaning tired all the time.

Many things can influence this feeling, from stress to nutrition (in fact food intolerance plays a large part for me) but obviously a large factor is sleep.

Yet, I feel that so many people are reluctant to make the changes necessary to see improvement. Perhaps they don’t understand the crucial role of sleep, or perhaps they are just lazy and hoping for a quick fix.

You’re now armed with lots of knowledge about the things that affect your sleep, both positively and negatively, as well as a number of proven tips for optimising sleep, so that you can feel empowered when it comes to sleep, and make the changes needed to optimise your wellbeing.

If you have any tried and tested tips for improving sleep, share them in a comment below, or tweet me @theblondeethos.