Get fit to get healthy

Fitness, Health, Eat Natural, Repeat

The question of whether to start dieting or exercising, or diet and exercise, and what diet and types of exercises are best for health often evoke strong reactions and divide opinion. Not least because diet and exercise are highly individual and personal, and linked very closely to self evaluation and esteem.

My personal view is to first focus on fitness, then health, and then a healthy approach to diet and nutrition (unless you have received medical advice to do otherwise, e.g. you’re having an operation in the next seven days), and then to periodically shake-up, refine and fine-tune your approach in each of these areas.

When exercise is used as a tool to assist rapid weight loss, it’s usually unsustainable, and the bigger goal to lose weight is unlikely to be achieved and less likely to be maintained – it’s a recipe for reducing the metabolic rate and increase hunger.

Rather than something you do to burn calories, the purpose of exercise is to develop fitness and improve the metabolism. Fitness enhances the physiological functioning and efficiency of the body, and when the body is more fit, or has relatively high muscle mass, it burns more calories, and it’s also happier thanks to endorphins.

What can you do if you are fit but want to improve health and nutrition?

Proponents of healthy keto diets provide excellent advice on how to clean-up on health and diet, maintain a healthy metabolism, and use fat as fuel; and a lot of these recommendations can be used and adapted for athletes looking to improve energy levels, digestion, and boost the immune system.

In his book, The Healthy Keto Plan: Get Healthy, Lose Weight & Feel Great, Dr Eric Berg says that a healthy body “has tons of energy, high stress tolerance, and can sleep peacefully through the night and get out of bed refreshed. Healthy bodies can digest their food and feel satisfied without any cravings. A healthy body has flexible joints, relaxed muscles and no inflammation.”

Dr. Sten Ekberg recommends avoiding certain food types that affect insulin resistance, fructose, high in glycemic index (GI), inflammation and allergies. These foods are all refined and processed, and cause blood sugar swings and inconsistent energy levels, and include:

Bread

High in insulin, GI and fructose, bread, wheat and gluten grains are high in inflammation and intolerance. While bread includes dietary fiber, it’s not enough.

Cereal

Insulin and GI is about the same as bread. While cereal includes more fiber than bread, it’s still not very much.

While porridge oats are seen as a healthy breakfast staple, they have variable GI results. Efforts on the part of the food industry to make food preparation more convenient and faster cooking, results in differences in refining and processing that affect the degree of starch gelatinization.

Tip: Look for steel-cut oats rather than instant or rolled oats. Steel-cut oats are naturally gluten free with a fairly low GI.

An alternative to processed cereals is grain-free or gluten free muesli or granola, sometimes called Paleo Muesli, and includes coconut, real berries, nuts and seeds.

Sweet fruit

Medium to high insulin and GI, high in sugar and typically GMO (genetically modified organism). Our ancestors ate fruit that was a lot different to the sweet, juicy, year-round available fruit we see on supermarket shelves today. Ideally, fruit should be consumed seasonally and in moderation.

Tip: Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are the best sweet fruits and should be eaten in moderation.

Eat fruit in its natural state. There’s little need to macerate berries unless the fruit is specifically for jam or sauce, or some other recipe, like a fruit pie.

Soy

Low in insulin and GI and usually GMO, soy can be difficult to digest, and has been found to have a number of other side effects when consumed in excess, including allergies and tiredness.

Tip: Consume in moderation, and go organic and GMO free.

Low fat dairy

Removing fat from milk removes the best part. Once milk is processed, pasteurised, homogenised and the fat is removed, it’s not milk.

Skimmed milk is medium in insulin response, but when mixed with cereal it’s high in GI.

Egg whites

For allergies and intolerance, people are usually intolerant to the egg white rather than the whole egg. Throwing away the yolk removes protein and essential amino-acids.

Tip: Eat whole eggs. For chicken eggs, choose pasture raised, not pasteurized eggs.

Bio industrial oils

Vegetable and seed oils (soybean, corn, rapeseed (canola), sunflower, peanut) are the worst you can eat. These industrial oils promote inflammation. They are harshly processed empty calories and best used for soap and candle wax.

Tip: If you are eating some sort of processed or convenience food, chances are you are eating some kind of bio industrial oil.

Margarine

Trans-fats, hydrogenated fat (soybean, corn, canola), oil turned to solid – high in inflammation, allergies, empty calories.

Tip: Consume more naturally produced fats like butter, olive oil and coconut oil. Let fat be a natural part of the diet.

Red wine

While red wine includes resveratrol, known for its antioxidant properties, you can’t drink enough wine to reap this benefit. Alcohol in excess is the worst thing for the liver – causes alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Dr. Sten Ekberg
Dr. Sten Ekberg

“Don’t lose weight to get healthy; get healthy to lose weight.”

Dr Eric Berg

Ironically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the above listed food types are among the items people in the UK have been stockpiling during COVID-19. The knock-on effect of this consumer demand will inevitably propel food manufacturers and processors to swap picks and shovels for ever more industrialized GMO manufactured food.

As science, technology and (fast) food manufacturing develops and evolves, as well as demand for app deliveries and dark kitchens, avoiding hidden sugars and highly refined and processed foods is a constant challenge.

Almighty brain food

Secret ingredients that can make you smart, outsmart others and help to flash your big intellect around.

(Or, at least, food choices that play a role in keeping your brain healthy and can improve specific mental tasks including memory and concentration).

While there isn’t a magic pill to boost brain power or prevent cognitive decline. Nutritionists agree that the most important strategy to keep your brain healthy is to follow a dietary pattern that includes getting protein from plant sources and fish, choose healthy fats, and eat lots of different types of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Research shows that the best brain foods are the same ones that protect your heart and blood vessels, including green veggies, fatty fish, berries, tea and coffee and walnuts.

Green, leafy vegetables

Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene.

Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline.

Broccoli is high in vitamin K, delivering more than 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in a 1-cup (91-gram) serving.

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for forming sphingolipids, a type of fat that’s densely packed into brain cells.

Research links diets high in vitamin K with a better memory.

Fatty Fish

About 60% of the brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is some sort of omega-3.

Fatty fish are abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy unsaturated fats that build brain and nerve cells, and are essential for learning and memory.

Omega-3s have been linked to lower blood levels of beta-amyloid—the protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Not getting enough omega-3s has been linked to learning impairments and depression.

General advice is to try to eat fish at least twice a week, and to choose varieties that are low in mercury, e.g. salmon, cod, sardines and pollack.

If fish is unavailable to you, then consider Omega-3 supplements, or omega-3 sources including flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts.

Berries

Research shows that Flavonoids, the natural plant pigments that give berries their brilliant hues, help improve memory.

In a 2012 study published in Annals of Neurology, researchers found that greater long-term intakes of berries were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older women.

In general, higher intake of flavonoids, particularly from berries, appears to reduce rates of cognitive decline in older adults.

Tea and coffee

The magic (caffeine) in your morning cup of coffee or tea offers more than getting your day started and providing a quick and easy concentration boost.

In a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, participants with higher caffeine consumption scored better on tests of mental function. Other research has shown that caffeine consumption in moderation might also help solidify new memories.

Walnuts

Although they are relatively high in calories, nuts are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, and walnuts in particular are known to improve memory.

Walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Diets rich in ALA and other omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lower blood pressure and cleaner arteries.

Additionally, turmeric, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate may also be key brain boosting ingredients:

Turmeric – the active compound curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, which helps the brain. Research studies have shown that turmeric helps to reduce symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Pumpkin seeds – rich in many micronutrients that are important for brain function, including copper, iron, magnesium and zinc. Pumpkin seeds are applauded as little powerhouses of nutrients and health benefits.

Dark Chocolate – the flavonoids in chocolate may help protect the brain. Numerous studies prove that eating chocolate could boost both memory and mood.

Popular diets and fat loss

While it’s reliable knowledge that energy balance is an important factor for fat loss/gain. That is, calorie intake versus calorie expenditure (calories in vs. out). The abundance of information, choice and confusion around effective dietary approaches can be overwhelming.

There are numerous ways to create an energy deficit from reducing calories or consuming a low calorie diet, reducing carbohydrates, reducing fat, to fasting, juicing diets, meal replacements, subscription-based diet programs and pre-packaged meals, to increasing the number of calories you burn through movement and exercise.

Further, an effective dietary approach for one person may not be suitable for another; food preferences, taste and digestion as well as lifestyle (or cultural) and time management are highly personal – what makes one person feel good may be awful for someone else.

This article summarizes a few popular diets (Keto, Paleo, Alkaline, Dash, Low Carb, Vertical diet, Mediterranean, Intermittent Fasting, and Flexible dieting), and provides tips on how best to adhere to a diet, beat hunger, avoid potential side effects, and make sustainable lifestyle choices.

Ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is based on consuming 60%-70% of daily caloric intake from fat; 5%-10% carbohydrates; and 20%-30% protein.

With this diet, the idea is that the body converts fat to ketones (or ketosis), which are used as a fuel source when glucose/glycogen availability is low. Ketosis and a high-fat (healthy fats) diet can also reduce your appetite, causing you to eat less.

Carbohydrate reduction puts your body into ketosis – a metabolic state. When this happens the body burns excess fat into energy, thereby reducing body fat and can help to increase or retain muscle mass.

Typical foods found in a keto diet include: avocados, nuts, full fat dairy, seeds, oils etc. and non-starchy vegetables.

This diet limits your intake of starchy vegetables, fruit, dairy, wholegrains and legumes; to the equivalent of a small tub of yogurt, an apple and about half a medium potato per day.

The keto diet often results in very rapid weight loss, initially, which can be attributed to losing stored water. Carbs are stored in the body with water, so when it is broken down your body loses a lot of water. The reduction in your total energy intake with this diet will also make you lose weight (less than 10% of your energy will come from carbs); cutting out carbs naturally means cutting calories.

Some downsides with this diet:

  • Often called the ‘keto flu,’ some side effects of ketosis are headaches, nausea, fatigue and bad breath.
  • Lack of fiber can cause digestive issues and effect gut microbiomes.
  • Equivalent to over-training, decreased carbohydrate intake may decrease performance, induce fatigue and alter the hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA), which is necessary to get adaptation from a training response.
  • Carbohydrate has a critical role in optimizing the immune function for those who are physically very active.
  • There is considerable evidence to support that diets with a high fat content can be a factor favoring passive over-consumption and weight gain.
  • Adherence to strict food rules can cause some people to become anxious when making food choices and lead to an overall poor relationship with food.
Ketogenic diet breakfast

Paleo diet / paleolithic diet

The paleo diet is based on eating foods similar to our ancestors. The focus is on whole foods – protein, vegetables, fruit and nuts; along with the removal of dairy, refined sugar, grain, flour and processed foods.

This diet is based on the premise that we should eat the types of foods that were around as we evolved into humans, the choices that we are designed to thrive on.

The idea is that the body is unable to process certain foods, and by their removal it is easier to promote weight loss, better health and reduce the problems associated with processed foods and allergies.

Paleo diets are not written in stone, and adhering to this diet doesn’t involve going all the way back to the paleolithic period (Old Stone Age). Hunter-gatherers, paleolithic humans thrived on a variety of diets, depending on what was available at the time and where in the world they lived. It is therefore acceptable to adapt the diet around individual taste, seasons, choice and budget.

With this diet, weight loss occurs as a result of reduction in total calories. It’s an open secret that significant weight loss will occur with a diet that rules out pizza and beer.

Things to consider with this diet:

  • Cost: High cost is a consideration with this diet. While it’s not practical to spend your time hunting woolly mammoths, deer and bison, fishing for wild salmon and collecting berries, fruit and nuts. You will need to consume grass fed meats and caught fish, and avoid most farmed, manufactured and processed foods.
  • Variety: Excluding dairy protein, grains and legumes from the diet can mean you’re missing out on recovery boosting amino-acids, and foods rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Planning: You will need to plan carefully to ensure you obtain all the necessary macros and vitamins to maintain health.

Alkaline diet

An alkaline diet is based on eliminating foods that cause acidity in the body; the premise is that the body functions optimally between a PH of 7.35-7.45 (alkaline).

The diet encourages an intake of healthier foods (fruit and veg), but restricts some healthy foods such as dairy and grains.

While weight loss occurs due to a reduction in daily total calories and not due to reduction in PH. General health benefits do occur, as a result of eliminating processed, convenience, snack and junk food from your diet.

There is also evidence to support this type of diet can help to inhibit the replicative cycle of common viruses such as cold sores/herpes simplex.

Rachel Ama
Dr Susan Brown

DASH diet

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is designed to help reduce or prevent high blood pressure or hypertension.

The 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet encourages the reduction of the sodium, added sugar, saturated fat and processed foods in the diet, and emphasizes a variety of nutrient rich foods, particularly those high in potassium, calcium and magnesium. The diet also emphasizes vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, fish and poultry. You can eat nuts in moderation, and red meat, sweets and fats in small amounts.

Two versions of this diet:

  • Standard DASH diet: You can consume up to 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
  • Lower sodium DASH diet: You can consume up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

The DASH diet focuses on healthy food choices rather than weight loss, with the diet generally including around 2,000 calories per day. Weight loss might occur for those who typically consume more than 2,000 calories, but if you’re trying to lose weight quickly, you may need to eat fewer calories.

Dr Oz | The Pros and Cons of the DASH Diet
Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, Registered Dietitian

Low carbohydrate diet

A low carbohydrate diet involves limiting carbohydrates consumed each day to less than 100 grams, combined with high protein and moderate fat intake.

While weight loss occurs as a result of a reduction in total daily calories, as carbs excluded from the diet are not replaced with anything, a reduction in micronutrient intake may occur.

An important consideration for athletes when adopting a low carbohydrate diet is to avoid running on empty by consuming daily carbs around training in order to optimize sessions and induce training adaptations.

Things to consider with this diet:

  • Do your homework to understand what foods contain carbs and how much, and what you can realistically consume each day to adhere to this diet.
  • Get protein from varied foods to ensure your diet is balanced, and you’re getting all essential amino acids.
  • Consider supplementing this diet with vitamins and minerals to support the immune system and sustain activities.
  • If the aim of this diet is to increase the intake of vegetables, also known as AMVAP, (As Many Vegetables As Possible), try to vary your veggies including eating fermented vegetables to offset gut symptoms.

Vertical diet

Developed by Stan Efferding, the Vertical Diet is a performance-based diet intended for athletes and anyone looking to improve body composition for optimal health and performance. The diet starts with a solid foundation of highly bioavailable micronutrients to enhance metabolism and overall digestive health.

The diet prioritizes high quality red meat for protein; and white rice and white potatoes for carbs. The diet also prioritizes nutrient-packed foods including:

  • Fresh fruit (particularly oranges and cranberries)
  • Vegetables (particularly potatoes, spinach, carrots and peppers)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Whole eggs
  • Chicken stock / bone broth
  • Salmon
  • Nuts

Efferding’s signature meal is the “monster mash,” that consists of white rice and ground bison cooked in chicken broth and seasoned with Himalayan salt. Potatoes, spinach, carrots and peppers can be added to the meal as a side dish or blended as a smoothie.

Stan Efferding makes Monster Mash
Stan Efferding | Vertical Diet

Mediterranean diet

Following a Mediterranean style diet means eating the way people across the Mediterranean region traditionally ate. This includes consuming generous portions of organic/fresh produce, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats and caught fish.

While the Mediterranean diet is relatively high in fat, it is not a pasta and pizza diet.

General guidelines of the diet include:

  • A wide variety and high volume of vegetables and fruits
  • Healthy fats including nuts, seeds and olive oil
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy, fish and meat in moderation
  • Moderate quantities of red wine

Benefits of a Mediterranean diet include:

  • Lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces blood sugar and the chances of getting diabetes and dementia
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Promotes weight loss

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is a low calorie/restriction option that doesn’t necessarily involve starving or abstaining from food.

Intermittent fasting is great if you want to occasionally pull back on calories consumed, experiment with different diet approaches, and reset your body.

Fasting strategies succeed in reducing blood sugar and creating a calorie deficit. This type of diet is a proven approach for rapid weight loss, as well as reducing the chances of getting dementia and diabetes.

The benefit of this type of diet is that a short-term fasting option may be easier to adhere to than long term dieting.

Popular types/variations of intermittent dieting include:

  • Fast diet or 5:2 diet (eat as normal for 5 days; eat a quarter of a normal day’s recommended calories for 2 days)
  • 16:8 (fast for 16 hours; 8 hour window for eating meals)
  • Time restricted eating
  • Circadian rhythm fasting

Recommended food choices with this diet predominantly focus on the Mediterranean style diet.

David Laid, Fitness Influencer
Cynthia Thurlow, Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist
Dr Michael Mosley
Dr Matt Mattson, Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University

Flexible diet / If It Fits Your Macros

Popular with young bodybuilders, the flexible diet or ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM), goal is to consume certain amounts of the three macronutrients – protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

The emphasis is not solely on calories or food types, and nothing is off limits; so you can meet your macros by eating anything including mostly unhealthy foods.

While IIFYM can be a successful and legitimate approach to sustainable nutrition and weight loss (you can still be healthy eating a diet that isn’t dominated by plates of vegetables and salad bowls). The focus on numbers rather than food quality and overall health will impact the insulin response (blood sugar levels), energy, satiety, mood and hormones depending on food choices.

Things to consider with this diet:

  • Not all macros are created equal: While you might be hitting your numbers, you could be missing out on fiber, nutrients, and essential amino acids that might otherwise assist some growth potential and training adaptations.
Lauren Tickner
Christian Guzman
Merijn
Joe Delaney

Side effects and minimizing effects of prolonged dieting

While the above listed diets mostly focus on healthy eating rather than simply restricting calories. It is important to be aware of potential side effects of prolonged dieting; and consuming calories lower than the daily recommended amount for an extensive period of time:

  • Metabolic adaptation – the body gets used to low calories and becomes efficient at dealing with reduced energy intake. In other words, the metabolism slows down.
  • Hunger – during dieting hunger may increase. Ghrelin, or the hunger hormone increases appetite, food intake and fat storage.
  • NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) reduces with prolonged dieting.
  • Diet fatigue – food boredom and reduced adherence to the diet may result in mindless snacking, secret treats or an increase in portion sizes.

Adhering to the diet and beating hunger

  • Lifestyle and social support: lifestyle factors such as more physical activity and extended social support systems can help to adhere to diets. Joining fitness groups or classes will help to keep you on track. Having a network of like-minded and supportive people will help to detract from potential negative influences.
  • Intervention: Short term interventions such as controlled refeeds and overfeeding (sometimes referred to as reverse dieting) can help to rebalance effects of dieting. Refeeds involving 2-3 consecutive days of increased carb or fat intake may offset metabolic adaptation and replete muscles with glycogen. Studies have shown that 3 days consecutive carb overfeeding can help to stimulate insulin secretion.
  • Volume eating: To beat hunger hormones and cravings, high volume, low-calorie meals will help you to stay on track. Whole foods, high protein, veggies and plain popcorn are great options to satisfy your hunger.
Joe Delaney | Volume eating
Jeff Nippard | Dieting and reverse dieting

Making sustainable lifestyle choices

Avoid being drawn to fad diets. At the end of the day, when choosing a way of eating, whether you want to maintain a constant body weight, gain or lose weight, ask yourself: ‘does this work for me?’ ‘is this enjoyable and enhancing my life?’ and ‘can I eat this way forever?’

Be kind to yourself and treat yourself with patience around food and other lifestyle practices – find what works best for you to enable new healthy habits to get off the ground.

If a diet makes you feel restricted, anxious or if there are unpleasant side effects, it’s probably not for you (stress and emotional eating are key reasons for diets to hit the skids). Sustainability, affordability and pleasure are the most important things to consider when making lifestyle changes.

Look for ways of eating that provide you with everything you need, not only nutritionally and cost effectively, but in terms of the foods you love and can’t go without. Look for a diet that can be used as a solid core and allows you to continue doing the things you enjoy.

The key to maintaining a healthy weight in the long term is an eating pattern that is flexible and sustainable over time.

Are we all fat or corona fat

For many of us across Europe, pandemic lockdown #2 has been underway for a few weeks. In the UK, events and races have been cancelled, and commercial gyms and leisure centers are closed until at least early December.

Fortunately, in London, curfews and strict restrictions limiting outdoor activities (for cycling, running and walking at least) are not in place, and for many people life and business continues as usual, with a few nips and tucks on socialising and social distancing. For others, absent from the hubbub of normal daily activities, losing fitness and gaining weight is an issue, and there’s a word for it: “Coronaspeck.”

Coronaspeck, roughly translates from German to English as “corona fat”, or “corona bacon,” and the problem is so widespread that in July 2020, the UK government launched an initiative to reduce obesity, with junior health minister Helen Whatley telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that obesity is a “huge health challenge”, with two-thirds of adults overweight or obese; and prime minister Boris Johnson recommending starting the day by going for a run as “nothing could be worse for the rest of the day.”

Given that British farmers get around £3.4 billion a year in subsidies under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); the UK government department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is responsible for delivering the basics of life – food, water and air, in sufficient quantities and to a quality standard; and that government initiatives to reduce obesity are not new – Public Health England launched a campaign in March 2018 to reduce 20% of calories in popular foods by 2024, and in August 2016, the ‘Childhood obesity: a plan for action,’ was launched to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. It is hard to believe that the UK has a huge health challenge, and worse still that food banks across the UK are reported to be distributing six parcels every minute and many school kids experience child food poverty.

Aligning the coronavirus pandemic with an obesity epidemic while not addressing issues related to livestock and agricultural sectors sustained by subsidies, the necessity of food banks and child food poverty, may not be a recipe for healthier choices or motivate the nation to start the day by going for a run.

Taking mud indoors

At this time of year, my weekends typically involve mud running and cross country races.

Only a few weeks ago it looked promising that some sort of mud activity was likely and indeed, several mud events and obstacle course races have gone ahead within COVID-19 guidelines.

However, after a steady decline of coronavirus cases since the first peak in April 2020, confirmed cases started rising again in July, with the rate of growth increasing sharply from the end of August.

At midnight on 16 October 2020, London moved into Tier 2 (high alert) coronavirus restrictions, with Londoner’s banned from mixing between households indoors, in restaurants and pubs.

Other parts of the UK, particularly the North West, North East and Yorkshire regions moved into Tier 3 (very high) restrictions.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said it is “almost certain that the epidemic continues to grow exponentially across the country”.

Also, on 16 October, England Athletics published a guidance update for restricted return to activity for coaches, leaders, athletes and facilities.

While England Athletics continues to promote the benefits of safe exercise, club activity and competition, it is highly unlikely that a 2020/21 cross county season will happen or that mass participation trail races or mud events will take place before Easter 2021.

Both the Surrey Cross Country League and South of England Athletic Association have upcoming races for the season ‘to be confirmed.’

Nevertheless, with a lack of exciting mud events on the immediate horizon, there are numerous ways to make the most of the gifts of nature.

Mud for healing and rejuvenation

The healing power of mud and other minerals have been known for millennia.

As Natural Health Practitioner, Galina St George explains in her book Earth’s Humble Healers, minerals are the source of life on Earth; we need them in order to live; every fluid and solid matter in our body contains minerals; and every cell in our body needs minerals to function and reproduce.

Galina St George describes how the idea of using muds as well as clays and salts as the main source of minerals to improve health and enhance beauty is not new.

For centuries muds have been used for medical applications, therapeutic and cosmetic properties; clays were used by Roman soldiers to heal wounds and disinfect water; and clays are widely known to neutralise poisons, deal with wounds, food poisoning and hunger.

The complex combination of salts and minerals in mud (kaolinite, bentonite, magnesium, potassium, and others) are known to draw toxins out of the body, boost the immune system, tone skin, relieve joint pain and treat rheumatic diseases.

The popularity of thermal springs and mud baths such as Lago di Venere in Pantelleria, Italy; Dead Sea in Israel; Baden-Baden in Germany; Calistoga in California; spa baths in Budapest, Hungary; and the Monihei Carnival at Cangyuan, in China’s Yunnan Province, are in no small part due to the potent minerals and enzymes in mud and spring waters that can help restore a youthful appearance, increase vitality, stimulate blood flow and lymphatic system cleansing, relaxation, and improve physical health and wellbeing.

Given COVID-19 restrictions, travelling is not an option for many of us. However, you do not need to go far to dig in the dirt, dilute some clay and pretend you are somewhere in Baden-Baden; or simply buy mud and slather yourself with sulfuric-smelling ooze.

While we wait for the resumption of mud running and cross country races, weekends for me over the next few months will involve some combination of training/running in as much mud as possible, and taking mud indoors – nourishing myself with mud and clay treatments (AHAVA’s dead sea body mud and Clarins SOS Pure clay mask are favorites) and bath salts.

Wishing everyone safe exercise, health and wellbeing during this unusual time.

Swimming in the Thames

A few week’s ago (12 September 2020), I finished off a summer of outdoor swimming with a 5km swim in the Thames at Dock2Dock.

Dock2Dock was my target event when I resumed swimming about three months ago – frequently training at Liquid Leisure in Datchet, due to its lovely 750 meter loop, superb water quality, super friendly staff, and nice vibe. The lake is about a 40-minute drive from my SW London home, and COVID-19 restrictions meant swimmers had to arrive swim ready. For me, this typically involved top down driving along the M4 in a two piece swimsuit and wetsuit pulled-up waist high.

I also found that I really loved Heron Lake, which is near Liquid Leisure and a few minutes closer to home. Heron Lake also has superb water quality, a friendly atmosphere and 500m and 1,000m courses.

2020 is the second year that I’ve participated in Dock2Dock.

This year, I completed the course in an official time of 1:40:50.

My 2020 Garmin time being 1:40:08.

In 2019 (13 July), my official time was 1:40:36.

My 2019 Garmin time was 1:40:16.

Dock2Dock 2020 official finish time

Swimming in the Thames is a truly magical experience; it’s famous, big, imposing and choppy with incredible views of the city.

I am pleased with both my 2019 and 2020 Dock2Dock times, and I can see a lot of areas for improvement with my outdoor, mass participation swimming, pacing and technique.

Now that I’m dusting off my winter wardrobe and many outdoor swimming venues are closing for the season, my training is likely to focus on strength, movement, running and Peloton cycling (given this year’s COVID-19 restrictions I have a home-based spin studio – kitchen conversion), with some swimming here and there.

With cool autumn/winter temperatures, if you are considering purchasing a Peloton, use referral code K6WMME (valid only in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom) for £100 off your Peloton purchase.

Back in the water

Back in February 2020, I blogged about how excited I was as a spectator for this year’s big events, including The Vitality Big Half 2020, Virgin Money London Marathon 2020, Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, particularly the 10km open-water marathon swim at the Odaiba Marine Park.

Due to COVID-19, the above mentioned events were cancelled or postponed (new dates for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are 23 July to 8 August 2021) and my personal experience of lockdown life has involved changing priorities and pace of life along with a lot of online shopping to rearrange my small flat to suit working from home and keep myself amused.

Luckily, with the exception of the OCR World Championships I had only committed to participate in one event this year, Dock2Dock 5km swim, which has not been cancelled. This swim is currently scheduled for Saturday 12 September.

Having been cast off and adrift without swimming, I’m now anchored down (to abuse a metaphor) and back in the water as lockdown restrictions are easing and outdoor swimming venues are opening and operating within COVID-19 guidelines.

My first swim of the year was on 5 June, at Liquid Leisure in Datchet.

A month on, my swimming fitness is improving and I’m not missing swimming pools one bit. I’m loving outdoor swimming so much, I doubt that when pools reopen, I will be in the queue.

From an almost existential crisis to finding freedom, fulfillment and enjoyment through outdoor swimming; I need a very good reason to visit a leisure centre (a hot tub and sauna could tempt me).

Given my location in South West London, I am fortunate to have several open water venues in close proximity. My chosen lakes/venues are Liquid Leisure in Datchet, London’s Royal Docks and The Haven, Bedfont Lakes Southside. The latter two venues require NOWCA membership (approx. £12 per year) and sessions can be booked using the app ACTiO.

NOWCA (National Open Water Coaching Association) offers a selection of safe swimming lakes and venues around the country, operated under the supervision and guidance of qualified coaching staff.

If you’re in the UK and looking for a safe place to swim, NOWCA is a great resource to help you dip your toes.

Hydration, hydration, hydration

The human body is about 50 to 70 percent water – we constantly lose fluids from perspiration, urine and through our breath; and replace what we lose by eating and drinking.

During the summer months we’re frequently reminded how important it is to drink plenty of water (and all kinds of other drinks from tea to modulate brain efficiency to red wine for better gut health). Hydration orthodoxy recommends drinking a minimum 2 litres of water per day, or a minimum of 35ml of water per kilo of bodyweight, and more if exercising and sweating.

For athletes, the topic of thirst, hydration and dehydration is complex, with even more complex physiology, ever evolving science, technology, recommendations and advice.

It is proposed that thirst increases our sense of perceived effort, while dehydration increases the strain on our cardiovascular system; and it is important to maintain the body’s state of homeostasis as much as possible before, during and after exercise, to ensure you perform at your very best and recover adequately.

In terms of fluid balance, the goal prior to exercise is to have the body in its euhydrated state so you are sufficiently hydrated and able to perform at your absolute optimum, and not worry about hydration mid activity or finding a medical tent and IV drip post event.

The story of cyclist Taylor Phinney’s dropped water bottle at the World’s TT in 2013, that impacted his perceived sense of dehydration and performance in the final stages of the race, is an example of why we should stay ahead of thirst and not overthink when plans go wrong.

Instead of worrying about when and how much water to consume, it is important to understand why we should drink so much water, as opposed to tea or red wine or other liquids and fuels.

H2O

Water is the common name for dihydrogen monoxide or H2O. It is more than a substance, it’s a complex arrangement of molecules with a specific growth pattern.

Composed of two gases, hydrogen and oxygen. Water is the basic element of life.

Liquidity

A particular regularity, cooling, causes a more dense structure producing ice, a solid. If the molecular structure is heated it opens up and becomes a stream. Water is capable of being gaseous, liquid and solid. It is capable of being stored as energy, a gas, or liquid.

Water is able to assume a huge variety of forms

In his book, ‘Emotional Anatomy,’ Stanley Keleman says that the state of liquidity reveals the state of human life. An embryo or an infant is somewhat liquid-like, fragile yet flexible. Growth makes the organism more dense, stringy and solid. Death brings liquefaction and a gaseous state called decomposition.

In other words, water keeps us young.

Water, a structure of molecular geometry, is capable of electrification – generating a current, just as the rotational movements of the earth, the processes of heat, or the cold of space generate a current. These forces create various fluids, from bound water to gaseous water, from ice to gas, forming under proper temperatures an electrified fluid that has different properties.

Similarly, protoplasm flows and pulses; and the human body does the same, becoming muscle bound or flaccid. Fear and anger stiffen the organism; love and caring soften it.

Water transforms itself, making cells with boundaries that evolve further into blood, tissue fluids, lymph, sweat, urine, semen, vaginal fluids, spinal and joint fluids, exhaled water, digestive juices and hormones. These fluid mixtures are not free-flowing but are stored in cells, pouches, and bladders until expelled by powerful cell and muscle pulsations of hormones and enzymes manufacture and help stimulate these specialised fluids.

These fluids stimulate growth, produce energy, stimulation and connections – impacting performance and exhaustion, and they are responsible for our quality of life.

They facilitate biological, emotional, and psychological integration, and produce deep feelings and states of knowledge.

Emotions and feelings follow the rules of water

When we brace ourselves for shock or a blow or when we harden we confine pain, our liquid state is like ice.

When we melt with love or dissolve into tears, our feeling state is liquid.

Our visceral state gives rise to feelings of hunger, emptiness, yearning, longing, followed by satisfaction and fullness.

We emote and are a geyser or a river. We act like a tide or an ice flow. We cascade and stream. We cry and sob, sigh and moan emitting formed fluids.

These are the dynamic powers of water finding a way to transform itself into structures and thereby change itself.

We are a sea of liquids

Keleman identifies liquid life in the language of function: The flow of thought, the tides of feelings, the waves of intuition, the ocean depths of feelings, the waxing and waning of psyche. They are messengers that signal behaviour.

There’s so much more to water than we can imagine.

Keep hydrating and perform at your absolute optimum!

Good drivers have dead flies on the side windows

Embracing social distancing and improving running ability and agility

In the current time and what will likely be a significant period of history, in which we should leave our homes only for essential shopping, work (for key workers), or once a day for daily exercise (in the UK). It is really encouraging to see so many people walking, jogging, running and cycling.

While it is positive to see so many people embracing the gift of exercise, in contempt of a virus that preys on those with underlying health conditions. Our preferred choice of moving our bodies, outdoor exercise, freedom and connecting with nature does not come without irritations and restrictions.

For instance, in my borough, Richmond Upon Thames, local council guidance recommends to only use parks and green spaces once a day and stay two meters away from other people at all times #SocialDistancing

My nearest big park, Richmond Park, has closed park roads for motor vehicles and cycling is suspended (with the exception of NHS workers cycling to work) to deter congestion and groups. Nearby riverside towpaths have also put restrictions on cyclists and runners to reduce traffic and footfall.

The physics of social distancing combining seasoned athletes, many of whom have had important races and events cancelled or postponed, and with high energy reserves, specific training goals and a fast pace; mixing with a high number of people new to, or reintroducing walking, jogging and running to their daily routine; along with the hubbub of dog walkers, folks popping to the shops, meanders and glazed wanderers. Depending on your tribe, there’s bound to be some vexation and minimal compassion for those obstructing and infringing your space.

Similarly, for everyone exercising outdoors, the etiquette of creating space along with the question of what a safe distance is when walking, running and cycling behind someone is tricky.

Researchers at KU Leuven and at the Eindhoven University of Technology found that depending on the wind, 10-15 meters is the approximate distance that we should stick to during COVID-19 times.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is unnerving for everyone, it is important to help nurture and encourage outdoor exercise, positivity, health and wellbeing; share knowledge and skills on exercising safely and the long-term benefits of our chosen activities; and mitigate further restrictions.

The following outlines five simple types of training and skills to help maintain suburban fitness, good observation skills and social distancing for runners:

Fishhook technique

The fishhook technique, as described in ‘Sniper & Counter Sniper Tactics – Official U.S. Army Handbooks’ by U.S. Department of Defense (ISBN 9788026876168), is used by sniper teams to backtrack or circle around its own trail in an overwatch position. The snipper team can observe the back trail for trackers or ambush pursuers. If the pursuing force is too large to be destroyed, the sniper team strives to eliminate the tracker. The sniper team uses hit-and-run tactics then moves to another ambush position. The terrain must be used to advantage.

fishhook for sniper teams

For running training, the fishhook technique is used to keep a group of runners together, regardless of pace, ability and overall distance, with very fast runners doubling back on their trail to touch base with the back athletes. The fishhook technique ensures that all runners keep moving, stay together and finish together, with the fastest in the pack exercising speed, stamina, change of direction and re-accelerations; while slower runners gain progressive fitness and practical cues from their peers.

Ordinarily, the fishhook technique is an incredibly social form of group running and can be challenging good fun.

In current times, adapting the fishhook to avoid that elderly person walking slowly in your track, or for giving you an extra minute or two to avoid that dog walker lingering on the path/pavement, or group of slow-moving walkers/joggers obstructing your passage on a busy road or narrow path. By doubling back on your trail, you can assess if there’s adequate space to continue or choose to take a diversion.

Indian runs and fartlek training

Indian runs can be described as a team jogging single file around a playing field, with the last person in line sprinting to the front, when that person gets there, the next person at the end of the line sprints to the front of the line, and so on and so forth.

Fartlek training is simply defined as continuous running intermixed with interval training – periods of fast running and periods of slower running. Fartlek’s can be done alone or with a group, and the idea is to continuously move, combining speed, deceleration and re-acceleration for the prescribed duration.

In the current time, while we want to avoid jogging single file, modified Indian runs and fartlek’s may be unavoidable for uninterrupted training.

ZigZags

ZigZag drills often include forward-backward-forward sprints and forward-backward-forward change-of-direction. The drills focus on linear speed, change of direction, unorthodox movement and explosive power in the lower limbs, and they are commonly associated with soccer – specific to moving the ball during the match as a cutting manoeuvre; or for American football running back drills for body balance and control.

ZigZag drills are typically done around cones, slalom poles or bigger obstacles, passing around the obstacles, keeping eyes up. Cones are placed 3-5 meters apart in one straight line or as a rectangle. Three meter gaps work the cut step, while the five meter gap works on controlled acceleration.

ZigZags might sound simple, but the change of direction and agility involved requires different types of skill training. We’ve all experienced or seen folks out walking, running or playing a ball game who are incapable of changing track or speed. In large part this can be attributed to old injuries or weaknesses, ankle, foot or knee instability, suppressed reflexes or antagonist inhibition. Many times, people are unaware of, or simply tolerate or push through these deficiencies. It pays to empathise with anyone in this situation and to instinctively kick-in your own ZigZag skills.

The current climate is an ideal time to work on ZigZags as they can be done in a relatively small area; and the enhanced physical preparation and skill acquisition from ZigZags will help to build reflexes to deal with unexpected perturbations for your important outdoor runs.

Think of imaginary cones, slalom poles or bigger obstacles as safe zones from micro-virus droplets – you need to reach the markers for safety. Incorporating this drill into your training improves motor skills, speed, changes of movement, and re-accelerations.

Examples of ZigZags:

ZigZag Sprints
ZigZag Sprints
ZigZag Sprints
Change of Direction Speed (CODS) and Agility drills

There are several interesting studies that investigate the physical attributes that relate to linear speed, agility, change of direction, and explosive power including Jones P, Bampouras TM, Marrin K (2009) ‘An investigation into the physical determinants of change of direction speed.’ (The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 49. 97-104); and Popowczak M, Rokita A, Świerzko K, Szczepan S, Michalski R, Krzysztof M (2019) ‘Are Linear Speed and Jumping Ability Determinants of Change of Direction Movements in Young Male Soccer Players?’ (Journal of sports science & medicine. 18. 109-117).

These research studies found that the most effective neuromuscular control for change of direction speed (CODS) is influenced by running speed and eccentric knee flexor strength; and that sprints and jumps are the most effective training skills for forward, backward, and sideways motion.

Bleep and shuttle run test

The Bleep Test, also known as the beep or multistage fitness test, is a method developed in the 1980’s to test the fitness and maximum aerobic capacity (or VO2), or stamina, of an athlete.

The standard test has 21 levels, and each level consists of a different number of shuttles. The test is performed by running between two markers placed 20 meters apart, at an increasing pace as indicated by the beeps. The test ends when you can no longer keep pace, or level 21 is completed.

An audio recording of the beeps can be download at Google Play (Android) and Apple Store (iPhone).

The constant shuttling back and forth works on turning and being efficient with your turns. If the turns are too wide, then valuable seconds are wasted; and as the speed required for higher levels is fairly quick and as rest time decreases, it is important to be as efficient as you can.

In a research study by Ramsbottom R, Brewer J, Williams CA, ‘Progressive shuttle run test to estimate maximal oxygen uptake’ (British Journal of Sports Medicine 1988; 22:141-144), it was found that the correlation between VO2 max and shuttle level, and VO2 max and potential 5km running speed was almost 100% precise for active men and women.

In the current times, the bleep test can provide a good workout in a limited space and useful information on your aerobic fitness.

Jump rope

My view is that jump rope workouts are extremely effective, and as you might expect, doesn’t require much more than a rope and a little space.

Results from published research reports on comparative training responses to jump ropes and jogging are insightful as well as confusing – due to questionable methodologies, test groups and incentives to participate.

Research by John A. Baker (1968) ‘Comparison of Rope Skipping and Jogging as Methods of Improving Cardiovascular Efficiency of College Men,’ Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 39:2, 240-243 (DOI: 10.1080/10671188.1968.10618043) found that a daily program of rope skipping for 10-minutes is as efficient as jogging daily for 30-minutes for improving cardiovascular efficiency as measured by the Harvard step test.

The research report found that rope jumping at a moderate pace (administered to 92 male students) roughly equivocates to running an eight-minute-mile.

By comparison, a report by Michael T. Buyze, Carl Foster, Michael L. Pollock, Sheila M. Sennett, John Hare & Neil Sol (1986) ‘Comparative Training Responses to Rope Skipping and Jogging,’ The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 14:11, 65-69 (DOI: 10.1080/00913847.1986.11709222) found that ten minutes of rope skipping does not elicit a training response comparable to 30 minutes of jogging. For this research, participants included sedentary volunteers (17 women and nine men) split into groups of rope skippers and joggers. The skipping group had higher injury and drop-out rates compared to the joggers.

Jump rope workouts and tutorials:

There are lots of easy to learn jump rope variations including single-leg and split-leg jumps, running in place and taking off and landing on both feet, etc.

About 7 reps of 2-3-minute skipping intervals will strengthen the calf muscles and improve the elasticity of the surrounding tendons and fascia. Skipping also improves coordination and helps to improve overall cognitive function.

Imagine that you’re a boxer – a traditional boxing round is three minutes of work with a one-minute break in between each round. A few rounds of skipping will soon get you fighting fit.

Jump rope tutorial by Rush Athletics
Jump rope tutorial by Rush Athletics

Summary

By developing tools to be observant and notice your surroundings, and anticipate the need to fishhook, fartlek and ZigZag into your outdoor exercise, as well as experimenting and testing yourself with the Bleep Test and jump rope skills, your motor ability, coordination and stamina will stay at optimum levels.

“Good drivers have dead flies on the side windows.”

Walter Röhrl (World Rally Champion 1980 & 1982)
Featured image credit: Rowan Harrison from Farnborough, England – King of Europe Round 3 Lydden Hill 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Tough trail shoes for isolated runs

A lot can change in a day, or over a few months. From new year celebrations, gearing-up for a year of participating in exciting races and the spectacle of world record chasing marathons, and the Olympic Games, to COVID-19 lockdown, self isolation, social distancing and cancelled events.

In the UK, like most of the rest of the world, the country is experiencing a national emergency with measures imposed to limit the severe spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on leaving home and social distancing.

Living in London, exercising outdoors (once a day) and understanding the law of the jungle, I’m constantly maneuvering to avoid folk who typically walk head down, resolutely sticking to their track, and out for blood of anyone infringing their protective zone.

In these times, it pays to be fast and fleet-footed; run away and get off the beaten track.

While my current favourite road shoes are Mizuno Wave Emperor 3 and Saucony ISO 2 – mixing-up light and ultra fast with easy, comfort and cushion.

The outright winner for moving seamlessly from urban roads to trails, in my recent experience is Inov8’s X-Talon G 210.

These lightweight, super-flexible running shoes are designed for racing at high speed over all kinds of soft and extreme terrain including mud, mountains, fells, and trails as well as swimruns.

The lightweight shoes weigh 210g and feature durable graphene-enhanced rubber grip that’s stronger, more elastic and harder wearing than most other trail shoes.

Graphene being about 100 times stronger than the strongest steel, and with its density being dramatically lower than any steel – makes it the thinnest and strongest material on the planet.

I took the opportunity to head out in torrential rain to find as much mud as possible.

The X-Talon G 210 fared extremely well, with the shoes maintaining flexibility, breath-ability and lightness. My leggings on the other hand were all kinds of mess.

The shoes held firm, secure and responsive no matter the terrain. The 8mm studs made light work of both compact and soft terrain and were also comfortable over road and concrete pavement.

Given the current COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and with my local terrain combining road, pavement, track, paths, mud and hills, it’s great to have shoes that can handle the combination of city, urban roads, hilly dirt trails, forests and fields.

Drop3mm
Footbed3mm
Lug depth8mm
MidsoleInjected EVA FUSION
Midsole stack9mm / 6mm
Sole compoundGraphene Grip
Product weight210g
Inov8 X-Talon G 210

These snug-fitting shoes will definitely make the most of rain, mud and out of the way trails as the seasons change in the UK from torrential rain to April showers.

For an overall score from 1-100 to summarize my opinion, I rate Inov8 X-Talon G 210 90/100.

What are your shoe recommendations for the current lockdown, avoiding walkers and other folks out stretching their legs?