January diet hacks

If your social media feeds and inbox look anything like mine, the New Year call-to-action is for new gear, mega sales, dry January, veganuary, a fresh start, gym offers, diets, diets and diets.

And if like me, you thoroughly deserved every single, double and triple glug, gulp and mini Celebration over the festive season. Then here are my top diet hacks for January:

#1 Onions

Onions are loaded with savoury goodness and health benefits. They are a good source of vitamins C and B6, phosphorus, folate and potassium, and the manganese in onions also provides health-protective antioxidant properties.

It is said that onions have restorative powers and may even be as comforting as a loving embrace.

Research shows that allium vegetables like onions and garlic may have cancer and diabetes-fighting properties, while decreasing blood vessel stiffness by releasing nitric oxide.

Onions are good for the skin and bones, hair nourishment, reducing glucose levels, help to prevent oral infections and they are a remedy for cold and respiratory disorders.

The flavonoids in onions are more concentrated in their outer layers, so discard as little as possible.

Further, so long as onions are cooked gently, they will preserve their precious nutrients.

Recommendation: Eat lots of onion soup in January

#2 Chilli

Chilli contains up to seven times the vitamin C level of an orange and has a range of health benefits.

In addition to reducing food micro-contamination and being considered as a metabolism booster for weight loss. Chilli helps to fight sinus congestion, aid digestion and helps to relieve migraines, muscle, joint and nerve pain. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and E, beta-carotene, folic acid and potassium.

Recommendation: Spice up food and drinks with Chilli, Cayenne pepper or Tabasco pepper sauce.

#3 Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains amino acids and antioxidants, and a very small amount of potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Several studies show that vinegar can help improve insulin sensitivity when drunk with a high-carbohydrate meal in both insulin-resistant and healthy participants.

In 2016, a study carried out at Aston University showed that drinking dilute apple cider vinegar appeared to bring blood sugar levels down in a small study.

In 2009, a 12-week study in Japan found that acetic acid, found in apple cider vinegar, helped to reduce belly fat, lower triglycerides and waist measurements, reduce body weight, BMI and visceral fat on obese adults.

Recommendation: use apple cider vinegar as salad dressing.

#4 Asparagus

Asparagus includes a wide-range of nutrients including vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, as well as folate, iron, copper, calcium, protein, and fiber.

80 grams of asparagus tips contains a mere 23 calories. As a soluble and insoluble fiber, it’s digested slowly and helps to make you feel satiated for longer.

Asparagus contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, making it a natural diuretic. It can help flush excess fluid and salt from your body, which may help fight damaging free radicals and prevent urinary tract infections.

Along with other green, leafy vegetables, asparagus is a good source of vitamin K. The vitamin is crucial for coagulation, which helps your body stop bleeding after a cut, as well as bone health.

Asparagus is also full of folate, a B vitamin that could lift your spirits and help ward off irritability. No doubt helpful when bleeding after a cut.

Further, researchers have found that asparagus also contains high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that has been similarly linked to improved mood.

Recommendation: Our body absorbs vitamin E better if it’s eaten alongside healthy fats. So roast or steam asparagus and accompany with olive oil or salmon.

#5 Rice cakes

Put the crisps and other trans-fats down and replace with rice cakes.

A good source of low calorie carbohydrate, rice cakes are a good substitute for higher calorie food, cereals and snacks such as bread, nuts and dates.

Recommendation: Rice cakes are the new everything in January.

#6 Seaweed

Seaweed is a rich source of essential minerals including magnesium, calcium, copper, potassium, selenium, zinc, iodine, and iron. It is packed full with antioxidants, phytonutrients and rich fiber content as well as containing omega-3 fatty acids and all the vital amino acids necessary for the body.

The many nutrients and minerals found in seaweed help to manage obesity, diabetes, influenza, and radiation poisoning, maintain the electrolyte balance of the body and reduce inflammation.

Seaweed helps to improve digestive, dental and cardiovascular health, and maintains healthy skin and hair. It protects eyes and has anti-coagulant properties. It also covers the body’s need for iodine and helps in detoxification.

Recommendation: I always find seaweed particularly delicious when someone else prepares it.

#7 Caffeine

A 2015, Spanish study showed that athletes who ingest a moderately high caffeine dose before exercise burned 15 per cent more calories for three hours after exercise than those who were given a placebo.

Several studies have found that drinking coffee before a workout can reduce perceived muscle pain.

Recommendation: If you like coffee, drink coffee.

#8 Fruit and vegetables

Trying not to state the obvious: Low calorie dense foods such as fruits and vegetables provide fewer total calories and greater nutrition in a larger volume of food than calorie-dense foods, such as fat and refined sugars.

Fruits and vegetables make up most of the low-calorie dense foods, which contain more water and fiber than high-calorie dense food. There are five categories of low-calorie dense foods (from least to most):

  • Vegetables
  • Fresh fruits
  • Potatoes and grains
  • Legumes including peas and beans
  • Non-fat dairy foods.

Naturally, there are healthy foods with high-calorie densities, such as avocado, olive oil, and other healthy fats. The aim is to strike a balance using calorie density for a balanced diet – nutritional value and satiety.

Low-calorie dense foods, with small amounts of high-calorie density foods, do the best job at creating that satisfying full feeling.

Recommendation: I’ve seen very few episodes of ‘Man v. Food’ featuring fruit and veg, but think this should be #1 throughout January.

#9 Protein

Put the sugar treats down and replace with protein snacks.

Whey protein and protein bars are excellent snacks, with high protein and low sugar and carbs.

While athletes are typically recommended a daily consumption of approx. 2 grams protein per kilogram bodyweight. In the UK, the Dietary Reference Values for protein for average adults based on need estimates 0.6g. The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram bodyweight per day in adults.

If you’re building muscle, you’ll stimulate 24-hour muscle protein synthesis by consuming protein at several meals throughout the day.

By focusing on protein intake with foods such as meat, fish, eggs and vegetables and supplementing with whey protein and bars will ensure muscle protein synthesis is stimulated 24/7.

Recommendation: make protein bars your snack of choice.

#10 Hydration

While drinking water is by far the best way to hydrate and flush toxins – we should drink at least two litres per day. After the past couple of weeks, many of us can consider ourselves sparkling wine connoisseurs in terms of taste and foods that are best for pairing.

Comparing several delightful bubbly drinks:

  • Laborie Blanc de Blancs originates in the Western Cape. The wine is 100% Chardonnay and produced in the 2011 harvest. A standard pour of Blanc de Blancs has about 91 calories.
  • Prosecco originates from the village of Prosecco, located near Trieste in northeastern Italy. This wine is mostly made with Glera grapes, but it can also include Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, or a few other varieties. A standard pour of Prosecco has about 121 calories.
  • Champagne is a product of the Champagne region of France and is made using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. A standard pour, which is between five and six ounces, has about 128 calories.

Recommendation: remember to drink water.

Enjoy January, stay healthy and share your diet hack suggestions.

Brutal end to 2019

Saturday morning’s usually start with me checking the time, noticing that Parkrun is about to start, then either putting the kettle on or going back to dreamland, or both.

Saturday 28th December, involved a slight change of plan with the kettle going on earlier than usual, and stepping on the gas along the A3 while regular Parkrunner’s were falling out of bed.

Heading from London to East Hampshire for Brutal Longmoor 16km run has become an end of year staple, with 2019 being the third consecutive time I’ve taken part in this run.

Arriving just in time to collect my number, activate my springs, flexed limb ready position counting down from ten and off we went.

The course was only slightly tweaked from previous years – taking in a familiar two lap 8km course with plenty of sand dunes, trails, hill climbs (walks and crawls), water features, and twists and turns.

Conditions were fabulous, mild with a slight breeze and humidity. This meant that some water features and sticky mud baths were not as obstructive as in previous years. However, the hills remained challenging and I felt the burn on lap two.

Starting the second lap with the knowledge that I was third place lady and heading for a podium place – I’ve managed to get prizes for Vet winner (KitBrix bag) and 2nd lady (Change IN Bag) on two other Brutal’s I’ve done this year (Bagshot 10km and Hawley Lake 21km) – I took the opportunity to enjoy this lap by crawling in as much mud as possible and taking in the motivational signs on the hills. “To truly enjoy the downhill, you must first conquer the uphill.” I hadn’t noticed any signage on lap 1. Nice. And absolutely not “in the zone,” but in a good place.

Luckily, my too relaxed attitude left enough in the tank for a sprint finish, but I had to crank the pace to earn the prize.

I’ve never been so pleased to win a vest and headband scarf.

Christmas day swimming

Festive chills and thrills of a Christmas day swim are a chilly tradition in the UK, for those whose commitments don’t clash with Parkrun. For me, spending the Christmas holiday’s in South West London ruled out a quick dip in the bracing North Sea or English Channel.

Not entirely convinced by an early start or the pleasure of very cold water swimming – skin swimming in the Thames is organised year-round by Love Open Water – I opted for a midday private swim session at Hampton Pool, guaranteeing a warm and uncongested swim.

Hampton pool is an outdoor heated (28°C) 36m pool. By comparison London Royal Docks is currently 6.8°C.

Hampton pool also held exclusive swims from 5:45am-7:45am. Then open to the public from 8am-midday.

If you are interested in freezing your baubles off, Swimming Society’s crowd-sourced UK Festive Swim Calendar 2019 will help you find your nearest swim over the festive period.

Happy swimming!

Leaping into 2020

Looking back over 2019, the past year has been an unintentional negative split year.

Having picked-up a flu bug in December 2018, and then struggling with tight calves until at least April 2019. The short days and long winter nights incorporated hot yoga (thanks to special offers at The House of Yoga and The Light Centre Monument), a few steady half marathons and cross-country races (including a trip to Leeds with Fulham Running Club for the Saucony National XC Championships), swimming, reflexology, a trial Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) session at Ultimate Bodytec (buttock nerve roots tingled for two days) and several osteopath appointments.

Progress and fitness turned a corner at the end of March, coinciding with taking part in a full-day English Athletics Leadership in Running Fitness (LiRF) course with a high energy and extremely motivating Fulham Running Club crew, followed by spontaneously running Brutal Bagshot and Spring Wolf Run.

April’s boost in fitness and performance carried-on, no doubt helped by two week’s in Greece as well as improving dietary choices and tracking macros on MyFitnessPal, playing Tag Rugby on Tuesday evening’s, two or three Bodypump classes per week, weekly 60-minute PT sessions and Running Technique Coaching at The Running School.

Fitness-wise, I haven’t looked back since April, and have competed in:

  • SAYSKY Sub Rosa London (unsanctioned/unmarked 10km) run
  • Summer Wolf Run
  • Dartmoor Open Water Swim (2km)
  • Dock to Dock London (5km) swim
  • Swim the Bay (1.2 miles) swim at Weymouth Bay
  • Brutal Hawley Lake (21km) run
  • Swim Rutland (4km) swim
  • Cotswolds (3.8km) swim
  • Autumn Wolf Run x2
  • Brussels Ekiden 2019 (10km) run
  • Winter Wolf Run x2

I also volunteered at the AAT Events Haslemere Triathlon – marshalling on the run section; and marshalled at the OCR World Championships.

Goals for the new year are simply to build on the strength, conditioning and agility gains achieved in 2019.