EAT: Winter Health Smoothie

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The weather in Manchester has changed for the colder in the past few weeks, and whilst I love crisp, cold, sunny days, they also bring with them the coughs and colds of the season. It can also be SO much harder to get out of the house to train in winter! This week I’m running a winter health special on the blog, giving you a few hints and tips on how to stay fit and well over the next couple of months. There’s a saying that summer bodies are made in the winter, so if a hot body is your motivation then remember that – but if overall health is more your thing then it’s just as important in the winter to get your nutrients, and lots of fresh air, too.

First up we have my favourite smoothie to drink whenever I’m feeling run down. Somehow even just drinking green juice immediately makes me feel healthier and more spritely – that must be a placebo effect, but smoothies are a very effective way to get nutrients into your body, especially from sources you wouldn’t think to eat normally. I love this mix of pineapple, spinach, ginger and wheatgrass, as not only does it do good, it tastes good too.

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I use about a quarter to a third of a pineapple. Chopping a fresh pineapple can be a pain however they are SO cheap to buy whole (65p from Aldi!), this is but a mild inconvenience. Pineapples are full of vitamins and antioxidants, plus they’re the only known source of bromelain: studies show this enzyme to be a powerful anti-inflammatory. All those “-itis” complaints we have in winter? All down to inflammation.

Ginger is one of my favourite tastes so I stick about an inch of root into my smoothies. It has been known to reduce a fever or reduce symptoms of a cold and is also anti-inflammatory.

Chucking in a load of spinach helps your blood transport oxygen around the body, thanks to its high iron content. This helps to support your immune system, as iron deficiency has been proven to be detrimental to immunity.

And finally, wheatgrass. Yes, it’s horrible tasting on its own, and anything more than a teaspoon overwhelms everything else in my experience, even when mixed with strong tastes like ginger and pineapple. However, it’s a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium (phew!) so if you get the taste balance right it’s really worthwhile including it in your winter wellness arsenal.

I’ve been using the Nutri Ninja blender* to create my smoothies lately. It really whizzes through fibrous fruits and veggies, reducing the mixture down to a liquid, unlike my normal blender which is not quite as refined and tends to leave smaller chunks in the drink. You can see me in action with my Nutri Ninja in the video below: I took part in the #SmoothieWars challenge and I don’t think the other competitors were impressed with my “blow your head off” approach to ginger. Whoops! Perhaps start with a smaller amount of ginger – even a small amount can have a positive effect. The best advice I can give is to experiment with your smoothies! I hit upon the one above just by playing around with different ingredients. That way you can have a tasty drink tailored to your taste, with lots of health benefits too.

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EAT: Healthy Meals Under Pressure

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One of the more frequent barriers to healthy eating I hear of is lack of time. Everyone know it’s healthier for you to make food from scratch, but it can be a burden chopping veg, cooking meat, using different pots and pans, then waiting, waiting, stirring, and waiting. Sometimes I just feel like I can’t be bothered – it would be so much easier if I could just bung something in a microwave to be done in five minutes’ time, or even nip to the chippy! Thankfully I have discovered a method of cooking that is both fast and healthy: pressure cooking. Studies show that pressure cookers can lock in up to 95% of nutrients in food that roasting or boiling can remove, and use up to 90% less energy.

Tower Housewares have been making kitchen gadgets for over 100 years, so know a thing or two about making our lives easier. I’ve been told that back in’t day pressure cookers used to be known for blowing their tops, but Tower have refined the cooker’s design so it’s safe and not scary at all. They know that Chris and I have huge appetites (gotta get them gains!) so sent the 5.5 litre aluminium pressure cooker* – meant for four people! – for us to try out.

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Friday nights are the worst food-wise for me. I do two classes at the gym, finishing up at half seven, then it’s very easy to pop to Tesco across the road for something cheap, fast, and undoubtedly unhealthy. Last week I decided to put my new pressure cooker to the test and see just how efficient I could be at making dinner for Chris and I. I began at around five, chopping potatoes, garlic, and veg, which I then left sealed in the pressure cooker along with frozen peas and sweetcorn. Everything else I needed to cook was strategically placed beside the cooker.

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Gym time. I even had time for a pre-workout peanut butter and toast before I left home! I do spinning on a Friday night followed by an Olympic lifting class.

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I finish around half seven, tired but happy, and keen to get home – even more so tonight I know dinner is going to be super simple and ready fast.

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As soon as I walk in I add fish stock and chopped tomatoes to the vegetables, and place trout fillets on top. A quick Google tells me that potatoes take around twelve minutes to cook under pressure, but I leave it for more like twenty just to be sure.

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The cooker is steaming away – it sounds like it’s going to take off! Once you’ve taken it off the heat you have to make sure the pressure knob on the top (technical term there) has lowered before you open the lid for safety.

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The finished result: a fresh, healthy dinner made in just over half an hour. This meal wasn’t quite to my tastes – though my boyfriend enjoyed it – but given it was my first crack at using the pressure cooker I was pleased. Since then I’ve made some more successful dishes (Japanese curry, acorn squash soup) and some less successful ones (turkey chilli that somehow turned to just mush) but I think as it’s such a different style of cooking it’s a case of trial and error. One thing I’ve found is that you use a lot less water than you think you’re going to need, even if you’re cooking something like rice. It’s something I will be sticking with though – anything that frees up valuable training and studying time is a winner in my eyes.

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EAT: SCI-MX Ultra Whey

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There are plenty of arguments out there about whether there really is an anabolic window or not but to me it’s really important to refuel with protein no more than half an hour after a heavy weights or HIIT workout. In my experience I suffer less with DOMS the next day, and I’m also less hungry in the following 24 hours – if you’ve ever experienced post-leg day hunger you’ll know what I’m talking about here!

Whether you’re a window believer or not, there’s no denying it’s important for athletes who train hard to get their protein requirement, but with most modern meals tailored Joe Public’s fat- and carb-laden tastes it can be tough to get the 1.4g/kg bodyweight needed for strength training into your system.

In steps protein powder. Most of my food is made from raw materials, rarely eating anything with more than two ingredients – but I recognise the convenience and nutritional value of protein powder, so make an exception. Previously I would just choose the cheapest option, which was frequently GNC’s own-brand whey. At 20g of protein a pop and 100 kcals, I could just about knock it back if I held my nose – though it left an artificial taste in my mouth long after I’d drained my shaker. Why did I put up with the bitter aftertaste, as someone so discerning about the rest of their diet?

Thankfully, SCI-MX came to my rescue by sending over a sample of their gamechanging whey protein, the Ultra Whey Protein*. It has a whopping 35g of protein per serving with only 177 kcals, comparable to 110g of chicken breast.. and I think we all know which is the more convenient choice when you’ve just finished up at the gym. Ultra Whey contains leucine, isoleucine and valine – three Branched Chain Amino Acids, essential for repairing torn muscles and preventing muscles from breaking down. There’s also added glutamine, which is important when consuming high levels of protein as glutamine supports your kidneys in maintaining your body’s acid-base balance.

SCI-MX have worked to make the shake taste like a true milkshake, without the added sweetness. Whilst there are still two sweeteners on the ingredients list the taste is not overwhelming like other wheys I’ve tried. In fact to me the shake tastes and smells like Easter eggs, and I look forward to it post-gym – it’s more like a treat than a supplement.

My one little bugbear is the lack of ladies on the SCI-MX website. I can only assume that this is representative of their current market, though given they’ve reached out to me, maybe they’ve realised that women train hard and need nutritional support too.

Basically, there’s a LOT of thought gone into this product from SCI-MX, and it’s perfectly tailored to supporting athletes’ bodies to be the best they can be. Now I’ve done more research into protein powders and I’m aware of things like BCAAs and glutamine I’ll be making a much more considered choice from now on – and knowing the work that has gone into Sci-MX’s Ultra Whey, it’s a product I’ll be no doubt turning to again and again.

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EAT: Healthy Living in Knutsford

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Working out and eating out do not often go hand-in-hand; it’s all too common to go in with the very best of intentions but become swayed by the cheesy, carby, deep-fried delights on the menu. Easier to avoid eating out altogether, right? (Right.. haha!)

But what if you could treat yourself to a meal out without the temptation, and eat a meal carefully created for your nutritional needs by a personal trainer? Cool Italian restaurant Gusto have developed a menu with newly-launched personal training studio Nxtep – situated just off the sweet main road of Knutsford, King Street – to support your body post-workout and help you stick to your eating plan, whilst also enjoying yourself.

Exercise causes your muscles to work and tear slightly; your muscles then use protein to repair and grow after working out. That’s why it’s important to refuel with protein post-workout, else your body can’t repair the muscles to the point it needs to, ultimately slowing your metabolism. The Gusto Healthy Living menu prioritises protein, with salmon, sea bass and chicken dishes, taking into account the nutrients within: omega 3 for its anti-inflammatory properties, magnesium and potassium to rebalance electrolytes after a serious sweat-fest, and vitamin B12 to help you process energy and boost your mood.

This week I got to have a nosy around the luxurious Nxtep studio whilst trying out the nutritious yet delicious Gusto goodies. Nxtep has all the mod cons – including a resistance machine I’d never seen before, with handles and pulleys, below – along with a good old squat rack and free weights, yet still manages to look like a glamorous bar. I could easily imagine the space nestling on Kensington High Street – incidentally where founder Laura cut her personal training teeth. Certainly it put my PureGym membership to shame; I don’t think I’d ever want to leave if I was a client at Nxtep!

The Healthy Living menu is available in the Knutsford, Cheadle Hulme, Alderley Edge and Didsbury restaurants – ask for the menu on its own when you sit down and you won’t even have to read the “p” word (… that being pizza).

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Wholesome Eats at Jamie’s Italian | Restaurant Review, Manchester

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I had it all figured out, this trip to Jamie’s Italian Manchester*. I checked the menu the week before; decided on the Superfood Salad with chicken. Maybe share some olives with Chris to start, one glass of wine, no dessert. I even had this blog post title sorted: “Clean Eats and Jamie’s Italian”. Yes! It could be done, eating clean at a restaurant, and at an Italian, no less.

What I hadn’t factored in is that I had an extremely busy day on Friday which meant I only ate two boiled eggs and a pack of cooked chicken, then I went to CrossFit before hitting the restaurant. Unsurprisingly after my rubbish eating day I was also pretty rubbish at CrossFit – a bar was loaded up for me and I couldn’t even clean it. Relaying my food diary for the day to the coach he remarked that I would probably go and eat a whole cow now… And after the idea of steak was planted in my head, I couldn’t get it out. It had to be done.

So. At Jamie’s. Incredible building, previously a bank; high ceilings, atmospheric small dining areas, rad original features – this sounds silly but you have to go to the toilets – just a really cool place without any pretention. Our waitress was so shiny and enthusiastic, describing the specials to make you want all of them, at the same time. And believe me, I was certainly hungry enough (Later it was revealed that our waitress was studying catering and hospitality at university and loved working at Jamie’s so much she was going to do her placement year there. Aw).

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I had olives to start, which were those lovely meaty types that you only get in Italy and proper Italian restaurants, served with ‘music’ bread; sort of like a tortilla but managed to have a lovely doughy taste. Then my main meal arrived – which, of course, was steak. I chose the 8oz rump which came with fries (half of which I donated to Chris) and I also chose to have seasonal vegetables on the side, including KALE! If I had to take a mark away it would be for the presentation of my meal, which wasn’t particularly inspiring, but hey, it’s steak. It could just be slapped on a plate for me and I’d still enjoy. This one had been grilled to medium-rare perfection, and was wonderfully juicy. Finally, my starvation-and-CrossFit-induced hunger had subsided. But I wasn’t too full for a dessert…

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After fries, a bottle of wine, and the biggest portion of cheesecake known to man, I can hardly call this experience clean eating. But I could tell everything was freshly made with seasonal ingredients, and any butter or oil added was clearly noted in the menu. Chris is insistent that we go back again, and I’m inclined to agree; perhaps next time I’ll be a touch less hungry and I will actually have the Superfood Salad. But now I know the steak is that good? We’ll have to see.

* We attended as guests of Jamie’s Italian – thanks! This review is still honest and my opinion will never be bought.

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