Get Your Greens In

get your greens in

Everybody knows they should be eating more vegetables, in particular leafy greens, but it can be difficult to stomach green stuff on its own. It’s worth it, though; as well as being full of iron, they also have high levels of vitamin K to prevent age-related conditions developing, can reduce cholesterol, and have more protein per gram than meat. The more bitter a green veg is, the more calcium it contains, meaning it’s perfect for keeping bones strong. The jury’s out on whether greens help to prevent cancer, but as some studies indicate yes it’s in our best interests to aim for a couple of portions a day.

Lots of green food is classed as a superfood, too – chlorella, spirulina and wheatgrass are words you’ll oft-hear in health circles, and for good reason. They contain the most concentrated levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, as well as having their own unique benefits (did you know that studies have shown that spirulina can help control blood sugar levels? Now you do!). It can be difficult – and expensive – to get enough leafy greens and green superfoods into our diets, so I thought I’d share my strategy for getting as much green is as possible.

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Trying Out Trek Bars | Flavoured Protein Flapjacks Review

You’d have to have been living under a rock to not have heard of Natural Balance Foods. Along with the wellness revolution, over the past couple of years Trek and Nakd bars have boomed in popularity with those seeking a sweet yet healthy snack – in fact, when I met the guys behind Natural Balance at Be:Fit (How good is his t-shirt? They should sell them!) I was told that for years they got away with putting Nakd bars in their kids’ lunchboxes, duping them into thinking it was chocolate!

To be honest, with goodies this tasty there’s really no need for sugary snacks. My favourites have to be Trek bars, so I was lucky that Natural Balance kindly sent me a box of mixed protein flapjacks* so I could try the full range. They were originally made as a snack for those out trekking to stick into their pockets, so they’re well-balanced with oats as a slow-released carbohydrate and 9-10g of protein each. This combination is very filling: when I work 11:30-8:30 I’ll typically have a bar just before my shift with a coffee and this keeps me going until my lunch at 3pm. The bars are naturally sweetened with dates and some have a dark chocolate coating, making them perfect for an evening snack also, quietening those late-night munchies.

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EAT: Fuelling My Marathon

As well as training my legs, heart and mindset for the upcoming Manchester marathon, I’ve also been training my muscles to hold more energy and figuring out what’s best for me to eat whilst on long runs. My marathon is now four days away (ARGH! But also.. OOOH!) so it’s now time to make a decision on what nutrition to take with me to get me through those 26.2 miles.

This post is called Fuelling My Marathon for a reason – nutrition for your long runs is a very personal thing and something I believe should be tried and tested whilst you’re training. I started out trying out gels and energy blocks, but I hated them; I hated the texture and the funny after taste, besides I was finding myself getting really hungry which those sugary things didn’t help at all with. Then I went with healthier options: bananas, cereal bars, homemade energy balls. They didn’t give me enough of an energy boost and they were really difficult to eat with the dry mouth that long runs give you.

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EAT: A Pizza A Day

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If I had to choose only one food to eat for the rest of my life with no consequences it would have to be pizza. Gooey mozzarella and tangy cheese on a crispy base every single day, with maybe added spinach and ricotta one day, chicken another, and a whole host of veggies the next day. Belissimo!

Realistically eating an entire Domino’s a day isn’t the best for you, but break pizza down into its component parts and you realise you can make a balanced meal out of it. Tomatoes and whatever vegetables your heart desires; protein from the meat, fish, or egg, should you choose a Fiorentina; fats to keep you full from the mozzarella; carbs to energise from the base. It’s just the imbalance of these nutrients that makes you unhealthy – too much cheese and the base can make you sluggish.

I was challenged by Exante Diet to create a different, healthy pizza a day using their pizza mix*. The mix is actually made for people on meal replacement diets to add into their regime but for someone training most days the base is pretty balanced, with 17g protein, 20g carbs and 5g of fat. I managed five days of different pizzas but – shockingly, considering my opening statement – I actually got sick of pizzas day after day. I was safe in the knowledge that the pizza bases were full of added vitamins and minerals, although this did make the ingredient list rather lengthy. I think it’s something you get used to when you use protein products like bars or whey, so I just make sure the rest of my diet has as few ingredients as possible – as in, just the ones I put in from scratch!

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My first one was a bit of a disaster. Great on paper – spinach, avocado, egg – but stupidly I thought I could substitute tinfoil for the greaseproof paper in the instructions (you can’t, I had to mostly pick the base off the foil) and I also got distracted and left it in the oven for too long. It obviously still got eaten but a lesson was learned.

Next was the most pizza-like of the lot, and the only one I used the included tomato sauce with; it tasted too chemically for me so I left it afterwards and did my own thing. This one was mozzarella, spinach and Quorn sausages (top image), and was much enjoyed, although I didn’t get the base’s crispness quite right so ate with a knife and fork.

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My greatest idea, if I do say so myself, was turning two bases into a large rectangle, and using them to make flatbread to take to uni. With the base being higher in protein than normal bread I didn’t have to worry about cramming with protein, so enjoyed filling them up with healthy fats like avocado and homemade hummus.

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Finally, I had tomato paste, mozzarella and turkey bacon, and I managed to get the base suitably crispy, albeit I still ate with a knife and fork. Turkey bacon is always a winner for me so I definitely ended on a high note.

Now it’s a few days after my daily pizza experiment I’m craving another, so a balanced pizza for lunch it is. There’s no way I’d recommend a meal replacement diet, but these mini pizza bases with a mountain of veggies on top are perfect for days where you fancy a quick, nutritious lunch or even a snack on the go. Do remember, though, that all food should be part of a rich, balanced diet with additional exercise, so a full-fat pizza here and there won’t hurt in the slightest – and may even get your metabolism burning faster, timed right!


EAT: Post-run Piña Colada

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On long run days I’m finding that I’m reaching the end of the day on a big calorie deficit. You might think this is a fortunate position to be in – just go eat a few Big Macs! – but realistically I’m absolutely bushed after my run and am not feeling hungry at all. If I don’t even out my calories for the day, it means my glycogen stores aren’t being replenished and my body might start eating away at some of that hard-earned muscle for fuel, meaning that in the long term the run would have taken away to my fitness, not added to it.

In steps the recovery shake. You might be used to protein shakes straight after the gym, and this one does have protein, but also has carbohydrates to refill glycogen stores in the muscles and liver, plus fat to avoid a blood sugar spike. I blitz mine into a smoothie so I still get the fibre benefits of the full fruit – I’m still using my Nutri Ninja blender* which totally liquifies everything.

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Coconut and pineapple are two of my favourite flavours – so what could be better than a recovery shake that mixes the two, AND does good?! For this piña colada shake (non-alcoholic, might I add) you’ll need:

A quarter of a fresh pineapple
1 small carton of coconut water
1 teaspoon of coconut oil
1 scoop of Scitec Piña Colada Balanced Recovery powder

I’ve spoken about the benefits of pineapple before; it contains a powerful anti-inflammatory agent which will help calm any post-run niggles that may be rearing their ugly heads. In this instance it also acts as a source of fructose, which is known for shooting through your system quickly, but because of the pineapple’s fibre and coconut oil being present, it keeps your blood sugar stable. Coconut oil has so many benefits, not least for your immune, digestive and endocrine systems, which may not be firing on all cylinders after a very tiring long run.

You lose a lot of electrolytes when you sweat, which coconut water helps to rebalance. What I didn’t realise is that the electrolytes also prevent the day after’s DOMS, so I’ve been drinking it after working out – you can thank my PT for that tip! The Scitec Balanced Recovery arrived as a sample in an order I made, and it’s by far the tastiest protein powder I’ve tasted – it’s such an unusual flavour. It contains just over 20g of protein, which is an ideal amount for your body to absorb in one go, but also contains carbohydrates, electrolytes and amino acids, meaning it’s perfect for not only those who lift weight, but endurance athletes’ recovery too.

As well as all the health benefits this shake is ridiculously tasty, so even if I’m not feeling hungry I’ll still want to drink it! Whether you flop out after a long run, have to go to work, or maybe decide to go to brunch, it’s important to restore your energy so you can be the best you can be for the next long training run.

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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.


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.