5 ways to increase your summer sporting performance

shutterstock_177219854 woman jogging in sunshine June15The UK has finally seen some sunshine over the last few weeks and the longer, warmer days encourage us to be more active outdoors. But if you are serious about your sport, how can you make the most of your exercise and nutrition to boost your performance in the sunshine? Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her top 5 tips for summer sports success!

suzi-sawyer-clinical-nutritionistSunshine and longer summer days generally help to make us feel more energetic. It’s a great time of year to get active and enjoy doing lots more outdoor exercise.  We also tend to become more body conscious at this time of year.

However, whilst feeling the sunshine on your skin tends to make you feel more invigorated and also gives you a ‘hit’ of immune-boosting Vitamin D, what you take in nutritionally and the exercise you choose, has the most bearing on your weight and energy levels.

So, here are my top 5 tips for summer sports success.

UP YOUR PROTEINshutterstock_231165298 Protein selection Feb15

When people take up new or enhanced exercise routines, they frequently assume that they need to up their carbohydrate intake as well.  However, unless you are ‘pre-loading’ or ‘tanking up’ on carbohydrates a week before a major endurance event such as a marathon, you are likely to be eating more than enough carbs. What many people often lack, however, is enough protein.

Protein is essential to repair and re-build muscles, particularly after intensive exercise, but is also important for hormone production and to help maintain a healthy weight. For example, an athlete exercising for 45-60 minutes, four or five times a week, at moderate intensity would need around 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This amounts to around 90 grams of protein daily; an average salmon fillet or chicken breast contains around 20 grams.

You can see, therefore, that in order to eat sufficient protein in a day, you will need to be eating protein at every meal.  Remember, more athletes are deficient in protein than carbohydrates.

shutterstock_264572315 manog and papaya June15INCLUDE ANTIOXIDANTS

Any kind of physical activity, particularly hard training, is going to increase energy expenditure. Additionally, high activity, particularly heavy endurance training increases intake of oxygen, which makes the athlete or recreational exerciser more prone to attack from free radicals, which are ever-present in the environment. However, the human body is very clever and has a number of in-built protective antioxidant enzyme systems which are uprated with increased activity.

Ensuring a good intake of antioxidant-laden foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, together with a good daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, provide the cornerstone of a healthy, protective diet. Fruits such as mangoes, papaya, watermelon and strawberries all provide high levels of antioxidants, so enjoy them in your diet as much as possible.

SHRED THE FATshutterstock_273486839 woman doing HIT on quayside June15

Sounds painful doesn’t it! The days of pounding for hours and hours on a running machine just to burn calories are now completely over. For a real calorie burn and to send your metabolism through the roof, you need to go for the HIT (High Intensity Training).  No doubt about it, its hard work and your heart rate is high, but it’s the most effective way of burning fat.  A circuit including burpees, star jumps, high knee raises and ‘twisted mountain climbers’ is a great start. There are many free programmes on-line so get searching and get moving!

shutterstock_77253961 green tea Mar15INCREASE YOUR METABOLISM

Certain foods can really increase the body’s metabolic rate, meaning the body will naturally burn fat more quickly. Cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper and green tea are all highly rated and can be easily included into your daily diet.

Put some cinnamon on your porridge – an ideal pre-exercise breakfast. Add ginger to a juice with apple, beetroot and carrot, and use cayenne pepper in savoury dishes. Try to drink three cups of green tea daily: as well as providing a natural thermogenic or fat burning effect, green tea also helps to replenish the essential good bacteria in the gut, ensuring the digestive system will run a little smoother.

UP YOUR ENERGY LEVELSshutterstock_192072407 wholegrains in sacks Mar15

Clearly if you’re going to really get moving this summer, you need to have the energy to do so! Generally, both trained athletes as well as recreational sports people, adopt a low glycaemic diet.  This means eating foods that do not give you a quick ‘sugar-hit’ and then a slump, but sustained energy throughout the day.

Wholegrains such as brown rice and quinoa, whole wheat pasta and brown bread, lentils, chickpeas and all types of beans are ‘slow-release’ carbs; make sure you’re including some in your diet daily.  Additionally, porridge made with wholegrain oats is a great start to the day.  Two poached eggs on a piece of rye toast is another great choice, providing a high protein and low glycaemic carbohydrate combo breakfast.

So try to maximise your performance with these tips and enjoy an energy-filled, active summer!


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The Mediterranean Diet – the top 5 nutritional benefits

shutterstock_233898430 mediterranean June15With the summer starting to show itself around the country, our thoughts turn to lazy days outside, enjoying time with family and friends in the sunshine and al fresco dining. But could we be eating better than the traditional British BBQ fare? Suzie Sawyer – Clinical Nutritionisttells us why the Mediterranean diet is a great, healthy alternative for us this summer.


For those fortunate enough to be travelling further afield for summer holidays, often countries situated around the Mediterranean are popular choices. Interestingly, apart from their favourable climate, people living in these countries statistically tend to have less heart disease, which is thought to be, primarily due to their Mediterranean diet: a diet characterised by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein

So why is the Mediterranean Diet so beneficial to health?

IT’S HIGH IN FRUIT AND VEGshutterstock_203320249 tomato salad June15

Forget five portions of fruit and veg a day – this diet may contain nearer 10!  The climate naturally lends itself to producing an abundance of fruit and vegetables in season, therefore availability and variety are not an issue.

The diet is particularly rich in tomatoes which are high in lycopene – a bright red carotenoid packed with health benefits. Carotenoids are a great source of antioxidants which scavenge those nasty free radicals partially responsible for the aging process.

They also help protect against some degenerative diseases, particularly heart disease; additionally lycopene is prized for its positive benefits for the male prostate gland.  Vegetables such as courgettes, red and green peppers and onions also feature highly in the diet, hence you’ll often find delicious ratatouille on the menu!

And with it being National Vegetarian Week closer to home this week, what better time to start enjoying all the benefits of eating more fruit and veg?

IT CONTAINS WHOLEGRAIN CARBOHYDRATESshutterstock_230203603 beans and pulses June15

The word “carbs” can often create panic in the minds of those trying to lose weight!  However, choosing starchy carbohydrates from wholegrain sources such as wholegrain bread and pasta, rice, beans and lentils help to keep blood sugar levels balanced which means you’ll store less fat. The fibre in wholegrains also helps maintain a feeling of fullness so you are likely to eat less.

Additionally, they’re all rich in B vitamins which are protective of the heart.  The grain polenta, made from corn, was first discovered in Italy and provides a versatile and filling meal time staple.  It tends to take on the flavours of the foods it’s cooked with such as vegetables or cured meats but is equally delicious cooked with pesto and parmesan.

IT IS HIGH IN OILY FISHshutterstock_150603923 fish platter June15

The Mediterranean diet is rich in delicious oily fish such as sardines and salmon, but also white fish such as halibut and sea bass, together with shellfish – prawns, crab and lobster.

Oily fish is high in the essential omega 3 fats, which are great for the heart, skin and brain.  White fish is high in protein and low in fat, and is often eaten within the Mediterranean diet in preference to meat.  This means less saturated fat and potentially less incidence of colorectal cancer for example, which has been found to be more prevalent in people eating high amounts of red meat.  Fish is much easier to digest, hence it puts less strain on the digestive system.  It’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

IT’S RICH IN HEALTH-GIVING OLIVE OILshutterstock_159845954 olive oil June15

Whether enjoying a plate of olives with your glass of red wine, or splashing olive oil onto your green or tomato salad, you’ll be using olive oil liberally eating the Mediterranean diet.

Olive oil boasts numerous health benefits particularly relating to the heart; another reason for the low incidence of heart disease in these countries.  Olive oil has been proven to lower the bad LDL cholesterol and also reduce blood pressure.  Additionally, it’s high in antioxidants which protect against free radical damage, and it also helps to lubricate the joints.

Although it is high in calories, it has been shown to reduce obesity because it keeps people feeling fuller for longer, so again they eat less.  Though olive oil is frequently used as a dressing on salads, it’s also used for cooking and is much healthier than polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower oil.  This is because it is a monounsaturated fat, making it more chemically stable when heated.

IT IS NUTS!shutterstock_272949956 nuts June15

Not literally!  However, the Mediterranean Diet traditionally contains walnuts and almonds which are rich in the healthy omega 3 fats.

But it’s not just nuts but also seeds and pulses that pack a healthy punch!  Specifically, chickpeas are the mainstay ingredient in hummus, traditionally enjoyed with some chopped vegetables such as carrots, peppers and courgettes.

shutterstock_162686831 glass of red wine June 15Of course the Mediterranean diet would not be complete without reference to red wine.  Red wine contains a compound called resveratrol which has been heavily researched and found to support heart health.  As with olive oil, resveratrol helps to reduce the damaging LDL cholesterol within the body and also provides additional antioxidants.  However, research also suggests that the benefits are felt by drinking one glass of red wine daily as opposed to one bottle, so try and stick to just the one!

shutterstock_204784162 couple cycling in the sun June15And lastly, we must also acknowledge that those living in these climates tend to be more physically active which is also protective of the heart.  This may be because sunnier and warmer weather tends to encourage people to live a more outdoorsy lifestyle and also enjoy sporting activities such as walking, tennis and cycling. Many occupations also tend to involve working outdoors, therefore they involve being more active out in the fresh air.  And let’s also not forget the abundance of the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – Vitamin D – all-year round, which is great for the bones, muscles, joints, and immune system.

The UK may not have the benefits of year-round sunshine, but you can enjoy the healthy and colourful Mediterranean diet right here on your doorstep: the key foods that make up the Mediterranean diet are readily available in your local supermarket – so why not bring a little sunshine into your diet this weekend.


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The Nutritional Rainbow: Make your diet colourful

shutterstock_225879394 rainbow plate June15A rainbow is a beautiful thing but have you ever thought of creating a rainbow on your plate?  Adding more colours to your diet will provide you with a greater range of nutritional benefits: Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer shows you how you can eat a more colourful variety of food and the great health benefits of a rainbow diet.


From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

Why is it so important to have colour variety in your diet? 

The simple answer is that nature provided us with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, each one with its own unique colour blend.  All the colours represent important nutrients or compounds which deliver amazing health benefits; however, the colours blue, indigo and violet are not always easy to differentiate in food terms so we’ve merged these together under ‘blue and purple’ and also added white to create our own unique brand of 7!

shutterstock_198764651 red F&V June15RED: Tomatoes, Strawberries, Raspberries, Cherries, Beetroots

All red fruits and vegetables are loaded with anthocyanins, providing excellent antioxidant powers and helping combat free radicals.  Every day, we’re bombarded with damaging pollution, stress, smoke, fried foods and smoke which all contribute to the free radical load; therefore, the more antioxidant protection we have the better.

Red fruits and vegetables also contain high amounts of lycopene. Tomatoes are particularly high in lycopene, which has been particularly well-researched around supporting the health of the male prostate gland.   Unusually, lycopene concentration in foods actually becomes more intense after cooking, so tomato-based sauces are a great way to boost intake.  Tomatoes are also high in vitamin C and potassium which also makes them heart healthy.

shutterstock_215008657 orange F&V June15ORANGE: Carrots, Mangoes, Cantaloupe Melons, Oranges, Sweet Potatoes

Orange is one of the healthiest colours of the rainbow!  These fruits and vegetables have their naturally orange colour because they contain beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A in the body and is needed for good eyesight.  Beta-carotene is also a great antioxidant. Sweet potatoes, for example, contain some of the highest amounts of beta-carotene but also provide lots of minerals such as iron, potassium, copper and manganese, as well as vitamin B6.  They make a great alternative to the standard jacket potato!

shutterstock_218377960 yellow F&V June15YELLOW: Grapefruit, Lemons, Yellow Peppers, Apricots, Honeydew Melon

Yellow fruits and vegetables are packed with beta-carotene but also bioflavonoids.  These are important compounds found in most fruits and vegetables, as well as being antioxidant powerhouses – particularly protective of the skin and immune system.  These sunny coloured foods are also filled with vitamin C which is one of our essential nutrients and is particularly important for the immune system, bones, skin and energy production.

shutterstock_271444736 Green F&V June15GREEN: Kiwi Fruits, Limes, Cucumber, Broccoli, Peas, Kale, Spinach

There are so many green foods and the above are just a few examples.  They are all packed full of vitamin C and vitamin A.  We often associate dairy foods as being the main sources of calcium, but dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach are also high in this bone-building mineral.  They can provide a great dietary staple for the increasing number of people who cannot eat dairy.  Green foods are also an excellent source of dietary fibre, essential for healthy bowels and digestion.

shutterstock_156233402 purple fruit and veg Mar15BLUE & PURPLE: Blackberries, Blueberries, Purple Plums, Aubergine, Figs

These beautiful dark coloured fruits and vegetables are the heroes of anthocyanins.  As well as providing amazing antioxidant protection, these colourful pigments may also be protective of the aging process, especially cognitive function.  In fact, research has suggested that blueberries may be protective of short and long term memory and they are so easy to include daily in the diet – just add to a bowl of cereal, and especially porridge.

shutterstock_278791853 white F&V June15WHITE: Potatoes, Cauliflower, Apples, Onions, Garlic

Although not strictly in the spectrum of the rainbow, white light is obviously where it all begins, and of course, there are very many white fruits and vegetables which bring us a bounty of benefits. Apples and onions are high in a compound known as quercetin, which is a natural anti-histamine.  Sufferers of hayfever, and other allergies would be well advised to increase these in their diet, particularly in advance of the approaching spring/summer season. Why not make some delicious soups containing a variety of vegetables, including onions, in order to enjoy even more health benefits? Apples make a great snack and they have a low glycemic index, which means they release energy slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you going for longer!

And now put it all together!

shutterstock_138676817 fruit salad June15Make a rainbow on your plate: create a delicious fruit salad with mango, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, bananas and grapes. And don’t forget to squeeze a little lemon juice over the fruits to stop them oxidising and turning brown – much more appetising to eat the original vibrant colours!

shutterstock_107496425 stir fry June15Create a Stir (fry): go for a mixture of vegetables and add some chicken or prawns: mange tout, baby sweetcorn, sliced carrots, onions, garlic, broccoli heads and courgettes, or whatever takes your fancy! Keep making up different variations.

shutterstock_252179974 roasted veg June15Cook a plateful of roasted vegetables: tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, courgettes, red peppers and some garlic. These make a wonderful addition to your evening meal and are also great eaten cold for your lunch the next day.

shutterstock_175597250 soup June15Make some super soups: soups are an amazing way of including as many different vegetables as you can – healthy, convenient and very cost effective. Soups are great all-year round for a vegetable hit and don’t forget there are many delicious recipes for cold soup, including gazpacho.

shutterstock_272268560 Juices June15Get Juicing: juicing fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways of massively increasing your intake. Try to have at least one juice a day. One particular favourite of mine is apple, beetroot, carrot and ginger. However, experiment and you’ll never cease to be amazed by all the different tastes you can create – keep mixing it up until you find a few favourites!

So, eating a rainbow diet doesn’t need to be difficult with so many to choose from and it could make a dramatic difference to your health and energy levels – so get colourful!


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2015 Superfood: 5 reasons to love coconut oil!

shutterstock_239132320 Coconut oil Feb15Coconut Oil is one of the hot superfoods of 2015. It has so many uses and benefits and should have prime position in all our store cupboards. Whether it’s used as a cooking aid, in recipes, straight from the spoon, as a replacement for normal butter or margarine or as a moisturising beauty aid, Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us 5 reasons why Coconut Oil is one of the most versatile ingredients on the planet. 


From our Nutritional Expert – Suzie Sawyer

Although coconut oil (created as a result of heating coconut butter) has been used for centuries in tropical countries as a cooking ingredient, it’s only relatively recently that its big benefits to health have been so widely acclaimed on this side of the world.

Coconut oil comes from the seed of the coconut palm tree, Cocos nucifera, which is grown in all parts of the tropics and sub tropics and has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people from these parts of the world for generations.  Indeed, research indicates that people living in the Philippines have some of the lowest incidence of heart disease, partially attributed to their high intake of health-giving coconut.

So in addition, here are 5 more great reasons why you should incorporate coconut oil into your life!

shutterstock_97616777 coconut oil and butter and husk June15It’s healthier than other fats

It’s great to use in your daily cooking because coconut oil is actually high in a type of saturated fat called medium chain fatty acids which are not normally stored in the body as fat: they are metabolised and can quickly help to produce energy and fuel for the body.  It is also slightly lower in calories than most other fats and oils and does not raise cholesterol levels.  This makes coconut oil an especially great choice for avid exercisers or those trying to lose weight.

shutterstock_245568370 woman in spa with coconut June15It’s a wonderful beauty aid

It’s actually as useful in the bathroom as the kitchen!  It makes a fantastic beauty aid! You can use it as a body exfoliator, as well as a moisturiser, which leaves your skin feeling soft and supple. Plus you’ll smell divine!  Additionally, it makes a great hair conditioner.  Coconut oil is best applied to the hair and left for 20 minutes or so to really penetrate the hair and scalp.  After washing and drying in the usual way, you’ll be left with luxuriant and shiny hair!

It has anti-fungal propertiesshutterstock_161171273 cream heart on back of hand June15

Coconut oil has strong anti-fungal properties, either taken internally or used topically.  It is a major source of the antimicrobial fatty acids lauric acid and octanoic acid, which can help to kill fungal or bacterial infections that occur on the skin or in the gut.

Unfortunately, some antibiotic use, stress and a highly refined diet can all cause Candida – an overgrowth of yeast – to proliferate.  Candida can cause some unpleasant digestive symptoms, but research indicates that the lauric acid in coconut helps to fight off the Candida.  Eat it daily or apply directly to your skin if you‘re suffering with Candida or fungal infections on the skin.

shutterstock_109436963 cooking with coconut butter oil June15It’s very safe for cooking

Certain oils that we regularly use for cooking, particularly polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower, are chemically unstable, meaning that they produce free radicals when heated.  Heating unstable oils produces hydrogenated and trans fats which are both chemically altered and unrecognisable to the body.  Trans fats can also raise your ‘bad’ (or LDL) cholesterol and lower your ‘good’ (or HDL) cholesterol.  In addition, they can actually stop the body from metabolising the healthy omega 3 fatty acids which we all need in our diets.

But coconut oil is one of the safest oils for cooking. It has a much higher melting point and is therefore more stable when used at high temperatures.  It is even safer than olive oil!

It works well in so many recipes

Coconut oil is so versatile!  For raw foodies, it’s a store cupboard essential.  However, it can be used in curries, stir fries, cookies, smoothies, ice cream, cereal bars, to name just a few.  It also helps to produce fantastic roast potatoes!

Here’s a little treat for you to make yourself: Blackberry and Coconut Squares

250 g self-raising flourshutterstock_149457191 blackberry and coconut squares June15

280 g soft brown sugar

50 g oats

200g Coconut Butter

75 g desiccated coconut

2 medium eggs

300 g blackberries

  1. Heat the oven to 180 (Gas Mark 4) and line a 12” x 6” baking tin
  2. Put the flour, oats and sugar into a large bowl and mix in the coconut butter.  Then stir in the desiccated coconut
  3. Fill a teacup with the mixture and set the remaining aside
  4. Mix the eggs into a bowl of remaining mixture then flatten into baking tin.  Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and scatter over the blackberries.  Top with the mixture from the teacup
  5. Bake for about 1 hour until golden.  Leave to cool and then remove from tin and cut into squares
  6. Serve with extra berries and crème fraiche.

So, all in all, coconut oil is a real all-rounder and certainly an essential product to have in any cupboard!


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