Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

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Enjoy a staycation: top tips for holidaying at home

A road sign saying 'staycation'

With a massive increase in staycations this year for obvious reasons, many of us are disappointed at not being able to plan our annual ‘get-away’. 

However, maybe just changing our mindset can make us realise that staying at home can be hugely fun too.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyers shares some wonderfully healthy and fun staycation tips.

Healthy cocktails

Cocktails often remind us of holidays and fun times so why not get your mix on at home?  Cocktails are traditionally very sugary and calorific which can bring on feelings of guilt and dampen down the enjoyment.  But all is not lost because there are many ways you can enjoy cocktails without the guilt pangs!

Grapefruit margarita cocktail

Why not mix up a great summertime Skinny Margarita?  Simply use Tequila, Triple Sec, freshly squeezed lime juice and some freshly squeezed ruby or pink grapefruit juice.  Finish off with a wedge of lime. Grapefruit has been associated with weight loss, and whilst simply eating or drinking grapefruit juice is not going to solve all your weight issues, it’s low in calories and sugar, high in fibre, and, most importantly, a delicious addition to this margarita!

Eat Mediterranean food

You might not be in the Med but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of their delicious traditional recipes, without spending hours in the kitchen.  Think about a traditional Turkish Mezze which is both easy and can be super-healthy too. Plus, it makes a great sharing platter for entertaining friends and family.

Hummus and beetroot dips mezze platter

Dips and hummus always play a key role in any mezze plate.  Traditional hummus is made from chickpeas which are loaded with protein, energising B-vitamins and phytoestrogens for hormone balancing.  Create a beetroot dip (an amazing super food), mixed with garlic and natural yoghurt, and throw together a traditional olive salad, with fresh green leaves and feta cheese.  Roast some red peppers and include loads of crudities and toasted pittas to fully enjoy the dips. A great way of bringing the Med to you!

Spend time outdoors

Holidays are very much associated with being outdoors, so make sure your staycation doesn’t disappoint on that front.  Why not try some new activities?  Or head for the coast and do some water sports; paddle boarding is incredibly popular right now and can be mastered fairly quickly.

Family cycling in countryside

Bike rides are a great family activity and enable you to view places you might not otherwise see, and from a different scenic perspective.  Lots of landmarks and views can get missed on car journeys so get out and about on foot to explore your local area.

Relaxation

It’s not all about rushing about; having some down time is very important for overall health and wellbeing.  Life has been and continues to be stressful for many people and long-term stress can raise cortisol levels.  Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, poor sleep and unwanted weight gain are all signs your stress hormones need support.

Woman reading in garden

To be effective and properly restful, you need to give yourself real ‘down-time’.  Whether that’s just reading a book or listening to some music in the garden find something that works for you.  You can also try taking an adaptogenic herb such as ashwagandha which helps manage stress and reduces cortisol levels.  Holidays are all about investing in some ‘you’ time, so make this happen.

Have fun!

Most important!  Staying at home doesn’t have to be dull.  Like any holiday it needs a little planning so that you really enjoy the time you have, and you can look back and feel you’ve had a proper break.

Children looking at giraffes at the zoo

Why not plan the days with a calendar in front of you? Research local attractions for day trips, catch up with friends and family if you can, and do things that you wouldn’t generally get time to do.

Whatever you decide, you deserve some time off. So, make the most of every staycation moment!

Stay well.

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Get back to nature this ‘Love Parks Week’

Woman walking through a forest glade

It’s ‘Love Parks Week’ and thankfully now all the parks are open again, we can enjoy them at their very best, whilst remembering to socially distance of course!

Spending time outdoors is so important for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five best tips for enjoying our beautiful parks to the full.

Manage your allergies

For many of us who suffer with hay fever, the summer season is bittersweet when pollen levels are especially problematic.  Avoiding grass pollen is the most effective solution but it means missing out on so much.  However, there are certain steps you can take that will make your time in the parks more enjoyable.

CLose up of woman blwoing her nose surrounded by flowers to represent hay fever

Any allergic response in the body involves an immune reaction so it’s important to keep your immune system in good shape.  Make sure you’re taking a vitamin D supplement and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with immune -boosting nutrients.  Bananas have been found to be especially effective for hay fever sufferers, so try to eat one about four times per week.

Additionally, the mineral magnesium (also rich in bananas) helps calm the airways so make sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, beans and almonds.  Additionally, bromelain, the protein found in pineapples, has strong anti-inflammatory properties but is actually most effective taken in supplement form. It’s readily available in health food stores.

A bowl of cut up lineapple next to a whole pineapple

If you find your eyes are sore after being outside in the park, change all your clothes when you come home, wash your face and lie down in a darkened room with some cucumber slices on your eyes.  Hopefully, you’ll feel refreshed after 20 minutes or so.

Go easy on the sun

Most of us love to feel the warm sun on our skin.  Plus, it also helps top up our vitamin D levels, which are essential for the immune system.  However, do try and be sun aware and wear a minimum of an SPF-30 sunscreen to help prevent burning and premature aging.

Close up of a hand with sun tan lotion in the shape of a face

Beta-carotene, rich in carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and other red, orange and yellow vegetables, is a very powerful antioxidant which helps protect the skin against sun and other free-radical damage.  Whilst it won’t stop the skin burning, it will help minimise the sun’s more aggressive effects.

Put something different in your picnic basket

When packing up a picnic for a day out, we often tend to include the same foods without really thinking about it.  Why not make this week one where you opt for something different?

Instead of making ‘traditional’ sandwiches why not go for some Deli-style treats?  For example, cut some ciabatta bread in half and fill with cream cheese, salami, Mozzarella and roasted red peppers, which are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.

A bowl of homemade beetroot hummus

Additionally, beetroot hummus is a really healthy alternative to ‘normal’ hummus and it’s a great way of including this amazing super food in your diet.  All you need to do is blend some cooked beetroot, chickpeas, garlic, some virgin olive oil, a little lemon and some tahini.  It’s totally delicious on flatbread crackers.

Cycle your way around the park

The last few months has seen a resurgence in cycling, and it’s such a great activity for all the family.  Most parks have cycle routes around or through them and cycling is also a great form of exercise; it tones the legs, heart and butt!

Woman mountain-biking

Make sure you keep well hydrated before, during and after your cycle or day out, especially if it’s hot.  Aim to drink about 200 ml of water or lightly isotonic fluids per hour, depending on outside temperature and the intensity of your cycle.

Walking for enjoyment

Your walk around the park can be anything you want it to be – a gentle stroll or a fast-pace march.  Either way, walking is great for keeping good blood flow around the body.

Woman walking her dog

It’s especially effective if you’re trying to lose weight: try brisk walking after an evening meal – even only for 30 minutes.  The body’s insulin response is much more measured, and it helps stop blood sugar spikes which can lead to increased weight gain.

Whatever you decide to do in your park, celebrate Love Parks Week, get out there and enjoy!

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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On your bike: the health benefits of cycling

Tow freinds cycling in the countryside

One of the positives to come out of our recently restricted lives is that many people have taken to two wheels to get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. And what better time to get out there than National Bike Week?

Cycling is a great activity for families and small groups of friends but can be just as enjoyable on your own.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at the health benefits of cycling and how to get the most out of your biking.

What are the health benefits?

Lots of people have turned to cycling recently as a great way of keeping fit.  It’s also been a great way to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air and just enjoy the ride. In terms of actual energy consumed, you can burn around 600 calories an hour, or if doing a harder ride, as many as 800.  It’s therefore a great way of keeping weight in check. If you’re going out for an hour’s ride, then you don’t need to take any snacks or extra food; the body has its own amazing energy-storage system. But always travel with a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated.

Close up of a woman mountain biking

Any form of exercise that elevates the heart rate for around 30 minutes helps with fat burning but also overall aerobic fitness.  This is turn has a positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and protection against Type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, cycling is great for mental wellbeing and you see much more of the world when you’re slightly elevated above the hedge line!

How can I make the most of an hour’s ride?

The beauty of cycling is that you don’t need to go out for hours and hours if time is short.  Why not set yourself small challenges such as trying to get further on a certain route in a fixed amount of time, meaning you’ve cycled faster?  Or try to add some hills or small inclines into your ride.  It’s so much harder trying to get a bike up a hill than running it, so you’ll get a much better cardio workout.

A family going for a bike ride

However, not every ride needs to be about a challenge because the most important part of cycling or any exercise is to enjoy the experience. Notice the landscape around you and be grateful for the opportunity of seeing the great outdoors and to have some headspace.  Vary your routes and try to avoid overly busy roads.

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

Clearly, it’s a very different experience riding off-road to on-road which is where a hybrid bike is so useful, so you’re not limited to either.  Importantly, make sure you’re well hydrated when you start the ride and take a good-sized bottle filled with lightly diluted fruit juice with water.  This will provide a very small amount of carbohydrate to keep energy levels up and help the body rehydrate faster, especially when it’s hot.

What about longer rides?

Cycling for half a day or longer, especially with family and friends is a brilliant way of spending some time outdoors.  Clearly, if it’s a family event, then you need to make sure kids have the right gear, especially helmets, and have had plenty of sun cream applied beforehand (you can even get burnt on cloudy days at this time of year).

View of a woman mountain biking

Take plenty of fluids and be careful not to underestimate the amount you might drink; cycling is really thirsty work, especially if you’re tackling more challenging terrain. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of sports drinks with you, as well as water, as they contain electrolytes plus carbohydrates to help avoid dehydration, especially when it’s hot.

Close up of a cyclists snack pot with dried fruit and nuts

If you’re planning on going out for a while, you’ll also need to take some food with you.  Energising bagels with jam (always a kids’ favourite), muesli bars, bananas dried fruits and nuts are good choices.  Traditional sports bars tend to be loaded with sweeteners so are best avoided if possible unless you’re a competitive cyclist, in which case you’ll need more structured meal replacements.

So, whether you’re out for an hour or a day, any time you can spend on a bike will be beneficial for both mind and body.

Stay well.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

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Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time.  Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.

Heart Health

Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step.  Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time?  This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other.  Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit.  This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management.  You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul.  If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative.  The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk.  Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.

Joint Health

Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise.  However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees.  One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain.  Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically.  When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability.  Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.

Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Immunity

Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function.  For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.

Energy and positivity

Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk.  And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you.  It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk.  Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.

So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Enjoying the great outdoors even though we might feel stuck indoors

Close up of woman's trainers to represent walking

Our movements are obviously restricted at the moment as to how much we can enjoy being outside.  It’s therefore more important than ever to maximise outside time to give you the most benefit, both mentally and physically. 

There’s always some positivity that comes out of adversity, even if it’s only that we become more appreciative of the world around us.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the benefits of why we should all be spending some time outdoors during the lockdown.

Mental wellbeing is top priority

There’s never been a more important time to take good care of your mental health.  With these challenging times, feelings of depression and anxiety are much more common.  However, one of the best antidotes to this is getting outside and feeling the fresh air on your skin.

Woman walking over a bridge on the outskirts of the city

The sense of freedom is palpable.  Most importantly, taking a walk, the brisker the better, will help release those feel-good endorphins, and in turn elevate your mood.  It’s also a great opportunity to have some ‘me’ time; listen to a podcast, some music or reflect and take a moment to just be.

Make the time count

It’s also the perfect time to use the great outdoors for meaningful exercise.  If you’re normally a gym-goer or exercise indoors, taking it outside can add a whole new dimension to an exercise routine. The body needs to be challenged in order for strength and fitness levels to improve.  And it’s not too difficult to devise an outdoor exercise plan, improvising where necessary.

Close up of woman doing an arm stretch outdoors

There are so many exercises you do indoors that can be included outside; squats, lunges, press ups, sit ups, leg raises, tricep dips – the list is endless and there are plenty of on-line plans to help.

Jogging is also becoming increasingly popular during these times.  However, if none of these are your bag, walking briskly for at least 30 minutes is great and really helps boost circulation, which in turn helps brain function.

Get on your bike!

This is a great exercise that can be done either alone or with your household family members.  Regardless of our situation right now, the need to protect the climate means anything we can do to help lessen carbon emissions is a positive outcome, so why not use this time to make a start?

Woman mountain-biking

On average, cycling burns around 500-600 calories an hour, depending on the terrain and intensity of exercise.  However far you cycle, it will certainly aid calorie burn particularly when life means we are all being more sedentary than usual right now.

Become a stargazer

Getting outdoors doesn’t always need to be in the hours of daylight.  Studying the night sky is fascinating, plus potentially slightly easier now with less pollution around.  Clearly, there’s a lot to know but it makes for interesting learning and may turn out to be a newly acquired hobby.

Shooting star across the night sky

Depending on where you are, you’ll be seeing different vistas. But with an ever-fluctuating pattern of stars, planetary activity and the moon’s changes, you could quickly become hooked.

Become a nature-lover

It’s important to maximise and cherish your time right now.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and take up additional interests, and what better than one which takes you outdoors. If you’re going for a daily walk, spend time getting to know the nature around you. There are so many fascinating aspects of the natural world to enjoy, whether it be landscapes, plant-life, pond-life, birds or sea-life depending on where you live.

Woman walking through a forest glade

With natural life re-emerging after a long winter, there’s plenty to see.  If you live in a big town or city then seeing nature at its best might not be possible right now, but why not pick a topic and read up on it before seeing it for real.

There’s a whole world outside so try to get out there and enjoy it as much as possible (observing social distancing and current guidelines of course).

Stay well.

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Power up your walking with these hiking nutrition tips

Two hikers enjoying a walk

It’s National Walking Month and walking in all its forms is becoming a really popular form of exercise and for very good reason. It’s great for overall fitness, particularly if you’re walking briskly or uphill which gets the heart rate elevated. However, it’s also an excellent way of burning calories or simply just getting moving!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Walking needs little preparation except for your nutrition; the better nourished you are, the more power and spring in your step you’ll have!

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top foods to get you up those hills.

Oats

Oats are a walker’s best friend. They’re a great source of energy as they are packed with B vitamins. They also deliver slow-releasing carbohydrates, good for sustained energy release. Furthermore, oats contain beta-glucans, a form of fibre, which has been proven to help reduce cholesterol levels. The fibre will also help keep the bowels in good working order.

A bowl of oats

Oats are probably one of the best starts to the day if you’re heading for the hills (or even for a brisk local walk). As you’ll be using up lots of energy, oats will fill you up and help maintain energy levels without giving you a massive sugar-rush followed by a dip shortly after.

Oats are also brilliant as a snack, perhaps in a flap jack or muesli bar, during the day. Oat cakes work well as a post-hike snack with some walnut or almond butter.

Cashews

All types of nuts make great hiking snacks but cashews are especially good. They’re high in both protein and carbohydrates so they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and pumped full of energy. Even better, they have a lower fat content than some other nuts although they don’t contain any of the healthy omega-3 fats.

Cashew nuts

Cashews are great for walkers as they’re high in bone-loving magnesium. Whilst walking is one of the best exercises to protect the bones and help prevent osteoporosis, the body still needs plenty of magnesium and other bone-building nutrients in the diet. Magnesium also helps muscles relax, therefore is great for people who suffer from restless legs or sore muscles. Be sure to pack some cashews in your rucksack on your next walk.

Bananas

As we all know, bananas are one of the best go-to snacks. They’re especially great for taking on walks because they’re so transportable and can sustain being stuffed in a rucksack for long periods.

Whole bananas and diced banana

Interestingly, bananas generally taste quite sweet but they’re actually low on the glycaemic index making them great for producing sustained energy. Bananas have always been a favourite snack with athletes, and whilst you might not put yourself in that category quite yet, they’ve certainly got some great nutritional benefits for keen exercisers.

Importantly, they’re high in muscle-loving potassium and as such can help prevent muscle cramps. Plus potassium helps to regulate blood pressure and normal heart function. Therefore, both the walking and your snack choice are going to have great health benefits.

Beetroot

Beetroots have long been studied for their benefits to athletes and recreational exercisers. This is mainly due to the presence of nitrates which help open up the arteries, making oxygen uptake easier and endurance better. They’re also very high in folate which is essential for aiding energy production.

Whole beetroots

The best way to eat beetroot on a walk or longer hike is to include them in your sandwiches on wholemeal bread. Beetroots actually work well with any protein such a chicken so you’ll have plenty of energy and won’t feel hungry throughout the day.

Wholegrain tortillas

These make delicious, portable and nutritious snacks for keeping you sustained throughout your walk. Plus, wholegrain tortillas are incredibly versatile. An excellent filling choice is hummus which is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, being good for the heart. Or let your mind wonder and fill them with lots of colourful salad veggies.

A plate of whole grain tortillas

Wholegrain tortillas are high in energising B vitamins but are also low on the glycaemic index. Even better they taste delicious and are very light to pack into your rucksack.

With the longer days upon us, now is a great time to enjoy some great walks or longer hikes powered by great nutrition.

 FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

Marathon recovery: top nutrition tips post-run

Close up of a group of marathon runners

It’s marathon season again! If you’re looking forward to competing in a marathon over the next few months, you’re most likely well into your training by now. How you plan your recovery is just as important ensuring the body is not more exposed to injury or challenges to the immune system after the event.

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Recovery encompasses a range of nutritional issues including replacing muscle and liver glycogen (energy) stores, re-hydration and regeneration and muscle repair, therefore a range of strategies are required.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips to speed up your recovery and ensure your health is in good shape after such a great achievement.

Step one – straight after the race

The most important factor here is to replace those lost glycogen stores as quickly as possible after completing the race. These energy stores will always be much depleted after such a long endurance event, and the body can replenish them more quickly with the right nutrients.

Eating carbohydrates as quickly as possible after race completion is really key; ideally around 50-100 grams are needed. Carbohydrate bars and recovery gels are probably the easiest to access, unless you’ve got a personal chef on hand to help! However, if there is food available then choose a high glycaemic snack such as a white bagel and jam, bananas, raisins or cake.

Close up of woman drinking water

Even though most people drink plenty of fluids during a marathon, the body will still be dehydrated at the end, particularly on a hot day. The best way of rehydrating quickly is to have an electrolyte drink available or at the very least one that is slightly sweet; this is also much more palatable immediately post-race when it’s often difficult to eat or drink anything.

Step two – later that day

Intake of high glycaemic food needs to continue for the rest of the day (food that is easily digested and releases glucose quickly into the bloodstream). Marathon runners frequently suffer from digestive upsets post-race, therefore low glycaemic foods such as beans, lentils or brown bread are not ideal, and muscle glycogen is not replaced as quickly. This can make the body more susceptible to injury or infection during this period.

CLose up of baked beans on toast

Great recovery foods include rice cakes with jam or honey, muffins, pancakes with syrup and mars bars. Later on in the day, there may be better access to food, therefore baked beans on toast, sandwiches with a protein filling, or a bowl of cereal are good choices. The great news is that all these options will contain some protein which also helps with muscle repair.

Step three – go easy on the post-race celebrations

You’ve just completed a marathon and you want to celebrate, which is understandable! However, alcohol is of course not a rehydration drink and can encourage more fluid loss. Heavy alcohol intake post-race is going to impair soft tissue repair, making muscle stiffness and soreness worse and leaving the body wide open to injury and infection. If possible it’s best to wait for 24 hours before celebrating your success.

Having caffeinated drinks is also not advisable during the recovery stage as they further deplete fluid and nutrients. Wait until tomorrow for your cappuccino or latte!

Step four – replace lost nutrients

It can take a while after an endurance event such as a marathon to replenish all the electrolytes as well as vitamins and minerals. The day after, it’s important to have balanced meals containing a mixture of protein and carbohydrate. Great choices would be stir fries with noodles and soy sauce (great for replacing lost sodium), wholemeal pasta tuna bake, or spaghetti bolognaise (use soy mince if vegan or vegetarian).

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Watermelon is packed with potassium (a much-needed electrolyte for the heart and muscles) so try to eat plenty of slices post-race.

Step five – load up on omegas

During and after any kind of intensive exercise, inflammation throughout the body is normal. This is the body’s way of pushing blood flow to the skin surface and to the muscles and joints to aid repair. However, it can also make for some very stiff legs after a marathon and it’s a process that needs to be managed if you want the body to remain healthy and injury-free.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Therefore, eating your omega-3 fats is essential to manage inflammation; oily fish, flaxseeds and chia seeds are the best sources. Make sure you’re eating some at each meal the day after the marathon. If you enjoy salmon, mackerel and sardines, they should feature in your diet at least three times a week in any case. If you’re not so keen and you’re an active recreational sports person, then consider a supplement or eat plenty of the vegetarian sources.

So remember to take the time to recover properly and your body will be quickly set for the next challenge; it’s just the mind that might need persuading!

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Walk to Work Day: the health benefits of doing more walking

A woman wiht a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

Today is National Walk to Work Day, encouraging everyone to walk more. Walking is a wonderfully versatile and healthy form of exercise that can easily be fitted into the busiest of days and suits everyone regardless of ability.

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From taking a stroll in your lunch break to planning a hiking holiday, there are so many ways to get more walking into your daily life and reap the benefits of being outdoors in the fresh air at the same time.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides her five top ways to walk your way to a healthier mind and body.

Walk to work

If you can, walk to work. An alternative is to find somewhere to park a little way away from work, and then ‘park and stride’ to get your steps in. Clearly, this is not possible for everyone. However, if you’re office-based then it’s really important to take time away from your desk during the day.

A woman in a business suit having a walk during her lunch break

Try to fit in a 20 to 30 minute walk at lunch time every day. This will get blood flow to the brain, which will help concentration during the afternoon, but will also help balance blood sugar levels. Walking after you’ve eaten lunch (or any meal) helps the body’s natural insulin response, which is needed for effective weight management. Moreover, brisk walking is great for toning the leg muscles and helps towards overall cardiac fitness levels.

Eat a protein-based lunch beforehand: both the choice of food and the walk afterwards will help stop that common 3 pm energy dip!

Walk uphill

For those who enjoy running, it’s a great form of exercise. However, for people wanting to get fit who don’t want to run, then uphill walking is fantastic for all-round good health.

Uphill walking quickly raises the heart rate meaning its’s great for cardiovascular fitness and also good for burning calories. Even better, it’s one of the best ways of exercising your thighs and glutes! Either walk uphill for at least 30 minutes three times a week on a running machine in the gym, or ideally get out into the great outdoors; there’s always a hill to climb somewhere.

A woman out for a walk in the hills with her arms outstretched enjoying herself

Whilst it’s important that the body is properly fuelled for exercise, you don’t need to be eating any more than normal. For example, if you’ve had some porridge for breakfast and then you take a walk, you’ll have plenty of energy for exercise. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with doing an early morning pre-breakfast walk, especially now the lighter mornings have arrived now the clocks have gone forward. Lighter evenings also mean a pre or post dinner walk is a lovely way to enjoy some exercise in your local area.

Join a group

With the hope of warmer weather and certainly longer days, now is a good time to fully enjoy the great outdoors. Walking with an organised group really helps motivation; you’ll see parts of the countryside you never knew existed previously and you’ll always make new friends and acquaintances. There are many groups all around the UK organising day hikes of varying lengths and paces – just find one that suits you.

Two hikers enjoying a walk

If you’re taking a day hike, you generally won’t need to pack any more food than you’d normally eat. For example, a sandwich lunch with a protein filling such as egg or chicken is great. Alternatively, a falafel or avocado and hummus wrap will help sustain energy levels throughout the day with plenty of energising B-vitamins. Also, pack some snacks: low glycaemic fruit such as berries or an apple, or a handful of nuts, are great for sustained energy and you’ll be good to go all day long. However, and most importantly, don’t leave the house without having breakfast; anything oat-based or packed with protein would be the best choices.

Be a little adventurous

For those that may want to travel further afield or fancy the idea of something a little tougher, then why not investigate some of the many walking challenges on offer? The famous Camino de Santiago in Spain is one such example. You can do as little as a seven day walk or longer if preferred. If you have the time you could try something more challenging such as a mountain hike or the Great Wall of China. Setting yourself specific goals is great for the body and mind. Many people find that walking improves their mood.

A woman hiking in the mountains

Longer challenges will always require additional training and a specific nutrition programme, both great for keeping health and weight in check. Many people make the mistake of eating way more food than is needed when they start training for an event or challenge. Don’t forget, the body has masses of energy stored both in the muscles and organs as glycogen (glucose) or in the fat cells. If in doubt, research online: there are plenty of resources and recommendations from people who have already been on such treks and hikes that you can learn from.

Enjoy the coast

Obviously the UK is surrounded by water and this means there are plentiful coastal walks and paths to be investigated. Coastal walking brings its own special blend of magic as well as more challenging hikes. Most are gently undulating paths, as opposed to more difficult climbs, but a little prior research will give you the information you need.

A family enjoying a coastal walk

Why not celebrate the success of your coastal walk by enjoying some delicious seafood once you’ve finished. In season right now, squid is great barbequed, tossed in a salad, stir fried or grilled, making an excellent high protein, low fat post-walk treat! Squid is also great with prawns, tomatoes and linguine to properly re-fuel after exercise. It’s essential to eat protein after exercise to help muscles repair, plus carbohydrate replaces glycogen into the muscles so you’ll have plenty of energy the next day.

So get out there and get those legs moving! Find the walking that suits you best and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

 

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Fuel your festive walks with these top nutrition tips

MOther and child on her back dressed up in hats and scarves on a winter walk in the snow

Winter walks can take on a magic of their own, whether it’s snowy outside or crisp and dry. Winter weather may make us feel like snuggling up in the warm. But getting outside and taking some brisk walks can have so many health benefits, particularly for the heart and circulation. Plus it gets those feel-good endorphins ramped up!

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So what should you eat to keep you going before, during and after a wintery walk?

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

START THE DAY RIGHT

There’s no better way than to start the day in preparation for your walk than to eat a bowl of porridge. It will keep your energy levels sustained for long periods because it’s packed with slow-releasing carbohydrates.

However, for those who can’t tolerate gluten or find traditional porridge oats too fibrous, then why not change it up with a bowl of amaranth porridge? It can be used in flake-form and is readily available in the supermarket. Most importantly, it’s higher in protein than traditional oats and contains a wealth of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals.

Porridge with pears showing a healthy breakfast

Amaranth flakes can be simmered with some coconut or almond milk with cinnamon and nutmeg (also very warming spices), and then cooked through with some chopped pears or banana. It will give your body a warm, healthy glow to set you on your way.

WARMING SNACKS

Whilst the body will be burning calories during a walk, unless you’re going for a long walk you don’t need to eat vast amounts of additional food; the body has plenty of storage. However, if you’re going to be out for two or three hours, you’ll certainly need to pack a snack to keep you going.

Nut butter on rye bread

The best advice is to take something containing fat which will help keep the body warm. Therefore, choose the healthy omega-3 fats that your body can’t make but need very regularly and you’ll be getting plenty of additional health benefits. You can easily pack some almond, pumpkin seed or other nut butter spread on wholemeal or rye bread which will fill you up, warm you up and fuel you up for your bracing winter walk.

WARMING DRINKS

Warming drinks and food are needed during the winter because they help to energise the body and bring blood flow to the skin surface, which improves circulation. If we eat cooling foods such as salads during the winter months the body has to work a lot harder to digest food, which can cause digestive upsets.

A warming drink of honey, lemon and ginger

Some foods, and especially spices, are naturally warming. The most warming of all is ginger. Plus, it contains wonderful immune-stimulating properties, so is great to drink at the first sign of a cold. Why not fill a flask with some freshly grated ginger, lemon juice and a little immune-boosting Manuka honey with boiling water which is sure to keep you warm through the entire walk?

WARM YOURSELF BACK HOME

When you’ve had an amazing walk in the great outdoors, you’ll feel really invigorated! However, you’re probably also hungry and the body will need to be re-fuelled with a warming meal.

One of the best meal suggestions is to cook up a delicious curry. You can add a wealth of warming spices such as turmeric, paprika, chilli, and coriander. As we know, all herbs and spices contain a range of health benefits, but coriander is also good for the digestive tract, which may be really helpful over the Festive period!

A curry surrounded by herbs and spices

There’s no end of choice when it comes to making a curry; try a vegetable curry using sweet potato, chickpeas and other vegetables as a base. Or why not a fish curry with white fish of your choice, onions and broccoli. Another firm winter favourite is a lamb curry with raisins and cashew nuts. If you invest in a slow-cooker, then it can all be thrown into the pot before you leave for your walk and will be ready and waiting on your return.

Leek and potato soup in a bowl

Soups are another great winter warmer that work really following a brisk walk and need very little preparation. Leek and potato, spicy bean or winter minestrone are all excellent choices, particularly for lunch if you’ve been out for a morning stroll, and are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals.

So whatever the weather, get outdoors and with these top food tips you’ll be warm on the inside so you won’t feel too much of the cold on the outside!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts