It’s been a while….

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So, it turns out it has been quite some time since my last post.  I have been busy, but that is not really a reason, only an excuse.  I still believe that if you want something enough you’ll find a way to make it happen, so perhaps I have just changed my priorities a little.

Quick update on me – I’m still at my target weight, still eating like a nutritionist, still trying to be active and outdoors whenever I can…unfortunately an injury to my foot means that this is not nearly as active as I would like.

I have calcification of the ligament between my toes, and a ganglion cyst on the tendon that enables my middle toe to move.  I haven’t been able to cycle long distances since June 2016, and cycling stopped completely in September, due to the pain, numbness and cramping in my foot caused by this injury.  I miss it, very badly.

I am still walking everywhere I can, but can only walk for up to about 45 minutes at a time before my foot hurts.  However, somehow running is unaffected, and I have joined a running club following a formal beginners class in September/October.  I’m not running far or fast, but I am running regularly and I’ve met a great group of people who keep me motivated.

I’ve also taken a beginner’s archery course and subsequently joined a local club, but it’s a bit cold to be standing still without gloves at the moment so I haven’t done any archery for a couple of months.

I’ve found some super recipes which I will share if I ever get the time, and I also discovered this fantastic service called Plan to Eat which makes meal planning, shopping and recipe storage so easy for a tiny monthly fee.

Before my foot got bad enough to stop me cycling I took part in the Portsmouth Duathlon Series 2016 – well two out of three of the races, as I was abroad for the second race. You can see my  Race One results and Race Three results here. The pictures in this post were taken from that event, which I did with a colleague of mine, Diana (also pictured), and we raised money for Naomi House.

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With any luck, now I have a diagnosis, I will be able to get this problem with my foot resolved and be back on my bike soon. I’m not setting any specific dates for this to happen as there is no point rushing the healing process, and I know that when I do start cycling again, it will take me a good while before I regain the muscle and fitness I’ve lost since I was forced to stop, but for now I will be content to think that perhaps by the end of the year I might be able to consider doing another duathlon in 2018.

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Funfetti Protein Cupcakes

As soon as I saw this recipe from Third Shift Fit I knew I had to try it.

One thing I personally find hardest about eating healthily is eating less cake – I just love cake! Normally I try and do an extra workout or cut out something else on the days I want to indulge in a slice, but with this recipe…well, with a massive 2g fibre and 7g protein and only 1g fat and 10g of carbohydrate per cake this will be easy to fit into any day! I might even have two! (And for calorie counters, they come in at just 80 calories each!)

Cute cupcakes
Cute cupcakes

They are easy to make too, literally throw one lot of ingredients in one bowl and the rest in a second, mix, then mix them all together and bake. Took me 1 hour from start to finish, but that’s only because I only have a 6-hole muffin pan and I made 15! Could easily be done in 30 minutes, allowing a little extra time for them to cool before decorating.

Preparing the batter
Preparing the batter

I don’t use the same brand of protein that Rachael does, so I used My Protein Deluxe Impact Whey Velvet Vanilla – but the nutrition must be about the same as the overall cupcakes came out with the same calories/macros etc. as the originals.

I definitely recommend these, they are tasty (not exactly like real cake but close enough you don’t really notice), quick and easy to make, and provide great nutrition – what’s not to love!

Decorating the cakes
Decorating the cakes

a health & fitness blog

As promised, cupcake recipe number two from my protein baking adventure last week! A Funfetti Cupcake with Protein frosting 🙂 At only 80 calories each, you will love these! They are the perfect treat that you can eat without any guilt!

Funfetti Protein Cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cup oat flour (used instant oats-ground in nutribullet to powder)

3 Tbs coconut flour

1 scoop Cellucor Cor-fetti Cake Protein Powder

1/3 cup fat free cottage cheese

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One Year On – A Comparison

Although there is no specific anniversary at the moment – it’s not one year from any particular landmark achievement or victory – last weekend did mark approximately one year since the last Big Sky Ride in Southampton, an event I participated in for the first time last year, and which I participated in again this year, but in a different capacity. This difference caused me to reflect back on how all the small changes I have made in the last year have brought me to this place.

July last year – I had been on my ‘fitness journey’ for six months at this stage, and had lost two of the three stone I wanted to shift. I had been cycling for pleasure for only three months, mostly with Breeze Rides on short distances of up to 14 miles, and I was still slowly figuring things out with my diet.  I had re-discovered the joy cycling but wasn’t fit enough or confident enough to cycle further and I am pretty sure my nutrition at this time would not have supported more intense training.  I did the Race for Life 5 KM for Cancer Research UK but I walked it and would not have considered jogging that distance; it seemed insurmountable.

Race for Life 2014
Race for Life 2014

A typical weekend last July would have involved me doing the weekly food shop and some housework, binge-watching Netflix, then an hour of tennis on Sunday afternoon. On the Big Sky Ride weekend I cycled the six miles to Southampton with my husband, we did one loop (five miles) of the route, posed for an official photo, then had lunch before cycling home.  That made a total of approximately 17 miles cycled that day, and we were both pretty tired afterwards.

Sky Ride 2014
Sky Ride 2014 – Image Credit Sky Ride via Facebook

July this year – It is six months since I reached my target ‘healthy’ weight and decided I was happy with that weight. I have been on further Breeze Rides but I have also joined the Southampton CTC and most of my rides are now with them. A typical ride is 20-50 miles now, and I know I can go further if I want to.  I have become a qualified nutritionist and revel in my new-found knowledge as I make wiser food choices based on understanding what my body needs, whilst still enjoying every bite.  Although I did not enter the Race for Life this year, I can now run a sub-30 minute 5 KM if I want to. I also walked a marathon (26.2 miles) this year, and tomorrow I am cycling 62.3 miles (100 KM), for the Rapha Women’s 100. All for fun.

CTC Ride to East Tytherley
CTC Ride to East Tytherley – Image credit Ian McKay, Southampton CTC

I don’t have typical weekends any more.  Last weekend I woke up early on Saturday to attend a special event at my local gym in Romsey – I cycled the six miles there, participated in a 90 minute high-intensity studio class (followed by birthday cake), cycled home, ate lunch, cycled back to Romsey to join a 20 mile CTC ride then cycled home again from Romsey. On Sunday I cycled six miles to Southampton to help man the CTC stand at the Big Sky Ride which involved enthusing about cycling and handing out fliers, then cycled to Romsey from Southampton (nine miles) to play tennis for an hour, before cycling home (six miles).  I cycled a total of 44 miles on Saturday and 19 on Sunday.

Sky Ride 2015
Sky Ride 2015 – Image credit Ali Baker, Southampton CTC

So, I would say I am more than a little thinner, fitter and active this year compared to last year.  Not only that but my priorities have changed and my idea of fun has changed.  A year ago the weekends were for resting, (after all I’d worked hard all week and deserved a rest).  These days weekends are for being active, for getting outside wherever possible, for seeing new places and meeting new people (after all, I’m sat at work in an office all day, I need to take every opportunity to get moving outdoors at the weekend as I certainly don’t move enough at work).  It’s not my job that has changed, just my perception of how active I am during the week.

And now I understand what my body needs I am supporting it with the correct nutrition – knowing when it needs carbs for energy, when it needs protein for muscle repair and when it needs water for hydration have pushed my fitness into the next level.  As long as I eat right and train sensibly, I can get faster, fitter, stronger.

I wonder what I will write in next year’s comparison….

Fill My Belly: Venison Sausages with Roasted Beetroot and Puy Lentils

After a crazy couple of months full of friends, family, holidays (managed to fit two in!) and a long-awaited marathon walk I’m finally finding the time and space to get things back on track with my food and exercise.  Which is not to say that I have been lax over the past couple of months – I’ve started regular yoga classes, taken on a Tabata class and kept up the cycling, walking and running, whilst eating the best I can around a busy schedule…but I’ve also skipped a few workouts and eaten a bit too much holiday food and I am starting to feel sluggish for it.

So from tomorrow I’m back on plan. And when I say tomorrow I don’t mean the mythical “tomorrow” of all dieters and New Year’s resolutions which never actually comes and dangles like the promised fruit, just out of reach and unattainable. I mean literally tomorrow, Sunday 15th June. And it’s only tomorrow instead of today because the supermarket only delivered the food this afternoon, and I haven’t finished baking the granola yet.

Nevertheless, there is no reason not to make a good go of today as well (please ignore the Indian ready meal I had for dinner!), so for lunch I whipped up a favourite and super-nutritious meal of mine using some bits I had left over/in the freezer that needed using up: venison sausages, roasted beetroot and Puy lentils.

Now, I know I’ve raved about beetroot    before    and these root vegetables really are little power-houses of nutrition; in addition to all the vitamins and minerals they also provide a huge boost of nitrates which lowers high blood pressure and can help athletes by dilating the blood vessels so more blood can get to the muscles (1).

Lentils are another food we should all eat more of – they are low in fat, high in fibre and protein, and a good source of iron and manganese, not to mention providing over a third of your daily folate requirements per serving. They are also surprisingly filling, so you can have a smaller portion and still feel satisfied. I know some people find they get a little…gassy…after eating lentils, but unless you have a genuine GI issue this is likely to be because you don’t normally consume as much fibre and then the fibre in the lentils is a bit of a shock; this won’t occur if you increase fibre gradually or already have plenty of fibre in your diet – aim for at least 18g of fibre each day (2) – a portion of lentils can provide nearly a third of that.

I used venison sausages I was fortunate to pick up at a local farmers’ market but it’s quite understandable that not everyone will have access to these, in which case I recommend finding a good quality pork sausage with the highest percentage of pork in them you can find – I look for 96-98% pork.  Not only will these be leaner than sausages containing only 42% pork (such as    Richmond Thick Pork Sausages   ), they will also be much meatier and tastier, and you really want as much flavour as possible so the sausages hold their own amongst the other punchy flavours in this recipe.

Ingredients ready for dressing the lentils
Ingredients ready for dressing the lentils

To Serve 2 you will need

4 good quality venison or pork sausages

2 or 3 whole raw beetroot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp olive oil

80g Puy or green lentils (to make 160g cooked)
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
2 shallots or 1 small onion, cut in half with skin removed
coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Roast the beetroot chunks in a hot oven (200 degrees C) for 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the chunks. They should be tender and just starting to caramelise on the edges.

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Roasted beetroot

Meanwhile cook the sausages either on the grill or (if like me you don’t have a separate oven and grill) in the oven, according to the pack instructions.

Whilst the sausages and beetroot cook, prepare the lentils by washing them. Place them in a pan and cover the lentils with cold water, then place the two bay leaves, peeled garlic clove and shallot/onion in the pan with the lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, topping up with water if needed.

Lentils with bay, garlic and shallot
Lentils with bay, garlic and shallot

Drain the lentils if needed, removing the bay leaves, shallot/onion and garlic clove, and add the black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then stir.  Add the chopped parsley and stir again.  Serve the sausages and beetroot on a bed of lentils.

Venison sausage, roasted beetroot and Puy lentils
Venison sausage, roasted beetroot and Puy lentils

This recipe also works well with baby spinach and goats cheese or feta used in place of the sausages for a vegetarian option – choose a strong, salty cheese to complement the earthiness of the beetroot and lentils.

References

1) https://www.nestlenutrition-institute.org/resources/library/Free/workshop/NNIW75/Documents/Nitrate-Supplementation-and-Exercise-Performance.pdf

2) http://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients/dietary-fibre.html

Fill My Belly: Roasted Beetroot Soup with Goat Cheese Toasts

I love beetroot. There, I’ve said it, it’s out there.  Beetroot gets a bad rap but I’m not really sure why – it is so versatile and vibrant, and so very nutritious, I feel more people should give it a second chance. Fun fact about beetroot – did you know it is related to spinach and quinoa? So if you have all three in a dish it’s like a family reunion!

Beetroot is packed (more than 15% of your daily requirements per serving) with nutrients such as folate (for reproductive health and foetal development), manganese (for healthy skin and bones, and regulating blood sugar), potassium (for maintaining a healthy blood pressure and kidneys, and preventing cramps), plus 14% of your copper and fibre needs.  Depending which colour you have your beetroot will also be brimful of various phytonutrients including betalains and carotenoids, which act as antioxidants in the body and have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties too. All this for less than 75 calories per serving.

So, now you know how wonderful it is, how are you going to cook it?  I find beetroot’s earthy sweetness pairs well with good quality pork or venison sausages, roast beef and horseradish, puy lentils, balsamic vinegar, goats cheese, lemon, watercress, mackerel and salmon. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact my favourite beetroot dish is a simple soup, served with goat cheese toasts, based on one from Love Beetroot.

To serve 4 you will need:
500g raw beetroot (or if you can’t get raw, get the cooked beetroot without vinegar)
150g sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
750ml good vegetable stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Roast the beetroot whole (45-50 mins at 200 C) and add the sweet potato for the last 30 min of cooking.  Once cooked, peel the beetroot and cut into chunks.

Sweat the onion with a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan on a low heat with the lid on for about 10 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the sweet potato, beetroot, stock and balsamic vinegar and simmer together for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and allow to cool slightly then blend with a stick blender until smooth.

Beetroot soup all ready to be eaten
Beetroot soup all ready to be eaten

For the goat cheese toasts you will need:
4 slices bloomer or baguette bread
olive oil
125g goat cheese (I used Soignon), sliced thinly

Brush one side of each slice of bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Spread the slices of goat cheese on the un-toasted side and put under the grill for 5 minutes.  (Basically, make cheese on toast!)

Serve them together for a match made in heaven…mmmm nomnomnom!

Delicious combination of beetroot and goat cheese
Delicious combination of beetroot and melted goat cheese
Nutrition Facts
Servings 4.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 374
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 14 g 22 %
Saturated Fat 6 g 28 %
Monounsaturated Fat 6 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 14 mg 5 %
Sodium 385 mg 16 %
Potassium 598 mg 17 %
Total Carbohydrate 48 g 16 %
Dietary Fiber 7 g 26 %
Sugars 13 g
Protein 14 g 28 %
Vitamin A 113 %
Vitamin C 9 %
Calcium 7 %
Iron 8 %

Back to Running

I’ll be the first to admit that at school I hated running. Not to say I wasn’t any good at any of it – I had one of the best times in our year for the 100 metre sprint for the first two years of secondary school, but running itself is a rather broad category, covering everything from the 100 metre sprint to the marathon, all 26.2 miles of it. And though I was quick at the sprint, I was sloooooow on the longer distances. Make me run anything that required pacing instead of sprinting and I would come in last. Every. Single. Time.

In hindsight, the problem was that no one ever taught me how to run. It sounds silly, I mean running is like walking, we just do it, right?  But there is more to it – pacing, breathing, correct form and so on, and like anything worth doing, it requires training and practice to do it well.  As a child I never had a cause to run one kilometre non-stop, and so I never learned how to do it. All my running was as part of other sports, or just playing, and tended to be in short, sharp, speedy bursts which of course trained me to be a sprinter, though I didn’t realise it at the time. As a result, by the time I reached adulthood I knew for certain that I wasn’t built to run, and avoided it whenever possible.

Fast forward 15 years or so, to Spring last year, when I discover that I love my body and the feeling that eating right and exercising well brings, and I decide to try running again.  Still overweight at this time, and realising that I haven’t run more than 100m to catch a bus since I was 14, I know this is going to be tough, but I am highly motivated by my new lifestyle and leap into the Couch25K interval-based running programme (with a handy app on my phone to tell me when to walk and when to run).  I make it to week three before I get distracted and forget about it.

Fast forward again to Autumn last year, now a healthy weight and the fittest I’ve ever been I decide I’m ready to try again; I am now wiser and stronger and take things more slowly, knowing when to push my body and when to rest.  I quickly get hooked on the endorphin buzz I get at the end of a run, and progress steadily through the training programme – not without tough patches mind, with shin splints from worn out shoes, and getting stuck on the same week of the programme for a month despite training three times a week.  I even went running in a thunderstorm and loved it!  I started planning to do a 5K race and then to progress on to 10K next.

Sadly, winter came too soon, and along with it came the various illnesses of the season, the dark evenings and the hectic social scene, so running once again fell by the wayside in preference for indoor based sports or home workouts. And although I tried to get back on the wagon – running home from work a few times for example, and running in my lunch break, it was clear that I am not a winter runner.

Thank goodness it’s Spring!  After the equinox yesterday I decided it was time to start again – the evenings are lighter and it’s warmer weather outside. So I  started off with a 1/2 mile jog with my husband, to see how I got on. After a break of three months I feared I’d find it pretty hard but was happy to find my first run was quite easy.

Emboldened by this, today I decided to just run and see what happened.  I use an app on my phone called Runtastic, which allows you to not only record your workout, but also set custom goals for it, such as distance, time, calories burned, or pace (loads of other features too but I’m sure I’ll come to those another time).  Knowing that in the past I’ve always tried to do too much too soon, and knowing also that this is the most common mistake new runners make, I set a goal pace of 13 min/mile, which is slower than my previous average pace of 12 min/mile, so I wouldn’t push myself too hard.  The app then notified me if my pace was too slow or too fast throughout the run, so I could modify accordingly.

Turns out taking three months off running makes you faster….no, I couldn’t figure that one out either, but I ran for 27 minutes today, only stopping because I found myself back at my doorstep. My average pace?  11.22 min/mile.

Run Details 21.03.2015

Walking Town And Country – Test Way Part 1

My most recent training walk turned out to be a lot drier than the previous two, and also completely different in terms of the terrain, plus we didn’t get lost!  We are fortunate to have several long-distance footpaths nearby, including the 44-mile Test Way, running from the source of the River Test on the chalk downs at Inkpen Beacon, along the river’s length to it’s end at Eling Wharf.  We’re not quite ready to walk the full length (hah!) so we decided to work backwards and start at Eling Wharf, walking the first section to finish at Romsey.

Due to where we parked we actually started a mile away from the start point, in Totton, and walked from there to Eling Wharf. What we saw of Eling as we passed was very pretty, but our visit was quite fleeting, as the route soon led us inland along the river as it meandered through a grassy area interspersed with groups of trees. The people living in the houses backing onto this section are so lucky to have such a lovely view.  Sadly this brief foray into nature was soon at an end, as we crossed the railway bridge and then a recreation ground, leading us back into the urban sprawl of Totton.  We crossed and walked along a few major roads, passing within a few hundred yards of where we had parked the car to start with!

Next, my walking companion, who wishes for the purposes of this blog to be known as Fi-lion, took the lead as she knew the area well, and we meandered our way through the Test Nature Reserve, a marshy area with dedicated bird nesting sites and a board walk to stop your feet getting wet – Fi-lion tells me that cows live here too, and can often be up to their armpits (do cows have armpits?) in the mud because it is so deep.  Whilst I wouldn’t describe this section of the walk as beautiful, it was very peaceful, and might be prettier in sunshine. As we left the reserve, which did get a bit muddier towards the end, we turned round to see we had attracted the attention of some horses in a field running alongside the road.  Sadly we could not get close enough to say hello properly but these were the first of many equine friends we made along the way.

New friends
New friends – just ignore the fellow on the far right who is using the barbed wire to pick his teeth…

After a moment of confusion over whether we were supposed to take a turning that seemingly the directions had glossed over somewhat, we forged onwards and (happily having taken the right direction) turned into some woodland, walking in the direction of the motorway, which we could begin to hear more clearly as we approached.  This section was also a bit muddy, but we were by no means the first walkers to find ourselves a bit stuck in the mud, and a handy detour had been plotted out by those who had gone before us.

Not far along this path we encountered what must be the most pointless stile in the history of path building.  We were baffled as to why it had been put there…well, see for yourself in the photo below, but I don’t think anyone would use it…!

The most pointless stile we've ever seen!
The most pointless stile we’ve ever seen!

Nursling ChurchAfter following the path alongside the motorway for some distance, and then crossing underneath it at an underpass, we found ourselves on the Westerly outskirts of Nursling. A short way down Church Lane we found out why it was named as such, as there is a rather lovely old church, and Victorian era church hall here.  It was starting to drizzle and we didn’t want to delay our walk so we didn’t stay long to have a look around, but it was very peaceful.

Nursling Church

After passing the church we headed down a path lined either side with fields, with horses on the right and the most ridiculously adorable Shetland ponies on the left, one in each of two fields.  The first pony was very friendly, and trotted over (on tiny, tiny little legs) to say hello so we made a good fuss of him.  The second pony seemed at first to want to say hello, but it wasn’t long before we realised that he was more interested in the grass on the other side of the fence, as his own field looked rather bare and scrubby. In some cases the grass really is greener!

Our path then took us past a kennels and dog agility centre, and we were surprised to see two donkeys using the agility field.  Needless to say they were not using the see-saw to full effect!  The small white donkey was completely disinterested in us, but the larger brown donkey trotted over pretty smartish to see us; perhaps he thought we might have treats.

Leaving the donkeys behind the path we entered a section of woodland. Or at least it had recently been woodland, but as we wandered down the path it became clear that beyond the line of trees along the path itself, all of the trees had been cleared, leaving a field of tree stumps, wood chippings and discarded branches.  This was very sad to see, although I am sure it had been done for good reason.

Leaving the fallen trees behind we entered a stretch of farmland, and inevitably we were led across the farm yard itself.  It didn’t take us long to discover that this was a dairy farm, complete with calves, so of course we stopped to say hello.  I had never been licked or chewed on by a cow before, but I can tell you now, they have rough tongues!

Baby Cows Baby Cows

After the excitement of meeting the calves we stopped outside the farm for a brief jelly baby snack and then continued across two miles of fields which ran alongside the River Test.  There’s not much to say about fields so I’ll let you imagine this section in your head.

However, as we neared the end of this section we found that one part had come quite badly flooded. I’ve mentioned mud a few times in this and in other posts…well instead of mud, think small pond.  Some helpful walkers before us had tried fording the pond with branches and rocks but it must have flooded further since then, as there was no safe way across.  We took the plunge…literally…and walked through, the water becoming so deep that it went over the tops of our boots, resulting in a rather squishy final 2 miles, though we were rewarded with a lovely view of Broadlands in the distance.

View of Broadlands in the distance.
View of Broadlands in the distance.

Not long after sighting Broadlands we came to the end of the official route for this section, ending at Pauncefoot Hill (a cycling side note – this hill is a pain to cycle up but a beauty to cycle down!).  But this was not the end of our walk, as we still had to find a way home!  Turning East we put our best (least squelchy) foot forwards and headed into Romsey, passing more than a few of its many, many public houses, and crossing the River Test one final time, before reaching Romsey train station (and a very friendly station cat).

The River Test at Romsey
The River Test at Romsey

This was a very pleasant walk, and quite varied, moving inland from the sea through tidal estuary, urban sprawl, marshland, woodland and fields, and finally ending in the pretty market town of Romsey. This was also by far the least muddy walk, if we disregard the flooded section which hopefully will be fixed soon, and so I would definitely do this again in the winter months.  Total distance including an extra mile at the start from where we parked the car, and an extra mile to the train station was 11 miles, which we completed in 4 hours and 17 minutes, so we’re getting faster!