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.

2015-06-13 14.32.49
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.




Fill My Belly: Pancakes Don’t Have to Be Bad

OK, so pancakes are always a little bit bad, no matter what you do with them, but you can make them better for you by adding little extras and changing things up a bit.

Pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) has been and gone for this year, but pancakes are simple, quick and satisfying comfort food at any time of the year, and can be had sweet or savoury.  I tend to choose sweet as I have rather a sweet tooth (my downfall!) but usually that would mean loads of sugar sprinkled over the top with lemon juice, or lashings of chocolate spread, neither of which is very healthy and usually makes me sugar-crash later on.

However, there is another option!  Fruit and spices, especially combined, make a wonderful alternative for adding flavour; adding protein powder makes them more satisfying and keeps your blood sugars even. If you must add sugar, using natural sugars like honey are more beneficial than refined sugars – did you know that honey contains vitamins and minerals in small quantities, has been used for over 5000 years for its healing properties (it contains an antibacterial agent), and also contains fewer calories gram-for-gram than refined sugar?

So, what did I do with my pancakes this year?  I made the mixture with half wholemeal/half white flour, for extra fibre, and added a scoop of whey protein powder, then beat in a large egg and some soy milk (you can use any type of milk but I had soy on hand).  I then wiped a frying pan with oil and pre-heated it, before adding slices of banana to the pan for 30 seconds and sprinkling the pan with ground cinnamon.  I then poured the batter over the sliced bananas and cooked until the top of the pancake was almost solid, and flipped the pancake to cook the other side.  Once brown on both sides I served the pancake with a small drizzle of maple syrup.

Banana Protein Pancakes

This combination worked so well – the banana goes quite caramelised in the pan and cinnamon really enhances the flavour, but you could also mash the banana and add it to the pancake batter itself.  It would be fun to try with other fruits as well, though you would need to use quite firm fruits or they will turn to mush when they cook.

Nutrition Facts
Servings 8.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 149
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2 g 4 %
Saturated Fat 1 g 4 %
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 23 mg 8 %
Sodium 30 mg 1 %
Potassium 185 mg 5 %
Total Carbohydrate 18 g 6 %
Dietary Fiber 2 g 7 %
Sugars 4 g
Protein 15 g 30 %
Vitamin A 3 %
Vitamin C 2 %
Calcium 7 %
Iron 6 %

Nutrition details above relate to the following quantities of each ingredient:

1/2 cup each wholemeal and white flour
1 egg
25g protein powder
1 large banana
200ml soy milk
1 tsp cinnamon
Maple syrup not included

Fill My Belly: On The Glow Basic Oatmeal Squares — Oh She Glows

Breakfast. Most important meal of the day. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, as the saying goes.  Now, typically I’m not a morning person. I need a good couple of hours and a large coffee before I’m at my best (unless you let me sleep until 10am), so cooking or lots of preparation for breakfast is not an option for me. However, as I cycle commute I do need to have a balanced breakfast to provide both instant and slow-release energy for my ride. I’ve experimented with lots of different things over the years, from cereal to smoothies, and everything in between, but usually either the preparation is too involved or the dish doesn’t provide enough energy at the right time.

Until I discovered these baked oatmeal squares from Oh She Glows. Now, being new to this blogging malarkey I am sure there is a better way to share/present this but here is the link to the recipe and blog:

On The Glow Basic Oatmeal Squares — Oh She Glows.

These are so tasty, versatile and filling, I’ve had them almost every day for breakfast for the last month, and my latest batch has just come out of the oven now, ready for the coming week. The great thing is, you can do the preparation and cooking in the evening/weekend, and then they are ready when you need them in the morning. They last for 4/5 days in an air-tight container, although using fresh fruit will reduce their longevity, but I’ve found that you can also freeze them and just get them out the freezer the night before you want to eat them.

Fresh from the oven. It doesn't look like much here, if only you had smell-a-vision!
Fresh from the oven. It doesn’t look like much here; if only you had smell-a-vision!

I’ve been enjoying playing with the flavours – the recipe on the blog is for a basic recipe, but as Angela says in her post you can put anything you like in it. My flavour combinations so far are:

fresh blueberries and peanuts
vanilla, chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chunks
sultana, cherry and dried coconut
ground almond and cherry
lime (zest, and lime juice infused raisins) and dried coconut

I’ve also been adding 50g whey powder to the recipe (I make a shake with the whey powder and the almond or soya milk, and blend it into the liquid ingredients) for added protein, which of course does make the recipe no longer vegan-friendly, but you could use hemp or pea protein instead.

Obviously the nutritional value of these will depend on what you add to the recipe, but for the basic recipe alone there is instant energy from the maple syrup, and slow release energy from the oats.  There is omega-3 from the seeds (flaxseed is an excellent plant source of omega-3 (1)), and a whopping 7 grams of fibre per square from the seeds, banana and oats.  There is also protein and healthy fats from the nut butter and seeds, and vitamin E from the almond milk, which helps protect against oxidative stress (2), which has been implicated in conditions such as cancer (3), heart disease (2) and Alzheimers. The banana, and any other fruit or nuts you choose to use will add further vitamins and minerals to this as well, though sadly chocolate has little to offer here; vitamin C from berries and citrus, copper and manganese from coconut, and so on.

I really recommend giving these little nutritional powerhouses a go for breakfast, or they would make a great pre/post-workout snack.  I like mine with fruit on the side, and a hot coffee!

Cherry and Almond Oatmeal Squares
Cherry and Almond Oatmeal Squares

1. Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food

2. Vitamin E, Oxidative stress and inflammation

3. Oxidative stress and cancer: have we moved forward?