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Running your first marathon at York this Sunday? Starting to feel a bit nervous? Imagining you’re coming down with all sorts of ailments, aches and pains? Wishing you’d trained more and eaten less cake over the last few months? Don’t worry – this is all perfectly normal! It’s sometimes known as ‘maranoia’ or ‘tapermania’ and we all get it – even those of us who’ve been through this a few times. When I stood on the start line of my first marathon in 2013 I had no idea whether I’d make it to the finish; but I did, and you probably will too. Running your first marathon is a huge learning curve, and there are lots of things I know now that I wish I’d known then. It would have made things a bit easier, although running marathons never gets easy! So although I’d never claim to be an expert, I have a few tips that might help if you’re a first-timer. I’ve learned some of them the hard way, so maybe you won’t have to!

Taper

 

Hopefully your training has gone well, – but if you’re behind for any reason, don’t try to make up for it this week; it’s too late to reap any fitness gains now. The best thing you can do is just have a couple of short, gentle runs to keep your legs turning so you’re as fresh as possible on the day. If you have to readjust your time goal due to missed training, so be it – there will always be other marathons.

Eat a healthy diet this week to fuel your efforts. Personally I like to eat more protein, fruit and veg at the start of the week, then more carbs and less fibre in the last two or three days. I find if I eat too much fibrous stuff it can have (ahem) digestive repercussions, so I stick to very simple foods in the last couple of days, with no fruit other than bananas. I’ve only ever had the runner’s trots once, in Berlin, but I never want to go there again! But that’s just me – obviously everyone’s body is different. On a similar theme, keep off the booze if you want to perform at your best. The effects of alcohol can still be felt by your body a few days after drinking, so even if you don’t feel hungover it can still be making running harder than it needs to be. You can celebrate when you’ve crossed that finish line!

Get plenty of sleep. Most of us with busy lives never really get enough, but catching a few early nights this week will help your body to prepare for the effort ahead. You might not sleep well the night before the race if you’re nervous, so it’s good to get a few extra hours’ kip in the bank.

Sort out your race day logistics well in advance. The last thing you want on marathon morning is to be stressed by having to organise things at the very last minute. Make your transport arrangements, and if you’re planning to meet up with people at the race finish (which may be a bit chaotic) settle on an actual meeting point. Also, lay out all your kit the night before so you aren’t running around looking for things in the morning. Make a list if it helps. And don’t forget to fill in the back of your race number!

Carb loading the day before the marathon is important, but you don’t need to go crazy with it. It’s more about changing the composition of your meals than eating loads more than usual. Eating steadily throughout the day is better than having a massive pile of pasta for your evening meal. Here’s how I would normally prepare for a marathon food-wise.

Day before: toast or bagel for breakfast with peanut butter and Nutella; banana for elevenses; fish finger sandwich on white bread for lunch (nice, light protein); cake for afternoon snack, pasta with tomato sauce and just a bit of chicken for dinner and maybe a small pudding. This is certainly not a day when you want to be feeling hungry. If I feel I need an extra snack I like pretzels, as they are carby and salty, but not fatty. In general, just aim to eat plenty of carb-rich foods, but not to the point where you feel stuffed. I’ll also have an electrolyte drink at some point, especially if the weather forecast is warm, in order to try and prevent cramp, which I suffered from once in a marathon.

Marathon day: as soon as I get up I have a pint of electrolyte drink to get me well hydrated. My breakfast is always porridge with maple syrup, because I find porridge much easier to digest that wheat-based things. If I’m away from home I take instant porridge pots. I have breakfast at least two hours before the start, preferably a bit more, as I like to make sure I have plenty of time to visit the loo in a number two fashion(!) before I leave the house. If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ll appreciate how important this is! I also have a coffee. After my breakfast I don’t drink anything else until about ten minutes before the start of the race. I’ve found this is the best way to avoid having to stop for a wee en route. I think if you’re constantly sipping on drinks in the hour or so before the start you’ll need to stop and go to the loo at some point; but if you have a drink just before you set off you’ll sweat it out instead of storing it in your bladder. There’s always plenty of water on the course anyway. About an hour before the start I might have a very small snack like a tiny banana, depending on how I feel.

Having a fuelling strategy during the race is important if you’re going to avoid hitting the dreaded wall. Obviously everyone has their own favourite energy products, and you will hopefully have been practising with them in training. Your muscles can store enough fuel to keep them going for about an hour and a half, so you’re going to need to take on more energy before you run out. I like to start about an hour into the marathon. My favourite fuel is Clif Shot Bloks, mainly because I find them easier to carry and deal with on the run than gels. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to take on a gram of carb for every kilo of your body weight per hour. So, for example, if you weigh 65kg you’ll need to take on 65g of carb per hour. This sound boring, but it’s very effective. The first time I ever bothered to actually work out how much fuel I should be taking on during a marathon I took about ten minutes off my PB, so it’s definitely worth doing the maths! All energy products will tell you how much carb they contain on the pack. An important point to note is that taking extra gels etc is not a subsitute for lack of training. If you take on more stuff than your stomach can process you’ll just end up feeling sick.

Lastly, stick to your race plan. At the beginning of a marathon you should be both trained and rested, so you’ll feel great. It’s tempting to set off like a greyhound, but if you do you’ll pay for it later – as I did in the first York Marathon, when I ended up with a stitch at mile 18 that wouldn’t go away, meaning I had to jog/walk the last six miles. If you feel really good at about mile 24 – which, to be honest, is doubtful – feel free to go for it in the last couple of miles.

Please remember all of this isn’t gospel – it’s all just what works for me. What works for you may be different, but the above advice might be worth a go if you don’t have a clue – as I didn’t the first time I ran a marathon! I hope some of it has been helpful to first-timers anyway. Feel free to add your own top tips below. Best of luck if you’re running at York this Sunday – do come and say hi if you see me!

York Mara

I love breakfast. It might even be my favourite meal of the day. I love it so much I sometimes have two breakfasts when marathon training is at its peak! But I’m not a big fan of breakfast cereals, mainly because they generally aren’t very healthy. I like porridge and muesli (with Greek yoghurt), especially as you can always ‘pimp’ those to make them more nutritious, but most cereals are made from highly refined carbs and contain added sugar; sometimes, unbelievably, more than 30%. Not only does this give them a very high glycaemic index (GI), but they don’t keep you satisfied for very long. I once checked in my local supermarket to see which cereals didn’t have any added sugar, and it pretty much came down to Shredded Wheat. So when I was offered the chance to test a new breakfast cereal claiming to be much healthier than the norm I was very interested to try it. Apparently two years of research has gone into the development of new Keep Me Going from Freedom Cereals. Its aim is to be a wholegrain cereal with a low GI plus added health benefits that actually tastes good!

KMG Pack

 

You certainly can’t argue with the health credentials of Keep Me Going. It’s composed mainly of whole grain barley, oat flour and rye, so is wheat-free (for those who are concerned about that sort of thing). It also has added vitamins and minerals, including chromium (which helps to balance blood sugar), magnesium and biotin. I was particularly pleased to see the magnesium content, as many people are deficient in this important mineral, which can cause fatigue. I usually take a magnesium supplement myself when I’m marathon training. Even the salt used in it is a special low-sodium sea salt. Yes, it does contain some sugar, but far less than most cereals, and this is probably offset to some extent by its low GI of 50 (compared, for example, to a GI of 82 for cornflakes). If a food has a low GI it releases its energy more slowly, so keeps you satisfied for longer. Out of interest, here’s how Keep Me Going compares nutritionally to some other popular cereals.

There’s lots more information here on the Keep Me Going website if you want to explore this further. Here’s what it looks like out of the pack.

But what does it taste like? Actually it’s surprisingly tasty in a malty sort of way. The texture is quite crunchy, but not too hard. I liked it. And does it really keep you going? I tested it by having it for breakfast on a morning when I knew I’d be really busy and probably wouldn’t get a chance to have elevenses, and it was probably about four hours before I began to feel peckish again. I wouldn’t say it kept me as full as, say, muesli and Greek yoghurt, but it certainly contains a lot less fat than that. If you’re trying to moderate your fat intake it’s probably a decent option for breakfast.

A lot of people seem to give their kids cereal for breakfast – probably because it’s quick and easy on a school morning – and the manufacturers of Keep Me Going have gone to some trouble to try and make the product appeal to children. Each pack contains some trading cards that can be used to play a Top Trumps type of game based on countries of the world, and you can go onto the Keep Me Going website to download a world map and mark the countries you’ve collected. There’s also a secret code cracking game to play.

I wouldn’t say Keep Me Going is a cereal children would choose for themselves, but if you’re the sort of family that already eats quite healthily I’d say they’d probably enjoy it. Weaning kids off the likes of Coco Pops or Frosties might be more of a challenge!

 At the moment Keep Me Going is available via Ocado, priced at £2.65 for a 375g pack. Not cheap, but it is made with top quality ingredients. Apparently there’s a high protein version called Keep Me Strong in the pipeline, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on breakfast cereals? What are your favourites and why? I’d be interested to know.

 

If you’re reading this chances are that, like me, you’re interested in healthy living and try to eat well most of the time. In an ideal world we’d get all the nutrients we need from our food; but sometimes we aren’t always able to manage that. Busy lifestyles and the occasional need for extra or special nutritional requirements mean that supplements can sometimes be a good idea. For this reason I wanted to track down a good range of supplements and other nutritional products that I could offer to clients – and use myself – if necessary. After much research into different brands I’ve settled on Nature’s Sunshine because I’m satisfied that they are top quality, and they are also organically formulated wherever possible. As well as a range of supplements for everyday nutrition, Nature’s Sunshine also offers a variety of sports and fitness products that may be of use to those of us with an active lifestyle.

People sometimes ask me if I take supplements myself. I obviously prefer to get my nutrition from my diet if possible, but even a healthy diet is rarely perfect, so I occasionally take the following.

  • If I’ve had a day when I haven’t eaten any foods with omega fats, I take an omega supplement.
  • When marathon training I take a magnesium supplement, as this helps with recovery.
  • After a long run I take an antioxidant, as hard training can suppress the immune system.
  • If I feel a cold coming on I take echinacea and vitamin C to help fight it off!

The Nature’s Sunshine range has over a hundred products. Some of the ones I like best are:

I could go on! Of course supplements are never a substitute for healthy eating; but there are time when we need a little extra help. You can browse or buy any of the Nature’s Sunshine products here on my website, and also take a lifestyle test to see which supplements might be of benefit to you personally. Feel free to contact me if you’d like any information or advice.


 

Hands up who’s feeling a bit rubbish after the festive break? I certainly am. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but the Christmas holidays are a hard test of anyone’s resolve! Christmas dinner itself isn’t really the problem; at the end of the day that’s just a roast dinner with a few pigs in blankets on the side. It’s all the other food that causes the problem… and the booze, of course! You could just say no to all of it, and I’m sure a few very disciplined people do; but everywhere you go at Christmas and New Year people want to feed you, and it’s usually hard to refuse! Things I’ve indulged in include mince pies, After Eights, trifle, Bailey’s, Pringles and wine. Plus I’ve been for a couple of meals at people’s houses where they’ve been to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to say no. I’m sure most of you will have had a similar couple of weeks. The only thing that’s counted in my favour is that I haven’t stopped runnning – even with a bit of a hangover on a couple of occasions!

The question is, what do we do to get rid of this horrible, bloaty feeling and lose the couple of pounds we’ve all probably put on? The media are currently full of the usual ‘new year, new you’ stuff they always pump out just after Christmas. This mostly seems to focus on articles about radical, expensive detoxes and abstaining from everything. ‘Give yourself a good purge and you will magically become a bright, shiny, thin new person’ is the general message. There will also be a mad rush of people joining gyms in January, planning to go five times a week for ever. But the reality is that most people will only stick to their new regimes for a couple of weeks – or maybe even a month – before they revert to their old ways. The change is just too radical to be sustainable. The truth is that a few simple changes will soon have you feeling a lot better – and you’ll save a lot of money too! You don’t need to be a whole new you, just a slightly better version of the current you. So here’s what I recommend for a ‘New Year, Slightly Better You’ approach.

·         First thing, there’s no need to ‘detox’ with special powders, juices or pills. Your liver and kidneys are fantastic organs and can actually cope with an awful lot. Unless you’ve been drinking a bottle of vodka a day they’ll deal with your festive excess just fine. Having said that, there’s no harm in giving them a bit of a rest from processing huge amounts of booze and rich food for a little while.

·         Stop eating junk now. You may have leftover goodies or foodie gifts such as Christmas cake/boxes of chocolates and biscuits/cheese footballs lying around the house. Put them away somewhere out of sight, take them into work, offer them to visitors or give them away to thin friends. Most chocolates have really long use-by dates, so you could always regift them at some point! Some things, like cheese, freeze really well too. Don’t feel you have to eat all the bad things in the house before you can start being good.

·         Focus on eating simple, healthy, unprocessed foods. Things like chicken, fish, pulses, vegetables and Greek yoghurt. Snack on fruit and nuts instead of biscuits and crisps. You know the score here really, so I won’t ramble on about it today.

·         Drink lots of water. You may well be quite dehyrated after two weeks of boozing and scoffing sugary/salty foods. If you don’t normally drink plenty of water you’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to how good you feel.

·         Do some exercise. If you usually do exercise, get back on it after the Christmas break. If you don’t, start now but be kind to yourself. No need to crush it in the gym. Go for a long walk on a lovely sunny, frosty day. Have a kickabout in the park with your kids. Go to a yoga or Pilates class. Get that bike out of the garage and have a gentle pedal for half an hour. The more of this kind of thing you do, the more you’ll want to do, I promise.

·         Get plenty of sleep. Most of us don’t get enough. Go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Your body will repair and restore itself while you snooze.

That’s all you need to do. That’s what I’ll be doing. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be feeling much better and I’ll have to run the Brass Monkey half marathon – eek! And if you really want to go to the gym, wait until February – it’ll be a lot quieter then.

 

Marathon newbies are always asking me what they should eat in the run-up to the big day, so here are some foodie pointers that should help as the Yorkshire Marathon approaches.

The theory of excessive carb-loading (i.e. avoiding carbs for a few days then stuffing yourself stupid with them) is seen as a bit outdated now. There’s only so much energy your muscles can store. However, a few days beforehand it is a good idea to include some good carbohydrates in your meals; things like wholemeal pasta and bread, pulses, brown or basmati rice, fruit and vegetables. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, simply adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein, as they will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run.

Get plenty of these!

 On the day before, switch to simple carbohydrates, as you may not have enough time to fully digest wholegrain food before the race. Eat carb-based meals and snacks today – pasta with tomato sauce is a favourite of mine, but also consider rice, potatoes and bread, with maybe a little light protein such as chicken or fish if you feel like it. Avoid anything too fatty or fibrous, as these types of foods could make you feel heavy or bloated. Don’t have a massive evening meal, but spread your intake throughout the day.

Spread it out, don’t stuff yourself stupid!

 On marathon morning you’ll need a breakfast that provides you with good energy but doesn’t take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies; hopefully you will have experimented in training to find out what suits you personally. Many people like white toast or porridge with honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup, because I know my system can deal with oats more quickly than wheat. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so it has time to leave your stomach before you set off – this also helps with the all-important visit to the loo! About an hour beforehand have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar if you feel you need to.

Breakfast of champions – and me!

 Consider carrying some energy gels or jelly babies with you during the race. Your muscles will have used up most of their own fuel stores after about an hour and a half, so supplementing with an energy product should prevent you from hitting the dreaded ‘wall’ by giving you a carbohydrate boost. If you are going to use energy products it’s really important to test them in training just in case they don’t agree with you. I like isotonic gels as you don’t need to take them with water, so aren’t juggling two things at the same time on the move – although they are bigger to carry. I’ve experimented with a few and will be using SiS Go gels for the Yorkshire marathon – and no, they aren’t paying me to say so! But I may well also have a couple of jelly babies tucked away in case of emergency too…

Never underestimate the power of the humble Jelly Baby!

 Hydration is obviously very important. Make sure you drink plenty of water in the week before the race. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale colour. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race, as there’s plenty of drink available on the marathon course – drinking too much can be dangerous (causing hyponatremia) and will make you want to stop for a pee en route! Toilet arrangements are always a concern for any long distance runner – I’ve been caught short myself before – and here’s what I’ve discovered works best for me. I have a big drink of water as soon as I get up and a coffee with my breakfast; then I try not to drink anything else until just before the gun. This way you have plenty of time to wee out any excess from what you drank first thing, and you’ll be running and sweating by the time your start line drink starts to come through! If you’ve been hydrating well all week you shouldn’t need to drink loads on marathon morning, especially if the weather isn’t warm.

Don’t go mad with the water!

 Hope this has been helpful to some of the many marathon first-timers who’ll be at York.

Enjoy the rest of your taper!

If there’s one area of nutrition that seems to cause more confusion than any other it’s fat. Questions people ask me about fat include:

  • Which fats are good or bad?
  • Should I follow a low-fat diet to lose weight?
  • What oils should I use for cooking?

It’s completely understandable. A while ago low-fat diets were quite the thing and weight loss was all about carbs. We were constantly being told that eating animal fats would give us all a heart attack, but olive oil was OK. Then Dr Atkins told us we should scoff meat, cream and butter and avoid carbs to lose weight – and look what happened to him! Is it any wonder people are so bewildered?

Confusion!

The truth is that it’s sugar, not fats, that is your main enemy in the healthy eating war; but we’ll park sugar to one side for now while I tell you a story. Years ago I had a friend (let’s call her Gladys) who went on the Rosemary Conley diet, which is very low in fat. Gladys was a bit chubby and had a new boyfriend she was keen to impress. She stuck to the diet religiously, and weight did indeed start to fall off. Unfortunately, after a couple of months, so did her skin. Gladys didn’t make the link between eating a virtually fat-free diet and her skin becoming all scaly and dry, but fortunately her doctor did. She began to eat healthily again and the problem went away.

Thanks but no thanks Rosie!

 The point I want to make here is that we need fats as part of a healthy diet – not just for our skin, but also our joints, our heart and many important bodily functions such as forming cell membranes, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, supporting the immune system and enabling our bodies to absorb certain vitamins more efficiently. But which ones should we be eating? I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible.

You’ve probably heard talk of omega fats or fatty acids – and maybe been confused by those too. Basically omegas 3, 6 and 9 are the good guys, so we need to get all of those down us on a regular basis. Omega 3s are the ‘oily fish’ fats we hear so much about, found in fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon. It’s good to have a couple of portions of these each week. Other sources are walnuts, seeds and fortified eggs – good news for veggies. Omega 6s mostly come from vegetable oils such as sunflower and corn oil, and to be honest it’s not difficult to get enough of these, especially as they’re used in many processed foods. Omega 9s are also in various oils, particularly olive and rapeseed, and also in avocadoes and nuts such as almond, pecans and macadamia. Of course you can take a supplement to get these nutrients, but I always think it’s better to get them from eating healthy foods. Worryingly, a recent study appeared to make a link between omega 3 supplements and prostate cancer, although the study didn’t analyse the subjects’ diets or whether they had actually taken any supplements.

“Eat us, we taste so good!”

Current thinking is that it’s fine to eat butter in moderation, and I must admit I usually do this with my Sunday breakfast of cinnamon and raisin toast! The most important fat rule is to steer well clear of the dreaded trans fats, which have been hydrogenated into sheer nastiness and raise your levels of bad cholesterol. Thankfully they are being used less and less these days, but do check labels if you’re buying manufactured products like biscuits, cakes and pies. It’s also best to avoid ‘low fat’ versions of higher fat products; you already know my views on dairy. The fat has usually been replaced by sugar or nasty fillers, so they’re actually worse for you than the originals. You’re better off with a delicious creamy Greek yoghurt and some fruit than a Muller Chemical Corner – check out the list of ingredients!

Like she’s ever really eaten one of these!

I always think an easy way to get some good fat into your system – especially at this time of year – is to knock up a really tasty salad dressing using a mixture of good oils plus either a wine or cider vinegar. I also put some mustard and mixed herbs in mine, but you could add chilli, garlic, lemon or whatever takes your fancy. Home-made dressing is also free of the emulsifiers and preservatives usually found in the shop-bought versions too. And if you aren’t mad about salad it does make it more of a pleasure to eat! You could grill some sardines to go with it, or make some houmous with a good olive oil.

This is my actual salad dressing, not some pond water!

 And why not swap your usual afternoon biccies or chocolate bar for a small handful of mixed nuts? Every cell in your body will thank you for it.

Biscuit substitutes!

 So don’t fear the fat – good fat is your friend!

As you know, I’m a big fan of Neal’s Yard Remedies and organic products. I always think there’s not much point being careful about what you eat if you continue to slather your skin in a cocktail of noxious chemicals! But Neal’s Yard isn’t just about skincare, far from it; they’ve just brought out a new book called Healing Foods, written by Susan Curtis, Director for Natural Health at Neal’s Yard. Its aim is to help people eat their way to a healthier life.

It’s packed full of fascinating information about how you can use food to treat various medical conditions, as well as loads of tasty, super-healthy recipes. But don’t just take my word for it – check out this great review from The Telegraph.

There are sections of advice on eating for (amongst other things) healthy pregnancy, skin conditions, energy and stress relief. We can’t always control whether or not we become ill or develop a particular condition, but we can at least control what we eat. As Hippocrates said, “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Wise man!

If you’d like to buy a copy of Healing Foods please visit my Neal’s Yard online shop.

People are often surprised to learn that I use whole milk. Quite a few folk who’ve been round at my house recently have noticed this and commented on it, so I thought I’d mention it here and explain why. Reactions seem to take the form of either (or sometimes both) of two questions: 1) “Aren’t you supposed to be healthy?” and/or 2) “Isn’t that full of animal fat?!”. The answers to which are 1) yes and 2) not really.

I’m a big fan of consuming foods in a format as close to their natural state as possible. I like organic produce, not because I’m convinced it’s more nutritious, but because I don’t particularly like the idea of introducing second-hand pesticides, antibiotics etc into my system – and organic fruit and veg just taste better anyway. I can’t afford to have everything organic, but I do always buy organic milk because it’s one of the few foods that’s been proven to be more nutritious when it’s organic – and I eat quite a bit of porridge!

Drink this!

So why the whole milk? To address the ‘healthy’ question first; not only is organic milk more nutritious than non-organic milk, but whole milk is better for you than skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. This is because your body can’t properly absorb the nutrients in the milk without its fat – not only the calcium and protein, but the vitamins in it such as A and D are fat-soluble, therefore your body needs the fat to process and store them. So skimmed milk fortified with vitamins and minerals is pretty much a waste of time – and money! If you can find non-homogenised milk, so much the better, as that’s even more natural.

As for the fatty issue… well yes, of course milk contains animal fat – but it isn’t a high fat food. We’ve been indoctrinated for years into thinking that all animal fat should be avoided like the plague and we should switch to skimmed milk and low-fat dairy products. But in fact whole milk is only around 3.5% fat, which is actually pretty low in the grand scheme of things. A high fat food is classified as something that contains more than 20 grams of fat per 100 grams. So for the sake of the extra nutrients you get from whole milk it’s worth that little extra bit of fat – although obviously I’m not advocating that you drink gallons of the stuff!

Don’t drink this!

Recent research has shown that animal fat isn’t the bad guy it was once made out to be. The real baddies in our diets are now processed fats and refined sugar. So enjoy dairy produce in moderation. I have butter on my Sunday cinnamon and raisin toast too, so there. You might enjoy a small piece of good quality cheese a couple of times a week. Milk is also a great post-exercise recovery drink. If I’ve had a long or hard run I have my super milkshake  as soon as I get back; this is 250ml milk, a teaspoon of cocoa and a banana whizzed up in the blender – a fab combination of carbs and proteins to start the recovery process while I’m stretching and having a shower.

 So don’t be afraid to enjoy full fat milk without feeling guilty, it’s a great natural source of nutrition.

A completely gratuitous shot of a kitten. They like milk too!

 

I wrote a blog post some time ago about how much I love cake. The bad news is, I also love bread. My Sunday morning just isn’t the same without some toasted home-made cinnamon and raisin bread with Président butter and coffee (it’s just once a week, OK?!). My first thought on going on holiday to France is “Where is the nearest boulangerie?”. My love of these devil’s foods means that I aim to moderate their intake whilst consuming the healthiest possible versions – because let’s face it, we all need a bit of foodie pleasure from time to time. So National Bread Week seems as good a time as any to have a think about the type and quantity of bread we eat.

Bread – we love it!

 My dealings with clients who want to eat more healthily have made me realise that I’m not alone. Most of us love bread in one form or another; and many of us eat lots of it, simply because it’s all too easy to pop in some toast for breakfast or grab a sandwich for lunch. But eating too much bread is actually not very good for us at all. For one, wheat is quite hard to digest, so a bready blowout can leave you feeling bloated and tired; but mainly because most mass-produced bread is processed to high heaven, pumped full of additives and, in fact, has very little nutritional value. Even brown breads that give the impression of being healthy can be questionable, sometimes containing as little as 6% wholemeal flour.

 Here are just some of the nasties you might find in commercially-produced bread (according to the Real Bread Campaign): E481 (sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate), E472e (mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), E920 (l-cysteine), E282 (calcium propionate), E220 (potassium sorbate), E300 (ascorbic acid) and E260 (acetic acid). Quite scary-sounding aren’t they? And those are just the ingredients that are listed. Other processing aids such as phospholipase, fungal alpha amylase, transglutaminase, xylanase, maltogenic amylase, hemicellulase, oxidase, peptidase and protease don’t even have to be declared on the label. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really fancy the idea of chowing down on those.

Step away from the bad bread!

 Real bread, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. Prepared with top quality flour and baked without processing aids or artificial additives, bread is very nutritious and contains many essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also a complex carbohydrate, making it a fab source of energy for active people.

With thanks to Holgate Windmill!

Speaking of which, my interest in real bread was further aroused recently when I started using a local hilly road for marathon training purposes. Windmill Rise, which is about a mile from where I live in York, was last year voted as having the Best Roundabout in Britain by the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society (yes, really!). It’s topped (somewhat unsurprisingly) by a windmill that has been painstakingly restored by volunteers, and is now actually working and producing its very own flour using traditional, old-fashioned methods. When its white sails turn against a blue sky it looks amazing and is a great motivator for hill reps!

Holgate Windmill in all its glory!

Grinding the wheat with actual stones – dusty work!

 On Easter weekend the windmill was open to the public, so I visited, learned a lot about flour and bread production (too much detail to go into here) and returned home with my very own bag of flour, from which I made an actual loaf from scratch (i.e. not using the breakmaker as we usually do).

The dough proving…

Following a very simple recipe I got stuck in, made a proper mess and turned out a loaf. Was it worth it? Definitely! I don’t think I’d have the time to do it every day, but would certainly make more of an effort to do this with the breadmaker in future. The loaf wasn’t as big and fluffy as a supermarket specimen, but tasted amazing, and I’m sure it’s great fuel for marathon training. And luckily there are now many independent bakers such as Food For Thought here in York who are making and selling top quality bread made the traditional way.

Ta dah – the finished product!

 If you live in York, do go and have a look at the Holgate Windmill next time it’s open – it’s really impressive, and the people who run it are lovely and really passionate about explaining how everything works. Engineering fans will love it as much as foodies!

 My bready advice to you would be to eat it no more than once a day, make sure it’s good quality and enjoy it – because life’s too short not to! Right, I’m off for some toast…

Those spring marathons are really creeping up on us now aren’t they? It doesn’t seem like two minutes since I entered the Manchester Marathon and now it’s just over two weeks away! And for those of you doing the Virgin London Marathon it’s even closer…

So, we’re all tapering now. It’s a funny time, when you kind of feel you should still be training at full pelt but actually need to cut down and focus on recovery so you’re fresh for the big day. Nutrition plays a really important part in this, fuelling up the body for the challenge ahead. For the moment you should still be following the guidelines in my previous marathon nutrition post, maybe just cutting down a bit on the amounts you’ve been eating now you’re not burning as many calories. It’s certainly not a time for dieting though!

Y’know, stuff like this!

But what about the week leading up to race day? Here are a few foodie pointers.

  • Eat good, nutritious food in the week before the race – lean protein, good carbs, fruits and veggies. Just like a car, your body will perform much better on high grade fuel. Try to avoid alcohol and junk food – it will make a bigger difference than you might think.
  • Three days before the event start to fuel yourself up on good carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta and bread, beans, pulses and brown or basmati rice. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, just adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein. These carbs will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run.
  • On Saturday, switch to simple carbohydrates. I would never normally recommend these, but this is a special case, as you may not have enough time to properly digest wholemeal stuff before the race. Eat carb-based meals and snacks today – pasta with tomato sauce is a favourite, but also consider rice, potatoes and bread, with maybe a little light protein such as chicken or fish. Avoid anything too fatty or fibrous, as these types of food could make you feel heavy or bloated for the run. Don’t have a massive evening meal, which may still be hanging around in your system on Sunday morning, but spread your intake throughout the day.

Buon appetito!

  •  On marathon morning you’ll need a breakfast that will provide you with some good energy but not take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies; hopefully you will have experimented in training. Many people favour white toast or porridge with something sweet on top like honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup, as my system seems to digest oats much more quickly than wheat. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so that it has time to leave your stomach before the start. About an hour before kick-off have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar.
  • Consider carrying some energy gels with you to take during the race. Your body will probably have used up most of its own energy stores after about an hour and a half, so supplementing with an energy product should prevent you from ‘bonking’ (running out of steam) by giving you a boost. If you are going to use gels it’s really important to make sure you test them out before race day just in case they don’t agree with you. On my recent long runs I’ve been experimenting with Clif products, which are being given out at Manchester, and they seem pretty good.

  • Hydration is obviously very important, especially if the weather is going to be warm (ha!). In the week before the race make sure you drink plenty of water. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale straw colour, almost clear. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race! The best way to avoid having to go for a wee en route is to stop drinking about an hour before the start, then you have time to go to the loo and get rid of any excess before you set off. If you must have a drink before the start, do it just before the gun, then by the time you need to get rid of any excess fluid you’ll be sweating!

I hope everyone enjoys their taper! Please feel free to share any of your race day nutrition tips.