Now, I'm not here to tell you that sugar is the devil or that if you enjoy the occasional biscuit or chocolate bar then you're a bad person. What I will say is that as a society we're consuming more sugar than our bodies can cope with, much of which we're probably not even aware that we're eating and that, my friends, is the scary part.
Sugar occurs naturally in a whole host of foods including fruit, vegetables, milk and honey. However, it's also added to a huge number of processed foods that we eat on a daily basis and that's what I'm really focusing on in this post.
The WHO (World Health Organisation, not the old rockers) has suggested that for good health, we shouldn't be getting more than 5% of our total daily dietary energy from sugar, but according to Public Health England’s (PHE) 2015 report we're getting 12%-15% of our energy from it.
So, basically, we're eating a lot of sugar, what's the big deal?
Well, the big deal is that this excessive sugar intake is contributing to a whole host of health problems including:
- type 2 diabetes
- heart disease
- some cancers
- tooth decay
And all that sugar isn't just coming from what you might think are the obvious culprits - sweets and chocolate. No, a lot of that sugar is hidden in processed foods that you may not even think about e.g. salad dressings, ready made soups and sauces, bacon, breakfast bars, yoghurts. Oh and watch out for those 'low fat' items on the supermarket shelf, many of them have added sugar or artificial sweeteners added to make up for the fat removed - sneaky, right?
The next time you're in the supermarket, why don't you do a little test? It'll be fun (maybe)!
Check out the list of ingredients on some of the processed foods i.e. anything that's not fresh fruit, veggies, milk or unprocessed meats and see how many of them have sugar. Oh, and don't just look for the word 'sugar', there are a whole host of names for it! “Syrup”, “sweetener” any words ending in “ose” can usually be assumed to be sugar.
Once you've identified the sugar, take a look-see at just how large a component it is in your food. Hint: the higher up it is in the ingredients list, the more sugar it contains.
For example, if a ready-made pasta sauce reads: Tomatoes, onions, sugar, garlic, then sugar is the third most prominent ingredient.
BACK AWAY FROM THAT PASTA SAUCE!
Don't worry, I won't be following you around the supermarket with a megaphone doing that, although...
Where you can, try to find substitutes for those with high sugar contents - there are almost always alternatives available even in the processed food aisle and (although I appreciate we're all busy people) cooking from scratch allows you to control exactly what goes into your stomach.
Like I said before, I'm not here to scaremonger or to make you feel bad for having a biscuit with your afternoon tea. I'm raising the issue as it's one that surprisingly few of the people I speak to on a daily basis are aware of, and I think it's something that we should all know more about. Forewarned is forearmed and all that and the more knowledge we have the better informed our decisions are.
With that in mind, here are a couple of articles you might find interesting if you want to learn more.
BBC Sugar Explained
The Sugar Conspiracy
It might seem strange to think of gratefulness as a choice, but it really is. It's about more than just saying thanks when someone gives you a present or does you a favour or pays you a compliment, it's a state of mind and it's fundamental to our happiness.
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
So what does that mean? Well, to me it means being grateful for both the good and the supposed 'bad' things in life. If we look hard enough even the outwardly more negative parts of our lives (especially for those of us living in relative privilege in comparison to the other 90% of the world) have something to teach us and that, in itself, is a reason to be grateful.
Here are some examples of what I'm banging on about:
Instead of saying "I hate getting up early for work," try "I'm grateful that I have a job to go to that helps me pay for the things in life I enjoy."
Instead of "It's raining and cold outside, yuk!" try "I'm grateful that I have a warm and dry home to watch the rain from."
Instead of "I can't be arsed to wash all these dishes," try "I'm grateful to have shared a meal with my family/partner/friend."
Instead of a glass half-empty view, try to be grateful that you have a glass.
But changing your outlook on the flip of a dime isn't easy nor is it sustainable. I'm not expecting everyone to go out there and suddenly only see rainbows and unicorns (although how awesome would that be?! Unicorns, guys!). Anyway...
So how do we live a more grateful and therefore happier life? Well, my groundbreaking (insert eye roll) suggestion is to start every day writing down one thing we're grateful for, just one thing. How easy is that?! Then, over time, that one thing might become two and then three and so on, until we train our minds to focus on being thankful, to choose to be grateful.
This is mine for today:
"I'm grateful for George the Dog because although he wakes me up early, even at the weekend, he's always happy to see me and he gives the best cuddles."
I have a feeling George may feature in quite a few of my reasons to be thankful!
How about you? What are you grateful for today?
Today I want to share one of my women crushes with you guys: Nikki Kimball
Why? Because I think she's awesome!
For those of you that haven't heard of her, Nikki is an American ultrarunner of epic proportions. She’s won the Marathon des Sables (a six-day race covering 156miles through the Sahara Desert), UTMB (103mile race in the Alps with a total elevation gain of 9,600m), Western States (100miles in California's Sierra Nevada in scorchio June!) as well as representing the US in a huge number of international races. So, basically, she is an amazing runner. On top of all that she also has a day job as a physical therapist. Anyone else wondering what they're doing with their days?!!
But Kimball's undeniable running prowess is not the only thing that I admire about her . One of the reasons that she's made it on to my list of woman crushes is her ongoing battle to cope with her depression. She has been vocal about her illness and is passionate about raising awareness.
There's such a stigma attached to mental health issues, although it's a topic that's getting talked about more and more which (personally) I believe can only be a good thing. It affects so many of us at some point in our lives, whether we suffer from it ourselves or it's a friend or family member, so I think it's a fundamental conversation to have.
With that in mind, I'll leave it to Kimball to talk about her experience with depression (which is still ongoing), check out this podcast to hear what she has to say about it. She shares the challenges depression presents her with, not only as an ultrarunning athlete, but also as a regular person trying to live her life on a daily basis.
I would also highly recommend her documentary 'Finding Traction' which is available on Netflix and charts her quest to become the fastest person (male or female) to run America's oldest hiking trail, the Long Trail, which is 273 miles! Yes, it's a doc about running, but it's about so much more than that; it's about equality, about striving for success no matter your sex, about grit and hard work and the limitlessness of the human spirit. #inspiring
In the spirit of my love affair with food (seriously if we were in a relationship, food would have a restraining order out against me) I've renamed today 'Tasty Tuesday'. Every Tuesday I'll be posting general nutrition chat and there may even be the odd recipe here and there (be warned - Nigella I am not).
Today it's the turn of a veggie that's been on my mind for a while (that looks weirder written down than it did in my head) and it's been getting more and more press in recent months. Yes, you've guessed it (or maybe not), I'm talking about the beetroot.
So what's the big deal about these little purple delights? Well, firstly they're really high in nutritional value - i.e. you get a lot of micronutrients for your buck! They're rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. They're also a great source of folic acid, fibre, potassium and manganese.
In terms of their health benefits, it's been suggested that beetroots can help lower blood pressure, prevent dementia and also enhance athletic performance. Oh, and they may or may not turn your pee pink - fair warning!
It's possible that the effect on performance is due to the nitrates in beetroot reducing the body's 'oxygen cost' when taking part in endurance sports such as long distance running/cycling, but research is still ongoing. I'll stop blinding you with science now, promise.
Endurance athletes like Amelia Boone (OCR Goddess, lawyer extraordinaire and general girl crush, if you don't know who she is Google her immediately or maybe after you've finished this post) have long been vocal in their belief in the benefits of beetroot and, although research is still ongoing and the jury is still out on the 'real' benefits of this unassuming veggie, I figured I'd test it out for myself.
Jumping in with both feet without looking as is my preferred way of doing things, I'm going to spend the next month increasing my beet consumption (whole and juiced) to see if I notice any difference in performance and I'll keep you guys updated. So watch this space for beetroot-related updates. I know, I know - you can hardly wait! Am I right?!
So far today:
4 whole beetroots consumed - result: still not a pro athlete (dammit)! That said, I would highly recommend one of today's lunches (yes, one of): beetroot, feta cheese and spinach leaves with a little olive oil and black pepper.
For more information on the benefits of beetroot check out this article in Coach magazine.
Before I start, I just want to assure you all that this post is NOT about how much you weigh! (Cue communal sigh of relief)
Bodyweight exercises i.e. exercises that you can do without any equipment other than yourself are often overlooked in favour of more accessorised workouts that involve free weights or kettlebells or resistance machines or TRX or all of the above. But bodyweight exercises, done correctly, can be just as effective and they have the added benefit of being able to do them anywhere - in your home, office, garden, park - wherever!
For those of you that follow me on instagram (@rdench_runs) you'll know that I promised to post this morning's strength & conditioning workout (leg and core focused). So, as I like to deliver on my promises, here you go:
20 minutes stationary bike (5 minute warm-up followed by 15 minutes on high resistance - if your thighs ain't burning it ain't working!)*
Static squat - hold for 1 minute, 20 second break, repeat x 3
Sumo squat - as above
Sit-ups - 1 minute, concentrating on form and not putting strain on neck, 15 second break, repeat x 3
Crunches - as above
Boat pose - 30 seconds, 15 second break, repeat x 3 (third set with Russian twist). If you're not familiar with this one then check out this helpful video.
Side lunges (alternating legs) - 1 minute, 20 second break, repeat x 3
Heismans - as above
Wall sit - as above
Leg raises - to failure (break of form)
60 seconds mountain climbers followed by extended plank for 90 seconds (no rest in between the two exercises)
60 seconds mountain climbers followed by standard plank for 60 seconds (no rest in between)
And done! Phew! :-)
The timings can be adapted to suit level and the time you have available to training, and if you decide to give it a try then make sure to let me know how you get on!
Remember, just like any workout, focus on your technique and work within your ability. If you're not sure of any of the moves ask a PT at your local gym to demonstrate and if you have an injury then be mindful of it!
*To keep this completely bodyweight you can switch the above out for a 20 minute run (5 minute warm-up jog followed by 15 minutes preferably over undulating terrain)
I know what you're thinking - "Oh, hell no! Not another (insert preferred expletive) fitness blogger!"
But, bear with me, at least for a few more sentences and I hope you might be pleasantly surprised and, if not, well at least you'll have successfully wasted a few minutes at work!
So, what is this blog going to be about? Well, I guess the short answer is it's going to be about everything! Why? Because there's A LOT of stuff that I'm interested in. Sure, I'm going to talk about running and lifting (they're sort of my thing), I'll be giving training tips, posting workout videos and sharing my own training and nutrition experiences along the way. But I'll also be talking about books that I'm reading and films that I've seen that inspire me and that I want to share with you guys, there will be thoughts on work/life balance and how to build the kind of life that makes you happy, whatever that means for you.
I'll be talking about not just physical but mental wellbeing as well, because I know from personal experience that if your head isn't in the game then your body isn't going to achieve all that it can. The blog will also no doubt feature a whole host of random tangents and sidebars because...well, because I'm pretty random and tangential. Don't worry, we're going to get along great! ;-)
Oh and food, I'll probably be talking a lot about food because it's awesome and I spend most of my day thinking about what I'm going to eat next...
So, hopefully there's something in there for everyone and some of you have stuck with me to the end of this first post! I'll be blogging pretty regularly so check back for updates and please go ahead and comment (good or bad!) as we go, I'd love to hear from you.
Catch you soon!
All opinions are my own and this blog is intended for motivational and informational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting a training or nutrition program.