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Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

Die Wellness. The first time I heard this now commonplace word was probably some time in 2003, courtesy of my GCSE German textbook. Back then, ‘wellness’ had not seeped into and overtaken our health culture – at least, my world was free from its connotations – and instead it was a new word for my expanding German lexicon: easy to remember, difficult to translate, conjuring up images of Germans doing aerobics or Nordic Walking. My edition of the Duden gives a rough definition of die Wellness as ‘good, well, shipshape’, with a reference to ‘light physical exercise as a way to reach desired wellbeing’. There is no mention of avocados or headstands; my Duden gives me no reason to believe that wellness is now a strict and relentless regime that will somehow make me Good.

I don’t need to introduce the more recent understanding of Wellness (with a capital ‘W’) and the industry built around it. I should, however, point in the direction of Ruby Tandoh‘s brilliant analysis of this regime, which is definitely worth a read. No, wellness with a small ‘w’ has been on my mind a lot over the past weeks and months, as I have found myself, relatively speaking at least, not well. And, ironically, as I begin my return to better health, I am finding that many answers lie in avoiding what is preached by Wellness, and instead navigating feeling healthy by trying out new ways of living that are definitely not endorsed by any of our beloved Wellness ‘gurus’.

Now, just to be clear, there is nothing seriously wrong with me. I’m suffering a very sudden onset of B12 and Ferritin anaemia (only 6 weeks ago my iron levels were Popeye-esque), and have to have some extra tests to work out why this quick plunge in blood health might have occurred. But I’m female, semi-vegetarian and training for an ultra marathon: likely this is No Big Deal. One thing that is a big deal: the symptoms of anaemia, which generate tiredness that sleep can’t cure, inability to think straight or remember things, breathlessness and sudden need to sit down and have a rest. I have been able to return to a more functional physical state only a couple of weeks after being diagnosed thanks to relentless B12 injections and some small changes to my diet and lifestyle. And this is where wellness comes in.

This time last year I was in the process of becoming a ‘proper’ vegan, and had just about cut out dairy and egg from my diet. I was also consuming a very large amount of veg, easily managing 12-15 portions a day (hint: veg = fibre). I took a vitamin supplement, as advised by my doctor. I was also doing lots of running, and while I felt like I was doing all the ‘good’ things, I was feeling increasingly bad. I wrote about my vegan phase here, so I won’t repeat myself. I chose veganism for ethical issues, but it also coordinated handily with the sudden explosion of vegan cookbooks and recipes in newspapers: it seemed like a good thing to be doing. Moreover, everywhere I looked I was being told to ‘just eat more’ fruit and veg, and that red meat and sugar-laden supermarket bakes would inevitably lead to my early demise. I also read Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run at that time – there is no doubt that veganism worked for him as a runner, so why not me too? All in all, it seemed like a good fit.

(I appear to be having an anti-vegan rant, but as I’ve never tried to subsist on the meat-laden diet of the Hemsley sisters I can’t comment on that. I only know that spaghetti that is really just raw courgette makes me fart excessively, and the fact that the existence of spaghetti is demonised in some circles makes me very sad.)

So fast-forward a year and back to my health. As I mentioned, I am feeling better. The doctors’ advice is consistent: I need to eat more of the stuff that is deemed poison by many Wellness ‘experts’. This includes fruit juice, breakfast cereal, dried fruit, meat (trying to work up to red meat but am a bit scared), fish, eggs, dairy. I also need to rest more, and do what I can to feel good again. For me, this has included lying on the sofa listening to old REM albums, gardening, walking painfully slowly and shouting at my husband when he keeps speeding up, lots of bubble baths, cuddles with my cat, gin and tonic, time off work, time off from my running schedule, allowing myself to feel rubbish and have a good cry/moan about it, chocolate cake. And lots and lots of  really slow yoga (I love this amazing gentle morning sequence by Yoga with Adriene). This is how wellness currently looks, for me and my current situation.

We all have our own version of wellness and what makes us well. Often it involves tablets or injections, or perhaps a strange sachet to pour into your morning glass of evil fruit juice. We’d be forgiven for thinking that there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all Wellness, with expensive food and cult lifestyle choices as the main bringer of physical and emotional well-being. Matcha tea, dynamic yoga (with lots of ‘inversions’ of course) and avocados might work for some people, but for most of us a bit of balance is enough, occasionally supplemented with a trip to the pharmacy when things go awry. The fact that there are now wellness ‘events’ where attendees pay to be told how to live ‘healthily’ in one very specific and perhaps damaging way is both mind-boggling and sickening. This whole thing is just one big lie. I know, because I tried at least some of it (I’ve never managed a headstand, I must confess) and it made me unwell. Now, in order to undo this Wellness-induced unwellness I am enjoying bowlfuls of sugar-laden cornflakes with a side of supermarket-bought orange juice and a sachet of something pharmaceutical. I might even go for some red meat at some point. This is my wellness. It won’t sell millions of recipe books and I won’t be writing a newspaper column any time soon, but if it leads me to feeling fully-functional again then I couldn’t care less. And if we can return our understanding of wellness to those smiling Nordic walkers enjoying some gentle exercise before a bit of tea and cake, then we’ll all be a lot better off.

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I whipped this up after my long run on Sunday and it hit the spot perfectly on a chilly January day. I tend to get very cold very quickly after a long run, and it isn’t uncommon for me to turn blue if I don’t have a shower immediately, but this served as an all-in-one recovery drink and a warm blanket, meaning that I didn’t have to wait for nourishment until after I’d showered.

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I made it with whole dairy milk because we had some on a short date in the fridge, but it could quite easily be made with scrummy non-dairy milk, too. Equally as easy, and n doubt just as tasty, for vegans and milk-lovers alike!

Protein recovery hot chocolate

1 scoop protein powder (we use pea protein which is GROSS on its own, hence the need to dress it up)
1 mug milk
1 tbsp hot chocolate powder (I use Green and Blacks, which is vegan, but any will do)
Half a banana (optional)

  1. Heat up the milk in a mug in the microwave for 2 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, blend the protein powder, chocolate powder and banana with 100ml of water
  3. Add the warm milk to the blender and whizz to combine
  4. Pour back into the mug and pop in the microwave for another minute until hot

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I’ve always found recovery after a long period of exercise really tough. When I first started running/cycling long distances, I found that I’d get an agonizing headache a couple of hours later, and would feel sick and queasy for the rest of the day.

After reading up on recovery I realized that I simply wasn’t eating enough – before, during and, most importantly, after the workout, and as a result my body was starved of nutrients. When we exercise we lose so much through both energy expenditure and sweating (even during workouts in the cold or rain), and replacing these nutrients is essential to maintain a good workout routine. If you want to get up and do it all again in a couple of days, your body has to be ready for it!

Training for a marathon has hammered this home to me more than ever; whereas I would happily go out for an early morning run on an empty stomach a few months ago, now I always make sure I’ve had something, no matter how early it is, and will often take an energy drink along too to top me up as I go. I do training runs to improve and get stronger, and there’s no way I’m getting stronger if my body is running on empty and feeling like a lead weight, using up all the energy I can muster to just keep going!

Fuelling up is important, but for me, it’s when it comes to recovering that things really start to get tricky. I did a 21 mile run two days ago; the longest distance of all my training runs, and the furthest I’ve ever run, ever! I came home and had a recovery shake (I use Rego strawberry recovery shake), and then had a good lunch of raw vegetables, bagel, houmous and walnuts with an orange juice, but I realize now that even all this was probably too little, too late!

The thing is that a long run requires a lot of fuel. Prior to my lunch I’d eaten a big breakfast with honey, toast and jam, a sweet energy drink, a sickly sugary energy gel and a chewy energy bar – I’d had enough of food, and the thought of more sugar made my stomach turn. But, the fact is that I should have eaten 1g of carbohydrate for every kg of bodyweight once an hour for the following four hours after the run (so the science tells me). That’s the equivalent of one and a half bagels per hour for four hours.

I honestly can’t say whether eating that much works after a long run, as I’ve never tried it. Instead I tend to listen to my body and pay heed, very carefully, to what it tells me. That normally includes a big lunch, a few hours where I fancy something but I don’t know what and end up munching through half a box of cereal, a flapjack or cereal bar after an afternoon sugar craving, and then a really big, healthy evening meal packed with protein and vitamins.

Today, two days later, I’m still recovering. My legs feel like lead and my lungs are like cotton wool; I found it hard to relax into a comfortable breathing rhythm during my morning recovery run, and finding the energy to push a little for some sprints just wasn’t happening. Even walking up the stairs is tiring at the moment, and my muscles, joints, lungs and bones are all calling out for a bit of help. The fact of marathon training is that I’m still recovering from one run, while preparing my body for the next; no wonder I’m always so grumpy the day after a big run or cycle!

When it comes to recovery I still have a lot to learn, but I do know a few important things to help get me back on my way as soon as possible:

  • Little and often is the key. I sometimes find myself snacking on bowls of sugary cereal at multiple points in the afternoon – cereal is light, packed with sugar (which is essential after a long period of exercise), easy to digest and, when combined with milk, also provides calcium for bones and fluid for hydration.
  • Cereal bars work wonders when on the run after a long run. My favourite is the Eat Natural almond and apricot variety – it’s a nutrient all-rounder, is nice and filling, and satisfies the sugar craving while also being healthy and portable! I always carry a bar in my handbag in case of any hunger pangs while out and about.
  • Fruit and vegetables have true healing powers. There is nothing better than a big bowl of vegetable soup after a muddy fell race, or a huge fruit salad and thick Greek yoghurt after a long road run in summer. I don’t need to highlight how great this is for packing the nutrients back in to your body, but it also feels incredibly wholesome after putting in all that work, too. After the Keswick half marathon we always visit our favourite veggie café for a huge bowl of chilli and cheese – it’s mega hot which is great for detoxing and relieving aches and swelling, as well as being a great comfort food!
  • Liquids also count! The first thing I turn to after a race is orange juice. I can’t stomach it before a run (lesson learned very early on!), but I can drink a large glass in a matter of seconds when I’ve pushed myself hard. It’s also incredibly refreshing when combined with some sparkling water or lemonade. As well as fruit juice and smoothies, lemonade, ginger beer and sugary tea are also great for recovery – they help to replenish both water and sugar, which is perfect.

    The best veggie chilli in Keswick!

The ultimate lesson for recovering after a long period of exercise is to listen carefully to your body. It’s easy enough to ignore hunger during more sedentary periods, but when I’m training for a race I’m like a bear with a sore head at even the slightest sniff of hunger. I allow myself to have whatever it is that I fancy, and if I fancy something but I’m not sure what (as is often the case – a bit like having a hangover) then fruit, yoghurt and muesli works every time.

It’s also essential to stay hydrated for speedy recovery

– urine should always be very pale in colour, but this is never more important than after a long run. Hydration is another post for another day, I reckon.

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