Wednesday 16 November 2011

The year so far in pictures - February 2011

Hello again!

Well, as I've got this entry all finished I might as well post it with January's very brief update ;-)

Here's what I got up to in February (from what I can piece together!). Another quiet month but I was still recovering from ankle surgery so not entirely surprising :-)

Friday 4th - Bright Club
If you've not been to a Bright Club at the Bloomsbury Theatre I cannot recommend it highly enough. Think stand up comedy meets science lecture with some random music and singing thrown in and you're almost close :-)

Last February's theme was Life. Had a spectacular night, so entertaining and such amazing value for money!

Monday 14th - Valentine's Day

I did rather well this Valentine's day! Not only did I get these glorious flowers:

I also got a new Kindle!

We can get a bit humbuggy about going out on Valentine's day, mainly due to the silly prices restaurants charge for a meal that would cost a lot less any other day!

However, this year we decided to give the local trade a shot and visit a bar we'd not been to despite living in the area for almost a year! We chose Green & Blue on Lordship Lane and we weren't disappointed. The place has a lovely look and feel, very rustic :-) You can purchase wine by the bottle to drink or take away and they have a fabulous deli section too.

We started our meal with a lovely soup.

and then moved onto a shared platter which was just gorgeous :-)

The wine wasn't bad either ;-)

Friday 25th - NME Gig - Foo Fighters

You'd hope that for your first ever gig it'd be something memorable right? Well my son's first gig was the oustanding Foo Fighters playing at Wembley Arena so I think that probably ticks that box!

All three of us went :-)

...and we rocked out in the standing section despite my being still on crutches!

Here are some gratuitous Dave Grohl pics for no particular reason :-)

Also, during the month, we went to a leaving party at a friend's house on the 19th and I met up with a friend for dinner at The Thai restaurant in Parson's Green which is a lovely little place, if a tad out of the way for me! Would definitely recommend it though and I'm baffled as to why I don't have any food pics, how strange!

And that's the end of that short month!


The year so far in pictures - January 2011

Hello wonderful blog readers!

I know I've been promising I'll catch up on past events and I really feel I need to 'get it out there' before I can start updating my blog on a regular basis so I'm going to make a real effort to catch up on 2011!

But firstly I'm going to have to let 2010 go... I have loads of half finished blogs and pictures from last year (and a couple from the year before!) but to be honest it's taken SO long just to sort out the pics from this year that I've decided it's not worth the stress! :-/

So, I'm going to post 9 more updates after this... or maybe 10 if I include the start of November...

Please note that:

a) I cannot remember all of what I've done in the year so it'll be a bit patchy, not much in the way of details etc... I also lost quite a few pictures from the start of the year due to our very old IBM laptop throwing a hissy fit and keeling over!

b) There'll probably be not much text with the photos, mainly due to the fact that it was so long ago and I can't remember details that well!

c) I take a lot of pictures of food and I will probably share them on the forthcoming blog entries... this may make no sense, but everyone who knows me knows I'm a bit of a foodie and have a thing for photographing meals so what's the point of having a blog if you can't share these pictures with the rest of the world?! ;-) Please also note that I only stopped eating gluten-grains, dairy, sugar, legumes etc quite recently (and if I'm fine dining I may loosen my restrictions somewhat).

d) there won't be much in the way of fitness related stuff as I only record in my calender events, not training sessions! I'll be dealing with my diet and the wonderful effects its had on my health in later posts.

Okay, so here goes!

Actually, I've pretty much done all of January as I did a few post-ankle op blog updates so you can check those out if you like :-)

I did go to dinner however towards the end of the month, which I didn't mention before...

Thursday 27th - Dinner at The Brickhouse

If you've not visited The Brickhouse before, you really should change that, here's why:

The Brickhouse is the only venue in Brick Lane offering live dinner cabaret every night. As the premier entertainment venue in East London, we showcase some of the most eclectic performances including circus, neo-burlesque, aerial, comedy and live music.

The food is excellent...

and the entertainment great too! We had burlesque

and some ridiculously bendy man forcing himself through tennis rackets and hammering nails into his nose!

All in all a really fun night, it had everything!

And that's the end of January 2011


Tuesday 13 September 2011

Hello, again!

Well, to say that it's been a while would be the understatement of the century, but I'm going to say it anyway...

It's been a while huh?!

Amusingly I have an unfinished post in my drafts entitled "Good grief, is it March already?!", six months later and here we are!

I know one of my favourite expressions is that 'life gets in the way', and it would be unfair to say that wasn't partly to blame for my blogging hiatus, but I'd say there were a multitude of other factors preventing me writing here. Number one I'd say is my perfectionist attitude manifesting itself in the need to 'catch up' - how can I ever move on if I don't share the past with you?! etc...

I've actually still got long posts 2/3rds of the way written dating back from the house move and Fame 2010 contest in May last year! I should really finish those off at some point...

I've also had a lot of bad luck this year with my ankle which I will go into later, basically it's still not right :-(

Anyway, for whatever reason (writer's block, hectic social and family life etc...) I've not written here for yonks and I've really missed it!

So what's provoked this return you might ask? (I say 'you' but if there is anyone left still reading this blog after half a year's absence I'll be very surprised!!)

The truth is that I'm not entirely sure but I suspect that it's because I didn't want any new visitors to this site thinking that I'm still the same girl who eats every 2-3 hours, eschews saturated fat, stays out of the sun, drinks umpteen synthetic protein shakes a day and believes that if you skip breakfast your brain will be unable to function for the rest of the day.

Yes, I've changed my thinking a lot, and for the better. I've made a lot of mistakes with my thinking, nutrition-wise - as evidenced by my previous beliefs, a lot of which are still here on this blog (and will remain, life is a learning process after all), but I think I've finally realised that if I want my body to not only last for the next 60 years (yes I plan on surpassing 100), I want it to thrive too. I want to remain strong and healthy for life and avoid all of those preventable 'diseases of civilisation' that some people accept as 'just being part of getting old' - pah! I'm already doing the correct things with my strength training programmes, but it's not just about what I do *to* my body, it's what I put *into* it that means the difference between actually living and just merely existing.

There are many things that I've come to realise now, things like:

Conventional Wisdom is deeply flawed to the point that it is killing us.
Humans aren't designed to eat food intended for birds that is used to fatten up livestock.
Sugar is basically evil.
Fat, though much maligned, is an incredibly important and necessary nutrient, without which we would die.
Cholesterol is also incredibly important to our survival.
Ever since nutritional 'experts' recommended replacing fat with carbohydrates, obesity and type 2 diabetes levels have sky-rocketed.
Pharmaceutical companies are entirely motivated by profit and therefore the sicker you are, the more money you are likely to throw at them. They are not interested in making you better as if they did you would cease buying their product.
Doctors/GPs, although well-meaning, base all their training on addressing the symptoms of sick people and not the underlying cause. Ask your Doctor how much nutritional training they have had.
And finally, I honestly believe that there are very few illnesses that cannot be prevented, ameliorated and perhaps even cured by removing all processed foods and following the diet that we evolved to eat.

This is just a short list. I could go on, and indeed I probably will in future posts as I find myself increasingly angered by the discovery that we've been lied to for the past 50/60 years about what constitutes a healthy diet and what causes things like cancer, heart disease and atherosclerosis etc...

So instead (as I did intend to keep this as brief as is possible for me to do!), I'll give you a little background info on my year and what has catalysed this change in my thinking. I truly feel like I have had my eyes opened once and for all.

Last year onwards...
When I was dieting for the UKBFF Stars of Tomorrow 2010 show, I was advised to cut down on cow's milk because of the high carb (sugar) content so I started drinking soya milk instead. I found I liked the taste so much that I didn't return to drinking cow's milk. After a few months I tried it in a coffee and was shocked at how unpleasant it tasted to me, and then more recently I was out with family enjoying a Sunday carvery at a local pub when I was about to take back the mashed carrot and swede because I thought it had gone rancid only to discover that everybody else was enjoying it and the only reason I wasn't was because had been milk mixed in. Strange how tastes can change! (I don't actually drink soya milk any more because of the health risks, but I'll expand more on that in a future post)

After a parent's evening we all went for a meal and ended up in Pizza Express. I opted for a pizza which I'd not had in a while and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time. However, on the way home I fell asleep in a cab, nothing I did could keep my eyes open. Similar things have happened following a large wheat-based meal, I found I just couldn't keep my eyelids open if I ate it!

I'd already massively cut down on wheat but it began to dawn on me that there must be a reason my body wants to in effect 'shut down' whenever I eat it so I decided to avoid it wherever possible.

I was browsing Amazon's website and saw a book called "You Can Be Thin: The Ultimate Programme to End Dieting... Forever" by a lady called Marisa Peer. The customer reviews were excellent and I was intrigued by the fact that Marisa uses hypnosis to reinforce her message (my mother was a hypnotherapist) so I bought it.

It really is an excellent book, very well written with clear points and a different take on 'diet' to that which I'd become used to reading - i.e. instead of trying to promote the low-fat high-carb approach that most diet-book authors do, she suggests removing foods that are a) harmful to your health and b) cause you to put weight on. Marisa explains the reasons why sugar, trans fats, grains and dairy are deleterious to your health and the way the book has been cleverly constructed means that the actual process of reading it to yourself creates a mildly hypnotic state.

The CD that accompanies the book is also very good and is worth listening to every day for a month as Marisa suggests... I'd recommend it personally if you're finding it hard to unwind after a day's work as I feel incredibly soothed after listening to it. The CD really helps to cement all her teaching, it's an ideal companion to the book.

Anyway, it was Marisa Peer who first truly introduced to me the idea that grains, particularly wheat, and cow's milk (believe it or not, it's meant to fatten up calves... not humans, we are the only animal to drink the breast milk of another species... it is a bit odd really if you think about it) are foods that we should restrict (and preferably eliminate altogether) from our diets. Until then I'd not really heard any convincing reasons against their consumption and was just going on how they made me feel. I already knew that processed foods were bad, it's a no-brainer really and was actively ensuring my refined sugar intake was as low as possible.

June onwards

In June I attended a free weight-loss seminar by the Personal Trainer Dax Moy entitled "The Facts and Fallacies of Female Fat Loss". It was a really insightful talk and I decided to have a go at his 30 Day Elimination Diet (which you can get for free if you sign up to his mailing list).

I followed it for a fortnight before a social engagement (cocktail-making hen party!) derailed my efforts somewhat (the diet eliminates alcohol).

I must admit though, I'd not lost a single pound. I think it was due to probably over-indulging in fruit as the diet allows you to eat it freely and I have since discovered that if you really are serious about shifting body fat you need to avoid fruit and also stick to non-starchy vegetables as much as possible.

One thing I am incredibly thankful to the Elimination Diet for is breaking my addiction to caffeine! I didn't think I was drinking that much but it was around 3 cups of coffee a day, perhaps some tea and a can of diet coke on top of it.... hmmm, perhaps not good huh?

For the first week and a bit I had the worst headache, seriously, it was dreadful this dull central ache, not fun. I'm not a fan of painkillers though so basically decided to ride it out. I can't believe how long it lasted though, I guess I truly was going cold turkey from an addiction (albeit only to caffeine!). Since then I rarely drink caffeinated coffee and have discovered a love for herbal teas (particularly "Morocco Mint and Spices" by Lipton).

Since I didn't feel that Dax Moy's plan and techniques worked for me I started looking around for others.

As I haven't blogged for so many months I also haven't kept up to date with all the other blogs I used to read *hangs head in shame*, but one of the few I have has been that of my friend Jo at I got to know her practically as soon as I first started blogging back in 2009 and have always felt like she's one step ahead of me in terms of knowledge in diet and training techniques so have been following with interest her progress over the past few months.

Jo has been following a Paleo/Primal approach to eating for almost 5 months and has had spectacular results. She's shifted a load of body fat without sacrificing her curves and has managed it all without the aid of protein shakes or bars, just through eating a good natural diet and practising Intermittent Fasting to keep her metabolism on its toes.

And thus begun my quest for anthropological nutritional knowledge and a desire to learn the truth about what constitutes a healthy diet (and also what especially does not).

I'm not going to expand on ancestral healthy practices now as I think that deserves at the very minimum an entire post all to itself (and remember this is meant to be brief!!)

As an overview, here is a collection of the books I've been reading over the past couple of months

The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf who was mentored by Loren Cordain/ (who actually wrote the first Paleo Diet book).

I really enjoyed this book, and Robb's energetic enthusiastic style of writing. I like that he comes from a scientific background as I'm generally a huge sceptic of anyone who doesn't. The only thing that grated a little was his continued use of the word "fanny", as in "get off your...". I think if you're going to use slang and humour in a book it's important to remember that if you're planning to market it to another country, you probably want to check that it doesn't have an alternative meaning which could be something completely different altogether!! (I sniggered to myself the first few times the word came up in the text and then just got a bit bored of it - fanny overkill it would seem!)

Anyway, don't let that overshadow a great book which is both humorous and informative... two qualities rarely witnessed in literature.

I also bought this book on the basis of some great reviews. Human Evolution, Diet and Health: The Case for Palaeolithic Nutrition by Mark Hines. It's a very succinctly written introduction to the rational behind eating the foods that shaped our evolution into the species we are today. There are a great many references cited but it doesn't read too much like a scientific paper as Mark has a very accessible style of writing.

Currently I am reading The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy by Mark Sisson and I am finding it very enjoyable indeed.

I want to talk more about Mark Sisson but I'll end up wittering on here for pages and pages so will save that for when I've finished the book in its entirety (lucky you! ;-) ).

One thing I will encourage people to do is visit Mark's site as it is simply a wealth of knowledge (both Mark's and from other fabulous sources), links to other sites and articles and a fabulous blog which he updates regularly. I really like the fact that he keeps his site entries open to comment at it shows that he holds himself accountable to everything he believes and likes to engage with others and receive feedback.

Although it's unlikely (although not improbable) now that I'll read the original Paleo Diet book now, I have bought The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and top USA triathlon and cycling coach Joe Friel for my own cycle-mad Joe and I'm pleased to say that he's reading it and that our nutritional paths seem to finally be aligned.

I can thank one book for that, Trick And Treat by Barry Groves.

I took Trick and Treat with me away on holiday a couple of weeks back and while there, Joe pinched it off me. I've not seen it since but I'm not going to complain. A few chapters of a book whose entire purpose is to dispel the myths surrounding 'healthy' eating and practices has convinced my boyfriend of what I have been unable to over the past few months - that 'healthy' eating is shortening our lifespans.

There's a lot of shocking (and very well referenced) information in that book, it's so good that I've bought it for my parents.

I'm hoping to get Trick and Treat back off Joe at some point but in the meantime I'm reading his follow-up/companion book, Natural Health and Weight Loss which is also very good. Barry Groves advocates a low-carb high-fat diet (LCHF) and explains why it is the best method for both short and long-term fat loss as well as general health (fat is infinitely superior to carbohydrate in that it has so many functions whereas carbohydrate is simply a fuel source).

Another LCHF aficionado is the esteemed scientific journalist Gary Taubes who wrote an amazingly detailed, lengthy and extremely edifying book called The Diet Delusion (also known as Good Calories, Bad Calories in the USA).

I must confess to not having finished reading that book. Although I am a very fast reader (I finished several Stephen King books whilst away as well as finally getting round to reading Dune which is over 600 pages long), I am also very impatient and I felt that I would probably end up skipping sections in order to 'get to the point' instead of devoting time to giving the book the concentration it deserves as it really is a spectacular collection of years' worth of research, painstakingly gathered and compiled for the reader's benefit.

To avoid the skipping scenario I purchased Gary Taubes' more recent book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do about It as I know that the intention behind it was to take the information from his initial masterpiece and condense it into a volume that is smaller and also doesn't require you to have any scientific knowledge or background in order to understand it.

Why We Get Fat... presents some pretty compelling arguments as to why we should avoid sugars and starches at all costs, but the most poignant thing for me was how he made me realise that fat people don't get fat because they overeat, they overeat because they are getting fatter. The regulation of their fat cells is out of kilter and thus their body locks away fat, not allowing it to be available for fuel, so the body naturally cries out for more food as it thinks it is being starved.

It's all down to the hormone insulin, honestly. Unless insulin production and regulation is running smoothly you're pretty much hosed, but thankfully diets promoted by the Paleo/Primal/LCHF school of thought have all got one thing in common... they stabilise your glucose (blood sugar) levels thus enabling insulin to carry out its role in the body and then bugger off when it's not needed anymore, making way for its counterpart glucagon whose role, simply put, is the complete opposite to insulin. Insulin takes glucose out of your blood and locks it away in cells, glucagon releases the stored energy (including fat which we all want to release... let's be honest!) from our cells and uses it to make glucose. It should be a nice happy cycle but if there is excess glucose in the blood then there will be extra insulin present, when insulin is present glucagon is not so therefore you cannot lose body fat if you have an excess of sugar in your blood (you can see another reason why pizza and pasta might have lost their appeal huh? ;-) )

Anyway, I've now broken my rule for this post and gone into detail on a topic, grrr, but as you can see it's obviously something that fascinates me and that I feel strongly enough about to want to bore everyone in sight over! :-)

I'm going to end things now otherwise I never will, but rest assured I will be back again soon as my blogging appetite has been well and truly whetted!

So until next time, take care of yourselves and thanks for reading.


Wednesday 16 February 2011

Product review - L-Carnitine Drink by Multipower

I've been meaning to write a review for this product for ages but haven't found the time so it has remained half-written for months now! :-S

I'm not generally a fan of 'sports drinks' as I see no need for them during normal (i.e. non-endurance) exercise activities, especially if you want to lose bodyfat! In my last post (Energy, fuel systems & fat burning 101) I talked about how the body generates fuel from the food we eat and briefly touched on what we need to do in order to encourage our body to lose the excess fuel that we've stored as fat.

Glucose-based energy drinks are extremely efficient fast-acting energy and fuel providers. This is because they contain simple sugars which the body absorbs immediately into the bloodstream - it doesn't even need to break them down at all, like it would if you'd eaten a plate of complex carbohydrates like rice, pasta or vegetables.

So, if you are a) engaging in a long-distance/endurance activity where you're likely to be active for well over an hour, or b) have just finished an intense weight training session and want to re-stock your muscle glycogen stores and encourage muscle repair and growth (yes, if you want to build muscle you need protein AND carbohydrates!), then in addition to a protein shake, some fast-acting muscle fuel might be just what the doctor ordered!

Personally though, I'd recommend a banana over a high glucose-drink like for this purpose, simply because of the amount of sugar it provides.

For example, take a look at these stats for a regular sized bottle (380ml, just over the size of a can of cola) of Lucozade orange:

Yes, that really *does* say 52.4g of sugar per bottle! That's more than 10 teaspoons of sugar, instant-access glucose which is going to hit your bloodstream - POW!

Bearing in mind that the GDA (Guideline Daily Amount) of sugar for a woman is 90g per day, that's quite a substantial proportion right there, over half in fact!

Do you really think you're going to use up all of that sugar? I guess it's possible but if you don't where is it going to go - yup, our primordial starvation-thwarting-mechanism will kick in and any excess will be stored as fat!

Foods like oats and brown rice release their energy slowly and over a sustained period - this makes them ideal fuel sources if you want to avoid energy dips or hunger pangs soon after eating a meal and also sugar/energy spikes too. The latter being particularly important because if we flood our bodies with too much sugar over a prolonged period of time, insulin becomes overloaded and inefficient at mopping up the excess glucose in our blood. This results in less of it being produced and/or the cells in our bodies becoming resistant to its effects, leading to type 2 ("adult onset") diabetes. Not good!!

I did recently try out Lucozade's new Sport Lite drink, and as you can see it's not nearly as sugar-loaded with a mere teaspoon per bottle:

Unfortunately however, one important thing has been left out of this 'lite' sports drink, and that is taste! It reminded me of the watery squash they serve at my son's parent's evenings, it was frankly quite disappointing!

So you can now see why I shy away from 'energy drinks'. The lighter versions taste like an over-diluted version of their original counterparts and, unless you're whippet thin and/or you're out for a 4 hour cycle or a 90 minute training run, the full-sugar versions are really not needed!

So imagine if you were to hear of an sports energy drink which worked not by providing carbohydrates for fuel, but by encouraging your body to burn its own fat stores for energy... that would be pretty cool huh?!

Well, Multipower have come up with a drink that does just that!

Introducing Multipower's L-Carnitine Drink (

If you're not already supplementing with L-Carnitine, or indeed - like me a few months ago - have no idea what on earth it is (I couldn't even spell it at first and kept typing 'l-cartinine', 'l-carnite', 'l-carniten', 'l-cartine' etc into search boxes, thank goodness for Google's "Did you mean:...."!!), here's a brief summary in simple layman's terms:

L-Carnitine is a nutrient whose sole function is help convert fat into energy.

Ah - ha! Now I have your attention right?

L-Carnitine is often referred to as a non-essential amino acid, although it is not one in the classic sense. Carnitine's role is to transport fatty acids into the mitochondria (central powerhouses) of your cells where it is then converted into energy ready for immediate use. This process provides muscular energy by burning fat, and also prevents fatty build-up around vital organs such as your heart and liver.

All the above should definitely ensure that L-Carnitine forms part of your fat burning stack, but if that wasn't enough there are also additional reported health benefits too, here are a list of some of them:

Reported L-Carnitine Benefits:

* helping reduce cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels
* decreasing fat mass
* increasing lean body mass
* improving muscular strength
* increasing energy
* reducing muscle fatigue
* suppressing appetite
* reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) blood levels in people with type 2 diabetes
* preventing fatty buildup, especially in the heart, liver, and skeletal muscles
* helping to heal sports related injuries
* supporting the cardiovascular system
* boosting male fertility
* promoting healthy skin
* may be useful for angina pectoris, congestive heart failure, and elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
* also used for recovery from a heart attack
* improving memory and mental capacity - may help delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease and relieve senile depression and other forms of dementia, and improve memory in the elderly.

(please note that the benefits reported above may not all have been proven by clinical trials)

This is just a collection of the widespread health benefits I have read since researching into L-Carnitine (I've included a few links for further reading) and studies are ongoing as to just how beneficial this nutrient actually is but it all sounds terribly exciting to me!

At the most basic level I am obviously very interested in L-Carnitine's role in fat mobilisation to cells for energy so I was keen to try it out, here are my observations:


I love the slim sports bottle. The actual top of the bottle is foil sealed for extra freshness and it's got a proper sports cap.


I tried the pineapple flavour L-Carnitine drink and absolutely loved it. It's fruity and tangy and not a bit too sweet or sickly - there is enough flavour there to satisfy, in fact it's really very moreish! It's hard to believe there are less than 10 Calories a bottle!


Before my ankle surgery, I was drinking Multipower's L-Carnitine drink before heading down to the gym for cardio sessions at lunch and also 30 minutes prior to my boxercises classes. I really felt that it helped with energy levels, especially during boxercise which was fabulous as at the time I was on a reduced carbohydrate diet and my energy levels had dipped somewhat - I didn't notice this happening after taking the drink though so that has to be good news!

My body fat was reduced at the time, but because I'm not a scientist I cannot say whether that was solely due to the L-Carnitine drink as my activity levels were high and my calories were relatively low. However, since L-Carnitine plays such a key part in fat mobilisation I'm hopeful that it contributed to my fat loss.


The only bugbear I have with Multipower is the fact that they sell their products in such huge packs, their L-Carnitine drink is no exception to this and you have to buy a minimum of 24 bottles at a time. If you buy bigger quantities you pay less... but I'd really like to see an option to buy a pack of 12 and I think that would encourage more people to do likewise as there's not such a large initial outlay. A mixed pack would be good also, can't wait to try the cranberry flavour!

Price-wise, it's about 50p more expensive than a bottle of Lucozade Sports Lite but seeing that I think more than £1 is far too much to pay for a little sugar and electrolyte water that tastes like weak squash, I'm more than happy to pay the extra!

Plus you get the 1,000mg of L-Carnitine it provides and the the far superior taste... and bottle for that instance - the Lucozade has one of those annoying semi-sealed latex openings (like a bottle teat) such that you have to practically crush the bottle with your hands and suck to the point of goldfish-cheeks just to get any liquid out, which means you end up inhaling a load of air! *Not* a good look for anyone I might add ;-)

L-Carnitine naturally occurs in red meat and other animal source foods, but you'd have to eat over a kilo of beef before you could match the quantity in one bottle of L-Carnitine drink! Oh and unlike 'normal' sports drinks that you see people gulping down mid-exercise, Multipower's L-Carnitine drink should be drunk about 30 mins or so before you engage in any physical activity so that it can get to work before you do!

I think that's it for now, this was only meant to be a brief review but as you can see it's turned out to be anything but!

I'll leave you for now with some links at the bottom to browse if you're after any more information on L-Carnitine and its health and/or fitness benefits.

Bye for now, stay strong!



Links relating to L-Carnitine that may be of interest
(Please note that I am not responsible for the content on any of these sites or their accuracy)

Fitness & Fat Burning Information Links

Potential Health Benefits of L-Carnitine

Friday 11 February 2011

Energy, fuel systems & fat burning 101

This post originally started out as a product review, but as I got carried away (which I'm sure you all know I often do while blogging!) with the science behind both the storage and production of energy as well as the process of fat burning, that it kinda metamorphosed into one super-long post!

So I thought I'd split it out into two posts, the product review and the science part.

Here's the latter:

Energy In

When you eat a meal containing carbohydrates, they are broken down to form glucose , which is often referred to as "blood sugar".

As glucose is a monosaccharide, or "simple sugar" as it's commonly known, it passes straight through the wall of the small intestine and into the bloodstream. It is here that the hormone insulin, which is released by the pancreas when it detects an increase of glucose in the blood (i.e. after a carbohydrate-rich meal), facilitates the transport of glucose to the liver and muscles where it undergoes a storage process called glycogenesis, during which time the glucose is converted into glycogen (see pics below - click for larger image) and stored in the liver (for blood sugar regulation) and skeletal muscles (for energy).

In the event of a surplus of glucose in the blood (i.e. the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver are full to capacity, and glucose is not immediately required for energy), instead of ferrying the glucose to your liver and muscle cells, insulin encourages the body to convert glucose to fat and store it adipocytes (fat cells) as adipose tissue (AKA "body fat"). This feature has earned insulin the nickname "the fat storage hormone", which is unfortunate as storing fat is not its sole purpose!

This ability to store surplus food as fat is a fabulous feature of the human body. Fat is a relatively metabolically inactive tissue that exists in a mainly anhydrous (water-free) environment. This makes it light and requiring very little effort or energy from the body to maintain it - this is in stark contrast to our muscles which are a lot more dense and store as much as 3g of water for every 1g of glycogen! Also, one gram of fat provides the body with 9 Kcals (Calories) of energy (which is more than double the energy provided by a gram of carbohydrate), and this equates to a whopping 3500 Calories of energy available to us for every pound of fat present on our body.

Human beings would not have been able to survive as a race if we didn't have this storage feature available to us. When food is plentiful we store it easily as fat and carry it around with us - literally on our person - far more effective than storing it in a fridge! When our bodies detect that we are consuming less Calories than needed to run efficiently, we are then able able to tap into our 'mobile larder' and utilise some of our fat stores.

This human larder feature was great back in the days before the agricultural and industrial revolutions, but the simple fact is that is that in these modern times, where food is plentiful and portion sizes far exceed our nutritional needs, we do not have to worry about preparing for "feast and famine" situations. Unfortunately our bodies don't seem to have cottoned onto that fact yet! :-)

Energy Out

When we exercise, the opposite to the storage process (glycogenesis) that I mentioned above occurs and a process called glycolysis takes place during which adenosine triphosphate (ATP), is produced.

Often referred to as the body's "energy currency", energy is released when one of ATP's phospate bonds breaks off resulting in ATP reverting back to ADP (adensosine diphosphate - i.e. 'tri' becomes 'di')

During the first 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity, the body will primarily be using up its stored glycogen supplies to provide energy for your workout. After that it will look to other sources for glucose and it's at this time that it will recruit your fat stores. That is, unless you were to recently have drunk - or be drinking - a sugary/glucose-rich energy drink as your body will immediately take advantage of the instantly accessible glucose in your bloodstream and turn to that to provide the energy for your workout, and who could blame it?

Fat burning

In order for us to lose bodyfat we need to persuade our bodies to use it as an energy source i.e. as its fuel.

Normal metabolic processes like cell reproduction, brain functionality, breathing, pumping blood throughout the body etc all require fuel, and so it follows that if we consume fewer calories than we use during these processes we create a deficit which leads to - yup, you guessed it - fat loss!

Examining ones diet should really be the first port of call for anyone wishing to lose weight - after all, comparatively, the time you spend exercising during the day vs the time you are not is pretty minute. Because of this, it's really Calories you burn when you're *not* active that matter more than the ones you burn when you are - hence the need for an overall Calorie deficit as mentioned above.

That being said, it's not as cut-and-dried as that, because there are so many different factors that affect the rate at which your body burns calories and/or stores fat, a few examples being:

* stress levels
In the same way that insulin is referred to as the "fat storage hormone", cortisol, one of our key "fight or flight" hormones, is also demonised by the diet industry. Cortisol is a very useful and necessary hormone so long as the perceived 'threat' that led to its secretion is alleviated as soon as possible.

Scientific studies have linked chronic stress to a number of health issues including high blood pressure, digestive complaints, inflammation, skin problems, impaired reproductive functionality, increased heart rate, increased abdominal fat... the list goes on!

Also, due to its catabolic nature, cortisol also encourages your body to break down body tissue (including precious hard-earned muscle which we *really* don't want!) and reduces bone formation!

As if all that wasn't bad enough, cortisol also increases your appetite too, which is another undesirable side-effect that can make resisting temptation during dieting even more difficult!

All in all, you really want to keep your stress levels as low as possible. In today's busy working world that may be incredibly difficult. However there are things we can do to help reduce our levels like taking time out even if it's just for 20-30 minutes, ensuring we get a good night's sleep, watching a funny movie or participating in some sort of physical exercise.

* alcohol
Your body cannot store alcohol so it uses it for fuel, and continues to do so until it it has all been removed from your bloodstream.

While your body is doing this it is not recruiting any other fuel sources which means that if you're eating a big meal and enjoying several large glasses of wine with it, you may well find that more of it gets stored as fat than would have done had you not been drinking. It's also worth noting that as alcohol is such a great disinhibitor you often find that the more drunk you get, the less likely you are to make healthy decision when it comes to food!

My advice would be to avoid drinking alcohol in large amounts as much as is possible, however I realise from my own experience that this isn't always easy to stick to so if you're out on a big night out, why not hit a club/late night bar and try and incorporate some dancing into your evening to burn off those excess alcohol calories that way :-)

* general state of health
If you are unwell your body will tend to focus its efforts towards fighting the cause of this illness/infection and might end up shutting down/reducing functions that require more energy like hair/nail growth, building new (and sustaining existing!) muscle etc...

* food types

If you consume a decent amount of protein in your meals you'll use more energy processing it than you would carbohydrates or fat so your net calorie intake is reduced.

This also means that your body takes longer to process your meal, which results in your feeling fuller for longer.

* fitness levels/body composition
As well as paying attention to your diet, it is also important to consider the benefits of exercise and strength training for burning body fat. Not only does exercising burn Calories, it is also the case that fitter you are, and the more muscle you have on your body, the greater the number of Calories your body will burn throughout the day, even when you're sitting down reading blog posts! :-)

Gaining extra muscle also helps to strengthen bones as the more you have, the more force you exert on your bones (onto which your muscles attach) causing them to grow stronger to cope with the added strain. Running is also hugely beneficial for increasing bone density because of the high impact it produces.

So after taking all the above into consideration, how do we encourage our bodies to burn fat as a fuel during exercise?

Well, in order to 'tap into' your body's fat stores you need to first have used up your body's supply of the more easily attainable glycogen.

Here are 2 popular methods I've heard of that exploit muscle glycogen depletion to promote fat oxidation:

1) Aerobic/cardiovascular "cardio" activity performed on an empty stomach (e.g. first thing in the morning before breakfast).
Commonly known as "Fasted Cardio" this is very popular amongst those wishing to utilise their fat stores for fuel while exercising because of the absence of glucose in the blood. The theory is that once the body has burnt through its supply of intramuscular glycogen it will turn to its fat stores.

It is important to take on board carbohydrates and proteins as soon as possible after this exercise though to avoid low energy levels throughout the morning.

The efficacy of Fasted Cardio provokes many differences of opinions, especially among bodybuilders! Here's an interesting article from the fabulous T-Nation site.

2) Performing cardio after a weight-training session.
During a 'traditional'/'classic' weights session, e.g. lifting heavy weights for short periods of time, you will primarily have been exercising anaerobically (during which time the body will *only* be burning glycogen or glucose as neither fats nor proteins can be processed in the absence of oxygen). If you follow up a 30-45 minute weights session with some low-intensity cardio you can pretty much guarantee that you'll be tapping into your fat stores for fuel.

Whether or not this method is indeed useful in assisting with fat oxidation, it is generally the approach I take when incorporating both strength and cardiovascular training into one workout, as I find that aerobic exercise tires my muscles out such that I wouldn't have as effective a weights session were I to tack it onto the back of a cardio one.

The subject of fat burning during exercise and its various methods (HIIT Vs SSC, fasted cardio Vs fueled etc...) does seem a contentious one with many people having differing opinions as to what's effective and what's not. As everyone's bodies behave in different ways I think it important for you to try a variety of methods and settle on what you feel provides the best results while keeping you healthy and energised.


Lastly, I just wanted to go back to the subject of taking on additional sugar during exercise and I would like to point out that I am not saying that we should never consume carbohydrates during cardio activity. Continued carbohydrate refueling is of paramount importance during endurance sports such as running/hiking/cycling etc, this is because:

a) muscle glycogen can only be used to produce energy for muscles, it cannot be used to regulate blood sugar levels as this is the role of the glycogen stored in the liver, and so

b) in the case of complete liver glycogen and glucose depletion your body will enter a state of hypoglycemia which brings with it unpleasant (and potentially life-threatening!) side-effects.

This is definitely *not* what you want to encounter 90 minutes into a training run or cycle, the latter being the most dangerous given how far 90 minutes of cycling can take you before you 'bonk' or 'hit the wall'.

It is worth noting, however, that the the better condition you are in, athletically (i.e. the more 'trained' you are), the greater the volume of glycogen your muscles can store, which is one of the reasons why elite runners and cyclists can go further without 'hitting the wall' than ordinary athletes. Add to this the fact that the fitter you are aerobically the more adept your body becomes at utilising fat for fuel and this fully illustrates why all endurance athletes (and not just people who train for strength and/or aesthetics) should incorporate strength training into their workouts and make muscle hypertrophy - as well as cardiovascular fitness training - a priority!

I myself am prone to hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes which manifest in the form of nausea, shaking, dizziness, feeling uncomfortably hot and going deathly pale. In these instances the only thing for it is a can of full-fat coca cola - eughh! Does the trick though. I'd like to add that I haven't had one of these episodes in ages since I started ensuring that I eat breakfast every morning without fail, which leads me onto another point I'd like to make about carbohydrate.

The anabolic regeneration of your body that takes place during sleep requires a great deal of fuel to facilitate it. This is what results in the depletion of your glycogen stocks, so to even consider starting your working day without taking any carbohydrate on board is probably not the best choice to make.

Glucose is food for our brain, and because it cannot store it in the same way that the muscles and liver can, it relies on there being a steady stream of it in the blood. So don't starve your brain!



So there you go, I've found this all so interesting that I do feel like I could write the same amount of text twice over again still!! I think that I should really stop here though, before I get even more carried away :-)

I do hope that you have found this post to be informative (if perhaps a bit long-winded!), I know I've certainly had loads of fun researching and writing it :-)

In fact, I found researching the individual topics so enjoyable that yesterday I spoke to my other half about possibly completing a course in Human Nutrition and he's in agreement that I should go for it! So I'm actually going to add another string to my bow and complement my Level 2 Gym Instructor qualification (and forthcoming First Aid certification) by completing a Certificate in Nutrition and Weight Management. I haven't decided who with just yet as the same qualification seems to vary considerably in price across the different fitness qualification providers and there also seem to be a few different award bodies too... it's all a little confusing!

You see, I've harboured a dream to become a dietician/nutritional advisor for almost 15 years! When my son was born he was almost 7 weeks early and quite jaundiced. Because of this I ended up spending about 2 weeks in King's College Hospital, London while he recovered enough to be sent home and while I was in hospital I was assigned a dietician who was just wonderful. I ballooned in weight to over 200lbs when I was pregnant and after I gave birth I was constantly ravenous and didn't find the hospital meals nearly substantial enough. I was clearly very overweight but she didn't judge me at all, just just made sure I had enough to eat to keep me happy and even brought up extra wholemeal bread sandwiches. She was a doll and I dearly wish I remembered her name. This lovely dietician had such a profound effect on me, that to this day I still feel indebted to her kindness and wish I could tell her how grateful I was and indeed still am.

I still have this dream to become a registered dietician myself. However, to become fully recognised by the British Dietetic Association, I'd need to complete a degree course in Human Nutrition & Dietetics and that would require me to a) complete a science course first as I have no A-Levels and b) leave my job as I can't seem to find any that are part time! (b) is not possible as we have an expensive mortgage!!

That being said, the university from the first link (London Metropolitan University) does another nutrition degree course (Human Nutrition BSc) which doesn't require you to study full time but doesn't have the dietetic element.

This course is accredited by The Nutrition Society and successful completion results in admission to the Register of Associate Public Health Nutritionists. This article from the government's 'Next Step' website is very helpful and informative. The role of a nutritionist sounds a very interesting one indeed, especially with the option to participate in scientific studies.

All food for thought as they say and if I'm honest I'm very excited about the future. Although fitness training is - and always will be - hugely important to me, it's the science of food that really floats my boat. I know that I want to specialise in nutrition, it's where my heart and real interest lies, and one day I know I'll get there, I just have to explore the various avenues I might need to pursue in order to reach my goal.

Okay, I really will stop writing now, I think this is the longest post I've ever made - eek!

So it's bye for now, stay strong & healthy, until next time


Thursday 3 February 2011

4 Weeks post-surgery recovery update

Wow, that's a catchy title eh? Sounds like the title of a medical paper, hmmm

Okay how about:

The Adventures of Tara and her new-improved-NON-wooden foot!


Yes dear readers, today for the first time in weeks Tara actually has mobility in her right foot - huzzah! I hadn't realised how stiff the whole joint was until today when I attempted to point the toes on my right foot in line with my left and could only get about halfway between fully-flexed and pointed (i.e. 'good toes' vs 'naughty toes' ballet style....) - not good!

Now however, thanks to the fabulous Graham Anderson (who has been my long-suffering physio since I took my first injury-prone steps into the world of running back in 2004), from Balance Physio (in Clapham, London), I now have almost full flexion and I can actually walk without a limp - double huzzah!

I also have some good calf stretches to do, plus a plethora of specific resistance band exercises to boot - all of which I found spectacularly difficult today given the state of my poor withered calf and quads... yes, atrophy has set in big style!! It's heart-breaking really, can't stand seeing good muscle go to waste but what can I do... It's only been this week when I've really been able to put weight on my right foot and that's still only slight...

...and don't get me started on the hand blisters!! You'd think that after using crutches solidly for weeks my hands would adapt, but in fact every day hurt even more than the previous!

Positives though... (and we should always look to the positives during times of discomfort) my lats are *hugely* stronger following my brief sojourn to the land of two crutches and zero right leg weight!! The movement is similar to that of gymnasts on the Olympic Rings. Also, my left leg was my weakest - not so any more!! Likewise my left glutes, not good either or calf for that matter. Now that I've become one-legged-peg or Herr Flick as my other half has so affectionately named me!! Those of you who are too young to remember... of for whom 'Allo 'Allo regrettably (or perhaps thankfully!) passed you by, Herr Flick was a member of the Gestapo who possessed a rather unfortunate limp... I might be able to find a video of it, hang on...

ahh yes, here we go, 'tis I!

well, according to my ever loving(??) boyfriend anyway! Although not any longer!

So yes, I've got the resistance band exercises as well as a rather nifty one somewhat akin to a leg press but not so as obviously I am unable to use that machine right now!

It's kind like this - you lie on your back with one foot (not two like in the picture) pushed against a swiss/stability/gym (whatever you want to call it!) ball and push deep into the ball.

This way I'm working my glutes and my quads (as long as I don't turn my knee in which is something I got picked up on!), but not to the cost of my recovery as it's not fully body weight - I obviously can't exert the same force pushing through my foot as I could if I were pushing against a weight stack or even my own bodyweight (think step-ups which are a no-no!!).

This exercise also has the added advantage of increasing stability in my hips as it's a unilateral move and I have to work to keep the ball from rolling away from underneath my foot!

The only disappointment during the session was that Balance's ultra-cool Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill:

was unfortunately out of use at the time I went so I wasn't able to don the spectacular Alter-G Shorts... which remind me of Wallace & Gromit for some reason...


...and basically run in an air bubble at a fraction of my bodyweight!

Boo :-(

I am however booked in next week for some more physio advice, ankle manipulation and fun on the anti-gravity treadmill too - whoop! Very excited, it'll be the first time I've moved faster than a lolloping limp/slow dragging walk in almost 5 weeks!!

Good gosh! I've peaked too early I'm afraid... I was meant to tell you my recent news in chronological order and the like but have totally screwed that up so I guess I'll rewind a bit and enlighten you on my slow progress to date since I last offered some rambling text up to you all a couple of weeks ago. Okay, let's go back, waaaay back...

In fact, this might be helpful - here's an surgery time-line for you:

07/01/2011 - Arthroscopic surgery of the right ankle

08/01/2011 - Home for 2 weeks rest

10/01/2011 - First day on my own since the surgery, had to negotiate stairs on my own and solve such complex puzzles as how to get a full cup of coffee through from the kitchen to the living room when you're on two crutches and can only put one foot down. (Click here for ingenious solution ;-) ). Lunch items such as soup were also a bit of an enigma... *whyyyyy* did I think soup was a good idea to buy pre-surgery, I wasn't sick, just incapacitated! The answer to this problem was to decant said soup into a (tightly sealed!) tupperware box and carry in a bag on the arm of one crutch... (I avoided soup as much as possible during the two weeks I had off work!)

14/01/2011 - first attempt at gentle post-surgery exercise

16/01/2011 - second attempt at gentle post-surgery exercise

18/01/2011 - The *first* time I was able to put a small amount of weight on my right foot without feeling like I would scream... yes, a whole 11 days later!!

20/01/2011 - Dressing, padding and surgical wrapping removed (so first day I was able to move my foot at all post-surgery)... heel started feeling less numb a few days later.

Having all the wrappings removed was rather a relief, not least because of the increased mobility, but also because I'd been terrified that my ankle was actually *as* swollen as it appeared with all the bandages on!

It turns out it was a lot less so and my 2 weeks of careful rest has resulted in an ankle my surgeon was actually very pleased with!

The dimpling is from the clever gauze stuff they had between my skin and the padding to draw away any bleeding (if present) from the skin... rather like running technical t-shirts... wicking material, v clever! The dots on the right side of my foot are where my surgeon marked out my nerves for reference during the operation and I'm pleased to report that they're all still intact!!

Oh and please forgive the dreadful toenails... I'm not a terribly girly girl, so on the rare occasion that I painted my toenails for the UKBFF Stars of Tomorrow show last year I a) bought cheap nailpolish not realising it really made difference, and b) didn't take it off for yonks.... ooops, hence stained toenails - oh well... It's a good job my boyfriend doesn't have a foot fetish really!

Oh, while I was at my post-surgery appointment I was shown the pictures from the operation that they took inside my foot.... HUGELY exciting for me, I got to keep them too (after asking nicely!), looky here!

IMG_001 shows the bit of cartilage - the OCD (Osteochondral Defect) - that had partially broken off and was flapping about and 'catching' when I performed twisting movements like in netball or put my weight on my foot while it wasn't in a stable flat position - i.e. wearing heels or standing on tiptoe. IMG_006 also shows the same thing (I think!). In IMG_005 you can clearly see the lump of inflamed tissue that was also present in my ankle that Mr Davies removed. Not sure about the other pictures though to be honest, not that great at making sense of medial ankle images!

22/01/2011 - first time walking on both feet (albeit obviously mega-crutch-assisted!), the previous day and a bit had been spent feeling like someone had beaten me about the ribs and back because of the muscle ache from all the work on both crutches going to and from the foot and ankle centre! I also managed another gentle workout this day - picture update to follow soon (fingers crossed!)

24/01/2011 - first day back at work, very much enjoyed someone else doing the cooking at lunch time and managed an upper body workout straight after work. However I only took one crutch with me. Error. Ankle horribly sore and swollen by the end of the day:

25/01/2011 - had to take day off to rest and ice my ankle. Very pleased that I did though and didn't just try and man it up and go to work as it felt remarkably better the next day :-)

26/01/2011 - 28/01/2011 spent the rest of the week using both crutches and hardly putting any weight at all on right foot as a precautionary measure.

29/01/2011 - Worked my shoulders in the day time and then went to the dog track in the evening (as you do!), being on crutches did prove particularly useful as I was the only one of our group who was able to get a seat! Also won some money too which is always nice :-)

31/01/2011 - lamented the fact that it was the end of January already and reflected on how old that revelation made me feel. Spent a little too long in the supermarket after work and foot felt incredibly achey as a results... lots of ice that night

01/02/2011 - can it really be February already?! Foot felt a lot better, ice at night again

02/02/2011 - foot felt terrible - how unpredictable can one's recovery be?! More ice that night

03/02/2011 - physio appointment! So back to the start we go!

Oh, I forgot to mention earlier that I bought some new heavier ankle weights! They're quite nifty in that they've got individual pockets each containing a 1kg weight:

They are however very cumbersome and unwieldy but I guess that's to be expected at such a weight! I have therefore had to 'cap' the ends (e.g. the part near my fragile ankle!) with my lighter weights to prevent them slipping down and hurting the joint...

... I can attest to the fact that it's not the most aesthetically pleasing solution to this exercise dilemma, but it's pretty effective and as I'm the only one who sees me when I work-out at home, I don't really care either way! ;-)

So that *almost* concludes this update for now! In true Tara fashion I've probably blabbered on far too much but I do hope you've stuck with me :-)

Although I'm obviously not able to do any cardio or lower leg weight training like squats, lunges etc, I'm still keeping up my upper body and core work and I'm feeling very excited about the coming year's competitions during 2011. I couldn't find a list of all the forthcoming bodybuilding, figure, fitness, bikini etc competitions and contests for 2011 where everything was all in one place so I put one together myself.

You can find it here:, I hope it's helpful, it certainly is for me to have all the federations and shows together in a single point of reference!

I had really hoped to do the Muscle Mania/Fitness Britain Show in April this year but realistically I think that might be a bridge too far in terms of it being so close to my surgery so I'm thinking May at the earliest would be for the best. I definitely want to do FAME UK again, it's very expensive but I really enjoyed the experience last year (if you've not seen my pics then here's a link to the album on facebook :-) ). It's funny looking back at pics that are that old, I'm not sure I'd go on stage now if I looked the way I did then - not that I looked 'bad' per se - just not nearly lean enough!

At the moment I'm trying to organise my life as much as possible in terms of scheduling my training in (I trained my tris and bis after work today, was a great session, I felt super strong!).

I'm also cleaning out my diet as much as possible. The only real weakness I can see is alcohol. I don't eat sweets, chocolates, cakes, crisps etc, nor much pasta, bread etc as I prefer to get my carbohydrates from rice/quinoa and vegetables as much as possible.

So for now I've cut out all drinking at home and am limiting myself to when I'm out socialising. We've got friends over next week though so will doubtless have a glass or two of red wine but not much more than that as it's a school night! However, closer to my first show I'm pretty sure I'll cut out the alcohol altogether, I just won't have room for it in my macros!

My protein is quite high at the moment as I'm trying to keep the weight down while I'm so inactive and lose as little muscle as possible. My macro ratios are about 50/30/20 - although my protein was higher today as I had a weights session. I'm really pleased with how things are going, I've actually lost weight recently but bizarrely I'm not pleased about that as I'm pretty certain it's all muscle that has gone from my right leg!

Okay, I'm waffling here, I need to post this and go to bed but I'm super keen to update again soon and also post a few reviews as I've been working my way through the Multipower range and I'm itching to tell you about what I've tried so far, I'm really impressed!

I'm also hoping to start video blogging - vlogging? that must be right, ha! I figure that it would take me a lot less time to waffle into a webcam that it would to type this random stream of consciousness that erupts from my brain at arbitrary intervals. Finding anyone to *watch* it however is a different matter so we'll see how that goes shall we ;-) You'd watch my vlogs wouldn't you? x

Bye for now, stay strong