Monday, 22 September 2014

What Is : Creatine?

I've written on this blog a lot over the years about protein as a supplement but very little about other supplements that claim to enhance performance. One of these, which is often mentioned alongside protein, is creatine. I would often see it advertised alongside the protein powders on websites and disregarded it, not knowing what it was or what it was supposed to do for me, but thought it about time to do some research. I reasoned that if I was hazy on it, others might be too so I hope you find this a useful beginner guide.

So what is creatine? Well it's an organic substance that occurs naturally in the body and helps to supply energy to all cells in the body, particularly muscle. Prepare for a little bit of science. The body uses phosphocreatine (PCr) in the production of ATP, a substance which supplies the muscles with energy and in particular powers the short bursts of energy required for high intensity activities such as running. The body usually has a limited supply of PCr but increasing the amount of creatine in the body by taking a supplement increases the stores of  amount available to combine with phosphorous in the muscle cells to produce PCr. This is then is broken down into ATP during the first few seconds of exercise. So... more creatine means potentially more PCr which can make more ATP and therefore increase the amount of energy available to use. So far so good? OK.

This increase in available energy can improve performance in sports and exercise that require muscular strength and short burst of power such as:

  • strength training
  • sprinting
  • long distance running
  • long distance swimming

But does it actually work? Studies have shown that taking creatine as a supplement can improve performance and recovery and could help to build muscle directly by increasing protein synthesis or indirectly by increasing capacity for exercise.

So if you want to try it for yourself, how do you take it? There are two generally recognised "creatine loading strategies". The first is known as rapid loading. Start by taking 20-25g of creatine daily for 5-7 days then 2-5g creatine daily for up to 28 days. Alternatively a steady intake of 3g per day over 28 days will yield the same benefits. There seems to be no significant benefit to using one method over the other.

A few points of note... There's no benefit to consuming more than 20-25g of creatine per day as higher doses are just flushed from the body in your urine. Taking creatine with a carbohydrate drink helps to stimulate the release of insulin, which increases absorption by the muscle cells. However caffeine cancels out the effect of creatine and so should be avoided when taking this supplement, in order to gain the most benefit. You should also be aware that long-term use could affect kidney function.

If you want to try using this supplement then it's readily available from most stockists of protein supplements. I'd be very interested to know if you already use it and whether it's made a difference.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Weekend Of Reckoning

Saturday: Cycle training & 30 mins online cardio class
Sunday: Bacchus half marathon
Monday: Wall sit challenge & HIIT
Tuesday: 4 mile run
Wednesday: 4.5 mile run
Thursday: Jump & yoga challenge
Friday: Rest day

By the time you read this I will be on my way to Belvoir Castle and embarking on one of the most nerve wracking things I've ever signed up to; Equinox24. I'd been feeling pretty calm about it all until about three weeks ago, even with several changes to the team that require last minute recruiting, but in the last week the terror really kicked in.

In reality, for this event, I've got it relatively easy. I'm in a team of five rather than running solo so although the event lasts for 24 hours I will likely only be running 4-5 laps and having 4 hours rest between each one. I can do this. I've trained. I'm fit and well. It's the logistics that are freaking me out a bit; wondering if I've packed enough kit or too much, have I got the right sort of food (again I've undoubtedly got too much), will the weather hold or will it be miserable. And will the team manage to find each other? Only two of us have ever met in real life before! In the last week we've all been a bit more vocal on email and hopefully making a team banner, adorning the camp with balloons and ourselves with glowsticks and face paints will help with the bonding process. I've never had such a lengthy packing list for anything, even a 2 week holiday to the states!
You wouldn't think I was only going away for a weekend...
All along I've been telling myself that this is meant to be a fun thing. I've no aims for time or numbers of laps, but I want to do my best and it's a complete unknown, completely different to anything I've attempted before. I've been trying to bury my fears in order to quell those of others but they've manifested themselves in my dreams almost every night since Monday so I'm hoping that my honesty here will help.

The temptation has been to go all out with training in the last few days but instead I've held back a bit in order to conserve energy. Held back on the exercise at least... food has been another matter entirely...
Cake to feed hungry runners
I did a couple of hours of cycle training on Saturday morning. Put me on a track in a race situation without junctions, stopping, gears and traffic to think about and I'm fine... put me on the road and it's another thing entirely! So it was off to a free council-led thingy to practice and learn how to ride properly. I'm getting used to pedals with toe clips and so promptly fell off my bike about 10 minutes after I arrived, earning myself some pretty nasty cuts and bruises in the process. But I got up and back on to build my confidence again. By the end of the session I was feeling so much better about it all and I'll be going back for another session in a few weeks time. Best use of 2 hours ever.

The knees worked well enough to get me around Bacchus half marathon on Sunday, even if they were very sore and they've held out and started to heal up over the course of the rest of the week. Only doing a couple of shorter runs and a little HIIT has left me feeling restless but I'm feeling in decent shape for tomorrow.
Happy times at Bacchus
I'm just trying to keep in mind that I'm doing this for the experience and to raise money for a wonderful charity. When I feel overwhelmed I will turn to my team and my friends knowing that they will understand and put aside their fears to encourage me, just as I put aside mine to encourage them. And I will also think of my Aunt, who would have been #VirtualTraining with me, and cheering me on from afar. And I'll know that I can push a tiny bit more.

It all starts at midday on Saturday. Phone battery permitting I'll be posting pictures and updates to twitter throughout. Texts and tweets of encouragement will be most appreciated and if you can spare a couple of quid Hospiscare would benefit greatly. You can donate at

Good luck to everyone else taking part in Equinox24 or indeed any other event this weekend. The TeamBear motto is "Suffer But Never Surrender" but the most important thing is to remember to have fun :)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Race Review : Bacchus Half Marathon

I am running through a vineyard in a sarong with grapes draped about my person, quietly shedding leaves and looking out for an escaped sheep. As I pause to consume wine and jaffa cakes a Roman taps me on the shoulder and hands me some grapes with the words "I think these are yours".

If I said that this was a rather odd dream I had, you'd be forgiven for thinking that were true, but in actual fact I was taking part in the Bacchus half marathon, an annual event held at Denbies Wine estate where fancy dress is nigh on compulsory and there is wine tasting en route. It was, without doubt, the most enjoyable half marathon I have ever done, worth every penny of the £45 entry fee and an event I'd do again in a heart beat. This is not en event for PBs; if you run for a time you'll likely miss out on all the fun parts. This is most definitely an event to do for the experience, for the fun, for the wine and with friends. The more the better. 
My race posse consisted of my parents, who, to my delight, decided that spending a day in a vineyard wasn't a bad way to spend a Sunday. Although the half marathon didn't start until 11am we were still up early-ish as it was a 50 minute drive away and with the marathon distance event starting at 10 we weren't sure how far away we'd have to park. We needn't have worried, parking was plentiful, free and easy allowing plenty of time for me to register, get kitted up and explore the race HQ. The best part of this is eyeing up everyone's costumes. I decided, after much deliberation, to go as an approximation of Bacchus or "Grape-Lady" as I got referred to more than once. It's the first time I've run in proper fancy dress and despite shedding leaves and grapes around the course I survived without chafing or costume-related injury, possibly as my costume felt a little tame compared with some.
I hadn't arranged to meet friends at the race, although I knew a lot of the twitter gang were taking part so I was pleased to find Lucy at the bag check on my way to the start line and even more so when it turned out we were both planning to take it steady. I was glad of the company. We set off through the vineyard, and out into the town where we met our first water/wine station. These appear approximately every two miles, loaded with biscuits, fruit, chocolates, crisps and sweets as well as water, squash and most importantly WINE! Stopping for a swig, a scoff and a natter so often makes this feel more like a party than a race. 
Enjoying a wine stop with Lucy and Laura
We found existing friends and made a few new ones on the way round. I have never been so well-fueled, and it was an interesting experiment in how well my system reacts to solid food on the go... all good practice for the forth-coming weekend...
Most of the route is on the estate and on trail. There are some long gentle climbs, fields and tracks affording some spectacular views. It also means that you may encounter escaped sheep, mountain bikers and horse riders. Quite how the horses didn't get spooked by us all I've no idea. Also dotted on the course was entertainment in the form of steel bands and bagpipers. This event has it all folks!

My parents managed to get to a couple of points in the second half of the race to cheer me on. In fact they were cheering everyone on... they're getting very well practiced at this, although dad's announcements of "just one more lap to go!" may have been less than well-received... They are on the verge of becoming minor celebrities; I've had comments from friends who recognised them from other events, who appreciate their enthusiasm and encouragement. To all you spectators out there, never under-estimate what a difference your support can make to anyone taking part.  

In reality the route isn't especially spectator friendly; if you want to meet your runner at the start or finish then there are only a few points in walking distance that allow you to also catch them on the course. Mum and dad got a fair few miles under their belts in the name of spectating! As such a lot of people choose to remain in the race village which offers retail therapy, space hopper time trials, food, drink and even spin classes. 
Tucking in to yet MORE food!
The last mile and a half of the course is all downhill, giving us the chance to really stretch our legs and push for a sprint finish. Tumbling over the finish line we were greeted with a handshake from the race director himself who had run as Wonder Woman then presented with a wonderful medal designed by Laurie King, who also designed the finishers technical t-shirts and the water bottles available to anyone who presented their medal at her stand in the race village. Tables laden with cakes and fruit distracted us on our way to the post-event hog roast, free to runners and including a glass of wine. 
Showing off my t-shirt and medal, post clean up
The party atmosphere continued well into the afternoon as runners and their friends and families relaxed with food and wine in the sun. My dad commented that I looked the freshest I'd ever looked after a half marathon, and I certainly felt the best I'd ever felt. I can't really find fault with this event. A huge thank you to the organisers, to Denbies and every single marshal. I hope you got to enjoy some of the wine as well.
This is post-race, in case you can't tell from the look of me... oh and best race number this year... 2014!
Finally a mention for my wonderful mum who was designated tweeter and photographer for the day. She did a sterling job, winning a selection of wine in the DenbiesBigTwit competition for best photo of the day! Truly well-deserved.
The winning photo - well done mum :)
Were you there? What was your highlight? Fancy taking part next year? 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Nutrition : What To Eat Post Exercise

The aspect of sports nutrition that most people have the best understanding of is re-fueling after their workouts. The benefits of replacing the energy you've used as soon as possible are much written about, and in particular the benefits of consuming the "right" balance of proteins and carbohydrates to give the muscles the best opportunity to repair themselves. But what about the amount of food and fluid and when should we be consuming it?

The text books tell us that we should be consuming 1g per kilo body weight of high GI foods up to 2 hours post exercise then 1g per kilo body weight of low GI foods every 2 hours after that. For example, if weigh 60kg so I should be eating 60g of high GI food, such as half a nutella sandwich, after exercise and then another 60g of something such as a cereal bar around 2 hours after that.

The reasoning behind taking on high GI foods first is that these are more readily absorbed by the body, so the nutrients and glucose get into your system quickly. This means that you are less likely to suffer a crash immediately after periods of exertion. This is something I've experienced myself after my longer runs in the past, to the point I would get faint and dizzy. Scary for me and those around me. High GI foods cause a spike and consequent crash in your blood sugar levels so it's important to follow up with the low GI foods to stabilise them out.

So the theory is all well and good but what does this mean in practical terms? Well examples of good post-exercise foods are:
  • Fresh fruit smoothie made with yoghurt and milk
  • Cereal bar 
  • Slice of malt loaf
  • A handful of nuts and dried fruit
  • A sandwich/wrap or roll filled with lean meat such as tuna, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese 
  • Rice cakes or oatcakes with jam/peanut butter or low fat cream cheese 
  • Bowl of cereal and milk
If you can't stomach solid foods immediately after exercise then the smoothie, chocolate milk (not milkshake), specially designed sports recovery drink or a protein shake are all good options, not least because they will help replace fluids you'll have lost as well.

Which leads me nicely onto a final word on hydration. After any activity you should aim to replace any outstanding fluid loss (bodyweight loss) by about 150% as soon as possible. So if you're a kilo lighter after exercise than when you started, you should aim to consume 1.5 litres over the course of the next few hours. Any recovery drinks you take will contribute to this, as will rehydration drinks, tea, coffee, squash... it doesn't have to be water! Obviously it's not realistic to be weighting ourselves before and after every session but you'll have a sense of whether you sweat a lot and you can judge accordingly.

I'm going to be trying to apply this theory to myself for real after Equinox24 at the weekend... I suspect eating 60g of anything will not be a problem!

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Week Of Insatiable Hunger

This week's training:
Saturday: parkrun, 30 minute HIIT workout & 9 holes of golf
Sunday: Leg work out & 8 mile run
Monday: 4 mile run & "Hundreds"
Tuesday: 15 minutes yoga
Wedesday: 6 mile run & 30 minute HIIT workout
Thursday: 5+5 miles double run & weights
Friday: 30 minute HIIT workout

I'm feeling much more on track with my training this week. Maybe it's having smashed my PB at parkrun on Saturday morning (26:41 - my first ever sub-27!!!), getting my charity race vest or the realisation that there are only 11 days until I go on holiday and I have two relatively major running events before then but my motivation has been pretty high and I'm all sorts of focussed.

I'm still trying to complete the Sweaty Betty 30 Day Sweat Challenge workouts and succeeding so far, although they're not necessarily in the right order, and just to mix things up a little more I had that round of golf I mentioned last week. Once I loosened up a bit and discovered that I could actually hit the ball some distance I rather enjoyed it all. I'm not pretending I was any good (except for the shot in the second photo, chipped from the bag to nearest the hole) but it was fun to try something new and I definitely felt worn out afterwards. The golf course is also a rather tranquil place. I forgot I was in the middle of an urban area. It's truly amazing how golf courses can be hidden in plain sight.

I've been getting All The Post this week... bits and bobs for Equinox24 (head torch, camping toaster and table, salt and pepper pot, tent pegs, glowsticks, LED balloons), stuff for my fancy dress outfit for Bacchus half marathon (no I'm not telling you yet) and a pair of shiny new trainers. I was hoping to hold out a little longer for my trainers but I'd started to get sore spots after runs and my current pair are very visibly worn so I bit the bullet and forked out for some new ones. They've already clocked up 11 miles since Thursday and I feel rather smart in them. I won't be wearing them for Equinox24... I've got two old pairs of road shoes and a pair of trail shoes for that, and the road shoes may well get permanently retired afterwards.
Purdy new shoes!
Speaking of Equinox24, I've still got masses of stuff to organise for it, not least food shopping. My kit list is longer than any I've ever had, even longer than for any holiday I've ever been on! Our band of misfits, otherwise known as The Dynamos, seems to be gelling well over email and we've all sorts of ideas for making us feel even more of a team at the event. I can't quite believe it's come around so quickly. 

But of course before then I have Bacchus which I'm running purely for fun. I will not be chasing a PB and will definitely be breaking all the normal rules of running and sampling the wine on offer at the water stations. My mum and dad are coming up to support and join in the revelry and I'm hoping it will be a really fun day. This does seem to be one event my parents are particularly on board with... mum's even gone as far as to ask when I'm going to do the Marathon Du Medoc... soon, mum... soon.

All this activity is making me want to eat All The Food so you must excuse me while I go to find something to eat that isn't cake.

What are you preparing for at the moment? What's your favourite long run food?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

What Is : Training Periodisation?

The world of fitness is full of jargon. I'm not sure there's a runner left who isn't familiar with the term "fartlek" (but probably plenty who can't help but snigger) but there's still plenty of terminology that you may not be so familiar with. I certainly, have only relatively recently come across and started to understand the term "periodisation".

Periodisation is really just a term to describe the introduction of planned variations into a training programme. This commonly involves alternating phases of specific types of training and training loads. But why would we want to do this? Well it's seen to be an effective way to make progress and reach a higher level of performance. If you do the same thing all the time, while you may make improvements initially, you will soon plateau.

The approach is used a lot in programmes for new exercisers, increasing the intensity of a CV workout every few weeks to continue to overload the body (which is how improvements are made) whilst reducing the risk of overtraining and injury. The variation also helps to keep the training interesting and challenging.

Now to introduce a few more terms. Periodisation of a training plan typically has three cycles that fit together: 

  • microcycle - typically up to 7 days
  • mesocycle - anything from two weeks to a few months
  • macrocycle - the overall training period, maybe a year or two 

To illustrate, an Olympian's macrocycle is going to be 4 years, and within that time they will have several mesocycles (perhaps an endurance phase, a strength phase and a power phase), each containing a number of microcycles (maybe increasing the number of reps of a strength exercise over the course of a week, before dropping back but increasing the weight). 

Periodisation can be applied to just about any sport and running is no exception. Runner's World have a really good article giving examples and guidelines. I won't recreate it in full here but if you're interested in finding out more about how periodisation could help you prepare for your next PB then it's a good starting point. It outlines the three mesocycles of a base phase (endurance), preparation phase (building speed) and peak phase (race simulation).  The article also outlines the microcycles in terms of the percentage of time you should be dedicating to endurance/long running, strength training/hill running and speed work (there's those fartleks again).

Although I'm following a training programme at present I'm not sure it's periodised so I'm keen to try applying these principles to my Spring marathon training plan which I'll start at the end of the year. Are you already familiar with periodisation? Is it something you actively use or are interested in introducing to your training?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Back To School? I Never Left!

I thought it was about time I did a bit of an update on my studies. September always brings with it that back-to-school feeling but I'm feeling it's effect less this year because I've barely stopped studying all year.

Although I'm now a newly qualified PT, I'm not done with my courses. The PT certification is just one part of a bigger diploma I'm working towards. Since I completed the Level 3 PT course I've taken (and passed) modules in Nutrition for Exercise & Sport, Pre- and Post-natal Nutrition and Marketing. I have just two modules left for the diploma, Pre- and Post-natal Exercise then GP Referral, which should be done and dusted by the end of March 2015. Outside of the diploma I'm also taking a course in Suspension Training at the beginning of December and my Leadership in Running Fitness in October. I'd had the LiRF course on my wishlist for a while but an exciting opportunity prompted me to get it booked up ASAP. All will be revealed in due course, I promise.

An even bigger land mark for me was getting my REPs application approved. That's right folks I'm now on the Register of Exercise Professionals! This definitely marks a new phase for me in my PT journey. I am looking at starting up my business proper and trying not to get overwhelmed at the prospect. Even when I've completed my formal studies I will still have so much to learnt, about business and myself. Little by little this is becoming a reality and I'm thrilled about it.
Is studying something you enjoy? Any courses on your wish list? Any advice for a fledgling PT?