Monday, 31 August 2015

Vik's Picks : August 2015

The end of another month and another round up of the things that have been my favourites for one reason or another.
  1. I tried Skyr for the first time when I was out in Iceland on holiday earlier this year. It's a thick, protein rich yogurt that is incredibly popular out there but really only just entering the mainstream in the UK. It's been on offer in various stores and I've tried all the flavours on offer. The strawberry is pretty great but the honey variety has become my firm favourite. It's great as a snack, as a side to pancakes or desserts and with fruit compote for breakfast. My favourite combo has been with orange and ginger roasted rhubarb and flaked almonds.
  2. I was determined to make some more recipes from the Skinny French Kitchen cookbook I own this month and have succeeded in doing so! Parsley and pomegranate cous cous was a delicious lunch, a goats cheese salad a treat of a dinner and baked eggs a comforting late supper. All the recipes are low cal and relatively easy to make. More inspiration to come I think.
  3. A wonderful friend of mine bought me a long-coveted ashmei vest as a "starting your new career" present. This super soft merino and carbon top is a joy to run in and my top choice of top when I don't have to be in branded kit for work. Certainly smart enough to wear even when I'm not working out too!
  4. As part of Tesco's Orchard scheme I was able to try Bioglan's Cacao & Flax from the super foods range, for free! I've never really delved into these sorts of things before but I will definitely buy this again, and maybe try something else from the range. I'm sure there are lots of specific health benefits (I've not read up on it) but on a basic level I've enjoyed using this in smoothies, pancakes, porridge and granola to add a chocolate hit and enhance the fruity flavours of anything else in the mix. Big thumbs up and recipes to be shared!
  5. The latest toy I've introduced my RunFitUk group to has been a Reaction Belt. A reaction belt is used to help develop speed and agility. I use it with my group in pairs in a shadow game where one person tries to get far enough away to break the velcro connection and the other has to try to stay close enough for that not to happen. This belt from Adidas comes with three lengths of velcro strapping and two adjustable belts, giving me lots of options for coming up with new games.
Have you tried any of these type of superfood products? Any recipe ideas for me? What's your favourite piece of kit at the moment?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Super Food Pancakes

Pancakes for breakfast is something the Americans do well. Whether they're served with bacon or fruit, butter or maple syrup, they're pretty special and something we Brits are embracing too. There are countless ways to make pancakes and some are more reliable or healthier than others. This version, inspired by one over at Runner's World is just about one of the best I've made in my opinion.

The increasingly popular (in the health and fitness world anyway) basic banana and egg batter ups the protein content with ground almonds, good cholesterol with desiccated coconut and fibre and omega 3 from Bioglan's Cacao & Flax powder. This powder is a new product in my kitchen at the moment, something I've not bought before, or even considered trying. However as part of Tesco's Orchard scheme I've been able to try this for free and I'm now adding it to all sorts of breakfasts. It adds a hint of chocolate and enhances the fruitiness of my smoothies. Plus I know it's good for me!

Super Food Pancakes

Makes 4-6 pancakes

Ingredients

1 very ripe banana
1 egg
45g ground almonds
15g desiccated coconut
1 heaped tablespoon of Bioglan Cacao & Flax Powder
Large handful of blueberries or other fresh fruit of choice
Coconut oil or other cooking oil
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon flaked almonds

Method

  1. Mix the banana, egg, almonds, coconut and cacao & flax powder together in a mixing jug, bowl or processor. This should give you a thick batter, however if the mixture looks a little too thick, add a splash of milk (dairy or non-dairy, your choice).
  2. Melt a little coconut oil in a frying pan and add large spoonfuls of the mixture. 
  3. Cook for 3-4 minutes on one side, then flip and cook on the other side for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Serve in a stack, drizzled with the honey or syrup and topped with the fruit and almonds.
Enjoy!

What's your favourite pancake recipe? How else would you use the cacao & flax powder?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Event Review : Stokes Scurry

The Stokes Scurry is a little gem of an event that I'm almost loathe to share. I've been trying to get to one for a long time which, given it's held monthly (except during Winter), is quite something and more a reflection on my diary than my motivation.

Held at 10am on a Sunday morning at Stokes Farm on the outskirts of Wokingham, the Scurry is a relaxed and friendly run around the fields of the farm. There's a choice of either a 2 or 4 mile run (1 or 2 laps) although occasionally there is a 5km distance instead. You do need to register in advance but you don't ned to decide on your distance until the morning of the event.
On the start line
There's plenty of parking and registration is easy. The atmosphere is a relaxed and sociable one with people returning to the registration point afterwards for tea, coffee and delicious home-made cake. And it shouldn't be a surprise, with an event on a farm, that there are free range eggs available for sale. I was a little unnerved when I arrived and on giving my name to the organiser was greeted with the words "Oh you must be the sporty one - four miles then?"... To be classed as "the sporty one" at a race makes you wonder about your reputation!
From a distance... looks as though I'm the only one in the event!
Your timing "chip" is a peg with a number written on it - suitably rustic and a system that seems to work very well. Although it's timed this isn't a race, unless you want it to be. Many people run this at the speed of chat while some leave you in their dust. I was somewhere in between which made it a little lonely but the rutted ground kept me occupied. The choice of distance means it's suitable for all abilities and ages, including children. The course is signed well enough that they don't need to be supervised too closely.
Having a zen moment
The grass had recently been cut which made the going easier and the ground was dry so road shoes were perfectly fine but trail shoes would be a benefit in wetter months. It's not hilly but there are certainly some gentle inclines. You'll pass fields of hens, busy laying eggs for you, encounter the occasional dog walker or horse rider, and forget for a moment that you're a stones throw from the M4.

The Stokes Scurry is on again in September, date to be confirmed, and although I know I won't be able to join that one, I will certainly be going again!

Do you know of any other free or inexpensive runs like this near you (apart from parkrun)?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Fitness in the Workplace : Wellness Incentives

The health and well-being of employees is something that companies are investing in more and more. It's no secret that when people are happy, healthy and feel valued, they are more productive and have improved job satisfaction. There are a multitude of ways in which companies can look after their employees, and it's worth thinking about these when you're considering joining a new company.

If I were looking for a new job, in particular with a larger company, these are the sorts of questions I would be asking and the kinds of offerings I would be looking for. It could sway my decision about accepting a job offer.

Food and Drink

Let's start with some basics. Does the vending machine offer some healthier options over crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks? Is there a fridge, kettle or microwave available so that you could take your own lunch? Is there an on-site canteen with a variety of healthy pre-packed and fresh options?

The last big company I worked for had a Free Fruit Friday once a month, providing a variety of fruit to colleagues for free. Always popular!
Is there somewhere you can go to sit and eat, or is there a culture of working through your lunch break? Time away from your desk or immediate site of work makes a big difference to levels of fatigue.

Keeping Active

Many larger companies these days either have gyms on site or offer hefty discounts on memberships at local facilities. That's great but check whether they're supportive of you taking time during the day to work out. Will you be frowned upon if you get in a little later or take an extended lunch break because you've been on the treadmill, even if you make up the hours later?

Cycle schemes are also popular these days, enabling employees to buy a bike tax free or at a subsidised cost. But even if the company isn't large enough to afford this, are there perhaps running or cycling routes to the office? Are there cycle racks nearby? Are there showers or lockers on site?

Are there any active social groups e.g. lunchtime walking groups or after-work bootcamps?
I lead a weekly walking group on a Monday lunchtime in my local area.

General Well-being

Other incentives that I've come across in my working life are free work station assessments and provision of things like foot rests and specialist chairs, free eye tests, health check ups and facilities for booking massages on site. Soft seating areas and a "library" of books you can borrow to read in a tea break are easy to provide and their value shouldn't be over looked. Having time to relax, removing excuses for getting regular check ups and ensuring your workstation doesn't cause you discomfort are all small but important details in your working life.

A final incentive that I've always found inspiring is fund matching for charity. As so many charity challenges are activity based, this could be an incentive for you to tackle a bike ride, dance-athon, race or climb that you may otherwise not have considered!

What health and well-being incentives does your company offer? Is there anything that you would like to see?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Picnics, Presents and Paddles

It was my birthday this week. It wasn't a milestone, except in the sense that I now have to tick a different box in the age category on surveys, but it was lovely nonetheless. I started the day by teaching a class at the gym then a 10k run to earn my August medal from Virtual Runner. The rest of the day was spent the rest of the day with my parents, something I'm rarely able to do as I'm not in the habit of taking the day off work. It's one of the perks of being self-employed, that I can arrange my weeks to suit, to some extent.
Sprinkles on my breakfast smoothie
I got thoroughly spoilt with pimms cupcakes my mum made, a host of gifts wrapped so beautifully I almost didn't want to open them. Yes there was funky new lycra but also moomin-related items, a new rucksack for my new active lifestyle and vinyl - all bases covered!
My mum would give Mr Kipling a run for his money
It rarely rains my on birthday so we'd planned a picnic at Buscot Park followed by a wander around the house and gardens. However this year it did rain so we picnicked in the car before exploring, cloaked in raincoats. All in all it was a lovely day, rounded off with a meal at Jamie's Italian.
Car picnic - home made blue cheese, pear & walnut tarts
I'm now into my second week as a self employed Personal Trainer and it's still taking some getting used to. I'm building a routine and spending a lot of time planning sessions. I've been in talks with my council this week about providing a Back To Fitness Scheme which has been super exciting and also taken quite a bit of my time in organisation. I have a lot more flexibility in what I do when which does seem to allow me more time to train. My week of activity has looked a little like this:
Saturday: parkrun
Sunday: 4 miles at Stokes Farm Scurry (review on the way), a further 5.5 miles afterwards, metafit
Monday: Monday Mile
Tuesday: Rest day
Wednesday: 10k run
Thursday: 1500m open water Doggy Paddle swim (another review on the way)
Friday (planned): 1.5hr run, 1hr cycle, boxercise class
Midweek bling!
My diet hasn't been particularly great this week, due to birthday cake and meals out, but it's no big deal, I'll just draw a line under it and stop eating cake! I've got a fridge stuffed to bursting with fresh fruit and veg at the moment so there's no excuse for not eating well. I'm definitely more conscious of what I'm eating and doing now I'm self employed. 

From September I intend to revive these "Life and Training" type posts as I enjoy writing them and both elements are very different for me at the moment so hopefully you'll enjoy reading them too.

Do you take your birthday off from work? Are you doing any virtual races over the summer? What's your favourite picnic food?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Barbecue Inspiration with Quorn

You may have trouble believing it, based on the current weather activity but it is summer and therefore the season the the BBQ. I do enjoy a BBQ but rarely make the effort to do one myself and sometimes, as a vegetarian, struggle for inspiration of what to cook so an evening at the London Barbecue School with Quorn was just the thing.
A lot of people are surprised when I say that I don't eat a lot of Quorn. It's not because I dislike it, far from it! But my style of cooking has changed a lot during the time I have been vegetarian and one of the wonderful things about Quorn products is that they are so easy to use as substitutes in recipes that traditionally call for meat such as chilli, toad-in-the-hole, curries and of course barbecues, fare I don't often make these days.
Credit: Quorn
Although Quorn is a product suitable for vegetarians, it's more appropriate to say, because of its versatility, that it's just a healthy protein. My dad, a committed steak eater, cooks with Quorn often and I'm a huge fan of something he calls "gumbo" (not quite like the real deal). He also regularly requests a version of beef bourguignon made with Quorn at home. Compared to beef, Quorn contains 90% less saturated fat, 50% fewer calories, is higher in fibre and is still a complete protein. On top of that it's highly sustainable, resulting in 90% lower emissions from the production process than beef and a great carrier of flavour. It's this last part that's key for me when thinking about using it on the barbecue.
At the London Barbecue School, drinks in hand, we were shown how to operate the huge egg-shaped grills then let loose with stacks of ingredients and four recipes to try our hands at whipping up some delicious meals using Quorn. The products we used weren't especially fancy; sausages, burgers,  Swedish style balls and crispy coated southern burgers, but the meals were all mouthwatering and flavourful.

Nibbling on picnic eggs and cocktail sausages to tide us over we whipped up kebabs using Swedish style balls, sticky sausage & vegetable skewers, southern fried burger & vegetable wraps and chilli burgers with chipotle & sweetcorn salsa. I got stuck in with the sticky skewers, making a marinade with olive oil, lemon juice, wholegrain mustard and mango chutney and singeing the hair on my arms whilst turning and basting them. I tried a bit of everything (twice) and found it hard to decide which was my favourite. If pressed I think I'd say the kebabs, but really, I would be far from disappointed if any of these were my only option at a barbecue.

Credit: Quorn
All the recipes were quick, low-faff and required little in the way of fancy ingredients so are easy to recreate and have paved the way for me to get creative with Quorn products again. I enjoyed trying some new recipes in the past and with such a huge range of products from the everyday mince, pieces, sausages and burgers to Chef's Selection, gluten free, picnic foods and a soon-to-be-launched vegan range (which I'm rather excited about) there's plenty to choose from! And I'm safe in the knowledge that it's a good fit with my healthy eating intentions.
Credit: Quorn
It was a really fun evening, not only cooking but chatting, relaxing and quaffing in the open air in the courtyard that is the school. The London Barbecue School is located in Peckham Rye and offers the opportunity to learn how to make the most of your barbecue and eat excellent food prepared on one of their Kamado Joe barbecues. I'm particularly keen to go back for one of their Vegetarian and Vegan workshops!
Thanks to Quorn for inviting me to the event, providing the ingredients, refreshments and a goody bag. I'll be cooking up a storm again soon...

Monday, 17 August 2015

Fitness in the Workplace : Stealthy Desk Workout

One of the last tasks I was asked to complete before leaving my former office job, was to design a workout for the team that they could do in the office to keep in shape without looking obvious. A fairly tall order!

In reality, there are many of us who want to maintain a fit and active lifestyle while working a busy schedule. Many people don't achieve this goal because work and life “get in the way.” and one way to try and combat this is to multitask. I'm going to skip over the tips about using the stairs instead of the lift, about parking further away from the office door and going for walks in your lunch break, not because it's not good advice, but because these tips are all well-known and I'd like to suggest something slightly different. If you really struggle to find time and motivation outside of work to fit in any sort of activity, then there are things you can do, even if you're desk bound.

This set of discrete exercises is intended to help to improve your posture and muscle strength which could help to dispel those aches and pains I know I've suffered from after a long day in the office. They could be done at your desk or in a meeting without drawing too much attention.

Before doing any of these exercises, ensure you have good posture and remember to breathe.

Cardio

Yes it is possible to do a little cardio at your desk! Pretend you're Fred Astaire and tap your toes quickly on the floor under your desk. To make this harder and to engage the core muscles more, sit closer to the edge of your seat. Try four sets of 45 seconds of taps with 15 seconds of rest.

Legs and Bum

Calf Raises: While you’re waiting for your printing, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, press up onto tip toes, pause at the top, then lower back down. Repeat for three sets of 12-15 reps, or until the printing, faxing, or scanning is done.

Glute Squeeze: Squeeze all the muscles in your bum. Hold for 5-10 seconds, and relax. Repeat until the agenda wraps up or your glutes tire. 

Seated Leg Raise: While seated, straighten one or both legs then lower the leg(s) back to the ground without letting the feet touch the floor. Hold in place for five or more seconds and repeat (alternating legs if raising them separately) for 15 reps

Leg Toner: With legs straight, cross one on top of the other. Raise them off the floor. Press top leg down and resist with bottom leg. Hold until muscles are tired. Repeat with opposite legs top and bottom.
Thigh Press: Find a sealed package of printing paper. While seated, place the stack in between the knees and press legs inward, engaging the inner thighs. Continue squeezing the paper ream in place for 30-60 seconds.

Shoulders and Arms

The Namaste: Seated upright with feet flat on the floor, bring the palms together in front of the chest and push both hands together powerfully until you feel the arm muscles contract. Hold the position for 20 seconds. Release and repeat the sequence until you feel a little more zen.

Secret Handshake: Sitting up and with feet flat on the floor, clasp hands together as if giving yourself a handshake (with one thumb pointing to the floor and the other pointing to the ceiling). Then pull! Resist the motion of both arms (you should definitely feel this in those biceps). Hold for 10 seconds or more, release, and repeat.

Biceps Curl: Move chair close to desk. Make a fist while elbow is at 90 degrees and turn hand as if you're doing a hammer curl or open your palm. Push up against the desk with fist/hand. Hold for 6-10 seconds. Repeat 6 times.

Chest, Back, and Neck

The Pencil Pinch: Roll back the shoulders until the shoulder blades are pinched together, as if you’re holding a pencil between them. Hold for as long as possible.

Shoulder Shrug: While sitting upright, grab side of the chair and as though you're trying to lift yourself. Try to lift the seat of your chair while you’re sitting on it. Hold for 6-10 seconds. Repeat 6 times.

Nape Shaper: Put your head in your hands as if exasperated by the workday (you may already be in this position), and press your palms into your forehead as if trying to push the head backward. Resist the motion by engaging the neck muscles. Next, clasp the hands behind the back of the head and try to push the head backward, resisting the motion with your hands. Hold for 5 seconds, slowly release, rest, and repeat 5 times each.

Core

Desk Chair Swivel: Sitting upright and with the feet hovering over the floor, hold the edge of your desk with your fingers and thumb. Use the core to swivel the chair from side to side. Swish back and forth for 15 rounds.

Levitation: This one may draw some attention but is great for your core and arms. Sit in your chair with your legs crossed and your feet on the seat (wearing trousers is advised). Place your hands on the armrests, suck in your stomach and raise yourself a few inches above the seat, using your belly, muscles and hands. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat five times.

Challenge your colleagues to see how many of these you can do in a day!