Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Simple, nutritious smoothies and juices

The recent spell of fine weather has inspired me to get back into smoothie-making mode.  Summer months are an ideal time for smoothies as the seasonal berries provide a tasty addition, though this week I have been using the end of last year’s blackberries and loganberries from the freezer.

Smoothie and juice making can be as simple or as complicated as you make it, and the fruit (and vegetables) that you use is only limited by your imagination.  Rolled oats, ground almonds, sesame seeds, and peanut butter are just some of the other ingredients that you can use.  Milk, yogurt, coconut milk or almond milk can be used to add extra smoothness and increase the protein content, and nutmeg or ginger will give an extra kick to any juice.

Smoothies are high in vitamins and minerals, a great way of getting some or all of your 5-a-day, and are higher in fibre than traditional juices because they retain the pulp and skins.  They are also easier to make, and don't produce waste.  Smoothies are a particularly easy way of getting vital calories and nutrients in after a hard session on a hot day when you might not feel like eating food, and they can help to rehydrate you (read last weeks blog about hydration here).  Many fruits also contain natural chemicals which help increase appetite.

This is my basic go-to smoothie recipe
  • Apple (cored and quartered) and/or banana to give it a nice texture and adds thickness
  • Orange juice to make it more runny.  You can also use pineapple or apple juice, and if you have a juicer you can make the juice yourself.
  • Frozen raspberries, blackberries, loganberries or similar berry to give it taste.  The frozen fruit means that the smoothie is already cool.  Add some ice cubes if the fruit is fresh.
  •  Blend all the ingredients together in a blender for 30-40 seconds.Server more or less immediately.  Mind the brain freeze.
Like all my recipes, I don’t get too hung up on measurements.  I go with what I think is roughly right, and if it’s too thick, I just add more orange juice. If it's not thick enough, I add another apple or banana.

You don’t have to follow any particular recipe to make a great post-training snack or a nutritious drink to kick-start to the day.  Add something to give it texture, something to give it juice, and something to give it taste, and focus on what’s available to you at a reasonable price.  

And smoothies don’t have to be expensive.  Pick blackberries in the late summer (they’re free in most hedgerows!) and freeze them to use throughout the year.  Because any fresh fruit you add will be high in vitamin C, you can use 'from concentrate' juices to keep the cost down.

Smoothies are a great way of using up ripe fruit.  If you have bunches of bananas that are getting ripe, you can peel them and freeze them for use in future smoothies.

Juicing require more cleaning up afterwards.  Fruit and vegetables need to be very ripe, and some produce little juice, creating a lot of waste.  If using frozen fruit, ensure that you let them thaw first, or you'll end up with a lot of waste and practically no juice at all.  Juices can be diluted with refrigerated mineral water or sparkling water.

Any sort of blender will suffice for making smoothies, though there is a range of juicers and smoothie machines on the market.  Smoothie machines have some additional features over traditional blenders: a pouring spout, durable blades for crushing ice, and a pusher to ensure that the fruit and vegetables are all blended properly.  Juicers actually separate the juice from the pulp, skin, seeds and other debris, creating a large amount of waste, but providing a great way to make your own orange, apple or pineapple juice. Masticating and hydraulic juicers are more efficient (i.e. produce more juice) than centrifugal juicers, but are also more expensive. A number of other fruit and vegetables work well as juices, and in most cases, combining juiced fruit with blended fruit will give the best results.

Apples - blending and juicing
Bananas - blending
Blackberries - blending
Blackcurrants - blending and juicing - strip from stalks
Blueberries - blending
Cherries - blending and juicing
Coconut flesh - blending
Grapefruit - juicing - peel before use
Grapes - blending and juicing
Kiwis - blending and juicing - peel before use
Mangos - blending - great for taste and texture
Melon - blending and juicing
Oranges - blending and juicing - peel before use
Papaya - blending - great for taste and texture
Passion fruit - blending and juicing - peel before use
Peaches and nectarines - blending and juicing
Pears - blending
Pineapple - juicing - remove plume, skin and core before use
Plums - blending
Raspberries - blending and juicing
Strawberries - blending and juicing - remove stalks before use
Watermelons - juicing

Avocados - blending
Beetroot - blending and juicing (cooked or uncooked)
Broccoli - blending and juicing
Carrots - blending and juicing
Cucumber - blending and juicing (adds a great kick to any drink)
Celery - juicing
Peppers - blending or juicing
Spinach - juicing (great for adding colour)
Sweet potatos - blending
Tomatoes - juicing

We'd love to hear what your favourite smoothie or juice recipe is, or if you have any special 'secret' ingredient.  Add your suggestions as comments below.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Are you drinking enough?

With one of the challenges of the World Cup being identified as the heat and hydration of the players, the recent warm weather we have enjoyed and the fact that I forgot my drinks bottle at my last training session, I thought it would be useful to include a topic on hydration.

Dehydration is caused by an athlete not sufficiently replacing fluid losses during exercise which is caused by sweating in order to maintain a constant core temperature and the body not over heating through exercise. Therefore sweat rates are naturally higher when athletes are exercising at higher temperatures. 

The main impairments are as follows, with the magnitude increasing as the level of dehydration increases: 
  • Increased heart rate
  • Impaired heat regulation- leading to the risk of heat stroke
  • Exercise feels harder than normal
  • Reduced mental function
  • Reduced skill level
  • Stomach upset
To prevent any of the above from occurring, athletes need to match their fluid losses with the amount of fluid they are drinking. The easiest way that athletes can do this is by taking their body weight before and after exercise, adding the amount of fluid they have taken in during the session and then this will give the total loss for the session. Once and athlete begins to understand their sweat losses, athletes can be prepared, taking into account the varying environmental conditions they may be training in.

To ensure that athletes maximise their rehydration, the most important thing is that drinks are palatable and are non-carbonated. The amount of carbohydrate and electrolytes will be linked to their palatability, the type of training and the environment the athlete is training in.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Ageing Athlete

Today is a very big day for me.  This time 35 years ago, I was born.  Happy birthday me!

Turning 35 as an athlete is a big deal.  It means that I can compete as a masters V35 athlete - a category especially for athletes aged between 35 and 40!  While I plan to continue competing as a senior athlete, becoming a V35 has given me an additional boost, and some additional stretching, but exciting goals to aim for.

New Goals
When I was delivering a goal setting workshop earlier in the year, I used my target for this summer as an example of a SMARTER goal.  The goal is to win a medal in the 2,000m steeplechase at the European Masters Championships later this summer.  That's a pretty Specific goal!  It's also Measurable - at the end of the day, I'll either have a medal around my neck, or not.  Now for the Ambitious bit - well I've looked at some previous results and I will have to be at my best too achieve a medal, but my best times would put me in the mix - making the goal Realistic.  The goal is Time-bound - the day is Tuesday 26th August - and it is definitely Exciting - a trip to Turkey, a European medal, and a  shot at a V35 Irish record, all genuinely excite me.  And the goal is Relevant.  It's what I do!

All these exciting new goals are giving me new motivation.  In an earlier blog we spoke about the relevance of goal setting in other aspects of lifestyle management, but the main thing that goal setting does is provide motivation.  After having similar goals for the past 10 years or so, I'm glad that I now have something concrete to aim for, and that's really helping with motivation.  As we get older, it's important to set goals that keep us motivated.  By the time we reach 35, we have a clear idea of what we can and can't achieve, and what motivates us - be that intrinsic or extrinsic factors.  There are of course unachieved goals and dreams, and now is a good time to reevaluate what's important and what will keep me motivated moving forward.

Adapting Training
Over the years, I've learned what works for me and what doesn't.  Keeping injury free is important, and experience has thought me that taking a day or two off now, can prevent missing a few weeks later now the line.  I am getting good at distinguishing between a bit of muscle damage soreness that will go away after a day or two, and a niggle that needs attention and rest.  There are more niggles than before, but a lot fewer actual injuries.

I also train a bit differently.  Running is mostly a hobby, and I have stopped being obsessed with times. Some days I leave the watch at home altogether.  That's not to say that I don't run hard.  Sometimes I run very, very hard, but I have realised that there is no point in getting hung up on what times I used to run, and thinking too much about what is and isn't possible.

Role Models
For some athletes, age doesn't seem to be a factor.  I was lucky enough to witness 3-time Olympian Jo Pavey run a European and Commonwealth Games qualifier for 10,000 m.  Pavey is 40, and was just returning from having her second child.  The following week she ran a world V40 record for 5,000 m, in the sort of time that athletes 10 years her junior can only dream of.  While I'm never going to achieve the sort of times that Pavey is running, I can hope to get close to my personal best times.

And if I fancy changing sport, there are many examples of shooters and equestrian athletes who participated at the Olympics well into their 70s.  Indeed, Oscar Swahn (shooting) won an Olympic gold medal when he was 64!