Beyond the Mat

Feeling stressed out, anxious or overwhelmed? Ever thought about giving Yoga a try?

Yoga is a practice from ancient India that focuses on uniting the mind and body through a practice of movement (asana), controlled breathing (pranayama) and meditation. Yoga has been found to have a positive effect on physical health, and mental health too. Experts say that along with improved strength and flexibility, a regular Yoga practice can bring about mental clarity and a more relaxed state of being.

A lot of people think Yoga is just about stretching, being super flexible or even balancing on your head. This really isn’t the case! There are many different styles of Yoga that you can explore to find what suits you best, ranging from slow and gentle (Restorative or Yin Yoga) to more physically demanding flows and postures (Vinyasa and Ashtanga) and everything inbetween.

Whether you are practicing Yoga in a studio or following along on youtube, your practice is yours and your teacher will always encourage you to adapt postures to suit you.

Benefits of Yoga

Physical benefits

– Great for building strength, maintaining fitness and weight management.

– Helps improve flexibility and manage aches and pains

– Heart health! Studies show Yoga can help with the management of high blood pressure.

– Lowers Cortisol. Research has found that Yoga can influence the stress hormone cortisol. Did you know that prolonged stress can weaken the immune system?  Yet stress management often takes a backseat in people’s lives. Yoga studies have shown that yoga might help to manage stress levels both on and off the mat.

Wellbeing

Yoga can be extremely therapeutic, nurturing and empowering. This grounding practice can bring you back to yourself when you may have spent so long going through the motions of daily life on autopilot. Yoga helps us stay in the present moment, allowing you to connect with your body and hold appreciation for all that it can do. Yoga can be a form of self care for many, creating mindfulness and reducing anxiety.

The rise in popularity of Yoga in the western world may be a reflection of an urge to connect with ourselves on a deeper level. These days with everything being done online and indoors, common spaces being closed and the colder nights drawing in, people may be spending more time on technology and less time focusing on their well being.

Researchers have found that practicing Yoga can help to balance emotions, which may contribute to the management of stress, anxiety, sleeping problems and depression. The tools learnt in Yoga, such as breathing exercises and mediation, can be used in everyday life to calm the mind and promote self awareness.

If you have thought “That’s what I need!” to anything here it might be time to put your reservations aside and try Yoga. There are so many great free classes online, why not start with practicing for 10 minutes a day, or even try a beginner 30 day Yoga challenge and see how you feel?

Yoga isn’t about getting into a posture perfectly or touching your toes. It’s about feeling good in your body and mind, and taking all these good feelings with you into everyday life!

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self”

The Bhagavad Gita

Hangry?

Switching to low glycaemic eating could help you feel fuller for longer, calmer, more lively and even drop a few pounds. Best of all, you don’t even have to ditch the carbs.

You may have heard the term low glycaemic (low GI) eating and thought it sounds a bit complicated or not particularly appetising. However, once you get beyond the scientific jargon this is not so much a diet but a new way of looking at food that could change the way you eat…forever.

Slow and steady

The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a way of measuring how long foods containing carbohydrates take to cause a rise in blood sugar after eating. High GI foods (GI score above 70) such as biscuits, soft-drinks and white-bread cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels which then drops quickly. Whereas low GI foods (GI score below 55) such as oats create a slow and steady release of energy.

Glycaemic Load (GL) looks at both the GI of the individual food as well as the quantity of carbohydrates it contains. For example, watermelon is high GI but as it contains a lot of fibre and water it has a low GL. GL is therefore a more accurate measure of a food’s impact on blood sugar levels in the body.

Low glycaemic diets could be restrictive if followed too closely. We mostly eat combinations of ingredients, like bread and butter. However, GI/GL only takes the carbohydrates into account therefore it is important to consider the overall nutritional content of meals and not just GI. Chocolate and sweet potatoes are both medium GL however sweet potatoes also contain healthy vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Mood, midriff and microbiome  

A low GI lunch can give a stead release of energy which is less likely to trigger mid-afternoon fatigue and a desperate urge for a coffee and handful of cake.

Some studies have found that people who eat higher GI foods are more prone to anger, low mood, anxiety and depression than those who eat lower GI foods.

It makes sense therefore that feeling fuller for longer could help you cut back on snacks and overeating. Simply swapping white bread for wholegrain bread was found to reduce the likelihood of developing obesity in one study.

Many low GI wholegrains and fruit and vegetables are high in fibre which can nurture a happy gut and may alleviate constipation.

Practitioners may also recommend low GI eating for people who want to improve their blood sugar levels.

Tasty Tips

Switching to a low GI way of eating can be tasty and quick with these tips:

  • Sprinkle nuts, seeds, coconut flakes and berries on cereals, porridge and puddings.
  • Choose snacks which also contain protein or fat, such as humous and carrots, cheese and apple, peanut butter on wholegrain toast and nutty energy balls.
  • Reduce the quantity of carbohydrates, such as open sandwiches or adding vegetables and nuts to pasta.
  • Cook and cool potatoes or rice before eating as this lowers their GL.
  • Experiment with pulses, puree butter beans instead of mash and add chickpeas to stew.
  • Look for the sugar content on food packaging traffic lights – if it is medium to high then the food is likely to be high GL.
  • Try different low GI versions of your usual carbohydrates to discover your favourites:

Bread: Brown, wholemeal, multigrain, rye, seeded, oatmeal and sourdough.

Potatoes: Sweet and new potatoes.

Pasta and noodles: Wholemeal, spelt, buckwheat, filled pasta, cook until al dente.

Grains: Quinoa, buckwheat, pearl barley.

Cereal: Porridge, muesli with nuts and seeds, add oats to cereal.

Let’s talk well watered…

It’s amazing how different people are when it comes to staying properly hydrated during exercise. Some people seem to be able to do a full class without so much as a sip, whilst others down a litre in next to no time.

Continue reading

“Research revealed”: Brilliant Beetroot

So, when you’re thinking foods for sport, would beetroot spring to mind?

We look at why beetroot and cherries are awesome sport supporters. The research studies from 2020 suggests so. Grab the purple and red…

Beetroot

  • Beetroot juice has become really popular amongst athletes aiming to improve sport performances. Beetroot juice contains high concentrations of nitrate, which can be converted into nitric oxide after consumption. In the body, nitric oxide helps with dilation of blood vessels, helping to reduce blood pressure and increasing oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body’s organs and tissues including the muscles. Studies have shown that beetroot juice can help muscle efficiency, tolerance and endurance, and because of this,  may help sports performance.
  • Research testing resistance training (back squats and bench presses) and the effects of beetroot juice supplements, showed that it improved muscular endurance.
  • Scientists have looked at high intensity exercise and wondered what effect beetroot might have on mood state and rates of perceived exertion (how hard the person worked and how that made them feel). This study found that compared with a placebo, those who took a beetroot juice supplement had improved pre-exercise tension, improved 30 second all out cycling test results and lower post-exercise ratings of perceived exertion.

References:

1/ 3/ 2020, “The benefits and risks of beetroot juice consumption: a systematic review”, Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, vol. ahead-of-print, no. ahead-of-print, pp. 1-17.

2/  2020, “Acute Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplements on Resistance Training: A Randomized Double-Blind Crossover”, Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 7, pp. 1912.

3/ 2020, “Effect of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Mood, Perceived Exertion, and Performance During a 30-Second Wingate Test”, International journal of sports physiology and performance, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 243-248.

Lockdown. More active or less?

How did you spend lockdown? Has your activity gone down, or up.  We looked at some information from Government which looked at changes that we made, as a nation.

Less time was spent on travelling (less by 1 hour and 6 minutes a day) and work, and more time was spent on free time, gardening, DIY, sleep and rest.

People spent longer watching TV or streaming videos. – 2 hours and 53 minutes a day.

28 minutes per day reading

26 minutes playing games (including computer games)

16 minutes a day staying in touch with family and friends (mostly remotely)

39 minutes a day doing DIY or gardening

1 hour 24 minutes per day eating and drinking (including takeaways and alcohol)

Cooking and doing the washing up – just under an hour per day.

Good training comes from your gut

A healthy gut environment, rich in live bacteria that support your digestive system is really important for overall wellbeing. But researchers are also saying that it could help you to make the most of your training.  We take a closer look…

The adult gut microbiota describes the collection of microorganisms in your digestive tract. It’s constantly changing and it’s well known that the foods that you have in our diet can really influence the types and amounts of bacteria in your gut.  By what you might not know about, is how training can also affect our digestive systems. But how?

  • Exercise can increase the diversity of bacteria in the digestive tract
  • The health of the gut might affect adaption to exercise and the stresses and strains that it might bring.

The gut microbiota can also affect the brain. Therefore, the effects of exercise on the gut microbiome can lead to positive effects on cognition and/or emotion.

The digestive environment, and the bacteria within it influences the body’s antioxidant defence system. Because of this, its really important to those who are exercising, and exercise in itself produces more free radical reactions and bi-products that must be dealt with by the body using antioxidant mechanisms.

Research is showing that the gut microbiome can positively influence the immune system. This is really important for anyone, but especially people wanting to train, so that their routine can be kept, and their bodies continue to be made stronger, faster and more flexible.

References

Volpe, S.L. 2017, “The Gut Microbiota and Exercise Performance”, ACSM’s health & fitness journal, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 34-36.

Ladies – keep your energy up!

Hey ladies! Are you exercising to lose weight, or are aware that you need to keep your weight at a certain level for your sport?  Whilst this is a useful goal for those wanting to help shift the extra poundage, when energy intakes dip too low, you could compromise your long-term goals. How?

The energy balance

How many times have you heard energy in=energy out?  Whilst this is true, from basic scientific principles, the truth is that it’s not quite that simple.  The quality of the foods that you’re using to take your energy in is really important, because they are your nutritional life-line. Here’s the lowdown on keeping your energy intakes up.

How much?

When your energy intakes become too low, this increases the risk of fatigue, injuries and illness, hormonal disruption and possibly immune function. If your diet is dipping below 1800kcals/day you might find it hard to get the vitamins, minerals and other health substances such as fibre, to keep your body systems healthy; the quality of your blood, the health of your bones, the neurotransmitters in your brain, recovery of muscles, the health of your hormonal system and digestive tract.

If you are on a calorie-restricted diet, then make sure that your protein intakes aren’t getting low. Protein is required for hormone production, and we’re not just talking about those that work within our reproductive system… every hormone in the body, including thyroxine for regulating metabolic rate, and insulin for blood sugar balance too. Protein is also essential for repair and maintenance of body tissues.  For more information on protein intakes, see our feature ‘Sports Nutrition, Macro’s  – you know.

Nutrient danger zones:

The micronutrients that are most likely to be low in the diets of active women are:

Iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D and the B vitamins.  We’re all being encouraged to supplement with 10micrograms of vitamin D daily now, so you might like to get advice about formulations that can help you to achieve this in your local health food store.

But in addition to this, you might ask about suitable nutritional formulations to help safeguard your intakes of essential nutrients whilst you’re on a calorie-restricted diet.  We can take a look at just the minerals to see what an important part they play in our health.

Nutrition and Health Claims for two key minerals – iron and calcium

Iron: contributes to normal cognitive function, energy-yielding metabolism, formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin, oxygen transport in the body, function of the immune system, cell division and reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Calcium: Contributes to normal muscle function, neurotransmission, energy-yielding metabolism, normal function of digestive enzymes, normal bones, teeth. Three is also some research which suggests that calcium can help maintain a healthy weight, based on studies using high-calcium foods.

The importance of extras

By keeping the types of foods in your diet varied, you increase your chances of a wide range of nutrients in your diet. This is harder when you’re restricting your diet, and it’s all too easy to eat in a way that’s really samey. Adding in plenty of herbs and spices can keep your diet interesting, and there are some wondering oils that you can add; garlic-flavoured, or chilli infused, for example, or maybe sauces, including soy and ginger. Your health store will also have a whole range of products to keep your diet vibrant and exciting.

To find your local health store, click here

Easy wins

Check out these five easy wins, if you find yourself flagging on the energy front

1/ Nuts. They’re calorie rich, but they do stave off hunger and are packed full of healthy non-saturated fats and minerals.  Include one serving per day as a minimum.

2/ Mixed beans. Bung them into everything, eat them as a snack. Give yourself a mineral boost and add in some extra fibre to keep your bowls at their best.

3/ Multinutrient. Ask a local nutritional health practitioner (ask in your health store for details) which kind of multinutrient is most suitable for you; low level (with levels around the Nutrient Reference Value), a medium potency, or higher potency formulation. There are big variations in nutrient levels, so it makes sense to ask someone to help when you’re making your choice.

4/ A sports supplement, which will include a wide range of nutrients, including those which have been shown to support energy production, or the needs of various parts of the body, such as the muscles or the joints.

5/ Calcium-fortified plant-based products.  It’s not just dairy that contains calcium. There will be plenty of calcium-fortified or enriched products in your health-store such as tofu and all kinds of wonderful dairy alternatives such as soya and nut milks, with all of the additional ready-made products such as ice-creams, custards, puddings and sauces.

Sports Nutrition: Macro’s. You know?

Sports nutrition is really sophisticated these days. We’re talking fine-tuning of diets to improve athletic performance at a cellular level, helping body tissues recover more quickly, perform more efficiently and endure robustly. 

Then there are those of us who do… you know,  maybe five (that means three) hours in the gym per week. The ‘seriously trying to get fit’, but perhaps not quite sure what we should be doing with our diets.

Then there are the ‘just starting out-ers’, who have little idea how to eat or supplement for exercise and activity.  For these people, reading about the basics is a great step in the right direction, so we’ll get you on your way right now.

The Eatwell Guide applies

This is the pictoral plate diagram outlining what the National Guidelines are for food groups and how much should be eaten in the diet.

By making sure that you have a wide and varied diet will help you stay nutritionally sound.  This is important to help fuel you throughout your exercise, to help in the prevention of injury (by providing the nutrients needed to support your muscles and joints), helping with recovery and topping up nutrient stores.

Carbs. The energy and B vitamin givers.

This food group not only provides energy needed for any activity (needed for any body reaction, in fact), but many carbohydrate sources are rich in B vitamins, which are needed for the release of energy from the foods that we eat. The body can store carbohydrates in the muscles (glycogen), but these stores are limited – so those doing intense exercise might need to look at their energy requirements before and during training to make sure performance doesn’t dip off.  Of course, it’s important to replenish muscle glycogen stores, which means a good supply of carbs routinely in your diet. To find out the amount of carbohydrate that is appropriate for your activity, why not contact a sports nutritionist or another nutritional practitioner with experience of sports nutrition.

So how much?
Your needs are going to be different to others, but as a rough guide,  for light exercise 3-5g carbohydrate per kg body weight per day, for moderate exercise (1 hour/day) 5-7g carbohydrate per kg body weight, for high intensity exercise of 1hour plus high intensity exercise, 6-10g carbohydrate per kg body weight per day.

Protein. More than just muscle

Protein can increase the stores of glycogen in the muscles, and are vital for so many body tissues, including the muscles and heart, as well as hormone production. When you’re looking into sports nutrition, protein is often the first place that people start as there’s a long heritage of protein products being used for sports performance and muscles health. This is why lean proteins such as chicken and fish are so popular (low in saturated fats, which aren’t good for your heart). But meat isn’t needed. There are many examples of elite Vegan athletes too, so it’s not essential to use animal-source proteins at all, with the right combinations of plant-based proteins (and you can buy vegan protein powders too).
You might speak with a nutritional practitioner about when you should take protein to help support recovery and repair, and it’s not unusual for people to take protein after exercise.

So how much?
The current recommendation is 0.75g per kg body weight  per day for adults.  If you’re doing strength and endurance training, then you might be recommended 2g per kg body weight per day.

Fat.

This is vital for the body, in balanced amounts. If you’re eating lots of processed foods, you might have an excess of omega 6 polynsaturates, which many nutritional practitioners try to reduce, as they have been linked to unhelpful inflammatory reactions in the body.  To counter this, omega 3 essential fatty acids are often included in the diets of people who are physically active, not least because studies show that they help to maintain a healthy heart.