Category Archives: Product reviews

Book review: Fitness Gourmet cookbook

When I was offered a copy in March of Fitness Gourmet, published by Jacqui Small, publisher of the Honestly Healthy cookbooks, I was a tad dubious. All of the alkaline-eating, slightly faddy food from the Honestly Healthy recipes I’d seen didn’t appeal, so I was curious to see if the new book was similar.

It’s written by Christian Coates, founder of Soulmatefood, that deliver healthy meals to busy people, and he’s also worked with a variety of clients right up to elite athletes to help with their nutrition, before writing Fitness Gourmet.

Fitness Gourmet

 

Rather than just being a recipe book, this one has a lot of information in it about how to balance your diet, and what I found especially helpful was that the example eating days, instead of following calorie counts, divides meals into ‘Burn’, ‘Balance’ and ‘Build’, with a good explanation of when to use the three options. The recipes throughout the book (a large selection of tasty-looking ones), are then coded the same, and, a feature which I particularly liked, all of the recipes have an adaptation into how to make them suitable for rest days or ‘Burn’ meals (such as smaller portions, or replacing the pasta with vegetables), as well as how to make them ‘Build’ meals suitable for big training days (for example, an extra portion of carbs, or adding nuts for extra fats).

Fitness GourmetFitness Gourmet

 

If you’re an avid calorie counter or macronutrient tracker, then this is not the cookbook for you to find healthy recipes, because none of the recipes have calorie information. If, like me though, you follow general principles rather than precise numbers to structure your diet, it’s great- and is really good if you have a sporty other half to feed, and want easy ways to up the calories in their version of the same meal without resorting to just giving them massive portions.

Some of the recipes, I’ve come back to time and time again, like their stem ginger and orange flapjacks and my personal favourites, their healthy take on Millionaire’s Shortbread, which regularly pass the boyfriend test, for not being obviously ‘weird and healthy’ (his words, not mine, about beetroot brownies).

Fitness Gourmet

 

The downside? Well as regular readers of my blog will know, I don’t tend to invest in ingredients like chia seeds or quinoa, as they can be pretty expensive and I’m on a student budget, and a fair few of the recipes, particularly the breakfasts and the baked treats, utilise these ingredients. That said, I was pleased to see that the book doesn’t talk about any of the current fads like paleo, ‘eating clean’ or specific diets, just eating healthy, delicious food and a balanced diet.

For the most part though, the recipes are straightforward to make, though some of them feature a lot of steps, tasty and healthy. If you are stuck in a bit of a rut, and have a reasonable budget to play with, I’d recommend the book to give you some fresh ideas and help structure a balanced diet around your training.

I was sent a free copy of the Fitness Gourmet cookbook by the publisher, Jacqui Small, to try out the recipes and review. All opinions are my own, and I was not paid to write this post.

Recovery nutrition: taste testing.

On a student bank balance, I don’t make a habit of refuelling on expensive sports nutrition, and frankly people who add protein powder to every meal for the next 24 hours after a 3 mile run hack me off slightly. However, as marathon training hots up, and training runs stretch over the 16 mile mark, making that extra effort to refuel seems to make all the difference. A balanced meal with protein and carbs is one of the easy ways to do it, but like others, I don’t always fancy food after a long run, and it’s only a few hours later that my appetite returns (usually with a vengeance).

I often reach for the Nesquik and think chocolate milk is a fab idea to funnel some carbs and protein into my body to tide me over until I can face food, but there are a shedload of recovery drinks out there on the market- so I thought I’d taste test them so you don’t have to…


Everything But The Cow
These cute little cartons are a dairy, gluten and fat free alternative to traditional protein shakes, so good for those with intolerances. They’re yummy fruit smoothies with soy protein, and no artificial stuff- they’re even sweetened with honey instead of any nasty sweeteners. My favourites are the Mango & Orange flavour but all three flavours are pretty yummy!
Per 330ml carton: 122 kcal, 20.8g carbs, 6.6g protein



Apres Recovery
I love hot chocolate and the idea of combining it with a recovery drink is a top one- because a glass of cold chocolate milk is nice in summer but in winter something warming is lovely to look forward to after clocking up the miles in the cold. Apres comes in convenient sachets, tastes all lovely and chocolately and malty (like a Malteser crossed with hot chocolate) and is dead easy to make when your hands are frozen, you just mix it with hot water. Tip top.
Per sachet: 142kcal, 25.6g carbs, 8.2g protein

Maxinutrition Protein Milk
These little dinky bottles are full of a protein drink that tastes pretty nice and doesn’t run the risk of the odour of dead animals that develops within five minutes of abandoning the empty shaker after a protein shake- a big win in my book. The 250ml bottles are a nice size, as they don’t leave you feeling ‘stuffed’ but deliver a hefty whack of protein and carbs to revive tired muscles. I’ve tried the chocolate (big thumbs up) and strawberry (not my favourite, but then I don’t really like any strawberry flavoured things!) and liked them both.
Per 250ml bottle: 130kcal, 11.7g carbs, 20g protein


SiS REGO
If it’s not convenient to take a bottle in your luggage, like if you’re off to an overseas race, individual sachets of a recovery drink can be a great idea, which you can make up with one of the numerous bottles of water hanging around post race. The chocolate version of this SiS one tastes okay, though sometimes it ‘settles’ and can be a bit grainy, but it mixes quite well in a shaker and doesn’t break the bank, especially as SiS quite often do offers on their website.
Per sachet: 180kcal, 29g carbs, 13g protein


For Goodness’ Shakes Recovery
I’ve tried the sachets of recovery powder as well as the pre-mixed bottles of the FGS drinks, and I have to say, they’re my favourite, even if they are a tad expensive if you buy them per bottle. I’ve only tried the chocolate flavour, and found they’re really palatable, even post-marathon when I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle anything and the risk of vomming was high. The sachets mix really easily and make a smooth, nice drink (and are also shaped really sensibly so they’re easy to neatly tip into a bottle or shaker).
Per sachet: 266kcal, 48.9g carbs, 16.3g protein
Per bottle: 315kcal, 52.3g carbs, 17.4g protein

What’s your favourite recovery product? I’ve also just got some TORQ that I can’t wait to try!

Marathon training: fuelling on the run

This post isn’t intended to be a guide to fuelling long runs during marathon training, but a round-up of the types of products I tried during my training and how I found some of the popular brands.

Isotonic Gels
These are the type of energy gels that I first tried and have used ever since, because they are pre-mixed with the correct amount of water, so there’s no guesswork involved as to how much water to wash them down with, and they tend to be a bit easier on the tum. I’d take one or two during long runs, or if I was doing a short run, have one gel and a coffee if it was pre-breakfast, just to top me up. I tried two of the most popular brands:

SiS Go Gels

These are by far my favourite gels, as they’re not too thick or gloopy, not too sickly sweet (important during the latter miles of a marathon) and come in a few different flavours to avoid boredom- the apple, blackcurrant, orange, tropical and berry flavours are yummy, and I’m guessing the lemon and lime flavour is too! They deliver 22g of carbs per gel, so I took 4 during the marathon, roughly every 6 miles, and found this was enough to hold off the dreaded ‘wall’.

High5 Isogels

These gels are of a similar composition to SiS gels, with 23g of carbs per gel. They come in a wide range of flavours, and the pictured berry flavour is yummy, though slightly sweeter than SiS gels. I didn’t run my marathon fuelled on these gels, because I was worried they might be too sickly when I needed to take 4 of them, but they went down a treat on training runs.

Glucose tablets

There are loads of different types of glucose and dextrose tablets out there on the market, and they’re a very fast-acting alternative to gels, so great for when you’re REALLY flagging on a run, as you can chew a couple and they kick in really quickly. They have around 4g of carbs per tablet, so it’s easy to tailor how much you want to have. GlucoTabs are particularly tasty ones, though don’t do as I do and put them loose in a pocket as they do dissolve in the rain… On a more positive note, the company that make them are running a competition to win a VLM place, so if you missed out in the ballot, have a nosey on over here (but be quick, entry closes on the 6th of December!)

Clif Shot Bloks


I sometimes got a bit bored of gels during training, and fancied something a bit more solid, and these babies fit the bill quite well. Getting used to chewing whilst running takes a couple of goes, and you need to have water with you to wash them down, but if you feel a bit ‘sloshy’ after a couple of gels, they deliver a roughly equal amount of carbs in 3 ‘bloks’ and come in some pretty nice flavours- I’m a big fan of strawberry.


Electrolyte tablets
Over the summer when I was sweating buckets on my long runs, I read that I should consider using some electrolytes to help me to stay better hydrated and replace precious salts like sodium and potassium that I was losing. These have now become a pretty vital part of my long run fuelling strategy, and I should mention that they are hands down the BEST hangover cure. They’re also zero calorie, so you can use them on shorter runs in place of water without taking on a shedload of unnecessary sugar.

Nuun

These little guys are hugely popular, and rightly so. They dissolve quickly and easily, and are still once the fizzing to dissolve them has stopped. They’re pretty easy on the tum, and taste really nice, without being gritty or chalky. They come in a massive range of flavours, so there’s bound to be one you like- I wasn’t a huge fan of Kona Cola but Strawberry Lemonade is the nectar of the gods, especially after a long run with ice in it- mmmmm… They’re also not too expensive, and Wiggle often have buy one get one free offers on them.

SiS Go Hydro

I’d be lying if I said I liked these as much as nuun tablets, but they also dissolve pretty rapidly, and are quite easy on the tum, as well as being reasonably priced, like SiS products tend to be. They have a tendency to ‘settle’ a tad, so giving them a shake when they’ve been stood a while is always a good plan, but they’re another electrolyte option if nuun doesn’t take your fancy.

What are your favourite fuels for during long runs? Ever had a total disaster with a particular product?



Review: CherryActive

I’m usually pretty reluctant to try dietary supplements, not because ‘chemicals’ worry me (as a science bod I trust the testing), but because I tend to think we can get everything we need from a good diet. Why would I want to take a specially engineered gel to obtain nitrates when I could eat cheese and beetroot sandwiches or chocolate beetroot brownies?

I’ve refused to test and review some protein and ‘muscle building’ supplements for this blog because I would frankly rather eat scrambled eggs and drink chocolate milk, but when the people at CherryActive got in touch to see if I wanted to try their fruit and veg juice concentrates I was curious. One 210ml bottle of their CherryActive juice makes seven servings of the juice and contains the juice of 650 cherries- it’s not artificial supplements, but hugely concentrated natural juices.

The bottles of concentrate, made in BlueberryActive, CherryActive and BeetActive were sent out with glasses with markings on, to help measure out 30ml of concentrate and add enough water to make the juice up correctly. I tried the CherryActive and BlueberryActive juices with ice in straight after hard workouts and really enjoyed them- they’re both quite tart in taste and were a nice contrast to sickly sweet sports drinks. I tried BeetActive both made up into a juice (not for the faint hearted) and mixed up into a salad dressing with a little olive oil and sea salt- definitely the best way to eat it whilst jazzing up spinach salads.

Some of the benefits of CherryActive claimed by the marketing include:

  • Reduction in exercise induced soreness and promotion of more rapid recovery
  • Increased antioxidant intake to help reduce damage from oxidative stress (free radical damage)
  • A good source of natural melatonin, documented to help improve sleep quality.
It’s hard to say after trying seven servings of CherryActive, BlueberryActive and BeetActive whether they really do help recovery from exercise and improve sleep, but they’re certainly more palatable than a lot of nutritional supplements and come from a natural source, so in that respect they get a thumbs up from me!
Fancy trying the drinks? Until September 30th, the lovely people at CherryActive are offering readers of this post 10% off orders from the website with the code ‘SARAH10’. Happy glugging!
Disclaimer: CherryActive kindly sent me samples of the three juice concentrates and the measuring glasses, but as usual, all opinions and ramblings are entirely my own.

Nutrition review: ohso chocolate.

I’m of the firm opinion that whilst some foods should be tampered with and tweaked to make them healthier, chocolate is not one of them. A few squares of good dark chocolate is an indulgence that I’d rather wasn’t ruined by the addition of anything green or removal of half the calories (and therefore half the taste). However, I’m willing to give new things a go: enter ohso chocolate bars.

I was sent a pack of their ‘healthy’ chocolate bars to try out. They claim to be 3x more effective than most probiotic milk drinks at delivering around a billion good bacteria to the intestine, as well as being chock-full of antioxidants (as it’s dark chocolate) as well as being cholesterol, gluten and wheat free, containing no added dairy. It’s also only 72 calories per small bar. Too good to be true? I thought so, expecting a miserable experience, similar to when I thought chocolate flavour rice cakes would be a nice snack (imagine cardboard with hot chocolate powder sprinkled on it…).

Not so. As a chocolate fiend, I’d be the first to pour scorn upon these if they were horrible. They’re actually really nice. They taste just like regular dark chocolate, and the bar size is perfect for a little snack- satisfying, but with none of the guilt that comes with eating four creme eggs in a row or similar (don’t look at me, I’d never do such a thing…). Whether or not they do as they say and deliver all the good bacteria they should, I can’t comment, and since I’m not gluten or wheat intolerant, I can’t tell you if that claim is true, but if it is, that’s good news for health conscious coeliacs everywhere.

I tried both the regular dark chocolate and orange flavours, and was a firm fan of both. They’re a good size to pop in a lunchbox or coat pocket, should you get peckish. Would I buy them on a regular basis? Having just had a look at the website and seen that a ‘weekly’ pack of seven bars costs £3.99, the honest answer is no. As a cash-strapped student, I spend under £20 a week on my food shopping, so to spend a fifth of that on some little chocolate bars does seem a tad excessive- I’ll probably file them under the same heading as Graze boxes- great if you can afford them, an occasional indulgence and a nice idea if not.

For more information on these, visit https://www.ohsolovesyourtummy.com/

(Disclaimer: I was sent these bars to try out for free, but this did not influence the content of my review)

Book review: Go Faster Food by Kate Percy

After many hints in the run-up to Christmas, I received a copy of Go Faster Food on the big day. It’s always a good thing if I’m so engrossed in a book I receive that I have to be torn away to watch TV with the family, and that’s exactly what happened with this book.

With a foreword from Liz Yelling (a big selling point for me!), this book is written for all endurance athletes- swimmers, runners, cyclists, rowers and so on. As a first-time marathoner this spring, I was looking for some help with how to structure and implement a good training diet, and this book is spot on.

The author, Kate Percy, is a marathon runner herself, and this lends a friendly, engaging tone to the advice and nutritional information, so it doesn’t feel like being preached to about the virtues of healthy eating, nor is it a Gillian McKeith style lecture about how we should all subsist on nuts or seeds.

The book is structured so the first part concentrates on educating the reader about the right kind of diet for endurance training and events, including information about what types of carbohydrate should be eaten and when during training, which I found very useful as it condensed down the myriad of information available on the internet into a manageable, easy to understand format and laid to rest the ‘carbs are evil’ mentality instilled in me from years of reading womens’ magazines.

The book then contains over 100 recipes, handily organised into breakfast, soups and light meals, pasta, rice, polenta and gnocchi, couscous, lentils and pulses, desserts, cakes and energy bars, and drinks and smoothies. Each recipe is written up with symbols which indicate if the dish is ‘a healthy meal for your general training diet’, ‘good for endurance’ or ‘good for recovery’, as well as full nutritional information and tips/anecdotes from Kate about the recipe, such as small substitutions that can be made. I found the format of the recipes to be great, because the organisation into sections allows me to find recipes for a particular meal quickly, and the nutritional information and recipe key allows me to choose dishes that are most suited to preparing for or recovering from training sessions. The recipes themselves assume that you have access to a reasonably well-stocked cupboard, but I am a student on a budget and didn’t find myself thinking that the shopping list would be huge, as I do with some cookery books.

Finally, the book very helpfully contains some sample menu plans, which I thought were great, as they showed me examples of how I could combine the dishes to form a sensible menu for a general training day, or a Sunday when I have a long run to fuel for and recover from. There are also handy ideas for lunches on the go (invaluable to a busy medic) and for suitable snacks to make sure I don’t end up raiding the biscuit tin.

Kate has also helpfully included a suggested list of store-cupboard staples to stock up on, which I thought was good, because I am only 20, and without my mother’s helpful guidance I’m often a bit stuck as to what I should fill my cupboards with apart from porridge oats and tins of beans!

All in all, I think this is a really useful book for runners looking to improve their diet, find new recipes for carb-loading to ease the monotony of endless bowls of pasta or learn more about the fundamentals of fuelling  properly. I think it should be a kit bag essential!

Nutrition review: For Goodness’ Shakes recovery drink.

I’ve always been a little bit sceptical of using sports nutrition products as a very much amateur athlete, but after my successful foray into trying carb gels, I picked up a bottle of For Goodness Shakes’ Sports Recovery drink to try in Sainsburys whilst I was doing my weekly food shop. It cost £1.69 for a 500ml bottle, and I opted for the milk chocolate flavour.

I kept it in the fridge for after a sufficiently long or hard training session, as I wanted to try it when I actually needed help recovering. This came in the form of yesterday’s 13.1 mile long run, so I dutifully grabbed the bottle when I got in and slurped it down in between stretches.

The drink itself tasted nice and chocolate-y, and was the thickness of normal chocolate milk. It wasn’t too sweet or sickly like some sports drinks, and didn’t leave me feeling queasy afterwards (I’m not always good with excessive sugar). Writing this the next day, I don’t feel too horrendous after my run, like I was expecting, but I’m always careful to eat plenty of carbs and protein after a long run so I’m not sure if this is attributable to the shake or not. However, in favour of the shake, it was good to be able to get some carbs and protein down my neck immediately so I didn’t have to rush cooking my dinner like usual!

All in all, I think these shakes are a good product, and easy to use as there isn’t the hassle of weighing, measuring or mixing powders and suchlike, and there are no big tubs of powder to store. They’re convenient to grab when you’re tired from training and not hideously expensive. But- and this is a big but- when I checked the nutritional information compared to my housemate’s carton of Co-op Chocolate Milk, the stats were almost identical, apart from the vitamin content. And this chocolate milk was 2 litre cartons for £2…

So, the bottom line of this review is, For Goodness Shakes are great, easy-to-use products to use after training that will get you the much-applauded 3:1 balance of carbs and protein that you need to replenish your glycogen stores and repair your muscles. They’re great if you can afford them, but personally, as a slightly impoverished student, I’m just as inclined to grab a carton of chocolate milk and a vitamin tablet, and save these shakes for a special treat, like after races.

Nutrition review: SiS Go Gels.

With my long runs getting longer, tackling 10 miles for the first time this week, I was starting to need an energy boost on the way round to combat the dreaded dead legs. I popped to the Central Leeds branch of Up and Running, where the staff are always wonderfully helpful, and checked out their range of running fuel.

After much pondering and a bit of help from the lady in the shop, I opted to try a couple of SiS Go Gels. I’d heard good things online about them being easy on the stomach and convenient to take on a run because they are isotonic so they don’t have to be taken with water.

The packs are shown below, and are a little bulkier (apparently) due to having water in them so they don’t need to be diluted, but I still easily fitted mine in the little zip pocket on the back of my capri pants, alongside a Blackberry phone.

I opted to try the Tropical flavour on today’s 10 mile run, and chucked it down as I sheltered in a bus stop at 5 miles whilst the rain bucketed down. The gel tasted pleasant and not at all sickly, with a mild tropical flavour, and didn’t stick around my mouth. I then ran on for the remainder of the run, and the gel definitely gave me a boost. Looking at the pack, it contains 22g of carbohydrate and only a minimal amount of sugar, so this might be why it wasn’t sickly. I didn’t have any water after I took the gel and am impressed to report no stomach cramps, stitches or feeling sick- a roaring success!

If any of you have any other good suggestions for your favourite running fuel, it’d be wonderful to hear them.