Nutrition Logging The Easy Way

In the last month, I’ve been ramping up the training, especially with the running. One thing is really getting in my way: my weight. According to ‘Racing Weight’ by Matt Fitzgerald, the key to getting key performance with endurance sports is to have low body fat. Unfortunately, due to a terrible diet over the past four months, I am far from optimal when it comes to body fat!.

So with it being the new year and all, I decided to try and follow a nutrition plan. I have been tracking my fitness performance for years, but I have never really been to successful tracking my nutrition. Because every food type has its own nutritional value, it can be a laborious task tracking down each individual item of food. Instead of doing that I have developed a system that concentrates on certain kinds of food… bad food! I don’t bother wasting time tracking anything healthy… salads, sugarless cereals, sugarless coffee etc. All I do is track everything else. But rather than having to log each food item, instead, I associate unhealthy food with four distinct categories.

Category 1: Fizzy Drinks

This category is based on a 330ml can of coca-cola… unfortunately, one of my vices! However, it also includes stuff like lucozade, Fanta, ginger beer and anything else. A 500ml bottle counts as 1.5 units. And because diet drinks and zero drinks have such an odd effect on the body’s ability to process sugar, they are included also! And according to Jennifer Derham, qualified nutritionist at the Fulham Health Clinic, diet drinks raise blood sugar just as much as the full-sugar variety, because the body still thinks they are sweet. If they trigger an insulin response, then they are terrible for fat management, and just as bad as the non-diet varieties for exposing the consumer to health issues such as diabetes type 2. So diet drinks had to be included, as I didn’t want to get into the habit of caning three cans a day of coke zero to combat a sugar craving. Each unit of sugary drinks is logged as 150 calories based on a 330ml can of coke being listed as 139 calories. I don’t include fruit juice or smoothies in this category. While they contain a lot of sugar, I think the nutrients on balance are quite beneficial. But if you end up having more than one glass of fruit juice a day, I would start logging them from your second glass.
fizzy_drinks

Category 2: Booze

I’m measuring this one by the unit and giving each unit an average value of 90 calories. Rather than having to list individual beer and wines, going by the unit is a much more simple way to go. Of course, there are some types of alcohol that contain few calories, such as a vodka soda with fresh lime, while others are quite high on a per unit level like WKD. But I tend to go for the middle ground, so the average value works fine. You can adjust the value to suit, based on what kind of drinks you have!
booze

Category 3: Chocolate

Another vice of mine. This category also includes things like cereal bars and flapjacks, as well as cakes, doughnuts and all the good stuff. A unit is attributed 280 calories based on a Bounty Bar listed as 275 calories.
chocolate

Category 4: Junk Food

So this covers everything else… Pies, pasties, pizza, pastries, pot noodles and anything you just know is plain old bad. This is the only category where I haven’t gone for a unit approach, and instead try to get you to list the actual calories consumed, as there is such a difference between having a cheeky hot dog, versus have a calorific KFC meal. Oh, by the way, I consider bread to be junk food, so make sure you log any sandwiches here. Bread in all its varieties is sugar-packed…
junk_food

Calorie Summation

The final page of the tracker takes the four calorie totals for each week and adds them up. The value that results is neither good nor bad. However, the goal is to continue through the year, and slowly bring that total down. This has got to be a pretty decent strategy for helping to encourage you to only consume healthy stuff, as none of that goes on the charts. At least, that’s what I’m hoping!
total_calories
So here’s the spreadsheet if you want a copy…
nutrition
Or you can mail me if you want a google docs version…
Let me know how it goes!

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Sweatshop Running Club Blues

About six years ago, for the first time, I joined a running club. That club was SRC, or Sweatshop Running Club. Sweatshop are the UK’s leading running retailers, and set up the SRC as an initiative just over six years ago, possibly with a view to increasing foot-fall, and to spread the Sweatshop brand. The club I joined was based at the Fulham branch. It was free and offered incentives for completing runs, such as nutrition packs and fitness clothing. And if the runner was to achieve the lofty target of doing fifty runs within a twelve month period (1 run a week to count as max), then they would be awarded a Garmin fitness watch. That prize was eventually downgraded to up to £100 off the price of a pair of running shoes, which was still a good incentive. Something that I managed to achieve twice. And so over the course of those six years, I continued to run with the group. I attended SRC runs at Fulham, Clapham, Manchester and at their Rathbone Place branches.

Fulham Sweatshop

Fulham SRC was a great place to get into running. I was training for a marathon, and the Wednesday night 10k routes along the Thames were fantastic to help me with my training and to motivate me. They also did a Sunday morning 5k run to Bishop’s Park (which I found hard to get up for!). Eventually, Wednesday was scrapped because of dwindling numbers, but Thursday night was introduced as interval training, which Tuesday became a 3k to 5k run. Both of these runs were done as laps Eel Brook Common. Quite a camaradrie developed at the club amongst the regulars. Certain run nights involved themed fancy dress runs, such as halloween and Christmas runs. There were also evening events for members, like Christmas parties and bowling nights. Then, all of a sudden, the Fulham store announced that they were closing down. Apparently, what happened was that the lease had come up for renewal, and it was implied that they just were not getting the right figures. This coincided with the closure of some other stores too. The Stratford and Holloway stores were also closed down. If the stores weren’t profitable, regrettably, it made sense to close them down.

The Clapham Store

Being a Brixton resident for some time in the past few years, the Clapham Store became my favourite. Out of all the London stores, the SRC there attracted quite a large group of runners. The Monday night 5k run often involved a cheeky lap of Clapham Common, while the Wednesday night run involved some great 8k routes, that occasionally stretched as far as Battersea Park, and the Thames, and nearly always concluded in a post-run pub session. I made many friends over the three years that I frequented the Clapham store. Then on October 20th, they posted this on their Facebook wall.

sweatshopclapham20-10-2016

Rathbone Place Announces Closure

So here’s the announcement made on Monday 15th November 2016:

Hello to all our Sweatshop Rathbone Place family..
It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you of the forthcoming closure of Sweatshop Rathbone Place.🙁The powers that be have informed us that we will cease to trade in January.
We wish to continue welcoming our run club to run with us for the remainder of our time here.. We also welcome you and all of our customers to come and pick up one of the great bargains we’ll have here in store! Get them whilst stocks last!
Let’s try to enjoy our final few months here and send Sweatshop Rathbone Place out with a bang!

sweatshoprathbone14-10-2016

Well that was me pretty much done for Sweatshop and their running club. One of the managers pointed out to me that it was possible to go to the Trump Street branch for their club, but as far as I was concerned, that’s a little out of the way. And for sure, the Manchester branch can’t be running short on the foot-fall front, being right in the middle of the Arndale Mall in Manchester city centre, but I can’t make a weekly run there, being London based!

So Why Has This Happened?

Some years ago, it was known that 15% of Sweatshop shares were owned by the corporate sports retail store, Sports Direct. This was one of the reasons why the branches slowly started to introduce entry level budget brand, Karrimor. Mike Ashleigh, the owner of Sports Direct had recently brought himself to public attention, both as the owner of the Geordie soap opera, Newcastle United Football Club, and for his summoning to parliament over a hearing regarding his alleged working practices in his Sports Direct stores. Any reasons as to why all these stores have been shut have been pointed to the idea that store leases that came up for renewal were not being renewed. The reason for these terminations at the end of leases can only be speculated on. Either stores are deemed to not be profitable, or there is a deliberate strategy to shut down all the standalone stores and to reinstate Sweatshop as an in-store running brand within Sports Direct Stores. I visited a Sweatshop within a Sports Direct, and there was one fundamental difference. Sweatshop staff at the stand-alone stores tended to be dedicated runners, but in Sports Direct this was not the case. The general Sports Direct staff had no great knowledge of the needs of the runner, which was not ideal!

sweatshop_in_sports_direct_3

What Now Then?

As somebody who has become psychologically reliant on running with a club, as opposed to running by myself in a park, I need a practical solution for running. As do former members of SRC! Members of the Fulham SRC managed to continue the run meetings by reinventing the group as SRCF (Social Running Club Fulham). They negotiated with a local dance studio in Fulham to use them as a bag storage point, and continued with good numbers. The Clapham running group as of today are starting to look into doing something similar, but one solution for them was the idea of using the running club of the rival store, ‘Runners Need’, whose shop is based in Clapham junction, and is thankfully not up for the chop. And of course, there is always the hangover destroying Saturday morning Park Runs, which are highly successful and take place in parks across the UK (which incidentally used to be sponsored by Sweatshop). I could look into travelling further afield, because as of now, the Trump Street and Teddington branches have not to my knowledge been shut-down. Otherwise, looks like I’m back to running on my own again…

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Why Yorkshire Rocks For Running

Flat urban streets provide the opportunity to run pretty fast, until you run into a busy road. And then you engage in a strangely frustrating game of jogging on the spot and waiting, or enacting a dangerous real-world form of Frogger by dancing through the intersecting traffic. Then there’s the smog, and the languid pedestrians. Cyclists snarl at you if you even think of stepping off the kerb. On the other hand, you can head to the countryside for fresh air. Sure, you’re not going to get your p.b. as you wheeze your way up a steep, rocky slope. But that is going to get you fit quickly and improve your agility. Plus the random lateral variations with how your foot lands is going to build strength in your lower legs.

I ventured out for an 11km run through three parks in West Yorkshire, and despite my split times being borderline shameful, it was a lot of fun. It hit me afterwards all over, unlike an urban run, but the views along the way gave me so much more than the concrete jungle ever could. The route I followed took me through three different parks in the West Yorkshire town of Bingley.

strava_route_15-09-2016
Really wasn’t joking about the pace… how slow was I??! 9:32 per kilometer by 4k.

strava_hills_15-09-2016
And here’s why… a pretty brutal collection of hills. Strava credited me with over 300m of climbing on this route.

The Prince Of Wales Park

The park is over 150 years old and sits in the hills over-looking Bingley.

princeofwales_gate
I started the run on Park Road. I headed straight up the hill until I reached the Prince Of Wales Park.

princeofwales_font
It was quite a hot September day. 24 degrees, which is unusually high for Yorkshire. This drinking font would come in handy.

princeofwales_hill
I used to head to this park as a teenager. This hill used to wipe me out such that a break was necessary at the top. All part of the fun and games though! I continued up this canopied track till I reached the top of the park, then got my first taste of sprinting down-hill.

bingleyshops
Leaving the park, I headed down towards the high street on my way to the St Ives estate.

St Ives Estate

The estate is over 500 acres in size and covers an area of land between Bingley and Harden.

stives_lake
The estate feels vast to run around and features quite a few impressive sights, including this natural lake.

stives_track
More pain and more up-hill running! This canopied path is flanked by a rustic wall.

stives_golf
I wasn’t the only one making the best of the weather. The park also features golfing areas. Obviously, my route did not take me across the greens. Didn’t really fancy getting a golf ball in the face!

Myrtle Park

The St Ives estate path flows straight into Myrtle Park, with only a hilly road separating the two. No messing around with rural traffic this time.

myrtlepark_cow
I really did run into this field. It’s public land, so I encountered no angry farmers. The cow in the foreground did an excellent job of staring me down as I tentatively strode past.

myrtlepark_hill
Myrtle Park features lots of rolling countryside, as well as tricky steep rocky sections. Get ready for mud too!

myrtlepark_cottage
Maybe the park keeper lives in this cottage. There’s a great little foot-bridge over the river. Fantastic views running past here.

myrtlepark_riveraire
A path takes you parallel to a row of allotments. Then its back over the River Aire to the front of the park.

myrtlepark_bandstand
The final part of the park features this band stand. Then I’m out of the park, and the run is done.

This 11.2km run took me over 1:22. Pretty slow, but an amazing workout. Yorkshire features plenty of diverse country sights with its parks, canal-paths and then there’s the Yorkshire Moors. Such a great part of the country for spending some time in on a sunny day!

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How To Avoid Alcohol

If like me, you like the occasional beer (or cocktail, or bottle of wine, or g+t, or cheeky whisky, or….), you may find the concept of cutting-down on alcohol pretty challenging. The fact of the matter is that not only does alcohol dramatically add to our calorie intake (one pint of lager is around 200 calories), but it also reduces the body’s ability to efficiently process fat. Sports such as running and cycling tend to favour people with low body fat, according to nutrition literature such as ‘Racing Weight’.


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Given that, what can we substitute for alcohol, so that we can avoid it as much as possible? In training for this year’s London Triathlon, here are the substitutes I found.

Virgin G+T

The combination of fresh lime, Ice and diet tonic water pretty much nails the flavour of the standard g+t, but without the boozy overload. This one is definitely a winner. One handy twist on this one is swapping the tonic water for soda water. Still calorie free, but with the added bonus of being one of the tastiest drinks you can order in a pub/bar that you might be able to get for free; many pubs don’t charge for fresh lime or for soda water…. win!

Smoothies

Smoothies are a good solution, although they can have a bit of a fat/sugar overhead.

  • 1 banana
  • 6 strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
  • fresh ginger
  • a handful of baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 4 ice cubes

Throw all of that into a blender, and blend until totally mashed. Miss out the honey if you want to go ultra healthy. It’s pretty hard to make a decent smooothie without the fructose element though! In my experience, strawberry, banana, yoghurt and honey are the basis for most decent smoothies. On top of that, you can pretty much add any fruit or veg according to how experimental you want to get.

Green Tea

I recommend getting a teapot for this one. Once you learn to embrace the bitter taste of green tea, it can be quite a winner. For me, it also acts as a bit of an appetite suppressant, which can help a lot.

Ginger & Honey Iced Tea

This is another drink requiring a teapot. put three to four Twinings Ginger Teabags into a teapot, with a tablespoon of honey. Brew with boiled water for 15 minutes. Then transfer the mix into a container into the fridge for 15 minutes. You can then drink that by straining over ice into a glass. Absolute winner. Sure, there’s a sucrose hit with the honey, but compared to a sugary soft drink, it’s pretty skinny. One can of coca cola can have as much as 9 teaspoons of sugar in, where this drink equates to closer to two.

Water

If you can train yourself to constantly drink plain old water, then you are on to a winner. Nutritionists suggest that we should be drinking 2 litres of water per day. That figure should be higher if you are doing a sporting activity.

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New Half Marathon PB

I woke up on a sunny October Saturday morning, with the best of intentions. That intention was to do the patent Park Run – Brockwell Park 5k run. However, my rushed scramble to the park on my bicycle at 8:50am took me down a wrong road and I ended up finding myself on the way to the Heart Of Darkness (aka Camberwell). So I turned back, realising that if I corrected my route, I would get to Brockwell Park too late to do the Park Run. Dejected, I headed to my Sainsbury’s Local to pick up some morning snacks.
Back at the flat, my combined guilt of missing the inaugural Saturday morning 5k, and the knowledge that I was 20km short of hitting my monthly running targets (link) made me realise that it might be a good idea to do a half marathon. So, impulsively, after a bowl of grim, hot, sludgy porridge, I started planning a route. Starting in Brixton, I would shoot down to Clapham Common and swing by Battersea Park. Then I would head over the river via Chelsea Bridge. Knightsbridge would get me to Hyde Park. Then I’d cross the Serpentine and head down to Hyde Park Corner and head towards Victoria via Green Park. Victoria would lead me to Vauxhall Bridge, then I could get back to Brixton via Stockwell. So here’s how it went…
Brixton-HydePark1
I started out going slightly the wrong way, by taking the Stockwell Road, instead of the road to Clapham via Clapham Park. Also, on the way back, I totally missed the turning for Vauxhall Bridge. That meant that I came back via Chelsea Bridge, which added an extra 2km to the route:
Brixton-HydePark2
I didn’t totally thrash the route, and there was a lot of both human and vehicular traffic, but somehow, I did manage to get my pb for the half marathon. Very probably down to all the Sweatshop Running Club 8km runs, which have given me a bit more of a competitive pace.
Brixton-HydePark3
My 21km time came out at 1:55:07
22km was 2:01:11
So from those figures, I calculated my half marathon time (estimated time for 21.097km) as being 1:55:42, which is almost two minutes under by personal best. Here’s hoping I can get it under 1:50, but that seems long way off.

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The Burden Of Being A Stats Monkey

I’ve been tracking my fitness stats for quite some time. Hardware and software technology advances have made it ever so more interesting to get into training, by analysing workouts and providing community support forums and tracking technology. I use a combination of the websites, www.mapmyfitness.com, www.nikeplus.com and personal cloud spreadsheets through google docs. And I can physically track my workouts using my Android smartphone, a Swimovate Poolmate and sometimes, I use a Cat Eye cycling computer (basically when my phone runs out of juice).
As far as my personal spreadsheets go, I specifically track the following statistics on a month by month basis:

  • Total distance
  • Hours
  • Calories
  • Work rate (hours/calories)
  • Number of workouts
  • Number of gym visits
  • Swim distance
  • Cycle distance
  • Run distance

It’s great to be able to see progress, and it gives me a great way to balance out my training. Each month I can work out if I’m spreading my training across running, cycling, swimming and going to the gym.
This month, with one week to go, the charts tell me that I have a pretty low running distance.

Spreadsheets

Google docs is a great way to track information. It’s completely free cloud document services are ideal for graphing, tracking and charting training data, but it helps if you’re proficient with Microsoft Excel in order to get the most from it. Setting up bespoke tracking spreadsheets is very useful.
Distance
My aim each month is to achieve a total for each category that is in the top three figures compared to previous years. So in running, this table tells me that I have to do a half marathon in the last week in order to scratch my third best October run distance…. eek!

MapMyRun

mapmyrun.com is great for storing general information about fitness progress. Not only is the basic website free, but the associated smartphone apps perform GPS tracking which is ideal for runs and cycle rides. In fact, for running, I actually use nikeplus, but mapmyrun.com allows you to sync to the nikeplus data. The only problem with that is that nikeplus doesn’t export the GPS route information. But that’s not a huge problem, as mapmyrun does provide pretty decent online route mapping software.
mapmyrun october 2014
mapmyrun also provides diet tracking, but I found that tracking food becomes an obsessive process and just takes up too much time.

Other Technology

Many runners use walkjogrun, but one of the alternatives I am considering is Garmin, whose products, such as the 910XT fitness tracking watch, are flashy enough to not just track runs and cycle rides, but also swims, making it the ultimate triathlon tracker. Their website also provides a wealth of information on workouts. Plus Garmin data can also be synced to MapMyRun, which is a bonus.
garmin-910xt-12
I currently use a Swimovate Poolmate watch for swim tracking. While the Poolmate is great for length tracking in an indoor pool, because it doesn’t feature GPS, it’s absolutely useless for open-water swimming. However, because it’s based on much simpler accelerometer technology, I don’t need to charge it every day, so can use it like a normal watch, which is a big plus.

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Fading

One big tendency I have towards the end of a competitive run is to fade towards the end. Whilst heading to smash my half marathon personal best at the Great North Run 2013, I dropped off in the last 2km, and barely managed to squeeze in at 1:57:02. I did the same thing when I ran the Brathay marathon in 2010. Reaching the last two miles, all my momentum dropped off, and I was horrified to find that I was being overtaken by Scooby Doo. Well, after last night’s run at SRC Clapham, I’m clearly up to my old tricks again! Don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to bring it home.

Here is the route we did:
SRC 10-09-2014_1

A really decent route, starting in Clapham, over Vauxhall Bridge. Along Chelsea Embankment, running back over Chelsea Bridge. Passing Battersea Park on the way back to Clapham. The result wasn’t too bad, with me managing to nail a 4:55 split:

SRC 10-09-2014_2

Even though that’s really not a bad time for me, the reality is that the last 1km was a complete mess…

SRC 10-09-2014_3

No idea why I seem to drop off! 8km is not even a particularly tough distance, but it must be my limit at these kind of paces.

Oh, and here’s one more pic of SRC runners about to pig out at the Chicago Rib Shack in Clapham, after a similarly gruelling run. Great night, Sweatshop Derek!

Chicago Rib Shack

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