Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Celebrating 6 years of being injury free...

In 2014, I swam for over 65 hours, cycled around 240 hours, ran for over 240 hours and spent about 40 hours doing strength and conditioning exercises.  I raced 4 ultramarathons including two 100-milers, finished a half-ironman triathlon and achieved a personal best at Ironman Sweden. Yet I suffered zero injuries. In fact I haven’t been injured since 2008 and I feel this is a reason to celebrate and write this blog post.

I have no secrets, but here are the main reasons that I feel helped me to avoid layoff periods for such a long time.  To clarify, when I say no-injury, I simply mean that I haven’t needed to stop exercising, but of course I suffer from niggles from time to time, after all I am not a machine!

Warm-up and Cool down – this is so basic, yet a lot of my peers miss out on such a vital element of ANY session. I often see an Facebook status or tweet that reads like this, ‘great 6-miler at half-marathon pace’, then I click on the link to the data and I see 6-miles at their desired half-marathon pace without any warm up and cool down. I often get responses such as ‘I didn’t have time’, ‘I ran two hundred metres to warm up’ or ‘I did some stretches…’ 

Warming up is ESSENTIAL
·         to increase the blood flow and oxygen to the muscles;
·         to increase fats in the muscles that will be used for energy;
·         to increase flexibility in the joints by lengthening and warming the muscles.

Cooling down after a session is also VITAL
·         to establish normal blood circulation;
·         to kick off the recovery process. 

I like a 20min warm up for running and cycling, followed by a minimum of a 10-minute cool down, average pace of training sessions is not an important number, it only boosts your ego, nothing else. So remember every session is composed of a warm up, main set and cool down, no excuses, if you don’t have time then tough luck, just make your main set shorter.

Build your base/Periodising your season – most triathletes are familiar with the concept of periodization; athletes in the northern hemisphere will normally spend the winter months building their base fitness and during spring, commence the build periods to peak for those summer races. Yet all I see is that athletes just don’t have enough patience and jump straight into speed training without having first built their base, in the fear of ‘losing their speed’. For me, that’s like putting the cart before the horse-you need to spend at least the first three months of the new season developing your aerobic fitness. Trying to jump straight into anaerobic interval training without the aerobic base is a recipe for disaster.

Crosstraining – this one goes out to the runners. Obviously, if you want to be a good runner you will need to run, however crosstraining, such as swimming and biking can allow you to train more without the accumulation of excessive fatigue. I’m not asking you to sign up for a triathlon next season, although I’m inclined to say you will probably enjoy it, but how about replacing some of your recovery runs with easy cycling or swimming instead?  It’s a great recipe to keep you injury free and give your running muscles a break.

Don’t race too much/Prioritise your goals – Club runners are a prime example of racing too much, they go from spring marathon, to short races in the summer, to autumn marathon, to cross country season, there is never a start or an end to their season. The reality is, that if you really want to find out how good you’re at a certain distance, you do need to be more specific and dedicate yourself solely to that, you can’t be at YOUR best for say a 5k road race and a marathon, ok, if you’re an athlete of a certain calibre you may still be beating all of your friends in both events but you will never reach your true potential if you keep mixing and matching as you please. Racing is normally very stressful to your body unless you are the type of athlete that can hold back (I know a few), so too much racing can also be a recipe for injuries.

Feed your body with the right nutrients – I’m not going to tell you to eat this way or that way, but it’s obvious that if a food comes ready from a packet, then it’s probably not that great for you. Whether you’re an athlete or not, you need to have a good variety of vegetables and fruit, healthy fats from olive oil, seed and nuts and good quality meat, fish and poultry in your weekly diet. Stay away from refined carbohydrates and sugar and avoid unhealthy vegetable oils like sunflower, corn, etc, at any costs. Don’t train to eat, like a lot of athletes think they can do, EAT TO TRAIN instead.

Dealing with niggles/Listening to your body – We have all been there; training is going well for a number of weeks then suddenly a niggle appears from out of nowhere. It’s very frustrating I can tell you, you’re not injured yet but your body is trying to tell you something. While I often train with fatigue, there is a difference between training when you are simply tired or when there is an area of your body that is complaining that something is wrong, being able to differentiate between them is key. What sort of things do I do when a niggle has appeared?  Firstly, I cut down on the amount of running I do but carry on cycling and swimming. If no improvement, then I stop running for a few days; I may also schedule some extra rest days in the week. I also employ self-massage (not that kind!) and ice baths. If all the above doesn’t help then I ring my favourite physiotherapist for an appointment. It’s always cheaper to visit your therapist early than wait until it turns into a full blown injury.

Sleep, sleep and sleep - It goes without saying that sleep is absolutely crucial for the endurance athlete, it’s when your body repairs itself. Just as athletes require more calories, they also need more sleep too. Having a bad night sleep may not necessarily affect you the following day, but continued bouts of less sleep will break you down and you will either perform badly, or end up injured. Do yourself a favour and turn the telly off and go to sleep!

Strength and Conditioning - for as long I can remember I have been doing S&C exercises and more so in the off-season. No doubt I will always prefer swimming, biking and runnig to S&C, but it should always be part of any serious endurance athlete. Don’t fear the possibility of big muscles; it’s possible to have muscle growth without the bulk. To be honest I have tried different exercises and routines in my time and I would say that I still haven’t found the ideal formula for me, so don’t be surprised if I write a blog specifically on S&C in future. 

Scheduling rest and breaks – appropriate training stress + rest/recovery = adaptation and improvement. Whilst the amount of training and rest varies for different athletes, the above formula cannot be changed. With too little training stress you won’t be giving your body an opportunity to improve, however, if you don’t rest and recover you will soon breakdown, so find your ideal balance and err on the side of caution. One of the things that I do that works wonders for my body and mind is to have a two to three-week total break from exercise at the end of each season. I find that niggly pains and aches totally disappear and I also find myself re-energised and motivated to start it all again for the next season. Most weeks I will have a minimum of one day off exercise and I work on a basis of a four-week cycle, where I increase volume slightly each week and then drop volume for the fourth week to allow recovery and adaptation. These are ideas I borrowed from others, find your own optimal formula and never forget the above equation.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts this year and thanks for taking the time to read them! Keep in touch and may I take this opportunity to wish you a fantastic and healthy 2015.

My references and recommended readings:

‘Metabolic Efficient Training’, Edition 2 by Bob Seebohar
‘Death by Food Pyramid’ by Denise Minger

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Metabolic Efficient Cake? No way! + Nutty Butter Bar

Who doesn’t like a bit of cake? My wife is an awesome baker, and her cakes are not only beautiful but they also taste amazing. Unfortunately they are made using ingredients that are not so great to be consumed on a daily basis, so I try to eat them only occasionally when I plan to miss the target.

Now you can have the best of both worlds, with a banana cake recipe that fits in well with metabolic efficiency. These ingredients will give you a good combination of fat and protein plus a source of fibre that will help you control of your blood sugar levels and keep insulin spikes at bay.



4 bananas (mashed)
4 eggs
½ cup almond butter (or any nut butter)
4 tablespoons of coconut oil or butter (melted) or olive oil
½ cup coconut flour (or almond flour)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 pinch of sea salt
½ cup of small walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
Extra walnut or pecan halves to decorate the top (or pumpkin and sunflower seeds)


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
Grease and line a loaf pan.
Combine your wet ingredients in a food processor.
Once all of your ingredients are blended, add in your dry ingredients-coconut flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking   powder and salt and mix well. Lastly add the nuts.
Pour in your batter and level and then top with walnut or pecan halves.
Place on a baking tray and bake for 50-55 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin before turning out.

Utterly gorgeous served with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and summer berries!

When working out very early in the morning and having a big breakfast would not do me any favours, I enjoy a small slice of this cake with a cup of coffee. I know good quality coconut oil can still be quite expensive but I find using olive oil works just as well and doesn’t affect the flavour. 

Since the theme is sweet on this blog post, I’m also going to share this delicious bar recipe created by Bob Seebohar. The greatest thing with this recipe is that there is not cooking involved, so anyone can have a go even the kids!



1 cup nut butter (your choice – I prefer almond butter)
1 cup coconut flour
1 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup almond milk (a little more may be needed based on desired consistency)
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 Tbsp chia seeds
2 Tbsp cocoa nibs
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips


Combine all dry ingredients except for dark chocolate chips in a bowl.
Stir in nut butter. Add almond milk slowly and continue to stir. 

Place batter (should be crumbly) in a baking dish (8x8 or 9x9 inch) and press firmly in the dish.

Melt chocolate chips and spread on top of mixture (I couldn’t find dark chocolate chips but used an 85% dark chocolate bar instead melted in bain-marie or microwave).
Place in freezer for 30 minutes, then once ready cut it into squares and enjoy!

The only problem I found with this bar is that I keep going back to the kitchen to pick up another piece. With the family away in New Zealand at the moment, I halved the recipe so I don’t have eat it all in one go. Although I am guessing you can keep the cut pieces in the freezer then remove them one at a time as you want them.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

more recipes for the off-season...

Roasted Aubergine Salad  

Isn’t it funny how your taste buds change as you grow up?  I used to hate aubergine as a child and now I’d say it’s one of my favourite vegetables.
This salad is simply gorgeous, I bet if you make it next summer and you invite your friends for a barbeque there won’t be any left and your friends will be asking you for the recipe. It’s very versatile and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

·         3 x aubergines
·         3 x yellow/red peppers
·         2 x red onions
·         1 jar (250/300g) pitted black olives
·         Generous amounts of cooking olive oil.
·         Seasoning to taste.

Heat the oven to 200C. Chop the aubergine and peppers in big square chunks and place them in a large roasting tray. Chop each red onions in 8 segments (normal onion also works well – I prefer red) add to the other vegetables as well as the olives.  Season with salt/pepper and dried mixed herbs or oregano.  Mix it all well with generous amount of olive oil and place it in the pre-heated oven for roughly one hour. It’s a good idea to check half way through, mix the vegetables and if necessary add some more salt and olive oil. Don’t let it overcook so keep an eye from the second half onwards. Enjoy hot or cold. It can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

Roasted Salmon with Sundried Tomato/Goats cheese topping

I first enjoyed this recipe at a friend’s house, I obviously asked for the recipe and with a bit of creativity I transformed it into a metabolically efficient version.

·         1 side of salmon
·         50g  of sundried tomatoes (pre-soaked in boiling water as per packet instructions)
·         150g of soft goats cheese
·         2 tablespoons of olive oil
·         1 lemon
·         Grated parmesan
·         3 to 4 tbsp of Almond flour.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Place the salmon side on a roasting dish and squeeze the juice of half a lemon on top, then season it with pepper. Using a food processor, place the sundried tomatoes and olive oil and blend it until it has formed a paste. Add the goat’s cheese to the mixture and pulse a few times until mixed. Using a spoon, spread the mixture evenly on top of the salmon then sprinkle the almond flour on top and lastly cover it with grated parmesan. Roast it for roughly 35min at 190C. Enjoy!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Almond flour pancakes/Turkey steaks - Recipes for the off-season

If you are an endurance athlete and live in the Northern hemisphere the chances are that you’re now in the off-season and you are probably training with less volume and intensity. For those following metabolic efficiency   (synonymous with blood sugar control), remember that periodising your nutrition is also a key part of the concept; certainly during the off-reason you won’t need as many carbohydrates as you did during the racing season. Not only use the off-season period to plan your exciting races for next year, but also spend time working on your metabolic efficiency again.

To help you do that I’m going to share a couple of my own recipe ideas. I hope you enjoy them!

Almond Flour Pancakes – if you search online there will be many almond flour pancake recipes out there and I have tried several in the past. With a bit of experimentation I came up with my own recipe which I make regularly. They are easy to make and can be enjoyed in many forms. I particularly enjoy them as a bacon and egg sandwich and a coffee on a Sun morning, or with sugar-free peanut butter and raspberries/blueberries on top. I make sandwiches with them during the week to take to work as lunch with a filling of tuna mayo or cheese and ham. Once you learn how to make them you can use your own imagination and eat them the way you like.

·         1 egg
·         25g unflavoured whey protein (1 scoop)
·         35g of almond flour/ground
·         40ml of olive oil
·         50ml milk
·         a pinch of salt
·         1 teaspoon of baking powder
·         a dash of vanilla essence (optional)

Ideally you will also use a mini frying pan (10cm diameter), this makes them nice and uniformly round and olive oil spray.

Mix the egg, oil, salt, vanilla and whey protein well in a measuring jug. Then add the almond flour, milk and baking powder to the mixture and whisk well until combined. You want a batter that is not too runny or too thick, you can adjust this by adding a bit of extra milk or almond flour.

Heat up your mini frying pan on a medium heat and spray the surface with olive oil. Then pour enough mixture to cover the surface of the pan and cook until bubbles start popping open or the batter has started go brown in colour underneath. You will need a metal spatula to flip the pancake and cook the opposite side. Repeat the process of spraying the pan before cooking each pancake. You will normally get 5 to 6 pancakes with each recipe; it can be doubled if you want to make more pancakes. They can last around 3 days if stored in an air proof container.

Tips: You can easily mess up the first pancake if you don’t have the patience to wait for the pan to fully heat up. Also try mixing a bit of coconut flour to the mixture to vary the flour from time to time.

Thin-cut Turkey steaks in an Almond flour batter – this recipe is a real winner with my kids and my wife and I probably make it once a week. I borrowed the idea from one of my mum’s recipes; however she uses chicken and breadcrumbs rather than almond flour. For my family we easily get through 6 turkey steaks for dinner, so adjust the recipe according to your needs. 

Whisk one egg on top of a plate and season it with salt. Add enough almond flour/ground to cover another plate. Cover both sides of a thin-cut turkey steak with egg then dip one side at time on the almond flour until it’s completely covered (see pic) and place it on a clean dish. Repeat the process with each turkey steak. Once done, let them dry and settle a bit on the side before frying.

When ready to eat shallow-fry each steak on a medium to high heat until golden and crisp. Place them on another plate covered with kitchen towels to remove the excess oil. I use beef dripping to fry them rather than highly processed vegetable (including sunflower/ canola, etc) and corn oils.

I love them served with a bit of mayonnaise, roasted cauliflower and courgettes and fried pointy red peppers. 

Tip: if you can’t find thin-cut turkey steaks you can always buy normal sized and flatten them with a tenderiser and chopping board.

If you’re tired of the same breakfast every day, why not try making this ‘muesli’.