Why you should be eating oysters

oyster-frenzy-melbourne

Oysters are saltwater bivalve mollusks that live in marine habitats such as bays and oceans. Mostly known for their reported aphrodisiac qualities, these mollusks have a lot to offer in terms of health benefits.

They are an excellent source of protein, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals all critical to optimal human performance.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • Excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, zinc and selenium;
  • Good source of copper, iron and manganese;
  • Contains omega-3 fatty acids.

Nutritional powerhouse
Oysters offer an outstanding nutritional profile which is only really rivalled by organ meats.  Extremely high in a variety of important nutrients and low in total calories, oysters are an incredibly nutrient dense food source.

Natural Aphrodisiac
Are oysters an aphrodisiac? The question of whether or not raw oysters can cause sexual arousal has long been debated. Unfortunately, there is actually very little evidence to suggest this is the case.

That being said, why have oysters been so long associated as an aphrodisiac? Most likely because oysters are an excellent source of zinc, a mineral critical sexual health.

Oysters also contain varying levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the ‘arousal’ centre in the brain (including sexual arousal). This mechanism could potentially take effect  immediately, giving you a psychological edge and boost sexual arousal and performance.

Whilst the evidence may not support improved sexual health, it will provide many nutrients that will improve overall health and performance.

Making the most of oysters
Oysters can be eaten either raw or cooked. To note, there is a small concern for bacterial infection. Oysters occasionally contain a species of bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, which can more dangerous than salmonella in susceptible people with compromised immune function.

If you have any concern, steaming or boiling are both popular methods which kill off any harmful bacteria and will not cause any loss of nutrition.

Beef liver: the original superfood

beef_liver

Beef liver has a long history as a traditionally valued food. Often eaten by traditional cultures as soon as practicable, even in preference over the muscle meat. In fact, some traditional cultures only consumed the organ meats, with the leaner muscle meats being often discarded or given to away to wolves / early dogs.

More recently, especially in Western cultures, organ meats like beef liver have fallen out of the regular rotation in favour of the leaner, more palatable muscle meats.

Most local butchers will stock beef liver, but you will probably need to ask as they keep most of the organ meats away from the public eye in cool rooms / freezers due to the limited sales. By comparison, the selection of muscle cuts from all animals is often more readily available for viewing and purchase. Organ meats like beef liver are actually very cheap when compared to the more popular cuts of muscle meat and pack a real bang for your buck when you consider the nutrient density. 

In fact, it’s one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.

Nutrition

A dense source of protein, vitamins and minerals critical to human performance packed into a single food source. Just a quick look at some of the key nutrients in 100 grams of beef liver paints a powerful picture:

  • Protein: 27 grams
  • Vitamin A: 26,091 IU | 522% DV
  • Vitamin B2: 3.4 mg | 201% DV
  • Vitamin B3: 17.5 mg | 87% DV
  • Vitamin B6: 1 mg | 51% DV
  • Vitamin B9 (folate): 260 mcg | 65% DV
  • Vitamin B12: 83.1 mcg | 1386% DV
  • Choline: 418 mg
  • Copper: 14.6 mg | 730% DV
  • Iron: 6.2 mg | 34% DV
  • Selenium: 32.8 mcg | 47%
  • Zinc: 5.2 mg | 35% DV

How to get more liver into the diet

Here are just a few ways to get more of this nutrient dense superfood into the diet:

  • Pan fried. Liver goes well when fried with onions;
  • Bolognese sauces. Liver and other organ meats can be chopped or minced and then mixed with regular ground beef and added to pasta or vegetable dishes;
  • Burger patties. As with Bolognese sauces, chop or mince organ meats and mix it with ground beef to make highly nutritious burgers.
  • Liverloaf. This is basically a meatloaf that is prepared with a mix of both beef and liver mince.

Fasting: hour by hour

How long should you fast? That depends on which health benefits you’re trying to tap into. The longer you do fast however, the more the health benefits begin to add up.

This does not mean that long fasts are for everybody. It depends. As an example, if you’re just trying to increase ketone levels for sustained energy and improved cognitive performance, then a 17 or 18 hour fast (which can be performed daily) might be enough. However, if you’re trying to reduce chronic inflammation or metabolic disorder then stretching it out to about 72 hours could stimulate the appropriate physiological response.

Here are the benefits of fasting broken down by the number of hours fasted:

13-16 hour fast

A 13-16 hour fast is considered to be intermittent fasting and can be conducted daily. At 13 hours of fasting, the digestive system down regulates (goes to sleep) and your body will begin to secrete more human growth hormone (HGH). The HGH assists in a variety of processes including the maintenance of lean mass, burning fat and slowing down the ageing process.

At this point, the body is transitioning to the use of stored body fat for immediate energy. 

16 hour fast

This is when most people begin to produce additional ketones. Ketones are a sign that the liver has transitioned from burning glucose (sugar) to burning fats for energy. In addition, ketones are neuro-protective and will move into the brain, giving you energy and a greater mental clarity. 

Also, HGH production continues to increase and the body begins to accelerate the fat burning process.

18-24 hour fast

At 18 hours, the body will begin to stimulate autophagy. What this means is your cells internal intelligence has been switched on and they are able to repair themselves by cleaning out old and / or damaged cells.

At 24 hours, your intestinal cells reboot and GABA production increases. GABA is the neurotransmitter known to relax the brain and help with anxiety.

At this point in time, the body would have depleted its liver glycogen stores and would now be operating primarily on ketones (from the break down of fatty acids) for energy.

36 hour fast

The longer you fast, the more it forces your body to deplete glycogen stores, and release stored energy in the form of body fat (an evolutionary adaption in response to not having a constant food source). As the body breaks down stored body fat and converts it to usable energy, the body also releases toxins that have also been stored within the fat cells. Proper hydration and even supplementation with a binder, such as charcoal may help the body to eliminate toxins during periods of fasting.

36-48 hour fasts is where to start to see an increase in stem cell regeneration, fat loss, greater anti-ageing benefits, and an increase in dopamine levels.

At this point, autophagy increases by approx. 300%.

48 hour fast

At 48 hours, cellular regeneration commences and inflammation begins to decrease. Autophagy continues to increase and the body begins to reset dopamine receptor sites.

72 hour fast

This is where autophagy peaks.

+ 72 hour fasting

Although longer fasts can be beneficial, fasting for periods greater than 72 hours should only be conducted under medical supervision or with consultation.

 

Making your own sourdough starter

808B8AAD-E990-42F1-828E-B2CBF5C6D47D

During the lockdown period I decided to teach myself how to make real sourdough bread from scratch. The step in this process is to make your own sourdough starter, or culture.

I will post a second part to this article detailing my attempt at preparing and baking an actual loaf of sourdough bread.

What is a sourdough starter?
Also known as a sourdough culture, a starter is a mixture of flour and water which acts as a leavening agent. Wild yeast is present in all flour and a starter is a way to activate the yeast in order to bake with it. The sourness comes from the living bacteria growing alongside the yeast in the starter.

As the starter matures the wild yeast and bacteria develop making it stronger and more complex in flavour.

Only a small amount of sourdough starter is needed to make a loaf of bread. Wild yeast works more slowly than commercial yeast so recipes made with a sourdough starter will typically take longer to make.

Making a sourdough starter is a simple process of combining flour and water, which is then subsequently ‘fed’ or refreshed with more flour and water over a period to encourage the yeast to ferment and the bacteria to develop.

Sourdough starter timeline
The process of making a sourdough starter can be lengthy (about 5 or 6 days), it is not complicated. This is the process that I have used with success.

If the process below is followed, you should be well on the way to creating you very own sourdough starter:

Day 0
125 g flour + 125 g water, stand for 48 hours.

  1. Place the flour and water in a mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a glass jar, seal and set aside in a warm draught-free place for about 48 hours.

Variations
Rye or wholemeal flour can be substituted for plain flour for variety.

Day 2
1st feeding: 125 g starter + 125 g flour + 125 g water, stand for 24 hours.

  1. Remove and discard all but 125 g of the sourdough starter from the jar.
  2. Add 125 g plain flour and 125 g water to the jar and stir well to combine.
  3. Seal the jar and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 24 hours.

After the first feeding and rise, the starter should have risen slightly (up to 50%). Random bubbles should become visible on the surface as well as through the side of the jar indicating the wild yeast is active and starting the multiply.

Day 3
2nd feeding: 125 g starter + 125 g flour + 125 g water, stand for 24 hours.

  1. Remove and discard all but 125 g of the sourdough starter from the jar.
  2. Add 125 g plain flour and 125 g water to the jar and stir well to combine.
  3. Seal the jar and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 24 hours.

After the second feeding and rise there will be more visible bubbles but they will be smaller and more uniform.

Day 4
3rd feeding: 125 g starter + 125 g flour + 125 g water, stand until doubled in size (8-24 hours).

  1. Remove and discard all but 125 g of the sourdough starter from the jar.
  2. Add 125 g plain flour and 125 g water to the jar and stir well to combine
  3. Seal the jar and set aside in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in size (8-24 hours, depending on the strength of your starter).

After the third feeding and rise, the starter will become more vigorous and may rise by up to 100% in less than 24 hours. Bubbles will be very evident on the surface as well as through the side of the jar.

It may have quite a sour or tangy aroma.

Day 5
If the starter has not doubled in size, continue the process above and feed every 12 hours until it has doubled in 8 hours or less.

From here, the sourdough starter is considered ‘active’ and is ready for use.

Keeping your sourdough starter
Once you have an active starter it can be kept at room temperature or stored in the fridge.

If you you’re not planning to use the starter often, it is best to store it in the fridge where it will require less maintenance. To do this, just feed as instructed previously, seal the jar and then stand at room temperature for 2-3 hours (to help reinvigorate the yeast) before placing in the fridge to store.

A starter stored in the fridge will only require feeding once a week to maintain it.

Alternatively, if you plan to use the starter regularly, the starter can be stored at room temperature and will require to be fed daily at approximately the same time.

How to count macro-nutrients

2734609_orig

The term macro-nutrients (macros) originates from the Greek word makros, meaning large. Macros are the nutrients you require daily in large amounts.

Macro-nutrients provide the body with energy (calories) and provide the building blocks of cellular growth, immune function, and overall repair. They are:

  • Fat. 9 calories / gram;
  • Protein. 4 calories / gram;
  • Carbohydrate. 4 calories / gram.

Your body also requires micronutrients in smaller amounts, such as vitamins and minerals.

Fats
Of all the macro-nutrients, fats (and oils) provide the most energy (calories) per gram. Important for critical functions such as nutrient absorption (especially the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K), hormone production, temperature regulation and providing an alternative energy source (in fact, cardiac muscle cells derive up to 90% of their energy requirement from fatty acids).

Dietary fats are either saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated fats come mostly from animal sources. At the chemical level they are tightly packed and have no double bonds, hence the term saturated. These fats are generally solid at room temperature and tend to be shelf-stable for a longer period of time.

Unsaturated fats include those that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Chemically, these fatty acids are loosely packed and have either a single (mono) or multiple (poly) double bonds. The important Omega-3 fatty acids belong in this group. Unsaturated fats are generally in liquid form even when refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life.

The recommended daily intake is between 20-35% of the total caloric intake, although many people find optimal function and performance at higher levels.

Good sources of healthy fat include fish, meats, avocado, nuts, butter, olive and coconut oils.

Proteins
Proteins are important for the body to be able to build and repair cells and tissue structures, produce enzymes and hormones as well as regulate your immune system. Protein requirements will vary depending on individual body weight and fitness levels.

Typical recommendations for protein intake is between 15-25% of the total caloric intake.

Good sources of protein include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, lentils and diary products.

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel. They are broken down into sugars by the body and either provide immediate energy or are stored in the liver and muscles for later use in the form of glycogen.

Carbohydrates can either be complex or simple.

Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides) are made up of either one or two sugar units and can be broken down fairly quickly in the body. Simply put, blood sugar levels typically rise quickly, then drop just as quick after the consumption of simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides and oligosaccharides) are made up of long strings of sugar units that take longer to break down for use in the body. Due to these longer strings of sugars, complex carbohydrates take longer to be broken down and as such, generally have a lesser impact on blood glucose levels.

In addition to providing fuel to the body, complex carbohydrates, particularly fiber, can help the body to maintain healthy digestive function and a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.

Although high, typical recommendations for carbohydrate intake is between 45-65% of the total caloric intake.

Good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, tubers and grains.

How to actually count macro-nutrients
Use the following steps to effectively count macro-nutrients:

  1. Identify how many calories you want to eat each day.
  2. Identify the ratio of macro-nutrients that you want to consume. The current recommendations in Australia are as follows:
    • Fat: 20-35%
    • Protein: 15-25%
    • Carbohydrate: 45-65%
  3. Multiply the total daily calories by the identified percentages.
  4. Divide the calorie amounts by the macro-nutrient calorie-per-gram number.

The Example
Our case athlete is following a 2,000 calorie diet using 25% fats, 25% protein and 50% carbohydrates.

Fat (9 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of fat per day
  • total amount of fat per day = 500/9 = 56 grams

Protein (4 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
  • total amount of protein per day = 500/4 = 125 grams

Carbohydrates (4 calories / gram)

  • 50% of 2,000 calories = 1,000 calories of carbohydrates per day
  • total amount of carbohydrates per day = 1,000/4 = 250 grams

From these simple equations we can determine how many grams for each macro-nutrient our case athlete should be eating per day. With the above example to achieve the goal of 2,000 calories our case athlete would need to eat 56 grams of fat, 125 grams of protein and 250 grams of carbohydrates.

Let us look at one more case athlete. Still following an 2,000 calorie diet, but following a fairly standard ketogenic nutrition plan using 65% fats, 25% protein and 10% carbohydrates.

Fat (9 calories / gram)

  • 65% of 2,000 calories = 1300 calories of fat per day
  • total amount of fat per day = 1300/9 = 144 grams

Protein (4 calories / gram)

  • 25% of 2,000 calories = 500 calories of protein per day
  • total amount of protein per day = 500/4 = 125 grams

Carbohydrates (4 calories / gram)

  • 10% of 2,000 calories = 200 calories of carbohydrates per day
  • total amount of carbohydrates per day = 200/4 = 50 grams

For ketogenic case athlete to achieve the same goal of 2,000 calories they would need to eat 144 grams of fat, 125 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Two different case athletes with different macro-nutrient breakdowns and achieving the same total caloric intake.

Final thoughts
Each macro-nutrient has important role in the body, essential to optimal health and performance. Understanding how to count these macros can produce a variety of health benefits, including the improvement in the overall quality of diet, smarter food choices and portion control, which when combined with a healthy exercise program can assist in reaching specific goals including improved body composition, lean muscle growth and / or effective weight loss.

When I track my calories I have found the CRONOMETER application to be a great tool for not only tracking macros, but have found that it also tracks more vitamins and minerals than any other application on the market.

Why you should be eating summer squash

https---storage.googleapis.com-gen-atmedia-3-2015-06-784f9d200e646e3c208e757633c1e15049021818

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in vitamin A and antioxidants (beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin);
  • Good source of vitamins B6, C, K, folate, thiamine, magnesium, manganese, potassium and copper.

Healthy evidence
An article posted in the journal Public Health Nutrition reported that squash extracts reduced symptoms of a common condition affecting older men, benign prostatic hypertrophy. The high content of lutein may also help against dementia associated ageing, as suggested by a 2010 review article in the journal Clinics in Geriatric Medicine.

Making the most of Summer Squash
Most of the nutrients in summer squash hold up well to cooking. Unfortunately, those that do not are the nutrients present in the largest amounts. The high water content and delicate flesh argue for rapid cooking with little or no liquid, such as roasting or sauteing.

Homemade pumpkin soup

481-503664-1

The winter months usually means warm and hearty meals are back on the dinner menu. Nothing beats a warm and delicious soup after a long day out battling the elements.

Simple, flavoursome and nutritious, this soup can be made from scratch at home in about 30 minutes. Perfect for those cold winter nights.

Here is a quick 5 ingredient recipe.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 500g x pumpkin;
  • 1 x small potato;
  • 1 x onion;
  • 2 tsp x minced garlic;
  • 150ml x bone broth.

Boil the pumpkin and potato and onion until soft. Drain and add all of the ingredients and place into a blender or NutriBullet. Blend for 45-60 seconds. That’s it. You’re done.

Before serving, garnish with parsley, spring onion and / or sour cream.

Nutritional breakdown (153 kcal / per serve)

  • Protein: 6.7g
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Carbohydrate: 27.7g
  • Vitamin A: 14,500IU (483% of RDI)
  • Vitamin C: 26mg (28%)
  • Iron: 2.1mg (26%)
  • Magnesium: 51mg (12%)
  • Potassium: 1130mg (33%)

Why you should be eating kale

kale-green

Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in vitamins A and K, folate, sulforaphane and other antioxidants;
  • Good source of fiber, vitamin C, manganese, potasssium, copper and calcium.

Healthy evidence
Kale’s high levels of antioxidants make it effective in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. High concentrations of of lutein and zeaxanthin in particular may help prevent degenerative eye diseases such as cataract, macular degeneration and glaucoma. In addition, kale also contains high amounts of sulforaphane, a compound that studies have shown to be a potent anticancer agent.

Making the most of Kale
Boiling kale decreases the level of sulforaphane. However, steaming, microwaving or stir frying does not result in any significant loss.

Cooking kale with butter activates the vitamin K content making it more bio-available to the body.

Kale has been found to contain a group of resins known as bile acid sequestrants, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. Steaming significantly increases these bile acid binding properties.

Adding kale to your diet can be easy. It can be added to salads and smoothies in order to boost the nutritional value.

Another popular snack is kale chips, where you drizzle some olive oil on your kale, add some salt, then bake until dry and crispy.

My training at 38-ish

So another year has gone by and I’m another year older. Here is a current update on my training, nutrition and other key happenings in life. If you’re interested, links to my previous annual updates can be found here: 36-ish and 37-ish.

Context and Goals
38-year-old. 180cm. 74kg.

I want to be fit enough, fast enough and strong enough to get through the daily challenges of life. With continued learning and adaptation, living healthy and well into old age.

Oh, and add a little more lean muscle too.

Once again, the caveat is that this is what has worked for me so far…

Food
What do I eat? You could call it some sort of ancestral or paleo type diet, but it’s basically a whole foods diet. It’s evolved over the years and I have reintroduced certain foods into the daily rotation like butter, cheese and the occasional slice of sourdough bread at breakfast.

For the most part, I just try to reduce or eliminate highly processed fast foods, crappy vegetable oils and added sugars as much as practicable.

On most days I’ll eat 2 meals with a snack, with at least 5 or 6 hours between meals, which allows the digestive system to have adequate time to do its job and metabolise nutrients to properly fuel the body.

As a general rule, my macronutrient breakdown would average out to be in the ballpark of:

  • 40-50% fats and oils;
  • 30% protein;
  • 20% carbohydrate.

More recently, I have been trying to add more carbohydrate into my diet to help facilitate lean muscle growth.

It’s definitely not keto which has become quite popular these days, but it’s still a fairly low carbohydrate diet and I would definitely be cycling in and out of ketosis on a weekly basis. I’ve done some occasional ketone testing and usually score between 0.5 to 0.8 mmol/L, which is considered nutritional ketosis. If you’re within this range you’re generally thought to be metabolically healthy, meaning that you’re able to switch between glucose (sugar) and ketones (a byproduct from the breakdown of fatty acids) as an energy source efficiently.

What does this actually look like on a plate? Well… quality sources of protein first, such as pasture raised beef, chicken, pork or some sustainably sourced fish. Then, a variety of leafy greens and root vegetables, and finally some good fats like avocado, butter, ghee, coconut or olive oil. Add some cheese like Gouda or Provolone to close out the meal and you’re done.

I eat plenty of eggs, bone broths and fermented foods, like kimchi and yoghurt. I drink a lot of mineral water and my coffee is almost always black. A glass of red wine, specifically a pinot noir or a classic gin martini is always welcome to round out the weekend.

I normally train in a fasted state, or after a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil. During periods of more intense training, I’ll have a serve of WPC prior to my workout, in order to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle.

Contrary to what a lot of people think is best practice for weight management, most of my calories are usually consumed in the final meal of the day. I find that eating meals higher in carbohydrates at the end of the day allows me to replenish depleted glycogen stores, and preparing my body to train early the following day. I also have more time available in the evening to get creative and prepare larger meals.

This has worked well for me for the last 12-18 months, I’ve been able to maintain my weight and body composition easily and have had fairly consistent energy levels throughout the day.

I’ll stress this again, this has worked well for me.

Adding some additional weight to this argument is that I’m human, and I’m more likely to be sharing a meal in the evening after work with friends or family. This was the case until recently. The global COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent societal lockdowns have greatly restricted what individuals or groups of people are able to do in public. But more on that later…

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. There is a difference. As mentioned earlier, I generally eat two main meals per day. One meal post workout and one at the end of the day. I would argue that this is called time-restricted feeding, with all meals being consumed within a predetermined window of time, for example between 12pm and 8pm on a regular basis.

Intermittent fasting is exactly that. Intermittent, meaning occasional. Humans have evolved over time to thrive through seasonal periods of both excess and limited food availabilities. This is why the body can switch and use both ketones and glucose as an effective energy source.

How do I fast? Depending on the day, lets say a typical day where I do a strength workout, I might only have a 10-12 hour overnight fast while on other days I can stretch it out to 16-18 hours with ease. Occasionally on a low tempo day, I would dabble in a longer fast of up to 24-32 hours. This wasn’t very regular, Maybe only 3 or 4 times over the last 12 months.

Eating out. It’s 2020 and eating out is a part of modern life. Well it was until recently. The global COVID-19 outbreak has placed the community on lockdown which has greatly restricted people from eating out. In fact, eating out is dead, for now. A lot of restaurants have had to resort to takeout or delivery options just to continue daily operations. Many places have closed indefinitely. Hopefully in the near future some restaurants will be able to reopen, even if it means limiting the amount of customers dining at any given time.

Lucky I know a little bit about nutrition and how to cook.

Supplements
I don’t take a lot of supplements on a daily basis. I try to get all of my nutrient requirements through diet alone, with the addition of some Cod Liver Oil during the winter months to boost vitamins A and D, which among things, support optimal immune system function.

As mentioned earlier, my pre-workout is typically a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil, and I’ll occasionally use a whey protein powder pre or post workout.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Mostly taken post workout in the warmer months or in the evenings prior to sleep. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body and these days it’s not that easy to get enough from diet alone. Add in some intense training or some elevated stress or workloads, and your requirement increases.

Additionally, over the last 12 months I have added Olive Leaf Extract during the standard cold and flu season to help strengthen the immune system.

Training
Strength and conditioning. During the last 12 months I’ve focused on two training protocols. The first being mostly completing the bigger compound lifts first, then finish up with some accessory exercises and a finisher.

That means, deadlifts, power cleans, weighted pull-ups, horizontal and vertical presses. Followed by some accessory work like push-ups, dips, cable rows, split squats and ab rollouts.

Sets and repetitions will vary from workout to workout, but generally I’ll aim for about 12-20 repetitions in total for each movement. How many sets it takes reach that total will depend on how I’m feeling on the day.

My other strength and conditioning focus has been the kettlebell lifts. These can be more dynamic and can develop strength and conditioning when implemented in circuit style training. I’ve found that I can get a higher volume in lifts during my kettlebell training phases, not to mention a good sweat.

Heavy Turkish getups (up to 50kg), farmers carries and high volume kettlebell swings have also featured consistently in my programming.

These three exercises are so good for you that you could almost base your entire strength and conditioning program around them and you’re likely to see consistent progression throughout the year.

Really simple. But simple works. I can also finish most workouts in about 30 or 40 minutes.

I’m not breaking any strength records, but I’m tracking pretty good for a guy who is nearly 40 years old. I’m athletic, generally in good health and rarely injured, meaning that I have the ability to be consistent. This allows me to be active just about any day that I choose, which is most.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and 5km racing. Occasionally, I’ll run longer distances out to about 8km. For the most part however, it’s just the shorter, more intense runs that I feel the most benefit from.

In the last twelve months I have competed in the following events:

  • Mothers Day Classic, 4k (18:22min) (11th in category)
  • Run Melbourne, 5.2k (22:40min) (18th in category)
  • Melbourne Marathon, 5k (21:23min) (3rd in category)
  • Portsea Twilight, 4k (DNS)

I suffered severe muscular spasms in my back several days prior to the Portsea Twilight 4k which forced me not to start the event. It was a bit of a setback, and it took several weeks to recover and resume training at lighter loads which caused me to miss some of the summer circuit before the COVID-19 restrictions suspended all races.

I also competed in five virtual races with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

Virtual Races:

  • NYRR Global Running Day Virtual, 1.6k (6:55min)
  • NYRR World Championship Virtual, 5k (22:36min)
  • NYRR TCS NYC Marathon Virtual, 5k (22:31min)
  • NYRR Resolution Run Virtual, 5k (22:34min)
  • NYRR Virtual, 5k (21:44min)

Basketball. Last year I started playing basketball again. Both socially and competitively. It’s a sport I’ve played since I was 12 years old. The only time away from the sport was from 2006-2013, when my military career took priority and I was unable to commit to the sport due to the amount of time I was away from home.

I was fortunate enough to play for Victoria in 2019 Defence Force National Basketball Championship. It was extremely competitive level of basketball and a lot of fun. It had been a while since I had played at such a high level of sport.

With other quality offensive players on the team, I didn’t shoot or score in the volume that I am normally required to do when I’m on the court, but it was great to play a lot of effective minutes and contribute to the team, especially in some of the closer contests.

The Men’s title was won by New South Wales and the women’s title went to Queensland.

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun playing sport again. I just love competing. Each night I’m matching up against players half my age so it’s a good feeling to be competitive and even beat most of my opponents on a nightly basis.

Right now my training consists of three days of strength and conditioning combined with two or three days of running (mostly easy/mid level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout will last about 30 minutes.

On the days I haven’t run, I usually go for an evening walk around the river for about an hour. I’ve found it a great way to stay mobile, relax and keep up-to-date on listening to some informative podcasts.

4B683221-47FA-4214-8FAD-BBE5AE139ECE
March 2020. The final week before gyms were forced to close due to COVID-19.

COVID-19. With the government imposed community lockdowns in an attempt to “flatten the curve” during the global COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve had to make fairly significant changes to how I train. Firstly, the gyms are closed until further notice.

Personally, I feel that this has been a great opportunity to explore other areas of fitness. I’m fortunate enough to have spent the last 17 years in the military and have a solid understanding of “real” functional fitness. With gyms closed people have had to get creative with their workouts.

I have started to incorporate more circuit type workouts into my programming where I’ll run for 10 to 15 minutes, then conduct a series of bodyweight movements like push-ups, pull-ups, air-squats and mountain climbers then run the return leg.

Alternatively, I have a few training aids at home including some kettlebells, a sandbag, a sledgehammer, a deadball and an ab wheel that I can incorporate into home workouts.

Probably not too bad a set up for general fitness and conditioning training. Most strength based workouts are combining a variation of an overhead press with some pull-ups and goblet squats, then finishing with either high volume sledgehammering or swings.

Add in the occasional sprint workout, hike or loaded lift and carry and you’re set.

A final point. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Lifestyle
I’m living in Melbourne, Australia. It’s my fourth year at home and I’m loving it. Being around family and friends definitely makes life more enjoyable. The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising ones health and how they perform on a daily basis.

I love a cup of coffee and can be always found at cafe on the weekend post workout catching up with friends. I also don’t mind entertaining friends with the occasional get together at my apartment. The annual Hot Cider and Christmas Cocktail nights were a lot of fun and both had good turn outs.

A key point to note here is having flexibility. No-one is perfect and it’s fine to make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from these experiences. Everyone is human, and we all have to live in the present day. I make mistakes, just like everybody else. I always try to seek constructive criticism so I can make a better, more informed decision the next time a particular event crosses my path.

93C28C5A-A7A9-43A7-9D15-459BA974D023
Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown. At about 1450m elevation, on the way to roughly 1700m.

Travel. Last June I was fortunate enough to travel to the southern island of New Zealand for two weeks. It was my first time visiting. I spent time in Christchurch, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, Wanaka, Queenstown and Dunedin. During that time I was able to conduct multiple hikes saw some amazing country. I was also able to catch up with a good friend towards the end of my trip in Dunedin.

As usual, I also spent some time at the family holiday home on Mornington Peninsula. Always a great option for a lazy weekend getaway and some valuable beach time.

My studies. In December 2019, I completed a Diploma level qualification in Nutrition. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, my graduation ceremony was postponed indefinitely. I have since received my qualification in the mail.

The global COVID-19 outbreak. As I mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the government to lockdown the community in an attempt to slow the infection rate to reduce the burden on the medical system. It’s a global problem. Almost everybody has been effected in one way or another.

I’m lucky enough to still be employed and have some sort of normal daily structure. Defence provides a critical role within many areas for the nation from national security to logistical and medical support. Many industries however, are not as fortunate and many people have been out of work for several months now.

The lockdown has changed the modern way of life as we know it. No travel. International travel has stopped. Gyms, social sports, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, bars are all closed… and the list goes on.

Forced social distancing means less face-to-face human interaction and more online interactions through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Zoom.

The thing here is that humans are innately social creatures. Telling people to stay away and isolate from each other during an incredible stressful time is kind of counter intuitive. People generally want to help each other and offer support where they can to benefit those in need, but in this case, the message has been to stay home and isolate. I haven’t seen the statistics, but it’s safe to say there will be an increase in mental health conditions relating to extended social isolation.

Some really good lifestyle tips that I’ve picked up from other people much smarter than me on keeping both mentally and physically healthy that can be applied during the lockdown and other periods of isolation:

  • create daily structure with regards to time management;
  • get daily sun exposure;
  • daily physical activity;
  • eat nutrient dense foods;
  • read more;
  • build a consistent sleeping pattern;
  • keep up social connectivity, face-to-face or via video conferencing.

Who knows what the next 12 months will bring? Hopefully, the world has found a way to better manage the whole COVID-19 situation and we’re all out and about again returning to somewhat of a normal life. One thing is for sure, society will be different in 12 months time.

Until then… Live well. Train hard. Enjoy life.

How to make mulled cider in a slow cooker

30-viceroy-rooftop-toddy.w710.h473.2x

Winter is officially here. Which means colder and longer nights. But it’s not all bad news. Hot drinks and cocktails come back into fashion, making it easier to enjoy the cooler nights out and about socialising with friends.

Mulled cider is a must have for autumn and winter social gatherings. Most popular in the northern hemisphere where the winters are very cold and a hot beverage is always welcome. Melbourne may not be as cold as the north, but the smell of spiced cider is pretty inviting and it tastes delicious.

Anybody can enjoy a mug of mulled cider, and as an adult you can take the opportunity to add a shot of spiced rum for a smooth kick.

A slow cooker does the double of both mulling the cider and keeping it warm for hours, making it the perfect appliance for this classic cold-weather beverage. It will also make your house smell like Christmas.

How to make mulled cider in the slow cooker
Makes 4 litres.

Ingredients

  • 4 litres of apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
  • 4 x cinnamon sticks
  • 1 x large orange
  • 1 x piece of fresh ginger (approx. 4cm)
  • 1 x tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1 x tablespoon of nutmeg
  • 1 x teaspoon of star anise

Instructions

  • Fill the slow cooker;
  • Add the fresh ingredients (orange and ginger);
  • Add the spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise);
  • Slow cook on low for up to 4 hours or pressure cook on high for 3o minutes;
  • Strain cider (if required or desired) using a fine mesh strainer.

Keep warm and serve in mugs garnished with sliced orange or a cinnamon stick.