Homemade Muesli Bars

Home Made Muesli BarsThis delicious recipe for home-made muesli bars was given to me a while ago now. I have to admit it’s just surfaced after I’ve cleaned out a pile of very important papers – so important they hadn’t been touched for 6 months!

So, I haven’t tried the recipe myself, but plan to on the weekend. Hopefully they’ll be as good as my friend’s.

And just for the record, this recipe should make approximately twenty-four  40gm bars (Carmen’s bars are 45gms, Uncle Toby’s 35). They are comparable in their energy yield- about 190 calories per bar, vs 199 for Carmen’s bars- and of course you can modify the amount of honey, sugar and dried fruit you put in.

Experiment with the dried fruit you use. My friend used goji berries. She also gave me a tip on the wheat germ: it has a tendency to cook more quickly than the other grains, so add it later.

The cup measurements were the original measurements given to me – I converted to grams to work out the calories, so probably using the cup measurements would be best. I’d love to hear how you go


1 cup (85 gms) rolled oats
1 cup (80 gms) desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (40gms) wheat germ
1/2 cup (60 gms) sesame seeds
1/2 cup (70 gms) sunflower kernels
1/2 cup (120gms) pepitas/pumpkin seeds
1 cup (150 gms) sultanas
125gm butter
1/2 cup (170 gms) honey
1/3 cup (70 gms) brown sugar


  1. Grease and line a 3cm deep 16cm x 28 cm baking pan with baking paper.
  2. Cook oats, coconut, wheat germ, sesame seeds, sunflower kernels and pumpkin sees in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside to cool. Stir in sultanas
  3. Cook butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, without stirring for 7 minutes or until mixture forms a smooth, soft ball when a little is dropped into ice-cold water. Add to dry ingredients. Stir until combined.
  4. Spoon mixture into pan. Use a large metal spoon to press down firmly. Allow to cool. Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days in fridge.


How Does Your Personal Best Shape Up? Age-graded tables

AGE GRADED TABLESRunning is a great sport for you as you age. You can do it at your own pace. There is not as much risk of injury as there is in other sports such as rugby, soccer, netball, basketball and hockey (think knees, hips and ankles), and you can compare your performance as you age to that of your glory years, by using age-graded percentages.


Effects of ageing

For the average person, sometime in their late 30’s to early 40’s, a number of physical changes start to take place.   Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

These changes will have an adverse impact on performance, but that doesn’t mean they need to have an adverse impact on the enjoyment of running. Many people actually take up running in their 40’s, and continue to enjoy it into their 60’s, 70’s and (beyond).

It is generally thought that running speeds over any distance decline by about 1% per year from a peak at some time in a person’s 30’s, and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% per decade. Hence, the use of age categories makes sense, as it helps to encourage men and women from all ages to keep running.

Our declining physical prowess is not a particularly cheery thought, I know, but there are heaps of exceptions to this general theory of deterioration. Ed Whitlock, a Canadian athlete ran a marathon in 2:54:48 at the age of 73. Admittedly he is the only person over the age of 70 to run a marathon in under 3hrs, but it does prove it can be done. Whitlock ran in his teens and early 20’s and then took it up again in his 40s.


NSW 10k Road Championships 2013

For further proof that good times can still be run well into late middle age (whatever that is these days) we need look no further than the recent Sydney10. This fun run is open to anyone, and also doubles as the NSW road 10k championships. Some of the winners’ times amongst the over 40’s are pretty startling. Full results can be seen here

40-44: Jo Rankin, 40:11
45-49: Liz Miller, 38:54
50-54: Robyn Basman, 39:20
55-59: Jo Cowan, 45:05
60-64: Mary Sheehan, 44:13
64-69: Shirley Dalton, 57:37
70+: Dorothy Tanner, 56:14

40-44: Nick Bennett, 33:15
45-49: Andrew Wilson,  34:04
50-54: Geoffrey Bruce, 34:32
55-59: David Riches, 36:55
60-64: Dennis Wylie 37:23
65-69: Donald Mathewson 39:16
70+: John Spinney, 48:57


What are age-graded percentages?

Age graded percentage tables allow us to compare times across age categories, by taking a set of age factors and age standards and multiplying these by a time or distance. The first official Age-Graded Tables were compiled by the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) in 1989. WAVA has since become WMA – World Masters Athletes.

Standard times were established for males and females for each distance and for all ages from 8 to 100. The standards were pretty much based on world record performances for each age in each event. Performance was plotted against age to give a set of curves that one would expect for a smooth performance regression with age, with adjustments for a small number of results that were inconsistent. Tables have been revised when performances have indicated that a change was necessary. The current tables were last upgraded in 2010.

In a nutshell, your age graded percentage is a measure of how well you are doing compared to the world’s best of your age and gender.


Working out your age graded percentage

You can calculate an age graded percentage for a result by using the age graded tables, and the formula below, or you can use this calculator to work it out for you.


Event standard for your age / your result*100

Eg: You’re a 45 year old female and you just ran 10k in 39 mins

The event standard is 1953 secs (32 :33)

Convert 39 mins to seconds : 39*60=2340

32.55/39*100 = 83.46%


Use your age graded percentage for goal setting

If you’re able to keep the same age graded percentage each year, then relative to all other athletes of the same age, you are maintaining your performance level (regardless of your actual time getting slower). If you keep a record of your age-graded performances over the years, you’ll be able to see whether you are improving your performance, maintaining it, or whether you’re going out the back door at a rapid rate!

You can also use the age graded percentage as a motivator. It might not be realistic to be aiming for PB’s every time you perform as you get older, but you can aim for an improvement in your age graded percentage. If you’re sitting at 78%, you can aim to lift this to 80%, and you can use the tables to help you figure out the time you need to aim for to reach the higher percentage. Then you can plan a good training program to reach your realistic target time.

I’ve just worked out that if my time in the upcoming Gold Coast half is 1 min 22 secs slower than the time I did a few years ago, I won’t really have slowed down at all. How good is that? Of course, ever the optimist, I’m aiming to go faster.

Comparing yourself with others in different categories

If you know someone else’s time, you can see how you’ve fared against them, which can be comforting when you simply can’t achieve the same times as that annoying young 30 year old whippersnapper who trains along beside you (you know who you are!).


Why Biggest Losers Regain Their Weight

The Truth About Fat
Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn

My sons have become obsessed with “Biggest Loser”. They love the drama. They love the characters. I really think they are oblivious to the contestants’ weight. To them the weigh-ins are just numbers and it’s all a game. I realised this only after I had the “do you really think that we should be using other people’s weight issues as our entertainment?” chat. Perhaps it was a bit too deep for a 9 year old and a 6 year old. They do tend to take things a little more on face value than we do, don’t they?

Anyway, having sat through a couple of episodes myself, it’s heart wrenching to think that many of these people will put back on much of the weight they’ve taken off. But why is this? Why is it that people who have put themselves through so much, who clearly don’t want to be fat, simply find it too hard to “be like the rest of us”?

SBS aired a doco last night (13/05/2013) “The Truth About Fat”. I highly recommend you take a look. It’s available free to view until 27th May 2013. Some really interesting stuff. Be warned… there are a few needles and blood and guts bits. Just close your eyes if you can’t cope, as it is definitely worth a look. It may well turn your thoughts on obesity upside down, or it may confirm what you have had a nagging suspicion about all along.


Why has obesity reached epidemic proportions?

The program looks at research explaining what obesity might be all about. Traditionally, the thought has been that to be in a healthy weight range, you exercise more, or eat less. “Eat less, exercise more, or get fat” as my brother says to his son. And, this of course is 100% true. At the end of the day, being fat or thin is still pretty much about the energy equation. Take in more energy that your body is able to use up, and there is only one place for that energy to go. It turns to fat and is stored in adipose tissue in your body.

In today’s modern world, we eat more food than we need. It’s estimated we eat an average of 200 calories more than we need to every day. Doesn’t take long for that to add up, and for our collective weight to creep up over time. We have an abundance of food, rich in calories, and for some people, it is extremely difficult to resist. Being in a health weight range is just a matter of willpower isn’t it? Well, yes, to some extent it is, but there’s way more to it than that. A large  number of people find it almost impossible to exercise their willpower over the forces that compel them to eat. So what’s going on?

Our bodies evolved in a world where calories were scarce, and the opportunity to feast was uncommon. The developed world however is awash with food, and 25% of people in the developed world are clinically obese. What is it that shapes our decisions about food – what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, and when we stop eating?



The simple answer is hormones. Ghrelin and PYY. Ghrelin is also known as the hunger hormone. It stimulates appetite, therefore increases food intake, and promotes fat storage. It is produced and released mainly by the stomach, and also in small amounts by the small intestine, the pancreas and the brain.

Peptide YY (or PYY), on the other hand, gives you a feeling of fullness, and signals when to stop eating. It is released into the small intestine after eating, circulates in the blood and binds to receptors in the brain, which results in a decreased appetite and a feeling of fullness. PYY release starts before food reaches the small intestine, and the amount increases as food hits the small intestine, hence the time lag between eating and feeling full. SLOW DOWN YOUR EATING!

The Truth About Fat showed that whilst ghrelin levels in obese people stayed pretty constant – ie they didn’t rise dramatically if they fasted, their levels of PYY were low. It’s thought that the lower levels of PYY prevent obese people from ever really feeling full. The research quoted obese people “I never really feel hungry, but once I start eating, I can’t stop”.

So, one thought is that hormones in obese people are simply different to people who are not overweight. Which makes sense of course, but what is it that causes some people’s hormones to go haywire?


Research with twins shows stress may be a factor

One line of research has looked at identical twins, who are different weights. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by our environment-not just our physical environment, but also life events that can have an effect on us. The fact that these identical twins can have the same genes but one is fat and one is thin, suggests that the fat gene can be turned on or off. Epigenetics can explain this.

There seems to be a  common thread amongst pairs of adult twins with discordant weight. People have pinpointed the time that changes in the fat twin’s body weight started to take place, and compared this to what was going on in their life. Interestingly, results point to times of stress being a factor in the switching on of the fat gene. My thoughts for some time have been that stress plays a huge role in being overweight. My first word of advice to anyone looking at losing weight is to look at their stress levels and attack that first. Once that’s under control, weight is likely to fall off with little effort.

The fact that what could seem to be very small events in your life might change your physical shape in the future, is both exciting and frightening, and at the same time tragic. Talking to people who really struggle with their weight, and seeing their frustration at how their life is limited by their obesity is a very sobering experience. How great that we are unlocking the key to turning their lives around.

This current research indicates that the assumption that fat people are lacking will power is not entirely correct. Simplistically, you can say that people who are fat lack the willpower to overcome their compulsion to eat, however, when your biology is working against you, the amount of willpower needed to overcome your eating habit is far greater than the willpower needed by thin people to eat well. So thin people of the world, no need to feel so superior. Hormonal imbalance and gene expression are not an excuse for being fat, they are a reason.


Gastric bypass surgery alters brain function

Another area examined by the program was surgery, specifically gastric bypass. Whilst a gastric by-pass does involve a drastic reduction in the size of a person’s stomach, it would seem that this surgery also works by changing the level of hormones responsible for obesity. People report not feeling hungry, but most importantly, feeling full when they eat. Patients themselves have reported that more changes have taken place in their head than their stomach.

MRIs looking at brain activity in obese people who are shown yummy fatty foods show lots of activity in the brain in the areas associated with addiction, emotional response and reward, compared to that of a thin person, who has little brain activity in those areas, shown the same photos. After gastric bypass surgery, obese people have been shown the same photos they were shown prior to their surgery, and their brain activity is greatly reduced to around the same level as a thin person. The bypass surgery seems to have pressed a reset button in their brain, returning the “fat genes” back to normal.

Gastric by-pass surgery of course has very real risks, and it is a last resort suitable for some people, but we are not far off less radical procedures to cure obesity.


Are we missing something here?

On the surface, it all seems very logical. We get fat because we eat too much and do too little exercise. Due to our biology coupled with certain environmental factors and life events, the pull of food is far greater for some people than it is for others. Medical intervention will fix this. Great. So, we may soon have a cure for obesity.

But given it would seem obesity can be caused by an oversupply of food coupled with stressors which switch on our fat gene, could it be that we are barking up the wrong tree. Would prevention not be better than cure? Is our consumer driven society not just stoking the obesity fire, and if we in the developed world shared the food around a bit and chilled out,  would we not all be a bit better off?




When do runners need a good sugar hit?

sugar hit for runnersEver feel like you just can’t eat enough to get your energy back after a long run?
You know how it goes. You get your run over and done with nice and early so you can spend the rest of the day with family and friends, but all you want to do is put your feet up and take a nanna nap.

What you need is a well placed sugar hit or two.

Distance running places heavy energy demands on your body. For best performance it’s important to have a good overall nutrition plan, with a suitable amount of macro nutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) and micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals). Just as crucial to good recovery and performance is taking nutrition on board during and after long training runs and races.

Nutrition on the go is commonly taken in via gels, chews or in liquid form. Which you choose will largely depend on how well your body tolerates each form. Here are some  nutrition basics to ensure you’ve got enough fuel in the tank to last the distance.


What to look for in an energy gel/chew/drink

Carbohydrate – a combination of glucose and fructose is better for delivering energy to your system, than either one of those carbs alone

Electrolytespotassium and sodium are needed to replace losses due to sweat. These are important for cellular osmolality – remember your osmosis experiments back in school where things travel through a semi-permeable membrane from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration? Works the same in your body.

Without getting technical, you need the right amount of electrolytes to keep your cells hydrated. Osmotic pressure keeps water and essential nutrients in balance inside cells. You’ll hear people referring to sports drinks as being “isotonic”. This means they have the same osmolality as the body – which, by the way is a good thing.

Magnesium would also be a bonus, as it is important in muscle relaxation and will help to prevent cramps, and is also essential for energy metabolism. It is also lost to your body through sweat.

Most of your standard every day sports drinks, gels and chews have all of the above, but if you really want to get the best out of yourself, go for solutions with that little bit extra.

Amino Acids
The branch chain amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine can help to reduce muscle damage and delay fatigue, and Histidine can act as a buffer against the accumulation of lactic acid, delaying onset of fatigue. Taking amino acids during the event will help with your recovery afterwards.

Some people find it difficult to stomach caffeinated gels, but I love them. Caffeine will aid the mobilisation of carbohydrates into the bloodstream where it can then be taken up by the working muscles, and it will stimulate the central nervous system and reduce your perception of pain. All of which will lead to you being able to go harder for longer. How good is that?

Research has shown that athletes who took caffeinated sugared drinks were able to use 26% more of the ingested sugar than those who took the same drink without caffeine. And if you’re event is in the summer time, you’re in luck. Caffeinated drinks help improve endurance even more in hot weather (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, February 2011).

You can further enhance the hit you get from a caffeine-laced gel by cutting caffeine out of your diet about a month before your event. You’ll get a much bigger lift from the caffeine if your body isn’t used to it.

Which Brand is Best?

My preferences, based on research and personal experience.

1. Energy gel that contains caffeine and amino acids. Gu Roctane is my gel of choice. Yes, it is more expensive than the straight Gu or other brands, but for me, it’s worth it. I figure I spend a lot of time training, so an extra $30 or so (including gels for training and racing) is fine. Some flavours of the standard Gu Energy Gels contain caffeine, some don’t. Check labels.

2. Chews that contain caffeine and amino acids. Some of the Gu Chomps contain caffeine, some don’t so check the label before you buy. The reason I prefer gels over chews is that gels pass into your bloodstream more quickly than chews. Four chomps are equal to one serving, so they are not quite as convenient to carry as gels.

3. Gel that contains no caffeine, but has carbs and amino acids. Some flavours of the standard Gu Energy Gels contain caffeine, some don’t. Check labels.

4. Gu Chomps with no caffeine. Some flavours are caffeine free. Again, check labels.

5. Energy drink that contains carbs, electrolytes, amino acids and caffeine. Whilst the liquid form will speed the transit time of nutrients into your blood stream, it’s down lower on the list because of the difficulty I have with  carrying it. You may be quite comfortable wearing a drink belt, I happen not to be. I also figure that if I time my intake correctly, it won’t matter that my gels take a little longer to get into my system.

Remember that liquid has weight, and every extra kg you are carrying (including the kg’s you carry round as body fat) can slow your time down by 1-4 seconds per km. Let’s take 2 secs per km/kg extra weight,  and say you carry 500mls of water, or ½ kg. That equates to 1 sec per km, which is 21 secs over a half marathon, or 42 over a full marathon. Could be the difference between you hitting your goal time or not!

6. Flat Coke
Not a fan of it myself, but heaps of ultra distance athletes swear by flat coke to get them through the last part of their event. Heaps of other people swear by coke as a toilet cleaner too. You’ll have to decide on that one for yourself.

Try it in training first

Don’t do anything for the first time on race day. You need to play around with nutrition in training so that you can figure out what’s best for you.

The main problem with gels is that people just find them hard to get down, and the main problem with caffeine is the effect it can have on your gut-vomiting and diarrhoea- so not a good look! Be sure to experiment in training, not on race day.

If you’re using gels for the first time, be prepared.

  • They are not that easy to swallow.  Imagine you’ve just taken a  good sized dollop of hair gel and put it in your mouth That’s about the consistency you’ll be trying to cope with.
  • Wash gels and chews down with water within about 15 after taking. This will  help to avoid gut problems. Give your mouth a bit of a rinse at the same time,      which will help to prevent all that sugary stuff hanging around your teeth for too long.
  • Run on a course which is 2-3 laps, so that if you do have to pull up due to gut problems, you’re won’t have so far to walk back to your finish point. It’s hard going pulling up at 15km on an out and back course and having to walk back the last 5k.
  • Have a full sachet of gel. It might take you a couple of minutes to get through it. In training take it after you’ve gone up a hill or pick your intensity up for a minute or so before you take it. Your racing pace will be faster than your training pace. You want to try to simulate race conditions as closely as possible. The more intense your effort, the harder it is to take in nutrition on the go.
  • If you’re using chews, you could experiment with having 1 chew frequently, or go for a big burst of energy at one time and take the whole serve at once. Again, only you will know what’s right for you.

If you do experience problems getting gels down, or keeping them down, try a couple of different flavours. It could make all the difference.

If you haven’t used nutrition in a race much before, then start using them in training on runs of about 1 hr 20+. You probably don’t really need them for that length of run, but you’ll need to do a few gel fuelled runs to see what suits you best.

When to take a gel/chomp

Try to be aware of when you feel the gel “kicking in”-ie how long after you’ve taken it. You won’t suddenly feel like you’re a toy with new batteries, rather you’ll just feel like things aren’t hurting as much as you might have expected them to do.

For me, they kick in about 13 mins after I’ve taken them (will depend a bit on what else is in your stomach at the time) and they last about 25-30 mins before I start to feel like I’d like another boost. So if I think something’s going to take 2 hrs and I don’t want to run out of steam, I work backwards through the following steps.

  • 2hr run
  • gel lasts for 25 mins, and takes 13 mins to kick in. 25+13=38
  • need to take gel 38 mins before the two hour mark, ie, 1 hour 22 mins
  • I’ll need my first energy boost to kick in 25 mins before the 2nd one does, so that means I need to take my first gel 38 mins prior to when  my 2nd gel is going to kick in.
  • My 2nd gel will kick in at 1 hr 35 mins, so my first gel needs to kick in at 1 hr and 10 mins
  • I therefore need to take my first gel at about 55 mins and my second at 1 hr 22 mins.

Use this as a rough guide the first time you use gels or chomps (keeping in mind you need to add a few minutes to the time it takes a chomp to kick in – so in my scenario, I might want to take the chomps 15 mins before I want it to take effect)

And if this all sounds a bit complicated, yes, I guess it is when you first start. If you like, you can just follow the guidelines on the pack, and take a gel every 45 mins,  but you’ve been pounding the pavement like crazy for the last few months, so why wouldn’t you do everything you can to ensure you perform at your best on the day. Once you’ve figured out what’s best for you, you’ll really see the benefit.


Post run nutrition

Recovery drinks are extremely important after training runs and races. The quicker you recover from your training, the more you’ll be able to get out of your next training session.

There are lots of recovery drinks around. The best contain a 4:1 or at a pinch 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, and some electrolytes to replace those you’ve sweated out.

You should have it available immediately after you finish running, so if you drive somewhere before you start running, take it with you. Sip on it whilst you’re cooling down and stretching after a run. I would generally take ½ the recommended dose after a run of 50mins, if it was a very hot day, but generally I use recovery drinks for runs of about 1 hr 10+.

I use Endorxo R4, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Everyone I’ve put on it raves about it. It’s a bit hard to come by in Australia, but you should be able to see a list of retailers here. http://www.advantage1.com.au/retailers/

Make sure you call before you go there. I’ve also notice some for sale on ebay.

You can see research on Endurox R4 here http://www.pacifichealthlabs.com/recover/endurox-r4-muscle-recovery-drink.html

Gu make a recovery drink which has protein and carbs called Recovery Brew. I’ve not used this in my training, but plan to compare it to Endurox R4 soon. For more information on Recovery Brew go to https://guenergy.com/products/products-recovery-brew/learn-more-recovery-brew/

Everyone’s needs are different. We’d love you to share below the nutrition that you’ve found useful in training and racing.