Run Faster: Make sure you have enough calcium

We all know we need calcium for strong teeth and bones, but did you know that calcium is also needed for the life preserving functions of muscle contraction, (including the heart) blood clotting, nerve function and the release of certain hormones and enzymes?

Because calcium is necessary for the maintenance of life, it is leached from the bones if the amount in the blood in insufficient for these life preserving functions. You can still live without brittle bones, but you can’t live without a heart beat, so the body very cleverly prioritises the function that calcium is directed to. If there’s insufficient calcium circulating in the blood, the body takes it from it’s storage cells, the bones and teeth.

Calcium and Cola Drinks

As an aside, a highly acidic diet can  cause calcium to be leached from the bones. Your body will  act to maintain a blood pH of 7.4. If you have a highly acid diet, your body will draw down on stored mineral salts, including calcium, which act as a buffer to the acid and work to restore blood to a pH of 7.4. Lots of things can cause a drop in blood pH (ie a rise in acidity) including cola drinks. Therefore chronic use of cola (and to a lesser extent other soft drinks) can lead to brittle bones. And that includes the diet varieties as well! You can flush the acid away with water, but for every can of cola you drink, you’d need to take in 15-25 times that amount in water. (Then spend an awful lot of time in the loo).

Calcium and Muscle Function

Here’s the interesting bit for we exercise types. You should be sure to have enough calcium in your diet, and good gut health, to be able to contract your muscles.Below is a very abridged and simplified version of how calcium acts in skeletal muscle contraction.

  • The brain sends an electrical impulse to the muscle. A lot of biomechanical reactions need to take place for the message to get to the muscle safely, but, amazingly, in most cases it does.
  •  After receiving the message, the muscle shortens. This action is explained by what is know as the sliding filament theory.
  • Within a muscle fibre, there are two different types of filaments, actin and myosin. These filaments are layered one on top of the other, as in the picture below.
  •  When the right biochemical reactions take place, cross bridges form between the actin and myosin filamines, and the actin gets pulled by the myosin, so the two filaments are pulled closer together and the muscle shortens.

For all of this to happen, calcium is needed to “unlock” the active sites on the actin filament which the myosin attaches to. The myosin heads continue to reattach further and further along the actin, causing a more forceful contraction of the muscle.


actin and mysin


The muscle stops contracting when the release of calcium ions stop. You need adequate magnesium for this, but that’s a biochemistry lesson for another day.

Suffice is to say, if you want to run fast, make sure you have enough calcium in your diet.


How Much Calcium?

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Check out some calcium rich foods here






Burn Fat For Fuel During Marathon Training

woman joggingOne of the most important, yet often neglected, part of marathon training, is teaching your body to burn fat for fuel.

Teaching your body to burn fat for fuel during marathon training means you are able to spare glycogen, and will be less likely to ‘hit the wall” or “bonk” during the latter half of the race.

Here are a few marathon training tips to rev up your fat burning engine:


  • Long, slow runs. These will help to burn fat for fuel during marathon training as your body relies more heavily on fat for energy during long duration, low intensity exercise.
  • Run in a fasting state. By that I don’t mean starve yourself for days and then run, but a pre-breakfast run should be part of your training at least once a week. Your glycogen stores are slightly depleted when you wake in the morning, so if you run pre breakfast, your body will turn to fat for fuel. Try having a light evening meal the day before a pre-breakfast run for greater effect. If you’re not used to doing this, you may struggle at first, so start with some shorter runs, and build up to longer runs in a fasted state. I find low to medium intensity training is fine pre-breakfast, but I personally struggle too much with higher intensity workouts. I don’t feel the quality is there if I’m not fueled.
  • Burn fat by eating fat. Your body is actually more likely to burn fat for fuel during marathon training if you have a small amount of fatty acids in your bloodstream, so eating a small amount of fat before your workout will help to initiate fat burning. Perhaps just a few nuts and seeds, or some avocado, about an hour before you set off on your run.


I’d love to hear how you go with pre-breakfast runs. They can take a bit of getting used to.

How Alcohol Impacts Your Training and Your Weight

How alcohol impacts your training

Don’t you just love this time of year? Here in Sydney, we are lucky enough to have summer and Christmas fall at the same time. That means warm sunny days, more time to fit in your exercise in daylight, lots of partying, and not much clothing to hide behind! (I could be thinking about my misspent youth here, but let’s run with it).

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How alcohol impacts your training


Yes, it’s the silly season, when most of us let go, sometimes just a little too much. Ever wonder how someone’s weight (perhaps yours) manages to creep up on them in a slow ambush until “BANG” one day they are 5-10 kgs heavier than they were a few years ago?

Could be, they over indulge around this time of year, put on an extra kg or two, then don’t take it off again. For most of us, it’s easy to hide a kg somewhere on your body. The jeans just fit a bit more snugly, your belt probably won’t even need to go out a notch – not this year anyway.

The holiday season can also have a profound impact on your training. You may feel you have less time for exercising,  (which actually just means you’re giving something else priority), or you may have had one too many champagnes at the office Christmas party, so it’s just that little bit harder to get out of bed. And if you do get out of bed to go for your early morning run, you might be feeling a little shabby.

So that we’ve all  got it straight in our heads how alcohol impacts your training and your weight, here are a few facts, because  having an  unbalanced approach to partying could be what gets in the way of all your hard work paying off.


  1. Alcohol dehydrates you, as it is a diuretic. It makes the kidneys produce more urine. Exercising soon after drinking can make the dehydration worse, especially in hot weather, as you’ll be sweating. For optimum circulation of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, you need to be well hydrated. Your training and performance will be sub maximal if you are dehydrated. Alternating alcoholic drinks with mineral water will not only mean you consume less alcohol, it will help you to stay hydrated.
  2. When your system is breaking down alcohol, the liver can’t produce as much glucose, which means you have low blood sugar levels. This can account for cravings of sweetened soft drinks such as Coke after a big night out. Blood sugars give you energy when you are exercising, so if your body is busy metabolising alcohol, you’ll have less energy for exercise, and your performance will drop. Your co-ordination and concentration can be affected as well.
  3. Not only does your body need to break down the alcohol, it also needs to clear itself of the by-products of alcohol metabolism, so you won’t be able to clear out the lactic acid produced in exercise as efficiently as you normally do.
  4. As alcohol is a toxin, the body prioritises getting it out of your system over burning fats or carbohydrates. So, not only do you get a whopping 7 cals per gram of alcohol (compared to 4 cals per gram of  proteins and carbs), you won’t be burning the extra carbs you eat at the office Christmas party, or burn much stored fat, till all the alcohol is out of your system.
  5. Alcohol breaks down amino acids (stored in muscles) and stores them as fat. This is more pronounced around the thighs and bum. Long term alcohol use reduces protein synthesis, resulting in a decrease in muscle growth.
  6. Over the top drinking also increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which also encourages fat storage, particularly around the belly.
  7. Alcohol negatively affects your sleep patterns. This can result in you being tired the day after a couple of drinks and may cause you to go for instant energy hits of sugar, piling on more calories. The lack of sleep will also inhibit the production of Human Growth Hormone, (HGH) which plays an important role in the building and repairing of muscles-very important for recovering after a hard speed session or gym workout. Alcohol can inhibit HGH secretion by as much as 70%.
  8. Alcohol limits your body’s ability to absorb key micronutrients from your food, particularly Vit B1 (Thiamine), B12, Folic Acid and Zinc. B1 is important for protein and fat metabolism, as well as for  forming haemoglobin (necessary for oxygen transport in your  blood). It also plays a role in metabolising carbohydrates. B12 helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is important in the formation of new cells, and a deficiency can result in a lower oxygen carrying capacity, affecting your endurance. Zinc is important for energy production, and a deficiency will impair your endurance.


So, in a nutshell, alcohol will impair your reaction time, wreck your sleep and recovery, give you a whopping 7 cals per gram, help you stack on weight around your mid section whilst depleting muscle mass around the thighs and gluteal muscles, and quite possibly make you eat more than you otherwise normally would have.


What’s the solution? Don’t over indulge. Make sure you know what the safe levels of drinking are, and plan your quality training sessions to be at least 24 hours after alcohol. Eat well (and a little less) when you are not partying, so the effect of any excesses is counteracted by your general good eating habits.

If you do overindulge -don’t stress about it. Get quickly back on the straight and narrow and put it down to experience!

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How Many Calories Do You Drink?

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Hooked on Running

Burn an extra 160 calories a day and lose weight

foods to boost your metabolism and lose weight

foods to boost your metabolism and lose weightDon’t obsess about what not to eat. Here are eight foods which could actually help you to lose weight by eating them! You could also take a look at other ways to boost your metabolism and lose weight. 


Green Tea

Green tea will really get your metabolism firing. Chose it over black tea or coffee for it’s flavinoids and antioxidants, as well as for it’s thermogenic properties. Simply put, it will boost your metabolism. The amount of extra calories you burn isn’t huge – one cup will help you burn up to an extra 60 calories, but every little bit helps to lose weight.


Low Fat Yoghurt

Good quality, unsweetened, plain yoghurt is packed full of live bacteria called probiotics, which help your gut process food more efficiently. Yoghurt is also a good source of protein and calcium. Seemingly inexplicably, a 2005 study showed that including low fat yoghurt in a reduced calorie diet had a greater effect in helping people to lose weight,  than a reduced calorie diet which did not include yoghurt. Over a 12 week period, people who were in the group which ate yoghurt lost about 1.8kg more weight than the other group, and also lost 81% more fat around the stomach than the non-yoghurt eaters.



Cinnamon has been shown to control the spike in blood sugar experienced after eating a high sugar meal. It seems the cinnamon slows down gastric emptying, releasing the sugars into the blood more gradually. This can make you fell full for longer, helping you to lose weight.  Think of it along the same lines as the difference between eating oats for breakfast vs coco pops!



Well-known as a broad spectrum anti-microbial (kills all sorts of little germs and bugs), Korean researchers found that rats given a high calorie diet as well as a garlic supplement did not gain as much weight as rats who weren’t given the garlic supplement. When exercise was thrown into the mix, the garlic was even more effective in preventing weight gain.

To get the most out of your garlic, crush the fresh bulb and leave it to sit for 10 minutes before adding it to your cooking. This helps it to retain about 70% more of its beneficial compounds. Crushing the garlic releases the beneficial enzymes trapped in the cells of the plant. The enzymes boost the levels of the healthy compounds in garlic, which peak about 10 mins after crushing.

For best results, add the garlic in at the last minute, so it is cooked only lightly.


Hot Peppers

Researchers testing a compound related to capsaicin, found in chili and other hot peppers, showed the compound could boost your metabolism. The study found an increase in calories burned after a test meal.

The extra boost in metabolism amounted to about 100cals for a 50kg women, to about 200 cals for a 90 kg man. Not insignificant. That’s about 25% of the calorie deficit you need to find (500cals) each day if you want to lose 500gms in weight a week. I’ll take that.



Similar to the capsaicin in chili peppers, ginger can boost your metabolism after you’ve eaten it, as well as aid digestion and decrease appetite. Add some grated fresh ginger to your stir fry, or make a yummy ginger tea by infusing in sliced fresh ginger in hot water. You can also add it to your favourite baking recipes.



Recent studies suggest that the acetic acid in vinegar may switch on genes that release proteins that break down fat. Participants in a Japanese study who drank 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily for 12 weeks, were able to lose weight, and  lower their visceral fat (fat surrounding organs) and waist circumference significantly.

Dark Chocolate

No article on the magical properties of foods would be complete without the mention of dark chocolate! Someone can always come up with some reason for eating chocolate. Here’s a study by Nestle researchers which shows that dark chocolate can aid in weight loss by reducing stress hormones.


What do you think?



Foods to make you run faster

foods to run faster

foods to run fasterSounds a bit too good to be true doesn’t. Foods which will actually make you run faster. When you think about it though, there are of heaps foods which will help you to do just that.

I want to concentrate on just a couple of foods here, olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Both these foods have been shown to aid in weight loss, and if you have less excess fat to carry around the track, you’ll run faster. I’m not suggesting that if you pop into the kitchen and swig on the salad dressing like there’s no tomorrow, you’ll wake up a couple of kilos lighter in the morning, but research has shown both these foods may aid weight loss.

So, how can olive oil help you run faster?

Research published in the American Journal of Nutrition has suggested that simply smelling olive oil may help you lose weight. Eleven men were given low fat yoghurt to eat over two days, and half of them had a fat free olive oil extract mixed into the yoghurt.

Their brain activity was measured after the snack, and the group who ate the olive oil extract enriched yoghurt, had increased activity in areas of the brain associated with fat consumption. Remember the olive oil extract was fat-free, so both groups had the same low fat snack as far as calories go. Researches believe it is the scent of the olive oil which might help you to feel full. It might be possible to simulate fat-triggered sensations in the brain by the scent of ingredients the body implicitly associates with fat.

Other research carried out over a period of three months supports this theory. Subjects ate no-fat yoghurt, with either butterfat, rapseed oil or olive oil added to it. The olive oil consumers reported feeling fuller on a day to day basis, and also had higher levels of serotonin than the other groups. Serotonin is a hormone associated with feelings of satiety. The aromatic compounds in olive oil slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, making as feel fuller for longer.

To enjoy the benefits of olive oil, you should consume in moderation at room temperature, accompanying other food. Whilst olive oil is relatively stable, overheating it can change the molecular structure and the aromatic volatiles can evaporate during heating.

Apple cider vinegar

The Journal of Functional Foods recently published a study showing that subjects who consumed a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with water before eating had lower blood glucose levels than the control group. The acetic acid may hamper the body’s ability to digest starch, the researchers say. Less starch is being broken down into calories in the blood stream, which over time might show an effect on body weight. There are other studies to back up the theory, including Japanese research published in 2009, which showed acetic acid to be associated with lower BMI, waist circumference and blood triglycerides.

You don’t need to use apple cider vinegar for the effect. Any vinegar with 5% acidity will do, but don’t drink it straight. Mix a tablespoon with a big glass of water, or drizzle the same amount on a salad.

Neither of these methods will see you losing 5kgs to get you running faster in that race you have next weekend. You should be looking more at the long term over 3 or 4 months. AND most importantly, the results won’t be so dramatic that you can go crazy and eat your head off in the meantime. Increasing your use of olive oil and vinegar will not counteract your over eating, but may be the difference between losing that extra half to one kilo or not.

To some, it may not seem worth it, but I know I’d like to be a kilo lighter come the next time I run a race I’ve been training for.


Image courtesy of Idea go/

The low down on cholesterol

heart rate


Finding out about cholesterol can be a little confusing. First of all, what is it? Secondly, why is it bad for us? Is it all bad for us? Do we need it for anything? What can we do, short of medical intervention, to keep cholesterol in check?

This straight forward guide to cholesterol will help you keep yours at a healthy level.


What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat which is waxy in texture. It finds its way around the body in the blood and is found in all the body’s cells. It’s essential for the smooth functioning of the body. Whilst some cholesterol is taken in through the diet, about two-thirds of cholesterol is manufactured by the body in the liver.


What do we use cholesterol for?

Cholesterol is produced by the liver and also made by most cells in the body. It is carried around in the blood by lipoproteins – more about them later. The body uses small amounts of cholesterol for:

  • the integrity of cell membranes
  • manufacturing hormones including oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones
  • aiding certain metabolic processes, such as your body’s production of vitamin D
  • helping the body digest fat and absorbing nutrients, via the production of bile acids


 LDLs, HDLs and VLDLs

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL). This is what’s known as the bad cholesterol. It carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to the cells, and when it reaches high levels in the bloodstream, it can clog up your arteries.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL), is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. It helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.
  • Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). All of the lipoproteins are made up of cholesterol, protein and fats. VLSLs contain the highest amount of triglycerides of all the lipoproteins, which make them the worst type of cholesterol.


Blood Cholesterol Levels

It is recommended that cholesterol levels should be 5.5 mmols per litre IF there are no other risk factors present. If there are other cardiovascular risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure or pre existing cardiovascular heart disease, you should aim for a level of 2 mmols per litre of blood. Around about half of all Australian adults have a blood cholesterol leverl above 5mmol/l. Have you had yours checked lately?



This is the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL). The ratio is determined by dividing the LDL cholesterol into the HDL cholesterol. For example, if a person has an HDL cholesterol of 50 mg/dL and an LDL cholesterol of 150 mg/dL, the HDL/LDL ratio would be 0.33. The goal is to keep the ratio above 0.3, with the ideal HDL/LDL ratio being above 0.4.


Which foods contain cholesterol?

  • Eggs
  • Animal products that are rich in fat such as meats and full fat dairy foods.
  • Prawns and other shellfish
  • All foods from animals contain some cholesterol. Foods from plants do not contain cholesterol.


Dietary tips for lower cholesterol

Generally, cholesterol from food has very little effect on the blood cholesterol level; the amount of saturated fat you eat is far more important. That’s good news if you’re looking to throw another shrimp on the bar -b this summer, as shellfish are generally low in saturated fats and are a good source of omega-3s.


Foods to avoid – I’m sure this list won’t surprise you

  • Fatty meats
  • Processed meats like salami and sausages
  • Snack foods like chips
  • Most takeaway foods, especially deep fried foods
  • Cakes, biscuits and pastries.


The dietary “do’s” of cholesterol

  • Increase the amount and variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods you have each day.
  • Choose lean meat (meat trimmed of fat or labelled as ‘heart smart’).
  • Limit fatty meats, including sausages and salami, and choose leaner sandwich meats like turkey breast or cooked lean chicken.
  • Have fish (fresh or canned) at least twice a week.
  • Replace butter and dairy blends with polyunsaturated margarines.
  • Include foods in your diet that are rich in soluble fibre and healthy fats, such as nuts, legumes and seeds. The fibre will help to “mop up” cholesterol
  • Limit your cheese intake.


Cholesterol Cutting


  • polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower oil and safflower oil
  • oats
  • legumes
  • alfalfa sprouts (YUM)
  • garlic and onion


Plant Sterols

Plant sterols are found naturally in plant foods including sunflower and canola seeds, vegetable oils and (in smaller amounts) nuts, legumes, cereals, fruit and vegetables. Some margarine and milks have concentrated plant sterols added to them. Margarines enriched with plant sterols may help lower LDL cholesterol.


Cholesterol lowering lifestyle tips

  • Lower your triglyceride levels by cutting out alcohol, and if that doesn’t seem possible, reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks a day. Avoid binge drinking.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the ability of LDL cholesterol to get into artery cells and cause damage.
  • Exercise regularly, and by regularly, I mean daily. At least one bout of exercise which will get you huffing and puffing a bit. Include more incidental exercise in your day. Getting up from your desk and having a walk around for a couple of minutes has been shown to reduce blood triglyceride levels. Exercise increases HDL levels while reducing LDL and triglyceride levels in the body.
  • Lose any excess body fat. Being overweight may contribute to raised blood triglyceride and LDL levels.
  • Control your blood sugar levels, particularly  if you have diabetes. High blood sugars are linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis (‘hardening of the arteries’).

How To Fend Off The Menopause Midriff

menopause midriff

“Healthy Diet Won’t Stop Menopause Weight Gain”

menopause midriffThat’s a nice scary headline for women of a certain age, isn’t it? It’s one that did the rounds of online news sites a couple of weeks ago now.

Not so scary really when you stop to read the fine print though!


In a study of 7000 healthy Australian women age 48  to 56, researchers found  those who ate the most healthy foods gained just as much weight over the six years of the study, as those who ate the least healthy foods – about 1.7 kilograms.


Is the middle aged spread unavoidable?

Well, not really. If you eat too much of anything you will gain weight, regardless of the health value of the food. So whilst eating healthy food won’t stop you gaining weight in your late 40′ s and early 50’s , eating less of it will. Chief researcher, Clare Collins said “Women, on average, will gain two kilograms over the menopause years and the only women who resist that are women who put either extra focus on their diet or extra focus on physical activity or both,”


“Our earlier research had found people who had a higher diet quality score also consumed more calories, because if you have a greater frequency and variety of healthy foods you also consume more energy,” she said. “So the good news is we showed they don’t gain [more] weight.”

Analysis of the study’s data also seems to be finding a link between high fruit and vegetable intake and less weight gain. Collins suspects this is due to switching from unhealthy foods.


My experience

A couple of months ago, I was the lightest I’ve been since year 11 at school. I was training for a half marathon, so doing quite a bit of exercise, though not the mileage I’ve done for previous races. I upped my resistance training, which I think really helped with fat burning, and yes, I was watching what I ate very closely for the month prior to the race. Before I popped something into my mouth, I considered whether it would help me go faster, or whether it would just end up being dead weight I’d have to carry around the course. Getting on for two months later, I am still sitting on the lighter side of my usual adult weight range. It’s unlikely this is due to loss of muscle or bone mass due to the type of exercise I do. It is due to eating less food and being pretty much alcohol free. Even just a couple of glasses a week gives your calorie intake a boost of up to 400 calories.


So… how to fend off the menopause midriff?

The peri-menopausal and post menopausal health message is pretty much the same as at any other time of your life.  If your diet isn’t up to scratch, include more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Eat less food, drink less alcohol and exercise more to fend off the menopause midriff.