Workout is Dead – Long Live Lifestyle!

The dumbest thing anyone ever does to be healthy is one hour of workout and then sit around all day. National Geographic some time ago commissioned a study that became a book called Blue Zones. Essentially they studied the places on Earth where the greatest concentration of people live the longest lives and experience the least chronic illness. I recommend the book and the YouTube talks about it. One of the things that was found is that these people never worked out. They had no gyms, they were usually poor and they did not attempt to live long, healthy, happy lives. Of the many factors that were pertinent, one thing they did do is move constantly. This means that their metabolisms never dropped as low as a sedentary westerner. They lived de- convenienced lives. I have been living this way for years. Now that I am once again cycling even though it is a bitterly cold January here in England I am again combining lifestyle and exercise.

I do not work out. I live.

In the spirit of minimalism and frugal living I often take my clothes to the seamstress – a lady I have known since primary school incidentally – to be adjusted or fitted rather than simply throwing them away. Conventionally a person in a UK town would drive there, drop them off and then drive home. I did not. Since I needed to go I cycled. I did not allot an hour in my day to workout. I simply lived. I think that the Blue Zone way is a better one and we all ought to embrace it. Instead of constantly rushing to save time – not that you can put time in the bank – it is surely better to live in such a way that one is never in a rush, to whatever extent one can live in such a way.

Urban cycling is not fast unfortunately. Too many turns, short hills, too much traffic and so forth. You just can’t pick up much speed in the urban north of England as there are few straight stretches of road in an old mill town like mine. However, with a lot of short, steep hills my body got what it needs and loves, which is plenty of resistance and out of breath pedalling, raised heart rate, delicious endorphins and I got outside in the greenery and fresh air, even if it was cold enough to crack a ball bearing.

Stats

Slow Cooker Chickpea Curry with Lime and Coriander Rice Recipe

Just look at it. Is this not the most appetising thing you have ever seen? If you would like to eat it then read on.

Chickpea curry with lime and coriander rice

Chickpea curry with lime and coriander rice

This dish is very healthy and hearty. The brown rice is much more flavoursome than white and takes longer to digest. The chickpeas are full of good fats and thus filling and satisfying. The longer you leave it in the slow cooker, the more tasty it will be as the ingredients marinate and infuse. This recipe is intended to serve four adults but I find that it goes further as it is so satisfying. The rice is a refreshing variation on lemon rice. The meaty umami flavours of chickpeas and brown rice get your nose and the flavour populates your mouth.

Turmeric is a natural anti inflammatory and I put it in everything.

Ingredients

The Rice

  • 300 grams of long grain brown rice
  • Zest and juice of a lime
  • Olive oil
  • A vegetable stock cube
  • Fresh coriander, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

The Curry

  • Two cups of dried chickpeas, hydrated and boiled for twenty minutes
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tsp dried chillis
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • Fresh coriander, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To cook the curry it is very simple. Throw all the ingredients into the slow cooker, give it a good stir to mix it all, and then cook for four hours minimum. If you go longer and it dries out a little then just add some stock.

To prepare the rice:

  • Boil in water and the stock cube for thirty minutes.
  • Drain and hot water
  • Heat a frying pan with a splash of oil
  • Turn off the heat and add the rice, stirring well to coat it all in the oil
  • Stir in the lime juice, zest and coriander
  • Season to your taste preference

Serve as either half a bowl each as above or make a bed from the rice with the curry on top.

Cashews: The Vegan’s Best Friend

If there is one thing that has forced me to learn about nutrition and think seriously about cooking it is having gone vegan over a decade ago. When you have to make food with restrictions on what goes into it you either learn quickly what you can do to adapt and make delicious food, or you are constantly hungry and eventually give up. Hunger pangs were one of the first challenges I encountered and I quickly realised that I was primarily lacking enough fat to feel full. I needed a way to stave off hunger to avoid bingeing. Enter the humble cashew nut.

Just to annoy everyone in the world: a tomato is a fruit, a banana is a berry and a cashew is actually a seed. Not that it makes the slightest difference. What does matter is that for somebody wishing to eat yummy vegan food the cashew is a healthy, nutritious staple that is the basis of so many delicious meals, snacks and condiments.

To unlock the magical properties of this nut one must turn it into cashew cream. That makes for one of the most versatile foodstuffs imaginable.

Things I Make Using Cashew Cream

  • Sour cream
  • Cheese sauce
  • Maple cream
  • “Cream ofsoups
  • Curries
  • Chocolate sauce
  • Cheesecake fillings
Cashew Sour Cream
Cashew Sour Cream

That list is just off the top of my head. How do you make cashew cream? Simple. Soak them in boiling water for ten minutes, drain, then add a little non-dairy milk and pulverise in the blender until smooth, adding milk where necessary. That’s it. From there you can either sweeten it using maple syrup, vanilla etc, or sour it using salt and lemon juice. You can make it cheesy with nutritional yeast or you can make it umami with marmite. If you want an easy cheesecake filling then mix in vanilla, coconut milk, coconut oil to set it and whatever flavour you like. Add it to a curry to thicken the sauce and give it a richer flavour. Chuck in maple syrup and serve as sweet cream on pancakes. The list goes on and on. The simple rule is that if you can make it with cream then you can make it with cashews. I have never eaten better comfort food in all my years than cashew cheese sauce with fried potatoes, served as a savoury fondue type dish. Good lord, if you are sick or – heavens forfend – hungover then it will hit the spot but without the food hangover, the greasy stodge or the digestive *ahem* challenges. You can put the savoury versions on toast, baked potatoes, dip tortillas or use it as a sandwich sauce. Even cheesy pizza sauce works. It never ends.

Chocolate Cups with a Minty Cashew Filling
Chocolate Cups with a Minty Cashew Filling

The beauty of cashews in sauces and soups is that they have high fat content and thus when you eat them you will feel satiated and full for longer, not to mention the vitamin K and the nutrients they contain. The carbohydrates in them are almost all starch, very little sugar and they are loaded with thiamin and vitamin B6. What’s not to like?

Vegan Cheesecake with Fruit Coulis
Vegan Cheesecake with Fruit Coulis

To give an example of what to use cashew cream for: take leek and potato soup. This dish is as simple as it gets. Onion, leeks, potatoes and stock, plus a little seasoning. That’s it, but if you add cashew cream it makes the soup creamy and a bowl becomes ridiculously filling. It’s the same with tomato soup. In fact I use this trick in parsnip soup, squash soup, mushroom soup and so on. In my experience it’s impossible to overeat with cashews. They fill you up so quickly that you can’t eat enough to get bloated.

So what are you waiting for? Get stuck in to some cashews!

2020: Let’s DO THIS THANG!

I have the world’s most unlucky son. In 2019 I lost an entire season of activities as he broke his wrist, had his cast off, then days later he fell and sustained a double break to his his leg, and then whilst he had his full leg cast on he contracted appendicitis and had to have an appendectomy. I spent the entire summer and autumn caring for the poor little monkey. Suffice to say I did absolutely sod all in terms of cycling, hiking, running or swimming in 2019 as I loved on him and helped him recover from a horrendous set of circumstances. That has been a hard and long road to walk, and especially for him, what a nightmare! He has bounced back thankfully – kids are so resilient, so I now must do the same.

That being said, I am not to be undone by such a run of misfortune. After getting flu – as in actual, cannot get out of bed, seriously ill flu – I am now starting a new regime, and I guess that I am starting pretty much from scratch. I have upgraded my Garmin Edge 800 to an Edge 1000 and below is my first ride of 2020. I have only just figured out after this ride how to turn on auto pause as the 1000 is way more complex to use than the 800, so this ride looks a little bit slow and a couple of times I forgot to use the manual stop/start controls so I post here purely as a progress marker. I have been fasting intermittently on a 16/8 daily schedule which has allowed me to drop two inches from my waist without exercising, so now I am adding exercising in a fasted state to that, so this ride was done on an empty stomach, overnight. Ironically I have not shed any actual weight, but my body has changed considerably. Fasting seems to be efficacious for serious fitness and positive body changes.

2020 will come to fear my might.

Data

I Like to Ride my Bicycle…

God damn it I have missed cycling so much. I got back on it on Saturday and today after a long (for me) time. I came in just above and just under an average of 12mph respectively. That is slow, however today especially I deliberately picked hills. The beauty of where I live is that there are serious hills in every direction. Fifteen to twenty degree climbs are not unusual. This will make for an interesting experiment in weight loss. I have maintained my weight whilst not being very active of late so I hope that upping my calorie burn and in particular doing absolute buggers of resistance rides will have a serious effect on that front. Even without my love of cycling, the hills are still cool because it does not matter how steep the incline, coasting downhill is the ultimate payoff for the hard work on the climb.

Saturday

Today

Not a Bad Week, Changes are Afoot, and Losing Patience with Apple Watch

So, since breaking fifteen miles this week I have been a little under the weather and I have taken action, made a few decisions and finally caught up with running again. Currently weight is falling off me, mainly due to cutting out bread and sugar (simple carbohydrates: my nemesis) and other similar bad foods. I have replaced them with nuts and fruit. Of course, I ate those before, but sparingly, however I have discovered that adding fat and calories from nuts is a superb way to manage one’s physique. I now might have toast every ten days or so, if at all, and unless I bonk during a long run I do not eat sugar at all. Obviously when referring to sugars I mean those such as fructose (in all its many dastardly forms). Natural sugars found in fruits for example are just fine. My diet is something I have been scrutinising intensely lately. I have looked into a ketogenic diet and I am trying to get somewhere close to that, however my priority with food and lifestyle is veganism, for reasons of both health and compassion. I will always adhere to the principles of a vegan diet, and that means that options for low carbohydrate, high fat foods are limited.

When it comes to nutrition I am a novice and I am trying my best to brush up on research, and whilst I am not convinced by a diet of low or no carbohydrates at all, I do think that I used to eat far too many carbohydrates in terms of calorie volume. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the fact is that my diet plan (and it is a plan – fad diets are a portal to lifetime yoyo-ing and are very unhealthy) is proving to be effective for me and it is based on the following, in rough order of importance to me:

  • A vegan ethic, teetotal and no fizzy drinks (sodas to my Yankee friends)
  • High prevalence of starchy foods, dark green and leafy green vegetables, a variety of beans such as kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), black eyed beans and black beans
  • Whole grains such as quinoa, millet and buckwheat
  • A variety of nuts, my favourites being pistachios, followed closely by cashews

Since we are a family of six we have one pot dishes most of the time so I always cook with sauces or bases made from either tomatoes or coconut milk. Veganism carries certain risks with it, deficiencies in certain things such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron. Viamin D I have covered by being outdoors most of my free time, however iron and B12 are more challenging. Getting around that comes down to fortified milks and by putting nutritional yeast and/or Marmite (both B12 sources) in practically everything. When it comes to iron it is fairly easy to overcome. Spinach goes in everything, and with young children there is the obvious problem of them turning their noses up at anything that looks green so it gets chopped as finely as possible. Cunning I am.

Anyway, the point of all of this being that whilst I shall not be going full zero carbohydrate, a major reduction whilst keeping things fresh, often raw and with no sugar is proving to be very good for me. So that was the first decision I made.

My second decision, made yesterday, is that of stopping weightlifting. I absolutely hate it. I have tried to convince myself that I wish to do it but I loathe it, I have to torture myself to motivate myself to go and I cannot see a way forward into serious distance running whilst building upper body strength through heavy lifting. Instead I am going to do resistance exercises with my body weight, focusing particularly on planking and things like press ups and lunges. To be quite honest resistance is not a priority really since I live in a very hilly area. There is not much exercise I can do without doing resistance owing to the terrain, so as long as I incorporate a little upper body work I think that that should suffice. In addition to all of this winter is coming and in winter I swim, so that will give me plenty of work above the waist.

On to tonight’s run. This week I had intended to run home from university, something I keep banging on about here, however lectures were not on this week, it was an induction and as a returning student it was not for me to attend. My mistake, so I will see if I can pick up where I left off and do it this week. So, this one was only a gentle four miles. I have cycled a wee bit since the fifteen miler but tonight I kept a shorter distance and aimed to push harder in terms of speed, and managed to get back under twelve minute miles. I stress that a good portion of my runs are climbing serious hills so until I do take the relatively flat course from UCLan to home I will not know how fast I can run on flat terrain.

Map

It is funny how, when pushing through barriers, one always feels better. Yesterday I made deliberate attempts to extend my gait and stride further, faster, and longer on the hill climbs. All the while my instinct was telling me to conserve the energy, yet when I ignored it I felt better, stronger, and more energised. It is very odd how that works, but it does work. I have suffered no ill effects and felt much better after the run.

One last thing, yesterday my Apple Watch decided not to allow Force Touch to work, meaning that I had to get out my iPhone to pause and end Runtastic and record the run, thus defeating entirely the point of using the watch in the first place. I am rapidly running out of patience with this device and I am looking at my options for a proper running watch. When Apple Watch works properly I like it, but it is too slow, too often it tells me my iPhone is not in range, even though it is two inches away, and it is buggy, laggy and slow. As a long time Apple fan this disappoints me hugely, but there we are. I can now no longer recommend Apple Watch as a fitness tool. It simply does not cut the mustard.

Good Friday Push and Interval Swimming

Tomorrow is Good Friday and I have teamed up with a friend to push through the half marathon barrier for a run. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I won’t get sick. Anything else I can work through. I’ve been swimming and cycling regularly, although unlike my previous blogging I won’t be posting maps all the time unless I take on a new course. Anyone genuinely interested in maps of previous runs can view them via the Garmin Connect links posted with my data. The last couple of days are thus:

Data

Cycling

Distance 11.03 mi | Time 47:03 | Speed 14.1 mph | Elev Gain 896 ft

Source: Garmin Connect

Swimming

Distance 1,000 m | Time 40:06 | Pace 1:40 min/100m

Source: Garmin Connect

I have had a week off from swimming so I carried on yesterday from where I left off previously, namely interval swimming. Two sets of 8, 6, 4 and 2 laps, going as quickly as I can with three minutes rests between each interval in order to get my heart rate down to resting as quickly as possible. I could carry on doing 3000 metres three times weekly but this new routine not only breaks up the monotony, but also interval training is recommended for fat burning (calorie burn continues for hours after workouts), building endurance and it allegedly is very good for the heart as it ‘increases the flexibility and elasticity of arteries and veins better than continuous aerobic exercise‘.

I haven’t really done very much interval training in the past so I am keen to explore it, however I worry about it becoming a means to and end in itself. I actually enjoy long runs and bike rides so if I do go further on intervals I will restrict it to the swimming pool for now. I also need to learn a lot more about it before I continue to develop as I know very little other than my own invented interval swim workout.

Evil MSG Scuppers Plans

On Saturday I went for a good ten mile run, only to be scuppered on Sunday. I planned to cycle a good distance but unfortunately  I inadvertently ate monosodium glutamate (MSG), something that makes me so ill that I feel sick just talking about it. Unfortunately the only treatment is to drink water and flush it out of one’s system, so that is what I did. Hence, I lost 24 hours and my cycling was but a figment of my imagination. Still, I had Saturday to run and I cycled this morning. Monday I missed due to a bout of insomnia. All in all it has been a tough weekend health wise so the push was well worth it.

Running Map

It was a good run where I just about hit 11 minute miles (give or take a second or two) and that to me is pretty damned good given that there is a minimum 1000 foot climb involved here.

Cycling Map & Data

Distance 11.02 mi | Time 48:58 | Speed 13.5 mph | Elev Gain 902 ft

Source: Garmin Connect

Catching Up

I haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately so this is more of a catchup post than anything else, covering Tuesday through to today. I’ve been cycling exclusively so I hope I can swim tonight and run at the weekend.

Maps

Tuesday

 

Wednesday

 

Thursday

 

Friday

 

I wish I had had more time to exercise harder and for longer but right now I am preparing for some big things at work so I have had to do the best I could with limited time. I think I managed pretty well all things considered. The changing weather means so much to me. Cycling in the sunshine, even though it is still cold, is joyous.

Back on the Bike

The weather has finally turned and although the temperature is clement at best, the Sun is out and that means one thing: cycling! I was finally able to do the university cycling run. Approximately 44 miles of two-wheeled goodness.

Data and Maps: Outward

Distance 21.64 mi | Time 1:22:46 | Speed 15.7 mph | Elev Gain 988 ft

Source: Gannow Ward Cycling

Data and Maps: Inward

Distance 21.64 mi | Time 1:42:34 | Speed 12.7 mph | Elev Gain 1,076 ft

Source: University Ward Cycling

Numbers can be deceiving. These rides look very similar but the inward trip is alway a lot harder, not just because I am tired from the morning ride and a day of study, but also because once one leaves Preston there is, give or take a half mile of flat road here and here, roughly a fifteen mile climb out to Burnley. You will note that the elevation gain is fairly similar each way but the outward journey has a few short, relatively steep climbs, whereas the aforementioned fifteen mile stretch on the inward ride is a long, energy sapping slog. It is very rewarding to complete and the last mile and a half home is downhill which is such a relief on tired muscles.

I absolutely loved it. The weather was beautiful if cold and the spring daffodils are blooming. God I love to cycle.