The Protein Shake that changed my life.

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I finally met up with ITU triathlete Ron Skilling and his guests tonight before a business opportunity event at the Tytherington Club in Macclesfield, and naturally we were discussing protein shakes and nutrition for managing the endurance training regime.

Sharing products that fit in and compliment a healthy training lifestyle, especially for athletes, is a big passion of mine. I’ve tried out a number of products over my 9 years of triathlon training and racing, and I believe I’ve improved my knowledge and understanding of what’s right for my body and my efforts along the way by becoming interested. Plain and simple.

A major and often underestimated key to training is nutrition, it is the foundation upon which winners win, and others, well, don’t win. Racing and training success is completed 90% off the course – in the mind, in the discipline, in the planning and preparation, and in the nutrition. This is a lifestyle course that isn’t taught in schools, or not the ones that I attended, and had this been key then perhaps my own sports at school would have improved more than they had, and errors of judgement avoided. But in retrospect, things were meant to go the way they did.

There was a brief moment in time, however, when I could have figured out the connection between these key areas and training success. It wasn’t until I had a goal and a mindset to achieve a place as an officer in the British Army aged 16 that my nutrition, my discipline, and my training kicked in, and, boy, did I change on the outside and in the head. All of a sudden I was a long-distance runner, even surprising myself; a girl who could bench press 100kg, do up to 50 press ups in one go, arm wrestle boys, and still find time to be Head of House and revise for A levels. A brief period in time of having a goal in sight was all it took for my body to change, without knowing it would to that degree.

Once that goal was gone, however, and I felt the pressures of exams, school plays, Urdd Championships, and sleepless nights take over, my weight went back on, my training decreased, I slowed down, and I was back to the old version of me that wouldn’t change until after children arrived on the scene some 6 years later.

Once the training bug was back, with my next goal to join the North Wales Police, I committed, I trained, my discipline was rock solid, and my mind-set was focused on success, and I backed all that up with what I thought was the right nutrition for an athlete in training. I didn’t realise that overloading on pasta, on potatoes, on rice, on dairy, and not getting enough varied vegetables, protein, fruit and nuts would cause my IBS from pre-baby years to come back with a vengeance. I blamed it on the stress, the shift patterns, the lack of sleep, but I didn’t look at my food. I was eating healthily. I was following the national staple diet.

Fast forward to January 2013, following a period of career and relationship ups and downs, racing successes at regional, national and international level, and periods of mental health issues, I conducted my own research into food. The only thing I could think to do to get my depression under control. What I did was educate myself, to cross-reference my patterns of illness with events in my life, with my nutrition and with my training. Key words were cropping up time and again – dairy, soy, whey, refined carbs, sugar, caffeine. I came across the Paleo diet, and I decided to give it a whirl. What did I have to lose? Some weight would be good, but the medication I had finally succumbed to would hinder any progress, so that too had to go.

Within two days my IBS had decreased, I physically felt less bloated and lighter. Within two months I was feeling ready to increase my training efforts as I was feeling less sluggish, more confident, more motivated. And two months later again, I was introduced to Arbonne, a botanical, Vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free company. They pretty much ticked every box I needed to put my body and mind on to the healing path.

Now I strongly believe that finally understanding my own nutritional needs – cutting out refined carbs, lowering sugar, lowering caffeine, reducing dairy to minimal, avoiding whey and soy at all costs, and increasing fruit, vegetables and water – also put my mental ill-health onto the road to recovery. I effectively still have IBS, but I know how to control it. I know that that little sandwich, that little biscuit, that cup of lovely, fresh coffee, that slice of pizza, will induce a bowel pain that makes me feel like I’m carrying a rock around with me. And I have to constantly wonder if it’s worth it? The additional benefit of finding a training fuel and training supplements that do not induce my IBS, that do not induce a breakout of spots across my back and neck due to the high fructose/sucrose sugar content, and that assist in keeping my training body topped up with the optimum stores of nutrients, even whilst not training due to sporting injury, also gives me peace of mind. I am healing, and strengthening my body from the inside out.

In June 2014 I was able to get back to training after a 6-month knee injury from playing hockey, something I’d started back up in 2013 after a 15-year interlude. I decided to do the International Snowdon Race as a goal to get my running back to pre-illness and injury level, or near to it. Bearing in mind I hadn’t run any more than 6 miles since October 2013, and no more than 10 miles since September 2012, due to a shoulder injury and that cursed mental ill-health. I only had 6 weeks to train for the 10-mile, 3500+ft event, and the first attempt up Snowdon was an abysmal fail to the Halfway House. Mentally, I knew I could do it, I had been running in the Snowdonia Mountains for years, over marathon distances. A week later I came back and I reached the top in about 1hr 30. I came back again, week after week, and my timings got faster, and faster. My nutrition? Paleo. My carbs? Vegetables and fruit. My recovery fuel? Arbonne Vegan protein shake (yummy Chocolate or Vanilla) and Antioxidant Immunity Booster (equivalent of 4,500 calories in one shot of plant goodness). My body prepping and muscle help? Cold water lake dips, Renewing Body Gelée, and Detoxifying Rescue Wash.

The week before Race Day I was asked to step in for the Police Snowdonia Sevens team, a 22-mile race over 7 mountains. I did it, with just 48 hours notice, and completed that in under 8 hours. I was the strongest on the team of experienced mountain runners that day.

My Snowdon Summit time had dropped to my near PB of 1hr 16, and on Race Day, 19th July 2014, my time up to Clogwyn Station (where the event was stopped short due to an electric storm), was the fastest since 2011 when I was PBing at 1hr 06 to the summit. Now how can that be possible in just 6 weeks, with a 22-mile event, repeated injuries, almost two years out of long distance running and training, and mental health illness? By simply getting my nutrition under control and using training supplements that improve my results without hindering my body’s ability to cope with the waste by-product.

I felt that I had kept my body primed with the correct nutrition, with the correct, positive mindset, with the belief of someone who knows that it is possible to do whatever I want to achieve, as long as I look after my body on the inside.

If you want to know more about Arbonne nutrition, take a look at what’s available in their shop, and take a look at this document – Vegan Protein vs whey and soy Jan14 – which outlines the difference between whey, soy, and vegan protein.

What are your top tips for athletes maintaining a stable diet without succumbing to the sugar overload? Are you a ‘real’ carb loader or refined? Have you turned to paleo and then returned to the staple diet?

Which food or supplement has changed your life?

Everyone is different, I know my partner can get away with eating anything he wants, for now, and still have outstanding results in the sports field. I don’t really envy him, because I believe that my holistic approach to my nutrition is also a reflection on my approach to life. Eating and Training Clean, in body and spirit.

This is an interesting article on an athlete’s approach to protein

[Photo courtesy of Gwynfor James SportpicturesCymru who agreed to assist in the #FindArthur campaign.]