As a Personal Trainer, and probably like a number of other people in the self employed sector of the fitness industry, I receive an awful lot of calls for people trying to get me to sign up for various things. Many of these calls are related to the use of supplements. Now I have no specific problem with supplements, I’ve even used them on occasion but I don’t use them as a matter of course. I think that people should make their own informed view on whether supplements are for them or not, I’m not there to promote any particular brand but I’m happy to give general advice. I’m don’t get paid to sell supplements and, in fact, generally people want me to purchase the supplements and sell them onto my clients. But I’m not a selfish seller at all costs kind of guy, I will purchase things on behalf of my clients but only when I feel that I can get them a better deal, on something they want, by getting it via me. In fact it’s one of the things my clients tell me they like about the way I operate, i.e. I don’t try to sell extras to them all the time.
Now I’ll openly admit that I do have my own nutritional planning programme, that I will sell onto clients and anyone else, but I don’t push it onto clients, there are other dietary planners out there, but I believe the product works and I do use it myself. I also do a certain amount of work for Ronhill and Hilly, for which they provide me with kit, they don’t expect me to push there products onto my clients either, but I do wear the products in public places and will happily endorse them to anybody who’s interested as I really do think the products are great and innovative, I just wish they made trainers too.
Well I’ve digressed a little but only to make the point that I’m not paid by anybody to sell supplements and I have no bias towards any particular products out there, the following blog will summarise my feelings about supplements. I’m not currently taking any supplements, and haven’t for some years but I know plenty of people who do. Whether they need to take them I’m not sure, we all have our own knowledge of what our body is up to and can make those decisions ourselves.
I first came across supplements as a child, though in those days they were called vitamin pills. All of a sudden my mum started bringing home sanatogen vitamins, horrible hard round sweet tasting things, and we would all have one each day. My dad, being bigger and older than us three kids, got to eat the horrible bitter tasting red ones which were big enough to make them hard to swallow. I didn’t envy him. As a child I didn’t really know why I was taking the vitamins, I just did what I was told, perhaps our diet in the 70s wasn’t as good as it is now, I didn’t even have my first Indian meal until I was 17.
When I left home I was still a student and, naturally, I didn’t really care much about healthy things, I didn’t take vitamins, did very little exercise, ate badly and drank too much too often. I did have a good time mind you. Luckily I survived any abuse I gave to my body. As a young man starting out a work, I continued to drink too much too often, I ate better, still not great, and I started to get involved in sport, occasionally.
It was only when I started to train properly that the question of whether to take supplements came up. I actually remember one of my training partners Adam Armstrong (incidentally Adam was an actor who appeared in Grange Hill, Crimewatch and various other things – in fact I must relay the story about Crimewatch latter in this blog, see if I can write it as funny as it was) telling me that one of the 800m runners we knew had been taking creatine and was complaining that it was making his legs heavy. In actual fact it was probably the fact that he was training harder due to taking the supplement that made his legs tired. Around 1992 one of my training partners, Nutritionist Alex Luce, asked me if I’d take part in a study he was working on. I said yes as long as it didn’t include taking any banned substances and didn’t impact my training. Alex didn’t tell us what the study was at the time but it was a study on the effects on vitamin c on the athlete.
I thought this was a great opportunity to help one of my training partners while gaining the benefits of taking extra vitamins, I even didn’t mind trying to swallow these gigantic pills every day, until I found out I had been taking the placebos. I’m not sure what the results of the study were but I was progressing better than everybody else, even with the placebo effect. As a thank you Alex did give me a proper consultation and, because I was having a few bowel problems, he gave me a detox and suggested a course of vitamins and minerals. This seemed to resolve the problems I was having, which I consider were stess related. I took these vitamins and minerals on and off for a while, whenever the problem returned. I also took iron supplements when I was feeling run down, as I’d previously been diagnosed with slight anaemia and extra calcium when I got a stress fracture in my foot, but I’ve not taken any supplements for years.
Due to my lack of supplementation I can’t really give you much information or recommendation on particular types. I don’t take supplements because I believe I can get the nutrients I need from fresh ingredients, though not everything you buy in the shops is fresh and therefore it may not be as nutritious as it could be. Food can be stored too long and lose some of it’s nutritional value and it can be overcooked with nutrients being lost in the process (I generally steam or stir fry my veg as I believe it is better nutritionally). I’m lucky in that my lifestyle is such that I am in a position to take care with what I eat but others may not be so fortunate. It’s worth considering supplements if you feel you’re not able to maintain a healthy diet because of your lifestyle or you are feeling run down, however, ideally, supplements should not be taken in place of normal nutrients they should be taken to supplement them and the bulk of your nutrients should still be gained from natural ingredients.
If you are going to use supplements, make sure you understand what benefits you will get and if there are any side effects. Also be sure to check out what is in the product, particularly being sure of any hidden ingredients (this is particularly important for athletes who may undergo drug testing). Of course there is the worry that supplements can become contaminated during production but if they are made by a reputable company that is unlikely and of course natural food can also be contaminated.
I’m currently in a phase of hard training, in fact I’m training harder than I’ve trained for a long time and I’m feeling tired. Therefore I’m using a lot of the nutrients I’m putting into my body, do I need to take supplements? Well it’s a good question, I’ve been carrying a bit of a cold for weeks and it is affecting my breathing a little but taking supplements doesn’t necessarily protect you from colds and I do eat well. I feel like I’m replenishing all the nutrients I need but maybe I’m missing something, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad decision to take some. If I did take them the one thing I would ensure I did would be to check the register of banned substances, yes I know I’m not going to be selected for London 2012 but I do still compete at a reasonably high level and don’t see the point of getting banned because of carelessness. Plus I like to know what I’m putting into my body. But in truth, I think I just need to eat a bit more, I’m burning calories at a pretty high rate (over 300 for 10 minutes workout) so I’m stocking up with more food and ensuring I take breaks in my day to eat.
This weekend I went to the Heaton Park parkrun. Heaton Park was the scene of my first parkrun, back in March, when I finished 8th in 17:25. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve raced so I was thinking about going to Pennington Flash but then Ray got in touch and suggested Heaton Park, as it was going to be the last run on the course, before they changed it to another one in the same area. I was happy to try it, I figured I might get a chance to run faster on the, mostly, pathed course rather than the multi-terrain test that Pennington is. As it has been some time since I ran there I went to the website to remind myself of the course and found that it had actually been won, on a number of occasions by people running slower than 17 minutes. So there was a possibility that I could win, but then again there were a considerable number of winners who had run significantly under 17 minutes and a number of sub 16 minute winners with a course record of 14:49, so there was a good chance I wouldn’t win. But it wasn’t the win I was interested in, I was keen to get another sub 16 minute run under my belt and having run 16:56 at Pennington I thought I should have a chance, particularly when I saw my old mate and Santa Claus world record holder, Paul Simons, had a 16:58 timing. Paul and I go back a long way, we used to compete against each other in the British League when he was Shaftesbury Barnet and I was Belgrave, and that has continued over the years in road relays. Now us two ‘Londoners’ are both based in the North West we see each other at various races and are still finishing within seconds of each other. So I was confident of a sub 17 minute run, although I did notice that Tommy Prenders had only run 16:50 and he had a 16:40 clocking at Pennington Flash.
We were a little late setting off and only arrived at the car park about 10 minutes before 9:00. Not the sort of preparation I normally like for a race but this was a parkrun and I’m pretty chilled out about them, I treat them as time-trials rather than races, so as long as I get a chance to warm up my muscles I’m ok. Mind you there was no need to panic anyway as the presentation of t-shirts before the race meant a very late start. Before the off I, almost literally, bumped into Ron Hill. Although I do some work for Ronhill and Hilly I’ve never actually spoken to Ron before so I introduced myself.
It was a nice morning, sunny with a bit of a chill in the air. It was warm enough standing in the sun, so I wasn’t too bothered by the delayed start. As we walked to the start line I looked ahead and wasn’t really sure where we were going to head, as the path appeared to fork. I asked the chap next to me and he pointed out the route and then said ‘but you won’t need to worry unless you’re in the lead’. I didn’t say anything at the time but I was thinking to myself that it was a possibility. As we set off I did indeed find myself in the lead. The course was well marked with arrows, unfortunately, with age, my eyesight is starting to fade at a greater proportion than my leg speed and I was approaching the signs quicker than my brain could register the direction to take. Thankfully there were plenty of marshals and they were a big help on the three occasions I had to check the route.
After the initial small loop it was nice to pass the start line again in a clear lead, to generous support from the spectators. As I came close to the start of the hill for the second time I noticed a bunch of runners on the corner. I recognised Andi Jones and his wife, it looked like a group of Salford Harriers ready for a training session. Needless to say they let me pass then started their rep session, running in the same direction as me. It brought back memories of my old fartlek training in Richmond Park, where we had a 5 minute rep on part of Ranelagh Harriers cross country course, occasionally there would be a race on as we were kicking off our rep. It was good fun as it gave you a load of runners to chase but I remember one occasion when a guy worked really hard up the minute long hill to try to hold onto me, only for me to stop at the top. I wasn’t going to fall into that trap today I let them go past without upping my pace and then I was on the hill.
The last bit around the lake seemed to take an age but I’d checked my watch and was confident of running sub 17. I relaxed, perhaps a bit too much, and then the finish which seemed to stretch on forever. I crossed the line in first place in a time of 17:04 and it was hard to hide my disappointment. I know some people can’t see why I would be disappointed with winning but my focus wasn’t on winning, it wasn’t a championship race, I wanted to run sub 17 to give me a booster for the next race. But, as always, the disappointment was short lived and I started my jog back around the course to thank the marshals and cheer on the other competitors.
Ray came through, running yet another pb, he seems to be setting them every week now. Next was Carole, leading home Ron Hill. She’s quite proud of the part she played in pacing Lee Riley in his training for the marathon world record, now she’s outpaced another multi-world record breaker, albeit a septuagenarian. And then Sharon came home in a course pb. So all 4 of us had set course pbs, with Ray setting an absolute 5k pb. Not a bad day on reflection. The disappointment of not breaking 17 minutes was soon forgotten as I thought of the fact that I have 7 parkrun wins under my belt this year, not bad for a man approaching his 47th birthday rather more rapidly than he would like.
All in all, though it’s not been my best year, the two months out through injury have definitely had an impact on my fitness levels and this is the first year since 1993 that I haven’t won a championship medal of any kind. But on the bright side I’ve helped others to achieve great things; Ray only has to wake up to set a pb, Lee has set 3 world records, and I have a number of other clients who are on their way to something great in the near future. And, more importantly, I am enjoying my running, even if it is a lot slower than my memories tell me I used to run. I know that I have the capability of running a good time in a race, it’s just a matter of when, so onto the next challenge, the next race is a 10k.
This weekend coming is the British and Irish Masters International Cross Country Championships. I’ve run it for the last 5 years, 4 times for Scotland and once for England. This year I didn’t make the team, but I know most of the runners who did, so I’d like to wish them a good run and enjoy the Scottish hospitality.
Now for the tale about Crimewatch. In our little training group we had a guy named Vic. Vic had a certain amount of talent when he was younger but family responsibilities took him away from running. I’m not entirely sure what brought Vic back to running but he was a good man to have in the group as he was a good judge of pace and would lead out one of the sub groups perfectly, he was also full of interesting stories and had a great way of telling them. Vic also like a drink and would often go home after training, collapse into an armchair with a few tinnies and fall asleep in front of the TV. On one such occasion he woke up while crimewatch was on and it just so happened that Adam was acting out the role of one of the criminals in a particular scene. Vic opened his eyes, saw Adam, heard the request for anyone who knew anything to contact the police and promptly phoned up the police.