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Wash Wizard cleans up on workplace workouts

wash wizard

Magic! Your workplace wash-mate

Workplace health and wellbeing is a big part of business for me at present, and encouraging staff to stay active through the working day is one of the ways in which companies can help build motivation and productivity.

But what if you’re not lucky enough to be in a building that offers showers for a post-workout freshen up? Picture the scene: you cycle to work, grab a lunchtime run or a midday gym session. Mind cleared, but body sweaty. No time or facilities to take a shower.

Options? Wet-wipe-wash or sweaty desk all afternoon. Neither is great for you or your workmates.

Good news! I just road-tested a third option, and it’s quick, discreet and – critically – effective. Wash Wizard is just perfect as a workplace post-workout clean-up. It’s a simple idea: a tightly-rolled sponge impregnated with sweat-busting aloe vera foam that takes up almost zero space in your work bag.

wash wizard

Wash Wizard: discreet and effective

Simply splash with water from your bottle to activate, swipe the bits that need freshening up, and you’re ready for the rest of your day. No need to rinse or towel dry, and it’s fragrance-free so suitable for both sexes.

At £7.99 for a pack of five, Wash Wizard is my latest affordable gymbag essential (brilliant for camping, sailing trips, overnight train journeys and festivals too).

Find out more about how your business can harness the  power of wellbeing at work to benefit both your staff AND your bottom line via our healthy workplaces service.

Perfect strawberry jam

homemade strawberry and prosecco jamI love eating homemade jam and marmalade, but I don’t generally enjoy making it. It’s that darned setting point that brings so much stress: when is a wrinkle enough of a wrinkle to count? What is the flake test? And how come you can’t always rely on the temperature (a super-precise 104.5degC) to bring a guaranteed set?

So I am delighted to share a recipe for the queen of summer jams – strawberry and prosecco jam – that actually works, and tastes utterly heavenly. Well, it worked for me today, although that is of course no guarantee it will work next time… Sigh.

Strawberry and prosecco jam

jam makingToday’s homemade jam triumph was largely based on a recipe I found on with some amends. Here’s my version:

800g hulled strawberries
1kg jam sugar
juice of half a lemon
200ml prosecco
knob of butter

Method: Place strawberries in a preserving pan and roughly crush with a potato masher. Add lemon juice and gently warm through before pouring in sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves without allowing the mixture to boil. Next, add prosecco and butter and increase the heat so the mixture comes to a rolling boil.

Maintain boil until the jam reaches magic setting temperature of 104.5degC. I use a probe thermometer. Check you have a proper set by carrying out the mysterious wrinkle test and hope for the best… before bottling your perfectly set strawberry and prosecco jam in sterilised jars.



My perfect post-workout recovery

Fitting fitness, nutrition, work and everyday chores into your life can be a challenge, which is why during a month of almost daily 90-minute Bikram yoga sessions I’ve had to be super-organised.

I’m not a huge fan of supplement shakes, mainly because I always favour ‘real’ food over powders, but I know that when I’m pushing myself on the fitness front my body really does benefit from a helping hand in the form of extra protein, healthy fats and the right kind of carbs.

Finding a grab-and-go recovery shake that tastes great and dissolves quickly as well as supporting my fitness is pretty important. And I must say that during my intensive Bikram month, USN whey protein shakes pretty much hit the spot for me when it came to post-practice recovery.

USN protein shake

Protein shake: the perfect recovery drink

I’m not a fan of chocolate so stuck with the strawberry flavour, and livened it up by replacing plain water with coconut water (utterly delicious!) or glugging in a splash of unsweetened almond milk. I’m a massive fan of maxing up those health benefits.

Having a protein shake to hand the minute I walked in the door after a long hot session in the studio was a so-simple, effective way to give myself an energy boost before jumping in the shower. It staved off the hunger pangs and meant I could drive on through to my next project without wasting time. Homemade power balls were my other secret weapon.

A USN shake was the perfect way to start the rehydration process as well as kicking off the repair process for stretched muscle tissue. A month in, and I felt stronger, leaner and revitalized. My running pace was faster and I was sleeping better. I also enjoyed one of my best ever ski trips, with improved endurance, strength and general fitness. Thanks Bikram Wimbledon and USN.

My next fitness project? Now the days are longer and getting warmer, it’s time to get back on my bike and start work on those legs, arms and lungs in preparation for this year’s 100-mile RideLondon-Surrey cycle sportive. We’re talking protein shakes, energy gels, isotonic drinks – and a whole heap of hills. Bring it on!

The benefits of Bikram yoga

I’ve been on a Bikram binge. Now it’s over, what’s my verdict?

A quick backgrounder: I signed up as a yoga novice for a £35/30-day unlimited classes offer at my local Bikram studio in a bid to improve my suppleness, flexibility and joint strength. I run and cycle frequently, so figured that something lower-impact would be a good way to supplement my 2015 fitness regime. And in the depths of winter, a roasting hot yoga studio has a lot more going for it than cold, wet circuits of Richmond Park…

The good: Where do I start? Some people are put off Bikram yoga by the heat – practice takes place in a studio heated to a sultry 40degC. Wonderful in the depths of winter, and I love the heat, so for me this was a massive bonus.

I managed to fit in 3-4 Bikram sessions a week and by the end of my 30-day membership:

  • I had lost half a stone. Whoop whoop!
  • I was able to run further with less effort: my lungs felt stronger and my breathing was more controlled.
  • My average running pace had increased.
  • I was feeling full of energy and motivation (hello, exercise-induced endorphins!).
  • My upper arms were tighter and stronger.

The bad: Each Bikram yoga session lasts 90 minutes, during which you follow a set pattern of moves led by a teacher. For me, trying to find time for this on a regular basis was quite a challenge and there’s no way I could maintain my 3/4 classes a week attendance. There’s also no way you could do without a full-on shower and hairwash after every practice given the amount of sweat that pours off. Nope, this is not an exercise habit that you can squeeze into a lunch hour.

The ugly: Definitely the size of the laundry pile. Hitting the studio on a regular basis means having to deal with a heap more washing than usual. Small price to pay, though, for the physical and mental benefits.

My verdict: Definitely recommend as a cross-training practice to support cardio activities as well as boost strength, suppleness and joint health. I feel in great shape for skiing, re-enthused for running, and am looking forward to seeing how much difference Bikram will make once I get back on my bike in prep for this year’s RideLondon-Surrey 100 miler.

Post-yoga energy balls

apricot and maca seed protein balls

Apricot and maca powder protein balls

Meet my new go-to post-Bikram energy booster: little balls of power that are quick and easy to make, taste great and are easy to digest after a 90-minute session in the studio.

Think lots of nuts for muscle-mending protein, maca powder for replenishing sapped energy reserves and dried apricots for a blood pressure-friendly potassium boost. Delicious, healthy and portable: pop a few in a pot and share them with your yoga buddies after your next Bikram practice.

To make a dozen or so small protein balls, blitz the following ingredients in a food processor then use your hands to squish the results into balls, roll in desiccated coconut (optional) and allow to harden a little in the fridge. The whole process should take about 15 minutes.


Mixed handful of dried apricots and goji berries
1/4 cup of cashew nuts
1/4 cup of almonds
1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of chia seeds
1.5 tablespoons of coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon of maca powder
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
a big pinch of ground salt flakes (after Bikram yoga you need to replenish the salt you have sweated out)
A couple of tablespoons of desiccated coconut



RideLondon 2014: conquering the weather

…because rain is temporary, quitting is forever.

RideLondon 2014

Piers and Nicola: we survived RideLondon-Surrey 2014

Imagine having constant buckets of water dumped on your head while you cycle in a bath with a high-pressure jet of filthy grit trained on your face. For five hours.

That was RideLondon-Surrey 2014.

On the plus side, it wasn’t raining when we started – so at least we weren’t standing around in wet clothing getting cold and miserable before we began. That would have been a potential deal-breaker. 
Conditions remained dry, in fact, until Canary Wharf (three miles down the road from the startline at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) where my husband Piers and I hooked up from our separate start waves to cycle in convoy.
It was our second RideLondon; last year’s event was marked by a crash caused by a jaywalker which almost put paid to our ride and pushed our chip time to seven hours plus. [Read about our 2013 RideLondon experience hereThis year we were hoping to complete the 100-mile circuit in 6h15.
We knew from the start, however, that was not going to happen: organisers had responded to the forecast of atrocious weather conditions and shortened the course to 86 miles by cutting out the big Surrey climbs of Leith Hill and Box Hill. Disappointing but understandable, given that we would be cycling in the slipstream of Hurricane Bertha.
So whatever Bertha had to throw at us, at least we knew it would be over relatively quickly.
Cycling through Central London on closed roads is a joy, although there was less sightseeing this year as it was heads down to escape the lashing rain. We glanced up to admire the moat of poppies at the Tower of London, though, and I remember catching a glimpse of Harrods as we pedalled past.
Spectators were few and far between – there’s not much appeal to standing on a kerb in the rain at crack of dawn on a Sunday – and I did feel sorry for the poor marshalls. There was a lot less banter between cyclists too compared with 2013 as we all dug deep to keep going despite being soaked to the skin.
Curtailing the course meant that no one was going to get a 100-mile PB, so riding was generally very restrained and most participants were cycling defensively and sensibly. We witnessed little in the way of crashes, but numerous mechanicals. The roadsides were littered with cyclists fixing punctures in the pouring rain – I spoke to one poor guy who had used up both his spare inner tubes within the first couple of miles.
Heavy rain means the road carries more grit and debris, turning cycle tyres into puncture magnets. Piers had stocked up on spares but we were lucky enough not to need them.
From Canary Wharf onwards, the rain was heavy and constant so it was just moments before we were both soaked to the skin. At least we couldn’t get any wetter, and it was warm as long as we kept moving.
Determinedly stuck to Piers’ back wheel, for speed and shelter, I wasn’t too aware of the scenery. We were soon shooting through Richmond Park, across Kingston Bridge and towards Hampton Court, where the rain really started to hammer down. Torrential doesn’t do it justice: we were cycling into a wall of water, battered by enormous, brutal raindrops from above and at times almost knee-deep in floods.
Hurricane Bertha was living up to her name: gusts blasted us sideways as she continued to dump buckets of water on our heads. From Hampton Court all the way to Ripley (miles 25-40), the monsoon did not let up. Fed up? I was actually laughing. This felt more like a Tough Mudder than a cycle sportive .
Molesey, Walton-on-Thames, Brooklands, Weybridge, Pyrford, Byfleet: all a blur of wet road, wet shopfronts, wet corners and skid-scary roundabouts. I really had no idea where we were most of the time, despite these being familiar training routes. The rain was so heavy you could barely make out road signs or landmarks. By this point, we were so thoroughly sodden, that even Piers’ ‘weather-proof’ Garmin cycle computer had drowned. Kudos to those dogged spectators who were still roadside cheering us on.
Massive appreciation to Piers too for guiding us safely round so many hazards. He was riding for Macmillan in memory of his father who died suddenly of a brain tumour earlier this year. What better reason to keep pedalling?
As we progressed along the shortened route, keeping our speed down in a bid to stay upright, it became very obvious why organisers had cut out Leith and Box Hills: the descents would have been treacherous rivers. The climbs would have been littered with casualties.
Meanwhile, on the rolling flats of Surrey, we were already negotiating flooded lanes, with burst drains, overflowing gutters and impromptu waterfalls spewing onto the road. The amount of visible tarmac was frequently no more than a foot wide, with gigantic, spreading puddles at the margins. Staying alert to hazards distracted from muscle ache and the discomfort of squelchy cycling shoes and soggy chamois.
The funniest thing we saw all day: an enraged motorist so frustrated by the closed roads that he screeched his car into a U-turn to avoid a road-block, only to skid and crash noisily into a van. I bet that made him feel better…
Mid-ride stop

Our first and only hub stop: rain-battered but still cheery

At the top of breezy Newlands Corner – the day’s first and pretty much only climb – we paused to fill our water bottles at the food hub but set off sharpish to avoid getting cold. Then it was more or less homeward bound.
The rain was easing off a bit by the time we got to Esher, although many parts of road were still utterly submerged – in places every pedal stroke saw cycle shoes disappear beneath the water. Kingston was pretty benign, and it was clear skies by Wimbledon.


Lovely to stop for a few words and hugs from the children, Piers’ mum and sister at the foot of Wimbledon Hill – thanks so much to them for turning out in the face of abysmal weather – then full-speed ahead for the final nine miles to The Mall.

We cycled central London in bright sunshine, crossing the finish line largely dry but caked in filth. Especially my face, after a five-hour grit jet-wash facial from Piers’ back wheel.

Would we do it again? Try and stop us!
The lowdown:
Chip time: 5h 26min
Riding time: 4h 58min
Average riding speed: 17mph
Nutrition: three caffeine mule gels (coffee flavour), one High5 energy gel (citrus flavour), one and a half Bounce bars, one banana, a bite of CNP energy bar, half a bag of dried mango. Three and a bit bottles of water containing High5 electrolyte sports tabs. V impressed (like last year) with service and supplies provided at food stations.
Most jawdropping moment: being overtaken by a guy riding a BMX bike. Standing up on a bike for 86 miles? Rather you than me, mate.
Hairiest moment: losing the back end and skidding round the final corner out of Raynes Park. Without falling off, phew!
‘Doh, why did I open my big mouth?’ moment: cycling in the rain (natch) up Newlands Corner, to Piers, “well at least it’s not torrential at the moment”. At which point there was a crack of thunder and the hill turned into a river as torrents poured out of the sky and down the road beneath our wheels.
Biggest achievement? Surviving and completing what has got to go down in history as the rainiest ever RideLondon-Surrey.

Bravo! ‘mangerbouger’ France

While I was skiing in the French Alps last week, it caught my eye that ads for Coca Cola and Powerade carried a healthy living message – like we see on ads for alcohol in the UK to encourage drinking in moderation.

French Powerade ad

Power up with Powerade France

Intrigued, I did some research, and yep, forget France’s reputation for heart attack cuisine, it turns out the government is pushing nutrition and exercise as a means to improve the nation’s health. And rather than paying for all advertising themselves, they’re are making food and drinks manufacturers push the wellness message on their behalf.

Brilliant huh? As a result, all processed food and drinks products with added sugar, sweeteners or salt, have to display the prominent message ‘Pour votre santé, évitez de manger trop gras, trop sucré, trop salé.’  ‘For your health, avoid eating too many fats, sugar and salt.’ Plus a link to the website

The programme for national health and nutrition (PNNS), which is behind the ongoing  campaign, has been in place since 2001 with the goal of improving health among the French population. And it’s scored some fine successes: a reduction in the number of overweight/obese children; a drop in the consumption of salt and sugar; and an increase in the amount of fruit eaten by adults.

But as its name suggests, the mangerbouger campaign doesn’t simply focus on nutrition. Physical activity is the second crucial message it promotes, recommending the equivalent of half an hour’s brisk walking daily for adults (an hour for children and teenagers).

French Coca Cola ad

Buvez, skiez! : Drink, ski!

So rather than attempting to ban or tax ‘unhealthy’ foodstuffs, the French Government is both spreading the message of mindful eating – be aware that this product may be higher in fat, salt or sugar than is necessarily good for you – and that combining exercise with consumption is the best way of improving your health. Plus they’ve roped in the multi-nationals to help pay for it.

Now that’s what I call a bonne idée.