GPS Activity Trackers – Surge vs Vivoactive HR

Forerunner Evolution

I’ve always been a fan of fitness gadgets and during my running life I have followed closely the Garmin Forerunner evolutionary path, seeking ever more specialist and techy running gear. This culminated with the world-class triathlete standard, Forerunner 910XT.

Forerunner Evolution
Forerunner 305, 405, FR60, 310XT, 920XT.

Now, as extremely loyal followers would know, way back in 2007 I competed in a pool based sprint triathlon and am therefore entitled to call myself a triathlete. I have however, begun to face facts relating to my world-class status in the sport and it has led me to question the need for such focus on multisport functionality. Even with running as my mainstay, I couldn’t really find a use for my stride length and vertical oscillation stats.

Besides, what all these watches lacked was 24/7 heart rate monitoring and that is of course essential in this day and age. I could have looked to the new range of wrist based HR mounted forerunners such as the Forerunner 735XT but it is still a world-class triathlete watch at heart. Feeling more comfortable with my amateur athlete status I looked to the activity tracking world where a few devices have been emerging with GPS functionality on the side.

Fitbit SurgeThe Fitbit Surge

Although its been around for a while now, the Fitbit Surge stood out from the crowd.

It’s a neat wrist watch that doesn’t draw attention to itself, includes a GPS unit and is built on the Fitbit infrastructure which is truly outstanding for activity and sleep tracking as well as social interaction.

The Fitbit Surge does feel a little bit dated now, it is black and white (or black and grey) and it takes a little getting used to the low contrast screen but the watch just works as its supposed to.

The GPS picks up quickly and the runs are recorded without fuss, the default running screen doesn’t tell me my vertical oscillation or position against a virtual running partner but I find I don’t use any of that stuff anyway. Nowadays I just press start, run, press stop, stop and I’m done. The Surge does that extremely well and then it syncs in seconds and if I like, it’s up there on Strava before I’ve caught my breath.

Activity tracking is of course brilliant with the Fitbit Surge and you don’t even need to tell the watch you are doing something. I use my eBike to get into work, it’s a pedelec which means I have to pedal and my Fitbit therefore recognises it as an outdoor bike ride, my heart rate shows this to be a relatively relaxed bike ride (due to the assistance) but it recognises the activity nonetheless. It does the same for my badminton sessions although it marks these as Other activity type for me to amend at a later date.

To be honest, if you gave me a splash of colour and a brighter screen, the Surge would almost be my favourite fitness watch ever.

Tooting Bec LidoBut then I took up swimming again!

For some reason I ventured into the Lido at Tooting and was completely hooked. The thrill of the cold plunge has given me an addictive buzz and a new activity to track which revealed a flaw in the Surge make-up.

It is not waterproof and will therefore not track swimming activities.

So, I could stick with the Surge and get a swim only watch (I’m ignoring the low tech option of manually recording my swims), or I could see what was available in the market for GPS activity trackers with swim functionality.

Enter the Garmin Vivoactive HR.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR

Garmin Vivoactive HRIt claimed to do everything that the Fitbit Surge had to offer but with so much more: detailed graphical outputs on the watch display – in full crisp colour, automatic activity detection, sleep tracking, golf and ski tracking (like I care) and the big one, Swim functionality.

DC Rainmaker seems to love the Garmin Vivoactive HR and quite neatly points out the disparity in features available:

Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here.  While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge.  Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.

It’s true, you can do stacks of stuff with the Vivoactive HR and you can do it all so beautifully. The watch is a miniaturised version of the Garmin Connect app and provided you have your specs on you can see weekly charts of all your main stats. It’s almost glorious.

But only almost.

When it comes down to the battle of GPS activity trackers, with the aged Fitbit Surge vs Garmin Vivoactive HR, the young flashy whipper snapper should win hands down. But Garmin is not getting my vote this time. In fact after 3 weeks trialling it, I’ve packed the Vivoactive HR into its box and sent it back to Amazon as a bad job.

Problems with the Garmin Vivoactive HR

It’s not a great activity tracker for one and the auto exercise detection didn’t work for me once. You may say that e-biking isn’t real cycling and while I wouldn’t agree, Garmin obviously would. Despite the wrist unit registering my heart rate hovering around 120 bpm for the duration of my 40 minute ride into work, I arrived at my desk at about 9:30 am to find no exercise recorded and as a further slap in the face, the vivoactive HR was declaring me to be still soundly asleep. I think that’s pretty pants on both the activity and sleep tracking front.

Its next major failing and the nail in the coffin for my short life with the vivoactive HR was its swim tracking functionality. Firstly, its not very good at counting laps so I still had to keep count in my head. If you jostle during a length, perhaps to grab a wayward noseclip, or to sight the end of the pool, the watch records a new length regardless of whether that would generate a world record lap or not. I find that quite inconvenient although it seems to be a flaw shared by all the swim watches and one that Garmin make particularly tricky to correct post swim. In fact they don’t make it possible at all but you can use third-party apps such as the brilliant swimmingwatchtools to correct.

Secondly, the touch screen functionality of the Vivoactive HR makes it particularly unsuitable for swimming. I’ve managed to delete no end of swims, mid-swim, by unintentional screen swipes. I’ve pressed the button to pause the swim during a rest at the end of the length and then adjusted my goggles or swim cap only to find that the action has deleted the entire activity. Hopping mad doesn’t come close!

Surge vs Vivoactive HR

Surge vs Vivoactive HRAs a result I have deemed the Vivoactive HR to be wholly unacceptable for swim recording and therefore why would I not go back to the Fitbit Surge with its flawless execution, its superb app and its world domination of my friends list?

I can’t help looking for a fitness watch that would do it all and do it well though…….

Sporty Clobber Reviews

Specialized Exchelon

I’ve been sent an assortment of sporty clobber to review this spring. Here are the highlights.

Specialized Echelon Helmet

Cycleplan sent me a new Specialized helmet to review this month. I’ve had my original Giro helmet for years and was quite happy with it although I’d been struggling to get a good fit in the last few months. The foam padding must have lost much of its volume and the straps were resisting further tightening with the result being a decidedly loose and wobbly helmet.

Specialized ExchelonAll this added to the contrast when I tried on the new Specialized Echelon helmet. There is a ratchet closure on the back of the helmet which you engage with an easy access dial. This tightens and loosens the plastic cage that rests on your head ensuring a really snug fit. You can amend it while riding if you have an unexpected big hair day and I am already completely sold on this added flexibility.

I’ve used it everyday for the last month and love it. It’s light, feels secure and has managed to keep my head reasonably dry through these horrendous storms we’ve been having. I’m impressed.

JimmyCASE Phone Case

JimmyCASEWhen I was offered this open fronted case I wasn’t sure whether to accept or not. I usually go for a really crusty looking flip top case that protects every corner of my phone and I was worried that I would be adding vulnerability with the JimmyCASE.

I’m really glad I gave it go though, its such a beautiful, well-made case and as I seem to have developed butter fingers in recent weeks, I can also confirm that it is sturdy and protective and has held together for 5 quite dramatic phone drops.

It was offered to me as the ideal phone case for sporty types due to its ingenious elastic wallet on the rear of the case. This enables you to stash the essentials like credit card, parkrun token and emergency money without the need to carry a wallet or purse. I’ve got my oyster card and swim membership snuggly attached to my iPhone case and now can almost guarantee that I will never be without them.

It’s quite a pricey case $39 USD (with free international postage currently on offer) but it really feels worth it. The rear of the case is made from a lovely grained mahogany, you can choose the colour of the elastic wallet and the front of the case has a protective lip of rubber.

I’ll be sticking with JimmyCASE from now on and will be buying my own replacement when the next iPhone comes out.

TomboyX Pants

These were sent to me to review under the guise of sports underwear. I don’t really think they have features that make them suitable for sports. They have seams for instance so you wouldn’t want to cycle long distances in them and there is rather too much pant for running in my opinion.

While they may not pass as active sportswear I do really love the style of TomboyX pants. I realise I probably don’t look great in them (I will save you that visual trauma), but I do feel great in them and am always very happy to use them apres sport. They are particularly cosy after a cold outdoor swim.


Wild by Nature – by Sarah Marquis

If you like Wild – A Journey from lost to found, I think you’ll love Wild by Nature.

The author is true explorer, made in the mould of latter day brave folk like Scott and Amundsen. Sarah Marquis won my admiration through the course of this book but I wouldn’t like to follow in her footsteps. This particular journey was 10000 miles from Mongolia to Australia and crossed some entirely inhospitable regions. Mongolia in particular stands out as entirely unpleasant place to go for a walk.

I can’t imagine knowingly making myself so vulnerable. In Mongolia she enters an illegal vodka yurt, desperate for water but finds only vodka and no friendly faces. By nightfall the unfriendly faces are following her on horseback, intending to intimidate and rob her. She’s entirely capable of handling herself against drunken buffoons but it seems every night is to be like this, with camps chosen for their obscurity from an ever-present threat.

My abiding thought while reading this was why? Why would you do that to yourself. I absolutely wouldn’t that’s for sure but Marquis still inspired me. I haven’t booked a flight to Outer Mongolia yet but I did turn my back on the treadmill this morning so I could run round the common. Squelching in the mud, observing the trees and the moss. Just being, for a while.

Atlas wearables wristband review

Atlas wristband

The Atlas wristband is an activity tracker aimed at athletes interested in free and body weight exercises.

When it appeared on Indiegogo around 18 months ago, it looked like the bees knees to me. I had just started weightlifting using the Stronglifts routine and imagined I might also dabble with the Olympic lifts one day.

Frankly the Atlas wristband seemed to be the perfect next gadget for my wrist. Never again would I need to tax my memory counting to five (Stronglifts is a 5×5 rep and set sequence) and I could throw out a manic crossfit style wod in the garden with every move captured for future analysis.

I ordered it at great expense and then the wait began. It was over a year from order to delivery so I was very lucky that I was still dabbling with weightlifting – not many of my fads last that long. Even then I had to wait a bit longer as my original device was dead on arrival.

When a working model did arrive I rushed outside full of glee for a Stronglifts session.

It was a complete flop.

I had set up a custom stronglifts routine with barbell squat, barbell bench press and deadlift included. I thought it might help the Atlas wristband to detect the correct exercise if it only had 3 to choose from. It seems not.

While it did manage to detect my the squat, it couldn’t count them accurately and refused pointedly to recognise my chest press.

I tried a few more times and had more success using the freestyle list of exercises rather than a fixed routine. It seems that the more exercises it has to choose from the better. It’s not that the Atlas device gets more accurate but it is more likely to register some form of exercise that can at least be corrected to the right form, either on the wristband or afterwards within the app.

If you can’t get the Atlas to register at least one of the exercises you can’t manually add it at a later point. I actually took to writing down my routine so I could alter the recordings after the event.

That was the last straw really, I had a perfectly good app for recording my Stronglifts routine and I didn’t see the benefit of creating yet another logging chore. The Atlas wristband went into the bottom drawer to await a firmware update or two.

Today I dragged it out again to see if the device was now working in a fit for purpose fashion.

Here are my squats, or are they actually deadlifts?

That still strikes me as a big fail.
It recognised the next set but only counted 4 of my 5 reps.

If you look at Amazon they have a mixed bag of reviews but on the whole people seem to be impressed. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong but as far as I’m concerned this device needs to go back into the bottom drawer or better still, eBay.

It’s acknowledged that the device detects exercises based on the movement of the wristband through space. It attempts to recognise the 3D path from a library of movements performed to a set form. You are supposed to watch the video and amend your form to match and it could be that my rendition of a squat or a bench or a deadlift just bears little resemblance to good form. I would prefer the device to cut me a little slack and recognise or learn what my squat looks like and perhaps with a bit more development time Atlas will do just this. There is the suggestion that in the future it will be able to learn new exercises so it ought to be able to learn old ones too.

It would be a pretty useful feature to tell me that my squats are off so that I can work on improving them, better at least than telling me they are deadlifts….

I just don’t think I have the patience to wait for many more updates and may have to go back to counting myself.

Overview of the Atlas wristband


  • One of the few activity monitors directed at weightlifters
  • Wrist based heart rate monitoring
  • A varied list of exercises
  • Potential to give useful trend information
  • Potential to improve form
  • Atlas appear to be actively engaged in the improvement and development of the device


  • Atlas wristbandAtlas can’t count
  • Atlas doesn’t consistently recognise exercises
  • Without the two points above the stats such as speed are pointless
  • The heartrate monitoring is a bit hit and miss
  • Its ugly and bulky and can’t be worn with wrist straps
  • Its expensive
  • Its impossible to read in daylight


Lance Armstrong and The Program

The Program

Ben Foster joins his own program, taking performance enhancing drugs to convincingly portray Lance Armstrong in The Program. He develops an uncanny resemblance to the fallen cyclist and at times I can’t tell them apart as the film switches between archive footage and acting.

The Program

I’d guess that most people with a sporting inclination would know the nuts and bolts of the Lance Armstrong story, from cancer hero to lying and scheming drug cheat.

At the time I was so convinced by Lance’s story that I defended him against the naysayers like journalist David Walsh, right up to the point he sat down with Oprah and finally came clean about his betrayal. I felt naive and foolish.

The ProgramMy passions have run very high over this story, and The Program had the potential to throw my emotions all over the place. Unfortunately it missed the mark and was actually a strangely flat film, just a simple retelling of a journalistic investigation. Very low on emotion but an interesting story nevertheless.

There was a moment when Lance as a young, ambitious and successful American rider, was told by a fellow racer that he’d stand no chance in Europe where he was riding against cheats and lots of them. It was a terrible situation and I came close to forgiving him for his weakness, but that was swept away fairly quickly as we watched Lance bring his team onboard The Program, bullying and cajoling. Introducing them to the team Doctor, Michele Ferrari, who would administrate the drugs and teach them how to cheat the system.

I thought the doctor was one of the more interesting characters, he seemed to be driven by scientific enthusiasm and a drive to exploit human endurance potential, rather than money and power and I could imagine being convinced by him as either a young scientist or gifted athlete.


The Program

Insomnia: The Activity Tracker Showdown

Fitbit sleep tracking

Many people will have gone to bed last night with a degree of melancholy angst. Like me they will have forlornly switched the alarm back on after the luxury of 10 back to back lie ins.

I fell asleep then woke, bolt upright at 2:30 am full of dread about my imminent return to work.

Two DotsI tossed. I turned. I got up and played Two Dots for 90 finger tapping minutes.

I contemplated cycling into work at 4am but thought better of it and dragged myself back upstairs where I promptly fell back to sleep.

Moments after, my 07:15 alarm went off and seemingly only seconds later the emergency 07:50 alarm blared.

Aargh. I need a new job. Should anyone have a spare job which would allow me to work from home and play with spreadsheets, I will take it.

Looking at the stats for my night I see there is a stark contrast between my two activity trackers of choice. On my left wrist was the Garmin 920XT on my right, a new Xmas treat, the Fitbit Charge HR.

Sleep according to Garmin

I think from my intro, I’ve made it clear that I did not have a great nights sleep. Why then would the Garmin declare this to be one of my best kips ever?

9 blissful hours asleep with only 18 waking minutes in the middle. What happened to the Two Dots interlude?

The Fitbit on the other hand appears to be a master at sleep tracking and insomnia detection.

It ascertained that I had completely given up on sleep as a concept and split my night completely in two, which is just as I remember it.

Fitbit sleep tracking
Insomnia according to Fitbit

Fitbit knows its sleep! Garmin is pants!

Purition Protein Shakes

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.10.23

Over the last year or so I’ve been shifting my focus from running to weight training and have therefore become much more concerned about the protein content of my foods. Ideally I would aim to have a portion of protein with every meal or snack and that’s where the convenience of a protein shake comes in handy.

There is a massive choice of protein supplements on the market but some are packed with dross.

Here’s a snapshot of the ingredient list from Myoplex Lite, a protein shake that I have actually used in past but obviously haven’t scrutinised the rather unnerving list of oddities that I’ve been consuming as a result.Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.10.23

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.13.01In contrast, Purition protein shakes claim to offer “real food” shakes and their ingredient list contains only recognisable food products such as nuts and seeds.

One of the downsides of real food shakes is that they don’t mix terribly well, they don’t include fillers or milk powders and so shaking them up with water is not very successful. Instead you need to add to the milk of your choice and blend with a mechanical blender.

Here’s my pistachio purition shake blended with 250 ml of raw milk. The sediment begins to settle pretty quickly so you can either stir as you drink or deal with some grainy stuff at the end.

Strangely enough, the purition shakes taste like whizzed up nuts in milk, fairly bland and a bit grainy. Not unpleasant but not terribly exciting either.

They work fine on a “food is fuel” basis, packing 20 g of protein per sachet.

Purition shakes are recommended as either a breakfast or lunch replacement and cost about £2 per sachet before you factor in the cost of your milk of choice.

I am quite happy to have scrambled egg for breakfast which is the ultimate real food in my mind which only leaves lunch or a post workout snack as potential options.

My lunches are usually the least nutritious meal of the day but as I don’t have a blender at work I will have to experiment with pre-whizzed versions of Purition and make sure I give it a good shake before I drink. I’m sure it will be fine and will certainly be an improvement on a Pret sandwich.


Stromer ST1 eBike Review

Stromer ST1The Stromer ST1 pedelec was a tricky purchase to make. I have a glut of bikes in the house and this new one was going to cost the same as a brand new Vespa scooter.

The view from the household was that I should quit being lazy and just get on my push-bike.

That refrain has been heard before but has very limited effect I’m afraid. The fact is, that although I love the ride into work; the speed, the ducking and diving, the excitement of reaching London and its bridges and parks – I just can’t be bothered with the ride home. After a hard day’s work, when it’s dark and usually wet, I just can’t face the upward climb towards an unattractive suburb of Croydon.

So I’ve been using pay as you go oyster far more than I’d like. I’m not prepared to buy a money-saving season ticket and tie myself in for a year of public transport drudgery.

That’s where the Stromer comes in. It’s got to be close to being the worlds best eBike. Super fast, long-range and I don’t feel like a nob riding it.

It’s a pedelec eBike which means it doesn’t have a throttle and only provides motor assistance if you are putting in some effort. You can actually put in as much effort as you can on a standard bike but you are rewarded more handsomely for it. The extra assistance cuts out at a pre-defined max (28 mph).

A lot of people assume that it is cheating and that I won’t be getting any exercise by choosing to use an eBike, but they are wrong. Well not about the cheating bit, I would have wasted a lot of money if it wasn’t cheating, but I certainly get a good dose of exercise from the commute. I’ve monitored my heart rate on the journey into work and back so I can compare the effort on an eBike with the effort of a standard road bike (Specialised Sirrus). I was quite surprised.

The chart shows my heart rate against distance, with the eBike in Orange and my standard road bike in blue.

Heart rate on a Stromer ST1 ride

On the way in to work my heart rate is actually higher on the eBike. What you can’t see from the chart is the time taken, its much faster on the eBike, so although I may be putting in more effort while I’m riding, I’m not doing it for as long. On the way home my effort levels are lower and I still get home 20 minutes quicker. That is exactly what I wanted – a fun ride in and a more relaxed trip home.

What is like to ride a pedelec eBike?

The ride is thrilling. Obviously push-bike riding can be thrilling if you ride fast enough but the joy of the Stromer is that it makes me feel fit and energetic everyday. That’s a great feeling.

When I first started, I tended not to lead the peloton too often. I didn’t like to draw too much attention and also didn’t feel quite so agile on this heavy beast of a bike. After a month of riding that’s changed though and I ride freely, regularly leading my own Gurney races.

Gurney racing at #sixdaylondon #gurney #velodrome

A video posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

The weight of the bike which is not insubstantial made it quite tricky to manoeuvre as a novice. You can’t flip the back wheel up while on the move for instance but that can also be an advantage as it offers stability and slow speed moves are made a little easier.

Stromer ST1 ReviewThe power transmission from the rear wheel motor is pretty smooth. It feels like you have a supportive hand on your back just pushing you gently forward.

There are 4 assist levels:

0 – which I presume means zero assist. I had thought I’d use this for the ride into work but really, why would you. The bike weighs a tonne and the unassisted ride feels like riding with the brakes on.

1 – is supposedly just enough assist to eradicate the slowing effect of the weight of the bike and the motor. It should set you on a level playing field with the other cyclists. It feels to be slightly more performance enhancing than it suggest in my experience.

2 – This is where I spend most of my time. I ride between 18 and 22 mph – not too fast for the Central London conditions. It’s a stop start commute and I appreciate the extra help to get back up to speed.

3 – top supported speed is higher than 2 but I don’t find the transmission to be as smooth, I can feel it powering up as I pedal hard and then it drops off again in waves. For the pace I like to travel at, level 3 just doesn’t feel comfortable.

4 – this is fast! Top supported speed 28 mph. For the stop start London commuting experience I find this too fast and hardly use it. There is one straight stretch on the way home that I like to power along though so I tend to flick to assist 4 and then back down to 2 when the roads get more gnarly again. If I had a less congested commute I would probably live at Level 4.

You also have 2 levels called Recup 1&2 which are also triggered by the application of the rear wheel brake. This applies electrical braking which also recharges your battery a bit and extends the distance range before your battery flattens.

What is the Distance Range of the Stromer ST1?

I’m afraid I haven’t tested this out fully and will need to come back and update this review.

The manufacturer claim a distance range of 40-80km for a 70kg rider. Now I’m a 100kg rider with luggage, half of my journey is at night which uses the integral light – another drain on the battery, so I’m unlikely to get 80km out of it.

My daily commute is 36 km and I arrive home with about 2 bars left on the battery indicator. What I have yet to do, in the name of blogging science, is to continue riding around and around my block until I run out of assistive steam. I want to make sure I’m close to home when the battery flattens as the unassisted ride is quite an effort!

***UPDATE on Stromer ST1 Motor Failure***

As soon as I finished writing this post, gushing about the joys of eBike riding, disaster struck.

I was mid way home, about to power away on a standing start at a junction. I pushed on the pedals, nothing happened, I pushed harder, still nothing untill I wobbled and tipped pathetically to the side while the other vehicles impatiently pushed me aside.

The Stromer ST1 was not playing at all, it was stuck in brake mode and it felt like I was trying to move a spin bike on the highest resistance. Worse still my monitor was flashing the message HALL. Of course that meant nothing so I googled it. Apparently it means “Motor failure – contact dealership”. That is not what I wanted to read so far from home. I tried switching off and on and eventually the message disappeared but the bike was no longer the same.

The Stromer is heavy and unwieldy at the best of times, when it decides it’s not going to work anymore it is quite a pain to get home. You can’t just bundle it in a taxi or the back of a train. I switched it off and tried pedalling anyway but it still felt like a high resistance spin bike. On the bright side, my return commute was going to be an amazing quad workout.

I did get home eventually and the UK dealer (Urban eBikes) have been very good, they are coming around tomorrow to pick it up and repair it for me, so it looks like I’ll have to dust off the oyster pay as you go for another week while they repair or replace the motor.

***Second Update on Stromer ST1 and Rider Performance***

I’ve just seen a fascinating youtube video by Adam Alter, showing a Stromer ST2 rigged up with a power meter and BSXInsight Lactate Threshold device with the rider powering up a substantial hill.

It nicely illustrates that the effort levels of the rider can still be high when riding an s-pedelec, its just that the rewards are so much greater.

Quest Protein Bars on the Settle to Carlisle Way

Quest protein bar

Settle to Carlisle WayI was recently sent a vast variety of Quest protein bars, enough to consider cancelling my grocery shop for the week. As their arrival coincided with our planned mega hike along the Settle to Carlisle Way, I chose instead to stash them into our rucksacks for emergency sustenance.

That proved to be a good move.

Quest bar on the Settle to Carlisle WayPubs up North seem to keep odd hours and you wouldn’t believe the times we staggered off a Pennine hillside desperately seeking the pub marked on our OS map, only to find it was either shut or we had just missed the food serving window.

Still, I can confirm that when all else fails, a Quest protein bar proves to be a good accompaniment to a pint of Theakstones.

Quest protein barThe Quest bars all have a similar texture; a chewy protein matrix with what appears to be chunks of real cookies running through. Looking at the ingredient list tells me that it hasn’t so much as sniffed a real cookie so I think that’s quite an impressive trick.

In terms of taste, I’d say things like “not too bad”, “reasonably pleasant” but then you can’t get overly effusive about a protein bar. People don’t buy protein bars because they think they taste better than chocolate bars, they buy them because they are avoiding carbs, trying to eat protein with every meal and need something more convenient than a chicken breast. It’s only when you stack protein bars of different brands against each other that you start to feel more positively about Quest bars.

I have tried some fairly horrendous protein bars in my time, so by comparison these Quest bars are pretty darn good. I still came back with handful though, so they weren’t quite good enough to dissuade me from carrying them one end of Yorkshire t’other.

Nosh Detox


Nosh Detox deliveryI’ve been sent a lot of free food this month, the latest being a 3 day supply of lovingly prepared detox grub from Nosh Detox.

I chap came round on Sunday evening and presented me with 3 boutique style bags of food; Ocado never manage to make their deliveries look so chic.

It was rather exciting to unpack the sealed pouches of food and see what I had in store for the next few days. There was a fair smorgasbord and I struggled to find space for in the fridge. Whenever I embark on a DIY detox I very quickly run out of ideas and settle for the same old meals day in and day out. With the Nosh Detox program, there was an impressive variety of meals supplied, with only a green bean and onion snack repeated across the 3 days.

Nosh Detox was set up by Geeta Sidhu-Robb who was inspired by her success in helping her son recover from eczema and asthma by means of natural supplementation and clean eating. Now Nosh Detox aim to use natural wholefoods to rebalance the body’s nutrient deficiencies and provide their meal plans to high performance individuals from athletes to the stereotypical hard working city person as well as people looking for health solutions due to bad eating habits and nutrient deficiencies.

Nosh Detox offer a range of detox options, including juice detoxes and a variety of wholefood options. I chose the whole food No Sugar No Yeast detox option for my 3 days.

Nosh Detox Day 1Day 1 started with a brown rice porridge which I had cold as I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be eating everything cold and raw. Mid morning I had a green bean and onion snack and then moved quickly to the chick pea, aubergine and onion salad for lunch. The afternoon snack was an anti-inflammatory turmeric and cauliflower saute, followed by a chicken stirfry for tea. I couldn’t manage another cold meal at this point and opted to heat the stirfry over a dry frying pan.

There was plenty of food for one day!

A bit of a trend was noted across the 3 days for quite large portions of the same food. So with the chickpea salad it was a large bowl comprised almost entirely of chickpeas. While I’m never one to complain about a hefty portion I did find it a bit samey by the end of my meal.  Over the course of day though, I found there was plenty of variety across the 5 meals.

Mint CoolerThe food pouches themselves weren’t labelled but each bag contained a menu for the day so I knew what to select as I left for work. The lack of labelling led to a few shocks. The vibrant green cocktail for my morning snack in Day 2 was very definitely pea green but tasted nothing like peas. When I got home I checked the menu to discover that it was actually a cucumber and mint cooler, not a pea in sight.

The food Nosh Detox produce is seasonal with menus developed on the day of cooking so you are unlikely to find that your menus would match those that I received. The photos should give you an idea of how fresh and vibrant you can expect the dishes to be though.

This seasonal approach probably makes it quite difficult to provide detailed nutritional information but as I’m used to studying the ingredient list and macronutrient content of my foods I found this a bit uncomfortable . The recipes are however gluten free, dairy free, egg free and mostly nut free so there’s not much left to cause concern. All Nosh Detox customers are open to having a complementary health chat on the phone with a health coach or nutritionist which can be either booked at the end or the beginning of their program and this is a great opportunity to discuss any concerns.

The food was obviously made with care and designed to reduce inflammation and generally enhance your wellbeing but it’s very expensive. For one person, a weeks supply of whole food dishes will cost in the region of £400 which is pretty hard to swallow.

However, if you have that sort of money you’ll probably be working all hours and might appreciate having someone take the stress out of finding healthy foods for your every meal. Even if you will end up cooking for yourself in the long run, this is a great way to increase your repertoire and get ideas for healthy new foods. You are likely to feel great after the first week of detox too.

I myself discovered the delight of coconut chip snacks and the satisfaction of a well cooked spear of asparagus. Nosh Detox sauté their asparagus so it has a definite crunch while I have been steaming mine to within an inch of mush. Never again, my asparagus days start over.

Huel complete Food for Humans


I’ve always been a bit sniffy about meal replacement shakes but when I first heard about Huel in a recent Times article I felt more intrigued than judgemental. It seemed to be selling itself as an ethical, low allergenic alternative to real food and not as a quick fix diet shake. So when I was offered a week’s supply of Huel to try out, I obviously jumped at the chance.

Huel is vegan, dairy free, soy free, gluten-free food replacement product and claims to be nutritionally complete providing at least 100% of the UK Governments Reference Nutrient Intakes. Personally I’d rather not trust the Government with decisions about my health but at least they’ve opted to follow the UK model rather than the US Government’s view of a healthy diet.

If I were to claim affinity to any particular nutritional bandwagon it would have to be Weston A Price with its focus on traditional foodstuffs, well reared meat and fermented products so Huel doesn’t fit in so well with that – it’s hardly traditional to live off mail order powder and there isn’t even a sniff of an animal product, well reared or not. The ingredient list is pretty tame, there isn’t a single product that I could complain about with the bulk comprised oats, pea protein coconut, flaxseed and sunflower seed.

When I took delivery of my weeks supply of Huel, I planned to trial a 100% Huel day based on 1500 cals. Here’s my day’s supply weighed out and combined ready for use. By the time I had made it through the first 8 hours or so of my day and consumed my breakfast and lunch Huel, I was getting pretty desperate and I decided to change the experiment and adopt a more sustainable approach of 2 on and 1 off.

Quite a lot of people choose to substitute Huel for breakfast and lunch and then opt for their typical evening meal with the family. This seems eminently sensible to me. Breakfast is usually the most nutritionally lacking meal in most people’s diets. Unless I can bothered to cook up an egg meal I rarely get a satisfactory level of protein in the first meal of the day. Huel at least ensures that I get a good kick-start with a so-called balance of carbs, protein and fat. Lunch is a bit easier to control but if I haven’t bothered to make myself a pack up chicken salad I find myself spending a fortune on organic produce near work and I’m happy to swap a £7 salad for a 96p bottle of Huel (300 cals worth), safe in the knowledge that my nutritional needs are accounted for.

I admit, it is poor to design an experiment and then change the goalposts half way through implementation but if you want to read about someone who has jumped on the 100% bandwagon and has so far stuck at it for 3 unhappy days, check out Ed Wiseman who is in the midst of 7 day Huel experiment.

I’ve now been using Huel for 12 days and I’m really happy with it. I weigh out the powder in the morning and mix to about a 1:5 ratio of powder to water (you can amend to your desired consistency). I do find that Huel is quite resistant to mixing and it takes a fairly hefty blast with handheld blender. I haven’t tried the shaker approach but can only imagine that it would result in major lumps.

Huel is not particularly tasty but neither is it vile. I’d describe it as a strangely sweet, runny porridge. Its bland really, but I’ve always found that bland works pretty well for me, it seems to turn off all my high alert, food-neediness sensors.

On a normal, non Huel day, I typically have breakfast, arrive at work and start wondering if its ok to have my morning snack of cashew nuts, then an hour or so later I start clock watching til 12 noon when I think I can reasonably start on my lunch. With Huel, I start the day with a pint of the whizzed up concoction and although I do feel hungry in the morning, I know that the Huel is sitting there waiting for me and I can eat it (or drink it) whenever I like. I just don’t seem to “like” that much. On Huel days I regularly make it through til 2-ish before I finally crack the lunchtime supply open.

As someone who constantly struggles with my weight and any form of dietary restriction, I find this behaviour to be a revelation and one that I want to hang on to.

So 12 days in I feel good, healthy, lighter, slimmer and I’ve saved money on my grocery bill. That’s a bit of an obvious thing to say given that my first bag of Huel was a freebie but I did buy the second bag. A weeks supply of Huel (based on 2000 Huel calories per day) costs £45 and at the moment comes with a free t-shirt (I like mine), a shaker and a metal drinks bottle.

Hacking the Huel

They have a fairly active customer forum at Huel and there seems to be an acceptance of altering the mix or spicing it a bit. Here are my suggestions for hacking the Huel.

Changing the Flavour

I’ve already said that the bland flavour works for me so I don’t want to dabble with the flavouring and make this a moreish product, having said that I did try adding the dregs of my black Americano one morning and it was surprisingly good. Other users have tried an assortment of flavour enhancers including syrups, coffee powders and cinnamon.

Altering the MacroNutrient mix

I don’t buy into the Governments view of what constitutes a healthy diet and would prefer to have some more control based around my personal requirements. So while Huel is currently constructed around a 30 30 40 split (fat, protein, carbs), I would prefer to increase the protein and fat at the expense of the carbohydrate. When I’ve been weight training I add some additional grass fed whey powder and/or collagen to the mix. Obviously it adds to the calories but it also shifts the macronutrient mix in favour of protein.

Making it Live

I’m also a big fan of fermented products and kombucha, yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut are a regular addition to my diet. Since opting for two Huel meals a day I’ve reduced my opportunity to sneak in my home-made Bulgarian heritage yoghurt, and that’s a bit of a tragedy as I have to maintain the lactobacillus line. I’ve started to sneak a bit into my morning Huel to ‘live’en it up a bit which also has the benefit of taking the edge off the sweetness. As with all additions though, it affects the nutrient mix and the calorie content.

Final View

I don’t see why anybody without complex health needs or a psychological aversion to food, would choose to use Huel as a complete food replacement. It’s quite possible to do and might well be more nutritious than most people’s dietary alternatives, but food means so much more than just nutrition and I don’t ever want to lose the joy of sitting down to a good meal with friends and family.

I do think that there could be a longterm role for Huel in my life though. I’ve already ordered my next weeks supply and will continue to adopt a breakfast and lunch replacement for the forseeable future. I’m impressed with the level of food control I seem to have developed while using Huel and the result is that I’ve been losing weight but I also feel good, my energy levels are up and my mood is steady. If I were to try to restrict my consumption in a similar way using “normal” foods, I’d be going up the wall within a day.

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