Thursday, November 5, 2015


by  Mariane Wray

Those of you who have been to Luang Prubang before know that it is a UNESCO World Heritage area on the banks of the Mekong River, with many beautiful temples and the ritual giving of alms to the monks every morning. It is well worth a visit. This time, my second visit to Luang Prubang, co-ordinated a holiday with an opportunity to assist the local population, whilst participating in an international event that allowed me to experience the local culture and people?
Recently, six girlfriends and I travelled to Luang Prubang in Laos to compete in ‘La Procession’, the third annual Half Marathon. 21.2kms is the longest distance on offer in this event, but other options are 7km or 14km individual, or a three person team with each team member completing one 7km lap each.

The course was three laps of a 7km loop around the historical centre, and it was beautiful. The locals and race volunteers were all out in force, and provided excellent support and morale throughout the race. Local kids from one of the schools waved flags and cheered runners on throughout the race, and were more of a highlight than the amazing scenery, international field, and numerous water stops.

The event this year was held on October 16th. Entry fees were high - over $100 USD - but the event does away with traditional Asian race niceties, such as prize giving and medals for all finishers. Even the organising committee and race day helpers all complete the tasks voluntarily, and all the funds raised are spread across local causes that benefit local people. This year, funds raised were distributed across the three agencies below, all of which work in youth health and education;

Friends Without a Border, and the Lao Friends Hospital for Children:
Friends Without A Border (Friends) is a not-for-profit organisation based in New York City, and is committed to providing high-quality and compassionate healthcare to the children of Southeast Asia. In 1999, Friends built and opened the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and in the spring of 2015,  opened Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC).

Eau Laos Solidarité (ELS) & the GirlsHygiene Empowerment Project:

Eau Laos Solidarité (ELS) is a grassroots organization that supports hygiene projects in Laos schools. Although the school curriculum in Laos includes reproductive health, teachers are too shy to cover the topic and there are no teaching aids. Menstruation is not discussed, and girls report fear at their first period and poor basic hygiene thereafter. Due to lack of awareness, the absence of coherent information and poor infrastructures, girls struggle to study during these times and may miss school.

The ELS GirlsHygiene Empowerment Project is training female puberty educators to conduct Girl Workshops at schools. An informed girl improves her health, participates in her community and contributes to her countrys development confidently.

Big Brother Mouse:

Big Brother Mouse was established in 2006 and is a Lao-based, Lao-owned project that . Since 2006, we've been publishing "books that make literacy fun!"
Until now, few books were published in the Lao Language. Many people in Lao villages never saw a book. Big Brother Mouse is not just a publisher. They assist young people as they learn new skills: writing, editing, translating, computer use, and organising events. Big Brother Mouse is also developing effective new ways to distribute books in a country where currently, there's no system that supports this.

For more information on any of these worthwhile causes and ways to donate, you can check out the websites below. Alternatively, you could find a local agency that requires assistance, and make a difference in your own local community.

Lao Friends Hospital for Children:
Eau Laos Solidarité: (in French)
Big Brother Mouse Literacy Programme:

What are you waiting for? Get out and find a cause that makes you feel great, gives you new experiences and helps others along the way!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Supplements vs. food: What’s really necessary?

If you’re interested in sports and nutrition, chances are you’ve heard of dietary supplements. Almost any micro or macronutrient that you need, is available to you in the form of powders or capsules.
In sports, dietary supplements are an extremely hot topic. And…. a highly debatable one. Muscle development, regeneration and a boost in performance are just some of the advantages that manufacturers advertise. But what exactly are dietary supplements? Are they really necessary? And which natural foods can we eat instead?

What are dietary supplements?

Just like it says on the tin, dietary supplements are there to supplement your normal nutrition. Available in powder or capsule form, they can contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and fiber as well. Dietary supplements which solely consist of protein are also found in sports.

Do we really need supplements?

People need micro and macronutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals for the body to function, and perform at it’s best. If we follow a healthy and balanced diet, we will obtain all the important materials that our body needs. In this case, taking dietary supplements wouldn’t be necessary.

However, in some cases there may be an increased need for certain macro or micronutrients which, despite a balanced and diverse diet, cannot be covered or can only be covered with great difficulty. In this case, the use of dietary supplements makes sense. An example is folic acid, a B vitamin that is required in increased quantities before and during pregnancy. Folic acid supplements are recommended by doctors to protect the growing baby from complications.

If you’re an athlete, then you too could have an increased need for certain macro and micronutrients. Due to physical activity, you’ll need more of these nutrients than people who are not as active.

Pros and cons of using dietary supplements

Dietary supplements contain nutrients in a highly-concentrated form. Therefore any intake recommendations and requirements are met pretty quickly. Taking dietary supplements can also have a psychological and motivating effect. But not all that glitter is gold. Dietary supplements are expensive and, if used incorrectly, can lead to side effects. Overdosing on individual nutrients upset the balance of nutrients, thereby harming the body. Furthermore, relying only on the use of dietary supplements to improve performance,  there is the risk of neglecting other factors that are important.

All the micro and macronutrients that dietary supplements contain can also be found in natural foods. Here we will present you with 3 dietary supplements and which foods you could choose instead.


Iron, a component of red blood cells, plays a role in transporting oxygen. Red blood cells become increasingly-destroyed through high mechanical stress, for example during high intensity training. Iron is an essential building block for creating new ones. Therefore you, as an athlete, should ensure that you include enough iron in your diet. But this doesn’t have to be in the form of supplements.

The following foods contain iron: Meat, green leafy vegetables, parsley, dried lentils or carrots

Caution: There are substances that hamper iron intake, such as oxalic acid, which is found in spinach, although spinach contains a rich amount of iron. However, oxalic acid prevents the body from absorbing the entire amount. So it’s not just important for food to have a high iron content; the quantity that the body can actually absorb is essential as well. In contrast, Vitamin C and amino acids work to support iron intake.


Creatine is the most well-known dietary supplement in sports. Creatine is synthesized in the liver and kidneys from amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine. Creatine improves muscle development and plays a general role in our body, when energy needs to be supplied quickly. The body is able to synthesize about half of the creatine itself. The other half must be ingested through food.

 Creatine sources: Meat and fish, mainly red meat such as beef and lamb


Zinc, a component of numerous enzymes in our body, is responsible for functioning cell metabolism. Large amounts of zinc are lost due to increased sweating during physical activity.

Here’s how you can meet your zinc requirements: Emmental and Edam cheese, oats, oysters or pumpkin seeds

Caution: Overdosing on trace elements can lead to serious side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Furthermore, there is a risk of copper deficiency, since zinc binds to copper, thereby inhibiting its absorption in the body.

Supplements isn’t an easy topic. Before deciding to take them do the research. Find out if they are really necessary for you. And remember, all these supplements can be found in natural food. A healthy, balanced diet is always a winner.

 source :

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Six pack abs do not define health, and if you want them prepare to sacrifice your social life

Consistency is the key for long-term health and fitness, says Karen Coghlan. 

Spot reduction refers to the belief that fat can be targeted for reduction from a specific area of the body.

For example, we are led to believe:
◊ If you have stubborn belly fat, you need to do more sit-ups

◊ If you have stubborn upper arm fat, you need to do more tricep extensions
◊ If you have stubborn leg fat, you need to do more step-ups.

However, despite popular belief, spot reduction is not possible. Sure, muscle building is site specific: you can indeed build muscle in specific areas by targeting specific muscles using the right weights and rep scheme.

If you want to build shapely glutes, then you incorporate more squats and glute bridges into your workout. 

If you want a wider back, then you incorporate more pull-ups and rowing exercise into your workout.
But if you want to reveal a set of six-pack abs? Then the last thing you need is to incorporate more crunches and bicycles into your workout.

The draw of the six pack
We all inherently have six-pack abs. They are just hidden underneath a layer of subcutaneous fat, however, shredded abs come at a very high cost.

A healthy level of body fat is somewhere between 11pc-22pc for men and between 22pc-33pc for women. To reveal "six-pack" abs, body fat needs to be sub 10pc for men and sub 20pc for women.
Having "six-pack" abs does not define health. In some cases, it takes very drastic and extreme measures to reach low enough levels of body fat before abs are visible.

Even at super low levels, some people will never reveal a set of abs, simply due to their body being built differently. Consistently adhering to an extremely strict diet and exercise routine is not normal and requires intense focus, dedication, and plenty of sacrifices.

It means skipping nights out to spend more time at the gym. It means foregoing the weekend takeaway to plan and prep all your meals for the week ahead. It means possibly not having a sex life as libido diminishes due to malnourishment.

You have to ask yourself is the trade-off worth it? Are you willing to risk feeling like crap on the inside just so you can look super lean on the outside?
If the answer is yes, then just be aware of the enduring and exhausting process that lie ahead.
Plan, adhere, track, adjust, repeat
If you decide that being healthy and achieving a "normal" level of leanness is more of a priority, then you will still need a certain level of consistency after you have put an action plan in place.

Fat loss is not site specific in the same manner as muscle building is. Yes, any exercise or physical activity will help accelerate the fat-loss process, but the energy deficit it creates, which is required for fat loss, is usually less than expected. In other words, endless reps of a certain exercise in a certain area will not help to target your stubborn fat. Where on your body you will lose fat from first depends on your sex and your genetic profile. Neither of which we can change.

Women tend to store more body fat than men, and store it primarily around the hips, legs and belly. Men, on the other hand, tend to store more visceral fat (surrounding the internal organs in the tummy region) than women.

Therefore, when women lose body fat, they typically lose it from the top down and the fat in the lower body is the last to go, regardless of exercise selection.

So what is the solution?
A sound nutrition plan, time, patience, adherence, and consistency.
All too often, people hop from one diet to another without giving enough time to reap the benefits of their efforts, expecting dramatic weight loss after just two or three weeks. When that doesn't happen, they blame the diet, accuse it of "not working" and move on to the next latest and greatest fad.

But is the diet really not working or are you just not adhering to it? Following a diet doesn't mean following it for three of your main meals a day and then eating whatever it is that tickles your fancy outside of your meal times.

It also doesn't mean following it Monday to Friday and then making up for the lost time with your favourite treats all day Saturday and Sunday. For ANY diet to work, you have to stick to it. You need to be 80pc-90pc consistent with your dieting efforts, depending on how conservative your goals are.

If you are unhappy with your progress, then perhaps you need to be more honest with yourself.

What hidden sources of calories are you are not considering? Sauces? Condiments? Mindless snacking and grazing? Are you counting liquid calories? Are you eating when not hungry? How often are you having treats?

You do not need to drastically overhaul your diet overnight. One small change at a time, one after the other, will eventually lead to great results. But when you do make that change, then you need to be consistent with it, not just some of the time when it suits you, but 80pc-90pc of time even when it doesn't.

Track. Adjust. Repeat.

The results will follow.

 Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer. She runs monthly online group nutrition coaching programmes and hosts nutrition seminars around the country. See