Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Magnesium, Muscles & Migraines - Westlab Epsom Muscle Spray Review

   I train hard - I don't like to do things by halves. I give it my all on days I feel powerful, and I give it my all on days when I just can't be bothered. I don't see the point phoning it in, it's just a waste of time and I may as well have not bothered at all. And I have discovered that the days I can't be bothered with are the days I tend to do the best on. I get the best high, the most reps, and I always feel so proud of myself afterwards - all reasons I remind myself of before sucking it up and doing it.
   So it's no surprise that occasionally I work myself too hard.

   Magnesium has an enormous role in the body, regulating protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure, all of which play an active role in fitness, both during a workout, with cardiovascular rates as well as aiding the movement of calcium and potassium across cell membranes which is important to nerve control and muscle contraction, and after your workout to relax and help repair the muscles.
   During the second half of your monthly cycle, your magnesium levels drop while your progesterone/estrogen levels rise. Not an issue for most women, aside from the muscle cramps that pesky drop in magnesium can cause, but this is also largely (though not wholly) why more women suffer from migraines than men, and most often or more frequently around that time of the month. Around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men suffer from migraines, and the intensity and manifestation can vary for every individual.
   Migraines are thought to be caused my temporary changes to the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain; first the blood vessels in the brain over-contract, which is usually when the aura will occur, if you suffer from them, then the blood vessels will dilate rapidly or further than they need to, which brings about the pain. Migraines differ from headaches in that they can be much more painful, occurs down one side of the head or 'in' the eye, and they can be accompanied by an aura, usually visual problems like flashing lights and blind spots. Numerous studies have shown magnesium to be an effective treatment and preventative measure.


   Well, I suffer from migraines of the ocular fashion, complete with an 'aura' which manifests for me as a blind spot that comes out of nowhere, beginning as an off-centre fuzziness edged in flashing zig-zags which expands in the course of 20 minutes to consume an entire half of my vision, after which it clears and I have 5 minutes before the pain hits in the opposite eye. Blind right side, left eye pain. And I find it hard to believe that mine are not magnesium-related. I only suffer them during 'that' time of the month, or after a week of intense workouts (or both, so I try to take it a little easier during the 'danger zone'). In fact, I used Jillian Michael's 7 Day Shred a year or so ago and suffered 3 migraines within 2 days. I also lost half an inch from my waistline, so it was worth it, but that also kind of stabilised my personal connection to migraines, magnesium and working out. And it's also for this reason that I could never be one of those unfortunately obsessive people who train for three hours a day five days a week, nor indeed an athlete - except, perhaps, an archer, which I discovered I have a surprising natural talent for. Otherwise, my body won't let me do it regardless of how many supplements I take or 90% dark chocolate, almonds and leafy greens I chomp on.

   Fortunately, there are magnesium supplements I can take, and I've seen a big drop in the frequency of migraines and an improvement in muscle relaxation post-workout since doing so, but it's not an immediate fix for stiff muscles. Fortunately still, there are other options, such as Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and the quickest means of relief for tight muscles, which for me is always an early sign that a migraine could be around the corner, is in the form of a magnesium-rich Epsom salt muscle spray.

   Westlab is a renowned brand when it comes to Epsom because they add few additional ingredients to their products - if any, in some cases - and work directly with the suppliers and keep packaging to a minimum, which also makes it more affordable for the rest of us. No sparkle, no jazz, just the products. Unsurprisingly, they also provide one of the purest of Epsom muscle sprays on the market.
   Westlab's Muscle Spray looks a little funny at first, cloudy and gel-like, but with a shake to activate the salts and mix it all up, it clears to liquid and remains that way. It doesn't clog, sprays very smoothly, and is water-light with a lovely spearmint and eucalyptus scent.


   I admit that I sort of intentionally under-ate and over-exercised at the start of this month in an attempt to burn off the Christmas pudge - though I am still proud of those workouts; I tagged 20 minutes of Kettlercise onto the end of every Jillian Michaels' Killer Body session that week, in which I pushed up the weights I usually use, and proved to myself that my body can do it. Unfortunately, the migraine that followed came as no surprise, and neither did the stiff muscles that so often accompany them. But as painful as it all was, it gave me the perfect opportunity to put Westlab's muscle spray to the test.

   After sleeping off the migraine - a massive struggle since it struck at 9am Sunday morning quite literally 4 minutes after I'd gotten bored and finally gotten out of bed after a lazy lie-in - I put the spray to work on one leg. It made a quick and noticeable difference. Within 10 minutes my left calf had relaxed and the tightness had begun to subside. The stiffness didn't return, so after half an hour I sprayed it onto my other leg and got the same results. The stiffness was pretty bad and the spray didn't eradicate it, but it made me much more comfortable and able to walk about.
   I tried it twice more over the course of the week when my muscles were still a little iffy and found it to be quite effective - in fact, on Wednesday evening, it just about eradicated the stiffness.

   Using 1-3 sprays directly onto the affected area, the water-light mixture has to be left to air-dry, and while it does so in a few minutes, as with a swim in the sea, the salt will leave a white mark on your skin once dry. Perhaps I used too much. It can be easily washed off, but you want to give your body the chance to absorb it first, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the mixture is so wonderful that it's worth that little mark. If you're reaching for this stuff, you're probably too uncomfortable to worry about it.
   Westlab's Muscle Spray is available as a 100ml spray at £11.95, and a 50ml travel size spray at £6.95, which I can assure you will be glued to my side every four weeks and become a toiletry staple - though it seems that the 50ml will last me a while. I've only used about 5ml in the three weeks I've had it, during which time I've only needed to use it on four occasions (and a couple of others in minor cases for continued testing). It's a worthwhile gym bag staple!

   You know me - I always refuel and stretch after my workout. In fact, after a kettlebell or HIIT workout it can take me up to 20 minutes to hit every muscle used, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds. So I know my muscle stiffness isn't neglect, it's under-fuelling, over-working and 'that' time of the month, at which time I always try to up my intake of magnesium with nuts and leafy greens as well as the usual supplements. For the past 4 months I've succeeded quite well, but in my efforts to burn off the Christmas pudge, I ate too little and brought it on myself. Westlab's Muscle Spray is not an excuse to allow such conscious bad decisions or body-image neurosis, but it does ease the punishment.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Writing, Birthday, Killer Body & Canvas Cake

      2018 has had a very busy start. I've spent the last two weeks catching up with a backlog of Christmas and New Year orders, which I'm very pleased to say I've now completed, and putting animals for this year's gallery exhibit together in their jars. I've got 30 odd to go, which is going to take some time, and I've still got about 10-15 animals still to make. Mostly birds, I think, but I've also decided to sneak in some forest spirits! One or two in each plinth, hidden amongst 15 other creatures (45 creatures filling 3 plinths, and then duplicates in another three plinths set up on the opposite side of the room). I'm quite excited about that little detail, actually - they won't sell, but they're beyond my quota, and as every unsold piece will be listed in my Etsy shop when I get it all back in September, I'm confident that they're worth making.

   But it's taken until now to finally find the time to start work on my book again. I submitted the first of this trilogy to agents on January 1st, and I'd hoped to have resumed work on the second by the 7th, but it wasn't until last night, the 13th, that I'd managed. The bright side is that it was easy to ease back in - I'd done some writing on paper on the week before Christmas when I closed up shop, so I had very precise notes to work from and I did a pretty good job, but even before that I reread what I'd done so far and I have to say I was surprised by how well-written it was. Hey, if I don't toot my own horn, who will?!
   Well yesterday I looked over all the notes, polished them and typed them into something readable, which led me to finish the chapter and switch perspective where I can finally get creative again. Yay!

   And, of course, amongst all this has been my birthday! Seeg and I went to dinner and to see the new Star Wars film on the 5th (I'm not getting into it - it was a good movie to watch, but it was filled with holes), and it was a wonderful evening - not to mention that it was the first time I'd been confident enough to step out of the house in a dress since I was 16 years old, and a size 16 to boot, and even that was an obligation. Prior to that one-off, I hadn't done it since I was 9. The difference is, now I'm 27 and a size 8. Hello.
  Aside from the worst PMS I've experienced for a few years, I had a very enjoyable birthday. I made a delicious duck, sausage and oat cassoulet from a recipe in Women's Fitness that I'd been keeping for something special, and damn it was worth it, which was followed of course by a praline ice cream log. I got some wonderful gifts, as outlined below, as well as a few belated ones (my birthday can sometimes still be affected by the Christmas postal back-log and crazy people clogging up the shops in the new year sales), though I admit that the best two are the Mr Bean box set and the Jawa plush. I freaking love those little guys! And he talks! Utinni!! I also admit that those Champion leggings from Wild Bangarang were a gift from me to me...
   Seeg's birthday prior to mine was also great, with a delicious Domino's Pizza (Meateor is the best!), and we have since been watching Star Wars The Clone Wars series and it's actually great. It's canon, too! We're half way through season 2 and loving it.

   I've also decided to prolong Killer Body. While my new year's resolution is to recognise when I need to take a break from my writing, I also think I need to adjust my workout habits. Instead of changing my workout every month, I'm going to look into giving bigger workouts a greater chance since they give me the best challenge and subsequently the most room to grow and my body the best chance at change. So I'm sticking with Killer Body for another 3 weeks, until the end of January, which gives it a total of 2 months, 9 weeks. Somehow, despite having been at it for 6 weeks now, I'm not at all sick of it.
   That said, I'm still going to swap down to a low-impact workout every few months, because my resolution in 2017 was on to something, but those I will keep to just 1 month or perhaps even just 3 weeks.

   And while we're on the subject of health, here's another canvas cake I made for my birthday - though I admit it was premature, as I actually had blueberry and white chocolate pancakes for breakfast on my birthday! It also looks more like it was made for spring than birthday, but I didn't want to use sprinkles because I am so sick of the sight of sprinkles on birthday cakes. It's boring! So I opted for Popaballs and matcha chocolate instead. Though I guess it tasted more spring/summer too, since the cake was lychee. And it was yum.

   I used the original canvas cake recipe, but removed the Stevia and replaced 50ml of the 80ml of water with Funkin lychee puree. I dusted the cake with Sugarflair silky peach lustre dust, topped it with my usual Yeo Valley 0% fat honey greek yoghurt, then decorated with 5g of Purechimp matcha white chocolate shavings, 12 shimmer Popaballs in passionfruit and cherry, a squirt of light Anchor cream and 2 mini marshmallows. And then some little flags I made out of tooth picks and washi tape.

Birthday Cake Mug Cake:
295 calories, 8.8g fat, 26.5g carbs, 5g fibre, 27g protein
Cake + 50ml Funkin lychee puree: 180 calories, 2.8g fat, 13.5g carbs, 5g fibre, 22g protein
50g Yoghurt: 50 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbs, 4g protein
  - 2 mini marshmallows: 4 calories, 1.5g carbs (0.9g sugar)
  - 7g Popaballs (approx 12 balls): 7 cals, 1.5g carbs (1g sugar)
  - 5g Purechimp matcha white chocolate*: 30 calories, 3g fat, 2g carbs, 0.5g protein
  - 12g Anchor light whipped cream: 24 calories, 2g fat (1.5g sat), 1g carbs (1g sugar), 0.5g protein

*The measurements listed for the matcha chocolate were what I intended to use, but after chopping up 5g of chocolate I only actually used half of it. I've kept the measurements in place, though, so if you want to use the lot, go for it. I did, after photographing. More whipped cream may also have slipped in.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Killer Body - 4 Weeks Later

   I will admit it: I gained weight this Christmas. And I will also admit this: I broke nearly all of my rules and more than merely 'strayed' from my fool-proof Christmas plan. The bright side is that I learned a few years ago that weight recently gained is very easily lost. Every holiday I go on, I gain weight, and I always lose it within 2 weeks - sometimes only 1 - with a suitable workout and mindful eating. So I also know that, by upping the ante, I can shed the lot in the next two weeks.

   While I did do Killer Body every day, and increased the frequency on the week before and after Christmas, I did gain a little. I grazed and picked at food, but if there are 4 boxes of pepernoten within grabbing range, what can you do? Willpower doesn't pop up in my vocabulary so much around Christmas, and I maintain that that isn't a bad thing - as long as it does still pop up.
   Now, though, new year, new motivation. I have 2 weeks of Killer Body left, and I'm tacking more on to the end of it. Kettlebells and kickboxing are two of the most effective fat-burning workouts you can possibly do, and while Jillian Michaels' circuit training is madly effective enough, by adding an extra 10-20 minutes of one of those two forms afterwards, I am smoking calories, increasing burn and resting metabolism. It's difficult, though, so I don't intend to keep this up long-term. At the very least, this first week. At best, next week too.

   Eating is also an issue, but while I bought lots of healthy snacks at the start of December, it seems I've barely touched them. So I have more than enough goodness to eat without going hungry, and while I still have plenty of chocolate left, out of sight, out of mind.
   I'm not going cold-turkey, though. I'm keeping an advent calendar-esque build to my day until it's all gone - ie, one or two chocolates a day. It's not off-limits, therefore I will be less likely to crave, break and binge, and it gives me something to look forward to if I keep putting it off throughout the day.

   I will also state, for the record, that I am going low-carb for the duration of this week. Yes, this was my problem last year and it's taken me a long time to get over it and stop villainising carbs and start eating them again, and I have felt immensely better because of it, but given how I've eaten over the past week and a half, maybe even two weeks, I know that I can stand to back off of carbs with no ill effects and use what my body has stored. The trick will be getting back to normal after the week is up, and that will test my willpower and, frankly, intelligence.

   The workout has been surprising fun, though, and while I'm usually hanging after 4 weeks and ready to turn away and on to something else, I'm actually still keen for Killer Body. Perhaps it's because I know it will work and I have to get the Christmas weight off, or perhaps all the food I've eaten over Christmas has energised me and I have the power to do it and do it well. Or I'm simply having fun. I admit that last week I was coming at these workouts like a beast and I've been obliterating them, and I did the same yesterday - which I followed with a 20 minute Kettlercise workout, hello - and felt amazing at the end. I could have gone on! I didn't, though, because I am still at risk of migraines - how I survived Christmas without one I have no idea, unless food levels also have something to do with triggering them...

   Two more weeks, then I'm using a workout DVD I got for Christmas - in theory, it's lower-impact, so I'm viewing Killer Body now with the mind that I'll get the chance to get my breath back for 3 weeks afterwards, so I may as well go all or nothing. I'm a little daunted by it, though, because I've used the brand before and it hurts, but also because there's one unique new element to it that will either be great fun and really effective, or a huge disappointment. But I guess I'll find out in two weeks.

   I'll report back in two weeks with, hopefully, good news that all Christmas weight has gone and that carbs and I are friends again. I'm also going to do my best to get a DVD review for Killer Body up at last.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The New Year.

   This year has been pretty difficult, if I'm honest. Battling against Brexit and all the commotion that's come with it has had a direct impact on Seeg and I, but we've been doing all we can. It's also been difficult with mum and her condition getting worse, but, again, we muddle through. In truth, though, it's not been a bad year, and it ended on a high note - what with a Christmas Eve proposal, and all - and I actually have a lot of hope for 2018. I finished a book last year that I'm expecting to get somewhere in the coming months, and I have another art exhibit in the summer. In a way, most of the impending highlights match 2016, which was a great year itself - though that's not to say I expect this year to meet or exceed it. Anything could happen, right?
   But I have good hopes all the same, and that brings me to...

The Matter of Resolutions
  Over the past few years, my resolutions have been winners. 2014 encouraged me to try something new for weight loss every month, which worked, for the most part, and also fuelled 2015 & 16's resolutions - to change up my workout every month - which proved to be both enjoyable and effective. I remained interested in exercise and avoided boredom and plateaus, and it became a habit that I've continued to this day. Of course, that dedication also caused me a few problems, which is why 2017's resolution to, in contrast, learn when to step back from my exercise and take a break when my body needed it was so essential. I've felt more energised thanks to that, less run-down and I've finally begun making progress again, though I did slip up once or twice. But in this vain, I've also been allowing myself to try more varied workouts: every 2-3 months I've opted for a lower-impact workout for 4 weeks to counter the HIIT and circuit training I'm usually drawn to.
   2017's is a resolution, however, that still needs conscious thought and active work, but it's one that I don't think I need to keep on the pedestal. In fact, for 2018, my resolution isn't fitness-focused at all:

My 2018 Resolution: learn when to step back from my writing.

   It's kind of going the same way my workouts did: over-working and losing progress because of it. Too often I burn out on my writing but I refuse to stop and take a break. "If I have time to play games, I have time to write" - this kind of excuse often tumbles from my lips, and if not games then watching TV, crafting for fun and even sometimes reading. I don't give myself a break to relax. It's true that I live and breathe for my writing, I love it and find it immensely enjoyable and relaxing, but I sometimes go through a week or two of just staring at the screen and getting only a paragraph done a day, and that doesn't make me feel good - not to mention that my writing suffers and those parts I do squeeze out need a lot more re-working than others. But if I had just stepped back for even just two days, I could have gotten more done in that week than by forcing myself to keep trudging through. And better work, too - games can be inspiring, books can improve vocabulary and writing skills, and TV, usually documentaries or historical or fantasy series, can be either informative or inspiring, while crafting can outright calm the brain and silence the chatter.
   So, from now on, if I'm struggling to write, I will try to back off and spend the day doing something else. Just one day or even an afternoon doing something unrelated to writing could be enough to save a few days of wasted time or poor quality work, and not to mention allow me to read more stories and finally finish some games. I've been playing The Witcher 3 for a year and a half, and only got out of White Orchard last week! For those unfamiliar, the gaming industry's amazing writers, graphics and voice actors have produced some immensely long and immersive stories - The Witcher 3, The Last of Us, Sleeping Dogs, Assassin's Creed Origins, to name those that Seeg has played for me most recently. They can be like virtual books, but with side quests and missions that go beyond the story and give you an even greater insight into characters and the world itself, which can be valuable, if you're one who naturally picks this things apart, in building your own worlds and characters.

   This might seem like a silly resolution, "surely it can't be that hard", but I'm a workoholic. I can't sit down and do nothing. If it isn't productive, it is a waste of time, and while that's not a bad attitude to have if you have deadlines, I do not. Which means that that attitude never ends. It's draining, and the more you give in to it the harder it is to step back. And while I'm far from it, it's a very good way of growing to despise what you love. It'll feel like a shackle rather than a pleasure, and I desperately do not want that to happen.

   But with a bookcase loaded with unread books, loads of games I've seen Seeg play and would love to replay the stories for myself, projects I've wanted to begin for years - and some I did and have needed completing for just as long - I've got plenty on hand to refresh my mind when my creativity becomes strangled. It's just a matter of dragging myself away to do them.
   In short, I get the feeling that this year could be quite productive. And I've started on a high note: I sent my next book out to fantasy literary agents today. Which means that, at the very least, it'll be self-published in the spring!

   How do you all feel about 2018? Great hopes? Or tempered caution?

   I made a canvas cake for the new year, too, and it's just as much for resolutions as it is for looks! Perfect for those of us who make the huge and respectable decision to clean up their lifestyle! And this canvas cake is just as celebratory as it is nutritious!
   The canvas cake base is high fibre and high protein, while being minimal in carbohydrates and fats - instead, the carbohydrates and fats, both of which your body needs, comes in the form of yoghurt 'frosting', almonds, chia seeds and dark chocolate - with the addition of a few Shimmer Popaballs left over from Christmas for a fruity blueberry burst!

   I replaced the water and Stevia from the basic canvas cake recipe with 80ml of Innocent Bubbles for a fruity flavour and natural sweetness (and drank the rest of the can for 1 of my 5 a day), 'frosted' it with my favourite Yeo Valley fat-free honey greek yoghurt, and topped that with some silvered chopped almonds, Lindt 90% dark chocolate shavings, a sprinkling of chia seeds, and a teaspoon of Popaball's blueberry shimmer bubbles. Oh, and I admit I did spray the cake with a little Dr Oetker's silver shimmer spray...

New Year Mug Cake:
275 calories, 9.3g fat, 17.5g carbs, 6.5g fibre, 27.5g protein
Cake + 80ml Innocent Bubbles Sparkling Lemon & Lime: 150 calories, 2.8g fat, 8g carbs, 5g fibre, 21.5g protein
50g Yoghurt: 40 calories, 0g fat, 5.5g carbs, 3.5g protein
  - 1/2 square 90% Lindt dark chocolate (approx 5g)*: 30 cals, 2.5g fat (1.5g sat), 1g carbs (0.5g sugar), 0.5g protein
  - 5g blueberry Popaballs (approx 9 balls): 5 cals, 1g carbs (0.8g sugar)
  - 5 almonds (approx 7g), chopped: 40 cals, 3.5g fat (0.25g sat), 1.5g carbs, 1g fibre, 1.5g protein
  - 1/2 teaspoon chia seeds (approx 2g)*: 10 cals, 0.5g fat, 0.5g carbs, 0.5g fibre, 0.5g protein

* The measurements listed for the chocolate and the chia seeds were what I intended to use, but I only ended up using half of them so as not to crowd the cake. The nutrition displayed, however, is for using the full amount, so go right ahead!