Huel – a Review

The following review, and all sentiments contained herein, are completely my own and have not been subject to approvals from the provider.

Bottom Line:  Recommended

 

Sucking in the dust, dirt and chalk from the floor one morning (after an awesome WOD, I should add), Steffi came over and asked if I would be able to take a look at products from a company she works for. I’d seen the simple white packaged bars on the counter before but had never opened a Huel bar up to that point. When I peeled my sweating form out of the angel shape on the mats, I told her that I would absolutely love to but that she should know that I ordinarily err on the side of negativity towards meal replacement products. She grinned and excitedly explained that Huel is different; nutritionally balanced, basic, no soy, supporting everyone from athletes to regular no-gym-Joe who just wants to have a better nutritional option than snacking on less healthy options. Well, her excitement immediately sparked mine and so I agreed.

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Picture from Huel.com

Nutritional Balance

Throughout,  I have struggled with identifying who the target audience of Huel is. I have seen it more in gyms and CrossFit Boxes than anywhere else yet the website focuses more on it being a whole meal replacement. The needs of the powerlifter, high intensity sportsman, 45 year old house husband and 8 hr a day sedentary office worker are all different – this includes macro nutrient as well as micro nutrients.

The precise breakdown of the two primary products I shall go in to individually. Taking in to account what I said above, this is the most balanced product that I have ever come across. Not only at the micronutrients balanced to the ‘designer’s’ precise requirements but the micronutrients are too. A complete vitamin and mineral profile is included (even Vitamin B12, which is uncommon in a product aimed at vegans too due to its source typically being from animals – in this case it is from cyanocobalamin, from bacterial synthesis), which gives me a real sense that this product has been designed with genuine care to the individual, and not just about marketing for profit. However, this careful balancing does result in one or two issues.

The Powder

I was given the latest blend of the vanilla flavoured powder. Made largely of powdered gluten free oats as a base,  this vegan product includes rice protein and pea protein to give a nice blend of fast/slow absorbed proteins – not a trace of cheap soy protein anywhere. It mixes very well in water, although I prefer it with skimmed milk, and naturally thickens to a lovely consistency. The taste is one of the best on the market, I believe. Without overdoing it, they’ve gently added some natural vanilla flavour that just ‘works’. Even with just water,  the blend keeps you feeling full for and a long while.

An unexpected bonus of the powdered oat base is that it can be used as a flour substitute. I’ve used it to make my one-minute microwave cake and I never want to go back to my old recipe. This was awesome.

The macronutrient profile of this is approx 40% carbs  (when you include the 3% fibre), 30% protein, and 30% Fats. It is almost entirely in line with my own requirements as an amateur but very regular CrossFitter. However, I’ve yet to come across definitive science that informs the precise nutritional breakdown for individuals….at least not a profile that everyone agrees on because everyone is different. That said, at least there’s thought behind this.

Depending on your meal breakdown of either 4 or 5 meals a day (if taking as a meal replacement vice sports supplement), it is either ~400Kcal or ~500Kcal respectively for a meal.

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Picture from Huel.com

The Bar

Vanilla and Cocoa. There is a thought by some sports ‘purists’ that supplements/ replacements should have no flavouring. I utterly disagree with this. Food has to very enjoyed in whatever form you decide to take it.

This bar tastes good. It looks good. I really enjoy eating it.

There is a common criticism, that Huel are aware of, which is the texture. Unlike the oily, chewy mass you get in almost all other bars of this nature, this is crumbly. It breaks apart easily and is a little dry. Because of the blend, and the rigidity with which they stick to their balance of nutritional ingredients, there are no preservatives, no fillers, and no gluten. This leaves a crumbly texture that does take you by surprise a little to start with. Stick with it. The flavour is great and you just need a little water sometimes with it. Have faith that there’s good reason behind it.

The macronutrient balance is different to the Powder,  with a higher level of carbs, slightly lower protein percentage and even lower fat – 53% carbs (inc 12% Fibre), 25% protein, and 22% fats. This makes it far more suitable as a post-workout option and I’ve typically used it as such. Each bar is 250kcal.
Combination 

As a combined meal replacement product, the powder and bars are able to sustain you with that balanced nutritional makeup – 2000Kcal for just powder-based meal replacement and than an extra 250Kcal per bar.  Looking through the ingredients, they are all things I recognise and understand. I trust this product would support me, if needed.

Could I eat it as an ongoing replacement? Not personally. Both keep me feeling full, as a combination of oats, the protein, and natural coconut / flaxseed oil. However, I need variety in my food. There are flavour packs, which I’ve not yet been given the opportunity to review, to give a little change but I need my veggies and different textures.  That said, I have used both bar and powder instead of a meal if rushing about town. Because I trust in the quality and make-up, I don’t then feel the need to snack elsewhere.

Summary

For someone who doesn’t agree with meal replacements as a means of nutritional control, I’m actually a convert to this. With my biochemistry head on (albeit from 16-17 years ago), I ‘get it’ and can understand the scientific passion behind this product. For those working out, I recommend the bars as a post-WOD snack instead of quite a few of the other brands out there. I recommend the powder too, it’s kept me going when on the run and has left me feeling full for longer than a typical bowl of porridge does – do try it out as a flour substitute too!

p.s. I’ve not had a chance to review the t-shirt either 😉

Links

Huel Website – www.huel.com for further information

Dealing with anticlimax and disappontment

Awaking early on a Sunday, I was excited. My first competition in well over a year. Not a race I could win but one to truly challenge myself. Not sports I would usually go for either,  but something relatively new. 

I headed downstairs for my big bowl of oats. Cup of coffee, staring out of the window at the grey, brooding skies…quick check of the Met Office app – yep, a little drizzle, some light breeze, but ok. Taking the Earl Grey up to Mrs Nomad, I flicked open the drawers to get my race kit out. The wetsuit, goggles and trunks were already good to go by the door. The warrior princesses awoke and we got them through breakfast before swiftly dressing and shuffling them in to the car.

My excitement was building,  I’ll admit. Having not had any form of competition for so long, the chance to just launch from a start line, surrounded by 249 others, was compelling. 

We headed off along the A38, and then down narrow country lanes, weaving through Devon villages still silent on a Sunday morning. The turning for South Milton Sands loomed, the National Trust Car Park symbol leading the way. We crested a hill and saw it…the sea…the start…a little choppy….a lot choppy. 

Parking among the few early arrivals, I jogged over to the TrailEvents.co marshalls setting  up. “1km Sea Swim, 15km Trail Run”, the billowing banners read. “Not a chance”, the faces said. “Sorry mate, swim cancelled, we can’t get the safety boat out – you can still run though, or you can defer.”

£40 for a 15km run on public roads, Mrs Nomad and the girls sitting in the car?

No chance.

And with that, it with as over and we were driving away, back through the Sunday morning villages. No race. No challenge. Gone.
What hit me very quickly was pretty intense and unexpected. 

The sense of anticlimax was pretty tangible. It felt like a new emotion, having not really felt this for a very long time. I’d paid, physically prepared, mentally prepared, was ready, and then…….flat.

So what do you do? How do you overcome that? What’s next?


Well, for starters, the weather improved within an hour, as did my mood 😉

Acceptance

You can’t get around it. The event was cancelled. There’s no arguing or challenging, it’s done.  Let the emotion do its thing and learn from it for the next time.

Achievement

I conducted a whole heap of new training that I was unaccustomed to before.  I’m not much of a long distance runner and I’m certainly no swimmer. But I achieved new skills and new levels of Fitness that are transferable back in to CrossFit and for the future. Didn’t Greg Glassman tell us to, “Learn and play new sports” in the “What is CrossFit?” genesis document? How many of us regularly do? So this is a new achievement and should be celebrated.

Motivation

Tap in to the motivation that was there when you woke up to compete and set a new challenge as soon as you can. While I’ve been focusing on endurance, it was at the expense of strength and CF competitions. Immediately, I reached out to Charlie Goode, our Coach-in-Chief and asked for comps.

Build

Take the new skills you have and build on them. I’m not going to now put my wetsuit to one side and say, “thanks”. I’ve given myself the challenge of getting to a lake, and doing a swim/Run on my own or with a friend. I need to see this through, if for nothing but closure. After that, I will continue to seek open water swimming opportunities.

This has been a learning opportunity for me. I didn’t like it at first but I’ve seen strong positives in it. I am stronger now as an athlete.

Leave your Situations at the Door

Leave your situations at the door

So when you step inside jump on the floor

– Mary J. Blige 

Staring in to the down gazing eyes of one of our athletes, it was clear that she was about to just give up on the day, if not the week. Hard work ebbing onto the floor, leaving a sullen shell to clear the rower and remaining kit away before shuffling out door defeated. 

HELL NO!

Not having that shit in this box! 

I don’t care what is going on in your life outside the box (well, I do actually but my upcoming point still stands), you do not allow it in to the box. Leave it at the door. I say this not from a standpoint of how it might affect the mood of others, nor how you’re not going to be on your game – both of those are valid – but from the this:

Your time in the box is your time. 

What you do in that hour is for you. It is your opportunity to develop, to succeed, to improve, and to win. How DARE the comments of colleagues, the stresses of work, or the rising cost of the bus fare impinge on YOUR time?! You have your goals, you have set out your plan, and you have paid your subs. The effort you put in within the hour we set for you is all yours. It is not to impress coworkers, it isn’t to think about tomorrow’s meeting, it certainly isn’t to worry about that note you forgot to write – all of those things are important but they won’t be solved in your hour with us.

This is YOUR TIME. Everything else can get f@#&ed. When with us, you are not judged, you are critiqued and not criticised, you have nothing to prove to anyone except to yourself.

How often in your daily routine do have to answer to none except yourself? How many times a day do you end something a stronger, faster, more powerful version of you than when you started? When else do you get to shut the world out and focus on your own needs? Give yourself over to this time, this chance, and kick the rest of the world in to touch.

This is YOUR time. How dare anyone ruin it for YOU. Own it. Dominate it. Leave as a fitter person, on YOUR terms, than when you came in.

Rant over.

Greatness comes from Joy…and a truck load of Hard Graft.

If you can’t find Joy in the path you are on and what you are working toward now,

how do you expect to find Joy when you get there?

I experienced 2 great lessons this weekend. Ones that we all ‘know’, that we’re all told over and over yet few truly believe or adhere to.

While at Wookey Hole Caves on Saturday, I was aggressively reminded that Greatness takes time. In our modern, consumerist, “now” society I think that many of us (certainly, not all) have collectively forgotten just what is required for true success to be achieved. There is a sense of entitlement pervading society; there is the belief that we somehow deserve success without having to put the true effort in to achieve it – we look at the cover models of Mens Health, or at Olympians, or CrossFit Games athletes and think, “I should be be there”. Yet, when you look around a cave formed over 10s of 1000s of years, and wonder at the splendid magnificence of it, you see that genuine greatness really does take time. When it was explained to us how the larger, 73 foot high caverns were formed, some beginning with nothing more than dripping water, you can’t help but make a comparison with modern life. I have my goals and I regularly get upset and frustrated that I have yet to achieve them. I often decry the length of time this process takes, missing the small gains along the way, focusing on the distance yet to travel. And I get upset because I feel that I deserve to be there by now. I put the effort in, I believe, and I am entitled to see the success NOW.

But life isn’t like that. Success takes time. Not only that, the successes along the way need celebrating too. I have no idea just how big that cavern is going to be in another 100, 1000, 10000 years but it’s pretty goddamn amazing now. I don’t know how strong, fast, flexible, powerful I will be next year, in 5 years, or in 10 years time, but I have put a lot of effort in and I am in a pretty outstanding place now. As long as I keep chipping away at it, one drop at a time, the only way is success.

The other lesson – Joy enables that Greatness. We were treated to a circus display from the Wookey Hole Circus School. These children and teenagers train 3 times per week and the ages seem to range from about 7 years to 17 years old. They showed off juggling, trapeze skills, strength, rope work, incredible balance & acrobatics, high unicycles, etc….it was clearly a physically and mentally tough performance for them all. There were some minor errors in the latter, and more complicated, stages but there was one thing that stood out throughout, especially during the minor mistakes – the sheer joy on the faces of those taking part. It  was amazing and incredibly uplifting. They were laughing at each other, constantly smiling, helping each other, and willing each other on through every moment. It looked like the world’s most fun ever and they were right in the centre of it. Sure, they had to demonstrate intense concentration to achieve some remarkable feats but never once did it look like pressure. At all times, it just looked like they were messing about with friends.

This is such a key lesson in life. When we look back, do we want to focus on the minor mistakes, the what-ifs, the could-have-beens, the oh-so-closes…..or do we want to look back on those moments of sheer joy and success with friends and family? Those fun-filled events where you achieved so much with a grin on your face, no matter what the adversity in front of you. I took a lot from this, especially as a parent to the Warrior Princesses.

Funnily enough, as I was thinking about this post, Andy Murray (tennis player bloke off the tele) was talking about this year’s Wimbledon prep. He said that in previous years he focused on the process, the preparation for winning-at-all-costs, that he didn’t really enjoy the success when it came. This year, he’s just enjoying his tennis, taking it how it comes and celebrating each little victory with a smile – a perfect case in point. Here’s to you and a third Wimbledon title, Mr Murray!

Strength

5-3-1 Strict Press

62.5kg / 70kg / 80kg / 85kg (F) / 82.5kg PERSONAL BEST!

So, 38 years old and still getting strength personal bests! Smash! It’s a 2.5kg PB over a lift 2 years ago. If I’d had a bit more time, I suspect I would have got the 85kg on another attempt too. BIG SMILES!

MetCon

For Time:

  • 50 x Double Unders
  • 10 x Clean & Jerk (Power) @ 50kg
  • 40 x Double Unders
  • 8 x Clean & Jerk @ 60kg
  • 30 x Double Unders
  • 6 x Clean & Jerk @ 65kg
  • 20 x Double Unders
  • 4 x Clean & Jerks @ 70kg
  • 10 x Double Unders

Time: 8:54 Rx

This would have been even quicker, had I not stopped to put my Vivoactive HR watch on to monitor!! Still, that took less than 5 secs so not exactly a game breaker 😀 😀 The temp here in Devon is peaking at about 28C which added to the spiciness of it all too. When I threw my scores on the the CF Watford Coaches WhatsApp group, I then found out that the head coach had increased the weights on-the-fly as she thought it would be too easy for people. Personally, I think it was absolutely bang on for my own requirements and I went for it. Thoroughly enjoyed it too!

Coming Up Next….. “Don’t let the shit get in the way of Your Time”

 

Airports. I love them. And I sprinted this morning.

I haven’t been everywhere.  But it’s on my list – Susan Sontag

I really love airports. Flying for business or pleasure, I absolutely don’t care. I can’t get enough of the experience. I never tire of it. Sure, you can have all sorts of delays, cancellations, baggage losses and other upsets, but there’s something about the diversity, emotions, hope, and anticipation that floods through an airport. 

I am very fortunate that in my job there is a pretty decent amount of travel. Yeah, so occasionally, I might have to go to an actual nasty place but that is becoming less likely these days. More often than not, I find myself conducting what most people would simply term as “business trips”. I take very short trips, often just a night or two, to far flung places to have a meeting, shake some hands and come back. These are ideal. These are short pauses in normal routine where I get to envelope myself in the hustle, joy, tears, fears, panic, and peaceful excitement of the greatest cross-section of the world. 

As I look around, I see immediately the Red and Blue of a Great Britain sports team. Not immediately obvious who they are but clearly focused, in peak condition for whatever they are headed towards. There are some who just can’t keep their eyes off the incoming arrivals and outgoing planes, streaking away in all directions across the sky. There are those buried, oblivious to the world, in a phone/laptop/tablet. Some are trying new foods for the first time at the sushi bar. Many have shopping bags, carrying devices, clothes, wine, that they didn’t think they needed when they passed through check-in. 

The smiles are the most obvious expression. Kisses and embraces at almost every turn. So far, no arguments; well, not with each other, perhaps at the coffee bill!
Anyway, you get the picture, I’m flying again. Heathrow Terminal 2 once more. My gate has just flashed up as A18 so I should get this posted. 

Strength  

4 x 6 (per leg) weighted Box Step Ups @ 24″

4 x 32kg (2 × 16kg Kettlebells). Maintained a strong core. Supersetted with Handstand holds.

MetCon 

For Time:

  • 600m Sprint
  • Rest 4 mins
  • 400m Sprint
  • Rest 3 mins
  • 200m Sprint
  • Rest 2 mins
  • 20 x Burpees 

Time: 13:43

Definitely my wheelhouse, this one. Out front from the start, despite the 0530 eye opening today. I kept up the pressure throughout, each round relatively as fast as the previous. 20 Burpees then smashed out in 42 seconds. Considering 9 mins of it was “Rest”, this is pretty strong.

Nutrition 

Still 2100 KCal per day but now compensating for cals expended during exercise, using Vivoactive HR (with HRM strap) for increased accuracy.

Still sticking with 35% Carbs / 35% Protein / 35% Fats. Still mostly unprocessed and simple.

Zombie Apocalypse…I don’t have to be the fastest. I just have to be faster than the other guy.

I threw myself out of bed this morning, excited and genuinely motivated. Sure, it doesn’t always happen that way  (as Mrs Regular Reader will know), but after an under-par performance in a couplet last night (Kettlebell Swings and pull ups…..Lots and lots of them), I really wanted to make amends. 

Plus……today is FIGHT GONE BAD day!

A benchmark among benchmarks, FGB is a brutal, high volume / low weight engine workout. Feared by many, I saw this as an opportunity.

So it was with proper whooping joy that I bounded in to CF Watford this morning. Yeah, the large Costa Americano ‘might’ have had something to do with it but it was mostly just me.

The excitement was well noted, as it was during max height box jumps last night (44″), and it got me thinking again about my ‘why’.
Why do I get excited by my fitness? why am I enthusiastic about hard charging the box and putting myself in to a dark, stinking pain cave?

The standard answer: I will be that 50+ year old who is throwing a long pass out wide to my rugby playing daughters at the park. I will be the dad on sports day that my daughters are proud to see winning the parents’ race. I will be the old man helping others move in to a new home, shifting furniture that someone half my age struggles with.

The real answer: I will outrun you when the Zombie Apocalypse comes. 

It’s survival of the fittest, baby! 

Global pandemics, war, environmental disasters, zombies. My family needs me to be on my game to protect them and lead them to survival when the time comes.

Am I the strongest? No. 

Am I the fastest? No.

But I don’t need to be. I just have to want it more than the me of yesterday, and the guy next to me in the fight for survival.

Zombie Apocalypse – they’ll get you before they get me 😀

I am that guy who finds the deactivated escalator to walk up.

With that, Fight Gone Bad was up on the board today and I was grinning from ear to ear. Some 5RM Deadlift work first, I kept this at around 85% of my 5RM, with 140kg lifts. Intentionally not hitting the heights, I had bigger fish to fry today.

Fight Gone Bad

3 Rounds

1 min on each station, Max Effort 

  • Wall Balls, 9kg to 10′
  • Sumo Deadlift High Pull, 35kg
  • Box Jumps, 24″ (standard is 20″ for this)
  • Push Press, 35kg
  • Row for KCal 
  • Rest

Total: 326 – a 13 rep improvement on a year ago.

https://beyondthewhiteboard.com/workout_sessions/31616467

So, with the world going to hell in a handcart, I’m setting myself up for the survival of my family.

Zombies….they’re coming 😉

Strength down, Engine up. Happy for Now.

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Update

Sweating and heaving my way through the 3rd round of 800m Run + 21 x Power Cleans (@60kg) yesterday, it struck me that my barbell cycling and basic strength has taken a bit of a dip recently. Entirely expected, this is due to the increased attention that I’ve placed on training for the Swim/Run event coming up and the associated decrease in time therefore spent in CF Watford. I had initially worked it so that I’d still be getting enough CrossFit time in but work has a habit of rudely getting in the way of my personal life and so I had to make the decision to focus on one thing at a time!

Of course, it was also notable that my third 800m run was almost as fast as the first! So, what I lose in one area, I gain in another; let’s face it, barbell work is a lot more fun than running though so once this event is over, while I’ll keep up the open water swimming, it’s back to the box for strength!!

Open Water Swimming

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Having tried 3 lakes recently, I’ve settled on one that I didn’t even know existed until last week. Merchant Taylors School, Northwood, has a beautiful lake that is open to swimmers every Wednesday evening during the warmer months. At £6 per session, the 750m loop is a little puddle of heavenly joy. The school provides ample parking and  wonderful changing facilities to the managerial ‘club’ from Hercules Events. What I would say though is that while the chalkboard might read, “20C” as the temp, this is only true for the shallower areas of the lake! There are certainly some cooler spots that unexpectedly leap on you as you splash your way around the circuit 😀 I completed 2 laps (1.5km) this evening in 33 mins. The limitations of my Garmin were evident though – it is absolutely ninja at calculating pool swims but ropey outdoors; I did know this to be the case before it was purchased. That said, it could have been the app I was using – next week I’ll use the stock triathlon app that comes with it.

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Running

I didn’t manage to get out on a long distance run last week. 7 miles the week before as far as I’ve succeeded in so far. Keeping at around 7min 30sec per mile, I am quietly confident about the event overall. I’ve not yet practiced transitioning from swim to run but liberal application of Shea Body Butter should make the job easier! 😀 😀

CrossFit

In amongst the endurance work, I have been enjoying 3-4 sessions of CrossFit per week, including garage sessions too:

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I had intense Glute DOMS from Rear Rack Reverse Lunges (90kg) 2 days prior. I’d have hoped for at least a minute faster than this but to be honest, I was happy to get through it alive 😀

Nutrition

  • Carbs: 35%
  • Fats: 30%
  • Protein: 35%

Total KCal: 2300 + exercise deficit

This continues to be my plan, but with a recent tweak. While I set my total at 2300KCal based on bodyweight and requirement to get a little bigger and a little stronger, I didn’t take in to account KCal expended during exercise. This has resulted in my weight remaining pretty stable at 82kg. Since receiving my beautiful Garmin Vivoactive HR for my recent birthday, coupled with the heart rate strap, I have begun tracking my expenditure a bit more. Now, this is fraught with error, I get that – in order to not blow my good work prior to Summer hols, I am taking that watch’s assessment and reducing it by 10-15% before adding the total to my daily intake requirements. I shall continue to monitor body composition over the next month or so to note changes.

 

So, there’s the update for now. Once things calm down a bit with work and training, I’ll pick up the blog a bit more. Until then, have a peaceful and safe evening, wherever you are. x