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

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 😉

Enjoying the Journey, Strength, Open Water Swimming, Recovery

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself,

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

The intense beauty of Istanbul is all well and good but it did smash through my workout plans for last week. There was little strength training beforehand and none out there at all although I did manage 7 miles on a Treadmill and a WOD that I’d programmed for long haul flights.

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Unfortunately, the run was in minimalist shoes…cue getting up for my flight the next day and collapsing in a fit of one-legged agony at 0430, my left calf as solid as the marble on the mosque roof on the other side of the dawn-bathed Bosphorus. It wasn’t exactly funny at the time but imagine the inevitable pain that comes another 24 hours later! Saturday morning, trying to get down the stairs to the Action Princesses was hysterical. Trying to get a cup of tea up to the Chief Warrior Princess was even funnier! It turns out that walking backwards up stairs isn’t very clever either (unless you like Early Grey covered carpets).

I want to highlight my last post. Before heading out to the continental bridge between Europe and Asia last week, I got a new Clean PR baby! 103.5kg! I kind of brushed over it in my last musings, covering the Level 2 CrossFit Trainer course instead. But hell, I got my first major PR in AGES! Boom and, indeed, SMASH! I put it down to the strength programme, CF Watford’s programming, good nutrition and adequate recovery.

Having a goal is really keeping me motivated at the moment. More than that though, I’m enjoying the process. I’ll be honest, I do enjoy weighing and tracking my food. I love seeing my power output in workouts and I’m pushed to keep writing this blog in the vain hope that someone might read it 😉

Anyway, back in to it today with Day 24 of the AMRAP Plus One Strength Programme and my first proper Open Water Swim training.

Strength

  • Cleans 5 x 1 @ 75% – 77.5kg
  • Cleans 5 x 1 @ 80% – 82.5kg
  • Cleans 5 x 1 @ 85% – 87.5kg
  • Clean Pulls 3 x 3 @ 90% – 92.5kg
  • Halting Clean Deadlift (3 x Knee), Finish (x1), Floating Clean Deadlift (x1) @ 87.5kg

I didn’t warm up completely this morning and felt it in the catch, in the lumbar. It took me all day to unknot it. However, each rep was strong. I’m enjoying this programme.

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Swim

1km Open Water @ Denham Water Ski

Time: approx 24 mins.

Nothing fancy, a chance to try on the new DHB wetsuit (which I love) and get in to the cold water (11C). I plodded around (is there a ‘slow swimming’ verb?) and made my way out in good order. Of course, what noone tells you (unless you actually read triathlon websites! – Ed) is that trying to walk after a 1km swim is REALLY funny! 😀 How I’m expected to run 15km, I’ll never know. Still there’s about 5 weeks until the event – plenty of time 😀 😀

Nutrition

  • Pre-Strength – Banana
  • Breakfast – Porridge, Whey Protein, Milk
  • Snack – Brazil Nuts and Cherries
  • Lunch – Turkey Burgers, 2 x Eggs
  • Snack – Seed Mix
  • Dinner – 2 x Organic Bramley Apple Pork Sausages, tonnes of carrots, broccoli and parsnips.
  • Post-Swim – Whey Protein & Milk, Chicken, Rice, Egg

Total Carbs: 202g (808 KCal)

Total Protein: 211g (844 KCal)

Total Fat: 73g (657KCal)

Level 2 CrossFit Trainer now, don’t you know.

Some months ago I realised that my Level 1 Trainer qualification was about to expire, after 5 solid years of training others in 3 boxes (1 of them my own). I took some time to reevaluate whether or not CrossFit Coaching would have any part in my future before shelling out another $1000 on another course.

You see, for coaches there are negatives as well as the considerable positives of developing other people. Not only do we get in to the box that little earlier, set the place up (and tidy it, more often than not), and leave later, but for many of us it comes at the not inconsiderable sacrifice of our own training and fitness. That one spare hour in the day that many use to fit in their training, for us is that same hour that we coach others. It’s slightly different if you own a box but even then not too much. 

I’d identified this issue at CrossFit Keelhaul and then it transpired too in CrossFit Plymouth. Of course, it’s the same in CrossFit Watford. Despite this, I’ve made strong advances in my overall fitness attributes; I even set a new Clean personal best yesterday after 18+ months of trying. However, it was “only” 103.5kg, a solitary 1kg (2.2lb) improvement. Compared to others of my CF experience, I am well off of the mark by about 5-10kg. Still, it was an improvement and I’ll take it! I’m not sure that many athletes see the distinction between the coaches and the athletes, often perhaps thinking, “well you work here, you should be the fittest”. True, we should be among the fitter members but most often we won’t be at the top, especially if you travel from afar to coach- there simply isn’t the time to get both in. 

It could be argued that we could take part in the sessions. I’ve never been comfortable with this approach although, yes,  I have done it. Athletes pay to be coached. This isn’t Globogym (“we’re better than you!  And we know it!”) where you check in, get ignored by the ‘trainers’, do you your thing alone and leave. CrossFit is different. As coaches, we do care about our charges. While we want them all to be safe, more than that we want them to improve and soar, exceeding their own expectations, and smashing goals. We can’t ensure that if we take part too. At intensity, movement becomes shitty and patchy – we’re there to sort it out.

And it was the Coaching of others that swung it for me and prompted me to look at the Level 2 course.  Discussing it with Charlie & Hat, they offered to front up the cash and then I’d pay them back in coaching sessions. With military discount of $200, that brought the cost down immediately.  Another £180 of military funding, plus VAT rebate on it made it much more palatable and so it was last weekend that I found myself at CrossFit Perpetua in Battersea, London.

Immediately greeted by Bobbi, a belle from North Carolina, the long haired, big bearded Matt from south Wales and “I left the navy recently so am letting the hair hang out” McCoy from Scotland (and head coach at CrossFit Thames), we sat ourselves down and awaited the knowledge.


From the outset, it was pacey but very well structured. A much smaller gathering than the Level 1 Course,  there was an obvious focus on us from the coaches.  The aim of the course was to focus on coaching others in the 9 foundational movements, as well as group management. We held each other in front squats, overhead squats,  presses, etc, and analysed the positions to the nth degree before highlighting appropriate language and cues to develop the positions of others. We deep-dived in to programming methodology and had a no-holds-barred presentation on how CrossFit should be delivered as a programme, even if as affiliates we really are encouraged to build as we see fit. No questions were off limits and I took the opportunity to dig in to some nutrition information despite it not being on the programme.

We were assessed throughout,  encouraged, and given brutally honest feedback.  All 3 coaches were absolutely critical in their assessment and pulled no punches. It was exactly what I needed. After 5 years, you do become a bit soft, lazy and set in your ways. You need professionals to step in and break it up, give us fresh perspective and,  perhaps more importantly, reenergise and reenthuse. Enthusiasm was definitely their watchword. I don’t know if, as individuals, they are always like it but they held extremely high energy levels for the whole weekend.  We were treated to 2 workouts too, one MetCon and a heavy strength. Both were delivered in the manner of a ‘ideal’ lesson plan and I took considerable notes throughout.
The collection of coaches from the UK and the world who made up our 21 person contingent was immense. Australia, Denmark, Holland, Croatia, USA….all brought their incredible experiences to bear as we learned about and from each other. It is a testament to the genuine life-changing abilities of the CrossFit community that people are willing to travel so far and wide to learn and progress. I truly believe that many of us will stay in touch as our own journeys succeed onward and send upward.

We departed late on Sunday afternoon, a little battered and stretched, new certificate in hand, and definitely with a spring in our step. I feel as I did after the Level 1, ready to employ everything I’ve learned with the athletes, and with energy. 

Next up for me will likely be to get stuck in to the Anatomy Primer and to do a few of the online courses. 

In the meantime, it’s about the athletes.

I’m feeling motivated.

Early start after a week of lay-ins

No photos today as the Android WordPress App is being crap and refuses to upload anything. Pictures just sit there…..queued…..forever…….like zombie passengers at Heathrow.

The alarm screeched at me at 0520 this morning. After a week of relative lay-ins, this was an unwelcome bitch of a wake-up call. However, knowing I had CF Watford to get to, and willing athletes raring to go (maybe), I dragged my sorry ass out of bed, in to the bathroom and splashed water on my face before hauling my hunched frame to the Tassimo and the glorious Costa Americano that awaited me. A quick swig of the steaming awesomeness and I was already feeling up for it. Grabbing my kit and leaping like a gazelle down to my awaiting chariot (ok, that might be a bit much….I jogged, at best), I was up for the box and well up for the WOD.

Confronted by two newcomers, Ola and Darren, among the regular legends I was immediately struck by their determination to succeed through:

Strength

  • 3 x 5 Thrusters
  • Superset: 3 x Max Effort Unbroken Push Ups

60/65/70kg – If I’d bothered to check BeyondTheWhiteboard, I would have seen that this was my previous best and I could easily have beaten it with just a few 1.25 or 2.5kg plates! Idiot! 😉

MetCon

18 min AMRAP

  • 200m Run
  • 5 x Bar Muscle Ups
  • 10 x Burpees
  • 15 x Wall Balls, 9kg @ 10′

Total: 5 Rounds with 15 secs to spare. I didn’t bother attempting a run at the end. There was significant time spent coaching during this one, as I am there to do. I certainly don’t begrudge it – I only workout when there is capacity and freedom to do so and the athletes always come first. Having said that, I completed all rounds completely unbroken, Muscle Ups included. This is a huge achievement and I have been rocking it all day.

AMRAP Plus One Strength Programme – Day 14

I began this 2 weeks ago and am enjoying the focussed attention on the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. Last week, I spent a great deal of time in my garage working this solely, without any associated metcons. On Saturday, I trotted through a Snatch routine and EASILY moved 70kg above my head. Why I didn’t continue upward, I don’t know. Instead, I moved on to the next part of the programme. I know I’m getting close the most elusive PR of them all though (for me).

Day 14:

On the Minute

  • Snatch 5 x 1 @ 73% – 55kg, 5 x 1 @ 78% – 57.5kg, 5 x 1 @ 83% – 62.5kg, 5 x 1 83%+ – 70kg, 75kg Fail, 72.5kg Fail, 72.5kg PASS.
  • Snatch Pull 3 x 3 @ 85% – 65kg, 3 x 2 @ 90% – 67.5kg

Further accessory movements.

I am not going to be disappointed for not hitting my PR or getting above it today. I think I put a little too much expectation on myself. My movement is good and I know this programme will get me over the line.

Nutrition

Back in military-world, I am able to control my intake much better than at home. Still, I ate a Cadbury Creme Egg (it fit in my macros though!) pre-WOD. I am keeping to 2300 KCal at the moment and feel good about it. As macros, that equals:

  • Carbs: 201g (804 KCal – 35%)
  • Protein: 201g (804 KCal – 35%)
  • Fat: 77g (693 KCal – 30%)

Other than the wondrous chocolate goodness, I’ve eaten lean beef mince, an avocado, 3 eggs, a truckload of veg, some oats and some whey protein. Oh, and 10 almonds. And 5g Creatine.

Confession, the Open (success), Reboot

Where is your journey taking you today?

 

Forgive me, dear readers, for it has been approximately 2 weeks since my last blog post. Since the end of CrossFit Open 17, I have been a bit lost and have struggled to find the motivation to open the WordPress machine and start tapping away. In all honesty, 17.5 didn’t go well for me; I over-revved in the early rounds and died in the latter, recording my worst individual CF Open WOD this year. Worse even than 17.1 when I was ill. It was my own fault and I felt like I’d wasted the Open this year, let the box down, lost credibility, rah, rah, etc…..

However.

While my scores on Beyond The Whiteboard have proven to be low this year, it would appear that I SMASHED my Top 25% target in the Open itself! Yes, winners, I actually hit the top 17% of Individual Men Worldwide and top 14% of Masters Men (35-39) Worldwide. I can put this down to one major factor:

Beyond The Whiteboard is a measurement of Rx versus Rx only – there is no accounting for non-Rx/Scaled scores, unlike the CF Open where a huge percentage chose Scaled.

I knew this would be the case in advance but didn’t think the difference would be so stark. To confirm my improvement, I went back over the last 2 years and compared against the same criteria (position as a percentage of all those who completed at least 1 WOD, either Rx or Scaled). I have improved in the competition over the last 3 years, despite heading in to my late 30s. Without wishing to be too over-confident though, Strength has still proven to be my Weakness. The 3-month squat programme of last year gave me more in mid-weight Thrusters / Olympic Lifts than it did for all-out strength. Something to review for this year.

So, all in all, it was pretty good really. Next year – top 15% within the same criteria.

South Milton Sands Swim/Run, 25 June
I alluded to this a few months ago when I signed up but yes, I have entered a 1km Sea Swim / 15km Trail Run Duathlon in June. Completely at odds with any strength work I want to do, I have opted for an endurance competition. Swimming has not been a strength of mine really and I am proper excited about this. Follow me as I prepare for this challenge (more mental than physical, I think!). 

I kicked this off on Tuesday with 2.4 Km Run, 1 Km Pool Swim and another 2.4 Km Run. All this in under an hour, including changing room nonsense, unknown route, etc

AMRAP Plus One Strength Programme

At the same time, I have begun a Strength programme from AMRAP Plus One. I know, I know…how can I carry out strength training and endurance training at the same time? Well, while I do want to complete the Duathlon, I just want to complete it. I have no aspirations of a placing, it’s just for my own fun and challenge. With that in mind, I’ll be simply getting miles under the feet and water under the arms to a point of confidence. I won’t be spending every day out pounding the pavements or floundering in the sea. My overall focus is still strength but I’ll assess as I begin to head in to this.
Nutrition

MyFitnessPal is awesome. That’s it. In Jan, I set myself the task of getting to my Summer 2016 form by end of Feb 17. I achieved that and more. Through careful consideration of exactly what I eat, as well as precisely how much, I have lost a noticeable 4-6% body fat. I feel swifter, with no loss of strength and improved endurance. I highly recommend getting a set of kitchen scales and a MyFitnessPal account.

Ok, I’ll finish there, that’s enough of a catch up for now. I’m motivated again and promise it won’t be as long next time!

Open 17.3, Goals; Now to have Fun.

I’m sat in Starbucks, just off Petty France in London. I’ve a meeting a few streets away and there’s 30mins to kill. This weekend, post-Open WOD 17.3, has been a funny one, mentally. Approaching the Open,I set myself the goal of hitting the top 25% of Individual Men globally in the Open. Historically, I’ve taken my placing as a percentage of all who have completed at least 1 WOD. This has become more complicated in recent years, with the incorporation of the Scaled division. It further complicates with people perhaps missing 17.1 but then submitting a single rep on 17.2 (loads of these and I don’t understand it).

I therefore have begun to take these with a punch of salt and look to Beyondthewhiteboard instead where I compare against RX in each WOD and then average it over the 5 WODs.

Well, on the first method, I am sitting in the top 19%. Sounds good, right?!

On the second method, I am not even in top 33%.

Therefore, which one is correct? It matters to me because I am goal-orientsted and see my performance in this competition as an indicator of my credibility as a CrossFit athlete and coach to others. I appreciate that credibility comes from ability to coach, specifically, but in this environment how can I ask others to perform to their potential if I am not demonstrating the same?

So, unless WODs 17.4 and 17.5 are long, lightweight chippers with loads of gymnastic skills then it’s likely that I will slump lower. This highlights the work I have to do on strength training, which is a worrying  and separate issue.

What next then?

Well, the pressure is off. It’s time to have fun. Sure, I’ll dig in and give it everything but I’m not going to get frustrated to see others push past me. Indeed, I’ll revel in their success and will enjoy the atmosphere in the box a lot more. I suspect there’ll be more fist bumps and High 5s but what you gonna do?  😉

Strength 

  • Box Squats 4×4
  • Superset Bent over Row 4×8

60/70/90/100kg

Not as high as I would like but strong form. 

MetCon 

2 Rounds of:

8 min window 

800m Run plus,

AMRAP (in remaining time)

  • 8 x Power Clean @ 42.5kg
  • 8 x Shoulder to Overhead
  • 8 x Bar over Burpees

Round 1: 3 + 4 

Round 2: 3 + 3

I’m very happy with this, especially as it turned out to be the top score of the day. Power Cleans and Shoulders to Overhead were all unbroken and done together.