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Focus on: Body Re-composition

Most traditional weight loss plans, slimming groups and ‘diets’ focus on your weight on the scales- that one number that tells us what we weigh overall. You may increase your cardiovascular exercise and reduce your calorie intake in an attempt to make that number on the scales tick down over the weeks. Some schemes and clubs may actually advise you NOT to exercise!

What these kinds of diets don’t do is focus on what your overall weight is actually made up of. They don’t really look at how sustainable the weight loss will be, the overall health of your internal systems or the composition of your body as a result of the short-term weight loss.

Number of a scale

 

Body Composition

Your body is made up of many different tissues of different densities; in other words some tissues will take up more space (higher volume) but weigh less and some will take up less space (lower volume) and actually weigh more. This is the case for fat vs muscle. You’ve probably heard it said before that muscle is more dense than fat.

So two people may weigh exactly the same, but visibly one may look leaner than the other, purely due to their different body compositions. The visibly leaner person will more than likely have a higher muscle mass and a lower fat mass. Yet, overall both people will weigh the same on the scales.

body composition

 

How do you know what your body composition is?

With my clients I use a Bioelectrical Impedance system. This involves a small electrical signal that passes through the water of the body. The fat in the body is hydrophobic (hates water) and so the signals meet resistance when they hit fat. The muscle on the other hand is hydrophilic (loves water) and so the signals pass easily through the hydrated muscle. This difference in flow of the signal gives a percentage of fat vs muscle in the body. It will also tell us how hydrated a client is, roughly what their bone mass is and importantly a rating of how much of the fat is visceral (stored around the organs).

Body circumference measurements are also a very useful indicator of health (particularly waist to hip measurement ratios); overall body appearance and how a client ‘feels’ in their clothes are also important. Never overlook how you feel in your clothes. With a lower fat percentage and a higher muscle mass your circumference measurements will reduce and clothes will feel and look much better. Your overall appearance will change even if that number on the scales doesn’t budge much.

 

Body re-composition

So is it possible to reduce your overall fat and increase your muscle at the same time?

The simple answer is yes. This is not just a short term fix either. By taking your focus off that big number on the scales (which may still reduce) and switching your attention to what your body is actually made up of, your fat loss will be more sustainable.

Muscles require energy to work, so they are calorie burning machines. Therefore the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn even at rest.

When you burn fat and in turn increase your muscle mass you aren’t literally turning one into the other. You are simultaneously engaging two different processes within the body: fat burning and muscle building. So how do you do this?

strength training

Training for body re-composition

6 steps to create a fat burning and muscle building body:

1. Create a modest calorie deficit each day.

Reduce by around 250kcal per day with an increase in exercise is advisable. Generally speaking, any more than this and your body is adapted to go into a starvation response. Meaning that you begin to create a fat storing environment.

2. Decrease your consumption of processed foods.

Foods that are high in sugar and high in saturated fat should be kept to an absolute minimum.

2. Reduce your overall carbohydrate consumption.

Each meal should be made up of ‘green’ carbs like vegetables predominantly and small handful servings of other unprocessed, complex carbs like quinoa, sweet potato and brown rice. Avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, potatoes, white rice and white pasta.

3. Increase your protein intake.

Aim for a minimum of 1g protein per kg of body mass, per day. So for a 90kg person, aim for a minimum of 90g of protein over the whole day. Protein is required to repair and build muscle. You do not need protein shakes. It is possible to get this protein from your diet. See my blog post on higher protein breakfasts and snacks: To snack or not to snack? That is the ‘high protein, low carb’ question and Start your day the right way with these healthy, lower sugar breakfast swaps

4. Ensure you’re drinking plenty of water.

Keep your body hydrated. It will depend on your overall body mass, but on average you should aim for around 2 litres per day and more in warmer weather or when you’re exercising.

5. Use interval training to make the fat burning process more efficient.

By working hard and then resting over short intervals your heart rate moves between ‘zones’ (70-80% of your heart’s maximum number of beats per minute back down to around 50% of its maximum), therefore increasing your fat burning potential. Interval training is more efficient than low intensity training which take much longer.

6. Ensure that strength training is incorporated into a regime.

Don’t ignore resistance training. You won’t suddenly develop huge muscles like ‘Arnie’ and you won’t ‘get big’. Light resistance training will increase the endurance of your muscles, will modestly increase their overall mass and will ensure that your muscles are burning energy even after you’ve finished exercising.

 

So can I do it?

10-week Total Transformation

Transformation

Over my 10 week programme I look holistically at a client’s lifestyle, their body composition, their eating habits, their mindset and readiness for change, as well as their end goals. I work with clients to make their transformations realistic, healthy and importantly sustainable. By using the principles of body re-composition I ensure that exercise programmes are designed to burn fat efficiently, build muscle and re-shape bodies in a healthy way. Weight loss isn’t about quick fixes. Extreme weight loss using shakes, juices, pills or injections is not sustainable and isn’t conducive with a healthy body or mind.

My approaches are based on science and treating each client as an individual person- not just a body that needs to be trained. I do not make unrealistic promises; a training programme over 10 weeks requires an honest relationship between client and trainer. It will take dedication and hard work.

So if you would like more information on body re-composition or are interested in this 10 week programme then click here or get in touch to find out about my approach and other packages.

I’d love to hear from you!

Calorie match: How far would you run for a burger?

Counting calories isn’t a sustainable or particularly pleasant way to manage your weight over time.

However, it is important to have a general awareness of how much energy you’re taking in vs. how much energy you’re expending throughout the day, for weight management and a healthy lifestyle.

Bath tub

Although it might be a bit of an over-simplification, a good image to use for thinking about energy balance is that of a bath tub with a plug and taps.

You are the bath.

The water flows into the bath through the taps when they are open. This is like calories in – through your mouth! When you’re eating the tap is switched on and the water flows in. If you close the tap off the water, or the calories, stop flowing into the bath, or your body. So only you can control what goes in.

How do you control what goes out? Well, in a bath you stick the plug in to fill the bath up and to stop the water flowing out. If you take the plug out, the water from the bath will start to flow down the plug hole, emptying the bath of its contents. Now compare taking the plug out to exercising and burning calories: plug out = exercise = energy out. As soon as you stop exercising and block that plug hole up (and you continue to take in energy through the taps, your mouth), the bath will soon fill up. That’s where the comparison ends, because a bath will overflow, whereas your body will just expand.

So in order to achieve equilibrium in your bath (body), your water in (energy in) should match the water out (energy out).

That’s where a knowledge of energy content in foods and energy expended in activity comes in handy! Many of our common treats, meals or beverages of choice can come laden with excessive calories that we are often unaware of. Even if we do have a knowledge of calorie content do we really understand what that means in practise? Well, a good way to put it all in context is to compare them to the calories we burn when carrying out various tasks or exercises. How long will you have to cycle for a portion of fish and chips?

Here are a few calorie comparisons to get you started.

WARNING: Some of these may surprise you!

(NOTE: Calories burned are calculated for a UK female, weighing 65kg. If you weigh more or are male you will burn slightly more calories and if you weigh less than 65kg you’ll burn less.)

Large Latte (274kcal)

= Brisk Walking for 50 minutes

 

Salt and vinegar crisps (184kcal)

= Pilates for 50 minutes

Big Mac (563 kcal)

 = Jogging for 1 hour 15 minutes

Small portion of fish and chips (946kcal)

= Indoor cycling (spin) for almost 2 hours

Spaghetti Carbonara (581kcal)

= HIIT circuits for 1 hour 15 minutes

Slice of cheese pizza (272kcal)

 = Lifting weights (vigorously) for 45 minutes

 

Jacket potato with cheese and beans (500kcal)

 = Skipping for just over 1 hour

A couple of pints of beer (360kcal)

= Hula Hooping for 50 minutes

Mars bar (260kcal)

= House work (full on spring clean!) for 1 hour 20 minutes

 

Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel (400kcal)

= Tennis for almost 1 hour

Can of Coca-Cola (139kcal)

= Dancing for 28 minutes

 

Bottle of Prosecco (496kcal)

= Swimming for over 1 hour

 

Is it that simple?

Something to consider here is the fact that calories are NOT necessarily all equal!

Despite popular belief, energy balance is NOT the only factor at play when it comes to healthy and sustainable weight loss (as my previous blog posts have eluded to: Good habits for a healthier lifestyle, How to fight belly fat the science way). Achieving the correct balance of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and exercising on a regular basis is vital for a healthy body composition.

So, as tempting as it might seem; eating nothing but burgers and chocolate and expecting to be able to undo the damage with house work and jogging just won’t cut it! Moderation and balance are key. Just be aware of the energy you’re packing in and be prepared to put in the hours burning it off.

Right I’m off for a cheeky bagel and a game of tennis (tennis fans will get the link here…hopefully!) See you next week! 

 

 

 

Good habits for a healthier lifestyle

We are creatures of habit.

Habits help us move through our day without having to fully engage in a task that we repeat regularly. We are so well rehearsed at some tasks we can be busy daydreaming, planning or pondering without giving any conscious thought to the immediate task in hand.

Have you ever suddenly come around from an all-consuming daydream only to find you’ve made it to your destination without barely a conscious thought about the route, the practicalities of driving, or the other unsuspecting drivers on the road? That’s the power of a habit. You have dozens, maybe even hundreds of habits. Habits can be time-savers and some are very useful. Others can be time-wasters or just plain destructive.

 

7 steps

So how do you know which of your activities are habits; which do you keep and which do you ditch? Here are a few steps to help you reach your conclusion.

 

1. Write it all down

Take some time to think. Work through your day and write down every activity that you undertake each day, when you do it, how you feel about it and why you do it. Be detailed. Do this for a full week and notice where the patterns lie.

2. Identify the bad habits

Take a different colour pen and circle around all of the habitual activities that you’re not happy about. Perhaps you always have a few biscuits with your morning coffee, or you check your social media accounts late at night. When you see the habits in front of your own eyes, you will know yourself which ones aren’t so good.

3. Replace them with good ones

For each bad habit replace the activity with a good habit. For example, move from ‘I always grab a bag of crisps and a chocolate bar to eat with my lunch, on the go’ to ‘I will choose a salad and a yoghurt for lunch, and make time to eat them away from my desk’. Or ‘I always have a glass of wine when the kids have gone to bed’ to ‘I relax with a cuppa and a few chapters of my book, when the kids have gone to bed’.

4. Set some goals

Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither are good habits. Set yourself some realistic goals that are time-bound and are realistic for you to achieve. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to eradicate your bad habits over night. It takes a long time to develop a habit, whether they’re good or bad.

5. Share them with someone

Tell a close friend, family member or your partner about the changes you intend to make. Having someone to share your progress with will mean you’re more likely to stick to your goals and they’ll be able to provide some moral support if you struggle.

6. Keep a record

Record your progress. Keep a diary to monitor your changes and how much you’re achieving from week to week. Take time at the end of each week to look back and review how you’re progressing.

7. Reward yourself

Adopt the 80:20 rule. 20% of the time you can treat yourself; give yourself a break! Don’t let the lifestyle changes control you. The purpose of making healthy changes is to take control over the habits in your life. Reward your progress now and then. However, be sure to identify the difference between the ‘everyday’ and the ‘treat’. Getting this balance right will make your lifestyle changes sustainable.

 

Good Habits

Here are some good lifestyle habits to inspire change. Choose a few to stick to. Why not start today?

 

Move more

Move more

Pick a time each day to exercise and stick to it. Aim for 3- 5 times a week to get your kit on and get out there. Having a regular time dedicated to a workout will mean you’re more likely to stick to it and plan other engagements around your ‘active time’.

Take the stairs. Make a point of always using the stairs no matter where you are, or how many floors you have to climb!

Make time in the day to walk. It might be your lunch break, a walk to or from work, or an evening stroll. All of those steps add up and stop us becoming sedentary people.

Lay out your running gear / gym clothes / trainers where you can see them. If they are within easy reach and you can see them clearly, you’re more likely to get them on and get out.

 

Reduce your screen time

Screen time

Take regular screen breaks. Stand and stretch for a few minutes every hour when you’re at your desk or place of work. Set a timer on your watch or phone to remind you.

Keep control of your screen time. Take back control over your phone or your tablet. Don’t let social media rule your free time and schedule slots each day where you are allowed to browse, to post and to like. You’ll notice how much more time you have available to be more active or simply to relax.

Ban the phone. Don’t use your phone at the dinner table or in bed. By simply banning your phone from these places you’ll instantly reduce the time you spend browsing.

 

Control consumption

Keep a food diary. This is the best way to notice patterns and good or bad food choices. Do this for a week and you’ll soon get the idea. If you want to take this a step further, take photographs of each meal (No, not for Instagram!) and you’ll also be able to notice the colours (no beige plates please), portion sizes and the balance of macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, fats) much more clearly.

Be prepared. A lot of the time, our poor food and drink choices are due to poor planning. When we aren’t prepared we will often grab the quickest and most convenient option. When we consciously make a plan, prepare in advance and stick to our decisions we are more likely to make better choices.

Eat at a table. Try to limit the TV dinners; you’ll be less conscious of each mouthful and are more likely to overeat and under chew; all leading to poor digestion. By sitting at a table you are more likely to consciously chew and swallow each bite, without TV distractions.

Drink more water. Most people do not drink enough water. You should be aiming for around 2 litres a day. You should aim for approximately 31ml of water per kg of body weight. So for a person weighing 65kg 2 litres of water is perfect. For someone weighing 90kg it’s slightly more at 2.75 litres of water.

Set yourself a munching curfew. Aim to finish your dinner by 8pm (earlier if possible) and don’t eat after that time. This way you’ll avoid the sleepy snacking and the habitual biscuits and you’ll also give your body time to digest the food and wind down ready for sleep.

 

Structure your shop

Crisp aisle

Write a list and stick to it. Plan your meals for the week and write a list of all the ingredients you will need. When you have a list you’re less likely to put things in the trolley like ready meals, snacks and fast food options that are easy to imagine plonking on your plate.

Shop after you’ve eaten. Never head to the shops on an empty stomach. Hungry shopping spells disaster down the crisp and chocolate aisles.

Avoid the tempting aisles. An easy thing to do is to avoid the aisles where you know your temptation lies. Changing your route around the supermarket is easy to do and saves you time to boot.

 

Get more sleep

Get more sleep

Regular bed time. Set yourself a regular bed time and wake time. Allow your body to develop a healthy sleeping habit. Getting a good night’s sleep is not just good for the mind, it’s good for the body too. Lack of sleep can increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body and this is bad for fat gain, especially around the middle.

Get the right environment. Keep your room cool (difficult in this heat, I know), dark (try blackout curtains or an eye mask), quiet (try earplugs) and dust and clutter free (try a cleaner!).

Use essential oils. A small amount of lavender oil on your pillow may help to relax you into sleep.

Have a bath. Get into a routine of having a warm bath before bed. Go the whole hog and glug in the bubble bath, light a few candles and let the stresses of the day soak away.

Wind down. Start winding down for bed a few hours before you want to drift off. Turn the lights down, read a book, turn off your phone, close the laptop and turn off the TV. Whatever you do, don’t watch TV in bed.

Stop clock watching. If you struggle to get to sleep, watching the minutes and hours tick away does nothing to relax you. Ban visible clocks from the bedroom and stop checking your watch.

 

Plan

Take it step-by-step, slow and steady. A lifestyle overhaul will not happen without determination, support and a plan. Most importantly don’t let bad habits take over your life and become destructive. Habits can be a good way to make positive changes. So start forming some good ones!

 

I hope this has been useful for you and good luck! I’d love to hear own healthy habits.

Comment below to share your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

How to fight belly fat the science way

It’s a modern day problem that seems to hit us as we get older; sometimes called ‘The Middle Age Spread’. No, not a medieval invasion but an increased and unwanted settling of fat around the mid-section (arguably even more gruesome and unwanted than the aforementioned historic invasion).

It’s a common issue that faces many of us in today’s stressful, sugar-fuelled society and I’m often asked to help clients to ‘get rid of this here’ (client points to tummy). You may think that the answer lies in crunches, sit ups or the latest bit of kit but ‘Spot reduction’ is an over-simplification. Doing only ab crunches thinking it will target and lose the fat from your belly won’t work. You need to take a whole body approach.

Getting rid of the fat around the middle is not just to look and feel better, it’s also to reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure. Calculating your waist to hip ratio is a good place to start. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference and you should get a number under 0.8 for women and for men lower than 0.9. If your numbers are higher than this you should consider trying to lose fat around your middle.

So here are my top tips (based on science not showbiz or surgery) to help blast the fat and make a happier, healthier you at the same time.

 

1. Control the carbs

carbs

It’s sometimes said if ‘you are what you eat’ then ‘fat makes you fat’; well recent scientific evidence has revealed this to be a far bigger simplification than we could have imagined. Evidence shows us that fat is vital for a healthy diet and that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) fat from foods such as eggs, salmon (and other oily fish), olives, nuts, seeds and avocados (yes, contrary to popular diet clubs, avocados are not the enemy), as well as a very small amount of saturated fat from dairy, red meat and certain oils, like coconut oil, are needed in the correct quantities for a balanced diet. Fats are vital for proper brain and nerve functioning; as an energy source; they provide insulation and protection for our organs; they are required for the transportation of the many fat-soluble vitamins we require; and are also the basic building blocks of our steroid hormones, needed to regulate many of our bodily processes.

Fats contain a high number of calories per gram, more than any other macronutrient (9 kcal), so you may think that limiting the fat you consume will ultimately reduce your overall calorie consumption and therefore you’ll lose weight. That may very well happen. However, in order to achieve a healthy balance of the correct nutrients and make the weight loss sustainable, fats should not be treated as the enemy and eliminating them from your diet in favour of carbohydrates is not the answer.

Carbohydrates are a much simpler topic. Apart from fibre (a form of carbohydrate which is essential for bowel function and maintaining a healthy digestive system), carbs are only useful as a provider of energy for the body and are the only non-essential macronutrient in your diet. In simple terms, you can split carbs into three different categories; green, brown and white.

  • Green includes vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, peas, cauliflower.
  • Brown includes potatoes (don’t treat potatoes as a vegetable- they are very starchy and are high in sugar), grains, pasta, rice, breads.
  • White includes things like sweet desserts, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, syrups, the sugars from alcoholic beverages.

Green carbs are the best ones to consume, brown should be eaten in unprocessed moderation and white should be eliminated or at least dramatically reduced in your diet.

Now here’s the slightly more complex bit in the fat vs carbs debate….

If you imagine making a fire. The kindling and paper are the carbohydrates and the fat and protein are the coal and the wood. When you light a match and hold it to the combination of materials, the kindling will burn preferentially over the coal and wood; the same goes for carbs in the body. If you consume a lot of carbohydrate alongside your essential fat and protein, your body will use the carbs for energy over the fats every time. Therefore, if you are not active and so do not use the additional energy that you have consumed, the fats will be stored not used.

You can either create a fat-burning or a fat-storing environment, not both. High carbs consumed with your essential fats will lead to a fat-storing environment, but by reducing the carbs you consume, your body will become a more efficient fat-burning machine.

Advice:

Cut down on processed brown carbs such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and when you do eat them go for wholegrain (e.g. brown rice and pasta) in small quantities. There are lots of easy substitutes – courgetti instead of spaghetti, aubergine slices instead of burger buns. Carbs should only make up a quarter of the space on your plate at the most. So mainly go for green carbs in the form of vegetables to give you a healthy helping of essential micronutrients too.

2. Stop the sugar

sugar

As well as the negative effect of causing a fat-storing environment, sugar in large quantities is also a killer.

Excessive sugar in your diet will lead to regular insulin spikes and inevitable erratic blood sugar levels. Sugars, like glucose, are the simple building blocks of the more complex starches found in bread, pasta and potatoes. As the sugars do not need to be broken down any further through digestion, once they’ve entered your mouth, they can immediately enter your blood stream. This causes a spike in blood glucose. The body reacts to this by attempting to return the concentration back to normal and either use or store the glucose, depending on your activity levels. The hormone, insulin is released from the pancreas, enters the bloodstream, eventually causing the blood glucose to enter the muscle cells for activity and the liver and fat cells for storage. When blood glucose levels fall, the hormone glucagon is released and causes the liver to give up it’s stores of glucose back into the blood stream to be used by muscle cells for energy. This hormone partnership works perfectly to regulate your blood sugar in a healthy individual.

However, over time high sugar consumption may lead to cells of the body becoming resistant to insulin and lead to reduced production of insulin due to pancreatic cell damage. This can often lead to Type 2 Diabetes which is a condition on the rise in the UK, mainly caused by obesity and poor diet (some genetic links have also been found). For more information visit: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/

Advice:

Cut out or reduce the sweet treats and snacks like chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits and sugary soft drinks.

 

3. Plenty of protein

protein

Protein is vital for a balanced diet and is needed for repair, growth, enzyme production, antibody production, healthy hair and nails. Protein is filling and so not only is it nutritionally valuable it will also keep you fuller for longer and stop you snacking on high sugar foods.

We all know how popular protein shakes, bars and supplements (even chocolate bars with added protein!) have become of late. However, do not be fooled by the word ‘Protein’ on the packaging! For some protein bars this can simply indicate that they have added a few more nuts to the bar or a small amount of protein powder. You need to be careful with protein powders as some are heat-treated at such high temperatures that the proteins contained within them are denatured and rendered useless. It is possible to achieve a satisfactory amount of protein from your diet, using natural sources and without having to shell out lots of money on bars and shakes.

Advice:

Increase your daily protein consumption to around 1- 1.5 g protein per kilo bodyweight, choosing lean meat like chicken and fish, eggs, pulses or soya if you’re veggie. We often do not get enough protein in our diets, particularly at breakfast time (some ideas for high protein breakfasts here: Start your day the right way with these healthy, lower sugar breakfast swaps ), but you should aim to divide your protein consumption evenly throughout the day. So for a 60kg person aim for around 20 – 30g at breakfast; 30g at lunch; and 30g at dinner. This will keep you fuller for longer, meaning you’re less likely to snack on carb heavy foods. It will also support the repair of muscles after exercise, therefore maintaining lean muscle mass to ultimately burn more calories.

 

4. Ban the booze

alcohol

Most of my clients name alcohol consumption as their biggest vice and the hardest thing to change. Alcohol has a whopping 9 calories per g. That is more than any macronutrient, and yet it has absolutely no value to our bodies. Yes, there are certain antioxidants found in red wine that are beneficial for us, however, it’s certainly not the alcohol providing the goodness. As well as the calories from alcohol it’s also laden with sugar too- especially wine, beer, cider and high sugar mixers found in cocktails. In one bottle of wine there are a staggering 600 empty calories (even more in dessert wines).

There are also many long term effects that alcohol has on the body that can prevent or hinder fat loss. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body#4.

Advice:

Cut out all alcohol (!) for at least 1 month.

If you usually drink 2 bottles of wine a week, simply taking alcohol out of the diet for 1 month would see a reduction of well over 5,000 calories (that’s around 1.5 – 2 lb weight loss without any change to diet or any exercise!)

 

5. HIIT new heights

HIIT

 

Contrary to some diet clubs (remaining nameless) exercise will not slow your weight loss down and it is a healthy way to lose weight safely and sustainably. Combining a healthy diet and a modest degree of calorie restriction with an increase in your physical activity will help you to, not only lose a steady and constant amount of weight from fat, but will also train your cardiovascular system, making you an all round healthier, happier person. If you restrict calories without exercise you are highly unlikely to maintain your lean mass (the more lean mass i.e. muscles, the greater the overall calorie burn) and your weight loss will not be as efficient or as sustainable. A combination of high intensity cardio and resistance exercises will place your body in the right conditions to burn calories even after you’ve finished exercising!

Advice:

Do 3 – 4 HIIT sessions combined with weights/resistance training each week (Up to 1 hour per session is enough). As an extra bonus, it has been suggested that HIIT has an effect on your hormones, particularly ones which are responsible for the process involved in lowering fat from areas such as your belly. Here are a few previous posts that have some great moves for you to use: HIIT Zoo: Top 10 animal-inspired bodyweight moves and My top 10 fat-blasting moves to try today

6. Sleep not stress

stress

Our society and the daily pressures that we face are slowly making us fat. Is it possible to get fat around the middle just from lack of sleep and a high stress lifestyle? Well, our hormones would suggest so.

Millions of years ago, our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger. We were on constant alert so we could run or fight if threatened. When your brain thinks your life is in danger it stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This ‘fight or flight’ response is incredibly clever and very efficient. It provides instant energy for 5-10 minutes allowing you to react to dangerous situations.

These days, many of us live under chronic stress. But our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, infuriating work colleagues, family arguments and the actual life-threatening stress that it gears up to challenge. So it reacts exactly the same. The problem with many modern lifestyles is that stress (‘perceived threat’) is almost continuous and comes without the natural release that either fighting or fleeing might provide. Unless you do something physical all that extra energy, in the form of fat and glucose, has nowhere to go. It must be simply re-deposited as fat. The reason fat is stored around the middle is because it is close to the liver where it can most quickly be converted back into energy if needed. Your body tries to keep a convenient fat store ready for constant use and creates cravings and increases appetite to ensure good supplies of necessary fuel. Although this response can have a negative effect on our figures and appearance, the body is actually only trying to help keep you alive!

Advice:

Try relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, yoga and meditation. Get a good night’s sleep and try to stick to a bedtime routine. Plan ahead and schedule your diary to give you plenty of rest time throughout the day. Don’t read emails in bed and turn off your computer, phone or tablet two hours before bed. If you would like more information on dealing with stress visit: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress

Stress is a hard thing to combat, but it really is worth a go for your physical and for your mental health.

 

Icing on the cake (not literally, obviously!)

7. Shape

Plank

As I’ve already mentioned, you won’t necessarily affect the fat loss from your middle simply by doing a few sit ups, but you can improve muscle definition, contouring and overall mobility and strength of your core. So do include some exercises to focus in on your mid-section when you’re working out. Crunches heavily target your abs, side plank hip raises and bicycle crunches will target your obliques (the bits down the sides) and exercises like planks and dead bugs will work the lot.

 

8. De-bloat

fizzy drinks

Something that lots of people complain about is bloating and the appearance of a bloated belly after eating or drinking certain things. This may be down to food intolerances, allergies, overeating, indigestion plus much more. If you’re suffering a lot of bloating after most meals, and your portion sizes are not the problem, then do go to see your healthcare professional to check for any food intolerances or allergies. However, an undeniable fact is that drinking or eating gassy things will almost certainly add to the bloat. So an easy step if you want to achieve a flatter tummy (not reduce fat) is to stop drinking fizzy drinks for at a while and notice the difference.

 

Common sense nutrition and lifestyle advice is actually the hardest thing to follow. Without quick fix promises and strict rules we can sometimes feel like we don’t know where to start; but use these basic tips one at a time and you’ll notice the difference slowly but surely, and definitely sustainably.

I’d love to hear from anyone who would like more information, links or references for further reading so please get in touch or comment below.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

HIIT Zoo: Top 10 animal-inspired bodyweight moves

If this lovely spell of sunshine has given you the outdoor exercise bug then these animal-inspired exercises might just be for you.

These full body moves require absolutely no equipment; just you, some grass and your best animal noises!

I’ve put together a selection of exercises that will get your heart racing, provide a good bodyweight resistance workout and are fun to boot…especially with a friend!

Try adding any of these moves into your own workout to freshen things up. Or you could try completing a circuit of 5-6 moves; working for 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest in between each exercise. Complete the circuit a minimum of 2 times but go for 3 or even 4 times through if you can.

Remember to warm up first and stretch at the end. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout your session and it’s probably best to pick a shady spot. Also, remember to breathe throughout each move! It sounds obvious but so many people forget!

 

1. Starfish jumps

A killer version of a jumping jack.

Great for cardio and getting the heart thumping during a HIIT circuit. No explanation needed!

2. Monkey jumps

A deep squat followed by a tuck jump.

Keeping the momentum and pace is key to making this move one of the hardest you’ll do! Your legs and bum will burn, but grit your teeth and push through!

3. Inchworm

Like a ‘walk-out’ but your feet end up following too.

As you move across the floor on hands and feet, take your time and make sure that your legs remain as straight as possible (you’ll feel the stretch on your hamstrings) and pull your tummy in tight. Keep your breathing controlled. This tests the muscular endurance of your core and your flexibility.

4. Donkey kicks

A cardio and resistance exercise combined.

Your arms, shoulders and core are stabilising your whole body throughout this move and the quick bursts of kicking raise the heart rate. You could also try kicking out and back for a more intense version.

5. Frog jumps

A deep squat with a floor tap, followed by an explosive jump and reach.

As with the monkey jumps, this move is killer when performed with momentum and with proper form. You will find that you move forwards slightly as you progress and that’s fine. Just make sure you’re touching the floor and pushing off explosively with each move.

6. Bear crawl

Closely replicating our quadruped ‘friends’, walking on all fours is harder than it looks. It’s a great test of coordination, core strength and balance.

It’s important that you pull your tummy in tight and contract your legs and bum to give extra stability as you move. Start with knees directly under your hips but not touching the floor and arms under your shoulders. You’ll move on your toes and hands; opposite hand and feet moving forward in a controlled way. You could progress in one direction for half the time and then try to reverse the move and crawl backwards.

7. Crab crawl

This one is similar to the bear crawl but there’s more emphasis on the arms, particularly the triceps (backs of the arms).

Start with hands pointing in the direction you’re moving, directly under the shoulders and feet pointing forwards, under your knees. Dip your bum and move opposite arm and leg forward, keeping your torso as stable as possible. This again, tests balance, coordination and core strength, as well as working the arms and shoulders.

8. Bird dogs

This one is deceivingly tricky when performed slowly and with correct form. It’s a core stability exercise that works more of the important stabilisers than a sit up.

Make sure that you adopt a stance that feels stable to begin with; hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Keep a neutral spine (no dips or humps), pull the tummy in tight and breathe through it. Opposite leg and arm should be slowly raised so that they are almost parallel to the floor; hold for at least 4 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg and arm. You’ll be testing your balance, coordination and core muscular endurance.

9. Spider(man) planks

Ok so I’ve cheated a bit here… I could have called it a spider plank but you’d have seen straight through it!

The trick to this move is to maintain a tight core, steady hips and a neutral spine throughout. The only things that are moving are your legs, as they drive out and forward, knee first, towards the outside of your arms. Take your time, it’s not a race. The true tester with this move is how stable you can keep your trunk whilst moving your legs. You’ll feel the sides of your torso (obliques) start to burn as you side crunch.

10. Dead bug

This one looks relaxing. A perfect end to the workout you may think. Well you couldn’t be more wrong.

Make sure that you press your back into the floor as you lift up both legs and arms vertically into position. Taking your time, and under complete control, slowly lower opposite arm and leg down so that they become parallel to the floor again (not touching the floor). Slowly lift both back into a vertical position and repeat on the opposite sides. Make sure you pull your tummy tight and remember to breathe!

 

If those exercises have brought out the animal in you, then give them a go and like the post!

I’d love to see your comments too. Thanks everyone!

To snack or not to snack? That is the ‘high protein, low carb’ question

If you’re anything like me, snacks are an unavoidable part of your life; something you can not live without, as you dart between meetings, clients or errands. You may have heard contrasting views and opinions on the value of snacking, but snacks need not be a bad thing…

To snack or not to snack?

There is much research exploring the positive and negative effects of snacking throughout the day, between meals. Some studies deliver evidence for and some are against; which doesn’t help.

There is little evidence to say that snacking actually speeds up your metabolism; as is the popular belief. Neither is there substantial evidence to say that you’ll end up eating less the following mealtime just because you’ve had a snack. Spreading your calories out evenly in several smaller meals consumed throughout the day does not appear to make much of a difference to your metabolism or blood sugar control, than having three larger meals.

The total calories you consume throughout the day is the biggest factor to consider; regardless of timing, size and regularity of meals.

It’s an individual thing

If you’re one of those people who, once left to ‘starve’ between meals, will prowl around for the biggest, most calorific burger, fries, milkshake and doughnuts as soon as the clock strikes 12, then a small snack at 11 is probably an advisable plan of action. If poor food choices are your biggest vice when you get ‘hangry’ then snacking is probably for you.

From the research it seems that the approach to snacking is actually quite individual; it’s up to you to decide whether you’re better off with a few snacks to prevent the poor meal choices or whether you’re better off limiting your munching to meal times.

The only thing that is unequivocal is the importance of choosing the right kinds of snacks to consume.

So what’s a bad snack?

You may think that this is pretty obvious. I’m sure you’d say, ‘I always pick healthy snacks and I try not to eat crisps or chocolate too often’. Of course you’d be right; it’s better to limit these kinds of snacks as they are packed with too much saturated fat, are high in carbohydrates and are of almost zero nutritional benefit to our bodies. However, what do you choose instead?

Clients often ask me for healthy snack ideas: ‘I think I’m getting my mealtimes about right now, but I’m still struggling with the snacks in between. I never know what to choose.’

So with that in mind, I’ve put together some healthy, high protein, yummy snack ideas to get you through the day; full of energy without the hideous sugar crashes.

 

1. Nuts

A handful of nuts (almond, pistachios, cashews, walnuts) with a few strawberries or raspberries if you’ve got a sweet craving.

Almonds

Nuts are high in protein and high in good fats; for this reason they will fill you up nicely. However, keep the portion to a handful as they are high in calories (all be it good calories).

Protein = 4g
Calories = 100 Kcal (with the berries = 130Kcal)

 

2. Savoury Greek Yoghurt

3 tablespoons of home-made savoury Greek Yoghurt dip (add salt, pepper and other flavourings such as Tabasco or fresh or dried chilli) with veggie sticks (celery, pepper, cucumber, small amount of carrot).

Savoury Greek yoghurt

Greek yoghurt is a high protein, low carbohydrate base to make sweet or savoury. When it comes to things to dip, go for lower carb veggies- such as celery or cucumber, that way you can use as many as you like!

Protein = 10g
Calories = 80kcal (with veggies = 120kcal)

 

3. Sweet Greek Yoghurt

3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt with a handful of berries (which can be frozen).

Sweet Greek yoghurt

Berries are a great source of essential micronutrients and antioxidants and are lower in sugar than most other fruits; they’re just all round ‘super’. Berries can be quite pricey and, as with all fresh produce, may be past their best before you’ve even got started on the punnet. This is where frozen berries come into their own. They have all the same levels of ‘super’ but will last much longer; meaning you can dip in whenever you fancy.

Protein = 10g
Calories = 80kcal (with a serving of berries = 130kcal)

 

4. Nut butter with apple or celery

Medium apple slices with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (have half an apple if the apple is large) or replace apple with celery for a lower sugar, savoury version.

 
Nut butter with apple

Protein = 4g
Calories = 100kcal with celery (with half apple = 150kcal)

 

5. Nut butter with wholemeal toast

1 slice of wholemeal bread toast (not white and ideally seeded, for added protein) with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. Remember to go easy on the amount of nut butter you use. Spread it thinly!

Nut butter on wholemeal toast

Protein = 4g
Calories = 220kcal

Note: Almond butter is a better option (although it’s generally more expensive) as it contains more unsaturated and less saturated fat than peanut butter.

 

6. Eggs

1 large, hard-boiled egg or a single egg omelette

Hard boiled egg

If you’re wanting an omelette make sure you cook in a smear of olive oil (please don’t use the hideous low cal sprays!), and add spinach with prawns, chicken, turkey or tuna to make it a more filling option or a light lunch.

Protein = 6g
Calories = 80kcal egg alone (cooked in a small amount of olive oil and served with prawns and spinach = 150kcal)

 

7. Houmous

3 tablespoons of houmous with enough veggies to dip (celery, pepper, cucumber, small amount of carrot).

Houmous

For a healthier version, make your own houmous! It’s simple and quick to make; just throw the chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper into a blender and give it a blitz. Avoid serving with pitta or crisps and replace with lower carb veggies.

Protein = 2 – 3g
Calories = 90kcal (with veggies = 130kcal)

 

8. Cottage cheese

3 tablespoons of cottage cheese on 2 high fibre, seeded crackers.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese is a low-fat cheese option and is also high in protein. It’s surprisingly versatile and can be used as a dip or topping on almost anything. Add salt and pepper or for added protein add a handful of prawns or some tuna

Protein = 12g
Calories = 80kcal (with the seeded crackers = 160kcal)

 

9. Prawns and tuna

Add a handful of prawns or half a tin of tuna to your omelette or your cottage cheese crackers for an added protein hit.

Prawns

It’s a good way to increase satiety without piling on the carbs and the calories.

If you’re choosing tuna from a can, pick the one in spring water, to limit the added salt from brine and unnecessary fat from oil.

You could also simply snack on the prawns and tuna on their own! I’m sure your colleagues won’t mind the fishy business…

Protein = 10g (prawns), 20g (tuna)
Calories = 50kcal (prawns), 60kcal (tuna)

 

10. Cold meat and poultry

Snacking on small pieces of lean, cold meat is a great way to pack in your protein at snack-time and will keep you fuller for longer.

 
Chicken breast

Try half a grilled chicken or turkey breast cut into strips or chunks. You could even use left over cuts from last night’s dinner. Waste not want not!

Protein = 25g
Calories = 100Kcal

 

Some points to consider when you choose your snack:

  • Go for higher protein and lower sugar options to keep you fuller for longer and to prevent sugar spikes and dips throughout the day. Keep the high sugar snacks to a minimum. This includes fruit!
  • Consider your portion sizes. The guide calorie and protein values shown above are for recommended portion sizes – don’t go over the top!
  • Be conscious about your snacking and consider keeping a record, for a week, of the number of snacks you have eaten between meals. In general, the more snacks you eat in between meals the higher your overall daily calorie consumption will be.
  • If you’re snacking on the go, try to avoid random purchases from the nearest convenience store. You’ll tend to make unwise choices or be fooled by pseudo-healthy snack bars hiding a load of sugar. Try to pack your snacks the night before. You can buy some great snack boxes these days with room for just the right amount of inter-meal ‘snackage’.
  • Before you reach for the snack, ask yourself whether it’s actually hunger you’re feeling or just boredom, habit or stress that’s driving you to munch. It’s often mind over matter. So let your head rule your stomach, not the other way around.

 

Right I’m off for a snack. All this talk of food is making me hungry 😉

Until next week…..

A beginners guide: Your own home gym for less than a club membership!

If you’ve ever asked the question, ‘Am I wasting money on my membership?’ then read on….

Even the cost of the cheapest gym memberships mount up over the course of a year; anything between £120 and upwards of £600 annually! Now for some of us that investment is worthwhile; if you visit the gym more than twice a week and use a lot of the equipment, classes and trainers whilst you are there. However, if you’re in the majority and what started out as a 3-4 times a week gym habit, is now actually a once a month guilt-fuelled workout, then maybe a gym membership isn’t for you.

‘But I need all of the kit you find in a gym!’

There are some pieces of equipment in the gym that really are worth the time, money and the effort. However, I question the point of some of the other bits of shiny, ‘faddy’ high-tech kit. A lot of the CV machines will fool you into thinking you’re getting a great workout, just by setting the time to 30 minutes and going through the motions. If you plonk yourself on the cross-trainer or the stepper and can still hold a full-on conversation with the person next to you, or even worse conduct business negotiations over the phone (Yes, I’ve actually seen and heard that happen on several occasions) then quite frankly you are wasting your time and your money.

When it comes to resistance training, most fixed path resistance machines (the ones where you sit yourself down and move some levers, push some platforms, or pull some handle) are good for beginners as they are safer and pose less risk. They can also support the development of good form, if you are advised by a good gym instructor before you begin. However, they are so limited in their range of movement that you tend to reduce the number of muscles you can train in one move. This may actually be useful for people who are looking to train very specific muscles for aesthetic purposes. However, with this approach you’ll often miss the smaller, but just as important, stabilisers. This can lead to all sorts of muscular imbalances, not to mention it being a big, old waste of your time.

‘So which bits in a gym are good to use?’

There are some great functional areas in most gyms nowadays and these are my absolute favourites. I’m talking about things like kettlebell training, medicine ball workouts, dumbbells, barbells and suspension training… plus much more. All of these bits of kit can be used to give you a workout that better replicates real-life, as you ‘teach’ your muscles to work together more efficiently, not in isolation. Hence the term ‘functional’ training.

‘Can I do this at home?’

Bringing me nicely on to the point of this post. If you like the idea of exercising at home or at your own convenience but you’re unsure where to start or how much to spend, then here are my top 8 home gym essentials for a functional workout. I see so many second-hand treadmills, cross-trainers, ab trainers and other pieces of miscellaneous fitness equipment being sold online on a daily basis! Stop wasting your money and remember, even without any kit, you can have a great workout and burn fat, just using your own body weight. Take a look back at this previous post: My top 10 fat-blasting moves to try today

1. Exercise mat
Exercise Mat

 

Get the basics right. If you’re planning on working out in your yard on paving stones or tarmac, then consider going for a slightly thicker mat to cushion your knees, back and hands. I’d also advise getting one that you can wipe clean if you’re planning on getting very sweaty!

Price range: £5-20

 

2. Kettlebell
Kettlebell

 

You can get an amazing combined CV and resistance workout with just one kettlebell. What’s more you’ll burn around twice the number of calories per workout than regular weight lifting. The average woman should start out with an 8kg kettlebell and progress on through the weight range to a 12kg. For men you should start at 12kg and move on to 16kg.

There are some great kettlebell workouts published online that you can follow for free. However, your form is very important when using this piece of kit, so seek advice or get a trainer before performing the moves. If you are using the equipment incorrectly it won’t be as effective or as safe.

Price range: £15-25

 

3. Dumbbells

Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a pretty versatile piece of kit. Not only are they perfect for arm workouts, they can also be used to add weight to leg workouts in moves such as lunges, goblet squats and even for weighing your hips down when performing glute bridges. The weight of the dumbbells you require will vary depending on what you’re using them for, but it’s safe to say that a good starting point for women is 2kg- 5kg and for men 5kg- 8kg.

Price range: £10-20 per pair

 

4. Gym hoop

Gym HoopWhen you think back to your own playground antics you may remember winging a hoop around your belly at top speed without a care in the world…or is that just me? Well ‘hooping’ is making a come back; with the rich and famous advocating the slimming and ‘toning’ effects of the humble hula hoop. They are simple to use, lots of fun and are great for the mid-section! My advice would be to buy a ‘gym hoop’. These are slightly heavier and therefore give you more of a workout than a dance hoop.

Price range: £15-20

 

5. Jump rope

Jump Rope

When I hear the opening few bars of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ I instantly picture one of these guys. The humble ‘skipping rope’ provides an unexpected cardio workout, improves coordination and balance. Just 10 minutes of skipping can burn up to 110Kcal. Jump ropes can be weighted, you can buy speed ropes for a faster burst or stick to a plain leather rope. They’re all very good value and don’t require much space to use them…just be careful with the washing line!

Price Range: £5-10

6. Stability ball

Stability Balls

 

Although you may think this looks like a fun piece of kit (or maybe the last time you saw one was in the maternity ward?), this beach ball look-a-like provides a great core workout when used correctly. Perhaps deceiving in it’s name; the stability ball is used to give your body an unstable surface to work on. In doing so your body has to work harder and use more muscles than if you were performing the same exercise on a stable surface. In essence you get more ‘bang for your buck’. Simply performing the plank with your forearms on the ball is a workout in itself- give it a go!

Price range: £5-10

 

7. Medicine ball

Medicine Balls

Sounds like it should be available on prescription- and in my opinion they should be! They are a great addition to your kit if you’re looking to add weight to any of your usual body weight exercises. For example, a seated Russian twist or for explosive plyometric exercises with a partner. They can also provide an unstable surface for uneven push ups or the plank (note: only try if you have a partner to work out with or you’re an experienced exerciser).

Price Range: £15-20

 

8.Water bottle

metal water bottle

Try and drink your water from a metal water bottle or a plastic one that is BPA-free to avoid any nasty contaminants getting into your water. You should be drinking at least 2 litres of water per day and much more on days when you’re exercising. So keep your bottle topped up and sup away!

Price Range: £5-25

 

So when you do the sums the grand total is as low as £75* for a complete home gym of your own!

(*Prices are average ranges and are provided to give you a rough indication of cost….you may find equipment that’s even cheaper! ;-))

There are of course more pieces of equipment that you could invest in, but think carefully before doing so. Ask yourself, ‘Is there a better way to do this exercise without spending money?’ If the answer is ‘I can probably just do this with my own body weight’ then put it back on the shelf and walk away!

Happy shopping folks!

Start your day the right way with these healthy, lower sugar breakfast swaps

You’ve probably heard it said a hundred times before, ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, but how many of us actually give our breakfast choices much thought at all?

There are a number of experts out there who proclaim that consuming a large breakfast is vital for good health, for better concentration throughout the day and to ‘kick start’ your metabolism. There’s an equal number of experts who would argue the complete opposite; that missing breakfast will not only do you no harm, it may actually be beneficial for your overall health and weight management.

I’m not going to go into the varied and contrasting arguments about the issue of breaking fast in the morning. What I am going to do, however, is present to you some healthy alternatives that will keep you fuller for longer and will support a healthier lifestyle.

Here are a range of healthier, lower sugar breakfast swaps for anyone looking to make some changes; from the ‘cereal muncher’ to the ‘grab-n-goer’.

Cereals

Fruit n Fibre vs Porridge

For those of us who enjoy a bowl of cereal in the morning try to avoid sugar-coated cereals and those which include dried fruit. Always check the ratio of total carbohydrates to carbohydrates as sugar (you’re looking for a large difference between the two numbers i.e. a small proportion is sugar). A massive hit of sugar in the morning will send your blood sugar through the roof and then inevitably it will come crashing down an hour or two later, leading to pre-lunch snacking.

When choosing your porridge pick a jumbo oat version if you can. This will be less processed and will not have added sugar or other additives (like those found in porridge sachets). You can make the porridge with water, milk or a combination of both. Sprinkle over some cinnamon or some fresh fruit for added flavour. You can still cook it in the microwave if time is an issue.

If you’re comparing cereals by nutritional information, compare them by their values per 100g. For any cereal always check the advised portion size (usually 40g) on the packet and stick to that. Weigh it out to see what the recommended portion size looks like in a bowl….you’ll be surprised how modest the serving actually is!

Eggs

Fried egg vs Dippy egg

Eggs are a great choice for breakfast. They are packed with complete proteins, good fats, vital vitamins and minerals and they keep you fuller for longer (as long as you eat the yolk- DO NOT ignore the yolk!). Despite popular belief eggs do not contribute to high cholesterol levels in most healthy people. In fact they have been proven to actually lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol!

However, there are better ways to cook your egg than in a frying pan, especially if you’re frying in lots of butter, or even worse low-calorie frying sprays or margarine which can harbour harmful trans fats.  Simply boiling your egg is a healthy (and less messy) way to enjoy. Instead of serving with white bread toast, choose some seeded crackers, rye bread or even lightly steamed asparagus to dip. Remember that one large egg is classed as one serving.

Yoghurt

Low fat fruit yoghurt vs Greek yoghurt

Any yoghurt that claims to be low-fat will normally contain more sugar and/or sweeteners per serving than plain, full fat yoghurt. Do not be fooled by the label low fat. Manufacturers replace the flavour from the missing fat with added sugar.

Greek yoghurt is a high protein, low-fat, lower carbohydrate yoghurt that is perfect for breakfast. You can add your own fresh berries or try frozen ones for a more cost-effective option. Sprinkle over some chia seeds for added fibre and protein. This combination is an ideal way to pack in the protein early in the day.

Breakfast on the go

Cereal bar vs Nuts and fresh berries

Follow similar rules for cereal bars as for bowls of cereal. Check the sugar content not just the overall calories; it’s usually very high even for ‘diet’ bars. Even the ‘healthy’, ‘natural’ options are so packed with sugar you’ll be heading for a blood sugar crash moments later. A much better option is to choose a handful of raw nuts, with nothing added to them i.e. no sugar or yoghurt flavour coatings. Nuts are packed with good fats, protein and vital micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). They are also low in carbohydrates, so no sugar crashes before lunch. Nuts are still high in calories though so go easy. Just a handful will do you. Instead of choosing dried fruit to serve with the nuts, pick fresh berries like strawberries or raspberries. They are much lower in sugar and contain more fibre per gram.

Toast

Jam vs Nut butters

Jam or marmalade on white toast may be incredibly tasty but contains far too much sugar and will leave you feeling ‘nibbly’ in under an hour. Whenever you’re reaching for a loaf always go for wholemeal, seeded or rye. These options will contain more fibre and more protein. Peanut or almond butter are great toppings as they again contain less sugar, more good fats and much more protein than the jam alternative. Nut butters are incredibly calorific, so you only need a very small amount on your toast, a tablespoon is plenty.

Cooked Breakfast

Full English vs Packed omelette

Contrary to popular belief a good old-fashioned full English can be a healthy option for breakfast. Just don’t fry it! Grilled versions of your favourites are much better. Remember to only eat any processed, red meat in moderation and where possible pick leaner, organic versions.

If you want to create a much healthier version of the full English, why not go for a jam-packed omelette; use one large egg with spinach, a few slices of avocado, grilled mushrooms and a few grilled tomatoes. The perfect combination! Plus it’s vegetarian, for anyone looking to reduce their meat consumption with meat-free days.

Pastries

Croissants vs Homemade breakfast muffins

We all crave treats now and then, especially at the weekend. Well if you’d still prefer to find a healthy treat option, why not bake some breakfast muffins? The beauty of baking your own is that you know exactly what has gone into them. No hidden nasties, no added sweeteners and fun to make (or not)!

Drinks

Fruit juice vs Water and lemon

Fruit juice may appear to be a healthy drink of choice at breakfast time, but it is incredibly high in sugar without the fibre of whole fruit. This means that your blood sugar will absolutely soar and you’ll be consuming pretty much empty calories without much added nutritional goodness. Also, lots of fruit juices (especially those from concentrate or those called ‘juice drinks’) are packed with added sugar and other preservatives and additives. A glass of iced or hot water with some fresh lemon is much more hydrating- a better way to start the day.

Latte vs Americano

Who doesn’t love a good coffee in the morning? If you’re partial to a milky latte just be mindful that the majority of the drink is milk, which contains a lot of sugar (lactose). A better option would be an Americano with a splash of non-dairy alternative like soy or almond milk. And avoid adding extra sugar to your drink too.

So next time you roll out of bed, bleary-eyed and head for the kitchen, give a little thought to your first meal of the day. Some smart choices in the morning could set you on the right path for the rest of the week.

Comment below if you have any thoughts, questions or suggestions. Thanks!

How fit are you? Some simple tests to do at home

‘I feel soooo unfit! I’ve really got to start working out!’

But how fit are you actually? Have you ever thought to find out what your starting point is and monitor your improvements and successes as you motor on with your exercise regime?

Well testing and monitoring is a standard and crucial consideration for a Personal Trainer working with clients (well it should be if you’ve got a decent trainer). That’s what got me thinking… Surely everyone should be able to monitor their own fitness levels and at least have an awareness of their own fitness or ‘unfitness’, whenever and wherever they like? It’s a great way to see what’s working and what isn’t. Perfect for those who like to compete against and challenge themselves. And if nothing else you could turn it into some friendly competition with your mates.

Note: Firstly just so we’re clear I’m referring to physical fitness here; not mental, nutritional, medical or social (which are also important for your overall health).

Unless you’re in the privileged position of having access to a sports science laboratory, you’re not going to be able to get super accurate measurements. However, I’ve shortlisted a few standard fit tests that you can use at home with very limited equipment (although you may want to use a friend to help / watch / provide moral support / compete against). We will be testing cardiovascular and muscular endurance, flexibility and power. I wouldn’t advise doing these tests all on the same day, just select the ones that seem right for you. Make sure you have warmed up first; 3-5minutes of brisk walking and/or jogging with a few dynamic stretches will be fine.

Testing your cardiovascular endurance

Your cardiovascular fitness is a great indicator of your cardiovascular health; your heart and your circulation. Poor cardiovascular fitness can present warning signs of a raised risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, strokes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina. Being physically inactive, smoking and being overweight are all risk factors when it comes to cardiovascular disease. So, having an awareness of your cardio fitness and monitoring improvements is a great way to stay in control of your health.

Your resting pulse is a good initial indication of your fitness level. Your pulse rate tells us the number of times your heart beats in 1 minute.  As a general rule, the slower your pulse, the fitter you are. This is because if you’re fitter your heart is stronger due to exercise, is therefore more efficient and so pumps more oxygenated blood to the cells that need it in fewer beats. However, to truly test you out you need to get moving!

Step tests

step test

 

Step tests are better for beginners as they measure sub-maximal exertion i.e. not until total exhaustion.

A multitude of ‘Step tests’ have been devised over the years, each with it’s own procedure, height of step, pace of stepping and duration of testing.

The things that the tests all have in common is the fact that you will step up and down, at a constant rate, for a set period of time, after which your pulse should be taken for 1 minute.

Some of the tests will have been conducted with large groups of people to establish the average scores and so will have sets of data that you can compare to. These sets are called normative data. For some tests there may also be a small equation that you can use to calculate a rough (and I mean very rough!) indication of your VO2max (ml of oxygen your body uses per kg of body mass per minute- in simple terms, the higher the number, the fitter you are).

A good example of a step test to use is the YMCA Step test. This uses a 30cm step and a stepping rate of 96 beats per minute (step up (left), step up (right), step down (left), step down (right)= 4 beats) for 3 minutes. You can download metronome apps on your phone which will keep you to time. After the 3 minutes are over you can rest on the step and then take your pulse immediately (or within 5 seconds).

Run/walk tests

run test

These test your ability to either complete a timed run or walk over a set distance or your ability to run or walk as far as you can in a set time. Again there are sets of normative data with which to compare and rank your performance, if you’re interested in that.

The Cooper 1.5 mile run and the Cooper 3 mile walk are good examples to use (links provide normative data). Use a track or a route that is fairly flat if running outdoors; a route that you’re familiar with. If you would prefer to use a treadmill then make sure you add a small incline (1%) to the walk or run to replicate the harder terrain and therefore larger energy requirement of an outdoor course. Time how long it takes to complete the set distance; either running (1.5miles) or walking (3miles).

Testing your muscular endurance

Your muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to sustain periods of repeated contractions against a resistance (could be a weight or your own body weight) for an extended period of time.

For your Legs

Wall sit / Single leg wall sit

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the wall sit exercise, where you rest your back against a wall, then lower yourself into a sitting or squatting position (as if hovering above a seat). You should form right angles at the hip and knee joints. The idea is to keep yourself steady and hold the pose for as long as possible (feel the burn!). Record your time.

If you want to spice this up and make it even harder, use only one leg! This will test your endurance on each leg. You will inevitably have a leading or stronger leg; test this one first. Lower yourself into the usual wall sit position and start the timer as soon as the opposite leg leaves the floor (it needn’t be straight out in front of you, just hovering over the ground will do). Stop the timer when your foot hits the ground.

For your Core

Plank

 

Plank

We should all be familiar with the Plank, resting on forearms, tight legs and bum, belly button pulled in, neutral spine (no dips or humps!), not piking the bottom into the air. Now once you’re in a full plank position start the timer. Hold the plank for as long as you can. Initially aim for over a minute and then see how long you can stand the burn!

Sit ups

Sit up

Sit up

Another way to measure your core muscular endurance is by counting how many full sit ups you can perform (without having your feet held by anything or anyone) in 1 minute. Start a timer (ideally that will buzz after 1 minute is up) and begin the sit ups. Legs should be bent at a 90degree angle. Arms crossed across the body and hands placed on opposite shoulders. Whilst maintaining a neutral spine (don’t just bend your neck in towards you body, that will hurt and will damage your back) bend at the hips, contracting your stomach muscles to pull you up into a fully upright position. Gently lower yourself back towards the ground until both shoulder blades are again in contact with the floor. That is one full sit up. Carry on and do as many as you can in 1 minute!

For your upper body

Push ups

Push up

Push up

If the truth be told I’m not sure that many people enjoy the push up. Well that’s me being honest. They’re not my favourite exercise in the world. However, once you’ve mastered them they are amazing for the upper body.

If you can go for the full push up on your hands and using your toes as the pivot point then great. Place your hands pointing forwards just slightly out from your shoulders. Keep your legs and bum tight and suck in your belly button. Keep your back straight and don’t let your bum poke up into a pike position or your hips drop as you lower yourself down. Your body should be perfectly straight throughout the entire move. Don’t allow your elbows to poke out to the sides when you lower your chest towards the floor and keep looking down towards the floor during the whole move (this will make sure even the top of your spine is completely neutral). See how many you can do in 1 minute.

There are a few variations to make it easier if you can’t manage the full versions, and they’re still incredibly effective. First one is to get yourself into the push up position on your toes and hands (like a plank), then lower onto your knees and cross your feet. The reason it’s a good idea to get into the plank position first is so that your knees aren’t overly bent and therefore too close to your torso. If they are, you will not be performing the push up properly and you will not feel the benefit.

Push up on knees

Push up on knees

 

An alternative adaption is to use a bench or a chair as a raised surface to push up from. The incline makes the pushing much easier. It’s up to you.

push up using chair

Push up using chair

Testing your flexibility

Flexibility is a measure of the range of motion that you have around your joints. It’s important to maintain and improve your levels of flexibility as part of your exercise regime to ensure that you can perform all exercises (especially resistance exercises using weights) safely and effectively; that you are able to function well in your everyday life; your mobility is not restricted and to reduce the risk of injury.

As with all of these fitness tests, it’s important to ensure that you are warmed up well before starting the exercise, but this is especially important if you’re trying to measure how flexible you are. The warm up is vital to lubricate your joints and warm up your muscles, making you much more likely to have a greater range of movement around each of your joints. It will also prevent injury, which is very important!

Sit and reach test

Sit and Reach

You may have seen ‘Sit and Reach’ boxes lying around in gyms (or not). They are like boxes with a big ruler over one end (simplified explanation). You can easily achieve the same result using a step, or the bottom step of your stairs and a 30cm ruler. Place the ruler onto the step pointing out off the step (leave a small overhang if you think you’re pretty flexible and a larger one if you aren’t). Sit down onto the floor with your feet flat touching the side of the bottom step and the ruler hanging horizontal over the top of your legs. Reach forwards as if trying to touch your toes but aim to reach past them onto the step- without bending at your knees at any point. Don’t over stretch or risk injury. Measure the difference between the lip of the step (where your feet are) and the place on the ruler you managed to reach. If you reached beyond your feet the number is positive and if you reached a point before your feet the number is negative. Test a couple of times and record your best score.

Testing your strength and power

This test will see how high you can jump! The higher you are able to jump the more powerful your legs. Power is a combination of force and speed (remember your physics lessons?). So if you are strong and fast you are powerful (kind of). Power is something that many sports require and you will often find that sports specific exercise programmes are designed to include many moves which work on an athlete’s power. Plyometric exercises are a great example of this.

Vertical jump

Vertical Jump

You will need to stand side on to a wall that you don’t mind wiping a little bit of chalk on. Rub some chalk on your hands (that will show up on the wall), stand straight and reach up with both hands high above your head (feet flat on the floor). Make a mark on the wall as high as you can with your hand. Start in a partially squatted position and hold for 2 seconds. Then drive up through your heels, using your whole lower body to push yourself up into a vertical jump. Reach up with your arms and make a mark at the highest point of your jump on the wall. Attempt the jump for a second or even a third time and then measure the difference between the lowest (when you were standing straight with feet in contact with the floor) and highest chalk mark.

 

So whether you are just curious or want to seriously set yourself some fitness goals, these tests are a great place to start. Don’t feel nervous about your results and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not as fit as you’d like to be.

Tomorrow’s a new day and the goal should be to become a fitter and healthier version of yourself! So start smashing those workouts and watch the improvements.

Comment below to share your results!

Clearing the fitness fog: what’s right for me?

The world of fitness can be a confusing and crowded place to explore.

As well as the many ‘experts’, with their quick fix tips, we also have an ever-growing number of new and exciting fitness groups, clubs and camps on offer. All of the conflicting fitness advice and the myriad of training options available online can leave you feeling baffled, bewildered and fed up with the whole endeavour.

So here’s a breakdown of a few of the training options out there; with the costs, benefits and the drawbacks of each. I hope this sheds some light on the matter!

 

Personal Training

What is it?

As the name suggests, it’s training that’s personal to you. It’s normally one-to-one (you and the Trainer) sessions with exercises that have been selected specifically to address your goals and compiled into a long-term programme that will normally be reviewed, tweaked and progressed every 2-4 weeks.

Where is it?

It will vary depending on which Personal Trainer you hire. It could be one in your gym, a Trainer that may have their own premises where you can go to train, or a mobile Trainer who will come to you to train in the park, in your home or in your back garden.

How much does it cost?

Most Personal Trainers will charge anywhere between £30 and £65 per hour (in London it will be much more). It will sometimes work out cheaper than that with seasonal offers or by paying upfront for blocks of sessions. It will depend on the Trainer and which part of the country you live in.

Why do it?

  • The Trainer will work with you to agree time-dependent fitness and nutrition goals that you will work towards throughout your programme
  • They will design a personalised programme tailored to your specific needs and goals
  • You have someone dedicated to your exercise and your needs during and between each session; motivating, challenging and correcting where they need to
  • The trainer should ensure that every exercise you perform is demonstrated first and that your form is analysed and corrected if necessary
  • The exercises and the overall programme can be regressed or progressed if and when necessary from week to week, to ensure that you are progressing at the right rate and without plateau; therefore avoiding weeks of zero progress
  • Most will also offer nutritional advice tailored to you
  • Flexible time, venue and regularity, depending on your schedule

Any drawbacks?

  • If you don’t want to be the centre of attention it might not be for you. Your Trainer will be able to hold you accountable and the spotlight will be on your regime
  • It may not suit all budgets; depending on who you choose to train with, where you train and how often
  • If you prefer exercising in big groups where you can blend into the background you may prefer group training or classes

Who’s it perfect for?

  • If you have a specific set of fitness goals in mind e.g. ‘I want to get fit for a 10K race in September’, ‘I want to lose 5kg of body fat for the summer holidays’
  • If you need a little (or a big) push in the right direction
  • If you are really serious about getting fit and healthy
  • If you need the flexibility to train at your convenience, where and when is most convenient for you
  • If you’re not a fan of the gym environment (select a mobile Personal Trainer if this is the case)

 

Group Training

What is it?

You will often find that Personal Trainers will offer training for small groups of people, usually who have formed into a group themselves and have approached the Trainer. Group training is the perfect compromise between Personal Training and large exercise classes. The group session will usually be around the same hourly rate (give or take a few quid) and you will be splitting the cost with your mates. Group sessions will follow a similar format to one-to-one sessions without as much personalisation of the exercise programme.

Where is it?

As with Personal Training it will depend on which Trainer you select. It could be in the gym, or at a venue that suits the group, such as a house, a garden or the park (as long as the space is big enough to fit the whole group).

How much does it cost?

Usually fractionally more per hour than for just one person. You obviously split that cost between the group members (unless you’ve got a very generous friend who wants to take the hit). So for example: 1 hour may cost £40 (can be more) and with 5 people in your group, the price per person, per session, would be £8. Obviously the more people being trained the lower the cost per person. As with Personal Training there are usually offers to reduce the cost if you can pay for a block of sessions up front.

Why do it?

  • Compromise between big classes and Personal Training
  • You’re sharing the cost of the session with your mates
  • More personal than big groups of strangers
  • Your form would be closely monitored and any necessary regressions or progressions would be made
  • Great accountability due to others going through same programme
  • Good way of socialising with friends you struggle to see normally (and much healthier than heading to the pub, I’m sorry to say)
  • Flexible time, venue and regularity, depending on the schedules of the group

Any drawbacks?

  • You would normally need to form the group yourselves, so you need at least 2 or 3 mates who have an interest in getting fit and healthy
  • You would all need to have similar goals, as the programme will be virtually identical for all members (with a degree of personalisation, according to ability) e.g. all want to lose fat, all want to improve 5K run time

Who’s it perfect for?

  • If you have a groups of mates that you want to get fit with
  • If you want a more cost-effective way to get fit at your convenience without losing the personal touch you get from a dedicated Trainer
  • If you don’t like the idea of turning up to a class with a room full of people you don’t know
  • If you like the idea of Personal Training but can’t afford it yet

 

Online Coaching

What is it?

This one is relatively new, but is gaining popularity due to it’s flexibility and availability, no matter where you live in the world. Normally for a monthly fee (instead of an hourly rate) you benefit from ongoing support, training, advice and coaching online by a qualified Personal Trainer. Through the use of online resources, YouTube films, video calls, regular texts and scheduled calls, the Trainer coaches the client through a tailored exercise programme, with set training sessions. The Trainer will usually also offer nutritional advice and is always working with the client towards a set goal or goals.

Where is it?

As long as you have a computer, a phone and an internet connection you can access this type of training anywhere in the world and workout wherever you like.

How much does it cost?

This varies considerably. The main reason for this is that most online packages also vary and not all offer the same level of support. Prices are usually charged per month but it can differ and some trainers prefer to charge for multiple months at a time. Cost per month can be as much as £300-£400, but most will be a fraction of that price (phew!).

Why do it?

  • Can be great value if you select the right Trainer
  • Still benefit from a personal approach with your own specially designed programme
  • You will have regular contact with a Trainer and Coach and so you’ll have a degree of accountability
  • Flexible for those who want to vary the places and times that they work out but still need some direction

Any drawbacks?

  • No physical contact with your Trainer apart from online video calls, therefore you need to have a lot of determination to stick to a programme without constant supervision
  • If you’re unsure about an exercise move then it is up to you to research the correct form or take the initiative to ask the Trainer- essentially you need exercise self-awareness

Who’s it perfect for?

  • For relatively experienced exercisers who have the drive to get to the gym, go for a run or exercise with their own equipment at home
  • Those who need a professionally designed programme and a critical friend

Bootcamps

What is it?

The term ‘bootcamp’ has morphed over time. What started out as a gruelling military training camp for new recruits has slowly, but surely, become something all together more humane, and – dare I say it?- Fun. Normally for over 10 participants and generally held outside, exercises will involve functional moves, HIIT, team games and an obligatory set of ‘punishments’ if you don’t abide by the rules and/or don’t pull your weight. Bootcamps will usually last for 1 hour.

Where is it?

Bootcamps are usually held outside in parks or recreation grounds. If weather’s an issue (which it tends to be in the UK) there are bootcamps that utilise gyms, leisure centres, school, village or church halls.

How much does it cost?

The price can vary but you’re usually looking at between £4 and £8 per session. Bootcamp leaders will sometimes offer deals, such as block payments to cover a certain duration of time where you can go to as many sessions as you like. Or they’ll give you a free session after you’ve paid for 10, for example.

Why do it?

  • Mainly they’re fun! Honest.
  • The exercises are normally ‘exercise by stealth’; in other words, you’ll be playing games, it will be competitive and you won’t realise quite how much exercise you’ve been doing.
  • You’re likely to meet lots of new people (some you’ll like, some you won’t- such is life)
  • If it’s outside, you’ll benefit from the fresh air and sunshine
  • It usually works out as one of the least expensive fitness groups to join

Any drawbacks?

  • There is virtually no personalisation to the programme; most exercises will be selected for the average exerciser. Although there will be ‘easier’ and ‘harder’ versions of most of the exercises, it’s up to you to decide if you need it to be easier or harder. Some might be at risk of overestimating their ability and some will definitely underestimate their own physical strength; therefore not maximising the effectiveness of the workout or causing yourself an injury
  • Nobody will be monitoring your progress from week to week and there is very little accountability
  • You’re not always guaranteed that a qualified Trainer will be leading the session. This can be problematic when it comes to your safety when exercising and also the possible ineffectiveness of the bootcamp itself

Who’s it perfect for?

  • Great for those who want a fun and affordable weekly exercise session with lots of people
  • If you’d prefer to run around outside rather than be cooped up in a gym
  • If the only way to get you exercising is if it’s disguised and competitive
  • If you don’t mind being shouted at from time to time

 

And here’s a shorter summary of some of the rest…

Yoga and Pilates

YogaPoseImage

The good: Good for the mind, as well as body; improves flexibility (good way to avoid injury), posture, balance and coordination; increases the appearance of overall muscle ‘tone’; can improve your overall strength; great for relaxation and stress relief.

The not so good: Most forms are not high energy or very intense, therefore you’re not burning as many calories or working your cardiovascular system effectively (although it depends what type of Yoga or Pilates you engage in and how advanced you are); can be a little too easy to just relax and not put your all into the class; times and days are restricted to a class schedule.

Spinning

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The good: Great cardio workout; if you’re a member of a gym and you’ve already paid your membership fee, classes can often be free; often set to music which is an extra driver to get pedalling.

The not so good: If you’re there to socialise there’s not really much opportunity to be chatty; can be quite intense and not much variety; sessions will be held at set times and if you like a particular instructor you’ll restrict your options even further.

Running clubs

o-RUNNING-CLUB-facebook

The good: Great cardio exercise and a greater calorie burner (great for weight loss); you’ll be out in the great outdoors; if you’re running in a club you develop a sense of belonging and with that a sense of accountability; free or a small club fee; can enter races as an extra challenge; good for general weight loss.

The not so good: Although running is a great calorie burner in the short-term, you will burn more calories even at rest with resistance exercise integrated into your regime (resistance exercise is vitally important for healthy joints, muscles and for overall functionality); you’ll normally be exposed to the elements, given that we’re living in the UK; too much pounding the streets can affect your joints if you don’t wear the right footwear.

 

Still unsure what to choose?

There are obviously more options out there, so here are some questions to ask yourself before you plough the web and sign up:

  1. How important is getting fit and healthy to me?
  2. Am I comfortable exercising in a group environment?
  3. Do I like training with friends?
  4. How likely am I to exercise without someone with me?
  5. When do I want to exercise?
  6. Are there any specific days of the week or times of the day that I can’t make?
  7. How much money do I have/want to spend?
  8. Do I know what I am doing or do I need extra help?
  9. Do I want or need the additional advice and expertise offered by a Trainer?
  10. Do I prefer training inside or outside?
  11. What happens if I need additional advice?

I hope that’s helped and made some things a little clearer. I’m afraid that there aren’t enough hours in the day to shed light on some of the fitness and nutrition nonsense online, so my advice would be if it sounds too good to be true it generally is.

Common-sense, determination and a little patience are the starting points to getting fitter and healthier.

Thanks for reading! Please comment below if you’ve got any questions or suggestions.