Monday, 5 September 2016

Cardio or Weights for Fat Loss?

Are you wasting your time on the treadmill?

For the most part fat loss is about energy expenditure. Calories are units of energy, fat is made up of stored energy, ergo to burn fat you must use up energy.

I’m going to tell you how you can burn more energy, without spending precious extra time in the gym.

Your muscles are the engines of your fat burning. The harder they work, the more energy [calories] you’ll burn.

Whilst running on a treadmill/outside, cycling, or jumping on the cross-trainer for 40 minutes will burn energy and improve your aerobic fitness, it’s not going to work your muscles particularly hard, especially after a few weeks of doing it when your body becomes accustomed to the workout and more efficient at it (more efficient = less calories burned).

For the most part, the sheer amount of time people spend running is what produces any fat loss results, but also normally comes with a loss of muscle too (picture a typical long-distance runner – not the most muscular people).

If your goal is fat loss, without the accompanying loss of muscle and strength (remember you want to keep hold of your muscle to burn more calories, and I see no reason why anyone would want to get weaker!) then resistance training is your best choice.

Already I can hear the usual response (normally from women): “But I don’t want to get muscly”

You won’t.

Let me explain.

To burn fat, you need to be burning more calories than you consume – should be quite obvious.

To build muscle, you need to be consuming more calories than you burn (you can’t build muscle without adequate fuel – it would be like trying to build a wall without any bricks).

So while there are some slight differences between training protocols, training for fat loss and training for muscle gain are very similar. The difference comes from your nutrition.

By lifting weights (resistance training) you will be burning more of the fuel in your muscles. This fuel then needs replacing, which will come from your food, or if you’re burning more than you’re eating, from your energy (fat) stores.

Enter the next problem: Gyms full of machines.

Machines made to target specific muscles are great for rehabbing an injury or for targeting problem areas for body-building, but for the weight-loss community, they’re using too few muscles to burn any significant amount of energy; and if you spend your hour in the gym going from one machine to the next with your “3 sets of 10” programme, you’re missing out on A LOT of calorie burning.

There’s a reason that squats, deadlifts, lunges, burpees etc. are hated world-wide – because they’re hard work! Hard work means they’re using most of your muscles at the same time, draining your energy (burning it) and getting you out of breath (muscles need oxygen to burn fuel – so the more out of breath from lifting weights you are, the more energy you’re likely burning [as a side note – this also counts as “cardio”]).

THIS is how you should be allocating your gym time. Focussing on large movements with resistance.

Remember, if you’re eating less calories than you burn, you won’t be able to build lots of muscle! For women, you also don’t have the right hormones to build muscle easily, especially without eating enough.

Some people will notice an ‘apparent’ increase in muscle size to begin with. If you’re not used to lifting weights, your muscles will draw in more fluid (water/blood) in order to repair, and they’ll also become more efficient at storing energy (which is a good thing because it’s easier to burn it from here, and it means less will be stored as fat if more can be stored in the muscle).

This is not your muscles growing, just becoming more efficient; and it will not continue unless you are over-eating – don’t panic about your jeans getting a little bit tighter around your thighs initially.
Fat-burning is much, MUCH faster than muscle-building so this will be a non-issue very soon.

Another point to remember is that bodybuilding requires the muscles to grow in size. This means striving for the famed “pump” in the muscle. This shouldn’t really be an issue if you’re using large, full-body movements instead of isolating small muscle groups, but if you’re worried about this, avoid lifting light weights for high reps – a sure-fire way to get a pump in the muscle and a common mistake women make when lifting weights, as people generally believe that this is better for “toning”!

This is a classic trap that women lifting weights fall into – too scared to get big and muscly, so they lift light weights.

If you want a leaner, more toned, firmer look, you need to make your muscles firmer and more toned. 

To do this you need to put tension through your muscles with heavier weights.

“Toning” requires heavy weights, not light weights and high reps.

Please be aware though that as with any training there is risk involved and by “heavy” I mean the heaviest weight you can lift with good technique. If you’re unsure of technique, get a good trainer and make sure your focus is on technique, not going for PB’s (personal best’s) every session.

*Until your technique is near perfect, you should NEVER increase the weight you’re lifting!*

In summary:

● For fat burning you need to lift weights (even just bodyweight exercises are sufficient) as oppose to spending countless hours doing “cardio”.

● Choose large, full body exercises over small isolated ones.

● Technique comes first and foremost, only then can you add more weight.

● As long as you’re burning more fuel than you’re consuming (calories), you CANNOT build masses of muscle, just a small adaptation to begin with as the muscles adjust to the extra work.

● More sets, less reps, heavier weights (with good technique) are preferable.

● Eat a healthy diet full of nutritious foods and avoid over-eating, but don’t drop calories too low; as long as calorie intake is less than expenditure you’ll lose weight, but if you drop calories too low your calorie expenditure will drop to match it and weight loss will stop.

For guys (or girls) wanting to burn fat AND build muscle this becomes quite complicated. Without a good coach I would recommend you focus on just fat burning first – if you’re doing strength training you’re unlikely to lose too much muscle so focus on getting leaner. Then, when you have lost an adequate amount of body fat, change to a muscle building routine (it’s easier to build muscle when you’re leaner as testosterone/oestrogen balance is more favourable for this with lower body fat).

For help with your training and/or nutrition, visit for more information on Nutrition Coaching, Personal Training, Bootcamp, and other classes.

And follow us on Facebook and Twitter (do it now……) for extra tips, advice and motivation.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Improving your eating and health without “Dieting”

For most people “Diets” are too difficult. The healthy recipe book or diet plan is great for about a week, then compliance drops off and the excitement of trying something new wears off because you haven’t lost 10 lbs in a week.

Gradually the “Diet” goes out the window and old eating habits creep back in.

For some people, the traditional method of following a strict diet for a few weeks, or the points systems or calorie-counting that have been relied on for so long do work, but for most, they don’t quite get the results you’re after.

Enter Habit Based Nutrition.

The reason people fail at dieting is because their new actions go against ingrained habits. It’s your behaviour and habits that need to be addressed rather than a strict plan telling you what you can or can’t eat.

You don’t need to be told what you can or can’t eat as this is the failing point in most diets, and most people know what they should and shouldn’t be eating. You need to be able to enjoy the foods you like, but still eat in a way that works for your body and delivers the results you want.

By addressing your daily habits, you can make small, healthy changes easily; gradually improving your diet over time so it changes for good, not until “the end of your diet”. Every couple of weeks you should introduce a new habit that you can scale up or down to suit your current level – if it’s too hard, make it easier. If it’s too easy, make it more challenging.

By introducing one achievable habit at a time, you’ll build up step by step to a healthier lifestyle.
Progress should be tracked in a number of ways, not just with weight on the scales (which is useful, but not ideal); photos, measurements, compliance and any other specific markers you feel will be helpful are essential in keeping you motivated.

DAILY reminders will help you stay on track; and learning why you’re doing what you’re doing will help you understand and commit to your habit changes more easily. 

Remembering why you’re making the changes (what your goals are) will also keep you motivated.

One of the main reasons slimming clubs work is because you’re making yourself accountable. Tell someone what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and ask for their support (it doesn’t have to be a facebook announcement to the world, but someone you trust who will hold you accountable and give you a hard time if you slack off – like a trainer or coach). 

The aim is not to embarrass you when you fail, but to motivate you to try harder and boost your pride and confidence when you succeed.

Now you can do all of this yourself, but there’s so much nutritional “information” out there that it can be difficult to work out what you need to do next, or even where to begin!

As a Precision Nutrition certified coach, I can now offer you access to ProCoach, a habit-based nutrition coaching program that will help you to easily integrate healthy eating into your lifestyle.

It covers all of the above – teaching you new habits in a structured way to ensure you start at the beginning and build up slowly, one success after the other. While there’s no right or wrong way, certain foundations need to be laid before you can build on them, so getting the right habits under control first will prevent you from falling off the wagon by trying something you’re not ready for.

This is an entirely new approach to dieting for most people, (in fact, for the first couple of weeks we don’t even talk about food!) but it’s effective and it works. By helping you think about and focus on your goals, it will help you make better choices that will ultimately lead to your desired result.

If you’d like more information on ProCoach, visit where you can watch a video of people who’ve done the program, and contact me with any questions you might have.

If your current efforts aren’t working for you, it’s time to try something new! 

Visit for more information on Personal Training, Nutrition Coaching, Bootcamp, and other classes.

And follow us on Facebook and Twitter (do it now……) for extra tips, advice and motivation.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Weight Loss 101

In their attempts to lose weight and get fit people often turn to the latest “Diets” to solve their problems for them.

From the most recent trends and Instagram gurus to the well-known weight loss clubs that have been around for years. These multi-million pound businesses have a vested interest. While it is in their interest to get people results, the efficacy of their programs is irrelevant once they’ve sold you their product, so clever marketing is their number one concern.

Before your health and successful weight loss, comes your money.

People buy into things based on what they believe from the marketing and word of mouth/popularity.

Before and after pictures bombard every advertisement for these products because they’re convincing and people want the results they see on the ad, but here’s the thing – no one diet works for everyone!

If 1,000 people follow a diet, it WILL work for a proportion of them, maybe 10%; maybe more, maybe less, but it will work for some.

10% of those 1,000 people is 100 success stories and THOSE are the stories/pictures they’ll use for the advertising. The ads wouldn’t be so convincing if under the fantastic transformations it said “you have a 10% chance of achieving these results”.

I’m not saying that all of the diet plans out there are bad, in fact most of them are very good… for some people.

But how do you figure out which plan is right for you?

The key here is not to follow a specific plan.

While this may sound illogical, let me explain…

A “Diet plan” is set, minimal room for variation or flexibility. Since everybody is different, and what works for you won’t necessarily work for the next person, any plan set out in writing will fail the majority of people.

Instead, you need to look for the common factors in all of the successful diet plans. Trends and patterns, guidelines and rules of thumb.

The most successful diets (and I don’t mean for short-term results, but for lasting, “keep the weight off” results) have a few things in common, they:

● get people preparing their own meals

● get people eating fresh, whole foods as opposed to pre-packed ready meals

● help people build healthy habits into their lifestyle rather than tell them “you can’t have this

● help people establish their own eating rules and guidelines suited to them specifically

● help people determine how much they should be eating, how often, and when

● look at exercise as a form of calorie reduction rather than just cutting down food intake

● improve the HEALTH of the person, instead of simply looking at their weight
If the main focus is purely on weight loss, you’ll likely do your body harm and end up, long-term, with a failed attempt.

If you make HEALTH the main goal, weight loss will follow and you’ll feel fantastic for it. Long-term success is much more likely.

In order to have success in dieting, you need to look at many factors and create your very own diet plan that works for YOU (and no-one else).

No-one looks the same, no-one acts the same, no-one has the exact same problems; everyone is individual. Your diet needs to be too.

The above listed rules and guidelines do apply across the board, but to tailor a diet to suit YOU, you need to figure out exactly how to integrate all of these things into YOUR lifestyle; kind of like your very own “Owner’s Manual”.

The bare bones of weight loss (or weight gain if that’s your goal) is energy balance, or calories if you will.

While I hate the whole process of counting calories (or allocating points to calories), there’s no escaping the fact that you cannot create energy from nothing.

…meaning you cannot gain weight without eating more than your body needs, and you cannot lose weight if you’re eating more than your body needs.

What your body needs is unique to you and there is no equation or formula that can tell you specifically what you need. There are formulas that will give you a ballpark figure of what someone your height, weight, size needs, but it doesn’t take into account the myriad other factors, like stress, diet history, hormones etc., therefore it needs refining to suit you.

If you’ve slowed your metabolism by following a low-calorie diet for a long period of time, your daily calorie goal according to the calculations will likely be much higher than your actual need (since your body has become more efficient and shut down anything that requires energy that it deems non-essential to survival).

So following a diet that uses these calculations will mean you’ll gain weight.

As an example,

A 35-year old female, weighing 80kg (176lb, or 12 ½ stone), and 162cm (5’4”) tall, who exercises 3 times a week would require 2,030 calories per day to maintain that weight, and any reduction in that number should see her lose weight.

But if our example has been following a low-calorie diet, say 1,200 calories per day for a long period, chances are weight loss has stopped despite being 800 calories below her daily maintenance level.

What’s happened? Her body has stopped all non-essential energy consuming activities and slowed things down to survive on 1,200 calories per day (which is far too low for this individual anyway).

So if, having “failed” at her current weight loss attempts (now it’s stopped working) she started a new diet that used the standard formulas and said that to lose weight she needs to eat 1,800 calories per day (a reasonable assumption given that her maintenance level is 2,030 calories), she would gain weight; because her body has adjusted to burn only 1,200 calories per day. So we now have a 600 calorie surplus!

This is why the standard calculations don’t work. They do not take into account diet history and current eating habits.

For long term success, you need to start your nutrition plan right where you are. Assess your current eating habits and make adjustments from there.

Anyone who is overweight due to over-eating will have success using these formulas because their body is burning as much energy as the calculations would suggest (maybe even a bit more if they’ve been over-eating for a long time). So for them, a simple cut in calories will result in weight loss.

But for anyone who’s been dieting, not over-eating, and has cut calories already, the equation will fail you every time.

As a coach, I rarely see food diaries with excessive amounts of food on them, but regularly see food diaries where people are under-eating yet still not losing weight.

In order to achieve successful and healthy weight loss (or gain), you need to establish what you’re eating now and what results it brings i.e. if you’re gaining, losing, or maintaining your weight.

Once you’ve established your current calorie intake and its results, you can make adjustments from there to get the required outcome.

Be aware though that if you’re already below your daily calorie intake (i.e. maintaining weight at a calorie count below your BMR as in our example before), further reducing calories is NOT the way to go.

You’ll need to find a way to increase calories without gaining weight to get back to a healthy calorie intake and to increase your metabolism to burn more.

This is the real basics of weight loss/gain, and it can’t be cheated. There is no shortcut and there are no supplements that enable you to bypass this simple fact. Energy cannot be created out of nothing, or burned without the required effort – a pill will not burn fat!

The pyramid below shows the order of importance for weight loss (or gain). 

There is a hierarchy here, and trying to utilise any of the sections before you’ve mastered the section below will result in failure.

This, if you read between the lines, tells you exactly what you need to do.

Anyone, be they a trainer in the gym or on the internet, a fitness “guru”, or a huge trusted company, selling you supplements for weight loss without first covering all of the other factors involved are either after your money, or lacking the knowledge to help you. Be VERY cautious who you listen to.

I’ve mentioned in previous articles to be careful who you listen to, and if something doesn’t make sense, it’s probably not right. Find someone who speaks sense and you trust, and follow their advice over hearsay.

There are many “Diets” out there to choose from, but finding your own will be the best move you ever make. It won’t be one you can find online or buy in a book, or one you can share with someone else once you’ve found it, because it will be YOUR diet, and yours alone.

It will also never be static and will change as you do. As your body changes, so will your dietary needs. If you change your exercise habits, lifestyle habits, or even your job, your nutritional requirements will change too.

So before you choose your next ‘Diet’, think about these things and look over the proposed Diet. Does it tick all the right boxes and does it make sense? Or does it sound easy and too good to be true?

And perhaps most importantly, does it start with you establishing your baseline and work from there (most likely through either a food diary or a number of questionnaires, or both)? Or just ask for your basic details (gender/age/height/weight/goal weight) so it can punch them into an online calculator and generate a program from that.

Or even worse, does it not even ask for any of those and simply give you healthy recipes to eat?! (Which is great – but is just a cook book, not a diet)

Tread carefully and think through your decisions when making dietary choices as they will affect not only your weight, but your health and your sanity too!