Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why cutting calories might be making you fatter!

You’ve probably heard the term “metabolic rate” or “metabolism”. Basically, your metabolic rate is how fast your body burns calories.

The faster your metabolism, the more calories you burn.

But did you know that reducing calorie intake (such as in most diets) can actually reduce your metabolic rate?

What does this mean? Basically, that when you first start your calorie restriction diet, you’ll lose weight because your body will be burning more calories than you’re feeding it. Great!

…But your body isn’t stupid. It knows it can’t keep this up for long, so since it thinks food is scarce, it does the only thing it can, it STOPS BURNING SO MANY CALORIES.

(As a side note, a “cheat day” will NOT solve this problem, but I’ll go into that another day)

What happens when you diet to the point that your metabolism slows down to match your calorie intake? …Weight loss stops.

Now most people, having lost some weight from the first wave of calorie restriction immediately assume they need to cut calories even more. Weight loss will start again; and then stop.

How long can you keep this up for? There’ll come a point when you can’t just stop eating.

This is where many people fall off their diet, because the lack of calories slowly shuts their body down. You feel terrible, have no energy, and your body will start to burn muscle tissue instead of fat; after all, muscle requires energy, from food which it’s not getting, so your body ditches the extra muscle to save on energy expenditure and you end up “skinny-fat” (a term used to describe people who are skinny, but with no muscle – think marathon runner)

We all know people, maybe you’re one of them, who seem to eat almost nothing and still don’t lose weight. This is why.

In the end, most of these people either carry on eating almost nothing and make themselves sick, or give up and go back to eating the same junk they were before. Except now your body is burning far fewer calories than it was originally (since you’ve slowed your metabolic rate down), so it can’t do anything with all this extra food except store it, as fat. Enter the yo-yo dieter!

Yes, a slight calorie deficit is necessary to aid weight loss, but if you can also ramp UP your metabolic rate (through exercise, and the right food selection), you’ll now be burning more calories (not less) without starving yourself. Energy levels will be good, your immune system won’t be compromised, and you’ll lose weight.

For help with your diet or exercise plan visit my website
One-to-One and small group Personal Training, and outdoor fitness classes in Dartford, Kent.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Some simple tips to help with your healthy eating

To start with, note that I didn’t say “Diet”. If there’s an intended end to your Diet (i.e it’s for 30 days, or until you go on holiday etc.), then it’s not healthy eating, it’s a short-term fix and you’ll end up right back where you started or worse (you’ve heard the term yo-yo dieting and are probably familiar with it!).

So for healthy eating, you need to form new habits and break old ones, for the long term. Slim, fit and healthy people don’t gorge out because they’re slim, they eat healthy to stay healthy. Yo-yo dieters eat healthy(ish) to lose weight, then eat crap again once they’re slimmer, and gain it all back again.

If you want to be healthy, act like a healthy person. Every time you come to make a decision about what to eat ask yourself “Would a healthy person eat this?” If the answer is “no”, don’t eat it!

What would they choose…?

Same for exercise. Would they skip this workout? Or would they push through and do it anyway?

BE that person.

Just that one tip alone [Act like the person you want to be] could be enough for you to see massive improvements in health, and off the back of that, weight loss.

So what else can you do?

Here are some of the things people struggle with (and I know this because they told me), and a couple of tips on how to improve on them:

Snacking in the evening
This is common, and tends to happen regardless of whether you ate dinner early or late. So if you’re still snacking after dinner then it’s probably not a hunger thing, it’s out of boredom/habit. In this case there are a couple of things you could do;

1.       Be strong. You know you’ve just eaten dinner, and you’re not hungry – don’t eat for the sake of it, simply say no. For what it’s worth, snacking after dinner will release hormones that should naturally be dying down in the evening. This will lead to poor quality sleep, and prevent hormones from balancing out, which will lead to excess fat storage. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING after dinner until breakfast.

2.       If it IS hunger then maybe you didn’t eat enough protein/fat at dinner or ate too many starchy carbohydrates. Change your dinner to include more protein (meat, fish, eggs etc.) and more veg. Ditch the pasta, bread, rice, potatoes (you can have them in your post-workout meals).

3.       If you ate a good dinner and still feel hungry, drink a large glass of water (about a pint).

4.       Keep yourself busy/distracted. Sitting on your arse watching TV is boring. You’ll want to snack. Read a book, go for a walk, play with the kids… just keep busy. And before you say you’re busy all day and need to relax – stop making excuses! A nice walk or reading a book IS relaxing; you don’t need to be sat down doing F’All!

Eating Out
Another common slip up. Yes, you’re out for a nice meal. No, that doesn’t mean you have to treat yourself to whatever you want PLUS dessert, and gulp down a bottle of wine with it.
This goes back to acting like the healthy person. Pick the healthier option on the menu. If there really are no healthy options, go somewhere else – plenty of nice restaurants to choose from.
If what you want comes with chips, ask them to change the chips for extra veg. You’re paying for you food, so order what you want! They won’t spit in your dinner for asking for veg instead of chips (unless you send it back to change it after!)
Choose a meat/fish dish and have it with vegetables. Sip some water with your meal. And if you HAVE to have dessert, choose the fruit salad instead of the chocolate fudge brownie with ice cream!

Healthy snacks
A LOT of people struggle with snacking. Most people don’t realise just how much they’re eating throughout the day. Keep a food diary for a week and see how you do!

Personally, I’m not a fan of snacking. Eat your 3 square meals a day, and leave it at that. If your meals are full of nutrition, plenty of veg, protein and fat, your need to snack will more than likely be boredom/habit. (See the snacking in the evening section above).

If you absolutely must have a snack, (maybe you worked through lunch, which is bad by the way – hormones levels again…) then stick to the same rules; nutrient dense foods with protein and fat, not crisps, sweets, biscuits, cakes, bread, crackers, weight watchers snack bars or Go Ahead bars! (And seriously, since when has it become acceptable to have biscuits for breakfast Belvita?!!!)

Options include: Boiled eggs, nuts and seeds, protein shake (NOT SlimFast etc.), cold meat. If you want fruit, make sure you have it with one of these.

Oh, and this seems obvious, but make sure there are no unhealthy snacks around for you to eat! Don’t have a bar of chocolate in your bag, or a stash in your desk drawer, and tell you co-workers NOT to offer you cake or any other shit because you DON’T want it!! (Chances are you’ll be doing THEM a favour – they’ll feel guilty eating junk if you’ve turned it down, so you might even help them lose weight too!) Like the loving grandparents of your kids – they are NOT doing you a kindness offering you junk food! (Grandparents/parents take heed – there’s a hint there for you!).

In fact, look at them in disgust when they offer you sweets. They’ll soon get the hint.

Getting bored of meals
This one is so easy to action it’s ridiculous, yet 90% of people stick to eating the same bland crap day in day out. Ironically, this is usually an excuse not to eat healthily (despite the fact most people probably eat the same 6 or 7 junk meals over and over anyway).

Find a good recipe book and start cooking. It’s not as quick a nuking a frozen lasagne no, but you won’t be slaving in the kitchen for 3 hours a night either. And how much do you want to lose weight/get healthy?!

Buy a full rack of herbs and spices and plan your meals in advance so you know what ingredients you need to buy.

Not having the ingredients for different recipes should NOT be an excuse to be lazy!

And when you cook, MAKE EXTRA. You can have it for breakfast/lunch the next day, or freeze it so you’ve got a healthy meal there ready when you don’t have much time or haven’t been shopping yet. Much better than resorting to takeout or microwave meals.

Portion control
Another easy fix. If your goal is weight loss or maintenance then portion size DOES come into it, but don’t fall into the calorie restriction trap or you’re in trouble.

Focus on nutrient-dense foods like fresh meat and veg. Protein and fat (basically meat) are slower digesting and trigger your “I’m full” hormones. Meaning you won’t eat as much, and you’ll feel full for longer.

Switch to a smaller dinner plate and load it up with veg and meat first. Then if you’re eating other carbohydrates, you’ll be limited to how much you can fit on the plate. Don’t go back for seconds or have a spare plate for your bread!

And if you find you’ve cooked too much – brilliant! There’s tomorrow’s breakfast again!

This is one of the biggest insults you can throw at your body. It’s loaded with sugar and calories with NO nutrition whatsoever. It disrupts your hormones (find you wee a lot when you’re out drinking?!). And it’s a poison (yes, POISON) to your body. If you feel like shit after a night out, then it’s because you’ve poisoned yourself. Your body is now toxic. And all efforts (on your body’s part) will be going to detoxing that poison, leaving all other body functions in standby mode until it’s out of danger. Fat storage here we come!

Avoid drinking during the week (seriously, where’s the need to drink at home in the evening?!).

If you’re out with friends: 
1 – it’s quite possible to order a non-alcoholic beverage when you’re out (I’ve heard most places DO do that).
2 – Drive. That’ll limit you. 
3 – Don’t give in to peer pressure, weakling. 
4 – If you MUST drink, go for a light spirit with soda water and some fresh lime, or a glass or two of red wine (not a bottle ladies!). At least it’ll be less of an insult to your body than cocktails and beer.

Some of these things may seem obvious and simple, but it’s often the smallest changes that add up to the biggest results. And by doing just ONE thing to improve your health, there’s a knock-on effect into other areas.

So if any of these are things you struggle with, tackle just that ONE thing and see how you go. Chances are it won’t stop at just that one change, but focus on one thing for now and let the rest follow.

Contact me if you want any help with your diet or training.

Mark :)

Is your training confused? Part 2…

Last month I wrote about people who confuse cardiovascular training with training for fat loss. This month, as promised, I’m going to briefly cover why lifting the heaviest weights in the gym isn’t necessarily the right thing to do if your goal is to gain muscle mass.

I see it time and time again, people (normally young men) training, let’s face it, for vanity (who doesn’t want to look better?!), lifting the biggest weights in the gym… badly.

The confusion here is in the difference between hypertrophy (muscle-building) and strength training.
Although there is a connection between muscle size and muscle strength, it’s not absolute – if you’ve ever heard the expression “punching above his weight class” you’ll know that size isn’t directly proportional to strength and vice versa.

A lot of strength comes from neural adaptation and your muscles becoming more efficient at lifting heavy weights, NOT from increased muscle size. So if you’re lifting ever increasing weights and sacrificing good technique just to tell people how much you lift (or because your mate’s lifting that weight so you can’t lose face and pick a lighter dumbbell to work with), then you’re actually hindering your ability to gain muscle size (and setting yourself up for a nasty injury).

Decide whether you want to brag about how much you lift (trust me, no-one really cares), or whether you want to gain some mass and get a great physique.

Once you’ve decided to drop the ego, and reduce the weight, you can start training properly.

Use proper technique, full range movements, and manipulate tempo and rest periods to increase the intensity of your workouts, NOT weight. Although it does come into the equation, weight is far less important than you might think.

Slow, controlled movements that stress all muscle fibres and increase the time under tension (of the muscle) will result in maximum stress to the muscle, which will bring about growth.

You also need to remember that EVERY DAY ISN’T CHEST DAY!

Muscles don’t grow in the gym; they grow when you’re recovering from your workouts. Give the muscles time to repair and grow before you hit them again. If you’re using a split routine - with the exception of legs, which you may be able to get away with training twice per week if you have a good program - train each body part only ONCE per week (this WILL mean having days off of training!).

There are far too many variables to cover here, but the take home message from this short article is this:
If you’re training to increase muscle mass/size, reduce the weight you lift, use good form, manipulate tempo and rest periods for intensity, and take time off to recover and let your muscles grow.

Combined with a good diet (and that doesn’t mean as many supplements as you can stuff down your throat), this will put you on the right track for gaining mass. Supplements “supplement” your diet, they don’t replace it - the clue’s in the name, it’s not rocket science. Ten protein shakes and half a tub of creatine won’t make up for a lousy nutrition plan.

If you want help with either training or diet you can contact me through my website

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Is your training confused? Fat Loss or just Fitness?

One of the most common things I see in the gym (or outside) is people confusing their training strategies with their training goals.

Does your training match your goals?

The two most common mismatches I see are people trying to lose fat spending hours on the cardio equipment or running; and people trying to “bulk up” and gain a “cover model” physique trying to lift the heaviest weights possible.

For this post I’ll briefly cover the first group – the Fat Loss group.

Although cardio was long thought of as the best way to burn fat, with a so called “fat burning zone” and the “just move more” attitude, it’s [not so] recently been proven in study after study that there are far more efficient ways to burn fat. I’m not saying that traditional cardio training isn’t beneficial, but that it’s the long road to take if fat loss is your goal and may never get you looking the way you want to look.

Your body will adapt to whatever you put it through - which is why when you start you might only be able to run 100 metres, but within a couple of weeks you can run miles. This is a warning signal! You're body becomes more efficient at running, meaning it uses less energy (calories) to do so. So although you may lose weight running initially, you'll soon hit a plateau. Most people think the answer is to run more, and although that may help, it's not a good way to go (especially given the amount of injuries runners suffer - with about 80% of runners suffering from injuries every year!)

Interval training (short bursts of extremely high intensity work followed by periods of slow recovery work repeated a number of times) has been proven to provoke a much greater fat burning effect. It releases the hormones needed to build or maintain muscle as well as burn fat for energy, and also, unlike traditional cardio where any calorie burning stops when you stop, intervals create an excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which basically means you’ll be burning extra calories for periods up to 48 hours (or even more) after your training session has ended!

The stress on your body and muscles whilst sprinting is what brings about these hormonal responses, and without it, you’ll struggle to burn off as much fat as you’d like and likely just be burning through valuable muscle tissue instead.

So if you hate the gym and love running, then at least change your training to include intervals - you still get to run, but you get all the benefits of high intensity exercise too.

On top of that, the more time you spend running/cycling/X-training etc. means less time lifting weights; and without working your muscles with resistance, you’ll also struggle to switch on your fat burning hormones.

In short, for fat loss, you need to ditch the long, steady pace cardio sessions and replace them with short (10-30 minute) interval sessions and weight training.

If you can train with weights 3 times per week, and use interval training twice a week, and use the other two days as rest days (maybe try some yoga or stretching), then the training side of your fat loss plan will be well under way. Then you just need to work on the nutrition side of things – because you can’t out-train a bad diet.

As a start, (after a good warm-up) try to sprint as far as you can, as fast as you can for 20 seconds (this will feel much longer!), then walk for 90 seconds to recover. Start with 4 or even just 3 rounds and build up to 8. Make sure you’re putting in 100% effort for the full 20 seconds though, no matter how tough it is – this isn’t “jog –walk” it’s “SPRINT-walk”.

As for the weights, avoid the machines and sit-ups, and head for the freeweights. Squats, Lunges, Deadlifts and Presses are the order of the day here.

If you want help with either training or diet you can contact me through my website

Next post I’ll talk through the second group – those who want to be bigger – and why “how much you bench” doesn’t even come into it!

Mark :)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Paleo Diet – What’s it all about?

Gaining more and more popularity these days is the Paleo Diet (also referred to as the caveman diet, the primal diet, or paleo 2.0); and for good reason.

Although everyone’s different, and what works for one person may not work for another (I’m sure you can think of an example of someone who’s had success with a diet that just didn’t work for you), this diet pre-dates all of the modern “diets” that tell you to cut back on fat, increase your carbs, decrease your carbs, increase protein, increase fat etc etc.

The Paleo diet looks back at how we’ve evolved. What were we eating for the hundreds of thousands of years that we were evolving into who we are today?

Through common sense, studies of other primate diets, study of fossils, anthropological accounts of modern-day hunter-gatherers, and examination of our own biochemistry, this diet whittles it down to the only options we would have had available to eat during our evolution.

The Paleo diet cuts out any foods that wouldn’t have been available to us – anything processed, grains, dairy, refined sugars, and foods only made available to us through agriculture.

Instead, it focuses on the ONLY foods that would have been available – fresh meat, seafood, seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Now although we are all different, common sense tells us that eating the way we’ve evolved to eat will be optimal for our health, all of us. Put simply, you’d have a hard time getting fat if you stuck to just those foods that were available to us 10,000 years ago.

So the Paleo diet focuses on real foods, and avoids any and all “modern” foods that have only been around since the introduction of agriculture and modern processing techniques.

The emphasis is on lean meats, and fresh vegetables; along with some fruit, nuts and seeds (which would have been available during certain seasons).

By eating the way we were designed to eat, your body will function optimally. Feed it the right fuel and you’ll have more energy, think more clearly, lose weight if you’re overweight, gain weight if you’re underweight. Everything works as it’s supposed to.

Not only will eating this way strengthen your immune system, but cutting out the toxins and stresses of modern foods will also make you less susceptible to illness; meaning you won’t get sick as often, and if you do, it won’t be nearly as bad because your body can deal with it efficiently.

There’s a reason this diet is gaining momentum, and it’s because it makes sense. Anyone following the dietary recommendations laid out in this plan will see great results, not just in terms of weight, but body composition and shape, health, energy levels, resistance to disease, and general well-being.

I strongly advise anyone with an interest in improving their health to take a serious look at the Paleo diet and give it a try. You won’t regret it.

Bear in mind that since we are all different, once you’ve got the basic principles down, it might be worth tweaking the meal proportions and timings to suit your individual needs (this is where the protein/carb/fat ratios come into play). But to begin with, focus on eliminating all non-paleo foods, and eating only the foods that were available to us since the beginning.

Basically there is no one, perfect diet that will suit everybody, but it’s my belief that there are still underlying principles that are true for everyone, and the paleo diet covers these principles perfectly. Cut out the crap, and eat real food.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Are you exercising but still not losing weight?

I see this all the time; people training hard, but still carrying excess body fat.

This could be down to the type of training you’re doing, and if you’re training at a low intensity, or just sticking to traditional cardio (running, cycling, aerobics etc.) then this could well be the case, but more often than not, it comes down to your diet.

You can’t out-train a bad diet

If you really want to get results from your training efforts, then you really need to be taking care of your diet. This doesn’t mean eating less (calories are, for the most part, irrelevant), it means eating better.

If you’re eating anything that your body sees as a toxin (sugar, alcohol, processed foods) then what isn’t excreted will be stored… in your fat cells. Our bodies are amazing in that they can deal with the huge array of insults we throw at them every day - stress, poor quality food, germs and bacteria, pollution etc., but there is a limit to how much they can deal with and process/excrete before they start to fall behind. That's when the excess toxins get stored and layers of fat build up.

Eat more toxins and your body stores more fat. Eat no toxins, and your body can start to break down and release the stored toxins (from your fat). So they key here is to eat healthy foods that won’t toxify your body and lead to storing more fat (even if they’re “low-calorie”!).

We need a toxin deficit, not a calorie deficit, to lose weight

These toxic foods also tend to be acidic in nature, causing your body more stress to counter the acid and retain its ideal pH level. This will also lead to fat storage, low energy levels, and osteoporosis.

In short, you need to give your body a chance to release stored toxins by (ideally) eliminating, or at least reducing the toxic load on the body. This means cutting out sugary and processed foods (and drinks), alcohol, cigarettes, and any intolerances or allergies (N.B. wheat and dairy are two VERY common intolerances that you may well not be aware you have. You can find out by simply eliminating them from your diet for 30 days and then testing your reaction when you re-introduce them).

Eat plenty of vegetables and low GL (Glycemic Load) fruits such as tomatoes, avocados, grapefruit, kiwi, plums, and berries, and ensure you get plenty of good fats to help protect your cells from acid damage. 

I recommend you only cook with coconut oil, and use extra-virgin olive oil cold (i.e. in salads), and include flaxseed, eggs, fish, avocados, nuts and seeds in your diet.

Once you reduce the amount of toxins you're consuming to a level below what your body can deal with, it will start to release and filter out stored toxins, and weight (fat) loss will follow. It's at this point that any increase in exercise will accelerate the process.

If you want help with either training or diet visit my website