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Thursday, 24 December 2015

How to survive Christmas

This could be used in other countries for other celebrations where food plays a central role but for many of us in the UK and Europe Christmas is the major eating celebration of the year.
We will assume here you aren’t young and trying to add mass. If that is you then simply eat.  The fact you are eating an each few thousand calories will only help your goals, but for people concerned about their waistlines it is time to think about how to minimise the damage.

Do NOT be strong willed

Unless you have a contest that depends upon you making you weight class or a fat percentage then do not avoid everything. Eating a few hundred calories more than normal on one day will have zero effect on you if you stick to the eating plan before and then return to that plan afterwards.  Just remember it is OVERDOING things that gets you into trouble.  Have a handful of crisps (chips in the US), a bite or 2 of chocolate will be fine, just do not binge from morning to night.  Allow yourself a little leeway on Christmas day, but plan on a return to normal training and eat the day after Christmas (boxing day).


Alcohol  is 7Kcal per gram, more than carbs or protein but less than fat.  Alcohol also has the dubious honour of being able to turn on your fat storage systems and switch off your fat burning (nice combo!). Your body burns alcohol over other fuel.  Much of the other food you eat goes directly to storage (fat storage). A glass of wine is not going affect you too badly, infact it may have some benefits, but 6 pints with a few chasers are not going to aid you on the day and will also affect your next training session as you will have a hangover..  If you are going to drink heavily plan on missing a few days of training. To minimise the negatives drink a pint of water after each pint of alcohol and a pint of water and some vitamin C before bed.  You will notice some impaired performance, but it will not be as extreme as it is if you do not do these things.  Eating can also help, but it does increase the chances of vomiting (which may not be a bad thing as you remove alcohol from your system).
Just remember alcohol is a fluid, you can drink many more calories than you can eat. Always eat before you drink.  Foods that absorb fluids slightly slow the absorption of alcohol (bread and similar).
Obviously do not train or do anything dangerous while under the influence of alcohol your judgement is impaired  so be sensible and safe.

Brazil nuts

Traditionally many families have brazil nuts at Christmas in the UK. Brazil nuts are a very concentrated source of selenium.  You only need about 2 brazil nuts to get enough selenium. If you eat around 10-12 nuts you risk overdosing on selenium. So enjoy Brazil nuts in moderation. The worst offenders are the chocolate Brazil nuts you can buy as many people can only manage a nut or two, but cannot resist many chocolate coated nuts!

How to avoid overeating

Christmas dinner is the traditional overeating meal.  Allow yourself some leeway and do enjoy the meal.  A few simple tips will help you survive with a reasonable waistline.
Drink water before and during
Drink some water before you eat and during your meal.  You stomach is a sack, you only have so much room in there.  If it is partly full of water you will not feel as hungry.

 Eat your greens

Eat the green vegetables first when you start your meal.  Green, leafy vegetables are full of fibre, bulky and low in calories.  Like the water they will fill the stomach without many calories.

Use a small plate

A smaller plate makes you eat less. Use a smaller plate and it looks like more food.

Chew your food

Chew your food a lot.  You have no teeth in your stomach, so make sure you chew thoroughly. This will slow eating and it has been shown that eating more slowly actually lessens fat accumulation.

Put down your cutlery

Stop, talk, be sociable.  You are at a family gathering to enjoy the company of others, so enjoy it! It shouldn’t be about the food, it should be about the company, so take the opportunity to communicate with your family and friends.


There is little need to snack on Christmas day as there is ample food at the main meal, so try to minimise snacking.  In most households there are many snacks available all day, so minimise these or stick to less calorie dense snacks, or small amounts of others.

Final points

Christmas is to enjoy.  One day of even terrible eating isn’t going to ruin an otherwise good diet.  So give yourself permission to enjoy some foods and drinks.  What is the point of being the most ripped miserable person in the room?  Have some treats, eat some roast potatoes and then get back to the gym and healthy eating tomorrow. You’ll be glad you did as it will be a day to remember!

Written by Pete Ryan - Clinical nutritionist, personal trainer and massage therapist. Owner of Gorilla Gym

Further reading: "Eating vegan over Christmas" for more tips

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Reasons your diet will fail

This time of year the mind begins to gloss over the excess that is Christmas and start to think about what we plan to do for the New Year.  For many of us it will be the traditional time to fail at the diet New Year resolution.  Every year you believe the same thing ...”This year will be different!”...and every year you fail to make that a reality.

Today we will look at common reasons why I believe most people fail at losing bodyfat. From there we will start to think of ways you can combat those issues.

Issues that will encourage failure

The first of the many mistakes is creating that ‘perfect diet plan’.  You know the one where every bit of food is perfect and every possible source of enjoyable food is removed.  Yes, living on 800Kcal a day will make you lose fat faster, however disaster looms.

 Secondly is the fact that suddenly cutting your calories massively causes the metabolic rate to crash. This will means that you will suddenly feel tired, your levels of leptin (the ‘full-up’ hormone) will drop, and the level s of ghrelin (the hunger hormone)  will rise.  You will be more likely to binge as these hormones will drive you towards feasting.

Thirdly dropping calories too fast means you will lose a lot of muscle mass as well as fat.  The more severe the diet, the more muscle mass will be lost along with the fat.  This is very bad as the amount of calories you need are actually partly decided by how much muscle mass you carry.  If you carry 35% muscle mass before a severe cut , then that drops by 5% or more, your need for calories drops dramatically as well, so keeping that weight off becomes even harder the more muscle mass you lose!

The fourth thing people often do is that they equate suffering with success. This is wrong on several counts. Firstly you can only lose fat without excessive muscle loss at a rate of about 1-2lb a week.  If you are very fat you can do more at the start, but for people needing to lose only a little, 1-2lbs per week seems the best rate that will help maintain the most muscle mass, while the fat disappears.  Also suffering can work for a few days, possibly a few weeks, but no one thrives while suffering deprivation.  You are constantly tempted by foods and you are always feeling tired, rundown.  You also miss out on social events that focus around food like meals out and family celebrations.

Fifth, we reach willpower.  Willpower is not an endless bucket of strength.  Nor do you have a set amount of willpower for one thing and not for another.  Rather like stress you will find that you have a certain ‘bucket’ full of willpower and this can get used up over the course of a day.  To do your morning exercise will use up some of your willpower allowance, to eat that healthy meal will take some more, to do that DIY you planned to finish will take still more.  Adding to that severe, ongoing deprivation of food will probably mean your training and other activities that also take willpower may fail to be accomplished as time goes on.  In the end these failures may lead to a worse outcome than a more moderate diet plan that continues the exercise and other recovery plans you have in place.

Many people actually just want bragging rights not to achieve a maintainable physique.  They are more impressed with “Look at my 30 day transformation”, than with “I made gradual changes in my diet over many months.  I managed to lose the weight and keep it off for several years”.  People are naturally drawn towards the adverts that claim “2 inch bicep gain in 2 weeks”, or “Lose 20lbs in 20 days”.  What they are really saying is that they do not want to make lifestyle changes.  They want to eat the same foods that caused the weight gain, the same way they always ate them...and yet lose the fat they have accumulated over the years.  Does that sound feasible to you?  Real bragging rights should go to the people who have kept the fat off themselves.  Maintaining a physique with a lower fat level than you are used to is harder than just crash dieting and reaching a ‘goal weight’, then going back to eating how you did before.  The real goal should be time a lower fat level is maintained for, not how quickly you achieved a low fat level (followed by how quickly you piled it back on again!).

The next thing we will look at is the idea that ‘optimal’ is best. This is counter intuitive, but optimal is NOT best, ‘doable’ is best.  Let me use an example.  Let’s say ideally you should have a strategic refeed (you can call it a ‘cheat meal’, but I prefer the word ‘refeed’), but suppose you have an invitation for a fantastic adventure out after you have had your refeed?  Now suppose this adventure only had the option of eating less than perfect food choices.  I would say “Grab the adventure!”. Another option may be that ideally you would eat broccoli and tofu many times a week, but in all honest you do not desire that option at all. I would suggest that having some variety will get you to decent fat levels a little more slowly, but will make the journey that much more enjoyable. I would possibly go one step further.  For most people living on ultra-strict dietary guidelines that never waver is impossible, but making smaller, less draconian dietary choices will still allow you to reach your fat-loss goals without the added stress.  It will be slightly slower, but you have the added advantage of learning new recipes you can use once you have reached your fat-loss goals.

The next issue you have to overcome is related to the optimal Vs doable argument. It is the “Hot and cold effect”. This is when you start a project you are super-motivated, so you really do believe you can eat that tofu and broccoli daily.  What you fail to realise is you must be able to empathise with how you will feel after that initial enthusiasm fades. Being able to see how you will fare after the first week, or first few months is something you have to learn if you want to design a successful diet programme.  Remember, you are all about creating a real lifestyle change, not about having two weeks being super-strict then going back to your old eating lifestyle.  If you can clearly visualise yourself (honestly) keeping to a plan over weeks, months and even years, then you will go a long way to achieving your goals

The last point I will bring up on this post is the use of positive associations when talking about things.  Saying “I eat plants.” is a better choice of words than the negative association involved in the phrase “I do not eat animal products.”. Defining yourself by using negative associations has been shown to lessen your chances of success.  The same goes for your fat loss goals. “I think I will eat mainly healthy food today.” Will work better than, “I will NOT eat that unhealthy option for lunch today”. The latter means you will end up thinking of the unhealthy option you are determined not to eat for lunch all morning, and possibly regretting it all afternoon?  Whereas, if you think about the healthy food options all morning, you will more than likely eat them and have no regrets later.

What can be done?

My suggestions are to take small steps towards your goals.  Slowly increase the amount of healthy, wholefoods in your diet.  Allow once or twice a week to eat somewhat less than perfect food (see the 80:20 diet for a few more tips on that).  Remember you are learning a new way to eat so take things slowly and make any changes enjoyable. This also leaves you a long time over which to make changes, so if you stall simply add in the next small change.  If you make every change at once, where do you go from there if your fat-loss stalls?

Remember weight training becomes especially important if you are losing weight as any muscle lost not only makes you look slacker, but it also lowers your metabolism which needs to be as high as possible.  We will look into that more later, but for now, enjoy the holidays, but pop back to this when you begin to plan your diet for the New Year.  You can look vastly better by next summertime if you plan carefully, do not try to do too much, too soon and gradually move towards your goal over time.

Any comments add them below and do not be afraid to ask questions. I included some further reading that you might find interesting below.

Further reading

Monday, 23 November 2015

Are studies always right?

This is an opinion piece. All I am trying to achieve with this post is to get you to consider the source of the information you are seeing.  If you look at science articles online or even studies you will see a whole host of areas covered. From diets that cause cancer to exercises that cause most fat loss, not to forget that supplement that boosts testosterone by 100% and shreds you while building muscle (all in 8 weeks...that is so cool!).

However before you go and rush out and buy the latest wonder product that has been proven by science try digging a little bit deeper and checking out the evidence.  Here is a simple way to do it.  First of all, if you read an article, find the original research.  On several occasions I have seen an article and discovered that the research quoted said something very different to the claims of the article, or had such a distorted view of the results so badly that the article was meaningless.  Other times I have found that the research was actually done (or funded) by a lobby group or company and the answer was actually a fabrication, or at least the study was set up in such fashion that the results should be seriously questioned.  Groups like the Weston Price Foundation are classic distorters of the facts, as are several companies.  Let’s take a quick look at the latest piece of research from the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that looks at obesity.

The Global Energy Balance Network produces research into which factors are the prime causes of obesity.  The study it recently produced implies that diet has little to do with obesity, it is actually lack of activity that is the major reason for obesity in Western countries.  That is certainly a possibility, but it does go against most current research that suggests that moderate exercise and dietary changes are needed to lower obesity rates in the western world. So you may wonder who are the Global Energy Balance Network?  If you take a look at the non-profits details they are actually registered to Coca Colas head office.  That’s right, their address is the head office of Coca Cola. If you knew this before would you have thought a little differently about this non-profit and the study results?  A non-profit that suggests that diet has little effect on obesity (so sugary drinks are fine), you just need to do a little exercise and obesity will disappear. This is exactly what has happened, the non-profit was found out to be registered at Coca Cola HQ, you can find the whole story at

This however is the tip of a bigger problem.  A lot of big corporations actually fund studies in a less blatant fashion, but never-the-less still get the results they are after with the threat of losing finding as the incentive.  If your job is on the line you will work hard to get the results the funder wants. The best type of study is often a meta-study when they gather many studies together and see if there is actually some common issue that arises.  Places like ( ) are good places to see if there if there are actually likely causes linked to correlations found in single studies, as they gather evidence from all the studies and put them together. If you find a single study that seems to refute (or support) your current views, then look for other related studies.  If most point one way, then there is a larger chance that actually the thing you are researching is true. I also find playing a game of ‘disproving yourself’ is a good test.  Spend some time trying to refute a common claim you hold.  If you manage it, or even throw some doubt on it, then you have spent your time wisely.  If you failed to disprove your current thinking then you have given yourself extra ammo the next time the issue arises.

Below I will put a check list of things you should do when you find an article:

  1. If you read an article find the original research.  If it is an unreferenced article, then contact the author and ask for references.
  2. Once you have found the original research see who funds the study.
  3. If the study is funded by a non-profit, see if you can find who funds that non-profit.
  4. Look for related studies and see if there is generally consensus about the issue.
  5. Try disproving the results using research.

If you do all of the above you will be head-and-shoulders above most of the people who are on the internet right now.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Choices for tooth health

Tooth health may seem like an odd issue for a training & diet related blog.  However, consider this.  If you have teeth issues then your food choices, dietary goals & overall health could suffer[i].  Along with this there is the risk of systematic diseases that could be initiated or associated to bad tooth hygiene[ii], it is even potentially related to heart health[iii]?  With so much involved in the care of your teeth it seems like it would pay to spend a little time caring for your teeth & eating to improve tooth health (which will also improve overall health as well).

The basics

For excellent tooth care you should be doing a few basic things & (in my opinion) avoiding a few common things to maximise oral health. Brushing the teeth & flossing several times a day is the general rule.  To this I would add rinsing the mouth after meals or snacks if brushing isn't possible.
There may also be a case to include extra treatments like oil pulling[iv], as that has showed in some studies a potential benefit (although not proven).  Also the traditional practices such as the chewing of specific ‘teeth cleaning’ sticks may also have some benefits[v]. Avoiding sugars & sticky foods when a tooth brush is not available may be an option if you are suffering from tooth or gum issues, but do not avoid fruits high in vitamin C as the benefits to tooth & gum health from these foods outweigh the dangers.


 I do not actually approve of antibacterial products generally & I am against the use of antibacterial mouthwash specifically (I am not concerned with herbal mouthwashes if you wish to use those).  The body is not a single organism.  A human being is actually a colony of human cells that are very much outnumbered by bacteria cells (about 10 to 1)[vi].  Some of these bacteria allies reside on your skin & in your mouth.  They supply protection, by attacking invaders or using up potential food sources & out-competing invading bacteria.  When you use anti-bacteria products you destroy your first line of defence against invaders. Plain soap & some herbal mouthwashes do not completely wipe out your bacterial army[vii], but using anti-bacteria products does several things.  Firstly they may be causing the creation of super-bacteria[viii].  Secondly, they could leave you undefended should another bacteria invade the body while your bacteria has not recovered[ix]. Thirdly, you could increase blood pressure as the nitrates found in food are changed to nitrites by bacteria in the mouth[x]. As a side note destroying these bacteria could also affect your endurance as an athlete[xi]. For those reasons I advise against anti-bacterial products.  Obviously these are personal choices but upon weighing up the pros & cons I feel that any potential benefit is outweighed by the potential risks involved.


Probiotics are sold as being good for gut health, but there could be a case for including them as part of your oral hygiene routine.  The evidence here is not solid yet, but if you intend to take a probiotic anyway, then why not take them out of the capsule & sprinkle on food or add to a shake (recently I have included them in my morning chia pudding).  That way the friendly bacteria get’s into the mouth & can also colonise the throat.  There is mounting evidence that probiotics can improve health & even help lessen the risk of cancer[xii].  On top of those benefits there are also studies & articles suggesting that oral health could be improved by introducing probiotics into the mouth rather than swallowing a pill[xiii],[xiv]


Fluoride is a much trickier issue to sift through.  There are countless articles online proposing the dangers of fluoride.  Fluoride can be a poison & you can ingest too much[xv]. If you have known tooth issues involving damaged or weakened enamel, then certainly it would seem to make sense to use fluoride in a toothpaste for a while.  I would suggest you are especially vigilant to not swallow any fluoride product & to rinse well after use.  Most people will find that regular dental care means that taking extra fluoride is unnecessary.  Again this is a personal choice, weigh up the risk:reward ratio & see if it makes more sense for you to use or not, & remember no decision is binding & you can use for a while, stop, then use again at any time you feel it is necessary.

Bad breathe

If you suffer from bad breathe then life can seem pretty bad.  There are several causes of bad breathe. Invasive bacteria in your mouth can cause bad breathe.  Certain foods can also cause bad breathe as they are ingested & release chemicals into the lungs that you exhale. Dry mouth can cause bad breathe, as can medications & illness[xvi]. If you have this problem try to discover the root cause of this condition & deal with it.  Things like improved oral hygiene, writing a food diary, changing medication or seeing a doctor are all ways to discover the causes of your bad breathe.

Foods to eat foods to avoid to improve oral health

One of the most important factors outside of brushing & flossing are the foods you choose to eat. Some foods will improve the health of your teeth & whereas others will negatively affect oral health.  Luckily all the foods that positively affect oral health also affect overall health positively as well.  Most of the things to do or avoid doing are common sense & after a little thought you see the need for including & excluding the foods on this list

  1. Avoid sugary foods.
  2. Avoid sticky foods (or brush afterwards).
  3. After eating sweet fruits or meals rinse the mouth with water.
  4. Drink green tea as a few studies have shown that it reduces oral diseases & bacterial growth.
  5. High vitamin C foods (like kiwi & strawberries) actually aid gum health (rinse your mouth with water after eating these).
  6. Nuts & Seeds are full of minerals that help keep teeth strong.
  7. Seaweed is another mineral rich food source.
  8. Celery, apples, fibrous greens are all good for 'scrubbing' bacteria loose from teeth. They actually do a 'mini brushing' effect. You still need to swill the mouth with water &/or brush afterwards, but these aid the process.
  9. Onion family have anti-bacterial value & can lower the amount of unfriendly bacteria in the mouth.
  10. Shiitake mushrooms may also lower bacteria levels in the mouth.
  11. Open probiotic pills & put them in your mouth directly. This replaces unfriendly bacteria with the friendly type that naturally occurs in the mouth. It could also lower the chances of mouth & throat cancers.

Final points

Remember oral health should be treated like any other part of your health routine.  If in doubt go & seek out a dentist to get checked out.  The above ideas cannot guarantee you perfect oral health, but it should go some way to improving your oral health.  Also consider the risk:reward ratio when deciding what to include into your oral care.  If your teeth & gums are fine then there is no need to include time consuming extras that would have limited (if any) benefit. Use that time for other activities that have a higher return like exercise, mobility, stress relief or similar.  However, if your teeth & gums are an issue, then spending a little extra time may well help you overcome these issues & help improve not just your oral health, but your overall health as well. Keep smiling!

[ii] Xiaojing Li et al. Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2000 Oct; 13(4): 547–558.
[iii] Watt, R et al. Toothbrushing, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease: results from Scottish Health Survey.  BMJ 2010;340:c2451
[iv] Peedikayil FC et al. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis - A preliminary report. Niger Med J. 2015 Mar-Apr;56(2):143-7.
[v] al-Otaibi M. The miswak (chewing stick) and oral health. Studies on oral hygiene practices of urban Saudi Arabians. Swed Dent J Suppl. 2004;(167):2-75.
[vi] Wenner M. Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones. Scientific American November 30, 2007.
[vii] Burton M et al. The Effect of Handwashing with Water or Soap on Bacterial Contamination of Hands.  Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jan; 8(1): 97–104.
[viii] Ballantyne C, Strange but True: Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good. Scientific American June 7, 2007.
[ix] Chiller K et al. Skin Microflora and Bacterial Infections of the Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings (2001) 6, 170–174.
[x] Bondonno CP et al. Antibacterial mouthwash blunts oral nitrate reduction and increases blood pressure in treated hypertensive men and women. Am J Hypertens. 2015 May;28(5):572-5. doi: 10.1093/ajh/hpu192. Epub 2014 Oct 30.
[xi] Jones AM. Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Med. 2014 May;44 Suppl 1:S35-45.
[xii] Reid G et al. Potential Uses of Probiotics in Clinical Practice. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003 Oct; 16(4): 658–672.
[xiii] Haukioja A. Probiotics and oral health. Eur J Dent. 2010 Jul; 4(3): 348–355.
[xiv] Bonifait L et al. Probiotics for Oral Health: Myth or Reality? Canadian Dental Association.
[xv] Li Y. Fluoride: safety issues. Oral Health Research Institute, Indiana University School of Dentistry. Journal (Indiana Dental Association) [1993, 72(3):22-26].

Monday, 16 November 2015

Becoming an Underground Strength Coach

Just a quick post to update you all on what’s happening. I am beginning to take the “Underground Strength Coach Certification”.  Hopefully, that will mean a few tweaks in the way I train people and offer advice. It will also mean a few experiments in the gym to see how these training ideas compare to what I use already.
I usually try to keep adding to my skill set and be in some form of further education related to either training, nutrition or massage most of the time. I prefer to keep a ‘student attitude’ and continue to learn rather than believe I have ‘the answer’.  I keep it fresh by revolving things I am learning between my interests. The worlds of exercise, nutrition & massage are so large that you would never learn everything in one lifetime anyway, so I suspect I’ll remain busily learning for many decades to come.

If you are interested in getting involved as I learn new skills just email me & we can sort out how I can help you achieve your goals.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

IIFYM – House of straw?

IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) has become popular within the training world over the last few years. Although this type of eating has always existed within the fitness community, it was never formalised or given a specific name, but there have been many bodybuilders and athletes over the years that have eaten anything and only moderated amounts eaten, not food choices.
The diet has recently been popularised by a guy who is funded by the meat and dairy industry and also believes the latest World Health Organisation study linking cancer to processed meat (& probably red meat) is wrong (he also shows his complete misunderstanding of what that study actually says and what it is not saying...but that is another story I may write later as many people seem confused by the research).

What are ‘macros’?

Macros is short for the word ‘macronutrients ‘.  Macros are the amount if protein, carbohydrates and fats in food.  It does not take into account, vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants or other nutrients in foods.

Let’s look at a few ways to put a diet together

For clarity let’s look at a few examples to make a point.  Suppose I wanted 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbs (don’t worry about those numbers, exchange them for your preferred ratios if you like).  Now I will offer a few scenarios and see which makes sense:

  •             Scenario 1: Get protein powder, glucose powder and some fat.  I measure out the correct amounts of each of these macronutrients and have these throughout the day. My macros are spot of man!
  •          Scenario 2: Eat completely processed foods.  I can eat whatever I like, but all the grains must be highly refined, all the food is highly processed (what we’d call ‘junk’ food).  However, I fit the macros so they fit my goals. Again, I end up fairly close to my goal (there may be a little variation as real foods means a little tweaking to fit exact goals...).
  •         Scenario 3: Eat only what are generally accepted as healthy food.  You never deviate from this.  Weigh all food exactly and every meal is carefully measured.  You get close to your goal, you are hardcore!
  •          Scenario 4: You eat mainly whole foods.  You aim at around 80% of your diet being what is considered healthy food, the other 20% you can go a little wild, have something you want that may not be ideal. You get close to your ideal intake, but there will be some small variations day to day.

Which of the above will be the best scenario for most people? Let’s look through the results of the scenarios above.

  •       Scenario 1: This will get you closest to your planned macros intake.  Unfortunately, you will be losing out on fibre and many phytonutrients found only in whole plants. You may well lose fat, you could even look good eating like this over the short term.  Eventually though, nutrient deficiency and lack of fibre will lead to ill health, if  this is continued an early death will almost certainly follow. So, we know immediately that simply fitting a diet to your ‘macro needs’ are not enough to get all the nutrients you need to achieve a healthy condition, even if you can lose fat on this diet.
  •      Scenario 2 : Processed food can make you lose weight.  Take a look at the Twinkie diet[i].  In this diet a professor lost 27lbs eating twinkies and other junk foods, but kept the calories lower than he needed to maintain his weight, so you can lose weight by simply cutting calories.  A lot of fad diets use the cutting out of certain foods or classes of macronutrients to make you eat less calories, so you lose weight, but in reality it is not usually the food or macronutrient itself that is the cause of the weight loss, but the lowering of calories.  So, if you cut carbohydrates or fat from your diet you lose weight, not because you cut that macronutrient out, but because you lowered your daily calorie intake. The issue with eating only processed food is again the lack of fibre and the lack of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients in the foods you are eating.  You could lose fat, but you are setting yourself up for disease as you get older eating only processed food.
  •      Scenario 3: In this scenario you are only ever eating what we call ‘healthy food’ (I will leave you to define healthy food).  This sort of eating should allow the body to get all the nutrients it needs.  There would be enough fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.  You will lose fat. In fact if you are dieting for a bodybuilding contest or to compete in a specific weight class you may need to do this sort of diet for a specified amount of time. However, if you follow this diet for prolonged periods of time several issues could develop. Foremost could be the development of the eating disorder like Orthorexia, this is not a recognised condition yet, but many of us in the fitness world have experience with this condition[ii].  Becoming obsessed all the time about only eating exact foods, in exact amounts, can lead to all sorts of problems and many people are left with the options of becoming super-obsessive about food or feeling failure as they fail to be 100% ‘clean’ with their diet.  This can cause mental stress and leads to issues like binge eating or other eating disorders.
  •      Scenario 4: Is my preferred choice.  You generally eat healthy whole foods, but you allow yourself some leeway.  You are not super strict on exact calorie intake or food choices.  You can have potato if you can’t find rice.  After you have that salad you can allow yourself that small dessert. Allowing yourself the option to eat mainly healthy, but also giving yourself some permission to stray in moderation allows for cravings to be satisfied while also reaching very close to your ideal intake of calories.  Some days you may feel like being a little stricter, sometimes a little more slack, but generally hovering around the 80:20 with 80% being whole foods and 20% being other foods of your choice seems to be a happy medium where you can achieve your goals with very little stress.

Consider your situation and the options

I believe that ideally you do need a little control over what you eat.  The obesity epidemic in society suggests that some control is needed[iii]. However, just picking on one aspect (in this case your macro intake) and suggesting that this, and ONLY this, is the important factor suggests that a person is somewhat naive about the longer term effects of food on health and well being.  What is needed is balance.  You need to include control into your diet, but you must also allow some leeway to explore new foods and enjoy some variety in your diet.  If you aim at eating mainly whole foods, then allow yourself the option of a few foods that may not be especially healthy I believe you will achieve a better result than just focussing upon the exact intake of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
With IIFYM I consider it like this.  If I was to build my dream home, I employ the best construction workers and the best designers to create the perfect building for me.  Then I pull out a pile of straw and say “OK, build me that building using this”.  Just like the fairy story, no matter how well my designers design & my construction workers construct, the building will still fall down as soon as the big, bad wolf starts blowing it down!  Similarly, if you have a great, training programme, fantastic recovery & plan the ideal calorie and macro intake.  All this will mean nothing if you do not have all the other food factors in place, like phytonutrients, antioxidants, fibre and other factors that can only be found in whole foods. You will have built your own body from ‘straw’ and when it is stressed by hard training, disease, stress or aging it will fail you. Consider your food not just as fuel, consider your food as health.  One of the major factors in your long term health are the food choices you make, so consider including generous amounts of whole foods into your diet for the best results.
If you want more about how to plan your diet or more indepth looks into dietary ideas or planning, then let me know by posting below and I will start researching your question.

[iii] James PT, et al. The obesity epidemic, metabolic syndrome and future prevention strategies. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology February 2004 vol. 11 no. 1 3-8.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Recovery isn’t upright

The chances are that if you were at school and doing sport; after the race when you are bent over & your breathe was heaving, do you remember the coach telling you to stand up straight and even to put your hands over your head.  These ideas were created to allow the diaphragm to be in the best position to allow quickest recovery.
Now suppose I told you that this is wrong.  Not only is it wrong but doing a HIIT cardio protocol you can lower the heart beat by over 20 beats per minute (BPM) MORE simply by putting your hands on your knees and bending forward slightly.  Would that be worth your time learning?

The study

This is the findings in a post-graduate thesis where they measured the recovery rates between standing upright, with hands over head & holding yourself in that well known bent over recovery position with your hands on your knees.

First let us address the issues stated by your old coach.  “Standing upright with hands over head opens the diaphragm to the maximum.” Says your coach.  “You aren’t compressing your lungs that way.”.  That is the common reasoning, but it appears that this actually incorrect.  You are not compressing your lungs by bending over as you are hip hinging in this position.  Bending forwards like this could actually increase your lung capacity slightly.  Also by using the arms as support for the upper body you lower the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) & heighten the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest), this also aids recovery.
In this study they saw over 20BPM improvement in 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes you either had drop of 31BPM standing upright with hands overhead or 53BPM by hip hinging forward with hands on your knees.  That difference is a very significant difference if you are doing intervals or recovering between bouts of exertion.

So, to sum things up.  If you need to maximise recovery between sets or during a contest use the bent over, hands on knee posture & be ready to go again as soon as possible.

Even if you are not concerned about the speed of recovery; consider that the faster your heart rate returns to normal, the faster can begin to repair & the super-compensation the body needs to improve. So, whatever your goals learning these methods to maximise recovery will benefit you and optimise the results of any training you do.
Special thanks to Dave of Vegan Runners for the pictures of him after a race and Jemma for taking the pictures. If you are interested in getting involved in Vegan Runners email and I can pass you on the details.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A new option for foam rolling

This is an opinion piece.   As far as I know no one has studied this or even talked about it before.  I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it was my partner who first thought of this variation.

Most people know about SMR (Self Myofascial Release), or foam rolling.  You can do it before training, after training, or at other times.  I know there is still debate about what SMR actually does (it probably doesn’t ‘release’ fascia, at least not the way we think of it right now).  Let’s put that all to one side.  Even if we do not know the exact mechanism, we can agree that much of the research does point to it being beneficial.  From there we can move on to the second part of this.

Enter the bath

Many people find benefits for hot baths as a recovery aid.  Slipping into that steaming hot tub can be a fantastic feeling and time spent in the bath actually does seem to help.  For the longest time I have suggested employing self massage in a hot bath as a recovery aid.  Things like calves, knees, shoulders, arms and hips can all benefit for a bit of massage while you bathe.  However things like glutes, lower back & other areas are incredibly difficult to apply a decent pressure to yourself, so until recently I was at a loss about how to include these into a ‘bath time recovery programme’ (expect that new book soon – the bath-time recovery book - ha haa! ).

Enter the lacrosse ball

I’m guessing that if you have tried SMR for any length of time you have a lacrosse ball.  I suspect that the whole foam rolling boom probably saved the lacrosse ball industry.  I see them everywhere! Lacrosse balls are firm, rubber balls.  After you have rolled on a tennis ball for a while, you will soon find that a tennis ball feels too soft to really get into the knots and trigger points you are feeling as you roll.  A lacrosse ball is the next level of firmness.  It is rubber, so it has a little give, but it works much deeper into the tissue.
Like many of you, I use SMR at the start of a workout session (here’s a study that shows extended ROM, but no loss in power by foam rolling[i]). I actually foam roll, then do dynamic stretching, then begin the workout.  I get better sessions that way.

A match made in heaven

So, let’s put these two ideas together and see how that grabs you.  If you want to include a little extra recovery into a simple bath time activity.  First include some self massage.  This will mainly be feet legs, arms, hands & parts of the shoulder and chest. After that, put a lacrosse ball into the bath.  Do not worry, it will sink! Roll on the glutes & the lower back (avoid the spine itself). The weight you apply to the ball will be less due to buoyancy; however the hot water will increase the effectiveness of the rolling. An option could be that instead of using fingers to self massage, you could use the lacrosse ball on the legs & arm also. Just remember to keep both the ball and your own body under control while you roll out as you could slide under water (safety first people!). You can roll out as long as you like.  It could be anywhere from 5-15 minutes (or longer if you like).  The time really depends on how beat up you feel.  Give yourself more time if you feel especially banged-up.
That’s it really.  I am obviously not going to show you pictures of me naked rolling out in a bath (sorry folks).  However if you have any questions about how to either roll out or self massage I am a fully qualified masseur, so I am happy to put together something for you, just let me know below.  A lot of this will be individual as you may be tight, or have trigger points in specific areas so take the time to experiment a little.  Assuming you are a normal, healthy individual, then you cannot really do anything too bad just rolling on a lacrosse ball.  It could be very painful at first but that will ease as you adjust to the practice.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Be aware of the difference between trigger point pain & injury.  Never foam roll over muscle tears, bruising or other tissue damage. If you have any doubts then go and get checked out by a medical doctor.  If you are especially painful then you might want to seek out a qualified masseur or masseuse & get a proper sports massage, SMR is good, but not that good!
Hopefully this has given you few ideas and if you have unique ways to aid recovery why not add those below and we can start a conversation.

[i] MacDonald GZ, et al. An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 3 - p 812–821.