Body Signs, Nutrition

The Body Signs Series – #2 Muscle Pain & Weakness

Are your muscles weak & achy, even if you haven’t exercised recently? Then you may consider checking your nutrient levels because:

  • Vitamin D is needed for muscle fibre (especially fast-twitch fibres) and cell protein synthesis, as well as optimal immune function, hormone & heart health. It is also an important epigenetic regulator that influences the expression of hundreds of genes. Other signs of deficiency include myofascial back pain, loss of muscle strength, bone tenderness & pain, hypotonia (poor muscle tone) and joint pain. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with accelerated ageing (btw did you know you can actually REVERSE ageing?).
  • Thiamin (vit. B1) is needed for the clearance of lactic acid and thus B1 deficiency can lead to muscle pain due to lactic acid build up. It is also needed for optimal function of the nervous system and so insufficiency can contribute to neurological pain and reduced signalling in muscle cells. Other signs of thiamin deficiency include glucose intolerance, tingling and numbness, increased heart rate, poor cognition (memory, confusion), poor coordination, burning feet syndrome, abnormal reflexes and more.
  • Dietary protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) necessary for muscle synthesis, amongst many other functions such as hormone & immunoglobulin production. Low intake of protein may not be the only reason for poor protein status – insufficient stomach acid and digestive enzymes can reduce the amount of protein our bodies absorb from our diet.

Of course, there are many other reasons why we may have achy, wobbly muscles. These include accelerated ageing, active viral infection (fever, etc.), chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid, autoimmune & neuromuscular conditions, prolonged bed rest and certain medications.

P.S.

If possible, always check your nutrient status and speak with your healthcare provider before starting any supplementation.

Your body is talking, are you listening?

Motivation

New Year What? A Different Reality on Being a Healthier You

Instagram makes it seem like everyone is smashing through their workouts and joyfully gulping down their protein and detox shakes, as if they have magically erased all memory of the delicious smell of pizza and the rich taste of burgers…
But the reality is often different (for me, and I hope for many others). One week in to the new year and I have come to realize that going back to a healthier lifestyle is easier said than done. All the talk about sticking to new year’s resolutions, makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong (and why I’m still eating burgers at 10pm)…

Well for starters, I didn’t really make any resolutions… Yes, of course, like everyone else I planned to go back to being healthier. But there wasn’t any specific resolution or timeframe. The truth is after months of free eating (following my exit from competing) and weeks of not working out, I knew I had to make some changes sooner or later.

However, I didn’t want to make any new year’s resolutions because they rarely seem to work. In fact, research shows that people generally fail at all of their resolutions by the 15th of February. Not really effective for long-term lifestyle changes, right? So may be I’m not doing anything wrong after all…

Here’s what I’m thinking: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing now. Date, time and place become irrelevant to your goal, or at least as to when you start working towards your goal. I say this from experience. For months, if not years, I struggled with digestive issues until one fine autumn day I woke up and started eating a clean, plant-based diet. Boom. No more waiting and wondering when is the right time (that time will never come, fyi). I felt so much better and wondered why I didn’t start sooner.

But before we can start making any external changes, we need to reconsider our own beliefs and motivations. Sometimes it is necessary to reframe our internal view in order to find meaning and worth in those new goals we have set for ourselves. Because if you don’t truly see the value in changing your lifestyle you are already setting yourself up for failure.

And it is here that I, and many others, struggle the most. The mental battle is a tough one, no matter what level of fitness you’re at. But instead of dragging our feet and curling up with fear, it is time to pull ourselves together and take baby steps. 

There’s nothing wrong with falling off track multiple times or slowing down the pace of change. As long as you’re moving forward towards your goals & dreams, you can give yourself a pat on the back and keep moving  🙂

Nutrition

Why Sticking to a Diet is Hard These Days

First of all, I hate the word diet. It is terribly close to the word “die” and exudes connotations of great struggle and suffering. Oh, and I love food.

The poor word has been so badly abused by the media and health & food industry that it has now become our second nature to associate it with hunger, unpleasant meals and unhappiness.

Yet, it still feels like we are obliged to follow a “healthy” (definition: TBC) diet of some sorts. Apparently doing that can solve many personal and global problems. Problems such as:

  • Eliminating waste (buy only what you can eat, often misinterpreted as eat all you can and throw away nothing)
  • Ending hunger (similar to above, but with an extra dose of guilt)
  • Saving the planet (reduce environmental impact by eating local & seasonal foods)
  • Saving the animals (no explanation needed here)
  • Increasing lifespan
  • Getting your body the nutrients it needs
  • Preventing disease and curing existing health problems
  • Getting in shape, losing weight
  • Maintaining a state of happiness and mental health

There’s probably more claims out there, but I believe these are the main ones.

Now do you see the problem? There are specific diets for each of these problems and there are diets which cover more than one problem. In fact, there are over 100 recognized diets!

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However, I am yet to find a diet that can fix it all and keep you happy. You know what I mean?

If you eat meat, you are a merciless killer who’s likely to suffer some digestive issue due to the high acidic profile of animal products. Of course, the alternative is not eating meat and fighting a slow battle with pernicious anemia (B-12 deficiency) or trying to keep your kidney alive due to long-term supplement usage (ok may be I am a bit harsh, but you get the picture).

And there are many more examples…

So I think it’s time to move away from the word diet and take a closer look at our lifestyles. Fitting food around the way we live and the preferences we have will make things much easier. At least in theory.

We are all unique individuals with different needs and likes, so it’s only natural to adopt a lifestyle that feels healthy to you, makes you happy and energetic.

Have you found what works for you? Share your story in the comments below 🙂

Fitness

The Next Chapter of My Fitness Journey

Now that I’m done with bodybuilding competitions… What’s next?

Well as discussed in one of my earlier posts, fitness is made up of several components:

  • Body composition 5compnents
  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility

I have learned a lot about one of them – body composition.

Now it’s time to explore some of the other aspects of of fitness: flexibility and muscular strength.

So over the next weeks, as I go through a little detox from the bodybuilding diet, I will also sign up for yoga and dance classes to improve my flexibility.

Of course, there is always the need for some more explosive action, so in order to improve my muscular strength, I plan to begin crossfit and powerlifting training.

Yep, I am definitely ready to enjoy a more whole-food, plant based diet and a different challenge in the gym.

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But first, I will enjoy another week of rest and all sorts of healthy & unhealthy treats! Everybody deserves a break right?

WW

Fitness, lifestyle

The Pros & Cons of Competing in Bodybuilding

Competing in bodybuilding, whichever category it is, has it’s positives and negatives.

Of course the further up the ranks you go, the harder it gets but the rewards get bigger too!

For those of you not familiar with the world of bodybuilding, here’s an example of the categories you usually find in competitions (yes it’s not all about the big boys!):

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As you can see there are varying degrees of muscle mass in each category. Yet each one has to work extremely hard both in the gym and in the kitchen! Growing muscle, no matter how big or small requires a strict diet and consistent training.

So let’s take a look at what you stand to gain, should you choose to enter a bodybuilding competition:

  • You will learn a lot about your body, how it reacts to certain foods and styles of training. This knowledge can easily be transferred to a lifelong healthy lifestyle, minus the extremities of competing. You will know which foods affect you negatively and how to manipulate your training to maintain your shape and still enjoy a few treats.
  • You will push yourself mentally and physically. Following a strenuous training routine for 3-6 months before a competition will challenge you a lot. You will discover your limits and try to push past them. You will learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and you will work on them.
  • Your confidence will get a major boost. Who knows, you may even start liking what you see in the mirror!
  • You will meet new people, go to new places and have new experiences. All of these will help you grow as a person and develop a different perspective in life.
  • And finally a bit of a controversial one: you may discover who your true friends are. Committing to a competition means committing a significant chunk of your life towards achieving a fitness goal. Your new lifestyle may no longer fit with that of your current social circle. Will your friends understand and accommodate your needs (and may be even try new things together with you!) or will they avoid you and mock you?

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But all these good things don’t come without a price… literally:

  • It is an expensive sport. Every competition comes with a hefty bill and your new-found fitness lifestyle can significantly bump up your monthly expenses. Also, you can easily get sucked into the false need for new things: you’ll think you need more / new supplements, clothes, protein shakers, etc… The only way to manage this is to reallocate money from other parts of your life (e.g. eat more homemade meals instead of eating out, travel less, and by reconsidering other unnecessary expenses).
  • It can be damaging to your physical health. Ironically, the sport that should showcase the ultimate health & fitness can have detrimental effects to your health if not done properly or if done for a very long period of time. Staying at a very low body fat is unnatural and can unlock a chain of health problems, especially when it comes to hormones. Ignoring cravings and following a cheat meal protocol encourages binge eating a lot of junk food (which you would normally not do if you allow yourself treats on a regular basis). The “muscle building diet” is an acidic diet high in animal products and artificial sweeteners (protein powders & bars) which can cause damage to the digestive system if not balanced out with healthy greens.
  • Your mental health can suffer too. Constantly restricting what foods go into your mouth can trigger many mental health problems such as depression, lethargy, eating disorders, self-hate  and guilt, food phobia (or rather should I say fear of gaining weight and fat from eating), and so on. On the other hand, not everyone is good at being disciplined and committed. If that is not your cup of tea, then the journey to a competition will stir up some negative emotions in you. Self-blame and not feeling good enough are just a few examples. It can get boring at times or you may develop a fear of missing out on your social life… yep the issues are many!
  • The bodybuilding lifestyle is not a sustainable lifestyle. You can’t train and lift heavy weights forever. You can’t deprive your body of carbs forever. You can’t deny your mind delicious treats. An injury or a health problem can easily put you out of the gym and may be even leave you unable to eat the necessary proteins to sustain your muscles. Therefore, it is important to follow a lifestyle and diet that you can sustain as you progress through life. A wide variety of healthy foods and moderate, enjoyable exercise will keep you going for a long time.

So is it good or bad? It depends on every individual. The way I see it is that competing once or twice is a good way to kickstart your journey into health and fitness. After that, it’s upto you to find your true fitness passion!

Fitness, Motivation

What to Pack When Travelling to a Competition

It’s time! I’m flying tomorrow, but had already started packing my bags last weekend 🙂

Further to my last post on 3 things to think about when travelling to a competition, here is a list of important bits you’ll need to take with you for your next comp 😉

1. Important documents

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Of course, you need your passport, but also your competition entry documents and information – having it printed is always easier to access when you need it!

2. The travel outfit

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Choose comfy, loose clothes for your trip and the day before the competition. Even if the weather may seem ok, you are likely to feel colder than usual due to fatigue and low body fat so make sure to take something to keep you warm if needed.

3. The tanning outfit

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A loose, long dress is ideal for tanning, just make sure it is either old or cheap as it will get stained. Flip flops and hair bands are also a must during the tanning process.

4. The backstage kit

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Once you are tanned and in your bikini, it is easier to put on a robe backstage. Also don’t forget to take something with you to help you pump your muscles and warm up before stepping on stage.

5. The stage outfit

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This is probably the first thing you will need to pack and the most important! Your bikini, jewellery and stage shoes should not be forgotten. If possible, bring spares for each as anything can happen at the last minute!

6. And a few beauty items

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Just a few extras that can save you money – body scrub (instead of doing a scrub treatment) and eyelashes if you fancy those (instead of buying fromt he make up artist).

Motivation

3 Things to Think About When Going Abroad to Compete

Travelling to a competition can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time or you’re going alone. The days before the comp you will be tired, hungry and nervous, so it’s important to make sure you have as much comfort as you can afford!

Here are three very important things to think about in the weeks before you travel:

1. What you’ll eat

Travelling is usually a time of exploring new or different cuisines and having fun. But if you’re travelling to compete, you can’t really enjoy local food until after the competition. That’s why it is important to plan ahead your meals for the last few days before your comp. Research the area and your hotel – are there any big supermarkets around? Does your hotel have a microwave, kitchen facilities (forks anyone?) or a restaurant where you can measure, warm up or cook your food (or order for it to be cooked as per your requirements)?

These are key questions you need answered before you leave – you don’t want to be stranded in a new place hungry and having to make poor food choices right before your comp. During my last comp we encountered a few blunders along the road, like not being able to find forks or a place to cook my rice or even a place that sells simple grilled chicken! So think twice before you book your hotel.


2. Where you’ll stay

Once you have a budget set for accommodation, make a list of all the hotels / apartments which fit the bill. Out of that list you need to pick a place which is relatively close to your competition venue and ideally one with facilities for your meals (e.g. fridge & microwave).

Why is location important? If like most people you are using the official beauty partners you will have to walk to and fro your accommodation on the day of the event. Of course you can always find a spot on the floor within the venue itself, but why suffer if you are paying for accommodation? Tanning usually requires 2 trips, and for the ladies there are also hair and makeup appointments to go to. And if the weather is cold you wouldn’t want to have to walk too far out, right?


3. What you’ll wear

I kind of missed this point last time. You need to be comfortable in the day or two prior to the competition, however you also need a separate outfit for show day.

Tanning stains, so it’s important to come prepared with old loose clothes (e.g. strapless beach dresses, large tee shirts, shorts or pants) which will keep you comfy  until it’s time to put on your stage outfit. Flip flops are ideal pre-stage. And remember to keep warm! Even if you are not traveling in the winter months or to a cold country you are likely to feel cold as you will be tired, depleted, hungry, thirsty and nervous!

So remember: plan ahead, research well, check you have everything and pack early!

Nutrition

Beginners’ guide part 5: What about food? How to start a gym-friendly diet

By Kim Barnard

Starting a gym friendly diet doesn’t need to be daunting – you just need to understand the basics and be prepared to do some food preparation.

Firstly, you need to get back to eating real food: in other words the stuff that grew out of the earth or on a tree, swam in the sea, ran on the ground or flew in the sky. Avoid things that have been processed and come in packaging, ready meals or fast food deliveries. It is time to get back to cooking so you understand just what is going into that body of yours. Losing weight and feeling healthy is 80% down to diet.  

Avoid the fad diets, detoxes and juice cleanses. All these will do is cause fluctuations in your body weight and health. They aren’t sustainable and a lot of the time you end up putting back on all the weight that has been lost. What we want to do is create a diet/meal plan that is sustainable for you and keeps you healthy.  

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A lot of people focus on calorie counting, yet this shouldn’t be your only focus. You should also be taking note of the macronutrients that you are ingesting. The below explains the three macros:

Protein: Every time you exercise your muscles break down and then use protein to rebuild and become stronger. This is why protein needs to be the main component of every meal. You should be aiming for one gram of protein per pound of body weight (for example, if you are 120 pounds you should be having 120 grams of protein minimum per day). Stick to lean high quality protein sources like beef, poultry and fish.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are converted into glucose (sugar) when ingested which is then used to provide energy. When you consume more carbohydrates than are being used up as energy the excess is being stored as fat. You want to avoid simple carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cakes, etc.

Fat: Unfortunately, fat is the most misunderstood macronutrient in diets. Fat, contrary to popular belief, is absolutely necessary for your body and should make up the majority of your calorie intake.

Your macro split is down to what fitness goals you are trying to achieve. You need to firstly determine the number of calories your body requires in order to calculate your macros. Your required calorie intake is based on your age, gender, weight, rate of metabolism, activity level and goal. There are a number of calculators online which will calculate this for you however I would recommend using the following site http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/

Delicious meal

The standard split for macros is 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fats. Don’t get too caught up on the ratios as long as you are roughly sticking to this. I promise it does get easier over time!

Now that you know your base metabolic rate and a rough guide of your macro intake you have an understanding of the number of calories you should be ingesting. So you can start planning meals based around this.

The easiest way to stick to your meal plan is to prep your meals – this eliminates any temptation or picking up food that is unhealthy on the run. For more information on meal prep please check out my previous article here.

Good luck and once you start the process of a gym friendly diet things will become easier and a second nature.

Motivation

My Weekly Update – 1 week out!

Almost there! This time next week I will already be in Barcelona watching the other categories compete on stage. We are entering the last 7 days before the week, peak week as it is called, there is no turning back? What will the next few days hold in store for me? That even I don’t know… yet! I guess I shall enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

Training

I have now fully embraced the stairmaster 😀 Good for post-workout cardio (15 mins), good for fasted cardio (40 mins), good for everything! I’m finally seeing progress in my hamstrings, which were the toughest part to  work on. Nothing much has changed in my programme from last week – still focusing on supersets, drop sets & other long sets. Only 5 more workouts left!

Nutrition

Since my weight is slightly lower this time,  I didn’t have to sacrifice carbs so much. Really, nothing exciting here – just the usual chicken, beef mince, fish & salmon with veggies meals. I do get to enjoy an omelette on Saturdays though, usually that’s in a nice cafe with a strong coffee. Yep, I can’t wait to have some treats in exactly 8 days!

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No, that’s not soda – it’s iced coffee! Like they say, where there’s a will there’s a way 😉

Lifestyle

This week we had 3 days of public holiday which was a nice break from the hustle & bustle of the office. TV, cinema, online courses, naps – and of course plenty of gym time! Perfect timing (for 2 weeks out). Now I head into the last week, I cross fingers that things at work will not be too hectic, as I juggle packing & pre-stage beauty treatments with the last few workouts (and meals!) Yay!

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Doing my course on uncertainty, complexity & decision making… and waiting for my next meal!

Fitness

Forget Crunches, This is How You Get a Thinner Waist

By Adrianna McDonald

A small, thin waistline is every girl’s dream. We are all born with different genetics and some are blessed more than others. What most women don’t realize is that traditional crunches and common abdominal exercises can widen your waist instead of slimming it.

But there is a way to get a stronger core and a slimmer waistline. Although slightly controversial in the fitness community, stomach vacuuming or hollowing and abdominal bracing techniques can help you achieve your perfect midsection. 

So, what exactly is “stomach vacuuming” and how do you do it? No, it does not involve going to the hospital to get your insides cleaned up! Popularized by physique, fitness & bikini competitors, this technique focuses on strengthening/tightening your core muscles through simple breathing exercises 🙂

There are 6 abdominal muscles and I’m not talking about the famous 6-pack here.

The stomach vacuum exercise targets the deep muscle Transversus abdominis (TVA), which is situated underneath your “six pack”- rectus abdominis.  

Both muscles are part of the “corset” that keeps your waist tight. When the TVA is strengthened the inner corset gets tighter.

The stomach vacuum is a gentle breathing exercise which involves isometric contraction targeting the TVA. The benefit goes further than a slim waistline – it will also stabilize the spine, preventing lower back pain and improving your posture.

It’s best to perform this exercise upon awaking while your stomach is still empty and your mid section is flatter. Doing this first thing in the morning will help you make it a habit.

It also can be done few times a day anywhere. So let’s see how it’s done…

There are 5 levels of progression:

1.Supine

This is the easiest version. Here is what to do:

  • Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Exhale all the  air from your lungs (and stomach).
  • Now pull your navel (belly button) as close to your spine as possible.
  • Start with 10-15 seconds on each repetition, aiming for 3 and building up to 5 reps. You can also work it up to 60 seconds over time.

2.Quadruped

This is bit more difficult than the supine version as gravity comes into play.

  • Get on your hands and knees with shoulders in line with your wrists, hips over the knees and neck in line with your spine.
  • Start with exhaling and pulling the navel in the same way as in the supine version.
  • Begin with 30 seconds per rep and work up to 60 seconds. Again aim for 3-5 reps.

 

3.Seated

With this version other spinal stabilizing muscles come into play.

  • Take a seat, keeping your back straight.
  • Exhale and pull in the navel.
  • Start with 3-5 reps of 60 seconds.
  • As you progress move on to unstable surfaces like a swiss ball.

4.Functional 

This version is your everyday concern. Pay attention to pulling your navel in , every time you sit down, throughout the entire day.

Difference is that  you’re holding your belly in (slightly contracting the TVA muscle) indefinitely, and breathing throughout the movement (with your chest, not your stomach). Be conscious not to allow the abdominal muscle to relax when seated or standing. Practicing it this way will become a second nature for you.

5. TVA & Rectus Abdominis co-contraction exercise: pull down crunch

This is to add in the intensity and functional carryover of vacuum exercises. To do this exercise you need to contract both the TVA and Rectus muscles at the same time. You will first exhale and tighten the navel (the vacuum exercise) and then you will do a crunch-like maneuver.

  • Set yourself in cable pull down position with a bar or rope high over your head.
  • Inhale and suck in tummy in and push your abs against your spine.
  • Exhale as you crunch down.

This version is perfect for those with a distended abdominal wall.

In a simpler version, you can just contract TVA by drawing in the navel and then crunch while exhaling.

The Bracing Technique

Finally, and arguably the best version of all of these is the bracing technique:

Think about what you would do if you were to prepare yourself for someone to punch you in the gut. You would immediately tense and stiffen your core to brace for the impact. This is exactly what abdominal bracing is, a term first coined by Dr. Stuart McGill of Canada, a leading expert in spine mechanics. – Breakingmuscle.com

Basically, with abdominal bracing you activate all of your core muscles from all sides & layers (deep, superficial, etc.) along with other connecting muscles in your back. Now, that should really make you sweat!

This technique is slightly harder and may not be applicable during posing on stage, however by making all of your core muscles stronger it will help improve your balance and flexibility.

All that said, make sure your diet is on point as without it no exercise will help.