Tips

Blog posts which include some of my top tips to getting you closer to  your health and fitness goals.

Nutrition Pyramid : What is it and why should we pay attention to it?

The Nutrition Pyramid was published and made famous by Eric Helms, a highly respected source of knowledge and research within the fitness industry. There is in fact a full e-book explaining each level of the pyramid in much more detail than I am going to do here. This is the link if you are interested in learning more!

The book was written to give ‘a set of guidelines, principles, and theories to create a framework for athletes.’

I personally think it is the best visual to show that you should concentrate on the bigger picture as opposed to the small minutia.

You need to get your big rocks in place first, before worrying about the smaller ones.

 

#1 On the bottom level of the nutrition pyramid you have ‘CALORIES.’

nutrient pyramid
Whatever your goal, calories matter. Whether you are trying to lose fat or gain weight, you really do need to get some sort of handle on how many calories you are consuming on a day to day basis. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to use myfitnesspal for the rest of your life, but I do recommend that the majority of people should spend some period of time accurately tracking what they are eating.

Once you are able to see what you are consuming, it is then a lot easier to make changes as opposed to just having a bit of a stab in the dark! If you are maintaining your weight on 2000 per day but want to decrease your body fat, then you know to maybe decrease this to 1800 and see how you get on. Conversely, if you want to put on some muscle, then you need to get into a calorie surplus and maybe shoot for 2200 calories.

Calories are the most important metric for the high majority of people in terms of body composition.

#2 The next stage up of the nutrition pyramid is ‘MACRONUTRIENTS.’

nutrient pyramid

What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are what all food is made up of: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.

There is no optimal ratio of these, some people function better with a higher carbohydrate diet, whereas some will prefer a higher fat diet.

You may need to experiment in order to see what works best for you. How does it effect your mood, your energy levels, your output at the gym, your hunger levels? There are many metrics to measure this by and you will only find out what works best for you by experimenting.

#3 After macronutrients you should concentrate on your ‘MICRONUTRIENTS.’

nutrient pyramid
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals which are in our foods and we need in trace amounts in order to function optimally.

We all know that when we eat more fruit and vegetables we feel a lot better. So even though we may be able to meet our calorie and macronutrient needs with ‘junk foods’, we should all be aiming to eat more fruit and vegetables.

I usually advise clients to aim for 5-8 portions of vegetables per day and 1-3 portions of fruit. A wide variety of different colours is optimal in order to cover all bases in terms of the different vitamins and minerals which they contain. Plenty of dark leafy veg is always great.

#4 Next up the nutrition pyramid is ‘MEAL TIMING.’

nutrient pyramid
This is towards the top of the pyramid for a reason. Until you have the previous layers in check, when you eat your meals is not going to have too much of an effect!

Should you eat carbs in the morning or evening? Should you eat breakfast? What time should you have snacks? Can I eat carbs after 6pm?

These are all questions which I hear on a regular basis as a Personal Trainer and they are all perfectly valid ones. The problem is that they usually come before the more important questions as mentioned previously.

There are 3 parts to this section as discussed by Eric Helms.
> how should you distribute your calories and meals over the course of your diet?
> how many meals should you consume per day?
> what is the best peri-workout nutrition strategy?

Some people can go Monday through Friday following their nutrition plan perfectly, yet when it comes to the weekend it can all go out the window. In this instance they would be best spreading their calories out over the week. Eg if this person knows that they need to eat 2000 calories per day in order to lose weight, what they could do is eat 1800 Monday to Friday, and use the extra 1000 calories over the weekend when they know they maybe will want to eat more.

Diet breaks or reseed days can also work for people who are dieting for long periods of time (3 months or more) or if they are already at low body fat levels (<15% for males and <22% females). These are structured periods of time when calories are increased, usually through carbohydrates. Helms recommends an increase of around 500 calories, but this will depend on you and is not a strict figure. This is done to help mentally, but also to upregulate certain hormones which may have down regulated during the diet process.

How many meals per day is best? This depends on you and your goals. 3-5 is my usual recommendation and is one which i have found works for myself but also clients. If in a fat loss phase, the key here is to keep extreme hunger away whilst working within your lifestyle. Some people may prefer less meals, some may prefer more.

Peri workout nutrition is an area with a lot of research but no definitive results! It can now be said with some certainty that the post workout window is bigger than we have been led to believe, ie you have about 1-2 hours to get in a meal, you don’t have to immediately pour yourself a protein as soon as you drop the last weight! Pre workout will depend on you, some people need to eat before hand, whereas some don’t; find what works for you! I see so many people sipping on Lucazades during their working when quite frankly the smallest percentage of people really need one. You should have enough fuel in the tank from previous meals or body fat to workout. Unless you are doing an intense 2 hour workout including some form of HIIT cardio, it is highly unlikely that you will need any form or intra workout.

#5 The highest level of the pyramid is given to ‘SUPPLEMENTS.’

nutrient pyramid
These are exactly that, a supplement to your diet.

Supplements should only be used to plug any gaps which you have in your nutrition. I usually recommend a multi-vitamin, vitamin D and Omega 3 fish oil, as I tend to find that these are lacking in the majority of people’s diets. However, they are still just a supplement, you should be trying to get them from food first.

Do you need supplements? No.

If you do want to start taking supplements, make sure you do extensive research beforehand. The best website which I have found for information is www.examine.com.

There is something else in addition to the levels of the nutrition pyramid which also need to be considered and is something which I have spoken about a lot, not just in this article. ‘BEHAVIOUR AND LIFESTYLE.’

‘THE BEST DIET IS THE ONE WHICH FITS YOUR LIFESTYLE AND YOU CAN ADHERE TO.’

nutrient pyramid

Behaviour and lifestyle, in a practical sense, is probably the most important subject in terms of the nutrition pyramid. You can have a lot of theory and knowledge, but not get to where you want to go if you are unable to apply it and make it work for you and your lifestyle.

A few key things to think about in regards to behaviour and lifestyle:

Experiment
>It is unlikely that you will hit upon something which works for you straight away, if you do you will be in the small minority! It will likely need a little bit of experimentation and tweaking as you go.

Tracking
>You will need to have some method of tracking to see if what you are doing is actually working. This can be done through scale weight, body measurements and/or photos. You will need to track calories for a while and this may mean investing in a food scale so you can accurately measure what you are consuming. Don’t just estimate if you are new to tracking, you will be surprised at how far off you may be with certain foods.

Accuracy, Flexibility and Consistency
> Chances are you will not have to be 100% accurate 24/7 in order to get the results you want, in fact this would almost be impossible. The extent to which you implement these three things will have a huge effect on length of time it takes you to get to the desired results though. A balance of these three things is what we are really after. Accurate enough that you are able to be consistent, yet flexible enough not to damage your consistency.

Support System
>Don’t underestimate the support and help of your family and friends. It will be really important to help keep you on track if everyone knows how important your goals are and can help you get to them, as opposed to sabotaging you at every corner! Key to this is communication.

Food Relationships
> You want to be aiming for an inclusive diet as opposed to an exclusive one. Get out of the habit of thinking that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. You should be able to follow a moderate approach in order to reach your goals so as not to develop a bad and damaging relationship with food. There are no ‘bad’ foods which are harmful to you but there are foods which are better for you, and foods which just contain empty calories.

Alcohol
> You can reach your health and fitness goals whilst still consuming calories. You just need to realise that alcohol does contain calories and as such must be accounted for. A glass of wine on a weekend is not going to be that damaging, but a big binge every Saturday night will probably not be the best! (Here is a blog post I did on best alcohol options! )

Mindset
> Have an open mindset. There is no one correct way of doing things. Do your own research, ask questions before having an opinion.

That wraps up my breakdown of the nutrition pyramid. I know that there is a lot of information to digest in this piece, so don’t get overwhelmed! Go back through and read each section thoroughly. Send me any questions which you may have and I will do my best to answer them for you!

Love Abi xxxx

 

Fitness Trackers. There are so many of them on the market now as the health and fitness industry is still riding the crescent of a wave. But a new study published this week in the Journal of Personalised Medicine, from a team of Stanford researchers states that there is a much higher margin for error than perhaps the majority had thought.

The study looked at the accuracy and reliability of 7 of the most popular trackers on the market; the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn, and Samsung Gear S2.

60 participants were asked to wear the fitness trackers and were monitored while sitting, running, walking and cycling, whilst being simultaneously assessed via telemetry and indirect calorimetry.

The results were quite shocking.

‘Don’t rely on fitness trackers to track number of calories burned.’ The Register 26 May 2017

‘Why your personal fitness tracker may not be all that accurate.Consumer Affairs 25 May 2017

‘Fitness tracker fail: Research shows devices off by as much as 93 per cent when counting calories’ National Post 25 May 2017

I have always been very cautious over recommending fitness trackers to clients or anybody who asks my opinion, especially when it comes down to relying on them for how many calories you have burnt. But even I was shocked to read that when tested, the margin for error for calories burnt was between 24-90%!!! That is a whopping difference, especially for those people who use them to ‘eat back their calories.’

An acceptable error range would be 5%, so even 24% (which was the Fitbit Surge) is very high.

The study stated that the devices ‘adequately’ tested average heart rate, but there was still margin for error beyond what you might expect.

In my personal experience (I do not own one but some clients do), I think they are great for encouraging you to get more active, to strive towards the recommended 10,000 steps per day, to remind you to get up and move if you have been sitting for too long. However I have never liked the calories burnt aspect of them, and usually disregard what they say and tell clients not to use it as an excuse to eat more.

Example:
Somebody checks their fitness tracker at the end of the day and discover that they have burnt 1200 calories that day, when in actual fact they have only burnt 900. They may have an extra piece of cake or a glass of beer since they think they have done well that day and met their target. Overtime though this adds up, that is an extra 2100 calories every week which the user thinks they have ‘deserved’. If your goal is losing fat then this is could certainly be counterproductive.

SO SHOULD WE JUST THROW FITNESS TRACKERS AWAY?

No.

Hold your horses.

I am not saying fitness trackers are useless and should be resigned to your top drawer. I am just suggesting that you start using them with a little bit more caution. Track your steps, make sure you are being active. If you like seeing what calories you have burnt, great, but don’t use it as your tracking for food. Use it in conjunction with other measurements and look at trends over time.

Do you own a fitness tracker? What has been your experience with one?

Love Abi xxxx

Ps Have you read my April favourites blog yet? Click here. 

 

Last week I uploaded a blog on the benefits of bodyweight training so this week I am going to address my main love – lifting weights and the benefits which you will find from implementing some form of this into your weekly training schedule!

6 Benefits of lifting weights

Fat Burning Barbell Complex

#1 You will feel strong
Rather than focusing on what you look like or how many calories you are able to burn in a session (which is so unreliable), lifting weights gives you another focus. You want to get stronger each week and beat your previous best. This might be lifting the same weight from an extra rep, increasing the weight of the dumbbells or just trying out a new exercise for the first time. Lifting weights will make you feel like a badass.

learn everyday

#2 Fat Loss
Most people think that in order to lose fat they have to spend hours running or going through the motions on one piece of cardio equipment, this is not the case. Fortunately more and more people are beginning to realise that they can achieve fat loss goals in a different way, a much more enjoyable way. Lifting weights will build muscle which in turn lead to greater fat loss as muscle is more metabolically active than fat. (Ie muscle burns more energy than fat) So you will be burning more fat as you go about your day.

#3 Reduced risk of injury
Strength training will benefit not only your muscles, but your whole musculoskeletal structure including your bones, tendons and ligaments meaning that you are less likely to get injured. It is also a huge preventative of osteoporosis. Weight training will also increase your joint stability, mobility and flexibility.

#4 Improve your health
We not only want to look good on the outside, we need to feel and function well on the inside. Strength and weight training has been shown to impact on a lot of health markers in scientific research. This includes but doesn’t stop at; reducing the risk of diabetes, reducing the risk of heard disease, reducing the risk of cancer, improving brain and cognitive function, combatting depression and anxiety and decreasing blood pressure. Who doesn’t want to achieve all of these things?

 

#5 Improve your balance, posture and coordination.
I always include some form of one legged work in client’s and my own programmes which helps with balance and coordination. This is in fact one of the major improvements which I see over time, from wobbling all over the place performing a bodyweight lunge, to being able to do no trouble and with heavy weight.

#6 Increased confidence
Not only confidence in the gym, but how you carry yourself in the outside world. Your self esteem will rise as you find yourself achieving things which you never thought possible. Improved confidence and self esteem will increase your happiness and overall lead to a better quality of life!

These are just 6 benefits which I have mentioned! There are tons more. There is no need to be intimidated by the weights room. Ask an instructor for help, find a routine online to follow or watch a youtube video. Your confidence will grow as you start to do it more and more.

Let me know if you would like to see a blog on how to best set up a weight training programme!

Love Abi xxxx

Stretching: Which is the best method?

You should always warm up prior to doing exercise. Do not walk straight into the weights room and start lifting with your working weight for that day!!

stretching dynamic vs static

Main reasons to warm up:
Elevation of Baseline Oxygen consumption
Increase Core temperature
Increased Heart Rate
Improve Muscle stretch reflex
Get mentally ready for your session.

stretching dynamic vs static

There are two types of stretching: dynamic and static.

Let’s define both of these terms first.

Static: this is when you stretch a muscle for an extended period of time in one position. Static stretching relaxes your musculotendinous unit (ie muscle and attached tendon) and elongates it. An example would be a quadricep stretch when you pull your ankle up behind you and hold.

Dynamic: this is when you actively put your muscles through certain ranges of motion in order to loosen them up. A dynamic stretch routine trains your stretch relax and activates your muscle spindles. This type of stretching can include lower loads of a specific exercise or a variety of different movement patterns.

Which is best?

This depends on when you are going to perform them. I am going to look at before performing your training session.

Research has shown that dynamic stretches are far superior to static stretches if you are aiming to improve performance within a session. In fact, static stretches can actually have a negative impact on performance.

Static Stretching:

In one study by Nelson et al(2005); participants didn’t stretch at all before doing a 20metre sprint test, they then came back another time and did some static stretching before doing the same test. The results showed that the participants recorded faster times when they didn’t stretch.

Sprint times after stretching

Another study by Fowles et al (2000); looked at the relationship between static stretches and strength training. Their results showed that static stretching had a negative impact on performance for up to 60minutes afterwards!

stretching impacts on strength training

Dynamic Stretching:

Dynamic stretches are more specific as they are putting your muscles through similar ranges of motion to those which it will be using during your training session. It involves practising your muscle spindle being stretched to the correct length to perform exercises. It is also done at a greater intensity than static stretching so increases your V02, core temperature and heart rate ready for the main portion of your session.

The research from Yamaguchi and Ishii et al (2005), tested leg extension power before and after static, dynamic and no stretching at all. The results showed significant increased power after dynamic stretches, whereas power actually went down after static and non stretching.

dynamic stretching on power output

So even from this small snapshot of date, you can hopefully see that you need to stretch prior to your training session and that dynamic stretches are the method to choose.

Some of my favourite dynamic stretches which I like to perform prior to exercise, and recommended by Dr Mike Zourdos:

Lumberjacks
Shoulder Slaps
Windmills
Iron Crosses
Groiners
Bodyweight Squats
Banded Shoulder Rotations

stretching dynamic vs static

But what about injury prevention?

I am sure that you have heard that you need to stretch to prevent injuries, I think we have all been told that at one point or other in regards to exercise. However once again the evidence actually doesn’t point to this.

‘Further studies strongly suggest that muscle stretching before exercising does NOT produce meaningful reductions in risk of injury.’

But what about reducing DOMS?

DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, that feeling in your muscles after you have worked out which sometimes makes you walk a bit funny! Again, I am sure you have been told that stretching will alleviate this feeling? Nope. wrong again.

‘This systematic review finds clear evidence that stretching before or after exercise has no effect on delayed onset muscle soreness.’

stretching dynamic vs static

If you suffer from DOMs, the best thing to do is keep moving. Take yourself for a walk to get blood flowing. Don’t sit down and refuse to move due to the soreness, you will not help yourself get rid of it any sooner!

Both quotes are from paper by Herbert and Gabriel (2002) titled Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review.

But what about increasing Range of Motion?

Finally you will be pleased to hear that there is some evidence pointing to the benefits of stretching if you are looking to increase the ROM of certain muscles. A 10 week study tested those which didn’t stretch at all, versus participants who spent 40 minutes stretching 3 days per week. They performed the sit and reach test pre and post experiement. Those which had spent time stretching did improve their sit and reach score.

stretching on improved range of motion

So what are the conclusions on the best way to stretch?

#1 You should perform dynamic stretching prior to your training session

#2 This should include active mobility drills, bodyweight exercises and aim to put your joints and muscles through specific motions ready for the session.

#3 You should not perform static stretching prior to a training session if performance is your main goal.

#4 Performing stretches will not help prevent injury or DOMS.

#5 If you want to increase your range of motion then doing some stretches will help, just don’t do it before exercise!!

Any questions or comments then please leave below!

Love Abi xxxx

EDIT UPDATE: I have since recorded a Youtube video showing you my routine for warming up! Would love you to check it out 🙂

 

Images provided by SBS Academy.

Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. Nelson et al (2005). Read Study HERE.

Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. Fowler et al (2000). Read Study HERE.

Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. Herbert and Gabriel (2002). Read Study HERE.

Do I need to cut out dairy?

Do I need to cut out gluten?

Do I need to cut out chocolate?

Do I need to cut out alcohol?

Do I need to cut out fizzy drinks?

Do I need to cut out carbs?

Do I need to cut out X/Y/Z?

I must have been asked this question or similar 100s of times, and the simple but annoying answer is….it depends.

No food should be classed as bad for us, just the same as there are no super foods. Obviously some foods are better for us than others, but no way should we be labelling foods good or bad, it just creates the wrong mindset when it comes to eating and life.

There was a certain amount of uproar a few weeks ago when the programme regarding ‘clean eating’ was aired on TV. I thought the presenter did a brilliant job of putting across the facts and thus enabling the viewer to make his or her own opinion.

‘You do not need to eat clean in order to be healthy or reach your goals, whatever they may be.’

One of my favourite quotes regarding the clean eating debate is from Alan Aragon, one of the most well respected nutrition researchers in the world; “if you are defining foods as clean and dirty, then celery would of course be classed as good and ice cream would be classed as bad. However if you were on a dessert island and could only survive by eating only one of these foods, which one would you choose?” (sic)

It depends.

Context is key to any of the questions above.

 

Gluten and Dairy
If you are intolerant to dairy or gluten, then yes you should go a period with cutting it out of your diet completely and see if this improves your health. Dairy, gluten and sugar are not the killer foods which the media likes to label them. On their own, they are not the reason for the obesity epidemic which is sweeping the world.

“A recently published study in the journal Digestion found that 86 percent of individuals who believed they were gluten sensitive could tolerate it. Individuals with celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune condition that affects roughly 1 percent of the population, must avoid gluten.”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26043918

Swapping regular bread or pasta for gluten free is also expensive if you don’t need to do so! I see people choosing things like ‘gluten free cake’ as they think it is healthier than regular cake….it definitely isn’t. Therefore if you don’t have an intolerance, and you like the taste of a glass of milk, or a slice of toast then continue have it!

ryan reynolds gluten quote

Chocolate and treats
If your goal is fat loss, then yes there is the possibility that you will need to cut down on your chocolate consumption or similar palatable tasty foods (!) Chocolate is a calorie dense food, therefore if you are trying to sustain a calorie deficit, which is the most important thing for fat loss; you want to be sticking to nutrient dense and low calorie foods to fill you up as well as hit your nutritional targets. BUT that does not mean you need to cut it out completely. If a square of chocolate is going to keep you sane at the end of the day; on track with the rest of your diet and able to sustain a calorie deficit by including some, then go for it. I know I include some every single day.

Morrisons Slted Butterscotch Milk Chocolate

Alcohol and fizzy drinks
Similar to above, if your goal is fat loss then yes the chances are that you will have to cut down on your alcohol consumption if you want to reach your goals quicker. People don’t realise the amount of calories in alcohol, it all still counts. I just had a client text me yesterday shocked at the amount of calories in vodka as she was planning a night out! This does not mean that you need to become a hermit and stop drinking altogether, it just means you need to become a bit more aware of what you are consuming and fit it into your life and diet accordingly.

A couple of drinks a week is not going to kill you or completely derail your progress. But a bottle of wine a night, or a big binge on a weekend (plus the kebab on the way home) will put a halt to any fat loss goals.

Check out my blog post on best alcohol options if you are going out.

Fizzy drinks; this is a controversial one. I think Scott Baptie has written the best blog post which I have seen on the topic so head on over to his site if you want to read more.

Non diet fizzy drinks such as regular Coke, Sprite or even Lucazade should be avoided if fat loss is your goal. There is absolutely no need to be taking in that amount of calories from a drink, especially when there are zero calorie alternatives available. The number of people I see in the gym drinking a bottle of lucazade, which probably contains more calories than they are even likely to burn off during that session, is way too high. Key here is to realise and take notice of what you are putting into your body.

That said, I don’t think that having a Diet Coke, or any other zero calorie drink every now and then will do you any harm. Yes there have been some studies published to show that artificial sweeteners may in fact be detrimental to our health, however this is not substantial and as yet there is not enough data to fully support these claims.

Get into the habit of drinking water when you can, but if having a diet coke is going to suppress your appetite and stop you over consuming calories, then I cannot see it being a problem.

Carbs and Fat
Your diet is made up from the main three macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.

‘Macro’ = you need them in larger amounts.

Hopefully you can see the problem if you are thinking about cutting a whole macronutrient out of your diet? This is completely the wrong thing to do. It seems that Fats and Carbs interchange roles as the ‘baddy’ in the media, but the simple truth is that you require both in certain amounts in order for your body to function optimally. You need carbs for energy (amongst other things), you need fats for brain function, and to regulate your hormones (amongst other things!), therefore cutting them out entirely will have a huge effect on your well being.

Both need to be eaten in accordance to your personal goals.

I hope from reading this blog post you can see why my answer to all of the questions at the beginning will be ‘it depends.’ It really does come down to context.

There is no ultimate fat loss diet. The optimal diet is the one which you enjoy and can stick to for a period of time.

You do not need to cut anything out.

There are no good or bad foods.

I know how confusing nutrition can be, there are so many conflicting things published or spoken about every day. I want to banish these theories for good and bring it back to the basics and make it simpler for you to understand and implement yourself.

Don’t get caught up in fad diets or the latest craze.

Think about things sensibly. Do your own research. I actively encourage you to go away and read up on anything which I have said and form your own opinion!

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask!

Love Abi xxxx