Holiday Damage Control

You want to stay on track with your nutrition and still enjoy yourself this holiday season?

Sticking to your diet plan, especially when you’re dieting down, can be tough. Sticking to your diet plan when you’re out with friends, at a party, or at a work function, can be an even bigger challenge. Here’s the plan of attack for a few common situations:

Setting: The Office Christmas Party

1. Offer to bring a healthy dish to the party. Do this even if it’s catered. You’ll know exactly what’s in it and take the guess work out of snacking.

2. Have a healthy meal before you get to the party. If you’re full, you won’t fill up on the bad stuff.

3. Have a glass of water first. A drink or two during the night is ok, but start off on the right foot.

4. Use a dessert plate rather than a dinner plate.

5. Before eating, check out all your options. Almost every party has a veggie platter. Load up there first (but go easy on the dip), then go for the turkey/ham/lean meat option. Mini quiches, sausage rolls, cakes, biscuits, pies, cookies, etc- these are the last to go on the plate.

6. Eat slowly.

7. Enjoy yourself. Mingle, socialize and be merry.

Setting: The Dinner Out with Friends

1. Say no to the bread basket.

2. Ask your waiter how your dish will be cooked, and the ingredients if you are unsure.

3. Say yes to baked, broiled, or grilled. Lean meats are your best option. Trim away any visible fat from everything else.

4. Sauce on the side, if it’s your cheat day. Better yet, no sauce at all. The base ingredients for almost every sauce in existence: butter, oil, mayonnaise, and/or cream. These do not make for good calories.

5. Water, not wine. One glass is ok, but leave it at that. You’ll save money on the cab fare home too.

6. Salad instead of chips, fries, mashed potatoes and the like.

7. Eat slowly. You don’t have to finish it.

8. Split dessert with someone.

Setting: The Family Feast

1. Snack yourself full on veggie sticks before the main event.

2. Lend a helping hand before or after. It will keep you busy and not snacking, and you’ll be the golden child. Might even score an extra present under the tree.

3. Ask if some steamed veggies can be included on the menu. If you’re met with some resistance, offer to make them yourself (this goes along with tip #2).

4. Load up with lean meat and steamed veggies. A plate full of that first and you’ll want a lot less mashed potato, bread rolls, and desserts.

5. Have just a taste of dessert. Most of the time this is enough to satisfy any cravings you might have, after being stuffed full with everything else on your plate.

6. Minimize the alcohol (you might want to be able to drive yourself home whenever the family gets to be too much).

You’ve probably noticed that some of these tips are quite similar from situation to situation. As with so many other aspects of training and nutrition, it’s not rocket science, and hopefully the similarities will make your Damage Control plans that much easier to remember and execute.

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It’s hotting up!

Summertime, and the training’s easy… ok, not easy. We still want to push ourselves and work towards our training goals, and as it’s getting nicer out more people tend to take their training outdoors. Nothing wrong with that- a little change can be a big stimulus and motivation.

Just keep in mind a few things when you’re exercising outdoors in the hot, humid summer weather…

Use your towel. Sweat evaporation is one of your body’s primary cooling systems. But when it’s humid, sweat evaporates more slowly, meaning that your self-cooling system wont work as efficiently. Your towel can be your best friend in two ways: You can wet a small towel or bandana and wrap it around your neck or put it under a hat to help the cooling process. Or you can just keep a towel handy to wipe the sweat away. That stuff really stings when it gets in your eyes!

Ease into it. Take it slow at the beginning and let your body adjust to the temperature. You might already feel warm and ready to go, but going through a dynamic warm up will still be a major benefit. Not only do you get the standard benefits of preparing your muscles, joints, etc for the work ahead, but you’ll be able to gradually adjust to the heat. Increased temperature can sneak up on you, especially when you’re focused on other things like the burning in your quads…

Take a dip. Hit the pool, or the beach if you can get there. Swimming and water walking are great, as are options like kayaking or canoeing, surfing, or bodyboarding. Water walking and a dynamic stretch session in the shalow end of the pool are particularly good for rehabbers and arthritis sufferers. You can still get dehydrated and sunburnt in the water, make sure you’ve got a water bottle handy and reapply sunscreen as needed. Cooler water can help keep your core body temperature down, which can help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Lower body temperature will also keep you going- a rise in core temperature means the same exercise will seem a lot harder. If you’re cooler, you are more likely to get your full workout in.

Take a break. Heat exhaustion can have many symptoms. If you are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or confused, you’ve probably pushed yourself a little too hard. Muscle cramps or weakness, lethargy, and nausea are also symptoms, and it’s also a problem if you stop sweating or get goosebumps. If you think you’ve overdone it, take a break somewhere cool, drink plenty of fluids, and if symptoms continue, seek medical attention asap.

Avoid the hottest part of the day. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it always amazes me to see people running at 12 noon in the blazing sun. Maybe it’s your only time for a workout, but maybe you could also get up a half-hour earlier. Some mornings it’s already boiling by 8:30, and it just gets worse from there. Peak temperatures can occur from 10:00 AM onwards, and don’t start to cool down until 3:30 or 4:00 PM. If you are bound and determined to have a lunch-time workout, keep it short, try to stay in the shade and make sure that you take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself from the sun, heat, and dehydration. This goes double when the humidity is high, since as discussed, your body will be even less efficient at cooling itself and working to its full potential.

Don’t let any of this scare you away from summertime training in the great outdoors. There are so many options, and it’s always nice to get out of the gym. Just like everything else, use your common sense and you’ll be a-ok.

Why do you want to know?

I ask a lot of questions when I start with a new client. Lots and lots. About training history, medical and injury stuff, nutrition habits, goals, and lot of other stuff. And though I let all new clients know to expect this, as we’re going through it, sometimes they seem surprised.

Here’s the deal: The more I know, the more I can help you. Exercise is important, one of the big three (diet, exercise, recovery) in achieving your physical goals. But those big three are more or less equally important. The more I can help you with all three of these things (and all the other smaller things, like prehab/rehab, non-supervised training, soft tissue work), the easier it will be for you to reach your goals. If I know how much training you’ve done, your likes and dislikes, your preferred time for training, your injury and medical history, and a lot of other deep-and-meaningful (to me) questions, it will be way easier to give you the right program, and way easier for you to actually achieve it!

Every good trainer should be doing this, too. If you turn up to your first training session and the your trainer sticks you straight on the leg press, you might want to ask yourself A) what you want to get out of this and B) how this trainer is going to help you get it, without knowing anything about you. Food for thought.

Portion Sizes: A Quickie

Counting calories blows.

It’s tedious. You have to weigh and measure. You have to look stuff up. You have to total the calories in each food in your meal. God help you if you want to follow an old family recipe. Or even a new recipe. Since most of them don’t have nutrition facts included, you’re doing double duty weighing and totaling ingredients, and then weighing and measuring your serving of it. How do you get six even portions out of a pasta bake anyway?

Good news for us: Watching your portion sizes is much easier, and at least as effective (probably more effective- easier means you are more likely to do it, so it will actually work…  What a concept!)

I dig the Hand method of portion sizing:

One portion of protein = The size and thickness of your fist.

Example: steak, poultry, fish, etc.

One portion of carbohydrate = The size of your palm.

Example: pasta, rice, fruit, bread, etc.

One portion of fat = The size and thickness of your thumb-tip (the nail part).

Example: butter, oil.

Obviously this is easiest measured when the food is purely one type of macronutrient.  Obviously, there are a lot of foods out there that are a combination of protein and fat or carbohydrate and fat (peanut butter, anyone?) You can tweak the guidelines with this a little by measuring according to the predominant nutrient, and then adding a little. So you could have two “thumbs” of peanut butter. I like this rule.

This method is especially good because it’s got built-in individualizing. Smaller people need fewer calories. Smaller people also have smaller hands, so by using this method of portion sizing, they will get exactly what they need- no more and no less. The same goes for larger people, since their hands will be proportionate.

So easy.

The Big Three

Exercise. Diet. Recovery.

The Big Three.

It doesn’t matter if you are a pro athlete or a stay-at-home mom. If you have fitness or sports performance goals, these are the boxes you need to tick.

Exercise

To most people, this is synonymous with training, getting in shape, making the team, or whatever you end-goal is.

Most people would be surprised how relatively un-important exercise is in the Big Three triad. The truth is, a little stimulus can go a long way. Whether you are doing cardiovascular work, strength or resistance training or something more sports-specific, the idea is to challenge your body and promote changes such as gains in performance or loss in weight.

Exercise – the challenge or stimulus – works by stressing your body’s normal state. This will cause a temporary decrease in your physical capabilities. Since the body doesn’t like stress, the subsequent recovery process will go above and beyond the old “normal” so that the next time you exercise, it won’t be as physically stressful (that’s what the body thinks, anyway).  The result is physical adaptation. In exercise science circles, we call it supercompensation, and it’s based on Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome.

In plain English, exercise breaks you down. Recovery builds you up, and then some. You can call it progress. 

Recovery

This is what you do to give your body a hand with the physical processes of recovery and adaptation (the upward swing of the line on the graph above). Your recovery efforts will mean that your body goes through this process more quickly than if you had just gone home fromtraining and sat on the couch for the rest of the night.

There are a lot of ways you can enhance your recovery, most of which are the most effective when used right after training.  The idea is to gt your body moving back towards normal as soon as possible, by helping clear metabolic waste products, provide easy-to-access energy and amino acids, and generally allowing your body to rebuild and repair. I recently covered some of the most common and effective recovery modalities, but we’ll go through a quick recap here, or click on the link to take you to more info.

Sleep: The most important aspect of recovery. Your body shuts down all but the most essential processes to work on rebuilding.

Pre- and Post-workout nutrition: Also very important, this helps provide readily available blood glucose and free amino acids to put your body in an anabolic state.

Compression garments: The compressions from the form fitting clothes helps shunt metabolic waste products like lactic acid out of the muscle and into the bloodstream for filtration and removal. Science isn’t sure how well they work, but thousands of people use them and love them for increasing performance and decreasing soreness. 

Ice/Cold water therapy: Also helps remove metabolic waste products and limits intramuscular swelling caused by damage from exercise, leading in decreased soreness. Try hot and cold in the shower, or go cold straight for a minute or two to get it over with.


Diet

Pre- and post-workout nutrition was briefly mentioned above, and while these are super important for maximizing your recovery and exercise-induced adaptations, your overall diet is equally important. Great pre- and post-workout nutrition isn’t going to help if you eat at McDonalds and KFC the rest of the time.

Now, if  you look around the internet or fitness magazines or what-have-you, you’ll notice there are about 1,001 different diets out there, ranging from really good to downright awful. Grapefruit does not a balanced diet make.

On the other hand, eating clean is a common component of all the good ones. It’s a pretty simple concept: If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, you shouldn’t eat it. This goes for drinks too.

Clean list: Fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, whole grains, legumes, etc.

Dirty list: Pizza, ice cream, Twinkies, Tim Tams, schnitzel, chili cheese dogs, you get the picture…

So…

That’s the Big Three. It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how often one component or another is overlooked. Keep your training balanced between these three and watch your progress. You’ll be hitting PBs before you know it!

23-to-1

Next time you are at the gym, look around. I bet you can tell why different people are there. It’s usually one of three reasons: lose weight, get lean or ripped, or get bigger.

How do you think that’s working out for them?

Probably not great, right? The vast majority of regular gym goers see very little change beyond their first month or two at the gym (and they might not even see much change then). I obviously can’t pinpoint the exact reason why each person doesn’t succeed with their training goals, but I would be willing to bet it’s got something to do with the 23-to-1 rule.

Never heard of it?

Here’s the jist: You spent one hour a day in the gym. You have 23 hours a day to mess your hard work up.

Being honest, a lot of people aren’t even in the gym for an hour (or at least not a productive hour). I’m not telling everyone they need to workout for an hour a day, every day. I’m just trying to highlight the fact that you have a lot of time to inadvertently sabotage yourself in any number of ways. Let’s compare two gym junkies who have both completed a solid 45 minute weights session this morning:

Junkie 1: Had a post-workout shake ready to go. Went home for a contrast shower and a good breakfast with a big glass of water, then went to work with a clean lunch and snacks that he had packed the night before, so he was sure he had enough quality food and wouldn’t be temped to go and get something from the vending machine. He made sure he got up from his desk every hour or two for a bit of a stretch and walk around. After work he went to play some pick-up basketball, had dinner, stretched while watching tv, and was in bed by 9:30 for a solid nights sleep.

Junkie 2: Had a shower at the gym and went straight to work, grabbing a extra large caramel mocha latte on the way. At 11am he was starving and popped down to a cafe for some quick bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. That took a little longer than expected, so he stayed a little late at work and had a mid-afternoon Coke to keep him going. On his way home he stopped by a friend’s house, and after a beer or two there, it was getting late. Since he was too tired to cook, he grabbed some takeaway for dinner- because calorie loading is ok when you’re lifting to gain. By the time he got to bed it was 11pm, and since he was stressed about getting up at 5 the next morning, he had trouble falling asleep.

Who do you think will be successful in achieving their goals?

Junkie 1 might seem a little obsessive compulsive (and he isn’t half bad), but I bet junkie 2 sounds somewhat familiar. If this is you, take some time out, think about what you’re doing and why, and start to plan what you want to be doing, how to do, and start now.

Top 7 things that will NOT make you “Get Big”

I get told a lot “I need to get big”, which is generally followed by a questions such as “What is the best supplement for me?” or “Should I use pick-a-gym-accessory?”.  While it’s great that at people are thinking about the next step in the process, most of the time they need to fix what they are already doing before they start anything new.

1. Protein …And other supplements. Supplements are great, and can play a huge role in muscle hypertrophy, but no matter what you are taking, it will not make you get big unless you are working to get big.  That means lifting heavy things frequently enough to stimulate growth.  Once you start doing this on a regular basis, a protein supplement is one of your best tools to make the most of your lift.

2. Isolation Exercises So you want to get big?  Enough with the bicep curls.  Get more bang for you buck with multi-joint exercises that stimulate the big muscles.  Chins, anyone?  Even a bench press will give you more of a boost than any curl you can think of.  On that note, get into the leg work.  Squats, deadlifts, and lunges, along with multi-joint upper body exercises will stimulate significantly more testosterone than working one or two small muscles.  More testosterone = more growth.

3. Weightbelts And other gym accessories.  Like the supplements touched on above, these are very useful tools when you need them.  Like when you squat 300 kilos.  Since most of you don’t, quit worrying about it and just get under the rack.  Your core musculature, including rectus and transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum to name some of the main players, is like nature’s weight belt.  Let your muscles do the work.

4. Two-Hour Workouts Traditional hypertrophy ranges suggest 3-4 working sets of 8-12 reps of any given exercise, with a maximum of 90 seconds between sets. Couple this with reason number 7, and it should only take you 45 minutes to lift, including warm ups, soft tissue management, and the like. Once you pass the hour mark, catabolic hormones will increase to the point that you’re breaking down more than you’re building up. Proper recovery will be that much harder, and adaptations that much longer to achieve.

5. Your iphone This might seem a little random, but the Men’s Health workout of the day app will not get you big. Neither will any other random selection. Want to bulk up? Try a planned program based on your personal goals, and incorporating progressive resistance, including deloading weeks where appropriate. If you aren’t comfortable designing a program for yourself, ask the staff at your gym or get a trainer to design one and take you through it.

6. Lifting every day Exercise breaks down. Rest and recovery rebuilds. The recovery processes can take a few days or more, depending on the damage done. If you’re working the same muscle group every day in the hopes of seeing results sooner, I have bad news for you: you are digging a hole deeper and deeper. The more damage, the longer the recovery. Give your body a fighting chance and rest each muscle group a day or two before training it again.

7. Doing every exercise possible At this point you might be seeing a pattern: There is a point of diminishing returns for every muscle group. More is not always better; in fact, more often leads to more damage, which as previously mentioned, leads to longer recovery periods and less chance of adaptation (and therefore growth). This is even more true when coupled with reasons 4 and 6.

If any of these sound familiar (or all of them), it’s time to re-evaluate your program (or lack thereof). A muscle building program isn’t hard to put together, but you have to be sensible about it. It can take months or years to put on noticeable muscle mass, but it’s certainly doable if your program provides both adequate stimulus and recovery.