Becoming a confident fittie presenter

Some of you will know that I put my former career hat back on to give a lot of lectures in the autumn term of each academic year. It’s been a particularly busy few weeks, which is why I haven’t published a post for a bit, but it’s great to keep my lecturing practice going in terms of my professional skills and I feel that working with new mature students to boost their confidence in degree level study is very worthwhile work.


It’s also demanding work, and some jobs involve my standing up in front of an audience of up to sixty people for 4-5 hours at a time. I’m grateful that a) I’m fit, as it’s physically tough and b) I’m an experienced and confident speaker with twenty years’ experience, as there can be tricky situations and occasional challenging behaviours to deal with. Case in point: last week I pitched up to speak for three hours to a large group of assorted doctors, nurses and some undergrad medical students from around the world – and no one had actually booked the lecture theatre! It was a tough situation but I made the relevant calls, the administrator somehow found another space and we got going. However, I then had to ditch forty minutes of material at the drop of a hat as we were then running so late.

I’ve learned over the years that there is zero point in stressing when something like this happens. All you can do is try to solve the problem, apologise to those involved and take a deep breath. But, for people for whom just plain old public speaking is their worst nightmare, this added stress would probably push them beyond their limits and create total panic. Also, to be successful in the fitness industry, as well as most employment sectors, you need to be able to present with confidence to create a great profile and get your message out there. Trainers need to be confident in front of group classes, too, so there are many good reasons for wanting to improve your performance in front of a crowd. This year, of course, I’ve had to learn to present for television, too, so it’s all still a work in progress!


Here are my best bits of advice for looking and feeling  like a confident presenter, no matter which industry you work in:

– body language is key. You must face your audience with an open chest and square hips. No crossed arms or legs. Get your chin up and make plenty of eye contact. Smile and be engaging.

– never read out loud to your audience. They may as well stay at home and read a transcript of your talk. Be lively and make sure that you offer plenty of added value to those who turned up to see you in person.

– prepare and rehearse all the way through at least three times to iron out poor transitions or any inconsistencies in the logic of your presentation. Never, ever over run your time slot. This is unforgivable and shows a lack of preparation and discrimination in your material.

– advance knowledge is key. Know who you are speaking to and pitch your content accordingly. Know where the venue is so you arrive early and know where to go.

– avoid visual aids unless they are really necessary. You should be the audience’s focus, not the PowerPoint. A few bullet points to outline the talk is enough unless you are required to use graphs and data, but keep it simple and minimal.

– make the audience and their comfort your focus to help detract from your own nerves.

– if you feel very anxious breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four. Smile. Open that chest. Go for it!

– keep your throat lubricated and sip water. I find lozenges called Vocal Zone to be an absolute godsend for keeping my throat clear when I have a lot of speaking engagements. Get them over the counter at Boots.

While I quite enjoy public speaking, I know it’s not the same for everyone. I’m coaching an author to prepare for their book tour right now and am available on a very limited basis (9-5 only and between existing clients) if you need help preparing for a specific speaking event.

Now, get out there, tiger, and slay that audience!

Images from episode one of Be Fit Bristol Fit.


Why we don’t need to demonise carbs

Carbohydrates: to eat or not to eat? It’s been one of the biggest questions in fitness and nutrition for years. My take? Oh, go on, guess. Yep, it depends… This post isn’t for the figure competitors out there who are watching every calorie and macro. That’s a whole other ball game. But for the average person who is trying to make sense of a lot of conflicting information and maybe wants to lose some weight, read on. Carbs are not your enemy and most people are miserable without them.

Look. Let’s be realistic. If you eat fruit and vegetables, and you really should be, then you are eating carbohydrates. I have no time for people claiming they are ‘carb-free’. While low carb and high fat diets have become fashionable of late, carbohydrates are an essential food group or macronutrient alongside proteins and fats, and provide necessary fuel for your muscles for physical activity, as well as helping us to metabolise fat. Carbs are our body’s preferred energy source. Even one of the biggest proponents of the no grain Paleo diet, Robb Wolf, recently published Wired to Eat, rethinking carb intake and getting readers to work out how many starchy carbs for their own individual energy needs. One size does not fit all.


A lot of people who eat the Paleo way (no grains, no dairy) report significant fat loss and attribute it to this exact style of eating. However, we cannot be certain that it’s the low carb element that creates weight or fat loss. The only thing we really know that causes the body to burn fat is maintaining a caloric deficit i.e. eating fewer calories than your body uses for energy. If you cut out starchy carbs like grains, as well as dairy, then you are removing a large potential source of calories. A lot of people on high fat diets forget how dense in calories fats are, which is why munching on handfuls of nuts, adding tablespoons of coconut oil to smoothies and having an avocado every day can stop you seeing that weight loss happen.

What I like about Paleo eating is the focus on cooking from scratch from unprocessed foods. This places a firm focus on the quality of the nutrients in your food. I don’t believe in cutting out dairy (although dairy farming conditions need addressing for sure) but being more aware of what you eat and what’s in your food is a good place to start for healthier eating overall.

This attention to food quality is where we also need to look when it comes to which carbs we eat. There’s no real nutritional value in processed cakes, poor quality bread and sugary drinks; they can be a minor part of your diet but only as occasional treats. I don’t ban anything! If you want to make carbohydrates part of your meals then go for good quality whole grains, potatoes and rice. If you’re trying to lose weight then be sure you are in that calorie deficit, or try restricting your carb intake to pre or post-exercise meals to replenish muscle glycogen and then stick to meals made from proteins, vegetables and quality fat sources the rest of the time. This can be a very helpful post-menopause strategy too, if you are finding it hard to keep the weight off. If you’re unsure about portion size, then remember that a golf ball sized amount of grains is about right or half a cup/50g of uncooked oats. We’re not talking a plate of risotto-sized portion of rice.

So the key to getting the right balance of carbs is to think about what proportion of calories they make up in your daily intake, the quality and amount of nutrients they are giving you and when you might prefer to eat them. Just don’t demonise them and certainly don’t feel you need to cut them out. I eat starchy carbs with about two meals a day as I am so active, as I feel exhausted without them, but I am careful not to over indulge on rest days, and that works for me. Experiment and see what works for you.

Finding stillness amidst all the busyness

One thing I have noticed as I have been getting closer to middle age is an increasing and sometimes urgent need to…meditate. Life has changed dramatically for me betweeen my early 30s to mid-40s as I decided to get healthy after years of neglect, change my career from academia to wellness and start my own business. Where before I had set working hours and didn’t give a second thought to my job once I left the office, enjoying a two day weekend every week, now being self-employed is all-consuming and blurs the boundaries between work and play.


Finding quiet mental space during a busy day where I can be literally running between several venues to train clients and deliver talks is hard. The prevalence of social media that comes with running a business also makes it hard to switch off as I’m always posting to boost class attendance or sharing interesting articles with my followers. I’m very lucky to get paid for doing what I would probably do for fun but it does make it hard to switch off my brain when everything merges. After realising that I wasn’t ever really relaxing until I was asleep, and even then being prone to nightmares and sweats, it was time to re-evaluate.

I am not one of these yoga teachers who gets up at 5am to practice. I work so hard physically during the day that I need a solid eight hours’ sleep and I’m often so late home that going to bed early enough to facilitate a dawn practice would give me all of an hour to have any personal time, cook, eat etc. I’m also stiff as an old crone when I get out of bed and need time for my muscles to warm up, as my early personal training clients will attest; I can barely demonstrate any moves at 06.30!

So, it’s a case of revisiting my mantra of small changes made consistently over time, in the style of The Slight Edge, a book that really changed my thinking about personal development. Instead of committing to an hour of meditation and a yoga practice every day, I aim for a simple five minutes before I get out of bed, as many mornings as I can. It’s a quick win and is still well worth doing for the benefits it brings. I also avoid looking at the news and my emails until I’m awake and ready to cope with them mentally. With so many unpleasant things going on in an increasingly unstable world, it’s not the first thing I want in my head. Carving out a quiet mental space before the day kicks off has become a much calmer way to start the day.

As with my training sessions, I look for windows in my diary to fit in my yoga practices. I have a subscription to the online platform YogaGlo where I can get as many classes with great teachers as I like for about £12 a month, with class lengths varying from 15-90 minutes, so there’s always something I can fit in. Unless I practise regularly, I don’t find inspiration for my own teaching, so I really have committed to getting it done.

I’m also welcoming short gaps in the day when I can just sit and breathe. You’ll often find me on the sofa at Powersports just relaxing or stretching, or maybe catching up with another trainer. And I’m being less militant about my physical training. With my hip injury still causing me problems, it’s not the end of the world for me to skip a training session when I’m still so physically active in my work and it means I can often feel a bit less like I’m right on the edge of being too tired.

So have a think about where you can carve out even just five quiet minutes in your day. Could you:

– escape your desk at lunchtime for a walk?

– take the dog out?

– roll out your yoga mat or find a class on your way to and from work?

– get some inspiration? Look on YouTube for guided meditations or download the fabulous app Insight Timer to your phone and access loads of them there. There is also a lovely new magazine called In the Moment for some fresh ideas.


– spend time in a ‘flow’ activity in which you can really lose yourself, like dancing, gardening or reading a great book? I’m well into the latest of the Millennium books now as I love Scandinavian thrillers.

– wake up and just take five minutes to breathe in the peace and quiet?

I regularly lead meditations as part of my Empower Yoga classes, or why not book a 1:1 with me to learn some calming breath work or refine your yoga practice?

See you soon and enjoy the silence!

What I’m thinking as a trainer while I’m working with your body

My own personal trainer is a lean, mean, muscled machine, as is my boxing coach. Both are very fit and experienced competitive fighters who can look pretty intimidating. Was I nervous when I started training with them? Absolutely! I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of being trained, worrying about knowing nothing about lifting weights or throwing punches and feeling distinctly underpowered in the cardio department while they both run rings around me during padwork drills.

There’s always someone fitter, stronger and more knowledgeable out there than you, and that’s why I have my own coaches to keep me challenged and progressing and accountable; it’s why most people sign up for personal training and I also feel that every trainer should have their own coach to push them on. We all need someone else to motivate us. But we start where we start, and it’s the responsibility of a good trainer to meet the client where they are and not pass judgement. I know that when I train with my coaches, I’ll be getting valuable feedback on my skills and not on the size of my thighs.


(Training my client Helen at Powersports.)

I think worrying about being judged as weak/fat/clumsy can put people off signing up with a PT, and that’s a real shame. A good trainer isn’t the same as a shouty military  instructor who motivates through humiliation (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case be my guest and find someone who isn’t me). A skilled personal trainer is an empathetic listener, an excellent coach and flexible according to the needs of their client. If someone arrives fighting off the flu, then the tough HIIT session I planned is going to be dropped in favour of light training and a stretch-based session. Working 1:1 on fitness is about far more than writing someone a programme full of sets and reps. You can be someone’s agony aunt in times of trouble, you will be asked for a lot of advice on areas well outside of health and nutrition, so be prepared to go way beyond what you think is required if you are thinking of becoming a personal trainer!


(Working with Ella and her arthritis at Sweaty Betty Bristol – training isn’t just for the athletic elite.)

My client base is predominantly female (I have three male 1:1 clients and a handful more in my yoga and HIIT classes) and I have been very conscious about how I speak in my work about women’s bodies. There’s enough shaming going on across social media; I want everyone who comes through my door to know they are not judged. Just being in a class for the more anxious members of my client base is a big achievement, as is training in front of other people in a shared space. For many people who have not exercised for some time, are injured, experiencing personal problems, are pregnant or carrying a lot of weight, training is a matter of getting through it, and I commend my clients for their efforts. People’s lives and their motivations are often far more complicated than we can appreciate.

We talk about form and technique in my classes and 1:1s, not about being skinny. My clients literally applaud each other’s efforts and we have fostered a reputation for being one of the most friendly and welcoming groups around, of which I am very proud. I know when someone new arrives, my fitness tribe will make them feel comfortable and motivate them through the class, whatever their size, whoever they are and whatever they can do.


(With Pearl and Shirlee, left, and Meg, right, at my group classes. We’re a friendly bunch!)

And when I am watching my clients working out, what goes through my mind? To be honest, it’s very technical. I’ve been trained through my studies to look at the body in terms of balance, form and alignment so I’m absolutely focused on how you are performing a movement and nothing else. I’m looking for the best, safest form you can achieve, and then working out ways to modify something you may be struggling with or progressing an exercise if you are looking strong. I will notice your mood and your energy and how that is affecting your training, and I might ask you some questions to see how I can help if you seem a bit off. I’m looking at your static posture as well as your dynamic movement patterns to see if something needs correcting, not because it makes me feel clever but because incorrect information is being fed to your brain and central nervous system when something is out of alignment. That’s a potential injury waiting to happen and it won’t get you closer to your goals.

I pay my clients compliments on their form and give praise where it’s due. I’m honest if I think you need to work differently or you could try harder on your nutrition, because that’s my job and I would be doing you a disservice as a coach and maybe even compromise your safety if I don’t speak up or call bulls**t where necessary. Telling someone they are not ready to perform a certain exercise or why they not losing weight isn’t fun, but I will always explain what you need to do to get there over time and with practice.

Am I thinking you look fat/thin/too muscly/too anything? Nope. I really am a dispassionate observer trying to help you achieve what you told me you want to do. If I pay you a compliment, it’s because you’re working hard to get closer to where you want to be, and you deserve it. I feel that my yoga teacher training and practice makes me a more compassionate trainer, but I also feel that is an essential quality for any decent trainer working with clients putting their mental and physical wellbeing in their hands. It’s a matter of basic respect and helping someone feel better about themselves. If you’re not willing to be motivational and take joy in your client’s gains, no matter how small, then it’s not the job for you.

If you’d like to read more about how I think trainers should responsibly coach their clients, then have a look at this article I wrote for the Personal Trainer Development Centre.

If you are interested in working with me 1:1 or coming to my group classes, then visit my website – link below. We also have a fitness half day event coming up on October 14th where you can get a taste of several areas of my work: HIIT, yoga and coaching.

I’m always happy to see a new face looking for a warm welcome! My episodes show me in group training and with 1:1 clients.

Recovery: an essential aspect of a balanced training programme

So I fully expect this post to be met with howls of laughter from my friends and clients. Only last year I was commissioned to write an article on the importance of holidays to people’s health, only for everyone to pitch in along the lines of  ‘you never take time off, you big hypocrite’… Anyway, I’m starting to draft this on the eve of a full seven days off work, I’ll have you know, so I feel perfectly justified in pointing out the added value of rest and recovery as part of your training schedule. Ahem…

As much as some of my clients find getting off the sofa and into my classes a tough call, others I find hard to dissuade from exercising every day, and sometimes more than once. I’m not a fan of the ‘yoga every damn day’ thing. Everyone’s body needs at least one rest day a week, and that includes from playing pretzel.  Make it a meditation practice instead, and just give yourself a break. There’s a mental stress involved in making yourself achieve every day without respite, not to mention putting your hard earned physical gains at risk by overtraining.


(Don’t. Really. Everyone needs a day off, even yogis.)

Fundamentally, we make improvements to our bodies by putting it under controlled stress when we train. This encourages growth of lean muscle tissue as well as gains in strength, power and endurance. Cardiovascular fitness will also be improved, depending on the nature of your training; it is possible to get cardio into weight training with the use of explosive movements and short rest periods, but you need to slow down and lift heavy to build muscle.

Putting our bodies under this stress means we need to give it time to recover, which can be a day spent relaxing    away from the gym as well as planning our training to avoid exerting the same muscle group or energy system on consecutive days. For example, you wouldn’t gain anything from two leg days in a row as your muscles would be too tired to perform well on the second day, and we also don’t recommend HIIT more than two to three times a week either, as it is so intense when performed correctly. Programme to get the most out of your body. Here is my typical week:

Monday: yoga and weight training

Tuesday: boxing-style gym session with skipping, bag work, kettle bells and body weight exercise

Wednesday: maybe yoga and a walk, sometimes a 5km run

Thursday: boxing lesson and yoga if time allows

Friday: weight training

Saturday:  no training

Sunday 5km run and yoga.

For me, this is a good mix of cardio, weight training, stretching and the boxing conditioning that I love. I also teach eight hours of group yoga and fitness classes, 16 hours of 1:1 personal training and walk up to 100km a week, so I get a lot of incidental exercise in addition to what I schedule specifically for my body.

I sleep well, feel tired when I should and, until I wrecked my right tensor fascia latae while dancing  (not training!) I’d also not experienced any physical problems, so I feel okay with this balance. What I need to do more of is be ready to take a ‘deload’ week more regularly, where I decrease the intensity of training and let my body recover (roughly every six to eight weeks), as well doing more foam rolling and get regular massages. This would definitely improve my overall physical maintainance. I have a happy home life, excellent friends and a yoga and meditation practice for my mental well being. I also love what I do for a living, obviously, so I feel pretty balanced.


(Me, this week, on holiday: no sports kit and a big chocolate milkshake! Bliss…)

If you are experiencing the following, you may be overtraining and are due for a deload:

– experience regular niggling injuries

– never seem to recover completely from training

– are always tired but get poor quality sleep

– feel guilty if you take a rest day or feel that you need to ‘earn’ your food. Neither of these are healthy approaches to fitness.

To maintain balance:

– always take at least one day a week off from training. Active recovery is fine, such as walking, but skip the tough vinyasa yoga class for something more relaxing.

– vary your training and avoid the same activity or working the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

– prioritise sleep. If you are very active, you may well need an extra hour nightly and certainly not less than seven.

– eat well to fuel your recovery, including quality sources of protein and plenty of vitamin-rich vegetables. Don’t e restrictive.

– ease off the ‘I must’ attitude. A day off won’t hurt if you are genuinely needing a rest, have to work overtime or life gets in the way Frankly, if Tom Hardy asked me out for dinner, I wouldn’t give the gym a second thought before running into those tattooed arms. I digress…

Ultimately, unless you are a pro athlete being paid to look and perform in a specific way or are a serious competitor, remember to take time out and be kind to yourself. You don’t need to push so hard. Even those athletes have an off season. Training regularly still puts you in a very small percentage of the population that performs vigorous exercise routinely. Be proud of that fact in a week in which we learned that most adults over 40 aren’t getting as much as 10 minutes of brisk walking a MONTH!!

Be proud of your prowess, but also know when to stop.




How did I get here? A rundown of my fitness career history

It’s been a very flattering thing to receive requests for interviews and personal emails asking how I started my business and got into a career as a fitness professional, so I thought it might be helpful to summarise how I did it, offer an insight into my professional journey and a few pointers for those looking to follow my lead. I hope you find it interesting as it is not a conventional story, and the idea is to inspire those of you who feel (not so!) that it’s too late to start getting fit and healthy or want to start a fitness career at 40+.


Have I always been into fitness?

Definitely not! I did anything to get out of PE at school as I was really clumsy and found it all hard. I was usually the last to be picked for team games so it didn’t do much for my self-esteem and I was much stronger academically. I didn’t find out I was dyspraxic until my early 40s when I was on a course to learn how to work with students with dyslexia and dyspraxia and took the tests myself, so my clumsiness suddenly made sense.

My reintroduction to movement actually came in my early 30s when I tried learning to dance Argentine Tango and turned out to be ok at it. I danced regularly for about seven years until my interest in martial arts started to dominate. I took up lau gar kung fu at 35 and actually thought I was going to pass out from the effort in my first class, but I stuck with it and made it to my brown sash over about five years of training multiple times per week, then decided to stop and focus on yoga teacher training before I took my black. I was at an age when I wanted to nurture my body rather than have it punched and kicked!


(Left: in fallen angel pose on the cover of Cardiff Life. Right: co-teaching a yoga anatomy workshop for Yoga Alliance Professionals with Sally Parkes at the OM Yoga Show, London.)

What was my biggest motivation?

The big push to get healthy had really come when my father died very early from bowel cancer when he was barely 60 and I was just 32. It shocked me out of the unfulfilling life I was living and pushed me towards getting fit. I was still unwell with the Epstein Barr virus I had contracted a while earlier, but I knew I needed to take myself in hand physically and mentally, as well as find work doing something I really loved, rather than just existing.

That first kung fu class propelled me into the world of fitness and I have never looked back. I am still amazed that I went from not being able to walk for 20 minutes without getting tired, to sparring and doing training drills for up to three hours at a time. Even though I don’t train in martial arts any more, I’m lucky to work out of the gyms of my trainers, Team GB coaches Sean Veira and Sharon Gill, and feel very supported in my business.


(Left: winning a first place trophy at the WUMA championships with the Bristol Lau Gar team. Right: receiving my diploma in instructing unarmed combat from Kevin and Jake O’Hagan.)

How did I end up self-employed?

I intensified my studies in my spare time and dropped to four days in my university role as a lecturer on professional skills and career coach so I could start building Brainbox up to be my sole source of income. I had actually set it up in 2004 as a side interest while I was training to be a personal coach with Newcastle College but knew I wanted to take things further, setting a goal to be completely independent by January 2015.

I got my diploma in instructing unarmed combat first, which took about six months, took another year to complete my Integrative Nutrition Health Coach qualification, added on my 200 hour yoga teacher training with Sally Parkes Yoga in 2014 and thought that was enough to be going on with. I made the decision to leave my job while I was taking the yoga teacher training and became fully self-employed on September 1st 2014, a few months ahead of schedule. I felt physically sick that first day and had nighttime panic attacks for a week leading up to it, but I was determined to make it work.

How has the business evolved?

After just a few months, my clients were asking for more fitness options as well as yoga, so I began studying for my fitness instructor qualification then my level three certification in personal training, which all took about six months. It was the key to boosting the business even though it was entirely unplanned, but I’m so glad I did it as I absolutely love the work.  I even ended up with a role in the TV series Be Fit Bristol Fit as a result!

Since then, I have studied for further certifications in advanced nutrition for weight management, kettle bell instruction and online personal training, and am currently well into studying for my corrective exercise specialisation with the National Academy for Sports Medicine. As someone with a history of chronic fatigue, I never dreamed of having this kind of career but find it all completely fascinating and am fit as a fiddle these days. I basically get paid for doing what I would choose to do in my free time and get to apply my academic training to debunking fitness and nutrition myths.

How hard is it to be self-employed?

Very! And far harder than you ever think it will be. Although I had some big clients on my list when I quit my job, like Airbus and Arup, it hit me early on how hard it was going to be to build a steady client base. After four months I had to make some adjustments to stay afloat. I made the difficult decision to stop renting my own flat and moved in with a friend to cut my costs. I had to get used to living on less than half the salary I had in my university job, and the lack of financial security was really very scary. I was tracking every penny and had to think twice about everything I spent my money on.


(Left: running a workshop on confidence at Airbus. Right: promotional shot from my time as a brand ambassador for Sweaty Betty.)

While things are more steady three years later, I still work long hours, six days a week. In this industry, you work when other people don’t, so it’s early mornings, lunchtimes and weekends, which makes socialising with anyone other than fellow fitness people very challenging. When I’m not with clients or teaching classes (which is about 23-25 hours a week), there are programmes and classes to write, my online clients to deal with, social media promotion, blogging and paid writing work as well as the larger corporate workshops I run. I work with two agencies, Realise (formerly Real Healthy) and Delegated Services to offer wellness and coaching work in businesses and schools, as well as still working as a lecturer and consultant in higher education every autumn. I like the diversity of my role, but it is very heavy on client-facing work and can be physically draining as well as emotionally tiring, so I make sure I get at least an hour or two of downtime at the end of the day and one day off a week to relax.

Advice for would-be ‘fitpros’?

  • More than ten years of 1:1 coaching put me in an excellent position to coach people physically, but few trainers have that experience. You really need to like working with people and helping to solve their problems. That means being an empathetic listener. Having been ill and overweight in the past means I am sympathetic to people trying to make changes as I know how it feels to struggle.
  • A  lot of new personal training businesses fold quickly due to lack of clients. Sticking up posters or leaving cards in the gym just won’t cut it. Offer taster sessions for people to experience your style or, as I do, teach group fitness classes; the vast majority of my 1:1 clients come from my classes or by recommendation from people attending them. Get your name out there by writing for other people’s web sites and blogs or by contributing to charity and regional events. People need to meet and connect with you before they hire you, and to know that you are credible.
  • Be prepared to keep up your knowledge and keep training even after you qualify. Otherwise you won’t be competitive with those constantly updating their portfolio in new industry that sees a lot of new information constantly coming its way. If you don’t like studying and researching fitness when you’re not working, then this isn’t the industry for you. Read reputable web sites such as the Personal Trainer Development Centre to get ideas and motivation on running your business.
  • Make time for your own training and don’t let it be squeezed out by clients. It also really pays to have your own coach to motivate you and keep things fresh. I train with Tom O’Hagan, founder of Apex PT, in weight training and calisthenics, and Nathan Champ in boxing. In my own time, I run, lift, do HIIT sessions and practice yoga to maintain all round strength, endurance and flexibility. You have to set a good example to your clients and stay healthy.
  • But don’t try to be perfect! Clients relate to you more when you are human. I am totally honest about what I eat, which really isn’t perfect even though I train hard. My clients like that I look lean and fit without being shredded; they are actually turned off by that kind of look, so targeting your niche market is crucial. I’m never going to coach bikini competitors and am fine with that!

I have been very lucky to be featured in magazines and newspapers and to be on TV, but it’s down to laying a lot of ground work and working my ass off. I have done a great deal of writing to get my name out there as an expert and taken every opportunity to get more exposure, even when it’s added a lot more to my workload. I am also very true to my personal ethics, which is why I rarely promote other people’s products unless I really like them and I choose partners and clients carefully. I have turned down work with organisations I felt were not a good fit and have tried to create a unique brand with Brainbox: no fads, no fuss, just smart training from a former academic with an eye for bullsh*t.

I wish you luck if you are trying to crack the fitness industry at a more advanced age (ahem!) and hope you feel inspired to try exercise again if you have let it fall by the wayside. See you soon!

Healthy eating: the new ‘normal’

Eating a healthy diet seems to have become increasingly complicated of late. If you’re not counting macros, activating your nuts and chucking raw cacao/baobab/unicorn dust into your meals then you’re obviously not doing it right. And the big question? Do you eat ‘clean’? Because if you don’t, you’re a bad person and processed foods are the Devil.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. But given the recent slew of cookery books and blogs from a host of healthy eating gurus in their 20s (and many without any kind of legitimate nutrition qualification) you could be forgiven for thinking that your storecupboard has an inferiority complex if it isn’t stocked with maca powder, raw cacao and coconut blossom syrup. No one I know eats like that. I don’t ask my clients to eat this way. I do not eat this way to be healthy. It is completely unnecessary and beyond the weekly food budget of most people.

We seem to have ended up very far away from eating ‘normal’ food, just enough for our energy needs and optimal nutritional value, and not too much of it, to paraphrase food anthropologist Michael Pollan. We also have so many labels attached to different ways of eating: Paleo, ketogenic, ‘if it fits your macros’ and of course ‘clean eating’, a phrase from which many early embracers are now distancing themselves as it has become increasingly associated with forms of disordered eating.

Now, I don’t prep clients for bikini competitions, so you’re not going to get me wading into the debate on how many grams of protein you need per kilo of body weight for ‘gains’. There are plenty of people out there who will do that for you. I just want to remind you of some very simple guidelines for eating a balanced diet for solid nutrition and offer a few tips for fat loss, if that is something you are working towards. I don’t want you to weigh your food or be the goon who turns up to someone’s wedding feast clutching their plastic box of chicken and greens. No, really. Just don’t. Food can be a joyous social celebration, so get stuck in occasionally. For the most part, here’s what to bear in mind.

– learn how to compose a plate. Start with vegetables, 2-3 kinds to take up half the space. Add a palm-sized portion of protein (meat, fish, two eggs, tofu, beans, lentil) and a dribble of healthy fat such as olive oil. You can also cook with a small knob of butter, eat a small piece of cheese or add a few nuts. Add starchy carbs like rice or other grains only after exercise to help refuel your muscles, if you tend to over eat them. Ultimately, though, if you are trying to lose weight, you just need to consume fewer calories than you expend, and carbs can still make up some of those calories. Just choose wisely.

– three meals a day? Five? It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t eat more than your body’s energy requirements. See my previous post for the link to the Precision Nutrition calculator

– you’ll get more nutrition out of your food if you cook it from scratch. Ready meals can be high in salt and low in nutrients.  However, we’re all busy so do shortcut where you need to to. I use those packs of microwaveable rice (no, microwaves don’t kill you) and prepped meat or fish fillets with some kind of sauce. With a bag of mixed vegetables, it’s a quick and healthy dinner at the end of a long day. If you do have time, batch cook a big casserole or curry on a Sunday. Home made ready meals can’t be beaten when you’re home late and tired and only have to quickly reheat something tasty.

– Remember that the basics are healthy: eggs, chicken, fish, lentils, cheese, vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds and dairy. You don’t have to do all the fancy stuff and add loads of supplements – there is no evidence that they work. You don’t need to cut out dairy or gluten unless you have a clinical reason to. If you care about the welfare of your dairy and meat, buy organic and free range if your budget allows, or eat less of it. There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein but you will need to combine them to get complete proteins; these only come from animal sources.

– if you’re worried about eating out, many restaurants post their menus online so you can have a look in advance and make the best choice based on what’s available.

– if you are starting to gain weight around your middle over 40, then you may need an honest look at what you’re eating and start creating more of a calorie deficit. Cutting back on alcohol is a good place to start if you have become a regular wine drinker of an evening. Getting more weight-bearing exercise will help maintain bone density and strength as you age, too.  Get moving and avoid being sedentary as much as you can. All the incidental exercise adds up.

So, keep it simple and feel free to ignore the complex advice and ingredient lists. Poached eggs on a slice of good quality toast with some creamed spinach, or a piece of grilled fish with a green salad is far less fuss and just as good for you as some bonkers recipe full of sea buckthorn berries and baobab powder. And there’s always room for cake. Keep it real, people, and you won’t go far wrong.