Starting again in spring

I was unlucky to be one of those people who spent the Christmas break wiped out with a horrible virus. After working stupid hours throughout autumn and into winter (every Saturday and several Sundays teaching self-defence classes and yoga events, plus covering for another trainer) I was totally depleted and fell ill on the first day of my longed-for break. I lost over 4lbs in a week, and spent most of January trying to get myself back up to speed. My first attempt at training ended up with me lying on the floor of the gym and coughing my lungs up. Not pretty.

Bored of being sick and tired

It was a lesson thoroughly learned. While I recovered, I made plans: regular weekends off, holidays booked in advance, no more working bank holiday weekends, and cutting right back on Sunday events to just a handful a year. It’s been a fresh start that means I always have a break to look forward to, can pace myself more effectively and really enjoy working again. I had lost the concept of self care and basic fun, and now make sure I get time out every day to read, reflect and just chill. I try to welcome breaks between clients and actually stop, not just push myself to find work to do. I’m also reading a lot more than watching Netflix and finding this more healthy overall, although I always have time for a good movie or an episode of Jessica Jones. I’m just not reliant on zoning out in front of a screen to ‘relax’ so much.

Beginner’s mind and new challenges

So this is how I made a fresh start… Something I think is important to do when you train and educate others, is to regularly put yourself in the position of the beginner who is starting over. It can really help a trainer to remember what it feels like to know nothing and to experience the vulnerability of putting yourself in someone else’ hands, developing more empathy for your clients. I was writing a new workshop on emotional agility for my agency, Realise UK, during January and read something along the lines of, a life without risk is only possible if you stay on the sofa all day flipping the remote. This really resonated with me as while I had been stuck indoors being ill, all I could think about was getting outdoors, up a mountain or into the sea, and doing something well out of my comfort zone.

The latter was a particularly new feeling for me and really felt like a risk. I love being near to or on the water but chaotic school lessons as a kid had pretty much turned me off swimming forever. However, I suddenly became obsessed over Christmas with the idea of learning to surf, despite my non-swimmer status. Cue summoning my courage and signing up for adult swimming lessons. In just a few weeks of pure determination and a lot of spluttering, I am now far more confident in the water and am developing a strong enough front crawl to be discussing training for my first triathlon with my coach, the excellent Sarah Mildenhall at Create Fit Bristol – highly recommended.

Not only have I booked a surfing holiday in Morocco, but my training (which had got a bit stale) has been enlivened by the prospect of competing in a performance sport again. Indeed, just having a sport to focus on has been hugely motivating. After a few months of just going through the motions, I have a renewed reason to train and work on my nutrition, not to mention the thrill of taking myself out of my comfort zone on a bike and in the water. To make all this easier, I splurged on a new gym membership so that so can access the pool, weights, bikes and treadmill near to all the venues where I work, so I can easily get a session in. I’m already training with more vigour and enjoyment and can’t wait to see what the next 18 months will bring: apart from serious savings depletion as I invest in a road bike and a trisuit…

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Spring has sprung! What will you try?

I hope this has helped you think about making a fresh start if the year is already feeling stale. It’s been a long winter in the UK and we’re craving sunshine and warmer weather. Now is the time to try something new and set up a system to make it happen: get to a yoga class for the first time; try a martial art; try a climbing lesson – anything that makes your heart beat faster and feels a little risky. It’s going to get your heart pumping, help you meet new people and take your mind away from your daily worries, so pick something today and sign up! We can all benefit so much from starting over and doing something that scares us; it’s a guaranteed strategy for personal growth and facing life head on with that much more confidence.

What better time to start than now? And if it’s personal training, yoga or a group fitness class, find me at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

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.

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(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.

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(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.

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

 

 

 

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.

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com 

 

 

Ageing, menopause and my man-sized appetite

My own trainer likes to joke that, for a small woman (5 feet 2 and 126 pounds), I have the appetite of a large man. This is ridiculously accurate. I love to eat. I love food. I am not and have never been one of those people who just ‘forgets to eat’. This is a totally alien concept to me. Not having a cigarette or coffee habit to fall back on, I eat. Food is my habit. I don’t do it for comfort or out of boredom. I like to make and enjoy eating really bloody good food, and I live in anticipation of each meal. That is all.

Having a large appetite wasn’t really a problem due to the sheer volume of physical activity I manage each week: I burn between 2,300-2,700 calories a day and walk over 100km a week. I can eat a decent 2,000 calories a day and still create a deficit for weight loss. And in case you’re thinking I’m fixated on calories and weight, tracking and measuring data is one of the most effective tools available for weight loss. High fat and protein diets where you blissfully ignore your calorie consumption and eat ‘intuitively’ can end in significant weight gain if you aren’t aware that 100g of almonds contains 576 calories – which could be one third of your total daily intake for a sedentary female, for example.

However, perimenopause kicked in and things have started to get more challenging. Hormonal changes mean that I am experiencing a frustrating paradox where I am even more hungry than usual but really need to be eating a less as my body develops a propensity to lay down extra fat around my belly. I feel ravenously hungry all the time and am having to think more carefully about what to eat, how much and when, so that I don’t go completely overboard.

What works in terms of nutrition and fat loss is very individual; a Paleo diet works for your friend because it works for your friend. You may find the low carb and no dairy approach too hellish to manage, especially with homicidal mood swings to cope with, so you need to think about the best carbs for you and when the best time is to eat them. Going dairy free is also not great when we need calcium for decreasing bone density as we age.

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(Yes, that’s me. I developed my love for carbs early. I’m a pro.)

While there is no one size fits all way in which to make losing weight work for you, here are some of the strategies I use myself as well as with my clients, so try some out, tweak them, and then stick to what works:

– the only thing we know for sure that works for weight loss is creating an energy deficit consistently over time. This means consuming less energy than you use. While there is not a simple and direct correlation between calories in and calories out (people metabolise food at different rates and some people will store excess calories from some food groups more readily than others) you still need to know what’s going in. I recommend the energy calculator at Precision Nutrition to help you get a more accurate picture of how much you really need to eat based on your activity levels. You may be surprised by how easy it is to over eat for your needs and trimming a couple of hundred calories daily might make all the difference.

– fill up on healthy sources of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu or pulses/beans. Protein is satiating for longer than other foods. If you start your day on toast, it’s no wonder you’re hungry soon after and crave more carbs. If I eat carbs for breakfast I will want to eat like a horse all day. Start me off with eggs and I’ll be happy for hours and manage my carb cravings.

– start by filling half of your plate with vegetables. They are filling and very nutritious for far fewer calories than bread or pasta. Veggies are a key source of dietary carbohydrates; I will poke you in the eye if you tell me you’re ‘carb-free’. You either don’t understand your food groups or you need to eat more greens before you drop dead.

– Speaking of which, please don’t ditch food groups. You need carbohydrates for energy, especially if you exercise, and carbs need to be present in the body for fat to be burned. Eat healthy, unrefined carb sources such as sweet or white potatoes, rice or oats for energy in the right portions. That’s a golf ball size portion of rice, not a plate of risotto, a small sweet potato or 50g or half a cup of oats. If you’re really struggling to lose weight, then limit your starchy carb portion to one meal a day, preferably post-exercise to restock your muscles with glycogen.

– don’t fear healthy fats like butter, olive oil, nuts or avocado, but be aware of their high calorie content. You may be making a ‘clean’, healthy smoothie but a tablespoon of trendy nut butter throw could will blow your calorie allowance for the day. However, flaxseeds are an excellent fat source and provide Omega 3 fatty acids which perimenopausal women can benefit from. Their anti inflammatory properties can relieve sore joints & dryness, as well as helping to balance mood and improve the triglyceride profile of post-menopausal women which can often be too high. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds to porridge, Bircher pots or smoothies.

– if it’s in the house it gets eaten. Leave the trigger foods at the supermarket and avoid the psychological warfare of resisting them once they make it to your kitchen.

– be aware of any bad habits that can lead to self-sabotage and make a list of strategies to avoid them. If you tend to over eat in restaurants, check out the online menu and decide what to order in advance so that you make a better choice, for example.

– if you slip up, move on. Your next meal (not tomorrow) is your chance to start again.

Need help? My personal training clients are all offered nutrition advice as well as fitness, so visit my page if you live in Bristol and want to try it out. Not local? My Badass Body Online package is just £50 a month for a weekly tailored workout you can do at home and you get your nutrition support along the way.

Good luck!

www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk

www.befitbristolfit.com

Fittie Over 40: the sometimes relevant ramblings of a middle-aged personal trainer

I thought it was time to offer a few musings about my own life as a fitness instructor, yoga teacher and personal trainer at the grand age of 45, given that I have plenty of clients over 40 these days who seem to enjoy my social media posts and look to me for fad free, no frills advice on healthy living.

I want to share the truth behind being a middle aged female working in the fitness industry, dealing with all the physical and hormonal delights that come with ageing. And yes, that means talking about menopause, ‘cos it sure isn’t going anywhere and is a natural phase of life that all us female badasses have to learn to negotiate.

So stand by for some fairly honest observations about trying to stay fit as a middle aged training professional when you’re hormonal and knackered and yet still needing to perform and set a good example to everyone else. Because in the face of green juice, I’ll always take a chocolate milkshake instead, and *no one* will replace my love for Dairy Milk with raw cacao.

If you’ve had enough of quick fixes, eating clean and trying to reach unattainable standards of six packs and svelteness, you’re in the right place. I’ll be sharing my own struggles to keep myself on track while offering some sound advice on how to succeed for yourself. Until then, where’s my next client?

Find me at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk and on the telly box with www.befitbristolfit.com