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Myth Busting Series part 2 – Carbs!
Nutrition is a subject guaranteed to create debate, with everyone from your doctor to your best friend having an opinion, not to mention all of the online ‘guru’s and ‘wellness influencers’ determined to convince you that carbs are the enemy, gluten is positively deadly and sugar is probably the reason your wife left you.
Before we get going, I would like to take a minute to recognise that for some people, the next few articles might be a little… uncomfortable at times. This is because what we eat and why we eat is a complex and personal subject. Think about it- some people choose not to eat particular foods for ethical or religious reasons, some for health concerns and some may have complex psychological issues around food. Remember all those times you were told to clear your plate before being allowed to get down from the table? Of course, a very understandable comment when we think of a post-war generation for whom food had been both scarce and expensive, however it isn’t too much of a hop, skip and a jump to make a connection between this and over-eating in later life. There is also a frankly overwhelming amount of misinformation and questionable marketing that has led to many foods and food groups becoming demonised in the public eye. So, as you go on to read these articles know that it is okay for new information to feel uncomfortable at times, but that ultimately as we break down these myths we are allowing ourselves freedom from arbitrary food rules and the judgement from our peers each time we opt for chips instead of a side salad.
I encourage you to be kind to yourself if it gets uncomfortable and to sit with those feelings and explore where they have come from. I’ll also link some excellent resources at the bottom for anyone seeking a little extra support or understanding.
Oh my word, there are so many myths about carbs that I almost don’t know where to start. Almost.
I bet you have heard all sorts of things about carbs?
‘Carbs make you fat’
‘Carbs are bad for you’
‘Carbs make you sleepy’
‘Carbs make you hungrier’
And my personal favourite ‘no carbs before Marbs’. Actually, no, wait. My favourite is this one:
Somehow manages to make me laugh and rage all at once.
Once upon a time, fat was public enemy number one with low fat diets the mainstay of the 1970’s & ’80’s. By the late 90’s we’d started to reinstate our love of butter but began to malign carbohydrates. (I say ‘we’ but in the 90’s I was too busy grieving the Spice Girls to care much about food in all honesty.) There are many reasons as to why carbs became the black sheep of the family (incomplete/dubious research, scaremongering and industry rigging), but the most interesting point to note is that most people don’t fully understand what a carbohydrate is. If you were to ask the person next to you “what is a carbohydrate” I bet they will mention bread, pasta and rice. Take it a step further and ask them “what is a ‘bad’ carb” and I doubly bet you they say ‘errr, white carbs? White bread, white pasta, white potatoes…’ Are they right or are they wrong? Can we label carbs as ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Grab a cuppa and let’s learn a little of the actual science. Knowledge is power after all.
It’s not difficult to see why we find it hard to know what to eat… the message keeps changing. But, by learning the science, we can learn to correctly interpret what the media decides to show us.
A carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients– carbs, protein and fats- that the body cannot create itself and therefore needs to source externally in order to ensure optimal functioning of the body. And, in my opinion, thank goodness for that as it means we get to EAT!
Carbs can be broken down into simple and complex carbohydrates. If we think back to our brief chemistry lesson in the Sugar article, we remember that monosaccharides and disaccharides contain one and two units respectively and it is these types of sugars that make up our simple carbohydrates. Complex carbs are those which have three or more molecules, called Polysaccharides. When you eat food, your body breaks down the carbs into their smallest units of sugar (such as fructose, galactose and glucose) which are absorbed by the bloodstream and transported to the liver which in turn converts those sugar units into glucose. This glucose is the primary fuel for the body’s basic functions and any physical movement. A certain amount of excess glucose is stored (as glycogen) within the liver and skeletal muscle with the remainder being turned into body fat – to be used as fuel when the stored glycogen runs out.
– Fruit juice
– Table sugars
– Baked Goods
– White bread/rice/pasta
– Wholegrain bread/rice/pasta
Erm, isn’t that pretty much a list of all the foods we eat? Yeh, pretty much! As you can see from those examples, the majority of the food we consume contains carbs to some varying degree. And yet, this is a food group that we are told, over and over, is bad for us. We are encouraged to ‘cut carbs’ by seemingly every hack nutritionist, guru and celebrity. Beyoncé stated that she was “limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol…” in her Homecoming documentary. Whilst eating an apple I might point out. Roughly 15g of carbs right there. Love the music, hate the bonkers diet.
Are there some carb-based foods that have a higher level of micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) than others? Yes. Should we prioritise those more micronutrient dense foods in our diet? Well, sure. Should we demonise the carb-based foods that don’t have as high a micro-nutritional value as the others? HECK NO! Look, it doesn’t take a science degree to know that all those delicious cakes & pastries that I am *obsessed* with are not necessarily the most nutritious foods on the planet. However, food is about so much more than just calories and nutrients. It’s about socialising and about comfort, it’s about memories (the smell of Brandy will always remind me of my Grandma’s tipsy Christmas puddings!). It’s about sitting down with your kids and making silly words with alphabet spaghetti, or making your best friend a cake, just because. If food was just a simple matter of calories and nutrients then why do we base our huge life moments – weddings, birthdays, wakes, around food?
Any excuse to show my beautiful wedding cakes – made by RAW members!
Harking back to that ‘carbs are fattening’ myth… Carbs and protein contain roughly 4kcal per gram, with fat ringing in at around 9kcal per gram. So how is it that carbs are more fattening than protein or fat? Simple answer is – they’re not.
As we’ve just learnt, our bodies store carbs as glycogen within the muscle (so it can quickly fuel you as you sprint up a flight of stairs), and for every molecule of glycogen the body stores, it also stores 2-3 grams of water. And this is where a lot of confusion happens- if a person is weighing themselves daily and eats more carbs than usual on Monday, they will likely notice the scales jump up on Tuesday and assume it is because they had that extra round of toast and therefore put on weight. But in actual fact, whilst, yes, the number on the scales may have moved upwards, this is simply the extra water you are holding on to – not body fat! The body cannot lay down considerable fat stores that quickly. This also works in reverse – a person who opts for a low carb or Ketogenic-style diet will often notice considerable weight loss within the first week or two, however this is mostly just water being stripped away, due to the lack of carbs being stored. Not to mention that, if you have cut out carbs, then you have cut potentially 60%+ of your daily calories. Therefore, it is less about the carbs causing the weight loss and more about the significant calorie reduction.
There are a myriad of diets that call for a culling of carbs, from Atkins to the Ketogenic diet, Paleo to the (absurd) ‘Carnivore’ diet (there is always another company or influencer ready to take our money in exchange for a poorly put together diet plan), but thanks to the DIETFIT’s study, where over 600 people were randomly assigned either a low carb or low fat diet over a 12 month period, in order to assess which diet pattern was more effective for weight loss. I’ll link the study at the bottom for those interested, but the up shot? Neither style of eating was significantly better at helping people lose weight. What did help these people lose weight was an increase in activity and a few lessons in nutrition and cooking. Pretty basic stuff right?
This all said, I will concede that it is much, much easier to over consume those highly palatable carb-based foods (delicious cakes and what-not) than it is a high protein food. For example, we’ve all had those days where we could eat round after buttery round of white toast and before we know it – half a loaf has been demolished! Whereas I don’t think many of us have stood over a tray of roasted chicken breasts and eaten one after another? So yes, reducing the amount of carbs we eat (in the form of cakes, pastries and sweets) as a population is probably not the worst idea we’ve had, but we certainly don’t need to completely eliminate all carbs! In fact, if we try to reduce the amount of carbs we are eating too much, our bodies will use the protein we’re consuming as fuel, which is problematic for a couple of reasons. For starters, as a population, we tend to under consume protein and therefore need all that we’re eating to be used for its primary role – to help our bodies repair our muscles and lay down new muscle tissue. We ought not forget that our hearts are muscles and that we want to hang on to as much lean muscle mass as possible, especially as we age.
Secondly, if a person has increased their protein consumption to make up for their reduced carb intake, then they are risking additional stress on their kidneys if they maintain this way of eating in the long term.
If you’re wondering what I mean by ‘highly palatable’ then this apple, raisin and butterscotch Dutch pancake is the best example I can find!
Ready for some positive carb news? Now we have wrapped our heads around some of the carb myths, let’s look at the nutritional benefits instead. I am going to focus on some of the nutrients that are found mainly in bread, pasta and rice, as these are the foods that tend to get culled when people say, “I’m cutting out carbs!” (And because I feel confident that you don’t need me to tell you to eat fruits and veggies… c’mon, you already know the benefits of those!)
The main nutrient to focus on is poor, neglected fibre- we all focus so much on reducing carbs and tracking calories, that we forget to keep an eye on this vital nutrient. It is recommended that adults consume 30g of fibre per day which may help lower the risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke and bowel cancer. Fibre also helps us poo! Leaving the skins on our fruits and veggies (where logical… please don’t eat an orange peel because… eurgh) helps get us there, but the real bang for buck when it comes to fibre is wholegrains. A serving of wholegrain pasta (75g dry weight) contains roughly 7 grams of fibre, which gives us a big nudge in the right direction towards our recommended 30g. Again, just a little comparison- an apple contains roughly 2 grams, which is still good, but hopefully you can see that if you have cut out bread, pasta and rice that it is going to take A LOT of fruits and veggies to get you to 30g of fibre.
Alongside fibre, B vitamins are found within wholegrain bread, pasta and rice. B vitamins are important for energy levels, eye sight, the healthy functioning of the brain, hormone production to name just a few!
Wholegrains also contain Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Protein – hardly an nutritionally void food!
So, the next time you hear someone say that carbs are bad, or that they are cutting them out of their diet, remind them that, as with most things, it’s a lot more nuanced and complicated than ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and that often, the stress of restricting a food group causes far more harm than the actual food ever will. Oh, and white potatoes are not the enemy either.
Dietfits Study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29466592
Myth Busting Series Pt 1 – Sugar
Well, it has been a hot minute since I put pen to paper as it were, and what better way to ease myself back into article writing than with the completely neutral, uncontentious subject of debunking nutrition myths. Nutrition is a subject guaranteed to create debate, with everyone from your doctor to your best friend having an opinion, not to mention all of the online ‘guru’s and ‘wellness influencers’ determined to convince you that carbs are the enemy, gluten is positively deadly and sugar is probably the reason your wife left you.
Before we get going, I would like to take a minute to recognise that, for some people, the next few articles might be a little… uncomfortable at times. This is because what we eat and why we eat is a complex and personal subject. Think about it- some people choose not to eat particular foods for ethical or religious reasons, some for health concerns and some may have complex psychological issues around food. Remember all those times you were told to clear your plate before being allowed to get down from the table? Of course, a very understandable comment when we think of a post-war generation for whom food had been both scarce and expensive, however it isn’t too much of a hop, skip and a jump to make a connection between this and over-eating in later life. There is also a frankly overwhelming amount of misinformation and questionable marketing that has led to many foods and food groups becoming demonised in the public eye. So, as you go on to read these articles know that it is okay for new information to feel uncomfortable at times, but that ultimately as we break down these myths we are allowing ourselves freedom from arbitrary food rules and the judgement from our peers each time we opt for chips instead of a side salad.
I encourage you to be kind to yourself if it gets uncomfortable and to sit with those feelings and explore where they have come from. I’ll also link some excellent resources at the bottom for anyone seeking a little extra support or understanding.
Did somebody say cake? Within the first half hour or so of meeting me it quickly becomes clear that I like food, and more specifically, I love anything sweet. Cakes, chocolates, chewy sweets and my ultimate in food snobbery and adoration – Patisserie. A old school friend is a patisserie chef and I covet her Instagram account more times than I care to admit.
And whilst you may not have quite the same level of interest in sweet things as I, in fact you might be one of those strange creatures that says things like ‘oh pudding? I’d much rather a starter and a main… I don’t really have a sweet tooth, truth be told’ – I can quite happily assure you that your brain and body LOVE sugar. Let’s dive into the nitty gritty and I’ll explain why your body is a bit of a fiend for sugar.
Sugar is one of the three types of carbohydrate; sugar, starch and fibre. Now, in the same way we can break down the different types of carbs, we can also break down the types of sugar we have – I’ll keep this relatively simple or else we’re going to have a full-blown chemistry lesson on our hands and I don’t own anything with an elbow patch.
Monosaccharides or ‘Simple’ Sugars – ‘mono’ meaning one ‘Saccharides’ meaning ‘sugar’
Disaccharides or ‘Compound’ Sugars – these are two monosaccharides bound by a glyosidic bond
• Sucrose – (glucose & fructose)
• Lactose – (glucose & galactose)
• Maltose – (glucose & glucose)
Now, if you can think back to high school biology, you’ll remember that glucose is the fuel for all our cells and is also made during photosynthesis i.e. all plants contain glucose. That’s why your body is a big fan of sugar- glucose is the chemical fuelling it! And even if you didn’t consume ANY sugar at all (which is exceptionally hard to do and I wouldn’t recommend it) your body would just turn whatever food you consume into glucose anyway.
And that’s as far as I am taking you down that rabbit hole, because, whilst there is a lot more information that could be learned it isn’t super necessary for the point of this article.
Sugar and spice and all things… nice?! Now, you may have heard the term ‘refined sugar’, perhaps in the context of ‘refined sugar free’ whilst browsing the supermarket aisle or scrolling websites for recipes. ‘Refined’ sugar is what we know as regular white table sugar, y’know – the stuff you couldn’t buy in quick enough when you had builders in. White sugar is a disaccharide, sucrose to be specific. When we consume ‘regular’ sugar, our body breaks it down into its component monosaccharides – fructose and glucose. The glucose is sent off to fuel our cells and the fructose is used for certain organ functions, with any surplus being stored as fat. (FYI a surplus of any food group will be stored as fat).
Now, we all know that sugar is certainly something that our western culture consumes a staggering amount of (approx. 2 million tonnes per year!) and could do with reducing significantly for a variety of health reasons that we’re all well aware of at this point so I won’t lament the subject any more. However, regular sugar has been demonised as a monstrosity that causes people to gasp when I’m seen putting a measly half teaspoon in my morning tea and in recent years the market has been flooded with a host of alternatives to sugar: date syrup, agave, honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup and so on.
There is a rather insidious, pervasive trend of marketing these products as a ‘healthier & more nutritious’ alternative to regular sugar. Suddenly we’re encouraged to use date paste in our baking, agave instead of demerara on our porridge and I think the Canadian economy is booming from the amount of maple syrup we consume. We are told that regular sugar is bad for us and that if we truly care about our health we must buy and use these alternatives. But who is telling us this? Where is this messaging come from? Is it Government guidelines such as the ‘5 A Day’ campaign? Is it health care professionals? Is it based on scientific research into refined sugar? That would be a hard ‘no’. Refined sugar, in terms of health, means very little. Nothing, I’d dare say. The act of refining is simply the process a sugar beet or cane goes through to produce sugar. The message that refined sugar is bad for us, is coming from industry. Celebrities are paid to endorse a product and we are convinced by clever, repetitive marketing and labelling that these products are worth the extra price tag.
And what a price tag! 250g of coconut sugar is £7 whereas 1kg of white sugar is just 69p. Call me cynical but I think the reason industry is so keen to have us believe that regular sugar is bad for us is something to do with their profit margin, as opposed to concern over our health.
‘Nectar’ not ‘Sugar’, ‘Crystallised’ not ‘processed’ or ‘refined’
And here’s the kicker. The so called ‘alternatives to sugar’ are sugar! Honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup all contain glucose and fructose. Just the same as regular old white sugar. Your body breaks the glyosidic bond between the glucose and fructose molecules just the same as it does with regular sugar. Your body can’t tell whether a glucose molecule has come from a teaspoon of coconut sugar or white sugar. It just knows it has glucose available to use. It really doesn’t care that you paid a heftier price tag for it.
A sugar alternative with 93.1g of sugars…
But what about all those extra nutrients Steff? Yes, these alternatives do contain a marginal amount of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) but not in any significant amount per gram to outweigh the huge amount of sugar you’d be consuming in order to get a decent dose. For example there’s 1.7mg of iron per 100g of coconut sugar compared to the 2.7g of iron per 100g of spinach. I think we all know that 100g of sugar, whether it’s regular white sugar or coconut is not exactly #health. As much as we might not like it, 100g of spinach is far more beneficial to our health than 100g of coconut sugar.
So… now what? Now that we know that these alternatives are not really the beaming light of sugar salvation that their manufacturers wish they were, we can decide whether to use them based on a few simple questions; Do you like how they taste? Do they work as well as regular sugar in your recipes? And a pretty important one – can you afford them? If you answer yes to these questions then great, you do you! But if you’ve been spending a small fortune on a product you don’t really like, that turns your cakes into a gloopy mess… then maybe pick up a packet of Silverspoon next time?
And as far as the actual guidelines regarding sugar intake, it is ‘Free Sugars’ that we need to be aware of monitoring. Free sugars are essentially any sugar that is not bound within a cell wall, for example any sugar that can be added into foods, syrups as well as fruit juice (as the process of juicing breaks the sugar away from the cell.) The guidelines are no more than 30g of free sugars for adults, 24g for children 7yrs-10yrs and 19g for children 4yrs- 6yrs.
We do not need to worry about sugars from whole foods such as fruit, as the sugar is contained within the cell, meaning our bodies have to put in a bit of oomph in order to break it down, plus when we eat fruit we truly do get a whole host of other benefits such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.
So there you have it! Go forth and enjoy your 30g of free sugar however you wish!
Pre- and Post-Natal: When fear isn’t enough of a reason to hide away
A few months ago I made the decision to embark on a Pre and Postnatal Exercise Referral Course. This came as a little bit of a shock to those that know me well as I am not exactly the most… relaxed person regarding the subject. In all honesty I have been ever-so-slightly terrified of childbirth since I learnt that babies do not, in actual fact, depart the body via the belly button. Which to me still makes more sense than where they do exit. The belly button just feels like a more direct route y’know? No? Sigh.
The question most people have asked me is ‘Why?! Why put yourself through it when you can barely discuss it without feeling faint?’ and I must admit I have wondered this myself on more than one occasion, typically after telling a female friend that I am doing this course, which often signals an opportunity to be regaled with their labour story with no detail too small or insignificant to be spared. Or in one case, re-enacted.
So why would a woman so freaked out by this, who has some pretty wacky ideas to birthing alternatives, decide to submerse herself in all things pregnancy? Well, essentially, I got really annoyed, which I’d like to think is unlike me. Ha. But yes, I was annoyed to the point that my annoyance eventually outweighed my fear. I found myself annoyed at the misinformation or just plain lack of information regarding exercise before, during and after pregnancy, at the old wives tales perpetrating society that shamed a woman if she even looked in the direction of a gym whilst pregnant and the scorn from certain areas of the fitness community if she didn’t turn into an Amazon of a woman who boshed out muscle up’s the minute those two blue lines appeared.
I also found myself feeling really peeved that I knew of so many Mums that since childbirth had needed to massively adapt their day to day living around toilet breaks, that couldn’t play a sport that they used to or that every time they laughed had to pretzel themselves into some inhuman form.
“In the three months after childbirth, a third of women suffer from incontinence. Yet a third of those women were embarrassed about mentioning it to their partners and almost half with friends.
Even more worrying? Almost 38% of women said they were self-conscious speaking about the problem with a healthcare professional.” 
I discovered that in France it is standard practise for women to be given 20 sessions with a pelvic floor physiotherapist in order to ensure they regain bladder and bowel control.  In contrast, here in the UK woman must request this service, something many woman are either too embarrassed to do or simply unaware that the service is there in the first place. Once again, I can’t help but feel that woman are being underserved and expected to quietly go about their daily lives as mass investors in Tena Lady.
And that’s why I chose this course. Because it isn’t right that at a time when a woman has, frankly, more than enough on her plate that she should have to battle through the mass of vastly conflicting information regarding the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of exercise during and after pregnancy, the judgements, the unsolicited advice, the stigma, the silent pressure to just accept that incontinence as normal and to just ‘crack on and deal with it’. And also so I could finally face my fear and stop putting my fingers in my ears every time the topic of child birth arises – which as I near 30 seems to be EVERY. FREAKING. DAY.
After lots of research I decided to do my course with Girls Gone Strong as not only do they teach the nitty-gritty science components such as Anatomy and Physiology, Nutrition and Psychology, but they are also re-educating both coaches and the general population in terms of how we approach exercise and pregnancy i.e. being aware of the language that we use, thinking of the reasonings behind the advice we give and remembering at all times that a pregnant woman has complete autonomy over the choices that she makes, regardless of whether people agree with those choices or not.
Once I have qualified, I will be counted as a Pre and Postnatal exercise Specialist which means that I will be able to provide exercise and nutrition coaching to woman both during pregnancy and after. I will have the extra knowledge to be able to guide a woman through an exercise program during her pregnancy and afterwards- no matter how many years ago she had her baby!
During my studies (and after of course!) I would really love to hear of your experiences of pregnancy and the weeks, months and years that follow child birth, so if you are happy to share then feel free to grab me for a natter as it will help me understand the various trials and tribulations a mother goes through, hopefully leading to me being better able to understand and empathise with my future clients and hopefully anticipate some of the hurdles they will face.
Wish me luck!
Are you ready to fight the good fight?
I started this article thinking that I would write a quick little summin’ summin’ about some amazing podcasts I have been listening to that I thought would be of interest to some of you. However, it turned into a little bit more than that, as I quickly realised that one of the reasons I wanted to recommend these podcasts is not just because of the content, but the quality and authenticity of the those providing the information. So instead of a quick post, I’ve channelled my Grandma and gone full on, around the houses, no detail too small or irrelevant, story time extravaganza. You might want a snack to hand.
There are some amazing health and fitness podcasts out there that are hosted by some incredibly knowledgeable and most importantly, qualified people. These are people with the education and experience to deliver complex and life-affecting information to the general public. However they can be hard to find as there is so much noise in the health and fitness industry with many people baying for your attention: there’s social media influencers trying to sell you detox teas, newspapers with headlines screaming ‘Bacon Causes Cancer!’ or ‘Soya Products Cause Infertility!’ and celebrities endorsing some very questionable individuals who promote pseudoscience and make grand claims of ‘Miraculous Cancer Curing Juice Cleanse!’. N.B taking a celebrity’s advice on anything medical or health related is not dissimilar to asking your Lego-obsessed 6 year old for advice on building your new extension. It will leak. And potentially involve a steam cleaner á la Gwyneth Paltrow (if you know you know, if not I’ll leave that for you to Google and thank me for later).
All of this chatter can make it very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction and can make living a healthy, well-balanced life seem extremely complicated and overwhelming. When you scroll through social media it is all too easy to come across a page that appears legit – the person ‘looks the part’, confidently makes grand claims, shows ‘before and after’ photos or there’s a celebrity advertising a product that looks ‘techy and complicated’… well it must work right? Throw in a slightly greying white man in a lab coat and voila! The search for the fountain of youth can be called off because ‘We’re-A-Big-Giant-Scam.com’ has found it and will sell it to you for the low, low price of… your soul.
Okay, but seriously, some of these companies spend millions in order to appear legit. We’re talking; extremely biased ‘research’, marketing campaigns with celeb endorsements, false claims, pseudoscientific language, high tech looking gadgets, all of are which designed to dupe the general public into believing and buying into this person or companies’ agenda.
In recent years the general public have become more sceptical of claims made by the lifestyle slash health and fitness industry, demanding evidence and proof (yay!), which unfortunately has lead to some companies or individuals mis-quoting scientific research papers in order to try and give some kind of validity to their claims (eurgh). They are reliant on us not to dig any deeper – I’m not sure how many of you have read scientific research papers but for me (and even Sam at times!) it is really freaking hard! Accounting for flaws, potential bias, not to mention reading every other study completed in the same field… it’s arduous and brain meltingly time consuming – plus you gotta pay for them! The abstracts are available for free but that is the equivalent of just reading the blurb on the back of the book. And if a full study is free then you must ask yourself ‘is this a genuine study or a fake?’. All in all, not something that many of us have time to do right? ‘Ooh I know, after I’ve cooked dinner, been to the gym, put the kids to bed and walked the dog I’ll jump on PubMed and look up that DIETFITS study I heard Jeremy Vine talking about earlier’. Said no one ever. And that is what these companies rely on – that we won’t have the time or inclination to question them. That we will see something that appears legit and accept it.
‘What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe not one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and sceptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’- Carl Sagan.
So let’s not get mad or judge those that do buy into this stuff (because now we know just how hard it can be to tell the good from the bad) but rather, let’s get furious at those working so hard to con the general public into their bogus theories and products.
So, how do you separate the good from the bad? In my experience it’s practise and switching over to critical thinking mode. ‘Who is this person or company? Are they profiting in anyway? What education do they have? What do others in their profession say about their research/product/ethics?’ Questions like these will help you see through the false claims that at best serve to part you with a decent chunk of money and at worse can risk your health. Risk your health? Really Steff? Sadly, yes. Timothy Burrow, a herbalist in America has just been jailed for advising the parents of a diabetic boy to use Lavender oil in replace of ‘poisonous’ insulin. The child died. We may think that ‘this would never happen in good ol’ Blighty! We have more sense surely!’ Remind yourself of that the next time you see an article regarding a ‘detox diet’ or ‘juice cleanse to remove poisonous toxins from the body’. It’s a slippery slope.
Well, on that note it is time to swing back to the purpose of this little tirade, PODCASTS! We are all increasingly time-poor but we do have a fascination with learning about current health trends and ways to improve our lifestyle and health. We all want to know how to manage stress effectively and eat a more nourishing diet whilst minimising our risk of chronic illness and increasing our energy. Fabulous! Overwhelming but fabulous! And this why I love Podcasts: they break down complex science into much easier-to-understand chunks, plus they often have a hefty dose of common sense thrown in and if something really grabs you, you can go away to further research it. You can pop them on while you drive to work, or cook dinner, and feel smug over all that multitasking. I highly recommend the following all of which are available for free on Spotify and Apple Music:
‘The Food Medic’ by Dr Hazel Wallace
‘Ben Coomber Radio’ by Ben Coomber (The Awesome Supplement founder and Nutrition Coach)
‘The Doctors Kitchen’ by Dr Rupy Aujla
‘The Bodcast’ by Chloe Madeley
‘The Science of Happiness’ by Dacher Keltner
‘Food for Thought’ Rhiannon Lambert
And if you’re ever interested in a particular subject then please don’t be afraid to ask your coaches here at RAW and we’ll give you an honest answer, or point you in the direction of a reliable source.
Thanks for reading people!
Functional Training Part 1: Walking
We always hear people talking about ‘functional training’, and it usually involves flapping some ropes about, tossing a tyre and the occasional swing of a hammer, but really the most ‘functional’ exercises you can do are walking, running, picking stuff up (deadlifts) and getting up/getting down (get ups & squats).
So, with the intention of minimising the occurrence and severity of associated injuries and pains, and to make you as functional as possible, I’m going to teach and guide you along a path of self-assessment and adjustment, to achieve good technique and practice of these most Functional Movements.
This article is the first of a four-part series which will address each of the primary movements.
With the exception of those who are unable to walk, walking is the most important exercise you can do.
We use it every single day, without failure, and can’t get much done without it.
So, seems you do it so much; shouldn’t we make sure you’re doing it right?
Believe it or not, walking isn’t as simple as you might like to think… and a decent movement professional can tell a lot from just watching you put one foot in front of the other.
Although it seems like a really basic movement (and it should, you’ve been doing it for almost your entire life), there are many joints involved and therefore numerous ways it can be performed; few of them being ‘right’.
I put ‘right’ in inverted apostrophes because I believe every movement the human body allows us to do was designed for a purpose and therefore it isn’t ‘wrong’, although it may not be optimal for the desired output in the general example. It’s quite possible that what I’ll later refer to as ‘right’ may not be so for some people, due to injury, disability, deformity, anomalous anatomy or something else that didn’t instantly spring to mind – this accounts for about 4% of the population, so although it’s not common, it’s worth being aware of. But use your common sense in these cases and of course ask me about any uncertainties you have.
So, from now on, whenever I describe a movement or technique as ‘right’ (or any synonym to this), you can interpret that instead as ‘The most optimal movement pattern in most cases where someone has no circumstantial reason to deviate’.
Back to the basics
I know what you’re thinking, isn’t walking as basic as it gets?
Well, no it isn’t!
Before you can walk, you have to first be able to stand – and when we look at how you stand, we can get a pretty good idea of where problems might arise when you walk.
Let’s do a quick experiment. Kick your shoes off and get up on your feet. (If you were already standing, stay still)
Okay, now don’t fidget or move or anything.
Just take a look at your feet; spot anything that you think is a warning sign?
Give yourself a score out of 5 and we’ll see how well you did.
Keep still as we go through self-assessment; and all you have to do is give a tick for everything you get right.
1. Are your feet parallel to each other? (pointing the same way as one another)
2. Are they directly underneath the hip joint? (vertically beneath the bone at the front of your hip)
3. Are your knees pointing the same way as your feet?
4. Are your knees slightly bent? (you should be able to feel it but not see it)
5. Is the weight on the inner side of the ball of your feet? (little toe every-so-slightly touches the ground)
Okay, as you were.
So how did you do? 5 out of 5?
Well if you did, you’re either in the top 8% of the population or you’re a little cheating so and so!
So those are some of the most obvious signs we look for when assessing someone’s standing position, and the rest are a bit harder for self-assessment, so we’ll cover them in the articles on the deadlift, the get up and the squat.
Now that we know what you’re doing wrong, can we just straight-up adjust these and expect everything to be happy days?
Well, to a degree, yes.
In the majority of cases, functional discrepancies are formed through habitual or repetitive adoption of an imbalanced motion or action; which means that you can undo these functional discrepancies by replacing those habits with correct ones.
The Easiest Way Out Of A Hole Is Back The Way You Came In.
As much as there’s a reason why you developed these imbalances and we should be conscious of what that is, there is a lot that can be undone by simply correcting the faults we see and forming those corrections as habits.
So, here’s a basic guide to correcting faults in walking and standing mechanics.
Now I’ll say first of all, this is NOT for ALL cases. And you should seriously consider if your body has good reason for developing those faults before changing them.
But, with that taken into consideration, here is you go-to guide for good walking and standing mechanics:
It’s easiest to identify changes from extremes, so let’s get you into a bad postural stance to start. Head forward, shoulders rounded forward, ribcage up, lumbar overextended, anterior pelvic tilt, feet turned out, foot arch collapsed.
When readjusting posture, we always either start from the bottom or the top. So let’s start at the bottom. Place your feet under your hips, both facing the same direction. Now, without allowing the feet to move, add external rotation from your hips, screwing your feet into the ground – left foot anticlockwise and right foot clockwise.
Now your feet are in the right place and your hips are tight, we carry that hip tension into your pelvis by tensing your butt cheeks. This should tuck your pelvis underneath you (picture a dog tucking its tail between its legs). Once your pelvis is in the right place, which will happen naturally after steps 1 and 2, you can then ease a bit of the tension from your glutes (butt cheeks), still maintaining that structural position.
With that position set using your glutes, you now need to use your abs to hold that in place so you can relax your glutes for movement. To do this, take a deep breath in and imagine putting all that air into your belly. (don’t breathe out until step 5)
As you prepare to let that breath out, pull your ribcage down onto your upper abdomen, and brace your abs. Bracing your abs shouldn’t create any movement, it’s simply contract the muscle so that it doesn’t budge. With your ribs down and abs secure, take a strong breath out and move onto step 6.
At this point you should have everything from your feet to your trunk firmly in place. Now we need to align your shoulders and neck. To do the shoulders, draw the heads of your arms back and spread your collarbones. As you do this, externally rotate your shoulders and face you palms to the sky. Before you relax those arms down, center your head above your shoulders so that a vertical line could be drawn, connecting your ankles, knees, hips, ribs, shoulders and ears.
With everything aligned, you can now take a final breath in to firm that position. As you breathe that breath slowly out, let your arms fall down at your sides, with thumbs pointed forward and a softness in all those muscles except the abs that want to retain about 20% of maximum contraction at all times.
Walking doesn’t actually vary that much from standing, in terms of the technical components.
You keep the same posture you had at the end of your standing technique, and then apply movement without deviation.
The only bits you really have to work on with this are how you create the movement and your foot strike; the rest is all technical stuff that shouldn’t even be need for the average person with no deep-set functional issues.
The main fault I see, particularly with those suffering with low back pain, is that they put their bodyweight above the front foot as they step. The main muscles that should be used to create the walking motion are the glutes and calves… two muscles designed to move your leg backward. But if you put your bodyweight onto that leg and contract those muscles, your create a force that will either push the ground backward or you forward, and 9 times out of 10 that ground ain’t moving! So, when you’re walking, think about moving the ground backwards – the world is your treadmill!
In a standing position, you should have a lot of externally-rotational force going from your hips into your feet, but this needs to be counterbalanced when you walk, or you’ll twist your feet out and put all the pressure onto the cartilage and ligaments in the joints (that’s not good). To combat this, step 2 is to put weight onto the inside of the heel of the leg that leads (in the air). Because the leg is in the air, you can’t physically put weight into that heel – so this won’t contradict step 1 – but trying to will activate a little muscle in the hip called the pectineus which stabilises your hip in opposition to your glute.
With your glutes and calves doing all the pulling power and with the pectineus engaged, in theory you’re walking in a straight line with your feet pointing straight ahead. We now need to look at what happens when it lands. Instinctively, your body will want to walk with a heel strike on each landing, and it’s correct. But we seem to have misinterpreted what exactly our bodies mean by this. Instead of landing on the back of your heel with your toes up (like you probably currently do), your moving mechanics would be much smoother if you landed on the bottom of your heel with your toes 2 or 3 inches of f the ground.
The next stage is to put that foot down in front to take your next step. Only, should that foot really be stepping in front? Thinking practically you’d say yes. But I’m going to say no. Because I want you to move your whole body forward with that leg, leaving the other one behind. So technically, you may be moving that leg forward, but you’re not putting it in front of you (at least not by much).So when that heel strikes, it should pretty much be directly underneath your chin. That doesn’t mean stick your chin out in front, but instead just lean slightly forward from your hips. This helps with the mechanics of loading onto your glutes and calves.
As I mentioned earlier, there are occasions where what I prescribing here isn’t suitable, and without you in front of me, I can’t tell you whether that’s you or not.
But as a rule, don’t be stupid. If you feel pain or discomfort more than just the desire to return to your old position, then your body doesn’t think that it’s a very good position for you, and it’s usually right. However, it’s very rare that you should stay in your body’s preferred position permanently, as it’s usually the case that your body is telling you that because that’s the position that accommodates for whatever underlying issues you have
So first, you’ll have to repair those issues (if that’s possible) before you proceed to adopt the aforementioned stances.
If you don’t have the knowledge on how to address these issues, there are lots of professionals out there who are training in movement mechanics and posture, and can help you unravel what’s going on and restore you back to optimal mechanics.
And as it just so happens, I’m one of them!
So, if you want my help, here’s a little link to get in touch with me and have an assessment of what’s going on – Movement Training
I hope this article helped you and of course fire away any questions you have in the comments section either here or on Facebook.
And don’t forget to stay tuned for the next 3 parts to this series, covering how to Run, Deadlift, Squat & Get Up correctly.
Always Here To Help
Advanced Nutritionist, Strength & Conditioning Coach, and Head Fitness Coach
RAW Results Aimed Workouts
No More Taboo: Synchronising your training with your Menstrual Cycle
Bizarrely, despite the amount of impact it has on diet and exercise, the female menstrual cycle is often deemed an awkward subject to discuss, especially with a male trainer!
It often takes a long time (I’m talking up to 6 months) before a female client feels comfortable to talk to me about their period, and sadly this means that they go through this time without any guidance on how to handle the different stages of their menstruation.
But I’m here to cut the tension with a knife and tell you straight out exactly what’s going on and how you should deal with it to ensure you’re giving your body the right exercise and dietary prescription at each stage of menstruation.
Firstly, I’d like to clarify that:
1. No, I am not a woman
2. No, I don’t have any first-hand experience of this process
3. Yes, it’s part of my job to know this stuff, so..
4. Yes, I am speaking from extensive knowledge on the subject.
5. Yes, you should ask me if you are unsure of anything (I’m here to help)
Without knowing enough about the role that it has on exercise and nutrition (and vice verse), your period can seem quite the enemy to your health & fitness goals. But when you truly understand their involvement, you can start to use your hormones to your advantage and go through the whole month looking and feeling great!
So, throughout this article I’m going to give you an overview of what’s happening and how you need to structure your training and diet through each phase.
What Exactly Is The Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is the series of changes your body goes through in preparation for a possible pregnancy. About once a month, the uterus grows a new, thickened lining (endometrium) that holds a fertilized egg. But when there is no fertilized egg to start a pregnancy, the uterus sheds its lining to prepare for the next cycle. This is the monthly menstrual bleeding (A.K.A menstruation) that a woman has from her early teen years until her menstrual periods end around age 50 (menopause).
The menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of menstrual bleeding, Day 1, up to Day 1 of the next menstrual bleeding. Although 28 days is the average cycle length, it is normal to have a cycle that is shorter or longer.
A teen’s cycles may be longer (up to 45 days), growing shorter over several years.
Between ages 25 and 35, most women’s cycles are regular, generally lasting 21 to 35 days.
Around ages 40 to 42, cycles tend to be at their shortest and most regular. This is followed by 8 to 10 years of longer, less predictable cycles until menopause.
Phase 1: Menstrual
This phase is commonly recognised as the end of your menstrual cycle as it is the point when your PMS symptoms start to subside, but to be scientifically accurate, we’ll be addressing it at the beginning.
You’ll know this phase as the point when bleeding takes place, typically lasting 5-7 days, with often the first day or two still feeling the effects of cramps and fatigue.
At this point, water retention and increased body heat from the previous cycle will clear up and you should be feeling a bit more like yourself again.
As you’re just off the back of the Luteal Phase (PMS), it wouldn’t be wise to jump straight back in with heavy lifting, however, without the raised body temperature and cramping, you’ll be able to begin properly working out again and making some good progress with your strength & endurance.
Avoid – 1 rep maxes, HIIT, anaerobic exercise (sprinting, Olympic Lifting, Powerlifting, etc)
Consider – endurance exercise (running, cycling, swimming), higher rep ranges (8 or more reps per set), standard strength exercises (squats, deadlifts, press ups, pull ups, rows, etc)
At this stage, it’s likely your metabolism will progressively slow down, so it’s worth keeping your calorie consumption in mind whilst you wean off those crave foods from the previous phase! Generally, you wouldn’t need to make any changes until you’re a few days through the cycle, and then you might want to reduce calories incrementally to accommodate for the metabolic rate that keeps slowing down over this phase. In reference to the previous phase (which you’ll find out about later), you’ll now have a higher insulin sensitivity, so carbohydrates can make their return and fuel you back up for your increased activity levels.
Avoid – the binge foods from the last phase, high fat intake, previous calorie consumption
Consider – eat 100kcal less each day until starting intake is reached, replacing some of your fats with carbohydrates
Phase 2: Follicular
This phase commences at the point when you stop bleeding from menstruation. It has the least defined length of time out of all the phases and is the biggest dictator on how frequent your periods are. This is the point when you pretty much forget about your menstrual cycle, simply because there are no symptoms to think about.
Your energy levels are back, there’s no bloating and you just generally feel and look great.
So now is time to get serious with your goals.
The Follicular phase is when you have your highest pain tolerance, so it’s now when you should be looking at doing your fitness tests and heavy workouts. You can handle a lot more demand, so utilise this period to really get some work done!
Avoid – lighter workouts and long rest periods both between sets of exercises and between workouts themselves.
Consider – 1 rep maxes, anaerobic training, high-demand exercises, higher training frequency.
If you’re getting things right with your training, then now is the time to go mad with your carbohydrate consumption (pasta, rice, potato and oats, not sweets and cakes!). A higher carbohydrate intake will up your performance when training, accelerate your metabolism and recover quickly from all that hard work. It’s also definitely time to consider upping protein intake; your body’s gonna need it.
Avoid – fat-dense foods, low-carb foods, low calorie intake.
Consider – complex carbs (pasta, rice, potato, oats, etc), tracking calories in vs calories out, lots of veggies.
Phase 3: Ovulatory
As the name suggests, this phase is where ovulation takes place. Although this phase only lasts a day or two, it still has some slight changes from the follicular phase that are just worth noting.
You’ll still have that high pain threshold so don’t hold back in your training. Just be aware that, as you go through these couple of days, connective tissues (particularly around the hips and lower back) will become soft meaning that you have a slight proneness to injury. Of course, if you’ve got your super-awesome RAW coach by your side, you can proceed rest assured that your techniques are spot on and you’re doing the exercises that are best suited to you.
Avoid – technically-challenging and high-risk exercises (Olympic Lifting, calisthenics, plyometrics, etc)
Consider – Compound strength exercise (back squat, deadlift, hip thrust, bench press, bent-over row, etc)
Over this short period, you may notice yourself feeling more hungry and tending toward carb-loading, so make a conscious effort to keep your macro-ratios (carbs, fats, proteins) in balance. To make the carb issue even more of a cautious topic, your insulin sensitivity will be decreasing, so those carbs won’t just burn off like they have done over the follicular phase. Despite this need to keep carbs in line, you can probably get away with eating a bit more, so perhaps alter your calorie intake to accommodate for the hunger and help you stick to your plan.
Avoid – heavy carbohydrate meals, low protein intake
Consider – a more rounded macro ratio (40C:30F:30P), increasing calorie consumption by 1-200kcal depending on hunger.
Phase 4: Luteal
Now ovulation is over, it’s time for everyone’s most loved phase in the cycle: Luteal phase (A.K.A PMS).
The Luteal phase, although unpleasant for just about everyone, can be a very different experience from person to person. Some women don’t experience symptoms until about a week in, whereas others can experience symptoms right from the beginning of the two-weeks.
As I imagine you already know (assuming you’re a female reader or just know a female reader), the symptoms related to this phase include high body temperature, fatigue, water retention, muscle & joint ache, lack of concentration, cravings & hunger. What a list hey?
Generally, this is when you’re going to feel least like training, which is totally understandable when you take a look at all those symptoms! But there is still much that can be accomplished over this period, just so long as you train smart and accompany it with solid nutrition. Bearing in mind the higher body temperature and increased fatigue, you won’t get much out of high intensity or muscular endurance exercise. There’s no need to worry about having the time off your more intense exercise, as it will give your body time to recover from all the hard work from the previous phases. At this point, you’ll benefit from taking the intensity down a few notches and putting your focus onto the more technical components of your training, perhaps trying new exercises that you can add in when you get back round the cycle. Another idea I encourage in my clients is to spend more time on flexibility, balance and any particular weaknesses in their body.
Avoid – high intensity exercise, heavy strength training, exhaustive endurance exercise.
Consider – areas of weakness, technical components, flexibility, balance, steady-state cardio (walking, light jogging, leisurely cycling, swimming)
The Luteal phase is where most women struggle the most with their nutrition, and sadly where many fail to adhere. Cravings get strong, noticeable development hides away and hunger finds its way to the forefront of your mind. But really, if you adapt accordingly, you can get through this phase without any drawbacks. With everything that your body is having to deal with at this stage, your metabolic rate goes up a little, so you now have some more calories to play around with there! It’s totally okay at this time to throw 2 or 300 calories on top of your intake, in fact in most cases it works out best this way (better than you going completely off plan). You’ll be less hungry and have fewer cravings; let’s call it damage limitation.
The other thing to note is that your body slows down serotonin production (feel good hormone), so try look for foods high in tryptophan to counteract.
Avoid – calorie-dense foods (processed/fast food), [for the most part] foods that combine fats and carbs (chips, ice cream, chocolate, burgers, pizza, etc), foods high in carbohydrates
Consider – increasing total calorie intake by 2-300kcal, eating crunchy veg and fruit (carrots, celery, cucumber, apples, pears, etc), adjusting calories to accommodate for a crave food, foods high in tryptophan (milk, turkey, beans and seeds), increasing fat intake.
And then it all starts over again, with a better body, more progress and lots of new techniques ready to be thrown into your workouts!
I suppose you could say the female menstrual cycle is much like a lion: it’s a deadly beast that can easily get the better of you, but if you can tame it, there’s not much that will stand in your way.
Like I said at the beginning, this is always seen as a taboo subject, particularly to be avoided in discussion between a woman and a man, but it has such an impact on your life that you can’t just hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
So I hope this article has allowed you to think a bit more constructively about the whole process and make some plans for how you will tackle the ordeal of training and eating throughout your menstrual cycle.
It is an area I handle very professionally with my clients, offering advice and assistance to help their development.
I hope, like many others, you feel comfortable enough to ask for my guidance; I’m always delighted to be able to help people achieve more with their health & fitness.
If you’ve picked up any tips along the way that you think others would benefit from, please add them to the comments either here or on Facebook and let’s achieve greatness together!
Advanced Nutritionist, Strength & Conditioning Coach, and Head Fitness Coach
RAW Results Aimed Workouts
Could Exercise Be SLOWING DOWN Your Weight Loss?
Scary title, right?
But what’s even more scary is that it is often the case!
You’ve been wanting to lose weight all this time, you finally found the motivation to take up an exercise regime (notice that YOU found it, not IT found you – there’s a lesson even in that), and you’re putting in the effort, but not much is changing. Okay, perhaps you got a bit of relief at the beginning as you gazed down at the scales, but that’s dried up now and you’re losing very little if anything.. what’s going on?
I’d like to point out at this moment that this doesn’t apply to everyone (I’ll explain why a bit later) and it IS in fact something within your control; you’ve just got to notice that it’s happening first.
Think about this. If you’ve stuck with a gym long enough, you’ll have seen the ‘regulars’. The people that are there at the exact same time nearly every day, sometimes twice in the same day! Rain or shine, they are there, getting there routine done. It’s nothing flashy, it’s good, consistent training. The type of stuff us ‘above the nonsense’ trainers always rave about.
Yet these particular people are often NOT the people with the most *input goal here*.
And that’s where this whole theory is situated: what are THOSE people doing wrong?
Well, on the surface, the problem is practical. But really this all stems from a mislead mindset, and one that so many have fallen for and are still falling for. Sure, we could go straight the practical issue and try fix that, but all that will happen is that you’ll trade one problem for another (trust me, this will make sense in a bit).
I’ve found that the best teachers are those that ask questions, not provide answers; they make you realise the problem is right in front of you. So here’s my question for you:
Why are you exercising?
Based on the title of this article and the assumption that ‘if you’ve read this far, it’s because you’re relating to what I’m writing’, I’d say that your answer was some variation of the following:
To lose weight and tone up.
Am I right?
Well, if I am, then we’ve already discovered the problem.
Let me explain (using questions of course).
Have you ever done exercise and used one of those devices that tracks how many calories you burn?
(Stick with me if you haven’t.)
Have you ever compared the amount of calories you’ve burnt with the equivalent unhealthy food?
Well, for those who haven’t – it usually amounts to hardly any junk food at all. (half an hour of running for ONE finger of a twix?!)
Most people then follow this realisation with a demotivated phrase such as “It’s gonna take me forever to work off all the rubbish I’ve eaten”. And yet they miss the even bigger point that’s right there in front of them:
How much easier would it be to just not eat the junk food in the first place?
See the biggest problem behind the stubborn lack of weight loss is that you’re trying Exercise to lose weight and tone up.
You put so much effort into making sure you stick to your training routine and you work your socks off in there, when at the end of that hour of sweat and hard work you’ve probably accumulated the same amount of calories as pint of beer/glass of red and a crunchie!
The practical problem is that you’re spending your effort on exercise when you’ll get more bang for your buck if you spent more time thinking about what you’re consuming.
Once again, I bring you to the fact that you need to be thinking about:
Calories In vs. Calories Out.
If you keep the ‘Calories In’ side of the scale lower, then you don’t have to work so hard to get the ‘Calories Out’ side higher.
Eating a little less food is easier than doing a lot more exercise.
But what if you’re not eating junk food and you’re STILL not losing the weight?
Well, ‘good food’ has calories too. And whether you do eat that junk food or not, if your total calorie consumption is higher than what your body needs, you gain weight. (in a high 90% of cases)
But, like I mentioned earlier, the source of the problem is psychological: you’re exercising for the wrong reason.
Exercise is quite simply the use of muscles. And it should be done to improve your ability to use the muscles in question.
It’s okay if you want them to look a certain way, but they have more of a purpose than simply to look good.
Use Them. Be Active. Stay Healthy.
But just remember:
Exercise is for Movement; Food is for Fuel.
Under-exercise and you get Weak; Over-eat and you get Heavier.
Remember those last two statements and you won’t go far wrong!
Vegan vs Vegetarian
So, did you notice how I haven’t done any articles on the Vegan Walkthrough in a while?
Well, it wasn’t that I just got fed up of them..
About a month ago, Charlotte (the vegan that our walkthrough was following), decided to make the change from being vegan to instead adopt a vegetarian diet
(I told her that was the easy way out but she wasn’t having any of it 😉
As a result, I ran out of content to write about! Until I got a request just the other day from one of our regular readers *cough*nerd*cough* asking me to revive the Vegan Walkthrough.
I explained how my vegan had changed her title, but then came to the thought:
Why not just do the same stuff, but about being Vegetarian instead?
So here it is! The Vegetarian Walkthrough.
(apologies to those vegans looking for guidance – if you want some help then message me here)
I spoke to Charlotte about this the other day and we covered some big issues which were really interesting to hear, so today we will be covering:
– What is the actual difference between Vegan & Vegetarian?
– How do you decide which you should do?
– Is one healthier than the other?
As always, this article will be completely based on science and rational thinking – if you would like a reference for any statements made in this article, you can request them in the comments or by email.
What Is The Actual Difference Between Being Vegan & Being Vegetarian?
I’m sure you know to some the degree the most common differences there are between the two dietary/lifestyle choices, but if you look deeper, you’ll find that there are actually quite a few key principles that divide vegans and vegetarians.
These differences would have been easy to declare… before vegetarianism truly popularised.
Vegetarians don’t eat meat and vegans don’t eat anything produced by an animal.
Nowadays, it seems the term ‘vegetarian’ has become more of a category than a dietary choice of itself.
We have a large number of ‘types of vegetarians’ that all have there only rules and principles to follow, and many people have defined their own version of being vegetarian.
In fact, vegan itself is really just a type of vegetarian, with its own additional exclusions.
Here are a few examples:
(to save me some time, all of these include fruit, vegetables, grains, pulse, legumes and beans)
So, when discussing the differences between vegetarian and vegan, it’s important we consider what type of vegetarian we are referring to.
But this brings up the more important discussion, which is…
How Do You Decide Which You Should Do?
Well, with some rational thinking, I’m sure we could figure out the reasons for each one, but that’s all relative to the individual who originally discovered the diet in question.
Instead, let’s look inside and uncover what’s important to you and what that means in terms of a diet.
I know that all this self-discovery stuff can quickly get all airy-frairy (that’s my attempt at spelling a phrase I’ve never seen spelt), but we can utilise all it’s strongest assets without even touching the less-calculative things like inner purpose, spiritual belief, self-awareness, etc.
So here are a few difficult but definitive questions to ask yourself, which will help you get an idea of where you stand on the subject:
1. If no one could kill an animal for you to have meat, would you kill it yourself?
2. Do you value human life above other animal life?
3. Is it okay if an animal must be in pain in order for you to eat its non-meat product?
4. Does it make any difference to your views if an animal’s habitat is land-based or water-based?
4. Do you believe you were designed to eat other animals?
5. If an animal suffered no pain to produce a non-meat product, would you consume it?
6. If an animal’s death was swift and painless, but done primarily for the consumption of its meat, would you eat its meat?
7. If it made absolutely no difference to anything, whether you ate meat, animal products or just plant-based matter, what would you choose?
8. If your health suffered as a result of not eating meat, would you eat it?
I know those are tough questions to answer, but being able to answer those questions is crucial for making a personal view on what your diet should look like.
Is One Healthier Than The Other?
Now the answer to this, I’m afraid, is not a simple yes or no.
We have to look a bit further into the implications of one, how it might affect nutrient intake and your personal requirements, but firstly: what does healthy actually mean?
So let’s break it down:
Definition of Health – A state of complete Physical, Social and Mental Wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Components of Physical Health – Fitness, ‘Good’ Body Composition, Sufficient Nutrient Intake for Lifestyle, Optimal Sleep, Active Lifestyle
Fitness – Ability to meet the demands of the environment
‘Good’ Body Composition – When speaking about body composition, we’re referring to the % contribution of the contents of your body, specifically looking at fat and muscle. There is no universally accepted guideline, but this link will send you to Tanita’s body fat wall chart, which matches the most commonly used charts in the health & fitness industry – [http://www.tanita.com/data/Charts/bodyfatwallchart-REV3.pdf]
Sufficient Nutrient Intake – Entirely personal to the person and their lifestyle, but there are *rough* guidelines for the *average* adult.
Here’s an abstract from World Health Organisation (WHO)’s page on Health Diet
[you can find the original page here – http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs394/en/]
A healthy diet contains:
Fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice).
At least 400 g (5 portions) of fruits and vegetables a day (2). Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots are not classified as fruits or vegetables.
Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars (2, 5) which is equivalent to 50 g (or around 12 level teaspoons) for a person of healthy body weight consuming approximately 2000 calories per day, but ideally less than 5% of total energy intake for additional health benefits (5). Most free sugars are added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and can also be found in sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats (1, 2, 3). Unsaturated fats (e.g. found in fish, avocado, nuts, sunflower, canola and olive oils) are preferable to saturated fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard) (3). Industrial trans fats (found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines and spreads) are not part of a healthy diet.
Less than 5 g of salt (equivalent to approximately 1 teaspoon) per day (6) and use iodized salt
Optimal Sleep – Again, we all have our own personal requirements, and the NHS actually make this point themselves:
“Simply put, you need enough to make you refreshed and able to function efficiently the next day”
[abstract from webpage – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/insomnia/Pages/insomniaoverview.aspx]
Active Lifestyle – I’m sticking to vagueness here because there are many factors that should be considered before hitting specifics, but here is the recommended level of activity for 19-64 year olds, according to the NHS:?
To stay healthy, adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do:
at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and
strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and
strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
A mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and
strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
For one to be strictly healthier than the other, one would have to be unable to provide all the sufficient nutrient quantities for the individual. That’s not the case – each has the potential to provide you with the necessary intake of all the key nutrients (especially when we consider taking supplements) – so we have to look at it from a perspective of likeliness and ease of good health.
To state the obvious: the more you limit and restrict the available options, the harder it becomes to source the nutrients you are after.
But, also consider that: the less bad options you have, the less likelihood there is that you will consume bad options.
So, to that note, you just have to ask yourself this simple question:
Am I lazy or am I weak-willed?
If I know my readers then I’d say you probably answered that question: Both!
Well, in that case, you difficult people, are you more likely to miss out on nutrients if they’re hard to find, or are you more likely to give into temptations if they’re easy to find?
Answer that and you can make the choice from a health point of view.. but from any other point of view, just did deep into what feels right to you.
Hope my babblings helped you get clearer on the subject
and like I always say
If you want a question answered, best you ask it!
Put it in the comments or just ask me by Email.
It may seem silly to you, but it’s extremly unlikely that you’re the only person thinking it.
Share your questions and I’ll share my knowledge!
If it’s more complex or if you want support and guidance with making the right choices for you, that will stick by you for life, here’s the link to request a nutrition coaching session with myself
Hope to speak to you soon
Until next time!
9 Step Process to Better Posture
Anyone who has trained at RAW or has even just spoken to me about physique or back pain, will know how much I crack on about posture.
But I have good reason.
It plays such a huge role in so many goals like:
And yet we dismiss it as just one of those things that we know we should do, but we don’t.
In every training session I deliver, a big component of the warm up and cool down is postural correction & optimisation; we go through drills to help people position their spine, hips and shoulders into better alignment and gradually over time everyone starts to adopt the right position, even when at home or work and the results we get are awesome!
Anyway, I want to share with you the steps we go through in these drills so you can start improving your posture too!
This routine takes no more than 3 minutes and caters for most (but not all) postural faults.
So give yourself 3 minutes and just zone out of everything except your body position.
The majority of these 3 minutes will be spent with your eyes closed, so make sure you have this in your head before you start.
Step 1: Close your eyes and breathe deeply, but calmly.
Step 2: Start thinking about your spacial position, picturing your pelvis as a bucket full of water.
Step 3: Find the middle of your left & right and front & back weight distribution, where no water is being spilt out of the bucket, then stiffen in that position.
Step 4: Hold that stiff and, with a deep inhalation, lift your entire frame (stomach, ribs, chest, shoulder blades, shoulders and spine) up, allowing a bit of water to pour out the back of your bucket.
Step 5: Holding all those positions, exhale slowly and smoothly, allowing your frame to lower without altering your spinal or pelvic positioning.
Step 6: Stiffen all of that and start to become familiar with where that position is, how it feels and what muscles are working to keep you there.
Step 7: Without breaking your position, lift your arms out in front and then pull your elbows back, either side of your head.
Step 8: Keep all the joints and muscles in your back in their current position and tuck your elbows down to your sides.
Step 9: Relax all of your tense muscles, without altering your position; you are now in the best possible posture you can get at this moment.
Try to make time for this at least 4 times per day and the results you get will be awesome!
We’re always looking into ways we can help you accelerate your results with extra help (a ‘perfect posture program’ being one of my thoughts), so please give me some guidance on what would benefit you.
If you have a particular issue or area that you’d like our help with, let me know in the comments below or by email to email@example.com
3 Ways to Optimise Your Running Experience
People often say it’s like marmite: you either love running, or you hate it.
Like you were predestined to either enjoy it or not enjoy it.
But that’s not true.
At least for the vast majority of people (and probably you too)
Everything you do, you do for a reason right?
Even if you aren’t 100% aware of what that reason is, if you looked deep enough, you find out why you dit it, wouldn’t you?
So if it was simple enough to just eliminate that reason for you not liking running, you’d like it, right?
And if you’re one of those smart-arses that said no to that, all I’d ask you is ‘why?’
Followed by ‘and what if we eliminated that reason?’
And so on and so forth, until we had eliminated all your reasons.
Granted, not all reasons are simply changeable or eliminateable (let’s just pretend that’s a word), but for those that are..eliminateable..we’re going to find a way to do that.
So, in this article, I’m going to take you through each of the main reasons why people dislike running, and eliminate them one by one.
And for those of you who DO love running already, you’ll also get some great content from this as I go through a few FAQs on the subject of optimisation.
Before I get started, it’s worth noting that not all of what I recommend here is suitable for everyone and, although I will try to clarify who it is and isn’t suitable for, you should ask a physiotherapist, running technique coach or movement coach before applying anything at all (not just stuff from this article).
It’s such an unappreciated thing in running; to actually practice the right mechanics for you. In almost every other area of your life (and in exercise) you take time to ensure you’re doing something properly and you take care about the effectiveness of your method; so why are we so anti-technique with altering the way we run?
We look for all the best shoes, gadgets, clothing, supplements, drinks and all sorts, but never at the variables that we are creating.
Almost every runner picks up an injury in their career, and the vast majority of those injuries could have been avoided had they just adopted the appropriate method for them.
That may seem like quite a bold statement, but when I found the data to confirm it, it didn’t surprise me!
Running creates forces of around 3x your bodyweight every time you land. Imagine that. Triple your bodyweight landing on one leg with poor technique… you’d be kicked out of a gym if someone saw you doing that on a strength exercise! So imagine doing that 140 times every minute (the average running tempo).
So here are some common errors I see in my running clients and the methods I take with adapting them:
1. Knee Valgus – that’s a very common term in the context of squatting, but far too often is it dismissed with runners. Knee Valgus is where you break the alignment of your ankle, knee and hip by letting your knee roll inward.
A good knee alignment is where you can draw a straight line from ankle to knee to hip. 9 times out of 10, when a runner first comes to me, I see their knee roll in, and it’s because of a lack of activation of the glutes (butt muscles). Here’s a simple trick to wake up your glutes before you head out for a run.
– Press hands against a wall (keeping arms straight)
– Bring one knee up to your chest (similar to a calf stretch)
– At full force, drive that foot down into the ground, tensing the butt cheek, and at the same time pulling the opposite knee up to your chest.
Cycle through that 10 times on each leg before you set out for a run and try to be aware of your knee position when you land in each step.
2. Hunched Back – pretty obvious one to spot and pretty obvious that it’s not helping with your run. You’re collapsing your chest cavity and compressing your lungs, putting more weight into the front of your stride (decelerating), taking impact onto an unprepared spine & hips, relaxing your core (making less muscles do more work). Posture is rarely as simple as repositioning your spine, hips and shoulders and often has its reasons for being a certain way. Regardless though, it is still worse than being in a ‘correct’ posture and however long the process takes is however you should stick at a carefully and intelligently formulated postural correction program for. Here’s a quick tip for putting your posture into better alignment for the short term.
Imagine that you are a puppet on strings, being constantly elevated up and therefore being in the most upright position possible. Simple.
3. Overreaching – As much as the other 2 make me cringe, they don’t compare to when I see someone sling their leg miles out in front, only to then crash all the weight onto it, in the opposite direction to which it’s currently going. It’s a biomechanical disaster and yet it’s so so common to see in sloggers and endurance runners. In short, if you’ve ever pulled a hamstring when running, this’ll be the cause. You’re extending your hamstrings to the peak of their reach and having no other choice put to pull that heel into the ground, back toward you, to pull you over it. If you still don’t quite understand what I mean, just take my word for it and then follow this easy rule. Cadence. It’s the most powerful tool in this instance and you must make sure that it’s at a minimum of 120bpm. You might argue and say ‘well what if someone goes really slow? Surely it’s better for them to drop their step speed?’ and my response to that is ‘well if they’re going that slow then they’re not running’. To make sure you step frequency is up to scratch, get a playlist or a metronome that has a beats per min of at least 120 and make sure your step pace is keeping up. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, the average person should be running at around n140bpm, but the shorter-legged individual should aim more toward 160-180bpm to keep up with those lanky fellows that seem to float their way past you with ease.
ROM is the abbreviation that is short for Range Of Movement, and basically means the amount of movement you have at a joint. The reason why we don’t just say flexibility, is because there may be other limiting factors to your ROM than simple the length of the muscle. In context of running, if you have a shorter range you will go faster but will tire out quicker (you’ve probably seen those people at the start line who think it’s a sprint and then a minute later you go past them?). This interrelates very closely with technique and neither should be addressed without first considering the other. If you were in front of me, asking if you had sufficient ROM to run effectively, I would take you through some mobility tests to see where you’re lacking and then progress to see what is required to alleviate it. But we don’t have the luxury right now. So here’s a basic look at joints that have the most impact on running technique and what methods should be implemented to improve them.
Hamstrings – these are the big muscles at the back of your upper leg and are responsible for making your knee joint bend and bring your heel toward your bum. Based on that description, you can probably appreciate how involved these muscles are in the mechanics of running, especially if you’re a ‘heel striker’. If this muscle is short, you have two problems coming at you. Number 1 is that you can’t fully extend your leg and therefore have to shorten your stride, and number 2 is that you have far less tolerance to heavy impacts in the extension of the leg (i.e. heel striking).
To dramatically increase your hamstring mobility, use a little trick called MFR (or myofascial release) where you apply pressure into the thickest muscle fibres in the hamstrings, and then bend and extend on the knee joint. If you get this right, you’ll feel an uncomfortable (and yet somewhat satisfying) pull down the length of the muscle as you reach each either end of the movement. Do this for 30 seconds and then drop into an assisted deep squat (hold a solid surface and sitting onto your heels).
Calfs – Like the hamstring, the calf muscle (real name is gastrocnemius) is a very big and dense muscle in the back of the leg, but this muscle is located in the lower part of the leg. Its job is to help you point your toes downward (plantar flexion). This action happens every time you step, whether you’re walking, running or sprinting. It’s used significantly more by forefoot strikers, but is still a very important muscle in the heel striking technique, and you’ll definitely notice the difference between running with short and long calfs.
Just like with the hamstrings, the calfs can be release via MFR. To do this on the calf, go into a seated position on the floor with the chosen leg extended and the other bent in. Lay the lower part of your chosen calf onto a rounded surface (rolling pin, snooker ball, foam roller) and perform circular rotations on the ankle. Do 5 each way before proceeding higher up the calf and performing the same routine.
Hip Flexors – If you sit a lot (more than 6 hours per day), I’d be amazed if you didn’t have short hip flexors. The hip flexors are found at the front of the upper thigh, where the leg inserts into the hips, and it is responsible for closing the gap at the front between your thigh and your torso (i.e. flexing the hip). When running, this is the muscle that will pull your trailing leg through and in front, ready for the next stride. Although it doesn’t necessarily affect the pull of the leg forward having short hip flexors, it affects the extension of the leg and therefore the position of your pelvis. Having a poor core alignment and lack of range for each stride will shorten your gait and make running a very damaging activity for your spine.
To release the hip flexor in the same way as the calf and hamstring, lay on your front with the chosen leg’s hip flexors (slightly to the outside of the front of the hip joint) onto your cylindrical object and then bend and extend on the knee joint. This is probably the least comfortable of the three, but it’s equally as important as the previous two (so suck it up). Do this for 30 seconds and, just like with the hamstrings, drop into a full depth squat, with a support to hold onto to stabilise you.
In the post I put up on facebook for deciding what subjects to cover with today’s article, I got a response from someone asking about pre and post run nutrition; a very complex subject. But not to worry, I’m only going to cover the basics and then have you on your way, performing better than ever before!
Here are some simple things that everyone should be aware of before they set out for a run:
a) hydration – if you’re not fully hydrated then your body won’t let you exert yourself to the same level or burn through your fuel stores as effectively. Daily, you should be having at least 1.5 litres of water, but I would argue that this should be more like 2.5 litres for optimisation. Out of the 2.5 (it’s not as hard as you’re making it out to be), take 500ml in an hour before, and another 250ml half an hour before. Post workout, you should at least get through one pint (of water!), unless of course you didn’t work hard enough to sweat (in which case, back out there you go!).
b) vegetables – I know that most of the advice you get with nutrition is regarding calories, carbs, fats and proteins, but guess what has dramatic effects on your ability to absorb and utilise those nutrients? Vitamins and Minerals! And where do vitamins and minerals come from? Fruit and Vegetables! Now I could include fruit into this, but I don’t think it’s as important (or neglected as much) as veg. You can look at guidelines and superfoods and specific nutrients that are needed most, but it’s a waste of time that could be spent preparing and eating vegetables! Just eat the stuff! All the time! In large quantities! It will lower your calorie intake, improve your metabolic function (I can provide studies on request), and just optimise everything in general. I’m not going to recommend a certain quantity or type of veg, just get in as much as possible, in as much variety as possible, as often as possible. No excuses! Even at breakfast.
c) protein – do you need me to go on about the role and importance of protein? Just believe me when I say IT’S IMPORTANT. Hopefully, you won’t get to a stage where you use it as fuel (it’s the backup of the backup of the backup), so obviously make sure you are consuming sufficient amounts of carbs and fats throughout the day (just your regular amount), and then let’s look at protein. Practically every protein supplement company wants you to believe that protein timing is essential and you MUST get a big dose of protein in instantly after a workout, but they’re playing on words there. Yes, your body needs protein the most straight after a heavy effort, BUT (and this is the most important part), it makes no difference whether that protein has just entered your system or is already cycling round. Just by ensuring you get the right amount of protein day in and day out, will give you enough stores to utilise at the recovery stage.
So there you go, 3 ways to optimise your running experience and some examples on how to execute each.
Like I said, this isn’t concise and doesn’t cover every facet of the issues, but it goes you some tools to implement and hopefully gets you to see the value in doing things properly.
If you want to seriously start looking into the problems with your technique and what might be causing them, make sure you come see me for a Running Technique Analysis and I’ll give you all the information you need to start strengthening your weaknesses and optimising your strengths. No more injuries, just lots of PBs! Click here to find out more
And seems we covered nutrition, it’s worth mentioning that I offer nutrition coaching sessions where we can breakdown your diet and find easy ways to improve on what you’ve got, and design a development program that will allow you to en joy and sustain the best diet for you. Click here for more on that
Thanks for reading and if you want any more advice or have any requests for what I write about next, just pop it down in the comment box below.