Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

Deprive and Binge

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There is an endless cycle that exists within most of us. It’s like we can’t help ourselves. We go from one extreme and then suddenly change gears, and go directly for the opposite of that extreme. We put ourselves through hell sometimes and it almost seems impossible to pull ourselves out of it. Think about it: have you ever gone on a diet, so determined to make it work and keep your calories low only to end up stuffing yourself the moment dessert presents itself? Have you ever yo-yo dieted? Have you ever lost the weight only to gain it right back and then some? I know I have and I’m certainly not alone. This is the deprive and binge.

In both cases we are punishing ourselves because somewhere deep down we think that there is something wrong with us and the way we look. So we eat too little or far too much, leaving you feeling weak with hunger (or in denial about it) or feeling like an oompa loompa ready to be rolled out of the room. It definitely doesn’t help that we’re constantly hit advertisements and marketing ploys that push us into that direction too. Even we’re all aware of these things, many of us still struggle to shift away from them and it’s pretty clear why…

There are 2 things that I know for sure:

  1. People in general are not eating enough, but…
  2. Everyone thinks they are eating too much

With everyone that I have coached and worked with and for every person that I`ve ever had a conversation with about nutrition, they all have these 2 things in common. Most people truly believe that they are overeating because they tend to be grazers eating bits of food here and there throughout the day. In reality they are not taking in enough overall calories and when they do eat it`s usually somewhat unbalanced where the nutrient timing is way off. All of this leads to long term undernourishment, making it impossible to lean out and carve out some nice muscular curves. Instead we may end up a little softer than we’d like ultimately leading to the determination to finally get in shape and never eat anything fatty again, until you once again find yourself gorging on nachos and margaritas with your besties on the next girls night out.

Even after we become aware of all of this, we still resist it. I can’t tell you how many people still say that can’t hit their calorie goal for the day or they think it’s too much and they refuse to eat more than 1600 calories. We just can’t quite seem to let go of the notion that in order to look a certain way or achieve that goal weight, we have to eat tiny portions, restrict ourselves and keep the calories low. This is what always leads to the inevitable deprive and binge, where maybe you can keep the calories ultra-low for a while, but you will most likely rebound.

This whole thing is a really hard cycle to break, but I swear to you that it is possible. The first step is to start eating a solid amount of food every day. You need to eat and you need to nourish yourself, and chances are that unless you are in a contest prep like me or if you are 110lbs of muscle with low body fat, then you need to take in more than 1600 calories daily. Keep your meals balanced and focus on nutrient timing. For example, before any workout eat a combo of protein, complex carbs and a little bit of fat, and after working out focus on fast digesting carbs with protein and keep the fat to a minimum. If you lie to nosh at night after dinner, then have a small meal that combines protein with fat (keep the carbs low) so that you get in some slow digesting nourishment during your sleep time. Trust me here, this works. When I finally released the notion of having to restrict myself in order to look a certain way, everything became way easier. I ended up building lean muscle, nice curve and leaning out really well. Getting stage ready and getting into great shape wasn’t as hard as I thought. The struggle was gone and instead I was able to sail through each day and each workout easily because I was fueled up and ready to go.

So how about we all stop going from one extreme to the next by depriving ourselves and then going crazy on food when we just can’t take it anymore? How about we change gears and focus on eating enough of the good stuff every day? There is no reason to punish ourselves or to even entertain the notion that the way we look is a reflection of how awesome we truly are…I know this sounds all woo-woo enlightened and stuff, but to be fair, I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been on both sides of this thing. We do punish ourselves, whether you are aware of it or not. Reprogramming this takes time, but it is possible through feeding yourself well every day. If you can set yourself up for success like this (which I know you can) then the struggle will finally be gone for good.

 

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Nutrition, Wellness

What carbs do for you

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Carbohydrates are remarkable. They provide the human body with fiber, glycogen and loads of micronutrients. Yet many people still deem them to be the evil culprit of their health and weight issues. The low-carb craze may not be as intense as it once was, but it’s still going strong and it tends to be the first thing dieters drop when embarking on a weight loss program. If this really was the most effective way to release the extra weight for good, then why is it that the weight keeps creeping back up?

Let me start by sharing the most important thing that you need to know about carbohydrates: the body cannot metabolize fats without the presence of carbohydrates. Without sufficient carbs in the body (stored as muscle glycogen) your body will burn its protein stores instead of fat causing you to eventually lose muscle. Whatever drop you may see on the scale is most likely coming from muscle loss. So if you put yourself into a calorie deficit by dropping carbs, your body will eventually plateau and halt fat loss and start using its protein as energy. This is a big no-no for pretty much everyone, or at least anyone who wants to be lean and fit with a nice bod.

Another key benefit of this macronutrient is that it is essential for proper brain function in that it provides fuel to the central nervous system. It helps to regulate your mood and energy levels; if you’ve ever gone low carb before then you know what I’m talking about here. A diet low in carbohydrates leads to greater instances of depression, anger and anxiety than a diet higher in carbohydrates. For more info , check out this article that showcases the impact that carbohydrates play in mental health and well-being.

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy and it is the first thing that you will burn up in the form of calories, whatever is leftover gets stored in the body as glycogen (for future use as fuel). The main concern with carbohydrates though, is what’s called a spillover. This occurs when you take in excess carbs to the point where your muscle glycogen stores are filled to capacity and your body has no choice but to store the extra amount as bodyfat. This is where the weight gain occurs. Years ago when the low-carb craze hit, people lost a ton weight mostly because they dropped their overall calories, cut out junk food and probably threw in some exercise, not just because they dropped the carbs.

Nowadays things have started to get better with most health experts confirming that everyone should be getting about 50% of their overall calories from carbohydrates. The key thing is to focus on complex carbs that provide loads of fiber, vitamins and minerals. These are slow digesting, keep you full and rid your body of toxins and waste. Eat lots of veg and not just the green stuff, but of all colours, add in some whole grains and starches like millet and sweet potatoes, and have a fruit if you wish (I hate fruit, so that’s out for me, but I eat lots of vegetables and whole grains to make up for it).

You might be hearing a lot about the keto diet and others of a similar nature, but proceed with caution here. These are all super low-carb and high fat (60-80% overall calories coming from fat!). Some people swear by it, but at least talk to your doctor before trying, to be on the safe side. Keep in mind here that women tend to do better on a higher carb and low fat diet as opposed to men who can handle the extra fat with not as many carbs. Also the term ketogenic stems from ketosis which really makes you feel like crap. Your energy levels can drop drastically making exercise and building lean muscle nearly impossible and one of the main side effects is that you end up kinda smelly especially with bad breadth, so you know, just FYI. Do your research first before getting started, to see if it’s really your best option.

I can say that from my own experience, low-carb just didn’t work especially in the long run. I remember in the early 2000s when it was everywhere and I tried it, but it just didn’t last and I felt hungry all the time. Then in 2016 when I competed in my first show my coach had me go low-carb and it was rough. Sheer will was what got me through it, but I was hungry and tired and I wound up looking deflated and flat on stage. But for my last show we instead opted to keep the carbs high throughout at 50% and dropped my fat intake. I looked fuller, well rounded and had a much nicer shape and overall appearance. Not to mention that my prep felt like a total breeze.

The moral of the story here is to never cut out or drastically reduce an entire macronutrient altogether, but to instead get a good amount of each. Cook your own food instead of relying on the prepackaged stuff and eat lots of produce and whole grains and maybe consider reducing the amount of animal based foods that you consume too. With that alone you will see a drastic change to your body composition and overall health. This is the one body that you have so always make it your top priority by feeding it with the healthiest fuel every day.

Nutrition

Protein, protein, protein…

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Can you guess what the most asked question to a vegan is? If you said: where do you get your protein? then you’d be right. There is this constant concern over people getting adequate protein. Anytime someone starts to train or lose weight or transitions to veganism, there is always this mass inquiry into protein. We automatically assume that if someone is in shape then they must be super high protein, or if they are vegan the assumption changes to concern over getting enough. What’s the one question that nobody ever asks anyone though? Chances are Where do you get your fiber? didn’t even cross your mind, but it should.

Here’s a scary thought: Studies show that the majority of North Americans are consuming what’s called a Standard American Diet (SAD). Those who follow this lifestyle consume on average only 10-15 grams of fiber per day, the minimum daily requirement is approximately 31.5 grams per day. This means that the majority of people don’t even reach the halfway mark of their minimum fiber intake. Those who consume a plant-based diet can easily get to 80 grams per day and then some. It’s pretty intense. (For more info: check out this article).

Fiber is only found in plant foods; there is none in meat, dairy or eggs. Why is fiber so important? It helps control blood sugar levels, aids in weight loss and management, it lowers cholesterol, and it is essential for your colon to function. What you eat gets digested and eventually your colon will rid itself of the excess waste that your body can’t use, via bowel movements (sorry for the TMI). If you’re not getting enough fiber, then your colon can’t function properly, leading to excess waste in your body which leads to a whole slew of potential health problems. I’m not just talking constipation here (again, sorry for the TMI), I mean diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Maybe you’ve noticed the increase in these health issues and diseases in recent years. The truth is that a high fiber diet will reduce the risk of all of these debilitating things. (For more info: check out this article).

As I mentioned, fiber only comes from plant sources so be sure to include fruit and veg into your diet each day. Aim for around 4-5 cups of non-starchy veg per day and 1-2 fruits per day. If you’re not vegan, then try swapping out a couple of animal protein sources with beans and legumes instead… Meatless Monday anyone? Whole grains are also awesome here, so try to include a few servings each day too; ½ cup oatmeal at breakfast with some berries or brown rice at lunch with your salad along with some chickpeas, and maybe a spelt pasta at dinner in a nice veggie sauce with some grilled tofu. These are all great solutions to helping you get to your fiber needs each day, not to mention that they are all super hearty and filling. Don’t bother with fiber supplements unless your doctor advises you otherwise; you can easily get a good amount in through your diet alone, so save those pennies and opt for veg instead.

Bringing this back to the whole protein thing, I’m betting you probably haven’t heard of Kwashiorkor’s Disease (protein deficiency) and that’s because it’s pretty much non-existent in developed countries. The average protein requirement is about 42 grams per day and most people get far more than that on a daily basis, even vegans who get on average 70% more than that each day. Just a little food for thought for the next time you encounter a vegan and ask them about their protein. Trust me when I say that we appreciate the concern, but we’re good.

Just remember that your body is always trying to work with you to be as healthy as possible. Chances are that it’s trying to send you signals saying: help me, help you by giving me more fiber! Load on up, your colon will thank you for it. If you’re not sure where to start or need some recipe inspiration, then check out this e-book with 25 delicious and super high fiber recipes that are guaranteed to keep you both healthy and satisfied.

Contest Prep, Fitness

The illusion of bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is all about creating the illusion of the perfect physique. In reality, there is no such thing as the perfect body, but bodybuilding as a sport allows its athletes to strive for it as closely as possible. Everything is geared towards this from nutrition, exercise, sleep, hydration, supplementation and so on. Bodybuilding is a 24/7 endeavour that, when done properly, will produce that coveted dream body that most of us wish we had year round.

With the Bikini category, the illusion that we are trying to create is one of broad shoulders, small waist, developed glutes, a nice s-curve in the body without a lot of mass or muscle striations. Judges want to see someone lean with lots or definition minus the bulk of traditional bodybuilders. What most athletes will notice as they go through a prep, is that their natural body shape and genetics may not allow for this to happen, so they have to tweak their training to give the illusion of this look. A prime example is for an athlete who doesn’t have a small waist, but  that can build muscle really well to instead focus on building up the glutes and shoulders to create more curve that way, and give the appearance of a small waist by keeping everything in good proportion. For someone like me who is a hard-gainer (gaining muscle is very difficult), I instead would focus on leaning out without losing muscle by doing steady-state cardio for only 20-30 minutes instead of interval training like most athletes will do.

It’s not just exercise either. Nutrition is an exact science when it comes to competing and photoshoots. We tweak our diets every couple of weeks to make constant progress by gradually reducing calories and for many, cutting down carbs and fats. Usually the last phase of contest prep is the toughest where it’s all protein and almost no starchy veg or grains, and very little if any added fat. This is what gets us super lean. It’s what has to be done in order to look the way that we do. The goal with leaning out is to see as much muscle definition as possible and the less body fat you have, the more visible the definition will be. When I say super lean, I mean 8-10% body fat for the ladies and 2-5% for the guys. Just as an FYI, ladies are considered healthy at around 20% body fat and men around 15%. Yes, it’s that low and no it’s not something that can be maintained long term without hitting some serious health risks.

This is what 8% bodyfat and 50% muscle mass looks like:

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In the weeks leading up to the contest we chug water like crazies (about 2 gallons per day), drop the salt intake and start in on the diuretics in order to get as efficient at shedding water as possible. Then about 2 days out water starts being trappered off. This prevents any potential for bloating to once again be able to show as much muscle definition as possible.

Pre-spraytan vs post-spraytan

One thing that most may not take into consideration is posing. Posing will ultimately make or break you. You can hide almost any disproportionate, unsymmetrical or underdeveloped area with the right posing. In back pose, for example, you position yourself to slightly flex (but not squeeze) the glutes in order to make cellulite magically disappear and if your waist isn’t super small, but your back is developed then you can flair out your lats to make it look like you do. The smallest adjustments can have a huge impact. Posing is super technical, we are twisting and tightening certain areas to look a very specific way and show off our best assets. Another example is in front pose where you’re feet are shoulder width apart, toes forward, but you turn your upper body completely to one side and then have to turn your shoulders forward to give your body a lean and curvy look.

 

Then there’s everything else like the spraytan, posing suit, hair and makeup. The spraytan is mandatory FYI, and although up close we look super weird, on stage it’s all good. Without the tan the bright lights will just wash us out and no matter how shredded you are the definition will not show without it. The suit and hair and makeup are all to give us a glamourous look. Up close we look over the top, but on stage it’s a nice and well put together.

Pre-makeup vs post-makeup

 

As I’m sure you can tell by now, everything really is an illusion here. So the next time you find yourself wishing you had rock-hard abs and a cellulite-free tush, just remember the amount of work that goes into it and that your bodyfat has to get super low, but your muscle mass needs to go up (otherwise you’ll just look skinnyfat and puny). I must admit that there really is nothing quite like looking in the mirror and loving how your physique looks, or the way it feels when you place your hands on your belly and feel abs. But I honestly only appreciate it because I know the work that I’ve put into it. It’s not the endgame that matters but the road to it that really allows you to reap what you sow.

 

Nutrition

The multiple meal myth

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For years it’s been advocated that eating small meals every 2-3 hours is the best way to boost your metabolism and lose weight. These days more and more fitness and nutrition experts are coming forward and saying that this is a total myth and has zero truth behind it. Yet still, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts continue to live by this nutritional regiment believing that it really is the best option. So what’s really the truth here?

First off, let’s look at how this meal-timing concept first got started. The idea behind eating 6-7 meals each day came about with bodybuilders and elite athletes needed to hit a certain amount of total calories and macros (protein, carbs and fat) in a 24 hour period, in order to build muscle and improve performance. Athletes in general have to eat a lot of food and bodybuilders in particular have to hit their numbers or they’ll never be able to gain mass and lose body fat. The body can only absorb so many nutrients at one time, whatever it can’t take in in terms of vitamins and minerals is usually excreted through your pee and for your macros, it’ll be absorbed as body fat. A prime example is with protein. Usually you can absorb 30-50 grams of protein in one meal. So for a bodybuilder needing to take in well over 1oo grams of protein per day, getting that and absorbing that in three meals only, just isn’t going to work. So instead, we take our daily calorie and macro goals, separate it into many smaller meals instead and eat at 2-3 hour intervals. The whole metabolism thing is really not substantiated just yet, so stay tuned…

Since I decided to start competing in 2016, I’ve been eating about 7 meals every day, usually around the 2 hour mark. I’ve always liked it and have found that my body responds very well to it, mostly because my meals end up being very balanced and my nutrient timing is on point. It definitely makes it a lot easier to handle a diet when you know at the end of a meal, there’s gonna be another one right around the corner in only 2 hours. Those last few weeks of contest prep can be really intense, so this definitely alleviates some of the strain.

It can be a challenge to eat this much and this often at first. I know so many people who just can’t wrap their minds around the shear volume of food that they need to be having daily. The majority of people that I work with at some point or another just don’t buy it when I show them their meal plan; they always think it’s too much food and there is no way they will reach their goals by eating this much. But it works, time and again, not only for them but for myself as well. Plus, it’s really nice to be able to eat a lot. Obviously I’m not talking junky-type food here, I’m talking nutrient dense food and plenty of it.

For some, eating every couple of hours just isn’t possible either because of the timing, obligations with family or their jobs, etc. But there’s nothing stopping you from trying out 3 larger meals and maybe one really substantial snack. If that’s what works best for your schedule then go for it. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to eat for your goals and get lots of nutrition in on a daily basis.

There you have it, the real reason behind this multiple mini-meal concept. Although you will no doubt be hearing lots of people coming forward to dispel this concept, it can still be very valuable to you and help you make great progress. However you may choose to eat your meals, focus always on nutrient value first and take it from there.