Contest Prep, Nutrition, Wellness

Practicing what I preach

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One of the first things we bodybuilders cut out during a prep is alcohol and sometimes it sucks. I was in prep for almost two years straight and it REALLY sucked. Although I would tell myself the standard I don’t need alcohol to have a good time schpiel, I was just really in denial, but my six-pack of abs made up for that. I’ve never been a big drinker, except during my clubbing years but that ended about a decade ago. Even so, it still sucks to cut out booze.

The reason for abstaining is simple: your body processes alcohol in a similar way as it would a super decadent dessert. So two glasses of wine is like a chocolate soufflé AND a slice of cheesecake. If you’re out to dinner and have a nice meal with a couple of drinks and then some dessert, it’s the equivalent of having all of your allotted calories in day in one sitting and then some, which ultimately leads to a plateau in fat loss (or muscle gains). As a result bodybuilders typically cut it all out completely unless it’s offseason, or they swap in booze for a weekly treat meal, which is no fun when you’ve been dieting down and can’t stop thinking about stuffing your face with a bucket of greasy French fries. I’d rather take the food over the drink any day. And so for the longest time, alcohol was a no-go for me and even going drinks with friends was usually my ordering a club soda with a lime wedge.

Last weekend though, I made the exception as a bit of an experiment to see what would happen when I drink during a contest prep. Granted I am still 5 months out, so regardless it’s no big deal. I wanted to see whether or not it actually is possible to keep it balanced and not wake up crazy bloated the next day. You see, I always advocate (as many fitness coaches do) this type of balance for my clients around the holidays or special occasions, when we know there will be good food, good drinks and you’ll definitely want to partake without feeling restricted. So I wanted to practice what I preach to see if it is possible without going overboard, and brother in-law’s 40th birthday bash would be the perfect excuse.

The day started out as a typical Saturday, where I got up at noon, fed my bunnies (pictured below) and sat down to a nice breakfast with a giant mug of coffee and a hilarious book that I could not get enough of. Nutrition-wise I’m pretty much doing macro counting as per my coach’s suggestion, so I made sure that each meal is a solid mix of complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean protein with lots of fiber. I hit the gym in the late afternoon for some serious lifting; back and biceps, which was surprisingly intense despite my ability to only curl a 25lbs barbell for 15 reps at 4 sets. I drank a ton of water all day so I was super hydrated and had another balanced meal before heading out.

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Bunnies!                                                              Breakfast (yum!)

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this party as I was the youngest there and the only single one in-house. Plus the guest list consisted of couples with young kids who are oh so excited to have a night out without their tornado of toddlers around. Basically I was concerned that I wouldn’t fit in, even though I had already known everyone quite well for many years. What can I say except that I am a super shy introvert with some pretty intense social anxiety; but that’s a story for another day.

I had a rockin time! Seriously, this was the most fun I’ve had in a while and I haven’t partied it up in years, so this was a welcomed change of pace. The great news was that I didn’t overdo it and go on a bender or binge eat the available and yummy junk food, so much to my delight I woke up feeling pretty great the next day. I realized that the strategies of balance really do work here. I had about two drinks (vodka soda, my fave) plus one shot of coconut rum which warmed my tummy up real nice. I only ate about a handful of chips and that was it. About an hour before I headed home I started chugging water like a beast. I think I had about a litre and a half, so I sobered up pretty fast. I got home around 2am, fed my bunnies a late night snack and prepped one for myself too, albeit a totally unbalanced one which consisted of toasted white crusty bread with tons vegan margarine follow by a few bites of chocolate cake and more water. Just to be clear, this snack was for me, not my bunnies; they had wheatgrass. I binged watched a few episodes of The Real Housewives before heading to bed around 5am…although my bunnies were still going strong and hopping around, take about party animals! (see what I did there J)

When I rolled out of bed a few hours later I was thrilled to see that there was no bloating (or hangover!) and that my abs were still intact and very visible (see below). My body responded well to this strategy and it managed to use the extra glycogen towards filling out my muscles nicely and giving me a great post-workout pump when I hit the gym the next day. A real win indeed.

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The moral of the story is that you can have fun AND partake without restricting yourself or doing the opposite and getting excessive. Balance really does work. So the next time you find yourself worried about an upcoming night out, don’t panic and instead try these tried and true strategies on for size:

  1. Eat lots of hearty and healthy food throughout the day
  2. Drink tons of water
  3. Get in a serious gym sesh with lots of heavy lifting
  4. Eat before you leave home
  5. Drink lots of water when you’re done with the booze
  6. Eat a little something greasy before you go to bed
  7. Hit the gym the next day and put that extra glycogen to good use

There you have it. Take it from someone who has spent the last two years being super rigid about diet and exercise and contest prep, this shit works. I’m finally starting to see that you can be a bodybuilder, look awesome while still having a life and an awesome time at that.

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Nutrition

Eat with a purpose

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Here’s the truth : most of us want to change something about our bodies. We’re either looking to lose weight, get in shape, build muscle or squeeze into that little black dress, we all want some kind of improvement. The road towards that end goal is not without its struggles and since the way we eat is what really dictates the way we look, it’s no wonder most people are usually on a diet or planning on going on one come Monday morning.
We’ve all heard it before: food is fuel, focus on health, nourish yourself…and I’ve advocated all of this time and again, but it’s not enough to actually make those changes happen. If that was all it took to change your mindset around food, then you’d already be rocking the bod of your dreams.

The real way to change gears is to eat with a purpose. A prime example is in contest prep where everything you do it geared toward getting stage ready and diet-wise that means meal and nutrient timing and making the smallest tweaks (like adding salt or increasing carbs) to see dramatic changes in one’s physique. This can be applied to the everyday regardless of your goal and it will allow you to view food from a more object standpoint. This sort of shift is huge and with time you’ll be able to move past any cravings or temptations without a second thought.
The first step towards eating with a purpose is to gain a better understanding of nutrition in terms of macros (carbs, protein and fat). None of these is the devil, in fact all three offer value towards your physique goals. Carbs provide you with fiber and glycogen so you can build muscle and repair damage to the muscles fibers that you get from working out allowing you to build lean and firm curves. Protein provides amino acids that help you build muscle and feel nice and full. Fat helps your body absorb fat-soluble micronutrients and provide omega-3 fatty acids needed for basic bodily functions, plus it helps to give you that nice feeling of satiety. Getting a good idea of how these three elements affect your body will help you to look at a meal and understand how it will benefit you. The more knowledge you have, the easier it will be to make wiser choices.
Step two is to start planning your meals based on your goals. For fat loss, obviously you`ll want to be in a calorie deficit, but you don`t necessarily need to take out an entire macro altogether to see changes; like going low-carb for example. Focus on a good source of carbs mostly before and after workouts, and eat lots of veg and protein for the rest of the day with a little bit of added fat here and there. For getting that nice in shape look you’ll need to focus on eating to build muscle without adding body fat, that means being in a calorie surplus with a big focus on carbs and protein and not too much added fat.
Step three involves treat meals and refeeds. A lot of people do a once weekly treat meal, but that can lead to a binge so proceed with caution. If you do decide to partake, then consider saving that meal for either the end of the week or a special occasion like a family gathering or girls night out. Refeeds are also a good option here too, as you go super high carb, moderate protein and super low fat (no added fats) for one meal although some athletes do a full day. This can vary from person to person in terms of its effectiveness, but I find for myself that refeeds work way better that treat meals. The day after a treat meal I usually get indigestion and some bloating, but with refeeds everything looks nice and full with lots of muscle definition and leanness. Again, the choice is yours, but start taking into consideration how these two options will help you move forward.
The final step is to start implementing these strategies one by one and slowly ease yourself in to a more objective way of eating. If this seems a little intense at first then just start with one meal and move on from there until it becomes second nature. Those who treat their diet and lifestyle this way are far more likely to not only achieve their body goals, but also maintain them over the long haul and isn’t that the real goal here?

 
All of this doesn’t mean that you’ll be spending your time overthinking every piece of food that goes into your body, instead you’ll just be gaining more awareness. I first started eating with a purpose during my first prep and in the beginning it was a lot of measuring and weighing food along with lots of research on the nutritional value in the food I was eating too. This was really just because I was super interested in learning as much as I could about this, and look where it got me. You may want to take a different approach, so to each his own. Seriously though, give these steps a try, they can not only help you gain healthy habits, but they can lead you to long term diet freedom for good!

Nutrition, Wellness

Eat what you want, when you want

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What do we really want? It’s simple actually: Eat what we when, when we want. Is it possible to do so and still be healthy? YES! Does it mean that you have to always focus on portion control and moderation? Nope. Allow me to explain…

I used to think that this concept was all about being able to eat junk food, dessert and big decadent meals all the time. Then it shifted towards eating tiny portions of decadent meals like in the books French Women Don’t Get Fat or Naturally Thin. I tried that out and it was short lived, that style of eating doesn’t work for me or most people for that matter. If it did, the obesity epidemic would not exist because we would be able to stop at one bite. Moderation is rough. What this really means is gaining a bit more self-awareness in order to better understand your cravings and taste preferences, and then eating accordingly.

Self-awareness might sound a bit new-agey, but when it comes to dieting, it really comes in handy. It basically helps you to move away from eating something just cause it’s there or just cause it’s a special occasion and to instead eat something because it’s what you really want.

A prime example that I can give you is my weekly treat. In the beginning I always overdid it and ate whatever junk food was available to me and then I’d end up feeling bloated, heavy and guilty. But now I think about what would really taste good to me and what I’m actually in the mood for and then I can just enjoy every bite without the guilt and then get on with my life.

Maybe instead of saying I want to eat what I want, when I want, we can shift towards I enjoy the foods that I really want, whenever I choose to. It’s so powerful when you are able to get to that space and genuinely enjoy food instead of just shoveling it down. You can look forward to your meals without feeling guilty afterward. Guilt is a huge component of this; how many times have you felt bad after overdoing it or going off-plan or cheating on your diet? It sucks and it can easily send the most disciplined person into a tailspin. So just eat what you really want but pay attention to the food and how it tastes and how you feel. In the beginning it might feel like you’re overthinking everything you eat because it’s a bit of a challenge to gauge your cravings and tastes at first. With time though, you’ll get into a good rhythm and soon enough it’ll just be second nature.

This isn’t to say that you should just eat whatever fatty foods are at your disposal, this all comes down to understanding what your body needs nutrient-wise, what your taste bud preferences are and combining the two to create awesome and delicious meals each day. This concept has led me to create countless healthy and delicious recipes like Pad Thai or Oat Flour Waffles or Protein Brownies. Yes, nutrient rich foods are the baseline for good health and they’re an absolute necessity, but you can still make them taste great. So tune in to your preferences and eat real foods that will nourish you, fuel you and satisfy you everyday.

Nutrition, Wellness

The Scarcity Diet

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What’s the most common thing that people do right before going on a diet? Binge eat. That’s right, when most of us decide that it’s time to take control of our health we also decide to go all out for one last hurrah. The thinking here is that you will never get to eat these things ever again so you might as well enjoy it while you still can. This is the scarcity mindset and it is the most counterproductive thing that you can do that will ultimately sabotage your resolve before you even get started.

Most of us equate dieting with deprivation and restriction. We see it as a fad that is totally ineffective in the long run, and yet we still get on board. Billions of dollars are spent every year in the diet and fitness industry and so many of us embark on this journey with the best intentions, while subconsciously feeling skeptical. This thinking is all based on past experiences where it was really hard or too intense and restrictive or it cost a fortune and you just didn’t get the results you wanted, or someone close to you experienced these things. As the saying goes “everybody’s got a story” and this case is no different. Whether you’re aware of it or not, these issues dictate your entire experience and outcome.

When we choose to overeat leading up to a new diet plan we’re already in that state of mind where we’re thinking that this is it and we’ll never get to eat anything tasty again. So instead of being upper jazzed up about starting something healthy, we’re going into it kinda bummed out, thinking that this is going to totally suck. Mindset really is the key to long lasting change and continuous progress. Your willpower alone will not get you there, otherwise you’d already be a size 4 with a 6-pack of abs! If you at any point feel restricted or feel that sense of food scarcity, the diet will fail you.

All of this doesn’t mean that you’ll never reach your goal, because countless people have turned their lives around and kept the weight off. In order for this to work, you have to truly want to do this and have to fully believe that you will succeed. Understand that it will take work on your part and make peace with that, but keep your eye on the prize and focus on that vision of constant progress towards a lifetime of great health.

Another key component to getting your mind right is to not plan too far in advance. For example, many people during the holidays decided that starting in the new year they are going to finally start exercising and losing weight. The problem is that in this case you are relying on the timing being perfect in terms of not having events to go to where there will be decadent food at your disposal. However, there will always be holidays, gatherings, work events, dinners, luncheons, cocktail hours and all kinds of other social events that will occur and that you will take part in. That stuff doesn’t just end. So waiting for the time to be just right is actually never going to happen. What are you going to do come Easter or come your birthday or vacation or girls night out? Stop waiting and start doing. Start right now and go at a pace that works for you. ease yourself into it by slowly incorporating healthy habits into your life as it is at this moment. Go to bed a little early (even if it’s just 5 minutes earlier), have a glass of water when you get out of bed (before you start knocking back the coffee), walk up the escalator, add a little more veg to your dinner. Simplicity is your best friend for lasting change.

Instead of the all or nothing approach, look at what you have right in front of you and start to make some simple changes. This has been huge for me and it is exactly what has prevented me from getting into that scarcity mindset. In the past, I’ve gone ahead and stuffed myself before any new regiment, but last year I started approaching it differently and I continue to do so. It’s what has gotten me through 3 contest preps and my first photoshoot prep as well and has allowed me to maintain my results after the fact. Keep in mind that there will always be an abundance of food and food-related social gatherings in your life, so there is no need to eat everything just because it’s there or just because this may be your only time to try it. eat the food that actually looks good to you and that you know tastes great. And most of all, eat when you’re hungry (not starving!), when you’re full just stop or slow it down and pack up the leftovers for another time.

Fitness, Nutrition, Recipes, Wellness

Why fitness isn’t for free

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When I first earned my personal trainer certification I started doing a couple of plans for free. I did these for some friends and relatives with the hopes of gaining some extra experience while also helping others get healthy. My thinking was that I was going to be a great resource for people who were looking to get fit, without them having to spend a fortune on some fancy group coaching service with weekly meetings and a minimum buy-in.

Well…I was wrong.

The reality is that if there is no investment, there are no returns. Think of it like this: right now you could google fitness and nutrition plans you will get an endless number of free options. How many people have actually followed those free plans on their own, gotten great results and be able to maintain these results? Very few if any at all. When there is no investment, there is nothing to hold you accountable and accountability is what will keep you on track when you are ready to throw in the towel. Ultimately, when you make this investment you’ll want to get your money’s worth.

Prime example: Someone had asked for my help and I had happily put a plan together for them; they were looking to a significant amount of weight. Well, one day they called me up just to chat and casually mentioned that they were going to pick up a bag of chips. Naturally I started telling them that this wasn’t part of their program and that they would only be hurting themself. This person responded with “I DON’T GIVE A SHIT!” and then they hung up on my face.

Just because you decide that you want to get in shape doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to happen. You can read all of the fitness magazines or sign up for as many free challenges as you want , but until you actually take massive action and start getting to work, you will never be able to change. What you have to know about weight loss is that it’s work and that it is a lifelong commitment. This may seem intimidating, but what’s the alternative? Continue feeling crappy all the time and disliking the way that you look. Why waste your precious time standing in the dressing room picking apart your body, when you could instead feel great and love every part of yourself? Seriously. You need to invest in yourself. I didn’t become a nationally qualified bodybuilder on my own. I hired a great coach with contest experience who specialized in vegan nutrition. I could have easily gone to the gym and picked out any trainer who would put together some generic plan for me, but I knew that it would be a total waste of resources for me. The investment got me the support that I needed and it created the accountability to fully commit to my goal. I still had to put in a ton of work, but it was totally worth it.

It’s the same principal with groceries. So many of us talk about how expensive it is, but the reality is that quality food and nutrient dense food can be more of an investment that the junk food that has no business being in your grocery kart.

At the end of the day, you get what you give and if you want to finally get healthy and lose weight FOR GOOD then it’s time to invest in yourself and get to work. You don’t have to go to the most expensive gym in your area or buy the most expensive protein powder out there, but you have to invest in the right training and in the right nutrition. And by right I mean the best balance between challenging, enjoyable and great quality. If you love to dance then try a Zumba class, if you’re competitive then try powerlifting or bodybuilding, if you love having a sense of community then try out Crossfit. Nutrition-wise, well if you love chocolate everything then try my Raw Protein Brownie, or if you are all about sushi, well I’ve got a low-carb sushi recipe that will knock your socks off!

The moral of the story is this:

Commit. Invest. Progress.

It’s time. You can do this and I can help. To schedule your FREE 1 on 1 no obligation coaching call click here

P.S. Don’t forget to check my newly released EBooks! There’s an awesome recipe collection with delicious meal and snack options that are 100% vegan. And for those of you looking to go-it alone in terms of losing weight or getting fit, check out the nutritional guide and workout plan!