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Archive for the ‘Fitness Articles’ Category

How To Do Your First Chin Up

 

Before you attempt to do your first chin up, there will be a few things you’ll need to check off your list.

 

Step One: Strengthen the muscles that you will use to chin

 

You should have a decent lat pulldown, and a bench press that is at least 40-50% of your bodyweight for 1 rep or more.

 

Your shoulders need to be at decent strength too – with adequate range of motion at the shoulder joint and healthy movement of the scapulars.

 

You should have been doing isolated arm and forearm work, so that your grip and biceps are strong enough to hold your bodyweight without risk of causing strain to the elbow.

 

Once you have ticked these boxes – you have now qualified to start isometric chin up work.

 

Step 2: Isometric Work

 

Choose either a close semi-supinated grip (palms face each other) or conventional chin up (palms face you), as these are your strongest grips. Pull ups (palms face away from face) are roughly 15-20% harder then these.

 

How to do the Isometric Chin Up: Start by climbing up on the chin up bar so that you start with your body at the top of the chin up position. The bar should be on the clavicle, and you need to have the scapulars sitting in the correct position so that your upper back is locked into this position.

 

Start Your Isometric and Eccentric Chin Ups From Here

Start Your Isometric and Eccentric Chin Ups From Here

 

Once you are in this position you want to hold it there for the max amount of time you can. Being able to hold in this position on the bar for 10 seconds without dropping is the first goal. If you can do this easily – it is time to move on to eccentric work.

 

Step 3: Eccentric Work

 

An eccentric chin up starts in the same position at your isometric chin up: with your body at the top of the chin up position. The bar should be sitting on the clavicle. Your upper back must be locked into this position before you begin the movement.

 

You will then aim to lower your body for 10 seconds into the end position of a chin up – which is a full hang with both elbows locked out.

 

Eccentric work is very demanding on the body, although not metabolically expensive at all.

 

Each time you do the eccentric chin up, you should be aiming to add another few seconds onto your lowering speed. Once you can do 20 seconds comfortably, you will hold a dumbbell in the thighs and do the eccentric work with load.

 

You can then vary by doing eccentric work with different hand positions.

 

Step 4: Paused Eccentric Work

 

This is the final stage before being able to do a full chin up.

 

Start at the top with your clavicle on the bar and pause here for 2-3 seconds. Start to lower. Pause again when you reach just above half way for another 2-3 seconds, then once more at the half way point, then lower slowly to the full hang.

 

Once you have done all these steps – you are well and truly ready to do your first concentric chin up.

 

I would start at the bottom of the rep at full hang, and aim to pull up for 1 rep only, with a controlled eccentric of 3 or 4 seconds down.

 

If you have someone there to assist you, then allow them to assist you through 2 more repetitions for the concentric part of the rep, and lower down yourself for 4 seconds each time.

 

Once you can do 1 on your own with perfect technique, all you need to do is keep adding on 1 extra rep to your set each week. (Note here that if you are heavy, adding on a rep a week may not be achievable).

 

Good luck!

-V x

 

 

Aerobic Training VS Resistance Training

There are a lot of conflicting opinions going around at the moment about the best mode of exercise to achieve optimal health and body composition. Some people swear by aerobic work, some by interval work, and some only do resistance training.

 

But which is the right mode of exercise for you?

 

Let me break down each mode of training for you first – let’s look at the benefits of each … then the decision is ultimately up to you.

 

Aerobic Training / Interval Training

 

Aerobic training is steady state cardio – running, cycling, swimming etc.

 

Interval Training alternates bouts of high-intensity exercise with that of low to moderate-intensity exercise e.g. sprinting for 30 seconds, and then walking for 2 minutes.

 

Both aerobic and interval work have many health benefits including reduction in cardiovascular disease and stroke, improved insulin sensitivity, reduction in blood pressure, decreased stress and improved mood.

 

Both aerobic and interval work are also excellent ways to expend energy for those wishing to lose weight.

 

Recently interval training has become very popular – and rightly so. It is an effective mode of training to increase fitness and burn calories in a significantly shorter amount of time then if you are doing aerobic training.

 

However, Interval training is more demanding on the body then aerobic work, which means more rest and recovery is needed between sessions. For this reason, I would suggest you did 2 – 3 interval sessions a week at most. More frequent sessions may not allow enough recovery, and you will not be able to achieve a sufficiently high intensity, which will diminish the effectiveness of your workout.

 

I often prescribe interval training to clients who are time poor, as I know they will get a “bang for their buck” for that 30 minutes they are willing to spend in the gym in their lunch break. Even just 20-30 minutes of intense interval training will burn fat and create an EPOC response, which means the body will burn fat even after you have finished your training session.

 

The length of each interval, length of rest, mode of training, gradients etc. can all be varied regularly to keep you training out of your comfort zone, and to add variety to your workouts.

 

I believe there is a place for both aerobic and interval training in the world – and your exercise routine.

 

Doing several aerobic training sessions a week is a great way to expend large amounts of energy to create caloric defecit for those wishing to lose weight.

 

Going for a fairly easy jog for an hour could burn up to 1000 calories for some people. This is huge! And relatively low intensity, so it can be done more often. This is especially great news for more unfit and overweight people who wish to achieve whole body mass reduction on a large scale.

 

Resistance Training:

 

Then, there is resistance training – which is any exercise that causes the muscle to contract against an external resistance (lifting weights).

 

Resistance training has many benefits – some of which cannot be achieved through cardio alone. The main benefits of resistance training are increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and size, increased bone density, joint function and joint stability, reduced potential for injury, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cardiac function and an increase in metabolism.

 

Hypertrophy of the muscle will be very minimal through aerobic training. Along with this – if you are burning lots of calories by doing extended aerobic training, chances are you may burn some muscle too – unless you are doing resistance training to prevent that.

 

Losing weight is one thing – anybody can lose several kilos on the scales, but still not be happy with their body composition. But losing fat, and building lean mass in its place to create an optimal body composition … this can only be achieved with the inclusion of resistance training.

 

The Facts: Aerobic Training VS Resistance Training For Fat Loss

 

In a study conducted in September 2012 on Optimal Exercise Mode for Fat Mass Change, groups were put into three groups: One group did only aerobic training, one group did only resistance training, and then one group did a combination of the two.

 

This study found that aerobic training was the most effective mode of training for the reduction of fat mass and total body mass.

 

The group doing only resistance training showed little to no reduction in fat mass and total body mass.

 

However, lean mass was built only in the groups that included resistance training.

 

The group that did only resistance training built the most lean muscle, and the group that did combined training built a little bit less, but still substantially more then the group that did no resistance training at all.

 

The greatest reduction in fat mass and waist circumference was from the combined resistance and aerobic training group  – although only very marginally above the aerobic only training group.

 

From this data we can safely conclude that aerobic training alone is more effective then resistance training alone for the reduction of fat and body mass in previously sedentary, non-diabetic, overweight and/or obese adults.

 

However, a program with combined aerobic and resistance training, while not providing an additive effect for reducing fat mass or body mass compared with aerobic training alone, will support the growth of lean body mass during fat loss.

 

Conclusion:

 

In the end, what your training goal is will depict how you should train, and what mode of training is best for you.

 

If you are obese and unfit, then I would prescribe predominantly aerobic training and a little bit of resistance training for you.

 

My reasons being: for somebody with so much weight to lose – aerobic training is going to expend the most amount of energy minute for minute, and for this reason is the most effective mode of training for the reduction of total body mass. It is also the least taxing form of exercise on the body and nervous system, so therefor is something you should be able to do every day.

 

In order to lose one kg of fat, one must create a 7,500 calorie defecit, so aiming to create a 500+ calorie defecit every day through change in diet and increased activity will create a steady weight loss for my overweight client each week.

 

An overweight person has more muscle tissue then the average person. So when somebody is so big and has so much weight to lose (100kg plus) – they can also afford to lose a little bit of muscle too (hence once again why their training is geared towards aerobic work).

 

However, doing resistance training 2 times a week in conjunction with their aerobic training will combat loss of muscle. The resistance training should be geared towards burning a maximum amount of calories per session – so high volume workouts, and minimal rest between sets.

 

I find with obese clients that they often have pre existing problems with joints (knees, ankles etc.) as their body has had to carry around excess weight for so long. In these cases, resistance training will be essential in prevention of injury, so that my client can train at the desired intensity needed to lose weight safely, and for a very long time.

 

If you are relatively fit, and wanting to lose fat mass and build lean mass (toning up, as most women like to call it), then I would suggest an inclusion of all 3 modes of training. If you were to train 6 times a week (this would be optimal), try doing 2 resistance training sessions, 2 interval sessions, and 2 aerobic training sessions. Or, 3 resistance, 2 interval, and 1 aerobic training session (so you are doing half cardio, and half resistance training).

 

Use the aerobic training session as your ‘easy’ day in between interval and resistance training sessions, so that your body gets a little rest between sessions.

 

A maximum of 400 – 500 calorie defecit per day would be my suggestion, to ensure you lose weight steadily, but without impeding on muscle gain or causing any health problems associated with losing weight too quickly.

 

If you are aiming to increase strength or size, I would suggest resistance training as your primary source of training.

 

For the guys that I train who are interested in building mass, occasionally I will cut cardio from their training routine altogether for a period of time.

 

Even though the health benefits of aerobic training are incredible – I wouldn’t suggest endurance work for somebody who’s goal is to put on size.

 

For these guys, I would be suggesting high intensity sprint interval training as their main form of cardio  – either for 15 minutes at the end of their resistance training workout once or twice a week, or away from their resistance training workout altogether. This will allow them to receive the benefits of aerobic training, with little to no cost on their strength and muscle gain.

 

Ultimately – your training goal depicts the way in which you should train, and which mode of training to focus on. It is very true that by doing aerobic work, you will never reach your full potential for muscle size and strength.

 

However, for the average person out there, reaching your full potential for strength and size is not a common goal. Most people want to be fit, lean and healthy … not necessarily humungous. So in that case, doing a combination of both aerobic and resistance training is going to be ideal for you.

 

There is no one way to train that will work for everybody – because we are all so unique and our body’s adapt to training stimulus differently. The basic principles are yours to take and adapt (with the help of your trainer) to create the best training program that will help you reach your fitness and body compositional goals.

 

-V x

 

 

Reference:

Leslie H. Willis,1 Cris A. Slentz,1 Lori A. Bateman,1 A. Tamlyn Shields,5 Lucy W. Piner,1
Connie W. Bales,3,4 Joseph A. Houmard,5 and William E. Kraus Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. Journal Of Applied Physiology

A Few Good Reasons To Drink Tea

Now I can’t say I’m as much of an avid tea and coffee drinker as my friend Tony Boutagy, but I do enjoy a cup of tea and/or coffee daily.

 

Allow me to delve a little deeper into the reasons why tea is such a wonderful addition to virtually anybody’s diet

 

1. Tea Fights Cancer!

All four kinds of nonherbal tea (green, black, white and red) come from a plant known as Cammelia Sinensis. The leaves of this plant contain an array of polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, many of which have anticancer activity. Numerous studies have reported that the active ingredient in green tea inhibits the growth and reproduction of cancer cells and may help prevent several types of cancers in humans.

 

2. Drinking Black Tea Can Prevent Stroke and Heart Attack

It has been shown that drinking black tea can help reverse an abnormal functioning of blood vessels that can contribute to stroke or heart attack.

 

3. Drink Tea To Lower Cholesterol

Drinking tea (both black or green) lowers triglycerides, and high triglycerides are strongly associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

 

4. Drink Tea To Feel Happy

There is a substance in green tea called theanine that improves mood and increases the sense of relaxation.

 

5. Drinking Tea To Decrease Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is linked with disease and in some cases an inability to shift body composition. The good news is that the powerful antioxidant qualities of green tea have been shown to lower inflammation in the body.

 

6. Green Tea For Weight Loss

Not only does green tea have so many promising health benefits – ingesting the extract Epogalocatechin gallate (the active ingredient in green tea) has been proven to increase the rate of fat oxidation.

 

It does this in two ways: It increases adrenaline and noradrenaline activity resulting in higher concentrations of catecholamines and stimulation of lipolysis making more fatty acids available for oxidation.

 

There is also evidence that the active ingredient in green tea promotes temporary increases in metabolic rate.

 

A study was done recently that found subjects who ingested green tea extract the night before and one hour before 30 minutes of cycling increased fat metabolism by 20%. However, the dose used was a highly concentrated form of the active ingredient in green tea that would equate to drinking 1L of green tea!

 

Now I don’t know about you – but drinking one litre of green tea pre-workout is just not something that would sit well with me. For this reason, green tea extract in the form of a capsule of tablet may be something more conducive to your lifestyle to take pre-workout.

 

So there it is! Good for your heart – good for your health.  Delicious, relaxing … Stay tuned for the next chapter: A Few Good Reasons To Drink Coffee!

 

-V x

 

Reference:

Bowden, J. (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods. USA: Fair Winds Press.

Jeukendrup, A (2010) Sports Nutrition – From Lab To Kitchen. UK: Meyer & Meyer Sport

 

 

 

Damage Control: 6 Steps To Minimize Your Risk Of Getting Sick This Winter

As we start to approach winter and the dreaded flu season, people are getting taken down left right and centre.

 

People are coughing and spluttering all over you on the train … at work … It is clearly time for: damage control.

 

What can you do this winter to boost your health, and minimize the risk of getting taken down with the rest of the poor souls out there?

 

I bring to you: 6 steps to minimize your risk of getting sick this winter.

 

#1 Take a Multivitamin

 

I’m sure you’ve heard this one a million times before – it’s a no brainer.

 

Everybody should be taking a good quality multivitamin daily.

 

The multivitamin is full of ‘the good guys’ – vitamins and minerals that you will not be getting in high enough doses from diet alone.

 

#2 Take Fish Oil


Supplementing daily with good quality fish oil liquid and/or capsules is crucial for optimal health.

 

… Your joints, eyes and heart will thank you!

 

I don’t know one trainer or doctor that wouldn’t suggest you take fish oil. So get on the bandwagon (if you haven’t already).

 

Increased mental focus, energy and reduced inflammation are some of the fabulous benefits that await you.

 

#3 Supplement Vitamin D (If Your Levels Are Low) 


Vitamin D has been identified as a common deficiency amongst people that is contributing to numerous health problems.

 

Vitamin D is synthesized in the body in response to sun exposure.

 

If vitamin D levels are low and/or you are not able to spend adequate time in the sun (15 minutes+ of full body exposure per day), I would highly recommend it be taken in supplement form.

 

Adequate vitamin D levels are critical for optimal bone, muscle, heart, and kidney health. Vitamin D also plays a role in prevention and management of infection, cancer, depression and brain disorders … as well as boosting immunity to top it all off.

 

If you worry that your vitamin D levels are low – Your GP will be able to do a routine blood test to check them.

 

Current vitamin D guidelines can be found here:

http://www.tonyboutagy.com/1/post/2012/05/vitamin-d-guidelines.html

 

#4 Wash Your Hands

 

Another no brainer – but one we are sometimes forgetting.

 

Everything you are touching at work, on the train and at the gym has been touched numerous times before you!

 

No need to be a germ-a-phoebe and live in a bubble where you are afraid to touch anything or come into any human contact – our bodies are built to be able to handle germs and fight them off.

 

But give your body the best chance possible to fight them off by washing your hands numerous times a day (especially before eating, or putting your hands anywhere near your mouth!)

 

#5 Eat (And Drink) Foods Rich In Nutrients


Your body needs adequate protein, fat, vitamins and minerals in order to perform optimally and combat the nasty bugs floating around, so feed your body with foods full of nutrients this winter.

 

Make an effort to increase your intake of fruit and vegetables – this will in turn provide your body with an array of phytonutrients.

 

Our bodies require a smorgasbord of fruit and vegetables in order to get phytonutrients in an array of levels. These particular nutrients serve as antioxidants, increase immunity and protect human health.

 

Go for variety, colour… and lots of it to really reap the benefits of plant food consumption.

 

And why not add drinking herbal tea into your daily routine this winter?

 

You can get immune boosting, detoxifying compounds such as polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids in a single mug of green tea… and something to warm your hands when they feel icy cold – win, win!


#6 Sleep + Train


Aim to sleep 8 – 8.5 hours a night.

 

Aim to train 3-6 times a week.

 

Standard.

 

… Let’s stay fit and fabulous this winter! 😉

 

-V x

 

 

Reference:

http://www.charlespoliquin.com/Blog/tabid/130/EntryId/410/25-Excellent-Reasons-to-Take-Vitamin-D.aspx

 

Are Your Scales Lying To You?

It’s usually when the weight on the scales starts to creep up that people book in to see me, hoping to get rid of some of the fat mass that has managed to creep up over the years.

 

But there is a big difference between losing fat, and losing weight on the scales.

 

You can drop 2kg on the scales in a day without any of it coming from fat storage.

 

On the flip side, you can lose fat, and consequently gain weight on the scales.

 

How is that possible? Well, for a couple of reasons. Let’s explore them:

 

 1. Muscle Mass VS Fat Mass

 

Scales are not going to differentiate whether a loss or gain of weight on the scales came from fat or muscle.

 

The biggest loser contestants lose an astonishing amount of weight each week – sometimes losing up to half of their body weight by the end of the show.

 

However, there was only ever one biggest loser contestant who’s body composition was measured via DEXA scan before and after the show. This scan concluded that the contestant lost 60% of their muscle mass during the show.

 

This is a very real example of how losing weight on the scales doesn’t mean you’ve lost that amount of fat.

 

2. Glycogen Stores

 

Glycogen is stored carbohydrate in the liver and muscle that it is readily available as muscle fuel during exercise.

 

Glycogen will be exhausted after a heavy training session, and replenished with adequate carbohydrate intake.

 

When you undertake a training regime, this will promote more glycogen to be stored in the muscle. And if you are eating sufficient carbohydrate to replenish your stores, you could be storing anywhere from 1-2kgs of glycogen in your body at any one time!

 

Don’t get me wrong; I still think scales are a valuable tool.

 

If somebody is embarking on a weight loss venture and has a fair amount of weight to lose– then there should be a steady reduction of weight observed on the scales week to week, despite increase in muscle mass, and glycogen stores.

 

You can monitor your losses and if you hit a plateau quite easily with scales. Also, they are inexpensive, and easy to use.

However, it is important to know that scales are not a reputable source to measure your body fat or monitor smaller body compositional changes.

 

For anybody interested in knowing their fat, muscle, and bone mass at 99% accuracy, I would recommend you get a DEXA Scan. They are available here:  http://www.measureup.com.au/

 

-V x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whey Protein … Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

 

I get asked a lot if having a protein powder post workout is beneficial.

 

The answer is a big fat yes!

 

I would firstly recommend that your protein powder be a whey protein, unless you have any intolerances to products derived from milk, in which case soy, pea or rice protein may be of benefit to you. However, whey protein is superior to any of the others on the market, and I will go into more detail as to why that is throughout the course of this article.

 

There are three main reasons as to why you should always follow a resistance training session by consuming a whey protein drink

 

 1. For increased strength and hypertrophy gains

 

Resistance training is a potent stimulus to increase muscle protein synthesis and to stimulate positive net protein balance.

 

Over time, positive protein balance achieved through resistance training and adequate protein intake will result in hypertrophy (increase of size of muscle cells) and strength gains.

 

In a recent study, 56 young healthy men were recruited to train 5 days a week for 12 weeks. They were divided into three groups, and each group assigned a different post workout drink that was to be consumed immediately after training, and then again 1 hour after exercise.

 

One group was assigned a fat-free milk protein, the other a fat-free soy protein, and one a carbohydrate only maltodextrin drink with identical energy properties to the others.

 

Type II muscle fiber area increased in all groups due to training although the greatest increases were in the milk group, than in both the soy and control group. Type I muscle fiber area increased after training only in the milk and soy groups.

 

Fat and bone-free mass (aka lean mass) increased in all groups, with the greatest increase in the milk group (6.2% increase), followed by soy (4.4%), and then finally the control group (3.7%).

 

It is therefor clear that consumption of milk protein in close proximity to your resistance training session can enhance training induced increases in muscle mass and strength.

 

2. Recovery

 

Whey protein is sufficiently rich in essential amino acids, BCAAs and leucine. It is understood that taking whey protein after resistance training increases delivery of amino acids to the muscle, which increases muscle protein synthesis and minimizes protein degradation of the muscle.

 

Your recovery from a resistance training session will be faster, and there is a possibility you will experience less DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) post training session if you consume a milk protein product rather then not.

 

Faster recovery = you back in the gym sooner for another intense training session = more resistance training induced gains. Woo hoo!

 

 3. Fat loss

 

In a related study to the one I just mentioned, a group of young healthy women were recruited for a 12-week study to measure body composition and strength changes with milk and resistance exercise.

 

The women were divided into two groups: Milk, and Control. Both groups were taken through a 12-week resistance-training program. Subjects were asked to consume either 500ml of milk or a carbohydrate only control drink containing identical energy properties immediately after, and then again 1 hour after training.

 

The results showed that lean mass increased with both training groups, with a greater net increase seen in the milk group. But perhaps even more interesting to note is that fat mass only declined in the milk group, with fat mass remaining constant in the control group.

 

In another study a group of overweight people were given either a carbohydrate or protein (either whey-based or soy-based) supplement to consume daily, and changes in body composition were monitored. Participants of the study continued to eat normally, and did not exercise for the duration of the study.

 

The study found that the whey-supplement group decreased body mass, fat mass, and waist circumference significantly more than the carb-supplement group, and slightly more than the soy-supplement group – and this was without any dietary or lifestyle changes!

 

It is not completely understood why supplementing with whey protein results in fat loss, although researchers suggest that the high protein levels from the whey may decrease hunger levels slightly and thereby lower total caloric intake throughout the day.

 

Fasting ghrelin was lower in participants consuming whey protein compared with soy of carbs. This is interesting to note, as ghrelin is a hormone affecting appetite. Higher levels of ghrelin generally equate to higher hunger levels, which would lead to increase food intake.

 

Additionally it was hypothesized that protein consumption stimulated the release of hormones affecting the metabolic rate leading to fat reduction or that the property of dairy proteins themselves accelerate loss of adipose tissue mass during energy restriction.

 

So, if you aren’t supplementing your training regime with whey protein, then it’s clearly time to get into it! Enjoy a post workout shake with 25g of high quality protein within 30 minutes of each and every resistance training session.

 

So is it really the best thing since sliced bread?

 

Well, considering I don’t suggest daily indulgence in bread… and the introduction of pre-sliced bread probably made eating it more popularized and accessible and encourages you to eat more of it – I’m going to go right ahead and say that whey protein is not only the best thing since sliced bread … It’s far better.

 

-V xx

 

 

Hartman, J. Tang, J. Wilkinson, S. Tarnopolsky, Mark. Lawrence, R. Fullerton, A. Phillips, S. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Josse, A. Tang, J. Tarnopolsky, M. Phillips, S. Body Composition and Strength Changes in Women with Milk and Resistance Exercise. Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21092368

http://www.charlespoliquin.com/Blog/tabid/130/EntryId/577/Tip-148-Lose-Fat-Another-Reason-to-Make-Sure-Whey-Protein-is-Part-of-Your-Nutrition-Plan.aspx

 

 

Eating Chocolate To Save Your Life

Some of us are addicts.

 

Most of us have broken a diet or two to succumb to it’s charm.

 

Nearly all women have threatened to kill somebody at some point if they couldn’t get their hands on it.

 

I’m talking, of course, about chocolate.

 

As an admittant fan of chocolate, I’ve decided to write an article on the benefits of eating chocolate and, more importantly, the type of chocolate you should be eating in order to gain these benefits (and not a dress size).

 

An article was issued in 2004 that put forth an idea of the ideal meal, called the “Polymeal”. Foods were researched and examined, and a group of foods was put together that, when eaten every day, would significantly reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

 

Dark chocolate was one of the 7 ingredients that made it into the Polymeal (along with red wine, fish, nuts, garlic, fruits and vegetables – for those of you playing at home).

 

The main reason why chocolate is so good for you is because cocoa is rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids have many health promoting effects, and antioxidant qualities. They are generally found in plant-based foods, however cocoa is rich in a particular class of flavonoid called flavanol.

 

Flavanols prevent fatlike substances in the bloodstream from clogging the arteries, which can greatly reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

 

When ingested, flavanols cause significant increases in circulating nitric oxide, which allows the blood vessels to widen and relax. Nitric Oxide is critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure.

 

Flavanol-rich cocoa has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity in healthy people, lower cholesterol, improve circulation, improve survival after heart attack, improve brain function, increase mental energy, and even improve endurance performance.

 

Now, I am not suggesting that you go out and buy a block of your favourite chocolate right now and demolish it. Eating the right type of chocolate, and in moderation, is the key to being able to enjoy chocolate and all of its benefits.

 

You want to eat chocolate that is rich in flavanols and polyphenols, in order to obtain any of the health benefits I have spoken about. The basic rule is, that the higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the concentrate of flavanol.

 

Chocolate with 85% cocoa mass would be ideal, and 70% would be a minimum recommendation for those who can’t stand the bitterness of anything higher.

 

White chocolate is, unfortunately, a no go!

 

Avoid any milk chocolate products – a non-dairy product would be ideal. The dark chocolate suggested as part of the Polymeal is, in fact, a dairy-free chocolate!

 

So the next thing to do is to have a look at the list of ingredients before making an informed decision on the best one for you. Many of the commercial bars are loaded with sugars, fats and chemicals that you don’t want to be adding to your diet.

 

Remember that the more the chocolate is processed, the more the beneficial flavonoids are lost.

 

Fat content itself is not always the issue when reading the label, as one of the 3 kinds of fat found in chocolate is oleic acid, which is the same kind found in olive oil – a heart healthy fat.

 

However, steer well away from any chocolate with high-fructose corn syrup and/or hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. These will be doing more harm then good! (See my article Will Fats Make Me Fat for more information regarding those harmful fats!)

 

Lastly, is knowing when to enjoy chocolate and how much of it to have.

 

As I’m sure you can imagine, chocolate needs to be enjoyed in moderation. Too much of this good thing will be sure to take you back a few steps with your weight loss goals.

 

I suggest that you enjoy servings of around 15 – 30 grams of chocolate 2-3 times a week. (This is assuming you are maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime).

 

For healthy individuals who are not aiming to achieve weight loss and don’t have any medical condition that would prevent you from eating it, you could enjoy this same amount daily.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, as long as you can respect these guidelines, you may add chocolate into your diet every other day – guilt free!

 

Eat the right chocolate… And eat it in moderation.

 

You have my blessing.

 

-V xx

 

 

Reference:

Bowden , J. (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods. USA: Fair Winds Press.

http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/807/Do_Women_Really_Need_Chocolate.aspx

 

Will Fats Make Me Fat?

The word ‘fat’ is thrown around more and more these days.

 

As you browse the aisles of the supermarket you will be swarmed with ‘low-fat’ this, and ‘reduced-fat’ that.

 

Then you go home and your girlfriend asks you if she looks ‘fat’ in her jeans…

 

You can’t escape it.

 

There’s no denying it.

 

The world is obsessed with fat.

 

So here comes the confusing part. Which fats should we be eating, and which should we be staying away from?

 

You’ve most probably heard the term “healthy fat”. But how do you distinguish the healthy fats, from the not so healthy fats?

 

I’m aware that it is all pretty confusing – so I’m here to break it down for you.

 

Trans-fatty acids (TFAs) are naturally occurring fats in animal and meat products. In no way am I suggesting for you to avoid eating animal products. I suggest that you always choose lean, and preferably organic cuts of meat (although more on that another time), and enjoy them daily.

 

The sources of TFA’s that I am worried about are those that are not naturally occurring.

 

These are fats that are manufactured by partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. You will find TFA’s largely in margarine, deep-fried foods (McDonald’s/KFC), doughnuts, cookies, cakes, chips, or any product that has “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” listed in the ingredients.

 

The consumption of TFA’s from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils provides no apparent nutritional benefit, and has huge potential for harm. These are the guys that you should be worried about. These fats are the ones that are going to contribute to poor cardiovascular health – And a muffin top!

 

Saturated Fats are naturally occurring fats in meat products, dairy, coconut oil and palm oil.

 

Cooking with coconut oil when frying is a good idea, as it stays stable at a higher heat. The fatty acids in coconut oil are powerful antibiotics shown to have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral qualities providing health benefits such as hair and skin care, improved digestion and strengthened immunity. Be sure to always choose extra virgin coconut oil, as an inferior product may have the inclusion of nasty trans fats!

 

Saturated fat in the diet is beneficial for optimal cell and bone health – between 30 to 50% of your daily dietary fats should be saturated.

 

However, not all sources of saturated fats are created equal.

 

Processed meats, dairy products, and bakery items are all foods that have high levels of saturated fats, and will also be sure to raise your cholesterol through the roof! Steering clear of foods such as these is important if you want to stay lean and heart healthy.


Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two groups of Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids.

 

These are essential to the diet, as the human body cannot manufacture them.

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EFAs) are necessary for energy production, oxygen transfer, muscle recovery, cell growth, immune function, and brain and nerve development and maintenance.

 

Fatty fish like wild salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, oysters etc. as well as walnuts, flax seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs provide a rich source of omega-3s.


Omega-6 fatty acids (EFAs) are found in most nuts, seeds and grains and the oils that are extracted from them.

 

The issue with Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFAs is the balance in which you eat them. An ideal ratio of omega-3:omega-6 EFAs in your diet is 1:3.

 

Nutritious sources of omega-6 EFAs are plentiful, and widely available. Whereas most people will not be consuming enough omega-3s, so will need to supplement their diet with a good quality fish oil capsule.

 

A lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, or an imbalance between omega-3 and omega 6 EFAs can contribute to obesity, depression, cancer, heart attack, stroke, arthritis and chronic inflammatory disorders.

 

Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods high in monounsaturated fats are olive, canola and peanut oils, avocados, and some nuts and seeds.

 

So now that we know about all the different types of fat, can you see how all fats play an important role? Without them we would not be unable to function – both physically and mentally – as the nutritional benefits from including fats in our diet are enormous.

 

As long as you remember that moderation is always the key!

 

I have officially given you the green light to snack on nuts, seeds, and cook with oil to ensure a range of healthy fats in your diet… But don’t overdo it! In the end, each gram of fat contains 9 calories and – regardless of its nutritional value – is a calorie nonetheless!

 

So don’t deny yourself fat! Rather, eat the right sorts of fat, and avoid the types that are going to make you, well … fat!

 

-V x

The ‘Birds and the Bees’ Of Pregnancy

I have had two conversations with clients this past week who are tossing up the idea of falling pregnant sometime in the near future.

 

It prompted me to write this article, so I may share with you (and all the other mothers-to-be) my opinion as to what are the important factors associated with a healthy pregnancy.

 

There are 3 things every pregnant women needs to do:

 

1. Eat well.

 

2. Train well.

 

3. Stress less.

 

Let me break all three points down for you, starting at the top.

 

#1 “Eating for two”

 

 

In the 1st trimester (Wk 1 – Wk 12) you should be eating 300 or so more calories per day.

 

By 2nd trimester (Wk  13 – Wk 27) you should be expecting to gain ½ kg a week, or thereabouts.

 

By 3rd trimester (Wk 28 – Wk 40) you can expect to gain anywhere from 8 – 12kg.

 

Over 40% of women exceed the institute of medicine’s guidelines for optimal weight gain during pregnancy, and maternal obesity increases the risk of pregnancy complications, including hypertension, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.

 

Overnutrition, like maternal undernutrition, can also predispose offspring to develop obesity and type 2 diabetes.

 

So, yes, you are literally feeding for two. But does that warrant a packet of crisps loaded with sugars, calories and trans-fats? Absolutely not.

 

Optimal maternal body weight during pregnancy, associated with optimal levels of nutrition, are absolutely critical to the short and long term well-being of both mother and child.

 

This is the most critical time to be feeding your body with vitamins and minerals, and avoiding anything that could be damaging to your baby’s health.

 

Eat a diet rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids to support fetal growth and brain development. In fact, I would highly recommend you supplemented your diet with a good quality fish oil capsule.

 

Eating a balanced diet rich in proteins, vegetables, fruits, and wholegrain products is essential, whilst avoiding deep fried and fast food, sugar, chocolate and sweets, alcohol, and aspartame (sweeteners).

 

#2 Training whilst pregnant

 

People often ask me if it is a good idea to train whilst pregnant. The answer, in short, is yes!

 

Goals such as “losing weight”, “increasing fitness”, and “increasing muscle tone”, should be placed on the back burner for now.

 

Your goal in the gym up until birth should now be to maintain your level of fitness, rather then make any gains. Most importantly, a sub-maximal resistance program and light aerobic work will prepare your body (and mind) for a healthy pregnancy, and aid in a quicker recovery post pregnancy.

 

If you were not training prior to falling pregnant, then this is not the time to take up training! This will place unnecessary stress on your body. Instead, light walking and/or swimming would be advised, along with your “kegel” exercises (more on them later).

 

For those who have been training regularly prior to falling pregnant, you may continue to train as long as you greatly reduce intensity and change positions when necessary.

 

Firstly, buy a heart rate monitor! Wear it every time you train, and never let your heart rate increase to over 70% of your max heart rate. I find that somewhere between 130bpm and 140bpm is a safe point.

 

Secondly, take your current intensity of your training down to 70%. So lift 70% (or below) of the weight you were in your previous program, and in your group fitness classes start to take the “low impact” options. Again, you’ll know how hard your able to push by monitoring your heart rate at all times. I wouldn’t suggest any high impact training. Pressure on your bladder will increase as the fetus grows.

 

Thirdly … lift weights!

 

Bending, twisting, pushing, pulling … You will be doing all of these movement patterns on a daily basis as a new mum – And you’ll be doing them while you hold a weight that is going to increase in size as the years go on! (Yep, I’m talking about your baby). So it would make a whole lot of sense to strengthen our body in those movement patterns before the baby comes along!

 

Picking the baby up from the floor (aka squat), bending over to pick the baby out of the cot (aka deadlift), not to mention all the physical work you’ll likely be doing throughout the first few years of your child’s life. A mother’s life is exhausting, and you’ll need a basic level of strength so that you can manage it.

 

Please keep the training intensity low to moderate by focusing on high repititions, and not pushing to complete failure or fatigue in your set. Avoid balance equipment (bosu/dura disks), and deep squatting or lunge patterns. By week 12, avoid any exercises that require you to lie or rest on your stomach!

 

And last, but definitely not least … Strengthen your pelvic floor!

 

By this I don’t mean do 100 crunches a day – Please don’t do that. You should never be lying on your back for longer then 2 minutes once you are into the 2nd trimester.

 

Strengthen your pelvic floor by doing your kegel exercises aka “clench and release”. Do them every day (about 15-20 reps), in all three trimester’s, and after the birth!

 

47% of women over 35 suffer from incontinence – This is a very real problem for many ladies. It can be prevented with adequate strengthening of the pelvic floor. (Did you know that 4% of women who lift weights suffer from incontinence, compaired with 38% of runners)? Food for thought.

 

I would suggest that you enlisted the help of a personal trainer who is trained to specialise in pre-natal training to help you devise a program that is suitable for you, and your current level of fitness.

 

I would also highly recommend that you did not attend the gym if you suffered from morning sickness that morning, or felt very lethargic due to poor sleep. So on that note, try to find a trainer that is understanding that you may not be able to give 24 hours notice prior to cancelling a booked session.

 

Listen to your body, and only do as much as it will allow you too. Your health and wellbeing is the number 1 priority.

 

#3 Relax

 

We all know that the effects of stress on the body are damaging, in any case. For a pregnant woman it is more crucial then ever that she does not expose herself to high levels of stress.

 

Maternal exposure to severe life events, particularly in the 6 months before pregnancy, may increase the risk of preterm and very preterm birth.

 

Interestingly enough, it has also been suggested in a recent study that prenatal stress contributes to the risk of obesity in their offspring later in life.

 

In this study it was found that children exposed to severe prenatal stress had higher BMI values and a higher prevalence of overweight when they approached the age of 10 years. The association was particularly strong when the exposure happened in the months just before conception.

 

In short, it seems that exposure to excess stress hormones during fetal life is associated with a number of physiological pathways that can be linked to future obesity.

 

A woman will be going through so many changes in her body and hormones levels over the course of pregnancy, which will already be stressful! It is important that you enlist the help of your trainer, doctor, obstetrician and partner to ensure that you are as stress-free and healthy as possible. This will almost guarantee a healthy pregnancy, and life for your child!

 

-V xx

 

 

Reference:

http://endo.endojournals.org/content/149/11/5345.full

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0011896#pone.0011896-Khashan1

http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/2/429

Losing Weight – the Wrong Way VS the Right Way

I (along with thousands of scheming marketers), have realized two simple facts that are resulting in an ever growing demand in the weight loss market:

 

#1 Australians are getting fatter

#2 we are all time poor

 

Results from a survey conducted by National Health Survey (NHS) have revealed that adults classified as obese or overweight have increased from 56% in 1995 to a whopping 61% in 2007-08.

 

Due to weight loss shows popularizing, and a $30 million national measure up campaign launched by the government, awareness is increasing about the obesity epidemic, and people are deciding to try and lose weight in the hope of living a longer and healthier life.

 

Then comes my next point – we are all time poor. Not only do work commitments consume us – we have kids, partners, and dirty dishes at home that demand our attention.

 

So, it’s time to lose weight. Your GP points you in the direction of the nearest gym, and the Women’s Health magazine you’re now reading gives you a high calorie burning training schedule to start following! The thought alone is exhausting. Naturally, we would love a quick fix – Something that requires minimal effort, and will ultimately result in a sculpted figure … and a 6-pack as well.

 

“A protein shake to melt your fat away” … “A pre-workout supplement that will target and abolish all abdominal fat” … Something easy to prepare, that tastes great … that will make you lose “10kgs in 10 weeks!” Sound familiar? Oh, did I mention that they come in delicious flavours, and attractive packaging with half naked bodies splayed across them…?

 

SOLD!

 

But you’ve forgotten a crucial point – that nothing in life worth having comes easy. We’ve chosen the easy way out – but at what cost?

 

A study done in 2010 by consumer reports showed that a popular protein shake Cytosport Muscle Milk contained high levels of four heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. The consumer’s quest to lose weight by having meal replacement shakes in this case was impaired by heavy metal toxicity. Normal thyroid and kidney function can be seriously damaged by the excessive build-up of metals in the body, not to mention an inability to shift weight in many cases.

 

But, this tragic news aside, let’s look at some of the less-lethal bars, shakes and pre-workout drinks on the market claiming to target and abolish fat. Have a look at the ingredients. What are you putting into your body? Sugars, sweeteners, additives, and high doses of caffeine and guarana. CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), Ephedrine, carnitine, Chitosan, conjugated linoleic acid, forskolin, chromium, kelp, fucoxanthin to name a few… While some of these supplements look promising, the evidence for others is lacking.

 

There is also evidence that some of the thermogenics mentioned can cause insomnia, heart palpatations, anxiety, put strain on your endocrine system, and in very rare cases “stroke, heart attack, and death” (FDA, 2004). On a less dire, but just as relevant, note: If your issue with retaining weight is due to insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome – those sugars you are ingesting with every “weight loss” shake, may in fact be promoting fat storage around the abdomen area.

 

How about those meal replacements that encourage you to eat a radically low calorie diet such as 1000 calories in a day? Well, the problem here is that if you radically calorically restrict you can lower your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which in turn decreases fat oxidation at resting, and increases protein oxidation.

 

Hey, if eating such a low calorie diet is such a good idea, why not stop eating altogether? I hear that people with anorexia lose a lot of weight. Not eating at all is a very efficient way to lose weight fast. But we can all see the madness in that, right?

 

Excuse my bluntness on the subject – I just think it is crazy to pay money to these companies so that we can drink something instead of eating a balanced meal that will cause us to go from eating 2500 calories, to 1000 calories in a day. OF COURSE YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE WEIGHT … You are practically starving yourself!

 

People who restrict calories so significantly for a long period of time then tend to put the weight back on almost as quickly as they lost it, or they will find they put weight on very easily, and have a yo-yo dieting and weight loss cycle for years afterwards. This is no coincidence. When you mess around with your BMR and put your body under stress from crash dieting and ingesting numerous thermogenics at once – what goes up, must always come down.

 

Please don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that all pre-workouts, supplementation, and fad diets are false and a hoax… But lots of them are. Generally the rule of thumb is – If you are considering buying a product that promises you the world and more with minimal to no effort involved … you would probably be better off going and investing in a shoehorn.

 

The safest and most effective long-term weight loss is achieved through calorie deficit – no more then a 400-500 calorie deficit per day. Calorie deficit can be achieved through a restriction of the calories through diet, or increase in calorie expenditure through vigorous and incidental activity or – my favourite – a healthy balance of both.

 

Put simply: Eat less (or more of the RIGHT foods), and move more. Sounds easy in theory – but is damn hard when you put it in practice.

 

The take home message:

 

It is HARD to live a healthy life when more then half of the people around you are not.

 

It is HARD to eat the right foods when junk food is cheap and convenient.

 

It is HARD to move more, when we have an intern to get our coffees for us.

 

It is HARD to get our ass to the gym and push ourselves with a mixture of resistance and cardio training 4-6 times a week.

 

Yeah, it sure is.

 

I never said it was going to be easy.

 

-V xx

 

 

Reference:

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/ministers/publishing.nsf/Content/mr-yr08-nr-nr137.htm

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/july/food/protein-drinks/what-our-tests-found/index.htm

http://www.tonyboutagy.com/research-updates-for-personal-trainers.html

http://www.motleyhealth.com/lose-weight/are-fat-burning-pills-safe