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.

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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.

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!

Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

Pulling myself together

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To say that the last two years of my life have been tough would be the biggest understatement ever. Not only have I dealt with health issues, lost loved ones and a job last year, but now just as I thought things were starting to get stable, my marriage is ending. This all happened very suddenly without warning and was a huge shock, now I’m once again picking up the pieces and attempting rally myself back into sanity.

I wish I could say that I channeled all of my anger and hurt into some pretty beastly workouts, but that’s not the case and it’s definitely not what I needed. I decided to not force myself or try to push myself into what did not feel right. What I really needed was a break. I was already planning on taking a week off of training following my photo shoot and boy did I need it. This all happened to coincide with my starting a new job, so that extra time off was not only helpful physically and emotionally (due to my impending divorce), but it was also helpful in giving myself the capacity to focus on some new work.

So I took the week off and gave myself a breather. I started working out again, but keeping it very quick, about 30 minutes of weight training on my lunch break. It’s just the right amount time to work up a small sweat and maintain my mass. Now is not the time to be going full speed ahead that’s for sure. And although I was planning on starting to prep for Nationals and maybe doing a mass gain, I decided to hold off for at least a month. This will give me enough time to get into a good rhythm and routine with my day to day and new life altogether.

In terms of nutrition, well let’s just say that I’m going really easy on myself. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been ordering in or getting take-out, eating whatever I felt like and it’s been good. I’m not binge eating or overeating, but I’m not regimented either. No measuring or weighing food, no macro calculations or anything like that. I am still trying to keep it balanced, but if I do feel like having a bucket of spaghetti and a slice of chocolate cake, then I will. If I feel like ordering pizza and breadsticks and fries, then I do. I’m just eating well without overdoing it or beating myself up over anything. I must say that it’s nice to not be doing a big meal prep and to instead just pack leftovers for lunch or pick up something that looks good and healthy.

The positive thing is that now I’ve started to really develop a good night time ritual where I drink a hot chamomile tea on my balcony in the evening in my jammies and then curl up in bed with a good book and read before it’s lights out. I haven’t gotten into meditation or anything like that, but I’m sure it’ll come along soon enough.

Apart from my changing eating habits and my intense urge in wanting to redecorate my home by going on a daily shopping spree, everything is still good and I’m hanging in there. Whatever message the universe keeps trying to send me, I guess it hasn’t come through yet, but at least for now I can enjoy some extra independence. Maybe having more leeway will allow me to create even better habits in the long run and make my prep for Nationals a little less intense that I had planned. No matter how this plays out, I’m still an athlete and still competing and still coaching people, maybe just at a slower pace for now.

Nutrition, Wellness

Quality over quantity

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“Quality over quantity” is what we here all the time. When it comes to food we all know that the best quality groceries will not only nourish us but will impact our overall health and well being in the best ways. But we’re all still looking for a bargain and sometimes we compromise on quality to get the most bang for our buck.

I’ve certainly found myself standing in the grocery store looking at the conventional peanut butter vs the natural one and just feeling so irritated over the price difference. Now I know that the conventional stuff is loaded with sugar, fillers and trans fats and that the natural one just contains peanuts, but still, it’s annoying. Even though deep down it goes without question that the healthier stuff has far more nutritional value, sometimes it’s hard to rationalize forking over our extra hard earned dollars.

Could there be a happy medium where we could eat healthy without spending a fortune?

There are the standard tips that we can all implement to stay within budget. There’s couponing, checking store flyers and focusing on the discounted items only, buying seasonal produce, shopping the farmers market, buying in bulk or wholesale, and the list goes on. These are all great tactics, but it does require a lot of work, and that’s usually where we tend to drift off course. It’s perfectly natural to want the convenience and less expensive items in order to save time and money. A lot of this stuff though is unhealthy. Look at most granola bars, they are loaded with added sugar and fat. Even the ones marketed as healthy, natural and low calorie are just empty calories that don’t serve you.

Thankfully, there are some great and healthy solutions that could easily fit your budget. Meal delivery services are gaining popularity in every city and many offer vegan and gluten free solutions, along with meals and snacks that are customizable to your budget and taste preferences. There are also plenty of great alternatives to that and meal replacers that are super healthy and taste amazing. This is my personal preference these days. I found myself struggling to stay on track with my day to day. Meal prep, day job, training and coaching business was leaving me with no downtime and no quality time with my husband. One night I found myself scrambling to get everything prepped for the next day and I realized that there is a better way. I found a solution that meets my nutritional requirements, fits my budget and tastes great. Initially I was a bit hesitant, but then I realized that it’s not a purchase in addition to what I’m spending, it’s just a reallocation of my budget.

The moral of this story is to look at the bigger picture and maybe step back for a second and see if you can find something is both healthy and convenient and affordable. It is possible and it does exist. We can bridge the gap between quality food and affordable food and eat great food every day.

Fitness

My First Photoshoot!

I’ve been wanting to have a professional photoshoot for a long time and this past weekend I finally did it! It was a total blast, but surprisingly tiring; I guess that’s why models always talk about how hard modeling is 🙂

In the weeks leading up to the shoot I did a mini-prep where I followed the same training plan as my last contest-prep, but gave myself a little more leeway with the diet. There were no drastic cuts in calories or low-carb anything and I enjoyed weekly treat meals throughout. The only big thing I did was a 1 day carb-load and a water depletion, just to get some good definition going. It definitely helped and in that one day I was able to get great definition and fullness back without the bloat. It never seems to amaze me how much water we hold onto and how much it actually can change the way we look. I didn’t want to come in looking stage ready or super shredded, in fact, I don’t think that my body could handle another cut like that this year. Instead I wanted to look like me; fit and strong in a natural way because that’s who I am.

The day started good, my lovely sister/makeup artist came over and did a stunning job on my face.

I loved the way the makeup turned out and I wish she could come over everyday to help me get ready!

I headed over to the studio with my mama, but unfortunately the photographer had given me the old address for the company and so we wound up starting a bit later than we’d planned.

I must admit that it was really fun and that it’s exactly what I thought it would be like; music playing, the photographer giving me directions on how to pose and this giant camera flash every time I struck a pose. It was fitness based so I did have to do some workout movements with weights and it is really tough curling a dumbbell when you’re completely dehydrated. It was totally worth it though and every time the photographer showed me one of the shots I was amazed. I almost couldn’t believe how good and sharp it looked; way better than any pic a cellphone could take.

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This was another super fun experience on my fitness journey and I’m so glad that I decided to do this and so grateful that I found such an awesome photographer. I highly recommend a professional shoot for all entrepreneurs and fitness athletes. Not only is it a cool thing to do, but it’s also something special to add to your repertoire. Whether it means having professional shots for your own company or for your fitness career, it’s definitely worth it. I had an awesome experience for a few hours, that I got to share with my mama. And afterward I got to indulge in these babies.

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Yup, we found gold! Vegan donuts. I had 4 on the car ride home! Not  a bad way to spend a Saturday.