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!

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.

Nutrition, Recipes

Healthy Donuts!!!

I love donuts so much! But we all know that the store bought conventional donuts are in now way healthy. It’s loaded with sugar and fat, and of course tasty goodness. In the last few years of my fitness journey, I’ve been tinkering around with all kinds of ingredients to find just the right balance between nourishing and delicious. Well, I found that recipe and I am thrilled to share it with you!

Sour Dough Donuts

Serves 6

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Ingredients:

2 cups oat flour

1/3 cup coconut flour

6 tablespoons ground coconut

2 teaspoons stevia

1 teaspoon ground flaxseeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a donut pan with non-stick cooking spray
  2. In a small bowl, combine milk and vinegar. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients, then add in the milk and vinegar mix. Stir to combine. *If too dry add water 1 tablespoon at a time until a thick batter forms.
  4. Portion out the batter evenly into the donut pan to six donuts.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, rotate pan halfway through. Let cool completely before serving.
  6. *Can be stored in the freezer for 3 weeks

Enjoy!

If you love this recipe and what more meal and snack ideas like this one, be sure to check out my Recipe Collection here. You’ll find 25 delicious recipes for every goal and craving!