Nutrition

The One Size Fits All Diet

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If only there was one diet that every single person could follow. If only this diet was equally effective for everyone in helping lose weight and keep it off for good. Think about how much easier life would be if that were the case; all of the confusion over eating right and how much would no longer exist. Ultimately it would render the bombardement of marketing schemes obsolete and take out all of the guess work for each person when it comes to nutrition. Unfortunately that’s not the case.

Have you ever noticed that one person may follow aa diet plan and see amazing results while another will follow it exactly the same way, but instead will make hardly any progress? It’s very common. Why? Let me count the ways…

There are so many different factors to take into consideration when it comes to diet and nutrition. You’ve got the standard items like age, current weight and body composition, level of activity and training age (the number of years a person has been consistently exercising), and gender. Then there’s the more specific things like genetics, pre-existing health issues, current lifestyle (for example having a sedentary job or more manual labour), stress levels and adequate sleep acquired on the average night. All of these things play a key role in whether or not a diet plan will work for you.

A prime example of this is when a friend of mine mentioned that she and her husband were going to follow a 30 day diet plan. This particular plan emphasized eating “real food” only with a focus on organic foods including meat, fish, nuts, oils, vegetables and fruits. At the same time it also requires that you do not eat any legumes (like beans or peanuts), grains (even whole grains), any kind of sweetener, dairy or sulphites. What’s more is that it also bans any kind of sweet treat items even if it contains “approved ingredients” only in order to get you out the dessert mindset. Many of the suggested recipes included a high portion of protein along with a high level of fat accompanied with vegetables. Starch-wise your only option is the starchy vegetable such as potato, sweet potato or carrots. Now in theory this diet plan sounds solid as you are eating foods close to their natural state and avoiding things that may cause allergies or sensitivities.

So my friend and her husband embarked on this 30 day plan and followed it to a T while trying many of the suggested recipes along the way. Her husband did great; he lost weight and was no longer bloated, he had great energy each day and never had any cravings. My friend however had the exact opposite experience. She gained weight, felt bloated all of the time and had very low energy, even though her portion sizes were in check. After 11 days, she had had enough and went back to her previous nutrition plan which had worked very well for her in the past. This plan was lower in fat and allowed whole grains along with health treat meals. Not only did she find herself feeling way better and less bloated, but within a few days she was well on her back towards her weight loss goals.

I can also definitely attest to the no one size fits all diet solution. I’ve tried everything from portion control, to calories counting, to IIFYM, to low carb and ketogenic. Well, none of them worked…that’s not entirely true. Some worked, but all were very short term solutions and none of them did anything to improve my body composition. These diets all pretty much left me skinnyfat. What does work for me and what has helped me to get lean, strong and build muscle is a low-fat plant based diet with at least half of my total calories coming from complex carbohydrates including whole grains. Keep in mind though that by low-fat I mean no more than 40-50 grams total per day including those found naturally in food like tofu and tempeh. Anytime that I have deviated from this in anyway, I have always experienced fat gain, bloating and indigestion whether in contest prep or not.

Now what works for me may not work for you, that’s for sure. The best thing to do if you are confused about what’s right for you is start by cutting out added sugar and artificial sweeteners. Then look at any food that may give you an upset tummy or heartburn, try to gradually reduce your intake of this and replace it with a healthy alternative. Overall though, be sure to keep all meals well balanced with all 3 macros while taking into account the naturally occurring sources of fat found in your protein and naturally occurring carbohydrates and sugars found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Don’t ever be fooled by prepackaged snack items. they always contain too much fat, carbs and sugar without enough protein. Even if these items are marketed as healthy take a look at the ingredients, nutritional info and serving size. If you’re still confused or are eating clean/balanced but aren’t experiencing any progress then keep a food journal for at least a week, writing down everything that you eat, drink and how much, and then calculate the macros for each day and nutritional value of your meals. It may indicate some unbalanced eating on your part. I did this exercise a couple years back and my nutrition was way off; too much fat, not enough protein.

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to nourish yourself so don’t put too much pressure on getting it right from the beginning. Seek out help from a nutritionist or dietician to maybe help shed a little light on what you can do and what you want to do for the long haul. Focus on your health first and creating a nutritional way of life that you can easily incorporate into your everyday.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Contest Prep, Nutrition, Wellness

Eating Enough

There is one concept that seems to evade so many people. In fact, it is most likely one of the main reasons why so many struggle to get in shape, lose weight and keep it off for good. What is this mystery concept you ask? Eating enough. That’s right, for most eating enough and losing weight just don’t mix, which is why we still believe that diet equates calorie restriction and deficit.

The old theory of calories in, calories out isn’t as clear cut as you may think. Actually calculating how many calories you burn in a day is almost impossible, even if you have wearable tech (for example a Fitbit) because it doesn’t take into account your resting metabolic rate, stress levels, hormone fluctuations, etc. So trying to figure out the right amount of calories to take in is equally as challenging. Some say 1500 calories for others it’s 1200 and so on. It’s pretty confusing. Truth be told, there is no one size fits all for calories, but if you are looking to lose weight or if you have ever tries to in the past, chances are you’re not eating enough. You still have to support your body’s basic requirements to function and if you drop calories too low your body is going to tell your brain that it is starving and it will hold on to whatever bodyfat it can no matter how hard you workout or how low you drop your carb intake.

The reactions that I get when it comes to my regiment and my nutrition is usually surprise followed by slight disbelief and “Yeah, right” look in the other persons eyes. Others are always surprised to hear that I eat 6 to 7 meals each day and with that surprise assume that it’s a tiny miny portioned sized “meal”, which could not be further from the truth. I even get asked “Yeah, but how many of those so called meals are just protein shakes mixed with water?”. The answer is zero FYI. Yes, I do consume protein powder, but it’s always paired with additional food otherwise it wouldn’t be filling enough. I eat for volume and I like to feel full no matter where I’m at in my training.

To help shed a little light on this, here is what a typical day of eating looks like at 4 weeks away from the Provincial Championship.

Meal 1

 

A combo of carbs and protein is perfect for my post-fasted cardio meal. I opt for 1/4c dry measure of a whole grain with a 30g scoop of brown rice protein powder and 1/4c of blueberries. Anytime I go for something sweet I always spice it up with cinnamon and a pinch of turmeric (it’s an anti-inflammatory). My 2 fave ways to prep this meal is to combine the ingredients to make either a Brown Rice Bowl (as shown on left) or a Mug Cake (on the right). Delish!

Meal 2

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For this meal I always go for 4 oz of either tofu or tempeh with 1 cup of veg…and everything is smothered in mustard and hot sauce.

Meal 3

This serves as my pre-weight training meal which I’ll have about an hour before hitting the gym with a giant cup of coffee instead of a pre-workout supplement. This meal is sweet and combines 1 scoop of brown rice protein powder with 3 oz of mashed sweet potatoes with (again) cinnamon and turmeric. It’s kind of like a protein pudding with some extra carbs to fuel me up for some heavy lifting.

Meal 4

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My post-workout meal is eaten 45 minutes after my gym session is done. I always opt for white rice (which I love!) and 3 oz of this high protein bread (recipe courtesy of my coach) made from wheat gluten. It is so nice to eat bread every day when in contest prep. You may have noticed that most post-workout meals contain fast digesting carbs (like white rice). The reason for that is because whenever you exercise your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone), but this is a good thing as it is what allows you to push hard when you train. After you’re done, the sugars in carbohydrates are what help bring your cortisol levels back down to a stable amount.

Meal 5

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This one is probably my favorite. 1/2c black beans, 2 cups of sautéed spinach with hot sauce and 1 TB coconut oil is a great combo. The great thing is that on Mondays and Fridays (when I train legs) I get to up my carbs for this meal and add 3 oz of sweet potatoes, since I’m lifting heavier. The bigger the muscle, the heavier you can lift, the more recovery fuel (i.e. food) your body needs. So twice a week I like to mix things up a bit and use my ingredients to make brownies!

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Meal 6

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This is a quazi-oatmeal type of meal. Since I want to keep protein high at my last meal of the day, instead of using actual oats I use what’s called texturized vegetable protein (TVP). TVP is great because it’s a blank canvas and it takes on whatever flavours you add to it. Obviously I want this to be sweet so I go for 1/4c dry measure, with shredded zucchini (for volume), 2 TB of powdered peanut butter and 1/2 tsp of stevia. Surprisingly good.

Even though I’m less than 1 month away from show day, I still get to enjoy a once weekly refeed meal. Let me be clear though, a refeed meal is not a cheat meal. A refeed is like a carb load where you eat high carb, moderate protein and the least amount of fat possible (no fats are added to this meal). If I want something savory I’ll go for pasta, but I make the sauce myself so that there’s no oil added to it. usually though, I prefer sweet and I recently created and devoured this cereal treat. I found a brown rice cereal and vegan marshmallows (made from cassava instead of gelatin). It was SUPER amazing!

So there you have it. As you can see I don’t “eat like a bird” and neither should you. Food is fuel so nourish yourself and eat to live. Give yourself the energy you need by eating enough each day, regardless of your goals. Don’t worry about the calories, because chances are, you’re probably not eating enough as is. Focus on quality ingredients and balanced meals to support you, your workouts and your health.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Contest Prep, Nutrition, Recipes

The Final Cut

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Fat loss and dieting down can be a huge challenge for anybody. With only 9 days left until show day, I am down to the wire and getting to the last phase of losing whatever last bit of body fat I can before I hit the stage. Here I’ll share what a full day of meals looks like for me and a few last minute tricks that help my body get lean while staying strong.

Meal 1

My first meal of the day also serves as my post-fasted cardio meal and it’s high protein, low carb with a little bit of added fat.

What you see above is 3 oz of tempeh, 1 cup baby spinach with 1 TB of coconut oil, plus 1 scoop of brown rice protein powder. Tempeh (fermented soy beans) serves as a great source of protein as it contains probiotics and fiber. The brown rice powder is also ideal as it’s easy to digest and has the same amino acid profile as a whole egg. I choose spinach as my veggie for this meal as it contains lots of fiber and iron (*I always drizzle some lemon juice with this to increase my body’s ability to absorb the iron). Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides which are (again) easy to digest, go directly to the liver and are ultimately used by the body as fuel instead of being stored as body fat.

Meal 2

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This meal is composed of 4 oz of extra firm tofu and 1 cup of veg. In this case I opt for mixed greens drizzled with lemon juice and top the sautéed tofu with yellow mustard for added flavour.

Meal 3

This serves as my pre-weight training meal and is 1 of 2 meals that I am able to lightly salt and have a small serving of starch. For this one I take in another scoop of brown rice protein, 2 oz of steamed sweet potato and 1 cup of the dreaded steamed asparagus. The tiny amount of added carbs for this meal is an absolute must for me to be able to crush my workout every day and the asparagus is a great natural diuretic that serves as a staple for every bodybuilder. I usually will combine the powder with mashed sweet potato and cinnamon to create a sweet tasting protein pudding mix that goes nicely with my pre-workout strong-ass cup of coffee; for an added boost.

Meal 4

My post-workout meal contains yet another cup of the dreaded asparagus, lightly salted, along with another 2 oz of sweet potato and 4 oz of tofu. I’ve become very creative with this meal in particular as I started to notice that I was always wanting something sweet post-workout. So I blend the tofu and sweet potato together and add a bit of stevia, cinnamon and water to create a my contest prep friendly cheesecake. It may sound odd but it’s amazing. It satisfies my sweet tooth, keeps cravings to a minimum, while allowing me to maximize my recovery with solid nutrition.

Meal 5

I don’t really enjoy this meal to be honest. No matter how I try to tinker with the flavor profile or method of cooking, it’s just boring and pretty bland to be honest. I eat 4 oz of tempeh with 2 cups of veg; usually either spinach or mixed greens. I season with lemon juice (also a diuretic) and hot sauce (great for fat burning and jacking up the metabolism as it contains capsaicin). Like I said though, it’s not that great but at least it’s filling.

Meal 6

This one I love! I take one scoop of a plant based blend of protein powder with another scoop of brown rice powder and combine with water to create a pudding. Then I add 1 tsp of melted coconut oil and stir to combine. It’s soooooo good. I love it so much. There’s something really wonderful about sitting in my jammies in front of the tv before bed, watching a sitcom while eating a creamy and sweet late night snack. The protein combined with the coconut oil makes for a slow digesting meal that is ideal for my body to digest overnight while getting a good night’s sleep.

So that’s that. Six meals each day, spaced every 2-3 hours apart to deliver constant fuel and nourishment. In terms of my water consumption, thankfully I’m only having 4 litres a day, as opposed to the 6 litres I was having in my last prep. My supplements haven’t changed except that I’ve added a fat burner in the last few weeks to help ease my body into continuous fat loss, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s short term use only. You may have also noticed that I’ve cut out the cruciferous veg at this point and it’s for a good reason. Things like brocoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts tend to cause bloating, so instead I stick with the non-bloaty stuff like mixed greens, spinach and stupid asparagus.

After 4 months of prep and training, I’m down to the last 9 days. I’m so excited to get back on stage again! Next up is peak week which means lots of posing practice, water manipulation and carb-loading. Some find peak week to be the toughest part, but I see it as the final chapter before the fun part.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Wellness

Breaking the cycle

 

Most of us tend to live like a yo-yo; we go up with the good moments, we go down with the bad experiences, and sometimes we just stay stagnant. Diet and exercise is no exception to this. Like most, in the past I’ve had my fair share of “I’ll workout tomorrow or the next day” and “I’ll cut out all junk food and start eating right on Monday”. In recent years though, I have finally been able to stop these less than awesome habits and make fitness and nutrition my lifestyle. I still see a disconnect for a lot of people with this, so today we’ll look at how we can all finally break the cycle of poor nutrition, inconsistency and the sedentary life.

We all have the same 24 hours in each day to get our seemingly endless list of tasks complete, leaving most feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s no wonder the thought of exercising ends up being the last thing that anyone would want to do. There have been countless times where I would get home after work and say “I’m too tired to workout so I’ll take the day off”, which would lead to another day, week, then weeks, and so on, until I would realize that I’ve started getting a little bit softer from having not exercised in a really long time. Along with that, I like many others tend to have this all or nothing attitude where if I’m not consistent with fitness, my nutrition will be less than optimal too. Then it would always feel like I had to start all over again and the cycle would continue. So how did I finally manage to stop this? Well, it took me a while to realize that it all comes down to three things: having a goal, having a plan to reach that goal and accountability.

In terms of figuring out your goal, be very specific: do you want to lose fat? How much? By when? Do you want to gain muscle or build strength? Or do you want to do both fat loss and muscle building? Having a clear picture of what you want to achieve is the first step in making it happen. Be sure to set a mix of short and long term goals for yourself. For example, if your goal is to lose 50 lbs in one year, it may be a good idea to break it down into smaller increments, say 1 lb per week, and increasing the intensity of your cardio and the weight that you are lifting every 4 weeks. A longer term goal might be to drop down to a certain body fat level or dress size and to have an overall lean look with nice curves and definition, essentially having a fit and healthy lifestyle. In recent years, my goal has been to gain muscle, but now it’s shifted to something else that I’m not quite ready to share just yet so stay tuned!

The next step is coming up with your plan, which can take some of effort and trial and error to figure out what works best. I started by going through articles in fitness magazines and websites; thankfully a lot of these have free workout and nutrition plans (depending on what your goal is) that are detailed and straight forward. This part took me a while to get down packed as in the beginning I was all about cardio so the idea of strength training was totally new to me; I still find myself making tweaks along the way. What may work for one person may not work for you, so just keep that in mind if you find yourself trying and struggling to follow a plan that someone else put together for you or if you find that you’re not making any progress after months of hard work. That being said, it doesn’t mean that just because it’s hard that it’s not working; it’s especially challenging in the beginning so hang in there for a bit and see what kind of changes your body will have. I also strongly suggest that you try a few new things as well and not just the usual treadmill, aerobics class, push ups and bicep curls. Consider crossfit, yoga, kickboxing, barre class, powerlifting, tabata etc. It could surprise you to see how your body responds to something that’s a bit out of your comfort zone. My most recent strategy change involved going from free weights at home to a mix of both weight machines and free weights and adding a cardio session at least 4 days per week (last year I had to cut out all cardio due to a foot injury). I am happy to say that I am seeing some serious progress. It’s hard, but I do love it.

The most difficult part of breaking the cycle is accountability. This is what will really make or break your goal. We can all find some reason or another for giving up and then feeling sorry for ourselves for never being able to change or grow. There’s work, family, chores, and obligations galore that can easily lead to anyone sacrificing their fitness goals because they just don’t have the time or energy. This is where accountability steps in. The best thing (and probably the hardest) is to tell the people closest to you what goal is and what your plan is to get there. You may get some snide or snarky comments, but just remember that it’s probably just the other person’s way of attacking what they either don’t understand or can’t do themselves. On the other hand, they may surprise you by being supportive, so regardless of how others react just stick to your guns and don’t give up. Accountability really set in for me last year when I signed up for a 12 week fitness challenge. This was ideal as it was in line with my goal, it provided a thorough and detailed plan and it included a private social media group for all participants which allowed us to share any questions, concerns and keep track of each other’s progress. Since I told everyone that I was taking part in this, I had no problems following the nutrition and got no grief from anyone about my wanting to not only complete the challenge, but to do it well. Another option is to work with a trainer or coach; the potentially hefty price tag can be enough to make anyone stick with their program, so if you can afford it and if it helps you get to where you want to be, then go for it. There’s also always the option of taking weekly progress pics of yourself, taking your measurements or going with how well your clothes fit. When your goal is fat loss, dropping a dress size is always nice.

Ultimately you are only accountable to yourself. If you want to finally drop that extra weight or build up a nice physique it’s up to you, you call the shots. There will always be something that will potentially get in the way, or some last minute thing that will come up, but you’ve got to make it happen for yourself. It’s completely understandable that there are people who really do not have the time to workout or hit the gym, such as those with a young family and full time careers, physically demanding jobs, careers that require long hours and extensive travelling, etc. It may be possible to sneak in a workout, but you may burn out or push too hard and end up sleep deprived on a regular basis. There is however one thing that everyone can always do that will have a huge impact on how you look, and that’s nutrition. A good diet accounts for 80% of your progress as exercise will only take you so far. Think about it: how many people do you see at the gym regularly or jogging outside who still have bellies or are not lean? That’s due to diet. If you are active, but you sneak in treats without even realizing it (as was my case for many years) or you consume alcohol regularly, it will show. I’ve mentioned this before and I will say it again here: You cannot out-train a bad diet. You are in control of what you put into your body, so eat mindfully and remember that just because someone offers you something or just because something is sitting right there doesn’t mean that you should eat it. You are not a garbage can, you are awesome so treat yourself that way and stop worrying about being wasteful. If you are having your weekly treat meal and the person next to you is done but has some leftover on their plate, before you reach over a grab it ask yourself if you really want that; are you still really hungry? are you hungry enough to justify eating a third piece of cake? Chances are that the answer is no, but if the answer is yes then you may be either restricting your calories too much and therefore are starving or you may have an addiction to eating and to food. In either case, please seek help immediately, it is available and will get you through whatever you are struggling with.

Are you ready to break the cycle? Are you ready to achieve the lifestyle and body that you’ve always dreamed of?  Success doesn’t just happen, it takes long term hard work, but the rewards are amazing so stay with it and make small changes if need be as you go along. Don’t look at exercise as if it is a chore, consider it to be a priviledge to have a body capable of moving and to have the means to move it and make it stronger. Try not to compare yourself to others (as hard as it may be) or make some excuse like “if I didn’t work full time or have all these things going on right now or if I had even a fraction of the willpower of that person I would be in way better shape”, we are all so different from one another. Don’t keep this off any longer, start right now and keep going. It is possible to do get there; you are the one in charge of your life. No one will ever do this for you or hand this to you on a silver platter, and like everything else worth having, you have to earn it. Most importantly, you can earn it. Set your goal, make your plan and hold yourself accountable by sticking with it over the long haul. Before you know it, this will be second nature to you and it won’t just be part of your lifestyle it will be your lifestyle.

Start It, Finish It … or in this case, stick with it!