Nutrition

Diet Overload

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There’s a lot of hooey out there, I mean A LOT. With diet and exercise, there is always some new claim popping up almost on a daily basis. It’s so confusing. For myself, even with all of my studies and research I still hear conflicting “facts” that throw me off. Everything from the benefits of a high fat diet, to animal based protein being superior to plant based protein, to whole grains being bad for you, it’s hard to sift through the crap to get to the truth. So let’s address some of the biggest claims of today and see look at what’s real and what’s a waste of your time.

Let’s start off with the very popular current topic right now: fats. The consensus seems to be that fat is back. The low-fat diet craze has been over for a while and now eating higher fats each day and at each meal is great. Avocados, coconut oil, steak, whole milk, eggs with the yolk and even bacon are all good for you! Before you start cheering, let’s take a deeper look at this first. The idea behind this is that fats are slow digesting so you stay fuller longer making it helpful for fat loss and that fatty acids help regulate hormone health by supporting the thyroid function. Fat is one of 3 macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) so you need to consume some each day in order to, you know live and stuff without keeling over. How much fat you need has been debated over for so long and it still is. The current flavour of the month advocates that a diet higher in fat and ultimately lower in carbs is ideal to lose bodyfat. These diet types tend to favour more animal based sources of fats and protein that are heavy on the saturated fat. The worst thing I heard that sent me into an uproar was in a podcast where a so-called health “expert” claimed that since breastmilk is high in saturated fat that humans are always meant to consume saturated fat in significant amounts each day. What a load of crap! The nutritional requirements of an infant who is growing at an exponential rate in a short time period is nothing like the nutritional needs of a grown-ass adult who is no longer in need of growing their organs or bones. When you hear garbage claims like that, disregard them immediately as comparing a baby with an adult is like comparing apples to a hybrid car. It’s crap, it’s useless and it has no business being compared.

The issue with fat is that it is the most calorie dense macronutrient with 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram of protein or carbs, making it very easy to overdo it without even realizing.  Saturated fat in a small amount (as in the amount in 1 TB of avocado or young coconut meat) each day is fine and healthy, but when you consider the amount in animal foods that many consume at each meal then it’s a problem. You put yourself at a higher risk for heart disease, alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and cancer (click here for more info). Yikes! So let’s all ease off of the fat bandwagon for a bit and limit your intake to no more than 50g a day if that.

Next up is supplementation. This industry alone is massive where each year consumers spend billions of their hard-earned dollars on protein powders, vitamins, green “superfood” blends, fiber mixes, pre-workouts, muscle building supporters, protein foods like bars, cookies and pudding and all kinds of other stuff. It’s BIG business, but is it necessary? Truthfully, no it isn’t. For the average person who is not an athlete, but who does workout regularly you definitely do not need any supplement whatsoever unless you have a nutritional deficiency and have been advised by your doctor to supplement. When you do supplement keep in mind that most multivitamins are synthetic and are not fully absorbed by the body on top of the fact that the body can only absorb so much of each micronutrient and that any excess amount will be excreted. So, what you’re really paying for is expensive pee. Supplements are meant to supplement a diet that is already balanced, whole and providing you with the necessities, even protein powders aren’t needed. It tends to be the source of choice for post-workout nutrition for pretty much everyone, both competitive athlete and not, but it’s pricey, it tends to have added fillers and artificial sweeteners and unless it’s plant-based it’s once again devoid of fiber. Speaking of which, a client recently asked me whether or not she should take a very popular fiber supplement that you mix in water. A friend of hers had mentioned that it’s the best way to start each day and is necessary for digestive health and aids in weight loss. Not true. So long as your diet is full of veg and whole grains with some fruit, there is no need to waste your money on this. Most people who do supplement with this see an improvement with their digestion mostly just from drinking that water first thing in the morning and not from the fiber mix.

Then there are the fad diets that are centered around one ingredient only like the coconut oil diet, the sweet potato diet and the cabbage soup diet. These diets are always very short term, trust me, you get fed up with eating the same type of food each day. Case in point, during my contest prep I was having about 3 oz of sweet potato each day, sometimes baked, sometimes roasted, sometimes as fries and sometimes mixed with other ingredients to create baked goods like protein cookies, waffles or brownies. Although I mixed it up regularly and it was delicious at the time, now that I am in my off-season I can’t even glance at a sweet potato. When a diet advocates including a specific food into each day you ultimately end up restricting yourself from eating other foods instead and are taking in less variety and less nutrients. In my case, with the sweet potato I could have opted for oats which are high in magnesium, selenium and zinc, or millet which is a good source of tryptophan and B vitamins. On the other end of the spectrum are the diets that demonize one very specific thing that is apparently the root of all evil like fat in the 1990s, carbs in the early 2000s and more recently sugar. In reality, it’s not one thing only that’s contributing to the obesity pandemic, it’s everything. Even though most people know that fast food, prepacked snacks and restaurant meals in general are unhealthy and have no nutritional value, we still consume these things on a daily basis. We still consume the granola bars or cereal that are marketed as whole and natural or we use premade sauces and marinades when cooking at home or we make our own salad dressings but add oils or mayo for creaminess and some kind of sweetener to cut the tanginess. All of this stuff adds up and it accumulates in your body. All of these things both big and small contribute to the weight and health issues that we all deal with.

Of course things are shifting and diets are now marketed as “lifestyles”. One particularly popular one is all about eating the way our ancestors did by cutting out dairy and grain, ultimately going low carb, high fat and heavy on the animal based sources. There are several things that don’t really add up with this “lifestyle”. First off, our paleolethic ancestors didn’t eat as much meat and fish as initially believed, but they did eat some grain (click here to found out more). What’s more is that we are so far removed from that life altogether; we don’t spend our days hunting, foraging and gathering, instead we spend our days indoors, sitting under fluorescent lights in front of a computer screen and when we’re home it’s pretty much the same. So to claim that eating a diet similar to this when our lives and environment are so different makes no sense and is sending us down the wrong path.

With all of this mixed info and confusion it’s no wonder that diets are so short-lived. So instead of trying to figure out what’s real, let’s simplify this as much as possible. When it comes to diet just eat lots of veg, make this the bulk of your meals, seriously. It’s not as expensive as you may think when you opt for seasonal produce and frozen options whenever there’s a sale. Try to sneak in veg wherever you can like blending leafy greens into a shake or sautéing mushrooms and peppers into pasta sauce or adding grated zucchini to oatmeal muffin batter. The advice we always here is to fill up at least half of your plate with veggies and it is so true. Add to that by choosing a variety of veg at each meal and buying at least one new veg at the grocery each week instead of always going for the standard lettuce, kale and carrots. Another thing to keep in mind is that carbohydrates are not the devil and whole grains are good for the body, unless you have a digestive illness like Crohn’s or Celiac and your doctor has advised you to avoid these altogether. I love eating grains, the taste, the flavour and the texture are all wonderful and I include a whole grain at pretty much each meal each day. In terms of protein, well don’t fret so much because we actually don’t need as much as you might think. The protein requirement is about 5-10% of your total calories per day. For the average person consuming 2000 calories that would mean 25 to 50 grams, THAT’S IT. Most protein powders are 25g per scoop FYI. The only time you may want to consider going above the 10% mark is if you are an athlete or if you are trying to mass gain or build lots of muscle and even then extra protein alone will not do it. I strongly suggest (as I’m sure your healthcare provider does to) that you opt for plant based protein sources as much as possible as they contain no dietary cholesterol and are high in fiber. Think beyond tofu and chickpeas and try out seitan, pinto beans and all kinds of lentils. In terms of fat, well try to minimize added oils when cooking and choose raw nuts and seeds with the occasional nut butter to keep it interesting.

Nutrition is always on everyone’s mind and there’s always some gimmicky thing coming out each week that claims to be the answer that we’ve been looking for. But the answer that we’ve been looking for is to just keep it simple, stop over thinking it by trying to adhere to something written in a book or magazine. Look at your entire diet and at how much of it is coming from a prepacked source or restaurant and how much is being made by you. Always choose whole foods as close to their natural state as possible and eat lots of it. Fill your belly at each meal, get lots of volume in and nourish yourself with the good stuff. You know what’s right for you and for your health, so let’s stop resisting and just start eating real food instead.

The next time you find yourself confused, think about this quote:

“You should really cut back on the vegetables” – said NO ONE EVER

To learn more about nutrition and get more helpful tips like this be sure to sign up for the Nutritional Awareness Summer Special available only through the month of July.

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Nutrition, Wellness

Going Raw

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The raw food diet is something that I always thought was pretty intense. It’s essentially vegan to an entirely different level, where no food or beverage can be heated to anything higher than 118 degrees. I always thought that the “science” behind this diet was hokum, but I’m also a little intrigued too and since I’m now in my off-season this would be the perfect time to test out whether raw foodism could work for a bodybuilder.

Let’s get into the science behind this diet first. The idea here is that food in its natural state is the most nutrient dense and that heating anything above 118 degrees will destroy its enzymes and in turn its nutritional value. The emphasis here is obviously lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with some raw whole grains that can be soaked and eaten uncooked like oats or raw buckwheat along with raw (unroasted) nuts, nut butters and some cold pressed oils. A lot of recipes involve using a dehydrator, especially to try a create things like crackers, flatbreads or wraps and many also include a lot of nuts and therefore fats, especially with dessert recipes. The really hardcore version of this involves taking it up a notch by not using any dehydrator, food processor or blender (as the belief is that the machine will heat up the food to a certain extent and destroy the enzymes) also grains are avoided (even ones that are raw), but there’s lots of sea vegetables consumed and fats are a minimal part of your diet. So in this case you’re eating a ton of fresh produce; notice I said fresh here as freezing is also believed to damage nutrients. A few things that are also avoided in general with this diet is coffee, as the beans are roasted, and soy proteins such as tofu and tempeh, since the soy beans are cooked in the processing. So yeah it’s pretty restrictive, but I was willing to give it a shot.

I decided to embark on a temporary raw food diet for at least a day. I made sure that it was a rest day as I figured that my carb and protein intake might be slightly off making weight training a big challenge. I didn’t go hardcore version here so I did include some grains and dehydrated snack foods to keep it interesting. I tried out all kinds of fun stuff like buckwheat porridge where I combine ground buckwheat with almond milk, hemp seeds, fresh peach slices and macadamia nuts. I also treated myself to the most amazing kale chips (I swear they were awesome) store bought of course, and cocoa almond energy bites, along with the standard salads, fresh veg and fruit. What I was very pleased to discover was that raw nuts and nut butters have a nice sweet taste to them that we actually don’t get from the roasted versions. I definitely prefer raw here and will probably incorporate more of this into my diet as it was super good. I did notice that my eating was pretty sporadic during the day though; I wasn’t really paying attention to how long I was waiting between meals and snacks, but I was also not eating the entire portions of food in each sitting either. I stopped when I felt like I had had enough, but I still wound up overeating at times…needless to say, intuitive eating is not for me. I also noticed that I was not getting a big amount of protein here but that my fat content was higher than usual. The truth about protein is that the average person eats double the amount of protein that they actually need and then some, so protein deficiencies are non-existent. In my case though, as a bodybuilder with significant muscle mass, I could feel it and the added fats definitely felt pretty heavy even though it was delicious. Everything I ate was really good, but when I got home I was ready for some solid and warm food.

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That was Part 1 of my raw food adventure. Part 2 was a whole other story. I decided to embark on a 1 day juice fast. Yup, that’s right, no solid food only cold pressed juices for one day. I did my research ahead of time to see how to best prep for this and what to expect. In the days leading up to it I had cut out caffeine altogether started eating more raw fresh produce and slowly switched to cold meals like rice salads and overnight oats and also drinking lots of water. Obviously this juice cleanse would take place on a rest day over the weekend since I found that many claimed to have low energy levels while juicing. So I ordered my juices from a local shop and had them delivered to my home which was super convenient. Bare in mind that these cold pressed juices have all the pulp removed so they aren’t thick like a smoother and don’t have any fiber either. The thought behind a juice cleanse is that it’s easy to digest, it gives your body a break from trying to breakdown all of the foods that we eat, helps to remove and flush out toxins and hydrates you in the process. I’ve always been a bit weary of this because you’re body naturally detoxes itself via the liver (which is your body’s filter) and through excrement and sweating, so an actual detox isn’t really necessary. But I still wanted to give it a try. It actually was pretty good. The juices tasted really nice, I wasn’t starving or exhausted at all, I didn’t spend most of my day in the bathroom (as many people reported they had) and by the next day I had gotten rid of my post-contest bloat. I think the main benefit to this is to shed excess water weight and bloat but that’s pretty much it.

So there you have it, my raw food diet experiment was a semi-success. It was fun trying out new recipes and finding alternative treats at the grocery store, but long term I don’t think this will be a fulltime thing for me, especially during winter months. The thought of eating pineapple and raw almonds during a snow storm sounds pretty unappealing to me. During the warmer months I say bring it on! It is a great time to try out the local and seasonal produce and eating raw is very refreshing on a hot summer day. One thing we all know for sure is that we all need to eat more plants and less animal (whether dairy, fish, eggs or meat). Everyone needs more fiber, more micronutrients and less protein and dietary cholesterol which is only found in animal foods. This is the absolute truth, I guarantee you that no doctor will ever tell you to cut back on the veg, but they will tell you to cut back on the animal food, especially if you have an underlying health issue. So give raw food a chance, maybe not fulltime, but definitely through in some snacks like crudité or fruit and nuts, and have some raw meals too like overnight oats and all kinds of fun salads. Your abs, your digestive tract and your body will love you for it.

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Contest Prep, Wellness

Peak Week Pain Points

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Once again I have made it to Peak Week. It is the culmination of the entire contest prep process; from mass gaining all the way through to fat loss/cutting, this is the week where one’s physique is in it’s prime condition. This is the most exciting week of the entire experience, but it also tends to be the toughest too. After weeks and months of training, some may run out of steam right at the end because they went too hard for too long, while others breeze through with a big smile on their face. Either way, this final week of prep involves lots of adjustments and commitments, both big and small.

For me, this marks my third peak week leading to the biggest competition to date: Provincial Championships, where the top 5 in each height class move on to Nationals with a chance to earn their coveted IFBB Pro Card. Many of my fellow competitors will involve ladies who have been training and competing for many years, who qualified well over a year ago and/or have had a long time dedicated to their prep. In my case, I qualified only 6 weeks earlier at the Provincial Open placing 4th in my height class. On the plus side, seeing that I was already in peak condition at 6 weeks out meant that I wouldn’t have too much work ahead of me in terms of dieting down or trying to pack on extra mass. Ultimately this short prep was different from my first two in that I was able to maintain my physique while having shorter workouts and enjoying a higher amount of carbohydrates and still seeing great results each week.

Then there came the “problems” or “challenges”. At 3 weeks out I started a new full time job (yay!). Unfortunately my office is far from home and the gym, giving me a pretty sizeable commute each day (2 hours total). This also meant that fasted cardio would be a big challenge. Instead of getting up at my leisure each morning and taking my time before heading out for a run, I now have to get up SUPER early (usually as the sun is rising) and head out the door about 20 minutes after crawling out of bed. Even with my pre-workout supps, I still feel tired and I am definitely running at a much slower pace than usual. Then I rush back home for a couple minutes of stretching, get ready for work and run out to catch the bus. After a full work day, it’s back on public transport to the gym for some serious weightlifting. By the I get home I’ve had about a 14 hour day including my workouts and transport. Needless to say, I’m wiped! The first week was intense because that was the biggest adjustment, especially with sleep. Truth be told, my solution was to just drink more coffee, which helped in the short term, but by the end of the week I started feeling the negative side effects. Too much caffeine can cause insomnia and irritability, all of which I experienced a few days into the week. Not only was I having a bit of information overload, but I was also getting way too much stimulation without any quiet downtime that I so craved. So that first weekend, I completely cut out caffeine and switched to some soothing chamomile tea instead and took some time out to listen to a few podcasts on wellness and do some quiet meditation. At 2 weeks out, I kept the caffeine intake reasonable and only having coffee pre-workout even if I started yawning midday; I definitely felt better. I started to get into a groove with my new routine, started running at my usual pace and got my energy levels back up. I also started to appreciate the early morning jogs; there’s hardly anyone out, the sun is shining and my route goes through this beautiful bike path with lots of greenery and trees. A definite positive shift in energy by week two.

Here comes the really hard part. For peak week, I’m traveling. I’ll be spending the week at a hot and sunny spot, which sounds all nice and good, but the timing is a huge problem. First of all, my flights are super early in the morning so I’ll be getting up well before the sunrise. Secondly, a plant-based contest prep diet is hard to manage while flying, options are limited so I have to be super prepared and since I’m flying international there’s no way for me to prep meals in advance. The best I can do is bring along individual packs of protein powder with some brown rice cakes, and pick up some kind of veg at the airport. Now I can’t just have any kind of salad because these always have added fats, marinades and sugars, so I’ll have to settle for the non-starchy dressing on the side type of foods. The key here is to write down everything that I eat to keep track of macros throughout the day so that I’m not missing any nutrients. Another factor is water intake. Air travel causes dehydration and bloating, which isn’t a big deal for the departure, but coming back home is a major concern (I’ll get to that shortly). Thankfully I’ll be staying in a spot with a full kitchen ad access to groceries, so sticking with my nutrition is no problem. There’s also a gym nearby, so workouts can easily be done.

You may be thinking “well, at least you’ll get to soak up some sun on the beach”…NOPE! In the 3 weeks leading up to any competition you have to avoid the sun. That’s right, I’m going to the beach but have to completely avoid all contact with the sunshine at all times. Why? Because in the sun we tan, and tan-lines cannot be covered by the spraytan on showday. No matter how hard the spraytan company may try, any difference in skin tone or color cannot be covered and evened out by the spray and I’m sure you’ll remember that my posing suit is not like a regular bikini; it’s a lot smaller and sits on the body far differently than what you see on the beach. God help you if you get sunburnt because you won’t be able to compete at all; any kind of skin irritation or redness will only be accentuated by the spraytan. So I’ll be walking around in massive heat, completely covered from head to toe with a big giant hat at all times, even if I go into the ocean. Oh, and did I mention that three days into the trip I have to stop wearing deodorant? The chemicals in deodorant turn the spraytan green and nobody wants to see moldy looking armpits.

The flight home is a whole other animal altogether. Once again, I leave early in the morning, but it also happens to fall on the day that I start my carb load and water manipulation. I’m going to be running the risk of bloating due to air travel (a big no-no). Plus in a carb load we cut all vegetables and fats, so I’ll be pretty limited to what I can eat. Again, writing everything that I eat and drink down will be the key to staying on track. Worse case scenario it’ll all protein powder and rice cakes until I get home and then I’ll eat the standard tempeh, sweet potatoes and white rice. When I do finally make it home I have to do a full workout and pre-contest beauty prep (hair stuff, mani-pedi, etc.) and pack for the contest weekend. Busy, busy.

Now this show is different in that registration for my class which usually takes place 1 day out at around 1pm is now going to be at 10:30 am, and it’s not close to home. So once again, I’ll have to get up super early for a light workout, skin prep and probably get stuck in traffic on my way there. Thankfully I will be staying at the host hotel so I’ll be able to drop my stuff and have a few hours to kill before the athlete’s meeting and my spraytan. I will be taking the opportunity to go to the hair salon and enjoy a little bit of pampering and then hopefully have enough time for an afternoon nap in my room.

The game plan for showday is nothing different (hair, makeup in the morning followed by pre-judging), but…finals is way later in the night. Usually finals would start around 1pm, this time though it starts at 6pm, so there will be at least a 5 hour gap in between. So I caved and reserved my hotel room for an extra night (since check out is at 3pm)  that way I can take a nap in between, which I’m sure I’ll need and I can stay over night if the show finishes late, which for sure it will. Finals usually lasts about 4 hours, so we won’t be out of there before 10pm. It’s an added expense, but a necessary one.

It’s gonna be an exhausting week and if you haven’t already figured out by now, I’m felling fairly stressed out over this. Stressed over the travels, stressed over the timing and planning, and stressed over how tired I know I will feel throughout the entire week. I am, however, trying to focus on the bright side. If while away I feel tired, I will sleep and if I feel overwhelmed or overstimulated, I’ll take some quiet time away from everyone to get centered again. This may not the ideal time to travel, but I know I’ll still enjoy myself even if I’m not the norm and am pretty unconventional. This trip will still give me the chance to spend some quality time with my family, maybe take an evening stroll on the beach with my husband and hopefully move at a slower pace than usual. It’ll give me the chance to slow down and get some relaxation time in while connecting with loved ones Like everything else, the key to success is to work around what you already have in place and tailor your approach to that. In my case, maintaining a positive mindset throughout, by focusing on gratitude and the progress of this particular journey to the stage, is what will ultimately allow this to remain a positive learning and growing experience.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

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 healthy 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

The Home Stretch

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There are only 16 days left in my contest prep, that’s right, just over two weeks until I hit the stage again. Which means that I’m in that final phase of dieting down and trying to take off any remaining body fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible. Both carbs and fat are drastically reduced, while protein intake is massively jacked up. What does this all add up to? A very drained and exhausted individual.

I started my final fat loss phase a few weeks ago and I can honestly say that it hasn’t been easy. Not only am I doing 5 days of weightlifting (thankfully not too heavy and not lasting longer than 1 hour), but I am also still doing fasted cardio 6 days each week. On top of that comes posing practice, which is so tiring. With posing I have been aiming for 15 minutes of practice each day for the past three weeks which might not sound like much, but imagine trying to hold certain position, while contracting and pulling in your muscles without letting go or squeezing and wearing 5 inch heels at the time…it’s not easy at all. As of next week though that will increase to one full hour of posing each day.

Nutrition-wise, all I can say is that it’s working very well and I don’t feel hungry or have any cravings, but I’m am definitely feeling the effects of this diet. Like I mentioned I am tired all the time. My pre-workout stack definitely helps to give me a boost so that when it’s time for cardio or weights, I’m good to go, but within minutes of finishing up my energy tanks massively. Outside of the gym I basically want to lie down and sleep all the time. I’m even feeling it with my mood; the amount of angry journaling that I have been doing these past few weeks has been like nothing I’ve ever written before. The tiniest thing annoy me or things that I wouldn’t really care about bother the hell out of me. It’s very frustrating.

Thankfully though I have the support of a great coach and last week when I sent her my weekly progress pics, I made sure to tell her exactly what was going on and how I was feeling. Her immediate response was that she could she the misery in my face in the pics (see below), but that my energy and mood are an indication that my current plans are leading me to the fast track of overtraining. This is a big no-no with contest prep as it leads to hormone fluctuations which ultimately halt progress and impact how I look and feel on show day. This is why so many potential competitors with the best intentions don’t end up completing their prep or binge eat or don’t respond well to their final diet. They come up onstage looking flat or bloated without any good definition, they feel terrible onstage and some don’t even make it there altogether.

In my case, all that rage and exhaustion can also indicate elevated testosterone which is perfectly normal for this phase especially once a woman’s body fat percentage drops below 15%. However, it can also mean that I may peak too early and not be able to maintain the physique or respond to the pre-show carb-load. Again, this is why some athletes come out looking deflated onstage. So my coach and I have made some tweaks to make sure that I’m okay to get through the next 16 days in one peace without punching people in the face on a daily basis. My diet initially had no added fat, so that’s changed now and we’ve added coconut oil to my first and last meals of the day. It’s glorious, every bite tastes so much better now! My coach also sent me some great motivational videos to psych myself up before each workout and told me that when my mood starts to get intense, to direct it all towards her with angry emails. Yes, she told me that it’s totally fine for me to do this because she gets it, she’s been there and she knows exactly what it feels like.

On my part, if I feel tired I will just take a nap; sleep is my best friend. I’m also going to be starting off each morning with a few minutes of quiet meditation to get centered and indulge in hot bubble baths every few days to take the edge off. That’s the absolute best that I can do for myself to make sure that I feel good about what I’m doing and why I have chosen to compete. I love bodybuilding, I love this lifestyle. The last leg of the journey is always the hardest, but I’m so close that I can see it and feel it everyday. Two weeks out, that’s all that’s left and I know that it’ll fly by so fast. I can’t wait to be onstage again and get to experience the culture and community of competing again. Being in that environment and focusing on presenting my best, as opposed to just beating the person next to me, is what really matters and soon enough I’ll be up there again rocking it onstage!

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

Fearing Failure

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One of the biggest lessons that I have learned on my health and fitness journey has been this:

                                             The body achieves what the mind believes

This statement is so huge and has had a massive impact on how well I’ve been able to progress overtime and stay consistent in that continuous development. A person’s success in weight loss, overall health improvement and long term maintenance is 100% dependent on their mindset. That’s where the fear of failure comes into play.

Fear is what holds us back and stops us in our tracks from going after something or taking it to the next level. I’ve heard all kinds of so called “reasoning” that people tell themselves when it comes to their fitness  and weight loss goals and it always comes back to the fear of failure. For example, I had a conversation with a relative of mine a few weeks ago who mentioned that she was concerned that if she tried to be plant-based that she would be hungry all the time. My response to that was “If you are hungry, then you need to eat”. Simple enough right? Hunger (not a craving!) is a sign that your body needs more fuel and nourishment…so just eat more!  What’s stopping you from doing so? There is no reason to fear hunger or to overthink your nutrition. What I believe the thought process around being hungry on a plant-based diet stems from is the fear of feeling deprived or of having cravings all the time. This only happens if you don’t eat enough, don’t eat a balanced diet or miss out on important nutrients that your body needs. So just eat already! Yes, take a proactive approach to your nutrition and inform yourself of eating well (whether plant based or not), but then take action and just go for it instead of sitting around overthinking it and worrying about how “hungry” you may feel.

Another solid example of fearing failure also came from another relative who said that she was worried that if she started to clean up her diet, maybe try a few meatless meals that her family would not be on board and she would end up having to cook separate meals to appease everybody. To that I say, it may be time to show your family a little tough love. You are not doing your family or yourself any favours by serving food that is lacking nutrients, that is overly processed and just unhealthy. Don’t you want your family to be as healthy as possible so that they can live a long and fulfilling life? Because if that’s the case, then their diets absolutely need to be healthy all the time. If you are constantly giving in when they say let’s order in again or I won’t eat vegetables even if they are deep fried in chocolate sauce, then your loved ones on are the fast track to a life filled with countless health problems. And this goes for anyone at any age even if they don’t look overweight. When I was younger, before how learned how to cook, it didn’t matter whether I wanted french fries for dinner instead of lentil soup, that’s what was prepared by my mom and that’s all that I could have. Same goes for my husband when he was young. My mother in-law mentioned that if he didn’t like what was being served then it was too bad for him, that was the meal and he could either go hungry or eat. Needless to say his stubbornness and attempt at a hunger strike was very short lived. That’s the case with everyone; they may give you grief but it won’t last long. Hunger is very powerful and unless your loved are willing to cook for themselves (which chances are they probably won’t ) they’re going to eat what you put in front of them. You’re the boss of the kitchen, you set the rules, so make it healthy, stand strong and show off your tough love muscles.

A third and rather funny example of fearing failure that I hear all the time has to do with fitness, mostly weightlifting. “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I need to lose weight before I should start weightlifting”, “I need to get in better shape before I can start weightlifting”. These always make me laugh on the inside because each one of these examples is completely false! I’ve already address multiple times why you won’t bulk up from weightlifting so I’m not gonna go there now. In terms of needing to lose weight or get in better shape before picking up some dumbbells, stop and think about what you are ACTUALLY saying here. You are stating that you need to get “in better shape” before you can get in shape. That makes no sense at all. How can you get in shape before you get in shape? You don’t have to start by benching 200lbs or working with massive weights, I certainly didn’t, in fact I started by working out with a pairs of 2lbs dumbbells in my bedroom . You lift weights to get stronger and to sculpt your body regardless of your excess bodyweight and fat. If that’s not enough to convince you then keep in mind that diet will and cardio alone will only take you so far (that’s why you’ll see a lot of puny and soft looking people who are runners or cyclist), also the more muscle you have the more calories you burn throughout the day, and too much cardio can actually impact your posture making your belly round outwards a bit.

My current fear failure has to do with how hard I can push myself during workouts, mostly in terms of how heavy I can actually lift. It’s a big hindrance for me as this fear is stopping me from growing, from getting stronger and from becoming the best version of myself possible. This is all from a mix of self-doubt and discomfort; I don’t think that I can actually lift so much and I’m trying to protect myself from the difficulty of it. With this though, I’m only hurting myself and preventing myself from getting as much gains as possible and crushing it on show day. A wise lady once said : Always lift heavier than you think you can. This wise individual was actually Miss Piggy and these are words to live by! With my current prep I’ve become far more self-aware and I have built up my mind-muscle connection so know I am able to recognize when my body can handle a heavier load with each session. Each week I try to lift heavier than I had from the previous week and always worked out for the best. My mantra now is if I’m not swearing to myself by the end of each set (usually something like mother f*#^!r), then it’s not heavy enough. That’s just what works for me and my current goals though; it is different for each one of us so think about what your gauge would be.

Ultimately our minds are just trying to protect us from harm, whether it be physical or psychological as well. We don’t want to get injured, embarrassed or leered at for a making a mistake. At the end of the day though, bringing awareness to that fear and working through it and in spite of it will finally allow you to get to where you want to be. You can lose the weight, keep it off and get strong; it is possible but at a certain point you have see past the roadblocks that you are creating and just do it. It is you vs you, it is your reality vs your stories that you keep telling yourself. Recognize them and then move beyond them. When you get to the other side, it is a beautiful thing because you can finally see and achieve the endless possibilities in your journey fitness.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Wellness

It’s not easy being different

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I want to share with everyone a less than awesome experience that I had at a recent holiday dinner with about 35 people that took place in the private room of a restaurant. When the owner and head chef found out that I am plant based, they took it upon themselves to make a mockery of my personal choice by presenting me with a plate featuring one brussel sprout and laughingly said “I present you with a gluten free, vegan, organic brussel sprout” and then everyone at the table laughed, pulled out their cellphones to take pictures and claimed that this was the funniest thing ever. To add insult to injury, the owner later stated that at least their chef has a sense of humour which is so rare; as if I ought to feel privileged to be ridiculed in front of and by my group of dinner companions. The evening ended with the presentation of a cheese plate placed far from my end of the table so that those sitting close to me would be “punished for sitting next to the vegan”, which was of course followed by even more laughter. Needless to say I was not amused, in fact I was completely humiliated that everyone at the dinner had several laughs at my expense. It is astounding to see what is considered to be acceptable behaviour these days. The following day when I brought it to one person’s attention, they tried to rationalize with me that everyone had been drinking and this sort of thing happens all the time, it was only a joke blah, blah, blah (basically the usual song and dance of well what do you expect when you differ from the norm) and when those at the dinner were told that what they did was actually offensive and disrespectful apparently they were very remorseful. I however have yet to receive a single apology or acknowledgement from anyone, further proving that their so-called remorse is only an attempt at covering their asses.

This all took place about 2 weeks ago and I have been so angry since, and then something very interesting happened last night. As I came home from work and changed into my workout gear to get ready for some serious weightlifting (chest and triceps), I looked in the mirror and realized how grateful I am for that evening and all of those comments. I can safely say that this was a great reminder for why I choose to live a fit and healthy life, and it has been the best motivation for me push even harder and lift even heavier each time I exercise. While those at dinner were complaining about how bloated they are, how they need to lose weight, hit the gym and started making their usual new year’s resolution to finally “get in shape”, I am already there. I’m already in great shape and I am already strong, I am actually doing what very few people can. The food that I choose to eat nourishes me and fuels me for each day and each workout; it helps to build me and better myself. So now the only thing that I wish to convey is gratitude: thank you for reminding me that everything that I am already doing is working and continues to work and that I not only look great, I actually feel great too. While others complain about their muffin tops, their cellulite or their jiggly arm fat I can truly say that my stomach is flat, my ass is firm and I can bench press more than what I weigh.

Since that evening my fiancé says to me every morning that it’s a good day to be fit, although he has also been through his fair share of judgement from others and he continues to be subjected to it. As I’ve mentioned before, he is a big guy and many times when he goes out people stare, leer and whisper, making him understandably uncomfortable. I always say to him “let them stare” because those that do don’t and never will understand the work, the discipline and the courage that it takes to be that strong and to stick with that regiment for the long haul. I remember once when someone very close to me said that they noticed how uncomfortable he gets when people stare, but what do you expect when you look like that? Well I expect for him to be treated like a human being and remarks like that are truly awful.

All of this is to say that it is really terrible to judge a person, regardless of what they look like or how they choose to live their life. Whether a person is super fit or obese, it is unacceptable to treat people poorly and to make comments or “jokes”. If you are comfortable in your own skin and you feel great, then good on you because it is the most important thing for each of us to feel that way and to have confidence in ourselves. Block out what others may say and take the high road whenever you can, although sometimes I must admit that it feels good to put a person in their place when they totally suck. Remember compassion, kindness and empathy; treat others how you want to be treated, as hard as it may be. If however, you are the person who is passing judgement on others for whatever reason, remember this quote: “When you judge someone else, it doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are”. Do you really want to be that person? That cynical, bitter, impolite person? Do you really want to attract that kind of negativity into your life? What goes around, comes around.

With the New Year right around the corner, try to take a different approach to resolutions and this year focus on doing the things that you actually enjoy. Spend time with your loved ones, learn new things and try out some new hobbies, because when you do engage in activities that you like, everything will be not just bearable, but also nice and fun too, letting you feel great about your life and your personal choices. If you want to make a change, a real change, then go for it! You can make it happen, you can live the life that you have always dreamed of, whether it’s making peace with how you look or striving to become stronger, you have what it takes. Everybody that scoffs or laughs or says mean things are just projective their own weakness and lack of faith on to you; it’s really just a bunch of noise from a small minded person who is attacking what they do not comprehend. In the words of Taylor Swift “haters gonna hate” and in the words of me “suck it haters!”

As for my resolution, well I’m going to continue on with trying some new things as I do every year (in 2014 I stared taking ballet and hot yoga classes and in 2015 I joined a book club and took a 12 week fitness challenge). I am going to finally join a gym. If I want to take my fitness up a notch and keep moving forward, then I will need to start lifting heavier with machines and not just free weights and adding back in a little bit of cardio a couple times a week. Also, working out at home is starting to become distracting with my fiancé always chatting with me as I’m trying to finish a set of 30 weighted v-ups, so I think this will be a good thing. Although it is a big expense, it’ll also be a big benefit for me and something new that I can get to experience.

I hope you all have a super awesome happy new year and a great year in 2016! Make it a great and memorable time for you and your loved ones!

Start It, Finish It