Magic Beans and Tinfoil Hats!

At least once a day I see something on the internet, which makes me just want to switch off my computer and unplug myself from the matrix entirely.  Social media charlatans, and so called “gurus” fall broadly into two categories, those trying to sell us things (magic beans) and those peddling crazy conspiracy theories (tinfoil hats.)  Each category is equally maddening and just as potentially dangerous as the other.  There is a constant barrage of non-sense for the unsuspecting person to have to wade through on an almost perpetual basis.  Let’s try and put some of the current hot topics to bed once and for all.

Waist Trainers:  These are essentially corsets, yes that’s right.  The very same as the ones women stopped wearing in the early part of the last century, and for good reason.  These contraptions promise to give the wearer the classic “hour glass” physique.  What they actually do is cinch you in at the waist, restricting your breathing and disrupting the digestion as your internal organs aren’t given the space they need in which to work properly.  When I first saw these things on line, I admit I sort of laughed it off, thinking it would never catch on.  It appears I was very wrong!  Not only have they not died off, but new and even more potentially dangerous iterations are appearing all the time.

I saw one recently which was actually supposed to be worn during exercise!  It promised to help you burn more calories.  What it is more likely to deliver is a trip to your local emergency room if you pass out while wearing it.  This thing is to be avoided at all cost, especially if you are doing resistance training.  The last thing anyone needs is reduced oxygen when lifting heavy weight.

Apart from all the potential health concerns, there is another reason why you shouldn’t waste your money on this device.  It isn’t going to work!  Through diet and exercise you can change your size and you can change your body composition.  But, outside of surgery, nothing is going to fundamentally change your shape.  If Mother Nature hasn’t blessed you with an hour glass figure, you certainly will not get one from waist training.

Skinny teas and tea-toxes:  The marketing behind these products is truly genius.  Drink a few cups of our tea each day and you will be skinny.  Wonderful, where do I sign?  Wait, what?  This surely is too good to be true, right? Right!  What these tea companies don’t tell you up front is that the active ingredient is Senna.  A naturally occurring laxative.  Drinking these teas will almost guarantee an increase in the number of bathroom breaks you need during the day.  Any “weight loss” experienced will almost certainly be as a result of this and the associated dehydration.

Being an Irish person, I love tea as much as the next girl.  Herbal teas have lots of great properties and I drink several cups per day.  They keep you hydrated and if you sub them for your usual caffeine hit, the benefits are even greater.  However, it isn’t going to magically make you loose weight.  Keep your money in your pocket and remember if something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is.

Cancer Click Bait:  I have lost count of the number of times I have seen articles like “Top Ten Cancer Causing Foods,” or “Five Foods to Never Eat” on social media or in magazines.  You can go to sleep at night being told something is good for you and awake the next morning to find it may cause an horrific and painful death.  Gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, butter and caffeine are just a few of the vilified foods.  What’s the reason for this?  Fear sells.  Terrified people are far more likely to consume.  Plus, the more sensational a headline sounds, the more clicks, likes and shares it will get.

My advice when dealing with these sorts of scare mongers is please just ignore them.  If you have them popping up in your news feed, unfollow and unlike immediately.  DO NOT get your medical advice from Facebook.  When looking for health advice always consider the source.  If we were to believe the claims of these hysteria peddling crazies, we would spend out lives living like the Boy in the Bubble.  If you do have genuine concern about whether a certain food is good for you or not, ask a professional.  The tinfoil hat brigade will never let the truth get in the way of a good story, as such they should never be trusted.

There are dozens more myths which ought to be dispelled.  As quick as I can put a pin in one, ten more will appear.  Therefore the best thing I can do for you is urge you to remain skeptical.

Health and fitness are relatively simple concepts, though not necessarily easy in practice.  Eat whole, minimally processed food, in as close to its natural state as possible.  Get active.  Stay hydrated.  Get enough sleep.  Manage your stress.  That’s all you need to do.  There are no magic beans, and you certainly don’t need to buy anything.

If you need help or have any questions, get in touch.




Comfort Zones and Leaps of Faith

I recently mentioned in a Facebook post that the last week has been truly amazing for me.  Let me fill you in on what’s being going on.  Last weekend I attended the Sigma Nutrition Seminar with Danny Lennon MSc.  It was a wonderful weekend.  I learned so much, met some cool people and got to spend two whole days listening to one of the most interesting, intelligent and articulate people in the industry.  I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

I booked the seminar months ago and even though it was fully paid for, I must have nearly talked myself out of going 100 times.  I was filled with anxiety and plagued with impostor syndrome.  What if people thought I didn’t belong there?  I knew that the attendees were likely to be experiences fitness professionals and elite athletes.  What right did I have to place myself among them?  What if I didn’t know enough to be able to keep up with the lectures?  I tortured myself with these thoughts and many like them for weeks, turning it over and over in my mind, until it finally hit me.  Me worrying about not knowing enough to be able to learn is just as flawed as people saying they’re not fit enough to join the gym!  It was utterly ridiculous.  The fact that I had paid my money and was willing to learn gave me just as much right to be there as anyone else.

Something else that happened this week was also pretty special.  I ran my first two Parent & Child Cookery Workshops.  Again, although this is something I have wanted to do for a long time, I kept finding excuses not to.  I kept thinking of new reasons why I wasn’t ready.  Basically, I couldn’t get out of my own way.  Despite my initial reservations, on the night, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be.  Perhaps excitement took over or perhaps I was just too busy getting everything organised to have time for nerves.  Both workshops went really well.  What could be better than having a captive audience to chat to and having a chance to demonstrate something you are truly passionate about?

So, why am I telling you all this?  It’s simple.  Way too many of us spend far too long in our comfort zones.  Terrified to take a risk, suffering from paralysis by analysis.  I was like this for far too long, fretting over tiny decisions that don’t even matter.  Worrying about what other people might think and trying to please everyone.  It got me nowhere.  There are a million different cliches I could trot out like “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and “the greater the risk, the greater the potential for joy,” but I don’t need to, we have heard them all a million times.

What I will say is this, don’t be afraid.  Comfort zones are a good place to rest, but a terrible place to live.  Doing something which scares you a little, will be guaranteed to make you feel alive.  When you want something, go after it.  So what if you fail!  Ask yourself what is the worst case scenario?  If that’s something you can live with, take the risk.  In almost 100% of cases, even if things don’t work out, it’s never as bad as we had imagined.  Even if you fail spectacularly, which happens to us all at times, at least you can honestly tell yourself that you gave it your best shot.

If you are serious about making changes in your life be they nutrition related, fitness related or anything else, you are going to have to get used to feeling uncomfortable along the way.  True and meaningful change can be a painful thing, there is no getting away from that.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it worth it?  Take the leap and find out xxx


Badges of Dishonour?

Phrase like “No Pain, No Gain” and “Go hard or go home” are extremely commonplace in the fitness world these days.  Pushing ourselves through pain barriers to see who can endure the most suffering is seen as a sort of badge of honour.  As I get older and am noticing that it is increasingly difficult to recover from injury, I find myself asking if we are taking this philosophy to an unhealthy extreme.

Crossfit is the training that I do, but unfortunately this do or die mentality is not exclusive to this particular sport.  I find increasingly, that people training with specific aesthetic or performance goals may be pushing the limits of what is sensible as well as the limits of their bodies.   This may be as a result of questionable coaching, an overly competitive atmosphere in the gym, or just sheer pigheadedness.  Whatever the reason, we need to learn to recognise and accept the point at which enough is enough.

Take ripped hands as a classic example.  Anyone who has tried to master pull-ups, toes to bar, or spent any amount of time working on Olympic Lifting can probably relate to this.  I for one remember all too vividly the first time my hands ripped.  It was in a workout with pull-ups (I had just learned how to string a few together) and strict press.  There was about 50 reps of each movement in the workout, and at about the halfway point I noticed the palm of my left hand was beginning to tear.  Now the sensible thing would have been to either stop the workout or modify the movement.  I did neither.  I soldiered on and completely ripped up the hand.  This was utterly stupid.  It wasn’t in competition, it was just a normal training day.  I was working out alone, so I can’t even blame the adrenaline of being up against my peers.  It was just sheer craziness.  I have to admit, when I realized my hand was shredded, I did feel a bit like “wow, I have arrived!”  However, the euphoria didn’t last long, as I struggled to wash my hair, and my training was severely hampered over the coming days.

You only need to take a brief look on social media to see countless pictures of skinned shins (box jumps) bruised collar bones (push presses) and whip marks (damn double unders)  These images are becoming so main stream that nobody bats an eyelash when we see people walking around with all these battle scars.  Accidents happen, of course, but surely we should try to mitigate them more than we celebrate them?  All the cuts, bumps and bruises are small injuries, which although seemingly insignificant, your body needs to expend energy to heal.

As athletes, we take risks every day in training.  We need to assess these risks and use judgement and experience to ascertain whether or not they are worth taking.  In these instances, I strongly urge you to ignore your ego!  Know what your body is able for and do exactly that.  My ego has often told me that I am well able to lift the prescribed weight in the workouts, or that I should be well able to keep up with the 17 year old training beside me.  I can do neither.  When I listen to my ego it results in a number of things happening;

  • My movement patterns turn to crap, as I struggle with weight that is just too heavy for me.
  • I risk injury for the same reason.
  • I don’t get the desired stimulus out of the workout.  If I have to spend minutes looking at the bar in between each rep, when everyone else is flying through it, I am not essentially doing the same workout as they are.
  • Most crucially, it devalues my training session.  I come away from it feeling like a failure.  I already know I am not at the level to attempt that weight yet, but having it confirmed in such a public way feels like a gut punch.

As we get more experienced with training, we get better at learning to scale appropriately.  But don’t be afraid to ask your coach for advice.  Even just ask him or her “how heavy is this supposed to feel?”  Taking the time to establish this, can save you a world of pain in the workout.

Another misconception that I see creeping in more and more, is the idea that you need to be on the flat of your back, struggling to breathe at the end of every workout.  If you don’t have to literally crawl out to your car, you simply didn’t work hard enough!  This is complete and utter nonsense.  While it’s perfectly fine to go all out once or twice a week, nobody needs to be hitting that level of intensity every day.  Doing so on a continuing basis will only serve to run you down.  It will make you dread your training (unless you’re a complete masochist) and will inevitably lead to injury and fatigue.

Unless you are operating at an elite level, you need to accept that there will always be people who are better than you at certain things.  Even within your chosen discipline, you will find you have strengths and weaknesses.  Elite athletes at the highest level, only remain at that level for a very short period of time.  The secret to being happy and successful with your training is to ignore everyone else.  It doesn’t matter what they are doing, concentrate on your own performance.  While it’s great to be motivated by other people (TPFA girls, you know who you are!) you need to play your own game.  Chasing after other people is never going to make you happy and will only make you risk pushing yourself to breaking point.

The long and the short of it is this, if you feel sore and broken all the time, you’re doing it wrong.  Most of us are not professional athletes.  We do this for fitness and for fun.  If we push ourselves to the limits continually and end up injured all the time, this is the complete opposite of the desired effect.  Your training should make you feel strong and accomplished, not weak and broken.


Nutrient Timing

In the last while I have been getting a few questions from readers about the importance of nutrient timing, meal timings and meal frequency.  I hope to address some of these questions in today’s post.  So “does nutrient timing matter?”  The answer simple answer is yes, however, there is a huge caveat.  This is that there are other issues, far more important, which will have a far greater impact on your results.  In Eric Helm’s book, The Muscle and Strength Pyramid, he discusses five things which have an impact on your ability to reach your body composition goals.  Of these five, nutrient timing is the deemed the 4th most important.  So, before we even begin discussing this in more detail, I would like you to ask yourself the following questions;

  1. Am I eating mostly whole foods, minimally processed and in as close to their natural state as possible?
  2. If weight loss, or fat loss is my goal, am I maintaining a calorie deficit.  In other words, am I eating the right amount?
  3. Am I eating enough of all three Macro-nutrients as discussed in What are Macros Anyway?  Am I making sure to include good quality protein with each meal?
  4. Am I getting enough diversity in my diet, namely different fruit and vegetables to ensure I am getting all the vitamins I need?
  5. Am I getting enough sleep?  We should be shooting for at least 7 hours per night
  6. Am I drinking enough water?  If your urine isn’t clear (unless you take a vitamin supplement) you’re probably not.
  7. Am I exercising?
  8. Am I managing stress?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I strongly suggest you go back and address that particular issue first, as it will definitely get you to your goals faster than worrying about how many meals per day you should have.

One of the questions I am asked is “how many meals per day should I have?”  The answer to this is, unless you go to extremes at either end of the spectrum, it doesn’t really matter.  What I mean by this is that if you eat between 3-6 times as day, as most people probably do anyway, and you ensure you get sufficient protein, fat and carbs during the day, there is no need to get hung up on whether 3 meals or 6 is optimal.  What I would advise is do what works for you, fits in with your schedule and your family and doesn’t upset your digestion.  For me personally, I go with the standard three meals a day, with two-three small snacks depending on how I feel.

Another topic that is much debated is the question of post workout nutrition and the so called “window of gainz!”  Until recently it was generally widely accepted that it was optimal to ensure you ate protein with 1-2 hours of your workout.  Newer research has shown that this window may be wider than previously thought.   In the case of training in the evening you will have already eaten several times during the day already.  The nutrients you have consumed will be in the process of being digested and will be available for your body to use during and after your workout.  It is never a good idea to train either hungry or full, so I would aim to eat something small 1-2 hours before your session.  I would usually opt for a protein shake and a banana about two hours before, as I find this sits well in my stomach and gives me enough energy for my workout.  If you are training first thing in the morning, eating a meal beforehand may not be practical, in which case eating soon after your workout will be a good idea.  But let’s face it, you will probably want to do this anyway as you will be hungry!  Like with many things, there’s an element of trial and error, but for the most part keep it intuitive.

Another frequently asked question is “can I eat after 7pm?”  Again, the short answer is yes!  There is no arbitrary time at which your body decides it won’t accept any more nutrients.  I will risk stating the obvious by saying that I wouldn’t recommend having a huge feast 20 minutes before bed, but other than that, it isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.  Personally, by the time I finish work, train, walk the dog, do whatever house work is needed, shower and actually cook a dinner, I would rarely be eating before 8:30pm, and I can report no adverse effects.  However, if I were to put myself under the kind of pressure it would take to get myself fed before 7pm, the effects would definitely be detrimental.

Lastly, and briefly, I am often asked about fasted cardio.  In other words, is there a benefit to doing cardio in a fasted state versus a fed state.  The answer to this one is no.  There have been lots of studies done, which show that overall it makes essentially no difference.  There’s lots of science behind this, which I won’t get into here (I will save it for a future post) but basically the consensus is that it really depends on your individual preferences.  If eating before you do cardio makes you feel ill, then obviously avoid it.  Otherwise, eating carbs will actually give you energy to perform better in the workout and therefore you will get more out of it.  Again, it comes down to taking the time to discover what works best for you.

I think the reason why these types of questions come up is because dieting can, at times, be difficult.  Inherently we would all love for there to be one quick and easy change for us to make, which would bring it all together and get us the results we want.  Unfortunately if there is one, it hasn’t be discovered yet and nutrient timing certainly isn’t a silver bullet in that respect.  The key to making any meaningful change is patience and consistency.  Regularly ask yourself the questions I outlined above and continuously look for small, incremental improvements you can make.  Enjoy the journey xxx