Things I’ve Learnt – Re-Blog

I wrote this six months ago- all still remarkably true and relevant.

  1. You aren’t perfect.

I think I’m like most people in that when I start something new I want to be 100% perfect or I feel like I’ve failed and need to start again.  But it’s impossible to never have slip ups on a long term plan.  Getting out of the cycle of deciding a whole week was a write off become of a bad day or bad meal was one of the biggest factors to starting to see results.

  1. Day 30 (or 60 or 100 or 200) is harder than day 1.

People always talk about Day 1- and in some ways Day 1 is tough, it’s the starting something new, the first step in making changes. But by the same token, Day 1 is exciting – it’s the start of something new, when you feel all positive and hopeful.  Sticking to something once the novelty wear off or once results start to slow is the real challenge.

  1. Consistency and steady progress is boring.

Everyone loves a Facebook status or Instagram post where they can show their before and after pictures demonstrating dramatic results.  Realistically though long lasting changes take time and progress isn’t always immediately apparent.

  1. The loudest people in the gym often don’t have a clue.

When I started venturing into the free weight section alone I used to feel so inferior.  All these people claiming space and equipment and confidently broadcasting their strengths and opinions on how things should be done.  I tend to assume that if someone is loud and forward with their opinion they must know their shit- and yeah, some do.  Get comfortable in the environment and take time to look and you will see however that many do not!  Go in, do your own thing with confidence and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing in terms of training or weights.

  1. You need to eat more.

I used to try and keep my calorie intake low – the bigger the calorie deficit the better.  Really, this makes you tired, makes training harder and will eventually stop you getting results.  Stick to a sensible calorie deficit and results will come and will be easier to maintain.

  1. There is no such thing as an ideal diet.

And by ideal I mean those diets you see advertised in magazines- ‘Eat all the cake and still lose weight’ ‘Drink all the Gin and still lose weight’.  We would all like that magic diet which would allow us to eat as much of our favourite foods as often as we like and still loose 10lbs per week.  Essentially, though, if you look at them, all these diets still involve some form of restriction – eat low calorie meals through the day and allow yourself cake everyday in moderation (i.e. a small slice).  You therefore have to accept that you can eat what you want within reason but if you also want to stay within a calorie allowance and hit your Macros you will need to balance that out with sensible options for other meals. I have 4 pretty strict days to allow me the freedom to have 3 pretty relaxed days and stay within my goals.  That means for 4 days a week I sometimes have to say no to things I want in return for that relaxed weekend.

  1. Some days will be shit.

Not all training sessions will be fun, not all will bring PBs, sometimes you will feel like you have made no progress.  If every session was a great session they would just be your normal sessions.  Accept that even a tough session will bring benefits to you and don’t sweat it.

  1. Rest is important

When you start it feels like you will get more results if you keep on going and do as much as you can.  Rest allows your body to recover and prevents over training though and in the long term will improve your results.

  1. You can’t do everything.

It’s tempting to try and master as many things as possible.  Realistically though unless you are naturally talented at something the chances are you will need to devote time to things to master them.  Therefore trying to win a Strongman competition whilst also training for a marathon is probably not going to work.  Pick your thing and focus on that.  I wanted to run a second marathon but with teaching classes around my full time job I had to accept that finding time to fit the training in would not be possible and as I didn’t want to take a break from teaching I put that aim on the back burner.

  1. Weight is a bad indicator of progress.

Muscle weighs more than fat, your body is full of water blah blah blah.  At first you may be able to monitor your weight- eventually you will need to go off clothes size or pictures if you don’t want to feel completely demotivated.

Ten ways to get ‘fitter’ in 2019

  1. Work out how many calories you burn a day on average and eat this many (to maintain weight) or 20% less (to reduce weight)
  2. Swap one of your sugary snacks with a healthier replacement (e.g. a piece of fruit) each day. And yes I know fruit has some sugar in it but a banana over a Mars Bar will help you cut calories and provide less of a post sugar slump.
  3. Stop having cheat meals. Cheat meals create a restriction / binge / food as a reward mindset.  Eat whatever you want whenever you want within reason without viewing food as good and bad.
  4. Eat protein. Aim to eat 1g of protein per kg of body weight. Will help you feel satisfied without overeating.
  5. Drink at least 0.033 litres water per kg of your body weight each day (so if you weight 60kg drink two litres a day).  Fat loss, performance – hydration is so important to your health.
  6. Don’t exercise at all at the moment? Aim to complete a 30 minute session every week for a month, two 30 minutes sessions a week the next month and three 30 minutes sessions the following month. Boom = Exercise habit created.
  7. Increase your NEAT. However much you exercise aim to increase your non exercise movement by at least 10% each day (i.e. walk more)
  8. Get more sleep. Enough sleep every night will help with weight loss, stress, energy levels.
  9. Learn something new. Want to learn to do a handstand, swim, play netball? Practicing towards mastering a skill will get you moving without exercise being the main goal itself.
  10. Set yourself a challenge. Run in a race, do a Tough Mudder, compete in a swimathon. Setting a challenge can give you the incentive to get to your training sessions and maintain focus.

Supplements

For a couple of years I have limited the supplements I take to a Multi Vitamin and Omega 3 but recently after feeling fatigued I introduced a couple of additional supplements into my routine, namely liquid iron and hydration tablets.

  • In particular – liquid iron (specifically Spatone) 

Adequate iron levels are important for the body to function properly whatever you do day to day and Doctors have often suspected my iron levels to be low (although blood tests have always shown otherwise – I think I’m just very very pale!).  More relevant for me though, from my own reading on the subject recently (because before I start using supplements I like to do some research), ensuring the levels of iron in your body are adequate can have a positive effect it can have on your fitness goals in several ways.

Some things taking an iron supplement may improve (note I’m not massively sciencey and this is just my understanding of what I read):

Energy Levels Ensuring iron levels are not low can help reduce fatigue during workout as without sufficient iron less ATP can be produced (part of the reason why those lacking sufficient iron can feel tired and fatigued).

Performance in the gym – One thing iron does is ensure oxygen saturated blood is able to efficiently reach the areas that need it thus assisting your performance.

Recovery – That same nutrient filled blood pumping efficiently into muscles can also aid recovery after training.  In addition low iron levels can reduce the efficiency of our immune system, which could also make it harder to recover from a tough week of training.

  • Hydration Tablets (specifically ORS)

Hydration plays an important role in sports performance (and every day human being functioning).

Most of the time I still just drink water (and I average about 4 litres a day) but when I have been feeling run down I’ve been adding a hydration tablet to my pint of water a couple of times a day to perk myself back up. Adding a hydration tablet into your water can help you get the right balance of water and electrolytes needed to replenish your body after training. The theory therefore is that you can hydrate more efficiently after training by drinking a hydration solution to just water. The advantage to these over sports drinks is the tablets are lower in sugar and calories.

As little as a 2-3 percent reduction in body mass via water loss can have a significant impact on your concentration and muscle power so potential benefits to remaining hydrated:

Reduced chance of cramp, muscle fatigue and joint pain. As the core body temperature and heart rate can be regulated more efficiently.

Reduced fatigue. Helping making training easier.

Improved concentration. Being well hydrated can maximise the speed at which messages are sent from the brain to the muscles, resulting in a better performance for longer.

Avoid Dehydration When exercising, your body loses water and essential salts through sweat.  If not replaced, this can result in dehydration – this obviously is not good.

Obviously you can’t replace good nutrition with supplements but knowing what your body needs and making smart use of supplements to ensure you get it can be a good thing.

My Personal 10 Commandments for a Healthy Life

  1. Aim to hit a 20% calorie deficit across the week. Find a system for doing this and stick to it- don’t be swayed by new fads. My system is to eat to Paleo principles (not strict Paleo) 4 days a week and then allow myself three days where I can enjoy treats (read cake).
  2. Start your calorie week on a Friday. You are more likely to have a calorie surpluss at the weekend – this allows you Monday to Thursday to pull back and still hit that 20% weekly calorie deficit if that does happen and stops you feeeling like you are being overly restricted.
  3. Eat at least 2g protein per kg body weight every day (for me 160g). This will make you feel full, help your body recover from training and means Carbs and Fat will look after themselves.
  4. Drink 3.5 litres water a day (this is based on based on 30ml water per kg of body weight plus 500 ml for every hour of exercise – I just average out based on my normal training week).
  5. Drink a max of 3 coffees per day.
  6. Take a multi vitamin and fish oil supplement every day.
  7. Have a little bit of dark chocolate each day when on your period if you suffer with cramps (magnesium can help relax muscles reducing cramps, and sugar can boost your serotonin levels which can drop – hence feeling like you want to cry). I believe Kale can also help reduce cramping but for some reason doesn’t hold the same appeal as chocolate!
  8. Train in a way that suits your life and your week. I don’t lift as heavy as many and my sessions are shorter than most people I know – but they fit into my working life allowing me to stay consistent enough to see results. If it’s going to be tough one week to fit in your training – adjust your plans to feel successful.
  9. Stretch every day.
  10. Get up 30 minutes early and develop a morning routine that helps set you up for the day. I like to get some day light, drink a large glass of water and read a chapter of a book (as I don’t get much ‘me’ time during the rest of he day).

Credit – Ricky Long, who bullied me into most of these things – but they work!

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15 Tips to Help Improve Mental Health

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health and manage depression and anxiety:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when i eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better thab turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hars to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do and hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxes by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?

Quick One

I haven’t posted for a while.

I’ve been busy.  Spent a lot of time at a desk.

Quick tip for others desk bound like me.

Invest in one of these.

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Half gallon water bottle.  That’s two litres.  Keep it on your desk.  Fill it.  Drink it.  Repeat daily.  Use the toilet as necessary.

Hydration is important.  When we are busy it’s easy to forget this.  This little trick helps me.

In other news I have decided to take the plunge and have signed up to do my Level 2 Fitness Instructor and Level 3 PT course.  Expect lots of posts about my progress on this over the coming weeks!

Water – The Meaning of Life

One of the most under rated fitness tips ever in my opinion is stay hydrated.

We are almost all guilty of it.  We obsess over our training plans, diet, cheat meals, how many coffees we drink a day, how many units of alcohol we drink yet we frequently ignore our hydration levels.

I used to do this – I could tell you how many calories I’d consumed and burnt but it barely registered that not even a sip of water had passed my lips all day (unless you count 400 coffees and several glass of wine).  Then someone pointed out how important water is, for instance being well hydrated can:

  1. Increase energy and relieve fatigue (it helps you think, focus and concentrate better and be more alert)
  2. Assist with achieving your body goals (fat loss for instance) – especially as we often mistake thirst for hunger
  3. Help flush out toxins
  4. Help improve your complexion
  5. Aid digestion
  6. Boost the immune system
  7. Reduce some types of headaches (where commonly caused by dehydration)
  8. Prevent / reduce the likeliness of cramps & sprains
  9. Improve your mood / general feeling of well being
  10. Save you money – the cheapest drink there is!

I found that, whilst I didn’t really notice many differences when I started to drink enough water, I DID notice that when I then drank less water I felt it!  If I’ve had a day where I drink less I feel lethargic, grumpy and hungry for salty foods.

So how much should you drink?

Ideally between 30-35 ml per kg of body weight

PLUS and additional 500 ml for every hour of exercise you do.

Example – I weigh 80kg and do on average 2 hours of training a day so I try and drink 3,400 ml – 3,800 ml (3.4-3.8 litres) a day 

One word of warning:  You will go to the toilet A LOT when you first start drinking more water – maybe not something to coincide with a long road trip!