Mid-Week Musings: Water Retention and Scale Weight in Females, Chasing Exercise For Fat Loss and Why Going Meat Free Isn’t That Great.

Here are the pressing questions of the week from the gym- you ask I answer!

Water Retention and Scale Weight In Females.

In conversation with our female clients this week there were questions about why weight fluctuates through a calendar month. The conversation follows the line of “I have eaten perfectly for the last week- exercised, tracked everything on myfitnesspal and done everything right but I have not lost weight.” Scale weight loss is not a linear thing all of the time because we have to account for fluctuations in body water through the month. Any women who has a menstrual cycle has 4 phases, in these phases water retention is affected as following:

Early follicular (first 7 days after menstruation): Low water retention.

Late follicular (days 7 to 14 after menstruation): Estrogen release causes water retention due to a change in sodium handling.

Early luteal phase (first 7 days after ovulation): Low water retention.

Late luteal phase (7 to 14 days after ovulation): Drop in progesterone causing a rebound water weight gain due to a change in sodium handling.

So there you have it, in the late follicular and late luteal phase there is a predisposition to retain water hence weight fluctuations on the scales.

Chasing Exercise and Fat Loss.

Simply, if you are chasing large volumes of activity to make up for your high calorie diet your habits and behaviours will not be shaped to deal with periods of inactivity. As diet is largely habit based disruption to your activity levels means it is incredibly hard to then change your habitual eating habits to match your activity. An hour of exercise may burn anywhere between 200-600 calories but if this how you are creating your deficit to diet then this may prove an issue if you lower your activity levels. Tracking your food intake can help understand your current behaviours and reviewing your intake is sometimes useful when looking to make changes. Daily exercisers may be commended for their efforts but if your goal is weight loss and you are exercising daily and not losing weight your nutritional intake is the issue, not your exercise programme. See it as more exercise is like buying an extra bucket for your leaky roof rather than fixing the hole in it. Exercise is obviously a positive thing but the aim should be to improve aspects of your fitness improving your quality of life not just to nullify poor nutritional behaviours.

Why Going Meat Free Isn’t Great.

Vegan and vegetarian diets are gaining popularity at the moment for no other reason than “trend.” On a quick poll at the gym today most peoples opinion where they are “healthier.” It’s simply not the case. I’m not going to discuss the reasons that people don’t consume meat and/or animal products on ethical grounds, that is people’s own business. The general perception of their “healthier” status is fundamentally wrong. Any exclusion based diet can leave you deficient in certain nutrients. Primarily these deficiencies can be seen in vitamin B12 (anemia, nerve damage and cognitive impairment), iron (oxygen transfer and depression) and zinc (growth impairments in the young and mood). If removing dairy products then there can be a deficiency in calcium (when deficient inline with Vitamin D rickets may be prevalent). Supplementation can be used to fill these gaps but it is worth noting some of the symptoms above if you are deciding to change your lifestyle. From a macronutrient perspective you are able to consume a suitable amount of protein from a variety of sources. What you are inclined to see though is that protein based foods may have take along carbohydrates which if you are looking to control calorie or carbohydrate intake it may be a issue. Any diet has a positive and negative aspect but if you are removing quality unprocessed lean protein animal products from your diet it may prove sub-optimal for health if you don’t fill the gaps nutritionally.

 

What is Fatigue? How To Resist It?

The typical UK winter brings along the standard seasonal ailments of colds and flu’s but one thing I encounter is the fact that people say they are “fatigued.” There is generally no need to feel tired, after all most people have a seasonal break over Christmas and should return to work/ life refreshed but as the nights feel long and the days short it’s hard to remind yourself that we are on the upward spiral heading towards spring.

The actually definition of fatigue in an exercise sense has been dominated by the thought that lactic acid production limits movement. That burning now is known to be the creeping of acidity in the muscles which limits movement rather than the phantom of lactic acid which the body can actually use as an energy source. Whilst physiologist consider technical mechanisms of fatigue the overarching feeling for the layman is that one way or another you hit a wall and your performance is limited en-route to hitting a limit.

Another theory though considers a link between effort and motivation. Motivation factors such as rewards affect performance without changing physiology or a muscles capacity to produce effort. Perception is everything when it comes to effort and motivation and therefore fatigue is also a partial product of motivation. As things get harder your physiology encourages you to slow down and your perception of this is very important. It’s understandable therefore why pushing the body to new lengths or breaking through plateaus is hard as our physiology is working against us.

This resonates perhaps with endurance athletes but for the normal person what does this mean? If you are in a situation where you feel fatigued is it your physiology or is it your head? Answer these questions to see what your answers are:

  1. Do you sleep for 7+ hours?
  2. Do you eat a well balanced diet with a good share of protein, carbohydrates and fats?
  3. Do you perform over 3 hours a week of scheduled exercise or pulse raising activity?
  4. Do you remain active e.g. 10,000 steps a day?
  5. Do you drink 2 litres of fluids daily?
  6. Do you eat over 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily?
  7. Do you eat enough fibre daily?
  8. Are you part of an active community/ family that can help you?

Each of these factors are associated with improved health and therefore will help buffer against fatigue. Activity and exercise build fatigue resistance and a healthy lifestyle and diet will help you feel better.

Answer the following questions:

  1. Do you smoke?
  2. Do you drink alcohol regularly (2-3 times a week)?
  3. Do you sleep less than 7 hours a day?
  4. Is your diet made up mainly of high glycemic carbohydrates/ sugar?
  5. Is your job sedentary or do you perform little daily activity?
  6. Are you part of a sedentary community that hinders you?

If you answer yes to the above they can potentially increase your fatigue levels and they can potentially chip away at your health.

But where to start, consider this- if you have a behaviour on the lower list perhaps consider switching it with one on the top of the list. The top list could be considered foundational behaviours to not only resist fatigue but also to maintain a healthy body. Perception is important as we stated before and encouraging yourself to perform things to make you feel better will help build your self efficacy and confidence going forward. This is not just for people who are struggling for fitness- these positive behaviours will resonate with any athlete who has been successful and the negative behaviours pretty much would shut down anyone’s sporting career a lot quicker than it needs to be. When it comes to motivation or resisting fatigue the evidence is clear- if you give your physiology the best chance to resist fatigue your head stands a greater chance of helping you.

 

Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work… and Here’ What to do About It!

danielle-macinnes-222441-unsplashOnly 6% of New Year’s resolutions are a success. In simple terms New Year’s resolutions don’t work because we underestimate how long it takes to kick a bad habit. Popular wisdom suggests 21 days but habit research suggests that the reality is that it takes up to 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.

Most resolutions focus on a big change- these big shifts require multiple small habits or processes to occur consistently for success to be found. Typically this is a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees as the overall goal dwarves the small important processes that are needed for change and you stop focussing upon the small things that will help you achieve your goals. Ultimately this leads to being demotivated as the overall goal is too vast to achieve as success is to slow to come by. In the age of instant gratification the thought of waiting for anything for a period of time makes people feel uncomfortable. Even though we know that deep down that a 6 minute abs programme won’t give you a six pack the first time you do it we don’t even consider that if performed 66 days in a row you will be quite a bit closer to your overall goal.

Now lets get one thing straight. Your overall goal is important. They key to tearing your 200kg deadlift off the floor or to fit in to your new jeans are genuine goals. Focussing upon them without a plan though makes them more like haphazard dreams. These goals provide the strong reason or your “why” for starting. Success is the sum of your whole efforts. Intention is great to get you started as it aids your initial motivation but to achieve your goals you will need to focus upon the concept of consistently performing multiple habits that lead to your overall target. These multiple habits could be termed processes or process goals.

When it comes to setting your process goals they need to be achievable, practical and they need to repeatable. Being able to measure success is also important. For instance- you can measure gym attendance or the number of training sessions you perform every month. You can set a target to prepare a packed lunch daily or eat a sensible breakfast of your choice that is congruent with your goals. What is key is that these processes are repeatable and their achievement is inline with your overall goal achievement.

What if you don’t perform these processes? Simply, you will fail in achieving your overall goal if your other behaviours are not aligned with your overall target. At this point you have to consider that are your overall goals important enough to you or are the processes you need to perform to achieve your goal actually achievable or repeatable. The easiest way to avoid this is to break your target down in to the key areas that need to be initially performed.

 

For example goals for weight loss may look like this:

Exercise- Goal: Do some.

Nutrition- Goal: Eat healthier meals.

 

If we make these goals more specific and process orientated we can start start to quantify these processes:

Exercise- Goal: Exercise 3 x a week.

Nutrition- Goal: Eat a calorie controlled breakfast and lunch.

 

From here we might start to build more depth to these processes:

Exercise- Goal: Resistance train 2-3 times a week, get 10,000 steps a day, aim to increase the weight used during squats.

Nutrition- Goal: Eat a protein source at every meal, eat a fistful of carbohydrates at every meal to control portion size, drink 2 litres of water a day to manage hunger.

 

As you can see in the third example we have depth to our goals and they will form the backbone for your overall plan of success. This is the same regardless of your goal. By adding more detail we are also applying a more thought out approach to goal achievement. Understanding that each of these behaviours is important helps you to avoid being overwhelmed by your initial target and it also provides a more constructive set of targets by breaking down the overall goal in to smaller constituents. Starting towards a target is important but quantifying the steps towards your target helps maintain motivation, helps you achieve process goals throughout the process and allows you to celebrate small wins as you progress.

What Does 1500 Calories Look Like?

Practical usable advice is the name of the game. We are told to eat healthy and we know that calories make up food. We even know that certain foods have different calorie make ups. Where most people struggle is putting it all together in to a daily plan.

What we have here is a base 1500 calorie day focussing on lean proteins and sensible amounts of carbohydrate and fats. For some people this may be enough food- for others it may be a good base before snacks depending on your size and your goals.

Feel free to share your snaps of your creations with us and if you decide to tweak any of the recipes with your own spin!

 

Breakfast

Low Carb Egg Breakfast Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 spring onions
  • little cherry tomatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 50g of cheddar or your choice of cheese.
  • ½-1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chilli powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 390°F.
  2. Wash and dice the pepper, onions and tomatoes. and put them in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Wash the spinach, lightly chop it and add it to the bowl as well.
  4. Add the eggs and salt. Mix well. 
  5. Add the chilli- add depending on your preference for heat!
  6. Grease the muffin tin with oil and kitchen paper/baking brush and pour the egg mixture evenly into the muffin slots. (If you think they might still stick to the pan use some muffin cups or cut out some baking paper and to use as cups.
  7. Add the cheese, grated or layered.
  8. Pop the tray into the oven for 15-18 minutes or until the tops are firm to the touch.
  9. Bon Appetit!!

This is about 250 calories a serving so 2 will do the job to start of the day (original source http://www.hurrythefoodup.com).

 

Lunch

Spicy Chicken and Avocado Wraps

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken breast (approx 180g), thinly sliced at an angle
  • generous squeeze juice ½ lime
  • ½ tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 seeded wraps
  • 1 avocado, halved and stoned
  • 1 roasted red pepper from a jar, sliced
  • a few sprigs coriander, chopped

Method

  1. Mix the chicken with the lime juice, chilli powder and garlic.

  2. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan then fry the chicken for a couple of mins – it will cook very quickly so keep an eye on it. Meanwhile, warm the wraps following the pack instructions or, if you have a gas hob, heat them over the flame to slightly char them. Do not let them dry out or they are difficult to roll.

  3. Squash half an avocado onto each wrap, add the peppers to the pan to warm them through then pile onto the wraps with the chicken, and sprinkle over the coriander. Roll up, cut in half and eat with your fingers.

This is about 400-500 calories so perfect as a sensible lunch (original source www.bbcgoodfood.com).

Dinner

Healthy Steak and Chips

Ingredients

  • 150g baking potatoes
  • 5ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 175g lean beef rump steak
  • 1 tomato
  • 50g button mushrooms
  • 80g mixed leaf salad

Method

Preheat oven to 220°C / Gas Mark 7 / 425°F

  1. Peel and cut potato into 8 wedges.

  2. Place on a baking tray and brush with 1 tsp olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika.

  3. Bake for about 35 minutes or until cooked through and crispy.

  4. While the potato is cooking, grill or griddle the steak, 1 tomato and a few sliced mushrooms.

(Original recipe courtesy of www.weightlossresources.co.uk).

And for those of you who want to pimp that steak up a bit check out Jamie Oliver’s how to guide… https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/how-to-cook-the-perfect-steak/

Is the hex/ trap bar better for developing athletes?

The title of this article in itself is a little bit contentious as in most cases the answer will always depend upon the situation.

That said understanding where and when to use the trap/ hex bar should be a priority of most forward thinking coaches looking for best practice. The trap bar in itself is often favoured as the loading and hand position makes it pretty easy for those new to the weight training arena to adapt and adopt without finding that technique may be compromised.

Straight bar deadlifting form can often be compromised by poor hip and lower limb mobility as well as weak spinal erectors meaning it is harder to get into the right positions to develop the movement in a safe and effective way.

A recent study by Camara et al. (2016) used individuals who could deadlift 1.5 times their bodyweight. This is interesting as most studies don’t used trained populations- in this case it means that there was a level of mastery for the individuals involved in testing.

Maximal amounts lifted didn’t vary but the peak force and peak velocity were different. This highlights that from a force production point of view that the trap bar may be superior.

From a muscle activation point of view the vastus lateralis (part of your quads down the front of your leg) was more active compared to the erector spinae and biceps femoris (part of the hamstrings down the back of your legs). It brings home the point that the hex/trap bar is not as posterior dominant as the deadlift is when looking at things from a muscle activation point of view.

So is there a reason to remove deadlifts from programming? Not necessarily, the use of any exercise depends upon the context of the athlete. This study highlights that force production may be developed more favourably for a while with the use of hex bar. The role of the quads is obviously enhanced here as it is somewhere between a squat and deadlift. As there is less erector spinae activation (back) it means that there is less stress placed upon the musculature of this area which may be a limiting factor in developing the deadlift e.g. poor hip mobility and weak erector spinae make full deadlifting a bit of an issue.

The trap bar in my opinion tends to be easier to coach than a full deadlift and it makes it an easier catch-all lower body drill. It is a good compromise to help develop physicality especially if mobility issues limit the performance of an effective deadlift. In turn deadlifting may be considered a progression from hex/ trap bar lifts as it challenges the posterior chain and therefore may be a good advancement.

Does tempo matter when lifting weights?

If you are interested in weight training this is a good study to take some interest in. While teaching on personal training programme at my local college we got into a bit of a debate. If a repetition is based on tempo e.g. 3 seconds up/ 3 seconds down and for instance you do 10 repetitions (60 seconds time under tension) for a hypertrophy goal is it the same as performing 5 repetitions for 6 seconds up and 6 seconds (still 60 seconds time under tension) down if weight is controlled?

In fairness there are coaches who base their whole model of training on this concept so it is a good question to ask. I dug in to the research and found this study which pretty much performed the above but for slightly different repetitions and time under tension.

The paper suggests that training protocols conducted with the same time under tension, but with different configurations, produce distinct neuromuscular and metabolic responses so that performing higher repetition numbers with shorter repetition durations might be a more appropriate strategy to increase muscle activation and blood lactate concentration. Traditionally higher repetitions (plus 6) have always been favoured for muscular endurance and hypertrophy work but it does suggests that there may more favourable repetition ranges (higher) to work with submaximal weight if the goals are not predominantly strength orientated.

 

 

The Trouble With HIIT

HIIT training or High Intensity Interval Training is dominating the mainstream media this January as a fix all to lose body fat for time poor individuals.

While training with intensity is a useful thing to do, to say it is the most effective way of training is a bit misleading- especially when you are looking to change your body composition.

HIIT in itself can fit nicely in to short bite size chunks this message of simplicity first is one that personally I like- it’s often better to do something rather than nothing. For people though who train regularly I want to investigate whether this is an efficient and effective way to train and if instagramable routines are the future.

Bring On The Science

Here’s the science bit…. When training there are three main energy systems we are challenging:

1. ATP-CP also termed Alactic System.

This systems provides immediate energy for about 10 seconds at maximal output.

2. Glycolytic also termed Anaerobic System.

This system provides a bridge between the ATP-CP system and the long term aerobic system. After 10 seconds of maximal effort this energy system kicks in. The primary fuel here is stored carbohydrates. At full tilt this system has about 2 minutes of work before lactic acid build up and other factors compromise performance.

3. Oxidative also termed Aerobic System.

This system is the default energy system of the body at rest and during recovery. It provides long term lower intensity energy. The aerobic system plays a role in all work and it’s role starts to build after 30 seconds of activity. Therefore a strong aerobic system maintains a strong power output for longer.

Why is this important?

Your training programme will challenge all of these energy systems but which ones you challenge is important for how you adapt and develop your fitness.

 

Cardio Confusion?

Training on a typical HIIT programme will work the ATP-CP system initially and then if your interval is sub 2 minutes the anaerobic system, after this the aerobic system kicks in to gear taking all the load (if you are going full tilt).

Most interval training proposes an interval of 30-60 seconds with a parallel recovery. In most routines I have watched the intensity level being worked at is no where near maximal (this is okay in certain situations and I’ll explain why in a bit). In this situation the perception is that the glycolytic system is being challenged but what is mainly taking the work load is the aerobic system.

The aerobic system will maintain work at sub-maximal workloads. This is okay if we are looking to develop a base level of fitness. This is why beginners see decent results from this type of training for about 6 weeks before their conditioning plateaus off as they adapt.

Most of these programmes tend to ignore one of the most important component of a workout… recovery.

 

Recover to Go Harder.

Basically, if recovery is inefficient you are not challenging the energy system you set out to train and all work becomes predominantly aerobic recovery.

Working out at high intensity is hard work- the longer you work without recovery then the lower the intensity. What we are trying to do is increase the amount of work done in a given time in order to facilitate all those cool adaptations in the body that mean your fitness is enhanced.

 

What Not To Do.

So how do we guarantee a result?

Unfortunately if you want to burn a lot of fat or get super fit one block of burpees for 4 minutes won’t cut it unless you are dieting yourself in to a hole. This January has seen the publication of the 1 minute workout (seriously)…. With the need for quicker fixes all the time it had to happen at some point though.

Truthfully, I can’t deny there may be good markers for health from short term interval work (the science is really patchy in truth) but the returns level out once you become adapted to this type of training.

 

How Do I Work Out Smart(er)?

What follows is a rough template of workouts I have used for a variety of clients from athletes to those looking to shape up. As the list goes down what you will notice is that the intensity decreases and the recovery time needed increases. As a side note we do not prioritize all energy systems at the same time. Training is about adaptation and specificity so making everything as hard as possible isn’t really working that smart You also need to do enough work at a given intensity to develop certain energy systems- this basically highlights that your one minute workout won’t cut it for energy systems development after 6 weeks. Just to also highlight one thing aerobic work can cause the same positive changes meaning HIIT is no more effective than performing aerobic work if you are a beginner.

 

1. Aerobic Steady

Emphasis Aerobic output- can be used as recovery from intense sessions.

Duration: 30-60minutes or more

Recovery: None

Number of Sessions: 1-3

Description of Exercise: Steady paced cardiovascular exercise or low level weights circuits

Intensity: Steady Pace

 

2. Aerobic Intervals

Emphasis Improving oxygen utilization of the muscles balancing speed and endurance.

Duration: 1-2 sets of 10-20 minutes.

Recovery: 5-10 minutes

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week

Description of Exercise: Anything that can be paced rowing, air bike, ski-erg,

Intensity: Pacing is key- this type of session is based on resistance as opposed to speed. Your heart rate should sit at around 150bpm or around 65-80% of max (individuals vary though).

 

3. Intervaled Recovery

Emphasis: Fast twitch power output and resistance to fatigue increase oxidative recovery.

Duration: 8-15 sets of 2minutes.

Recovery: 1 minute “active” recovery.

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week.

Description of Exercise: Complexes and Multi-joint lifts such as kettlebell swings twinned with a core or mobility exercise.

Intensity: Again around 150bpm/ 65-80% max with recovery down to sub- 130bpm.

 

4. Anaerobic Endurance

Emphasis: Power endurance.

Duration: 4- 6 interval sets of 4 to 8 minutes

Recovery: 2-4 minutes of low level recovery

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week with at least 48 hours recovery between sessions

Description of Exercise: Multi-joint compound movements/ “full body”

Intensity: 90% maximum of your heart rate

 

5. Max Output

Emphasis: Maximal efforts so working the ATP-PC system. Typically the most risky for injury due to explosive nature

Duration: 10-20 sets of 10-30 seconds.

Recovery: 3-5 minutes of recovery between sets.

Number of Sessions: 1-2 a week with 48-72 hours between workouts.

Description: Generally, works better for task specific drills e.g. sprints, jumps and explosive throws.

Intensity: Maximal effort “explosive” in nature, speed shouldn’t be compromised by fatigue.

You may not perform all of these style of workouts in a week. Indeed this depends on the person you are working with and what you are trying to achieve and what energy systems you are trying to develop. When you consider things like the Tabata protocol and why it has become popular (20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds rest) is simply is that it is easier to perform that than grinding out 2-4 minutes at 90% of your maximum heart rate for 10 sets.

Does it matter for beginners? Well I guess something is better than nothing. However if you are stressed, tired and with a bad diet maximal sessions may not be beneficial for your health and steady aerobic work may be restorative and invigorating without burying you under more “stress.”

From an anecdotal point of view for a period my average client was the stressed out, time poor client averaging 2 or less hours of activity in a week. These individuals just aren’t in the position to do high intensity work.

 

A Note On Training For Body Composition.

Which one of these gives me a six pack though?

Well, they are all activity- that is great for creating a calorie deficit. They all will improve physicality so therefore you can work at a higher intensity to burn more calories. As a side note the maximal output has the lowest calorific yield for time spent. The other options will depend on relative intensity maintained as well as duration. Intensity does play a role in fat mobilization so stimulating adrenaline to cause fat breakdown requires intense work so the Intervaled Recovery method and the Anaerobic Endurance method are my favourite. That said the duration you can perform these well will be compromised by your anaerobic fitness (they are mentally the hardest as well).

Time should be spent also developing efficient aerobic pathways highlighting that there is a lot of value in steady state work as it can be performed more frequently for longer so for some individuals it may be more suitable for creating a calorie deficit and can be performed more regularly. This is definitely the case if you are managing fatigue, injuries or in general are a bit out of shape. Developing an efficient and effective aerobic base allows you to do more well in the future which is very important when you are looking to develop a progressive training approach.