• Fitness Fact or Fiction: Is dark chocolate good for you?

    Could we really live the dream, is chocolate really good for you? Or are we just kidding ourselves into guilt free splurges?

    Dark chocolate is said to be better for you as it's lower in sugar and carbs than regular chocolate, as well as having a higher percentage of cocoa than regular chocolate, which is where it gets most of its benefits, but can it really improve your health, or is it just a less guilty go to snack?

    Dark Chocolate

    10 Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate:

    1. Dark chocolate contains multiple nutrients. A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains on average:

    • 11 grams of fiber.
    • 67% of the recommended daily allowance for Iron.
    • 58% of the recommended daily allowance for Magnesium.
    • 89% of the recommended daily allowance for Copper.
    • 98% of the recommended daily allowance for Manganese.
    • It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.

    2. Dark chocolate is a good source of fat. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates. Eating fat enables the body to burn fat for energy, rather than gain fat.

    3. Dark chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine which can give you a little pick me up throughout the day.

    4. Cocoa beans are one of the highest scoring foods ever tested by ORAC. ORAC, Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, tests how foods react to potential harmful free radicals and gives them a score as an antioxidant. A study by the Chemistry Central Journal found that cocoa powder made from cacoa extract contained more antioxidants than acai, blueberries and cranberries, famed for their antitosident abilities.

    5. Dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the lining of the arteries to produce nitric oxide (NO). Nitric Oxide sends signals telling the arteries to relax, lowering resistance to blood flow and therefore reducing blood pressure. Research in The Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that including  small amounts of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate as part of a usual diet efficiently reduced BP and improved formation of nitric oxide in the control group.

    6. Dark chocolate decreases the risk of Insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to a slowed metabolism, weight gain and diabetes.

    7. Dark chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease. LDL (bad) cholesterol causes heart disease, dark chocolate is thought to protect from high levels of LDL. In a study of 470 elderly men by The Archives of Internal Medicine, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by 50% over a 15 year period. Being an observational study means it could be another external factor which caused this effect, however surely it's significant enough results to try it.

    8. Dark chocolate may protect from skin damage from the sun. The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.

    9. Dark chocolate may improve brain function. Dark chocolate has been shown to improve brain function due to its stimulation of increased blood flow.

    10. Dark chocolate may lower cortisol. Being high in antioxidants, dark chocolate effectively reduces oxidative stress inside the body which in theory should lead to lower levels of cortisol. Research by The Journal of Proteome found that dark chocolate reduced the urinary excretion of the stress hormone cortisol and catecholamines and partially normalized stress-related differences in energy metabolism after daily consumption of 40g of dark chocolate for 2 weeks.

    So there you have it 10 guilt free reasons to grab some dark chocolate.

    For more on chocolate see here.

    Tip: Remember its high quality chocolate which has this affect, your regular milk chocolate won’t cut it. Look for chocolate with as high a cocoa percentage as possible, ideally 70%+ and try and stay organic whenever possible.
    Posted by Victoria Gardner
  • Should you put Coconut Oil in Coffee for weight loss?

    With recent news revealing shocking sugar highs of up to 25 teaspoons in our favourite café beverages are you looking for a sugar swap that still gives you that kick of energy? Although  plopping a teaspoon of oil into your coffee sounds like a weird (and super greasy) thing to do, there are claims it can help your body burn more fat, keep you more focused and alert and energise your workouts. In a society that’s desperate to remove fat and reduce calories, should we really be adding more?

    First things first, let’s debunk a myth before we look into this further, fat does not make you fat. In fact, eating certain kinds of fat can boost your metabolism and burn more fat. Glad we cleared that one up.

    Coconut Oil in Coffee

    Benefits of Coconut Oil for Weight Loss

    Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids instead of long chain fatty acids. Medium chain simply refers to the arrangement of the carbon atoms in the chemical structure. Unlike long chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids are readily utilized by the liver, which leads to greater energy expenditure and enhanced thermogenesis. Medium chain fatty acids occur naturally in low levels in milk fat (butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese), but the highest quantities are found in coconut and palm-kernel oils. Research by The International Journal of Obesity suggests that consuming more medium chain fatty acids can help to lower body fat percentages, participants who were fed diets higher in medium chain glycerides over a four week period finished with higher weight loss and less fat tissue, along with increased energy expenditure over those whose diet lacked the medium triglycerides.

    General Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

    • Research has shown medium triglycerides go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source energy, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
    • Coconut oil can increase your energy expenditure, helping you burn more fat.
    • Coconut oil contains Lauric acid which can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, potentially helping to prevent infections.
    • Coconut oil can curb hunger, keeping you full for longer due to the way which medium triglycerides are digested by the body.
    • The fatty acids in coconut oil are turned into ketones which have been shown in research to reduce fits in epileptic children.
    • Coconut oil can improve blood cholesterol, saturated fats raise HDL (the good) cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease.
    • Coconut oil is an effective moisturiser and repairs hair damage.
    • Why Start The Day with Coconut Oil Coffee?

    When you first wake up, your body has been fasted for the duration of your sleep and is in prime ‘fat burning’ mode as insulin and sugar levels are low, but not unstable. What this means is that your stored fatty acids are released and utilised for energy, rather than food consumed. Starting your day with a coffee help to increase fat burning hormones which use these fatty acids for energy. Creating a concoction of coffee and coconut oil prompts the body to enter ketosis (fat burning state) and kick starts your day with an energy boost, as well as all the benefits above.

    For more on the benefits of caffeine read our post on caffeine and training.

    Coconut Oil Coffee Creamer Recipes:

    There are many ways you can mix up your coconut coffee to benefit from the creamy combo, here’s our favourites:

    The Basic Burner:

    1. Add one teaspoon of organic coconut oil which has been at room temperature to the bottom of your coffee cup.
    2. Add instant coffee granules or brew your coffee if you like the posh stuff.
    3. Pour over the coconut oil and stir to ensure the coconut oil melts into the coffee to create a creamy mixture.

    Cinnamon and Vanilla Coffee Creamer:

    This one's a little naughtier than the basic coffee combo, but a delicious and still (reasonably) healthy drink, plus the sugars are all natural unlike our café bought beverages.

    Ingredients:

    • 150g coconut oil, organic (soft but not melted)
    • 2 tablespoon honey
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use flavdrops by Myprotein, as a calorie free sweetener in vanilla flavour)
    • 1 teaspoon Cocao powder
    1. Combine all your ingredients until the mixture is creamy and then store in a sealable jar.
    2. Melt into brewed coffee for a deliciously sweet creamer.

      Nutritional Value of Coconut Oil:

      One average teaspoon (4.5g)  of coconut oil / 100g is thought to contain:

      • Calories: 39 / 862
      • Carbohydrates: 0g / 0g
      • Protein: 0g / 0g
      • Fat: 4.5g / 100g
      So replacing your sugary and (dare I say it) overpriced (yes I did) coffee shop brew with a homemade coffee and coconut oil concoction is a smart move in more ways than one. Although it may sound strange, the result is actually quite delicious and highly nutritious. The combination of caffeine and saturated fat gives you the beloved coffee buzz with a lasting energy boost plus additional fat burning potential, and who doesn’t love extra fat burning potential?
      Posted by Victoria Gardner
    1. Weight Gain Supplements

      From scrawny to brawny, it's the skinny boys dream. Short of grunting out the heaviest lifts you can in the gym and posting #gains posts of all your meals, what else can be done to help you stack some size.

      When it comes to gaining size, it's not as easy as we’re led to believe, it can take years, despite supplement companies promising to take you from zero to hero faster than Captain America. We’ve sifted through the clever marketing to separate the gains from the gimmicks. Discover what supplements actually work, why and how below, then, the rest is down to you.

      Training Supplements

      The 5 best weight gaining supplements

      Whey Protein

      Whey protein is the biggest contender when it comes to protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the process needed to build new muscle, so when it comes to gaining weight, it's crucial. The reason whey is the best type of protein for this is because it is fast to digest and contains peptides which help to increase blood flow to the muscles.

      When to take: Research has shown a high protein breakfast can help to maintain lean muscle, combine with your morning oats for a muscle building brekky. Whey is best for consuming post workout as this is your ‘anabolic’ window, where the protein will be used to repair the muscles used in your workout. 1-2 servings of a clean protein shake should be taken within 30 minutes of training, but whey can also be used as a snack at anytime throughout the day to keep your protein intake high.Try to buy a protein which is as organic as possible and always read the ingredients to check it has a high protein content rather than cheaper less effective mixes.

      Casein Protein

      Casein Protein is a slow digesting protein ideal for bedtime use. Obviously as you sleep you're not ingesting any more food to make you gain weight (unless of course you sleep eat, but that's another story) and therefore it’s a good idea to have a casein shake before bed, as its slow digestion will keep you from going catabolic overnight. For serious gainers casein has also been proven to keep you LESS full, meaning it's easier to pack in as much as possible, remember new muscle can’t grow from nothing, you have to feed it.

      When to take: Casein is best about 30 minutes before you go to bed, however some people mix it in with their regular shakes between meals.

      Creatine

      Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in meat and fish as well as being naturally produced by the body in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate, which we use for energy during high-intensity, short duration exercise, such as sprinting or heavy weight lifting. Creatine supplements can be bought in various forms, from flavoured powders to pills. They are taken in order to enhance the body's ability to create energy and increase muscle mass. The increased energy from creatine enables users to lift more in the gym and, therefore, create more muscle mass. Creatine also increases weight gain by drawing water into the muscles, giving the illusion of a fuller, swollen physique, this stretch on the cell encourages more long term growth.

      When to take: It is recommended you take 2-5 grams of creatine immediately before workouts. This helps keep your muscles saturated with creatine and provides extra energy to perform more explosive heavy lifts. Post-workout consume another 2-5 grams as creatine will be rapidly taken up by muscle cells  during this anabolic window. On rest days, it is recommended that a creatine cycle is maintained by taking 2-5 grams of creatine with a breakfast that contains carbohydrates.

      BCAAs

      BCAA, stands for branched chain amino acids. These are composed of 3 of our 9 essential amino acids, essential because our bodies do not produce them naturally and, therefore, they have to be sourced through diet. BCAA’s are made up of valine, leucine and isoleucine. Leucine is the most important of the three, as research shows that it can stimulate muscle protein synthesis on its own. Despite this, it's still best to take all three, since they work together to provide muscle growth, increased energy during workouts and decreased DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness).

      When to take: Recommended doses of BCAA take servings at breakfast, pre and post workout.

      Beta Alanine

      (The one that makes you want to scratch your face off)

      If you’ve ever taken beta alanine, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Beta alanine is an amino acid which when combined with histidine, forms carnosine. Carnosine has been shown to increase the muscle fibers ability to contract with more force, for longer without tiring. However supplementing with beta-alanine can take some getting used to. Around 15 minutes after ingestion, you may experience the itch. Typically a prickling/flushing sensation  is felt on the surface of the skin, which may be uncomfortable but is harmless.The beta alanine itch is the result of nerve endings underneath the skin being stimulated and firing at a higher than normal rate. It is not a cause for concern and is experienced by the majority of beta alanine users. Research found that 3.2 grams of beta alanine supplemented on a daily basis raised intramuscular carnosine levels by around 80%, leading to increases in muscle size and strength.

      How to take: Take 1 serving prior to you workout and test your sensitivity, gradually increase to 2 servings.

      So those are our top 5 muscle building supplements, remember the hard work is still down to you. They say the day you started lifting, is the day you became forever small, because you will never be as big as you want to be… but they also say if you never try you’ll never know.

      Good luck gainers!

      Further reading on Weight Gain Supplements

      It is worth noting that like with most nutritional advise it is best to either seek advise from a registered dietitian or use government websites. 

      Food.gov.uk is a government website run and publishing information for real case studies, research and document evidence. Typically most government websites will agree and share information with each other. The UK may say eat 5 fruit and veg a day. Australian government will recommend 7. 

      Ni Direct has a nice post about weight gaining consequences. Again this is a government run website and the information will be backed up with research. 

      For weight gain supplements and information, even the government do get it wrong. Everything used to be about low fat. Now it is low sugar. Here is a post on weight loss (and please do take it with a pinch of salt and do your own reading) on government information that may have been published and wrong. 

      When it comes to weight gaining in general, the more you put in your body over what you burn in a typical day will be counted as weight gain. But when you are training, you really want the weight gains to come from muscle. Not fat. 

      If you have some spare time there is a downloadable PDF from the food standards agency here on healthy eating

      Just make sure any plans for weigh gain and supplements for weight gain is part of a healthy, balanced diet. 

      If your budget can stretch to some professional one on one advise then try searching for a freelance dietitian on the Freelance Dietitians website, which is run in conjunction with the British Dietetic Association (BDA)

      Dietitians

      Registered dietitians are qualified experts in diet and nutrition. They give advice on all aspects of eating and diet. This includes special diets for medical conditions, such as a diet for someone who has coeliac disease.

      The title "dietitian" is protected by law. This means you are not allowed to call yourself a dietitian unless you are properly qualified and registered with the HCPC.

      If you are reading this page, think of yourself to be part of the luck few bucking the trend of being overweight. Keep up the training. 

      Weight Gain in Muscle for More Power

      As an athlete if you add more weight in muscle (and therefore weight), you need more power to move it. If you are a cyclist who tackles steep hills for example, you probably notice the extra weight more that other athletes. Weight gain supplements can be a controlled way for you to reach your target weight while balancing your power to weight ratios. Some sports definitely benefit a higher power to weight ratio and adding weight will make your job that little bit harder. Weight management in sport requires attention to know what you are aiming for and why. 

      Posted by Victoria Gardner
    2. Should I use Protein Shakes to Lose Weight?

      The days of protein powders being seen as bodybuilder’s secret steroid juice are gone, now protein shakes have become so popular almost every gym bag rattles with a shaker. There’s been a huge rise in shakes marketed for weight loss, but can shakes really be the quick-fix for losing weight?

      Protein for Weight Loss

      What is a Protein Shake?

      Protein shakes are the most widely used supplement out there, but do we actually know what’s in them? Protein is made up of around 20 amino acids, used for our bodies growth and repair. It is split into two types, complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins are sourced from meat and tend to have a complete amino profile, whereas incomplete proteins come from plant sources and may have some but not all of your amino acids. Whilst there are many different types of protein shakes, the most widely used is whey protein and this is the one that has been duped the best for weight loss. Whey protein is a waste product made when milk is curdled into cheese, if you were to watch the process, whey would be the yellowish liquid floating around curdled milk. Nice. So why would we want to drink that? Obviously, before it goes to sale whey is transformed and can come in all kinds of flavours, from favourites like banana and strawberry to cookies and cream and even mint choc chip.

      Protein and Weight Loss

      Benefits of  Whey Protein:

      • Whey protein contains an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly. Of your 20 amino acids, 9 are essential. These 9 essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body on its own and therefore, we need to source them from the foods we eat.
      • Multiple studies have found that when supplemented with heavy resistance training, whey protein can help to increase lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest, a pound of muscle can burn up to three times as much as a pound of fat.
      • Protein helps to aid in recovery. The amino acid profile of Whey contains building blocks for growth and repair and is fast absorbed meaning it can reach your tired muscles quickly to aid repair after a tough training session.
      • Studies show that whey may keep you fuller for longer. Milk proteins contain glycomacropeptide, a peptide that stimulates the cholecystokinin known as CCK. CCK is an intestinal hormone that is released after eating a meal to signal satiety and keep you full.
      • Whey protein is high in Leucine which plays a key role in protein synthesis, a process that burns through quite a few calories as well as stimulating fatty acid oxidation.

      Whey Protein can help you lose weight

      As you can see, there are benefits which suggest whey protein can help you lose weight by increasing lean muscle and feelings of fullness and although having a diet rich in protein would do the same thing, quickly whizzing up a shake can be a lot easier than cooking a full blown meal. In order for these benefits to aid your weight loss, you need to make sure that your using more energy than you eat, which is why although protein shakes could help you lose weight, it’s not always the case.

      How much protein do I need?

      To help you calculate whether protein shakes are a good addition to your weight loss plan it is worth calculating how much protein you already intake and whether there is the need for it.

      The recommended daily intake for a sedentary person is 0.36 grams per pound or 0.8 per kilogram, making daily intake reasonably low, however when used as part of a training programme this increase can triple by as much as 1lb per pound of weight, in fact, this is what I recommend to most of my clients and we calculate the rest of their macronutrients from this start point. So for a 130lb woman to reach her protein intake, a shake is going to be incredibly useful. Most shakes contain around about 20-30g protein per serving.

      The Negatives of Whey Protein

      Unfortunately weight loss via protein shakes isn’t without its setbacks and potential symptoms could include:

      • Increased Flatulence.
      • Constipation/Diarrhea.  
      • Insufficient Nutrition - Relying too heavily on protein shakes can lead to deficiencies in other nutrients and whey has been processed purely to be relied on for protein needs.
      • Sugar - In order to make them taste less like cheese, some shakes can have lots of added sugars which can have the adverse effect and contribute to poor health and weight gain.
      • Bloating - A lot of people suffer intolerances and bloating due to protein shakes.
      • Price - Finding a high quality protein can prove expensive.

      Conclusion

      It’s time to get ‘whey’sted. Will protein shakes help you lose weight? Yes, as part of a healthy and balanced diet and training regime, not as an alternative. Shop around for powders with low sugar and high protein contents and always try and keep your protein organic.

      Posted by Victoria Gardner
    3. Training Supplements

      The world of supplements is a vastly overcrowded one, with everyone looking for the next big trend or quick fix pill it can be hard to break down the advertising lingo and figure out what products actually are and how they could (note the emphasis) help us achieve our goals.

      Let’s start by asking a question, how many giant beanstalks have you seen?

      None?

      And yet we build up supplements as the modern-day ‘magic beans’.

      Training Supplements 

      Training supplements work if the rest of your diet and training are on point. They are not a quick fix and they will not work without an effective diet and training regime, however, there are some supplements which can help make life more convenient and accentuate your hard work, rather than do it for you. Some of the most popular are explained below:

      5 Training Supplements for beginners:

      Whey Protein

      It is a fact our muscles need protein in order to repair and grow stronger. Whey protein is a complete protein source and contains all your 9 essential amino acids. Protein is particularly useful when ingested around workouts because it helps to stimulate protein synthesis and facilitate recovery. The reason a whey shake is used at this point is for two simple reasons:

      1. Whey protein is the fastest absorbing protein and, therefore, the most effective post workout, rapidly entering the bloodstream.
      2. It’s easier and more convenient than eating a meal on the go.

      The body can only digest around 20-30g of protein at any given time and most shakes contain around this per serving, so be careful not to over-do it. Too much protein can lead to your body becoming too acidic which can be detrimental to health as well as result in bloating, wind and mild discomfort. Read our post on protein and weight loss.

      Whey Protein

      Creatine

      Creatine is probably the most widely researched supplement there is and is most commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders. Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in meat and fish as well as being naturally produced by the body in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate, which we use for energy during high-intensity, short duration exercise, such as sprinting or heavy weight lifting. Creatine supplements can be bought in various forms, from flavoured powders to pills and are taken in order to enhance the body's ability to create energy and increase muscle mass. The increased energy from creatine enables users to lift more in the gym and, therefore, create more muscle mass. Creatine also gives the illusion of weight gain and larger muscles due to increased water retention, this is because water is drawn into the muscles along with creatine, causing the muscles to appear larger and creating a weight gain of anywhere up to 3lbs. Creatine could be used if you want more energy in your workouts and to gain an increase in muscle mass, although it is important to remember that creatine can be sourced from diet alone, and so as with whey protein, supplementation is more for convenience as an easier and faster acting source.

      BCAA’s

      BCAA, stands for branched chain amino acids. These are composed of 3 of our 9 essential amino acids, essential because our bodies do not produce them naturally and, therefore, they have to be sourced through diet. BCAA’s are made up of Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine. The most popular usage for BCAA supplementation is to improve exercise performance and prevent going catabolic (muscle breakdown), because of this many users will supplement with BCAA’s if they are training fasted. In 1998, subjects were given either BCAA’s or a placebo before completing an endurance cycle ride in the heat. The BCAA group cycled 153.1 minutes on average, while the placebo group averaged only 137 minutes, suggesting BCAA’s enabled an enhanced exercise performance. BCAA’s are also thought to help the body recover from resistance training by promoting protein synthesis. A Japanese study gave men and women BCAA’s or a placebo before an intensive training session comprising of exercises known to produce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) such as squats. Both sexes reported less soreness when they were given the BCAA supplements.

      Caffeine

      Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world and for a good reason. Supplementing with caffeine prior to training is thought to increase energy, decrease fatigue and lower your perception of pain. When we are training, be it an endurance run or a session in the gym, our bodies are constantly sourcing the energy to give the exercise our all. This energy comes in the form of Glycogen, your body's stored form of carbohydrate. Caffeine slows down the speed at which we use up all our glycogen stores, by promoting the use of fat as fuel. Fat is far more abundant than glycogen and what caffeine does is mobilize the body's fat stores to encourage working muscles to save glycogen and use fat as an alternative. The result: More energy to train and enhanced endurance. Researchers in the UK found that athletes who ingested caffeine had a rating of perceived exertion (RPE is a number on a scale of 1-10 based on how hard you’re working) that was 5.6% lower than athletes who were given placebos. The researchers also found that the caffeine improved their overall exercise performance by 11.2%. Both coffee or a caffeine pill will have the same effect, however some prefer to opt for a caffeine pill as they can then monitor and regulate their caffeine dosage with more precision. Caffeine pills are also great for those who don’t like the taste or coffee, or the risk of yellow teeth!

      More on how caffeine enhances training.

      Fish Oils

      Fish oils are taken to boost your intake of Omega three fatty acids and are used as treatment for a variety of health issues including heart disease, ADHD, anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. When it comes to training this supplement has been found to be particularly useful for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant purposes. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce DOMS and speed up the recovery process. There is also evidence to show that  when combined with BCAAs and carbohydrates, fish oils can increase the rate of protein synthesis, leading to greater gains in muscle mass. As fish oils are such a widely used supplement, there is a lot of choice on the market and some tablets come in cheaper for a reason. Be sure to check the labels to look for impurities and check the dosage, you should be looking for at least 1000 mg.

      As you can see these top 5 boast an array of benefits and are great for use as a quick and convenient supply to the various nutrients, however don’t be fooled into thinking these supplements can’t be sourced through a high quality diet. Supplementing with the above will help give your training a kick- start, but the effort is really all down to you.

      Posted by Victoria Gardner