Christmas is upon us. I'm still trying to figure out how fast it comes around every year. This is the time of year where we start to wind down. Training seems to get interrupted thanks to parties and shopping and on top of that, we are indulging in all our favourite food and drink because, why not? It’s Christmas! So why do we feel so guilty when it’s all said and done?
The pervasive diet culture has much to do with this and even more so through social media. The messages regularly peddled out from articles and fitness accounts end up creeping into our psyches insidiously and embed themselves there. Leading us to manifest obsessive behaviour and to have feelings of guilt or shame when we haven't trained hard or eaten ‘clean.’ This eventually forms a damaging mental and emotional relationship with food and exercise. This is no less prevalent during the festive season. You may see articles promoting healthy swaps such as sweet potato mash instead of Yorkshire puds, encouraging readers to make ‘smart’ choices to lessen calories and not fall victim to ‘bad’ foods like chocolate or alcohol etc.
As a trainer, I’m finding an increase in responsibility towards clients to overturn the harmful programming they have been exposed to – re-educating them in order to build a healthy alliance between food and exercise. Fitness is not exclusively about aesthetics, this is why I emphasise rest days, eating a balanced diet that includes so-called ‘unhealthy/sinful/naughty’ foods, and an overall appreciation of fitness as a long term process. By doing so, the goal is to procure feelings of motivation, strength, health and accomplishment along the way.
Furthermore, what I want my clients to understand about training is that it’s cyclical by nature, not linear. It’s not constant, incremental progress from the day you start until the day you stop. You will have peaks and also troughs. You will take three steps forward only to find you have to take two steps back. This is down to a multitude of reasons, such as illness, injuries, holidays, work and yes, Christmas!
This is why I want to let you guys know that it’s perfectly okay to indulge yourselves during the festive season. If this time of the year means it’s your chance to relax and prioritise time with your family and friends, then do so. Alternatively, if you love training like me and you do have time to fit in exercise, then go for it! This article isn’t intended to dissuade you from exercise. What I am trying to remonstrate against is the notion that you need to train in order to earn your Christmas dinner and feeling the accompanying anxiety and unhappiness that abounds when you can’t.
There is a fine line between your love for training and your addiction to it. If guilt underpins your motivation rather than love, you may need to explore why it’s the former and not the latter. It may well be the social media messages you are exposing yourself to. So rather than forcing yourself to follow a script that social media has set out for you – relax! If Christmas means your foot is off the training gas and you lose a bit of strength or fitness or put on a few kgs, it’s okay. You can jump right on the band wagon when you return to your regular scheduling. This concatenation is perfectly normal and in fact, it allows you to learn and master your physical, mental and emotional correlation to food and exercise. This is why it’s so important to enjoy the long journey because it becomes part of who you are.
So please put down that article with the recipe for the gluten-free, protein packed, chia seed mince pie alternative and look forward to having a proper one instead. With brandy butter AND a glass of wine. Why not? It's Christmas after all!
About the author: Natasha Jawad is a personal trainer and Sundried ambassador.
When you think of 'mindfulness', what comes into your head? A monk-like figure, sitting crossed legged in a garden, spending their days meditating and generally being totally zen? At Mindful Bites, we strongly believe that it doesn’t have to be that extreme. We can all fit mindfulness and meditation into our lives in a real and accessible way.
Some of us are able to allocate a proportion of our day to dedicated meditation and we’re sure that the benefits of that are amazing. But if that’s not for you or you don’t have time, it doesn’t cut you completely out of the picture. In every action or choice we make there is an emotion to experience. We see a beautiful tree that triggers a childhood memory of a neighbour’s tree-house, we hear a piece of music and it takes us back to a holiday romance, or we experience something new for the first time and it creates a new memory, a new perspective on the world. Taking a moment to meditate on these things, to reflect and create a connection is an important tool of mindfulness and will ultimately reap huge rewards. We can all fit these moments of meditation into our day and we can all be more present.
What is mindful eating and what are the benefits?
What better opportunity to take these meditative pauses than when we eat? There is a misconception that mindful eating is just sitting quietly or chewing slowly. Some of the latest trendy diet books may even have us believe it’s a weight loss tool.
At Mindful Bites we don’t buy into this. For us, mindful eating is a real art; it’s not about the health of the individual. Isolating yourself and purely thinking about your own health isn’t mindfulness and it isn’t going to get you very far. We must allow ourselves to be part of the bigger picture. We must connect to our food, where it comes from, and also the people we are sharing our eating occasion with.
We should be examining where our food comes from, how it gets to our plates, who was involved in putting it there. We should be finding out if any of these processes have been harmful to the planet. By eating this particular food are we contributing to the solution or the problems facing the food industry? By taking this moment to meditate on these thoughts you will be able to make your choices count; you will make them mindful.
How to practise mindful eating
We have broken this down into a simple process for you. With each food we choose to eat, we ask ourselves questions:
- What is our intention?
- Are we actually hungry?
With so much choice on offer to us these days, it’s easy to confuse our ingrained hunger signals.
Attention: What am I actually eating? How will it interact with my body? Will it nourish me adequately and in a positive way? Will it fuel me well for whatever I’m planning on doing next – be that a workout or writing an important essay?
Gratitude: What can I be grateful for in my choice of food? Where have the ingredients come from? By paying attention to not only the choice of ingredients but also how and from where they are sourced, there should be a good reason why you chose this over another food or product.
Pleasure: Last but not least, you should always enjoy your food! Otherwise, let’s face it, what’s the point?
So, if meditation has always seemed out of your reach, why not try this approach? Just ask yourself those questions each and every time you eat something and see what happens. Amazingly, by shifting our focus from ourselves and our own weight/nutrition/body fat percentage to the wider issues of sustainability and high quality ingredients, our bodies will naturally benefit and so will the planet.
About the author: Stephanie Peritore is the founder of Mindful Bites. She actively campaigns for the future of food and a fair, more sustainable and secure food system.
Metabolic Efficiency refers to the measure of how well the body utilises fat as an energy source. The human body is able to store around 1,200-2,000 calories in the form of carbohydrates (glycogen) split between the liver, muscles, and blood. These stores would allow us to exercise at a low to moderate intensity for around 2 or 3 hours.
However, there is another source of energy that the human body can store that could provide up to a staggering 80,000 calories: fat. What would happen if we were able to teach our body to use fat stores for energy instead of depleting our carbohydrate resources?
The benefits of Metabolic Efficiency Training
Metabolic Efficiency Training was a concept developed by Bob Seebohar in 2003 and refers to teaching our body to use fat as a primary energy source. This has a number of positive implications:
- If the body is able to use fat to produce energy, racing athletes can become less dependent on carbohydrates.
- Less carbs means a lower probability of GI distress (stomach cramps being a common issue among endurance athletes).
- More fat burnt means less body fat and a leaner frame, a positive impact on performance for endurance athletes.
It's key to understand when the body uses fats or carbohydrates as its primary energy source. Typically, short-duration exercises will use carbohydrates, while longer endurance exercise will cause the body to start burning fat. This happens during aerobic training when the intensity is close to the aerobic threshold or lactate threshold.
In order to be 100% accurate, Bob Seebohar described a lab test known as “crossover point”. This is the exact point during an aerobic session when the body stops using fat as an energy source and moves to burning carbs as its energy source.
How to achieve Metabolic Efficiency
As not everyone has access to a lab where this test can be performed, there is a way to teach the body to be more efficient. There are a few rules that everyone can follow. This is best performed at the beginning of the training season, when the athlete is building an aerobic base.
- Avoid high-calorie carbs such as pasta, rice or white bread. During this period, all carbs should come from vegetables and fruit. Also during this phase, more good fats (omega 3 or 6) and proteins should be consumed.
- Avoid sport supplements such as gels or bars which are high in carbs.
- Practise training in a fasted state, building up the duration of the training sessions slowly until you're able to complete up to 3 hours on only water. These session must be endurance-based and performed at a low intensity.
- After training, avoid recovery drinks and high glycemic index carbs. If the training session was easy, theoretically the body used fat as its primary fuel source and so carbohydrates won't need to be replenished.
By following the aforementioned rules, the body will become more efficient and better at using fats as an energy source.
Which foods to eat when training for Metabolic Efficiency:
- Protein: poultry, tuna, salmon, mackerel, eggs whites, whey protein or plant protein.
- Low glycemic carbs: spinach, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, cauliflower, carrot, beans, sprouts.
- High glycemic carbs: oats, quinoa, potatoes, whole wheat bread, rice, pasta.
- Fats: avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, egg yolk, nuts, peanut butter, almond butter.
About the author: Cesar Martinez is an Ironman athlete.
If you regularly go to the gym or are serious about your training, chances are you've heard of BCAAs. We answer all your questions about BCAAs so you can decide if they're right for you.
What is BCAA and what does it do?
BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acid and is a compound found in protein. All protein is made up on amino acids and there are essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are named as such because the human body cannot make them, so we need to get them from food. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
There are 11 non-essential amino acids, which are amino acids that the human body can make itself. There are 11 non-essential amino acids: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, a substance that plays a crucial role in many biological processes and functions. We need protein to build and repair muscle, and if you workout hard and often get DOMS, protein is what will help you recover and stop feeling so achy.
Related: Can You Exercise When You Are Sore
Is BCAA good for weight loss?
Taking a BCAA supplement won't facilitate weight loss specifically. The only healthy way to achieve weight loss is to eat in a calorie deficit, meaning you are eating fewer calories than you are burning in a day. What BCAAs do is help your body recover quicker and better after tough workouts, as they supplement your amino acid intake which are building blocks of protein.
If you eat a rich and varied diet, you may well not need to take BCAA supplements because you will be getting all the essential amino acids from food. However, if you eat quite a restrictive diet and do a lot of weight/strength training, you may find that a BCAA supplement can help you take on all 20 amino acids, both essential and non-essential.
Do I take BCAA before or after a workout?
You can consume a BCAA supplement either 30-45 minutes before a workout or immediately afterwards. It's ideal to take on a hit of protein within 30 minutes of finishing a strength workout so that your body can absorb the protein and use it to help build and repair your muscles.
If you're an endurance athlete, you'll know how expensive it can be to buy countless energy gels and bars for long training rides, runs, and races. A great alternative is to make your own, as this is more economically sustainable and also means you know exactly what is going into them.
One of the easiest things to make for an endurance event is trail mix. As is hinted in the name, trail mix was originally developed for long hikes as a source of energy which is easy to make and suitable for carrying long distances. The great thing about trail mix is you can put whatever you like best into it and leave out anything you don't like.
Trail mix is usually made up on granola, oats, nuts, seeds, and even chocolate. If you want more protein, add more seeds and nuts into your mix. If you feel you need a larger sugar boost, add more chocolate, and if you feel you need lots of carbs to keep you going, bulk out your recipe with more granola and oats.
There is no right or wrong way to make trail mix, and tasty additions can include dried coconut curls, banana chips and dried fruit.
Homemade Granola Bar Recipe
Another easily portable and tasty snack to keep you fuelled on a long endurance trip is a granola bar. Branded bars can set you back quite a lot even though they're easy to make, so why not make you're own? Try our homemade no-bake granola bar recipe for your next run or ride.
- 100g oats
- 30g butter
- 25g sugar
- 50g honey or agave nectar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a pinch of salt
- 40g flaked almonds
- 30g raisins
- 20g chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4.
- Line bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan with baking parchment leaving about an inch sticking over the top.
- Put the oats and almonds on a small baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring them around occasionally. Put to one side.
- Combine the butter, honey, sugar, vanilla extract and salt in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until the butter melts and the sugar completely dissolves.
- Pour the butter mixture into a bowl and add the toasted oats and almonds. Mix well.
- Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes then stir in the raisins and half the chocolate chips.
- Transfer the mixture to the lined pan and press down so it's even.
- Scatter the remaining chocolate chips over over the mixture and gently press them into the top.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but overnight is best.
- Pull the baking parchment up so that the block of granola comes out of the tin in one piece then slice into bars.
- Store bars in an airtight container for up to one week. If you prefer soft bars, keep them at room temperature or for slightly harder bars, store them in the fridge.
Energy Gel Recipe
If you prefer something less bulky and solid for your training, then energy gels are for you. Making your own is easier than you'd think and can save a lot of money!
- 130g brown rice syrup (this can be expensive, but there are cheaper versions available in most supermarkets)
- 70g barley malt syrup (again, opt for the ones you find in the supermarket)
- 35g coconut oil
- 35g smooth peanut butter (make sure it's an organic version with no sugar, salt, or palm oil added)
- a pinch of salt
- 60 ml hot water
- Place a glass jar in a saucepan then fill the saucepan with water so the jar is a little more than half immersed.
- Mix together all the ingredients except for the hot water and put them in the jar.
- Warm the mixture over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently until it’s runny and well combined. This should take about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the hot water to the jar, stir, and shake vigorously until well combined and no separation occurs. Allow to cool completely
- Fill gel containers as needed for workouts.
- Store extra gel in the jar with a lid in a cool, dry place.