Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The "before and after" myth

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As the new year approaches I'm sure thousands of people are making their resolution to embark on a healthier lifestyle and get themselves back in shape. So before you begin looking for that quick fix I suggest you consider a few things. 

Many nutritional supplement companies and fitness professionals know that in this highly competitive world few people have the patience and discipline to sustain months of hard work in the gym and eat a well balanced diet everyday, so of course they take advantage of that. The way they do it is by marketing their tablets, capsules, powders, drinks, diet plans and short term workouts as the fast lane to fitness. One of the more popular ways of selling a product or service in the fitness industry is by attaching the infamous "before and after" pictures of  supposedly satisfied clients.

I don't like to be the one to burst your bubble, but honestly they don't work! In fitness, one lesson worth learning is that if it sounds too good to be true, then that's exactly what it is. Some supplements, in conjunction with a rigorous exercise regime can help shed a few pounds, and yes a quick workout is better than no workout at all, but I assure you nothing can replace long hours of proper exercise and a good daily nutrition. 

This is not an assumption, it's pure science... Calories are only burnt through exercise, muscle tone and growth is only stimulated by applying resistance for several repetitions. Although it may sound logical that a proportionate physique, male or female can only be achieved by making sure every muscle group is targeted individually from a variety of angles and exercised adequately, it's incredible how many of these highly marketed workouts are lacking in detail.  

Just take a moment to understand these three points before you go spending that hard earned cash at your local health store, online or wherever.

1. The same way you didn't accumulate bodyfat overnight it's just not going to disappear in a few days. The body has its own way of managing energy stores and you need to respect that.

2. Health and fitness is not a phase, it's a lifestyle. So unless you're willing to make some changes in your everyday life you will not see substantial changes in your body.   

3. The basic principles have always worked for everyone, and always will. So learn the basics and be consistent, that is the key.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Keep it simple, go for complex

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What I'm referring to in this post is the type of carbohydrates you opt for. I'm asked very often whether carbohydrates should be eliminated from one's diet in order to lose weight, and my answer is always the same. No, you shouldn't cut out carbohydrates completely for various health reasons. Instead you should switch to what are known as complex carbohydrates. 

The major difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is the sugar content. Simple carbohydrates are absorbed quicker and hence provide an almost instant supply of energy. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand take longer to digest due to the added fiber, and therefore enter the bloodstream gradually. This creates a constant and somewhat even supply of energy, which allows for more stable insulin levels, and that is the optimum environment for stripping bodyfat.

Here's a list of complex carbohydrates which I recommend. 

- Brown rice
- Wholewheat pasta
- Wholewheat bread
- Oats
- Barley
- Wheat  

Of course there are more sources of complex carbohydrates, but personally I like to keep it simple and stick with what definitely works for me. Lately there's been quite a hype on Quinoa, which in theory is also a very good alternative, however since I haven't tried it myself I prefer not to add it to my list as yet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Honey, No Sugar Sugar...

Do you feel like you have to add sugar to your coffee, tea or cereal? Well, you should try replacing it with honey, which although is 30% glucose and 40% fructose, it has less of an effect on spiking insulin levels in the body and is a much healthier option.

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It's important to maintain a stable insulin level, particularly if you're looking to shred a few pounds. One of the biggest misconceptions about weight loss is that you just need to avoid eating food which is high in fat. Where in actual fact it's mainly sugar that you need to stay away from, and I'll explain why. 

A single gram of fat contains 9 calories, whereas a gram of protein and carbohydrates each carry 4 calories. So that puts thing into perspective as to why food which is high in fat is considered "fattening" by many people. 

Now, although sugar is a carbohydrate, and therefore contains only 4 calories per gram, it is classified as a "simple carbohydrate" which means it gets absorbed very quickly and thereby creates a spike in insulin. This results is elevated blood sugar levels, which unless consumed in a relatively short span of time ends up being stored as bodyfat. Now we don't like that, do we?    

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sky is the limit

Photo by James Weber in Manhattan, New York

When it comes to physical fitness, I genuinely believe sky is the limit. You can pretty much achieve anything your heart desires. Whether it's adding pounds of muscle, getting lean, or a combination of both. 

I'm sure you've heard the expression "whatever the mind can perceive, you can achieve" several times, however this couldn't be more evident than with a physical transformation.

It boils down to basic science, and if you can comprehend how it works then you're half way there. So before you dive headfirst into a regular exercise regime and nutrition plan you must understand the reason for doing it. You need to be conscious of the choices you make, and not just rely on labels which say "fat free" or a magazine article you read. 

As complex as the body may be, everything is controlled by the mind. So if you really want to see a change in your physical appearance that's where you need to begin! 

Learning about nutrition and why the body reacts a certain way to different methods of exercise and food is essential, unless of course you can afford to have a full time health and fitness guru by your side. 

Yes, there may be quite a bit to learn, but it's extremely beneficial, for life. This is what I set out to do by creating this blog, that is to provide the knowledge you need to make the right decisions for yourself. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

it's the way rather than the weight you lift

Although weight training is about applying resistance to your skeletal muscles in order to stimulate more tone and hypertrophy of the cells, what's often overlooked is the attention to detail in the way an exercise is performed.

Photo by Raymond Cassar in Zebbug, Malta

Several popular exercises, such as bench press involve multiple joints, which means that more than one muscle group is working simultaneously.  Having said that, it's crucial to perform each exercise in a strict manner to ensure you're working the muscle group being targeted. 

So even though certain gym equipment may be labelled as a "back machine" for example, that doesn't mean it will solely work your back muscles no matter how you perform the exercise. Even leaning a little too far back on something as specific as a lat pull-down machine, which is intended primarily for the latissimus dorsi muscle, can shift the tension onto your biceps and rear shoulders. Here's another example, if lets say you incline the bench a little bit too much on a dumbbell chest press exercise you could easily end up working more your front shoulders and triceps, resulting in an underdeveloped upper chest.  You get the gist of it, right?

Therefore to achieve the best possible results in the shortest amount of time, you need to use what we call an isolation technique, whereby you target and work each muscle group individually, or at least ensure most of the resistance is in fact being applied to the correct muscle group. 

Next time you're in the gym try to pay close attention to the way each exercise is performed, and activate that mind to muscle connection to help you feel when it's right. If you're still unsure or somewhat inexperienced about certain exercises, then ask for advice or perhaps hire a personal trainer for a while, because you could be saving a lot of time by doing right in the first place. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

high intensity vs high volume training

Whatever you goals are, the gym is really not a place to hang out. The idea is simple, you go in, get your workout done, and get out, fast! Now, whether you're looking to build a muscular physique or just lose bodyfat, high intensity training is the key. 

Photo by Bob Meyer in Las Vegas, Nevada

So what exactly is high intensity training?

Here's an analogy I like to use to explain the concept. Imagine you're cruising in your car, at a speed of around 40 mph and keeping engine revs at no more than 3000. Cars with an ecometer will display a rather low fuel consumption driving this way. Now, if you had suddenly kick the revs up to 6000 and reach a speed of 80 mph, the ecometer would show a completely different scenario. The fuel consumption often skyrockets the second you exceed the 3000 rpm mark.  

High intensity training is just like that. So for example, rather than going to the gym and spending an hour just pacing on a treadmill which would keep your heart rate somewhere between 40 - 50% of it's maximum capacity, you target to spend 25 - 35 minutes of fast walking, whereby you elevate your rate heart to around 70 or 80% of it's maximum capacity. You will certainly experience much better results training this way, if your goal is weight loss.

However, the same applies with weight training. Compressing all your energy into a 45 minute intense workout rather than trying to make use of every single machine in the gym over the period of an hour and a half will stimulate much more fat loss and and of course muscle tone.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

Chewing gum for better digestion

Chewing gum is one of those things where timing is everything for it to be beneficial. If you chew gum between meals the excess build up of stomach acid may cause heart burn and stomach discomfort, however having chewing gum straight after a meal may help with digestion.

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Digestion is a process where food is being broken down in the stomach in order for it to be absorbed through the intestine and eventually enter the bloodstream. The way food is broken down in the stomach is by means of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride, which together form what is known as gastric acid.

Amongst other steps, chewing stimulates the secretion of gastric acid as well as digestive enzymes, as the body interprets the action as an anticipation of eating. Therefore chewing gum after a meal may prolong the release of both gastric acid and digestive enzymes which can improve digestion. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Atkins diet doesn't work, and I'll tell you exactly why

The concept of Atkins diet basically is, or rather was, as I believe they've finally decided to change it, practically zero carbohydrates. Meaning that all your meals are made up primarily of just protein and fat. 

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First and foremost you should know that depriving your body of carbohydrates isn't healthy at all. It's not just your skeletal muscles which require the glucose broken down from carbohydrates for energy, but also your brain. 

The problem with a high protein/fat and no carbohydrate diet is that it changes your body's metabolism. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy, so your body would be forced to break down fatty acids and protein you ingest in such a way that it can be used as energy. 

Now, aside from health issues with this diet, the weight loss most people experience primarily consists of depleted glycogen and water, rather than bodyfat.  I'll explain. 

Glycogen is energy which the body stores mainly in the liver and muscle cells. Now this storage of energy must be well hydrated. In fact for every 1 gram of glycogen there is around 2.6 grams of water stored with it. 

So on a no carbohydrate diet, such as the Atkins, these glycogen stores are the first to deplete, and therefore you're actually losing more water than anything else.  You will experience some weight reduction, but also a great loss of strength, energy and probably also mood swings. 

It's common knowledge that the same way bodyfat doesn't accumulate overnight you can't expect to lose it in a day. The way to lose bodyfat in a healthy manner which produces lasting results is through a consistent and strict calorie controlled diet over at least 6 to 8 weeks.

Remember your caloric intake must be based on your targeted body weight, and your diet needs to be balanced in this proportion: 55% Carbohydrates, 35% Protein, and 10% Fat, which comes as a byproduct, so you don't need to actually add Fats to your diet.   

Friday, June 20, 2014

Supplement or not to supplement, is that your question?

Another frequent question is whether or not the use supplements is required for a healthy lifestyle, and which supplements are worth using?

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As the name suggests, supplements are an addition to something, in this case we're talking about nutrition.  Therefore, the first thing I will tell you is that no supplement can replace a poor diet, insufficient exercise or rest.

Having said that however, vitamins, minerals, and a few other supplements could help when your diet is lacking in some departments. 

So, for example if your diet is not rich in fruit and vegetables, then perhaps it's worth considering a good vitamin and mineral supplement to reach your body's daily requirements. If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, then chances are your protein intake is on the low side, and that's where a protein supplement can be useful.  Make sure to never exceed the recommended dosage, as this is not a case of more is better. In fact studies have shown that excess vitamins and minerals can have a reverse effect.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) depends on gender, age and body-weight, however you'll find an RDA on the label of each FDA approved vitamin, mineral and any other supplement, which you can use as a guideline. These are always within safe parameters, so unless you've done some research I would suggest going slightly lower than what's recommended on the label and increasing the dosage gradually.

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If you recently walked into a health store you'll most likely be overwhelmed by the amount of supplements available today. Now although most stores have very clear sections indicating what each of their supplements are used for, I don't suggest you just enter and browse the shelves unless you know exactly what you need. The reason is that you will find many variations or even combinations of the same thing, so it's important to understand their functions. Here are just three basic supplements which I believe could be of benefit to almost anyone.   

1. B complex vitamins primarily aid in the metabolism of carbohydrates and generation of energy.
2. Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant which supports the immune system.
3. Cod liver oil contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which lowers cholesterol and helps to prevent arthritis amongst other benefits. Cod liver oil also contains vitamins A (also supports the immune system and sight) and D (which assists in the digestion of minerals).   

Monday, June 16, 2014

Running on empty. . . more fat loss or just a myth? Here's the truth on fasted cardio

As the the word suggests 'breakfast' is a way to 'break the fasting' which occurs while we're sleeping. So what if you had to skip this meal and go straight onto the treadmill, cross-trainer or perform any other exercise for that matter? Would you burn more fat?

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Well, in theory one could argue that since glycogen stores and insulin levels are at their lowest first thing in the morning the body would have to tap into those fat stores for energy.

Unfortunately it doesn't quite work that way, and I'll explain why. When glycogen stores are low the body is not selective as to what it converts into energy. This means that also protein, which is basically what your muscles are made up of, may be converted into glycogen for energy. 

So the problem with 'fasted cardio' as it's often referred to, is not just that you don't necessarily lose more body-fat, but muscle mass and strength can be lost in the process, leaving you feeling weak. That is of course if you exercise the natural way. Again, I will expand on this. 

It's important to know the facts, as there's plenty of information out there but I feel very little is complete and totally honest. Performance enhancing drugs which are widely used in almost all sports today, have what is called an 'Anti-catabolic effect' which means they reduce the rate at which protein is broken down in the body. This allows athletes for example to exercise for longer stretches of time in order to improve their performance and not sacrifice any hard earned muscle and strength. In a similar manner some people use such drugs in conjunction with 'fasted cardio' to maintain more muscle mass and strength while shedding away body-fat.  

I don't encourage the use of such drugs, even fat burning supplements containing high doses of caffeine (or Guarana) are not always a good idea. The way to obtain results which will last is a consistent low calorie, balanced diet coupled with an intense regular exercise regime. So rather than running on empty, I recommend always having a light breakfast before, even just 30 grams of wholegrain cereal with some skimmed milk. Also, make sure to wait for at least an hour before exercise.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Why fitness is a spiritual journey

Most people's focus these days seems to be so much on all the material things that surround us. The place they live in, the cars they drive, the cloths they wear and so on. In the process they are forgetting what's really fundamental, like being in good health, feeling confident and keeping a positive outlook at all times. The reason this happens is because they disconnect from reality and are no longer in tune with their body.  

Photo by Uwe Grosse in Garden City, Michigan


Fitness is all about well-being, both physically and mentally. The focus is entirely on the body and mind, and that's the way it's supposed to be. 

Exercising regularly and eating nutritious food strengthens the muscles and cardiovascular system. It also sustains and improves health and appearance. Not only that, but the release of endorphins through exercise is proven to elevate moods, which leads to much more productive days and a positive attitude. 

There's nothing like caring for your own body, you become enlightened and fully aware that your health is all you really have. Like with meditation and yoga, fitness helps you connect with the body, mind and soul. So it's not just a quest to a more aesthetically pleasant appearance, but a truly spiritual journey.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Splash your way to fitness this summer

If you're not a huge fan of the summer heat, you might want to consider the health and fitness benefits of swimming before ditching the idea of a day at the bea


Photo by Jason Mangion in Mgarr, Malta

Swimming is what we call a low impact exercise which makes it suitable not only for all ages but also people who may struggle or experience pain doing other kinds of exercise. Even people with arthritis, knee injuries or lower back pain can benefit from swimming. The reason is that unlike with running, jogging or even walking on land there is no ground impact when you're swimming, which means your joints are not placed under any stress. In fact even if you had to walk or run in the water there is still a lot less impact.

Something else which is worth taking note of is that swimming allows you to burn plenty of calories. Depending on how efficiently you swim you could burn up to 600 calories in an hour, which is more than running, walking or cycling for example. In terms of health, swimming is known to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, which means your body becomes more efficient at supplying oxygen to  the muscles. 

Last but not least, swimming is a great way to cool off,  it's relaxing and fun, which all contribute to your well-being.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The dreaded diet

I always grin when people tell me they're starting a diet. That's not because there's anything funny about it, but it's usually the look on their face when they say it that I find quite amusing. 

It's a look of dread, mixed with a pinch of determination and tablespoon of frustration. Of course I always try to follow up that grin with some sound advice. So if you're looking to tidy things up in the food and beverage department, this article could be of some help.

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The word "diet" seems to have a different meaning for many people, however to me it's simply an eating habit which impacts your body composition. 

So to put things in perspective, if you want to shed a few pounds you simply need to calculate your target body-weight and adjust your total caloric intake based on maintaining that weight.  It doesn't mean you should eat horrible tasting soups all day, or even worse starve yourself until you reach that target. In fact lowering your calories drastically and suddenly may have a reverse effect. Your body can go into a kind of survival mode, whereby it lowers the metabolism in order to preserve glycogen and fat stores for as long as possible.  

You will need to bring out those kitchen scales though in order to weigh your portions, otherwise you'd never really know how much you're actually consuming. Remember all nutritional value is based on raw weight, not cooked. 

On the other hand, if you're comfortable with your weight but feel like you could be doing a lot better for your health, then it's only a matter of swapping what you regularly eat with food that is less processed, lower in saturated fat and sugar. It's really not that complicated and certainly nothing to feel dreadful about. 

So if you eat lots of bread for example, just switch to wholegrain. If you like to add butter or margarine try pouring some extra virgin olive oil instead. If you always have fries with your meal go for baked potatoes. There's always an alternative, and although you could be feeling fine, and you're technically at a healthy weight, your heart may be telling a different story. 

A diet should feel like an exciting challenge to see how disciplined you can be and how quickly you can start seeing results. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The secret to rock-hard ABS

The famous six-pack seems to be a distant dream for most people, but I'm here to tell you that you've already got it. You just need to uncover them...


Photo by Eric Jacobson in Kansas City, Missouri


There's nothing like a toned and defined mid-section.  It's more than just sexy, it means you're at a perfectly healthy bodyweight.

Defined ABS are not necessarily the result of hard work in the gym, it's more about discipline in the kitchen. Although the abdominal muscle may not be deep and bulging naturally, anyone can have a defined mid-section without even going to the gym.

Don't get me wrong, sit-ups, crunches and leg raises are all good to develop the abdominal muscle and get that ultra defined look, however people with great ABS all have very low bodyfat. So rather than focusing just on numerous abdominal exercises I suggest you work more on lowering your overall bodyfat. The reason I say "overall" is because the body can't target fat loss, meaning the way fat stores are immobilized is not directly related to the exercises you do. Don't get me wrong, it certainly helps to work your ABS intensely twice or three times a week, however like any other muscle your abdomen needs recovery time.

Cardiovascular exercise works so well in combination with a weight training regime and a low calorie diet because it increases your caloric expenditure drastically and gets the blood flowing in those areas of low circulation, which ultimately is key to immobilize those stubborn fat stores.

So here are your first two, and possibly the most important tips to begin your quest of revealing those rock-hard ABS. 

1. Determine your BMR using the formula below.

Women = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilos) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kilos) + (5 x height in cm) - (6.8 x age in years) 

If you're not using a metric system then apply this formula.

Women = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in year)

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you consume even at rest. So in simple terms it's the minimum calories your body requires to survive in a healthy environment. Once you've determined that you will need to start watching your caloric intake closely, and make sure to keep it as close as possible to your BMR. This will allow your body to dig into those fat stores for extra energy when it requires it, so any exercise you do will have a much greater impact on your bodyfat.

2. Stick to low GI food. 

Glycemic Index (GI) indicates how high or low the glycogen content is in certain foods. The higher it is the quicker it enters your bloodstream, and elevates insulin levels. The idea of sticking to low GI food is to have a timed-release of energy rather than a surge. This allows your body to efficiently burn those calories which are being released slowly and consistently. 

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So begin examining those food labels more carefully before buying, paying close attention the Energy and Carbohydrates sections, particularly the "Kcal" to determine how many calories in every 100 grams, and the "of which sugars" to establish whether the food product is high or low GI.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Finding the right frequency

A common question people ask is "How often do I need to exercise?"

Well, the truth is there isn't a frequency which works perfectly for everyone. You would need to first determine where you stand and what your goal is in terms of body weight. Also the amount of exercise one requires would depend on their current lifestyle. How active or inactive they are in their everyday life.

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Having said that however, it's probably safe to assume that for the average person who works an inactive nine-to-five job, and is looking to lose bodyfat and tone up their muscles, a one hour workout four times a week should yield results.  

I would always recommend adding at least ten to fifteen minutes of cardiovascular exercise before hitting the weights. This allows the joints, tendons and muscles to warm up before applying resistance. Treadmill is my personal favorite, but cross-trainer, seated rowing or stationery bike are all fine. 

If you're looking to drop more weight then it's a good idea to include thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise on your off days. That will increase your weekly caloric consumption without negatively influencing the recovery from weight training. 

Now if you've set your mind on a workout regime just make sure you are in fact hitting every muscle group. Workouts are not just about burning calories, it's equally important to increase the blood circulation all around the body. 

You need to also think in terms of health and not just aesthetics... Now go get fit!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

You can't take fitness out of the boy

Although it's been quite a few years since I last worked as a fitness model, I never totally disconnected from that world. The fitness world that is, the magazine workouts and physique modeling is now something of the past for me, although it was a truly amazing time.

Photo by Keith Munyan for Men's Workout Magazine in Los Angeles, California

I first stepped into a gym when I was fourteen years old, and for two decades (which now reminds me how old I'm getting) I have always kept up my three to four workouts a week as well as a daily healthy nutritional plan. I don't workout with the same intensity as I did in my early to mid twenties, and my diet is a lot less taxing than it was in those days, however the foundation is the same. 

So, why the title "You can't take fitness out of the boy" you ask? Well, quite frankly I'm still very passionate about health and fitness. I always believed that unless you're healthy and fit it's very hard to feel good about yourself and be genuinely happy.

No matter what you achieve in your professional life, if you can't look at yourself in the mirror each day and feel good about it, then you're simply using your achievements to mask your personal insecurities.

So, along with my other blog "It's All About Romance" where I discuss general philosophical issues,  I decided it was time to launch this blog titled "It's All About Fitness" to share my beliefs and all that I have learned about keeping healthy and fit throughout the last twenty years.

There will not be a particular order in which topics will be posted, simply because I like to write through inspiration, however you can be sure that I will discuss everything related to health and fitness, revealing all my secrets for staying in shape 365 days a year, and more importantly healthy and  always in good spirit.

Don't forget to bookmark this page blog so that you can follow my weekly new posts. You can also email me any questions you would like to see answered here on: itsallaboutfitness@outlook.com