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. © 2014

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? © 2014

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. © 2014

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? © 2014

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. © 2014

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. © 2014

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.