Cardio – and why you DON’T need it.

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There is a common misconception – particularly amongst females – that you have to do more cardio if you want to lose weight. Coupled with the other big misconception that ‘lifting weights will make you bulky’ has led many females to turn into cardio bunnies who either won’t lift weights at all or only use light weights. Big mistake!

What if I told you steady state cardio can actually stop you from losing weight? It can, by the way. Over time, performing hours of steady-state cardio can actually cause your metabolism to slow down. The effect of this is doubled when combined with a low calorie diet. Unfortunately this seems to be the recipe of choice for most girls trying to lose weight – low calorie diet, high cardio program.

The worst part is that this will work at the start, lulling you into a false sense of security. Then your body will start to adapt to it and cause your metabolism to slow down. In order to keep getting results, you will have to keep increasing your cardio and decreasing your calories. That doesn’t sound very fun to me.

The good news is weight training actually increases your metabolism by building lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have, the greater your ability to metabolize fat. Long duration cardio can actually counteract these efforts by burning into the muscle mass you already have. So, dropping the hours of cardio for some shorter sessions of heavy lifting (whatever is heavy for you) will actually make you leaner. And don’t worry, unless you have crazy high levels of testosterone as a female, lifting weights WILL NOT MAKE YOU BULKY!

I’ll be honest, I used to do hours upon hours of cardio and wondered why I still couldn’t lose stubborn body fat, having always eaten relatively healthy and been highly active. I would try to eat less and run further, but I was burning myself out. Now, I have focused on reversing the metabolic damage I caused myself by focusing on lifting heavy weights in lower rep ranges. I NEVER do cardio, and I can EAT MORE food than I did before WHILE GETTING LEANER! That’s a lifestyle I want to live – a healthy, happy and fulfilling one rather than an extreme, restrictive and depriving one.

If you do cardio because you enjoy it, then that’s an exception. I still enjoy going for a walk with friends occasionally, but it’s more of a social thing than for exercise. The occasional run or walk won’t hinder your weight loss efforts, and some cardio may still have a place in your program particularly if you have a lot of weight to lose. But doing hours and hours of cardio will cause you nothing but pain and metabolic damage. It’s painful and ineffective, so why submit yourself to that?

The exception to this is of course HIIT (or high intensity interval training) cardio. This is where you alternate work-rest intervals to raise and lower your heart rate. You can do HIIT cardio on the treadmill, cross trainer, rower, or doing a circuit of body weight/weighted exercises (think burpees, kettlebell swings, push ups). HIIT has amazing fat-blasting potential and you only need to do it for 20 minutes to maximize its effects.

Check out this article for more on HIIT training and an example of how to do a HIIT workout:

http://www.builtlean.com/2010/06/04/high-intensity-interval-training-hiit-best-cardio-to-burn-fat/

Make the change today! You will thank me for it 🙂

With love,
B. xx

PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 1 – “Strive for Progress Not Perfection”

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The results from my first five weeks of training are IN! And I’m pretty stoked! I felt like I was getting leaner, but seeing the result in numbers is very motivating.

I started off my journey on 8th September at 18.5% body fat. My results from yesterday, the 15th of October showed I have decreased this to 16.2% body fat – a total loss of 2.3% in five weeks. Inevitably I have lost some weight and some of my lean muscle mass as well. The goal is to stay the same weight on the scale but increase the muscle mass and decrease the fat percentage. My trainer said it’s common with the first phase of training, but as the training gets harder my muscle mass will increase again.

My main problem areas that we noted in the initial assessment are my hamstrings, calves and stomach. On all of these areas I have lost 3-4mm in five weeks. My trainer said he couldn’t ask for a better result in that time frame – so I must be doing something right!  I’ve also lost 3mm off my quads and 1-2 mm off most areas in my upper body (which is not as much of a priority at this stage).

Although these stats indicate overall body fat loss, they also show that I have been able to make positive changes in the way my body functions. My calf measurements were showing that I had poor sleeping patterns, which I have able to fix through supplementation. Getting a better sleep has not only made me feel amazing during the days, but it is reflecting in my body composition. Also, the decrease in my hamstrings shows that I have been able to decrease my exposure to environmental toxins and/or improve the detoxification process in my body. I have probably achieved this through strict clean eating and switching a majority of my beauty and skin care products to certified organics.

Overall, I’m happy with the results. I have been pretty disciplined with my diet and training, making sure I commit fully to every session, so it’s good to see that what I’m doing is working. 🙂

I also started my next training phase yesterday! This phase is much harder – I’m starting to decrease reps and increase the weight. There are also more big compound movements like squats, dead-lifts and chin ups. I LOVE this kind of training so I’m really looking forward to this phase. And another plus side of increasing the intensity of training is… more carbs! I now get two carb meals a day, pre and post workout. Can’t say no to that!

I think the first phase of training has taught me to not be too hard on myself. No one is perfect. We’re all going to have slip ups. I tend to be a perfectionist in a lot of things, and my diet and training is no exception. But it’s important to strive for progress, not for perfection. We’re all human after all. I’ve had some amazing results so far, so I can be assured that I’m on the right track 🙂

With love,

B. xx

“You don’t make friends with salad” – my experience with vegetarianism and body composition

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I want to share what I have learnt about the relationship between vegetarianism and body composition. This is a subject close to my heart, as I was a vegetarian for 8 years. Ethically, I would still prefer to be a vegetarian. However after discovering early this year that I am allergic to gluten, I found being vegetarian and gluten-free too difficult and restrictive. A lot of the protein substitutes I was eating contained wheat, and so I made the tough decision to incorporate some meat into my diet to replace the lost protein. It was tough at first, but with the amount of training I was doing, I knew it was important that I consumed adequate protein, and found that including meat was the best way to do this. I have found that my decision has enabled me to grow muscle and improve my fitness in a way that wasn’t possible when I was vegetarian.

The photos on the left are from when I was a vegetarian. I still ate a lot and exercised regularly by playing sport, running and going to the gym, however as you can see I was very skinny and had little muscle tone. The photos on the right are both within the last month. I have been eating meat for 6 months now, and I go to the gym 5-6 times a week. Although I’m still petite, you can see I now have visible muscle definition and I look healthier. There is about 9kg difference in weight between the photos.

From my personal experience, I don’t believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet can lead to optimal body composition (by which I mean a low body fat percentage and high lean muscle mass). The reason for this is largely protein. Protein is the building blocks of life, and you certainly need it to build muscles. As a vegetarian it is difficult to meet your protein requirements and furthermore, the vegetarian protein sources are absorbed by the body differently and are not ideal for supporting muscle growth.

I was actually very conscious of my protein as a vegetarian. I made sure I ate protein with every meal. I trained hard in the gym and ate a lot of food, but it still took me a long time to put on muscle. Inevitably, this also meant it was harder to lose body fat, because the more lean muscle mass you have, the greater your ability to metabolize fat. As soon as I started incorporating meat (I still only eat chicken, turkey and some fish) I noticed a big difference in my ability to build muscle and lose fat. I feel stronger, leaner, and healthier.

I see all too often people choose to be a vegetarian or vegan to be ‘healthy’. They believe meat is not healthy, and so cutting it out will be better for them. Well, I agree there are things about meat that can be unhealthy – such as not choosing free range or grass fed meats. However, simply cutting meat out without replacing it with other protein sources is not good for your body. I can’t stress the importance of eating protein enough, even if you aren’t trying to build muscle. It is still has an important role in replenishing and repairing your body’s cells. If you are a vegetarian and you don’t eat enough protein, chances are you are not healthy. The chances that you have flaky nails, brittle hair, dry/dull skin or you get sick or tired all the time are pretty high too. These are NOT signs of good health. These are signs of deficiencies.

Being a vegetarian is hard work. It is not simply cutting out meat. It requires the careful management of foods to meet your macronutrient requirements, when there are restricted options for you to choose from. I honestly believe it took me 5 years to perfect my vegetarian diet to the point I no longer got sick all the time. Even still, my flaky nails didn’t go away until I started eating meat several times a day. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and you’re meeting your protein requirements and living healthily then I commend you – it really is hard.
What I’ve shared in this post is just my personal experience. I know there are several bodybuilders out there who promote that they have achieved their physique on a vegetarian or vegan diet. I think what they’ve done is amazing -but they are the minority. Being naturally petite, I don’t think I could have achieved the body composition I have today (or the physique I am still striving to achieve) if I had remained vegetarian. No matter how hard I trained and how much I ate, I was only able to see significant increases in muscle tone after introducing meat.

I don’t discourage the vegetarian or vegan diet, but it is important to do it properly by monitoring your protein and other nutrients. And depending on your goals, it may be the one thing getting in the way of you achieving them. It certainly was for me.

With love,
B. xx

Note: Any negative comments on vegetarians or meat eaters will not be approved – this is a positive space. However if you have any questions, feel free to get in contact with me  🙂