PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 5: “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

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I’ve recently had to make a very tough decision not to compete in March as I had planned. It was a tough call for me to make because I have invested so much time and effort into this process and come so far, so I didn’t want to let my hard work go to waste. But when pressures arose to start doing things I wasn’t comfortable with and I felt were not consistent with my overall health, I had to swallow my pride and step away from competition prep.

Throughout this entire process, my health has been and still is my utmost priority. I said from the beginning I would never sacrifice my health for aesthetics. Although it killed me to submit to not achieving the goal I had originally set myself, I know how important it is to do what’s right for my health and to always follow my gut instincts.

The training I’ve been doing for comp prep has been great – it challenges me and I’ve seen good results so far. The diet has been strict but full of healthy, whole foods and I haven’t been restricting the amount of food I eat at all. I’ve been happy with the results I’ve seen so far and overall, it has been a rewarding experience.

However I’ve come to realize that in preparing for a competition, there are many different methods that trainers use to get competitors ready for the stage. There are different diets, different training methods, different supplements, different ‘peak week’ techniques, etc. All of these methods seem to work, but not every method will suit every individual.

When my trainer started talking about taking supplements to start changing the balance of hormones in my body and get me lean for the stage, I instantly felt uncomfortable (note – they are not roids or anything, they are entirely legal supplements, I just didn’t think they would be good for my health). I went home to research the supplements that had been suggested to me, which is not unusual – I research everything before I put it in my body. Although I didn’t find any big warnings not to take it online, what I did find is very little research to support its use, and if anything a few recommendations that females should not use the product. There were no real conclusions either way as to whether it was safe or unsafe, however the fact there was so little information available to me on it and no information on potential long term effects of its use was enough for me to choose not to put it in my body.

In the midst of this uncertainty over these supplements (which for the record, I was not taking nor intending to take), I then had an allergic reaction to one of the completely natural herbal supplements I was already on. Although this supplement was just a natural combination of herbs, it caused a horrible rash all over my arms and face. It seems that this was just a reaction to the milk thistle the supplement contained, but it was the last straw for me. I took that as a warning sign, and I knew then that I was no longer going to take those supplements or any new ones for that matter.

I am not a big fan of taking supplements as it is, but I can see the benefit of supplementing with vitamins and minerals that you are deficient in (and cannot obtain enough of through food alone). This is especially the case when you’re training very hard and preparing for a comp where you need your body in peak condition. However, when it starts getting into relatively new supplements with little research and little knowledge of consequences later in life, I’m not willing to take any risks. If it takes me longer to achieve my goal, if I have to train harder, if I have to add in cardio, that’s all fine; but I won’t put anything in my body that I’m not 100% sure is consistent with my health.

Not everyone takes a heap of supplements to compete. However, where I chose to train, that is the method they use. I definitely don’t question that it works – they’ve got some great results with clients and got many competitors to look fantastic on stage! But this method is not for me. It’s completely possible that the supplements are safe and will have no long-term effects on my health, but I’m just not willing to take that chance to look good on a stage for ten minutes.

Pulling out from the competition was such a hard decision for me to make because I didn’t want to feel like a quitter. I have been training hard, put a lot of time and effort into food prep, and made many sacrifices in my social life for this competition and didn’t want my hard work to be for nothing. I’m also a very determined person and the idea of not achieving a goal kills me inside a little! But the fact of the matter is the actual competition has never mattered to me. I’m not overly fussed about getting up on stage in a bikini and high heels (if anything I was actually dreading that part of it!). The reason I set the goal to compete was just to keep me on track by having a set date and time that I needed to achieve my goal by. In that respect, it has already achieved its purpose. I’ve worked hard, I’ve stuck to it and I’ve got some fantastic results so far. I’ve still got a long way to go, but my transformation certainly doesn’t end here! I plan to keep training hard, add in some HIIT cardio and mix up my diet so I can have some more balance and flexibility but still get results. Although I’m still determined to keep improving, I’m happy that without a deadline I can add more balance into my life. It’s possible I will still compete one day, but if and when I do, it will be without all the supplements and using a method that puts my conception of holistic health at the forefront.

I’ve also learnt so much from this experience. I’ve learnt about manipulating food to achieve a goal. I’ve learnt new training methods. I’ve learnt how strong I can be – both physically AND mentally. And most importantly, I’ve learnt how important it is to never lose sight of your values and always stand up for what you believe in, no matter what others may say.

I admit that in the past few months with working full time and either training or cooking in every spare minute, my social life has really suffered. Even when I go to social events and don’t eat the food or bring my own food to eat, it’s hard not to feel socially isolated. It’s fun to enjoy a meal out with friends, and you can usually find healthy options on most menus. I definitely miss this aspect of life and I welcome it back with open arms now that I don’t have a pending competition!

Since I made this decision two weeks ago, I’ve started mixing up my diet, planning it all myself with a focus on tracking my calories and macros while still eating healthy, clean foods. This is allowing me some flexibility to eat out and/or just eat some of the foods that make me happy e.g. Greek yoghurt and berries are back on the menu! I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks now and appear to be getting leaner, which is very exciting! I’m hoping it continues to work, as it is a much more sustainable lifestyle and I can enjoy myself while still achieving my goals. Bring on less restriction with solid results! 🙂

This was a tough blog post to write, in light of it being a hard and emotional decision for me to make. But it has only made me stronger, standing up for my values despite pressures to take the easy way out to get to the stage and avoid damage to my ego. As they say, it’s about the journey not the destination, and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about this experience. It has been a fantastic learning curve and a good test of my strength in the face of adversity.

After a full on few months and an emotional few weeks surrounding this decision, so I’ve just booked a spontaneous trip to Byron Bay for the long weekend! This holiday will allow me to take some much-needed time out and take a break from what was such a rigid routine. It’s important to take time out and relax, and do what’s good for your soul. After all, looking after your mind is a very important aspect of health that should never be neglected. 🙂

With love,
B. xx

Image: zerodean.com

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PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 3: “The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles.”

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When I started this blog, one of my main goals was to give an open and honest account of my comp prep journey. We tend to only see the glamourous side of a fitness model’s journey – that perfectly ripped body, those perfect workouts and their perfect diet. We don’t see their struggles and their failures; we just see their highlight real. I want to share with you my first big set back; not because I have to, but because I am committed to maintaining as much honesty as possible. In the end we are all human and none of us are perfect, despite what our social media accounts may convey.

I’ve suffered a few ups and downs with my stomach since changing my diet. But the past two weeks my stomach pains became unbearable. It got to the point I was struggling with every day activities. I had a feeling my body wasn’t digesting properly, because I was getting bloated and extremely full extremely quickly, amongst other symptoms. This caused a lot of discomfort, which I was able to push through at the start but it became progressively worse. It got to the point I could feel every meal just sitting in my stomach and I couldn’t eat anywhere near as much as usual. I also came down with a cold last week, which is pretty rare for me, and I now realize that it could also be attributed to my digestive issues – once digestive functioning is impaired, the ability for the body to absorb nutrients from the food you eat is diminished.

I made the decision to put my health first and eat the things I was craving – namely fruit and yoghurt (both of which support the digestive system). I replaced some of my meals with fruit smoothies because I couldn’t stomach the meat that I knew would just sit heavy in my stomach again.

I knew that I couldn’t keep eating the way I was until my digestion was sorted, because it was making me feel so ill. Although my goal is to compete, my health is my utmost priority and I would never sacrifice that for anything. Incorporating the fruit and yoghurt was enough to help improve my digestion until I was able to see my coach and sort out some supplements to aid digestion, which I am now taking.

I’m lucky that I’m quite ‘in tune’ with my body – I know that when I’m craving something it’s generally because my body is suffering a deficiency, and I can usually recognize and respond to that. I know what my body feels like operating at 100%, and I know when something isn’t quite right. Although I basically threw my diet out the window for a few days, even my coach said he is glad I had the common sense to listen to my body and it’s surprising how many people don’t, particularly when focused on a goal such as competing.

Obviously not being able to follow my eating plan for the past week or two is a set back. However, I started early for the exact reason that I wasn’t sure how my body would respond and wanted time to tweak things and make it work. My digestive issues are not particularly surprising, given I was a vegetarian for so many years and my diet is now highly meat based. I’m just lucky that this happened now instead of in the final 12 week lead up to comp, when it could have taken me out of the running. The supplements seem to be working so far and I’m back on track with my eating and training.

Luckily it’s not all bad news! 🙂  My coach is happy with how my body has responded to this phase of training so the next phase is going to focus on increasing weights again and dropping the reps! I’ll be working in an even lower rep range (between 2 and 8 reps depending on the exercise) to really build some muscle and strength! And I’m super motivated after being forced into taking some time off from it all, so I’m looking forward to these next two weeks! 🙂

With love,

B. xx

PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 2 – “You can have results or excuses – not both.”

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I just had my third body composition testing to see how far I’ve come in the last 4 weeks. This test marks the end of week 10. I’m starting to get tests closer together now so that if something isn’t working, we can change it. Going into this test I was feeling pretty deflated. I’ve been on the second phase of training for 4 weeks now and didn’t feel like I had changed. The only real changes I had noticed were a bit more size in my upper body and legs. If I had to guess, I would have thought my body fat percentage had gone up.

However the results of the test surprised me! The most exciting part is that I gained 2kg of lean muscle mass in the space of 4 weeks! The goal of this phase of training is moreso about building muscle than it is about losing fat. The weights are heavier and the reps lower. Being naturally small it is a fight for me to build muscle, so I couldn’t be happier that the training is working.  I also dropped 0.2% body fat during this phase. Although this isn’t huge, it’s good if I can still maintain my body fat level or lose a bit of fat as I build muscle, so losing 0.2% to bring me to 16% overall is a good result.  My coach was happy with this too. He is confident he will be able to get me lean easily and the most important thing is holding on to muscle mass.

I honestly thought my coach was going to ask me what the hell I’d been doing and why I hadn’t got any results this time around! I just didn’t feel different. This goes to show I need to have faith in the process – my body was responding the way it was supposed to, I just couldn’t see it. I know if I follow my coach’s instructions to a tee, I should get the results I’m after.

Dealing with setbacks 

The major set back I had this last week was coming down with a cold, losing my appetite and only really being able to stomach fresh fruit and veggies. I rarely get sick but I ran myself down after functioning on little sleep, working full time and maintaining my intensity of training. Having a cold made me crave sweet foods for a pick me up – mainly fresh fruits and soothing cold drinks for my sore throat. I prefer to rely on natural medicines when I get sick – like eating more vitamin c through oranges, carrots and berries, and taking manuka honey and green tea in order to remedy a cold. But unfortunately these things all contain sugar, which is not technically part of my comp prep diet. However I chose to put my health first and include more fresh fruit and manuka honey to try and kick the cold so I can get back into my training fast. I do believe in listening to my body, and wanted to give it the best chance to recover quickly. I’m feeling better for it and only had to take one extra rest day this week as a result.

Where to now… 

I’ve worked out that I’m sitting 18 weeks out from comp, and I’ve already been dieting for 10 weeks. I’ve still got so far to go, and it’s difficult to maintain motivation when your goal is not really in sight. I had a chat to my coach and he thinks I’ll need 12 weeks for my strict comp prep. So instead of dieting for 26 weeks in a row without a break (which would be the longest comp prep ever and not sustainable!), I’m going to get a week of ‘flexible dieting’ starting on November 30th. Essentially this is a week off from my diet so I can enjoy meals out a bit more. I won’t go completely nuts, but it will be nice to enjoy health foods like fruit smoothies, raw treats and protein bars that are not really part of my comp prep diet. I will still stick to my training regime during this time. I don’t find adhering to the training difficult, but dieting is very time consuming and can get a bit boring. It will be nice to have more variety in my foods for a week before knuckling down. Now that I have a date set for this in the foreseeable future, it should be easier to maintain discipline with something to look forward to in just 3 weeks time. 🙂

I’m looking forward to the last week on this phase of training. The goal is to keep gaining muscle mass while maintaining a low level of body fat! Bring on the gains! 😛

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  🙂

Lean, Green, Clean Eating Machine!

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Just a check in on where I’m at with my training. It’s one month into my program and I’m feeling like a lean, green, clean eating machine! I had a beautiful weekend enjoying the weather with friends and indulging in my cheat meal at Yochi.  This week is my last on this cycle of training, and I get to see my results so far and get a new training program!

One thing I’ve learnt is maintaining balance in your life on this kind of diet is tough. I spend a lot of time cooking, training and rehab-ing, and there isn’t much time for social activities. If I do want to go out with friends I have to bring my own food, unless I can plan my cheat meal around it.

I went down to a friend’s holiday house on Saturday to spend the day at the beach with some friends. I took all my own meals and ate at regular intervals. It didn’t really impact on my weekend at all – I still had a great time catching up with the girls. It’s awesome that my friends are so supportive of what I’m doing, and didn’t make me feel like a weirdo for eating my chicken and veggies while they nibbled on crackers and dip!

I’m now ready to throw myself into the last week of training I have before the next body fat screening. I’ve worked pretty hard and been disciplined with my eating for the past month.  I certainly feel leaner, but I’m looking forward to seeing the numbers on how my body has changed. I am motivated by measurable results! Wish me luck 🙂

With love,
B. xx

“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”

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A few people have asked me how I organize myself to ‘meal prep’.

Meal prep is tough work – it takes a lot of organization and a lot of time. I’ve figured out a few ways to make the process more efficient, so I waste less time cooking and more time… well, eating!

Here is the step-by-step process I use to prep my meals for the week:

1. Write a weekly meal plan.

I plan out exactly what I’m going to eat for all six meals of the day, for seven days of the week. I do this by breaking it into protein, fats, greens and carbs, so I know I’m meeting my nutrient requirements for each meal.

Note: I eat the same six meals every day for a week. You don’t have to do it this way, but I find it easier to plan for when every day is the same.

2. Grocery shopping

I calculate how much of each type of meat I’ll need to get me through that whole week. For instance if I eat 150g raw meat 5 times a day, then:
150g x 5 = 750g per day. 750g x 7 days = 5.25kg.

Note: I do this separately for each type of meat, this is just an example of how I calculate it.

I then go and buy all the meats (I get a variety of chicken breast, turkey, and salmon depending on what meals I’ve planned). The butcher looks at me like I’m crazy, but that’s ok. He doesn’t ask questions.

I follow the same process with my fats and veggies. I usually buy veggies for half the week and do another veggie shop mid-week so they stay fresh.

3. Label your bags

I buy plenty of little snap lock bags which I label with the day and the meal number e.g. ‘Monday 2’.

4. Prepare the meat

I cut all the meat up into 150g portions, weighing it as I go and putting it into the corresponding snap lock bag. I then freeze all of the meat except what I need for the next two days.

5. Cook for two to three days at a time

I do a big cook up usually every second day. Some people cook for 3 days, but I’m just cautious of leaving food in the fridge for too long so prefer to cook for 2. It’s important to cook a few days in advance, or you will end up cooking all the time and won’t have the meals ready if you’re going to be out all day.

Note: The only meal I don’t prepare is meal 1, which I cook in the morning each day.

6. Invest in a good carry bag (e.g. six pack bag)

Having a refrigerated carry bag is important so you can take your meals with you and be prepared wherever you go. If you aren’t prepared, and you get hungry when you’re out, you are likely to make bad choices.

Here is an example of how I plan out my meals to determine how much of everything I need. This is one day. I times the quantities by seven and there you have it – everything I need for the week!

PROTEIN GREENS FATS CARBS
M1 3 Eggs 1tbsp Butter
M2 150g Chicken Zucchini, Carrot 1tbsp Coconut Oil
M3 150g Turkey Mixed Salad ¼ Avocado
M4 125g Salmon Spinach 1tbsp Coconut Oil 150g pumpkin
M5 150g Chicken Tomatoes, Capsicum, Kale 1tbsp Coconut Oil
M6 150g Chicken 1tbsp Coconut Oil

The most important things are to keep it simple, quick and easy for yourself. I buy herbs and spices, lemon and limes so I can chuck these on as I’m cooking to add flavour without much fussing around. The harder you make it, the less likely you will be able to maintain it.

Happy eating!

With love,
B.xx