There’s always a new expert in the field of nutrition, new books, new approaches, and lots of new information. If you are someone who’s looking to optimise health and fitness, nutrition is the foundation of your efforts, but how do you decipher all of that information?
The reality is that there’s nothing new to all the (good) nutrition information. We’ve known most of it for decades. And when you dig in to all the information out there you’ll see that almost everyone who knows a bit about the topic agrees on the most important facts. Your nutrition is almost sorted when you have these factors down.
- Eat well raised sources of animal protein. Even if you are training intensely on most days of the week, you don’t need to consume massive quantities to get your daily protein needs in.
- Eat vegetables everyday.
- Get your fats from animal sources, olives, nuts and their oils, egg yolks (why would you waste the best tasting part of the egg?), and avocado.
- Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (and other man made products).
- Having a knowledgeable coach is a well placed investment
Keep it simple by getting your ABCs locked down and don’t focus on anything else until you do.
Health and fitness requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. For those committed to improving themselves daily – like the people we see in our gyms – there’s some risk involved too. You could cut your shin on a box jump, twist your ankle while running, or sprain a shoulder muscle while practising some gymnastics.
You could also get hit by a bus while crossing the road, or by a buck while cycling through the bush. Those are all educated risks.
You can either sit back to become overweight and unhealthy to avoid the short-term risk of a niggle from training, or you can overlook that small short-term risk for massive long-term benefits. Just as you can stay indoors to avoid the world, or you can go on with living your life.
There are some educated risks to leading an active and healthy lifestyle. Every now and then you’re going to pick up a niggle or an injury. So how should you approach training while you are nursing an injury? I see two approaches: the pigheaded approach and the smart approach. Let’s talk about the smart approach because that pigheadedness (that is a word) is what gets you injured.
Tip #1: Pain Free RoM
The most common symptom of an injury is pain. While there are varying pain sensations, pain is inevitable and is a sign of damage. You should never move through pain. This might mean reducing the range of motion (RoM) about a joint for particular movements and in more severe cases it means not moving that joint at all.
At the end stage of the recovery and rehab process you typically have no pain through the full RoM, but as soon as you add load there is pain. RoM is significantly more important than load. Therefore, reduce or remove load to ensure full RoM with no pain.
Tip #2: Seek Treatment & Guidance
If you have picked up a musculoskeletal injury then you really should have already seen a physiotherapist for diagnosis and treatment. If you haven’t then you’re veering towards the pigheaded route. A physio can determine which structure is injured and treat it accordingly. This manual therapy aids the recovery process.
The physio and your coaches will then be able to guide you on what to do in training to ensure that you continue improving fitness while the injured area recovers (as long as you listen). You can’t do this alone or with Dr. Google, neither of you have the relevant skills, education or mindset. Even physios need physios.
Tip #3: Make Strict Bodyweight Movements a Priority
Injuries generally prevent you from moving external loads. Fitness isn’t just defined by how much load you can move, and gymnastics comes before weightlifting in your development as an athlete. So RE-focus your time and efforts on strict bodyweight movements. That means no kipping.
This has the huge benefit of better strength with no downsides. And even though you aren’t doing them, when you do get back to more dynamic movements you’ll be MORE proficient at them thanks to your bigger base level of strength. Yeah, you should be doing that from the very beginning, but one can only lead the horse to the water, yeah?
Tip #4: Prioritise Your Nutrition
Nutrition is the most important aspect of your health and fitness. You need to eat enough to support your activity levels but not body fat. When you’re nursing and injury your activity levels generally drop. If they do drop, you should be eating less. “My nutrition is better when I’m training properly” is just an excuse to stuff your face because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.
Less exercise = less need for calories. More importantly, what you eat directly influences your body’s ability to recover from any form of trauma.
Tip #5: Have a Game Plan
You’ll need to follow Tip #2 in order to have an effective and realistic game plan in place. That’s because the most common behaviour with athletes and injury is returning to their pre-injury levels of intensity as soon as they’re feeling “good.”
You might be completely pain free, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the injured structures are fully recovered. Soft tissue takes a long time to recover, and you also need to recognise that you aren’t just recovering from the injury itself – you need to recover from the inactivity too 😉
Part of the game plan is continuing to train. One of the most important aspects of rehabilitation is ensuring that other parts of the body and other areas of fitness continue to improve while the injured area recovers. And that is totally doable. Take a look at the Instagram video below of Kevin Ogar. Kevin was a Regional level CrossFit athlete who was injured in a freak accident. He is now bound to a wheelchair, but his fitness has continued to improve – so much so that he is now able to sit in a squat!
Working that #ParaSquat @stouty08 put out last week! Got up to a full 90secs freestanding then started to play around with moving my arms around. Sotz Press, I'm coming for ya. This is some good mobility work for my ankles and hips. My backs been feeling way better since I started playing around with this. @wheelwod @adaptivecrossfit @crossfit @crossfittraining @crossfitwatchtower @progenex @barbellsforboobs @stephthehammer @angel_cfredefined #stillgotaprettygoodlookingsquat #bootygainz? #FullROM #hadtovideotomakesureofdepth #notgoodatfeelingwhenImlowenough #harambereincarnated #shutupmeag
Tip #6: Be Smart, Not Pigheaded
You’re exercising a lot, you think that you’re eating well most of the time, everyone says you’re looking “slimmer,” and the scale shows that your body weight is dropping. But you’re lacking “go” in your workouts, your strength has either plateaued or is regressing, and your body fat percentage (BFP) has actually gone up. What the……??!!
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Your body weight is the sum weight of your organs, bones, muscle, soft tissue, etc. Weight loss simply takes into account a drop in this sum.
Your BFP is the weight of body fat relative to your total body weight. Therefore, fat loss would result in a lower body fat percentage. Depending on gender, age and types of activity, healthy body fat percentages for women and men are respectively 12-20% and 8-18%.
How does that explain an increase in BFP concomitant to a decrease in body weight? That would happen if part of the weight loss comes from a loss of muscle. If BFP is the weight of body fat relative to total body weight, your total body weight (kg) less the amount of body fat (kg) leaves you with your lean body mass (LBM). LBM is made up of every part of your body – skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, organs, etc. – EXCLUDING boy fat.
The heaviest component of LBM is muscle. The amount of muscle you have directly affects the BFP equation.
If your body weight doesn’t change but you lose muscle, it will be reflected as an increase in BFP. Similarly, if you lose body weight and muscle, the loss in muscle would either mitigate a decrease in BFP or also reflect as an increase in BFP. You’re “slimmer” with a high body fat – what is referred to as skinny fat. That’s also why your performance in training drops – muscle is your engine!
Lose Fat & Maintain or Build Muscle
Your body weight tells us little to nothing about changes in your body composition. It’s also affected on a daily basis by your diet, water retention, the weather and possibly even mood states. So you need to change your mindset from wanting to lose weight to losing body fat.
Losing body fat requires you to maintain or increase muscle mass. Note: Increasing muscle mass does not mean you’ll “get bulky.”
What will happen when you maintain/increase muscle mass while reducing BFP, however, is your body weight often remains the same. That is simply because muscle weighs less than fat.
How To Avoid Skinny Fat
- Train functional movements at a high (relative) intensity with a variety of loads (light, moderate, heavy).
- Eat clean at least 80% of the time. You all know the deal: Eat a variety of meat and vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds, little dairy and grains, and no sugar
- Ensure that part of eating clean includes a healthy amount of good carbs and protein.
- Avoid the “cardio” trap. Unless there’s a good deal of resistance-based exercises in your training regime to go with all that cardio, you won’t maintain good muscle too. That’s why I like to call endurance only athletes ‘skinny fat.’ Yes, they have low body weight, but a low percent of that is muscle!
So ditch the scale and mirror because they’re just playing tricks on your mind. Eat clean, train smart, be consistent, and results will come. If results don’t come, call in for a consult.
Resting heart rate (HR), age-predicted maximum HR and HR training zones are commonly used by the general fitness and medical industries, and by some sports, to evaluate health, fitness and training efforts. HR zones are even used to guide training intensity for sports and general fitness. What do those HR numbers mean? More importantly, what are they founded on and are they of any use?
Maximum Heart Rate
Your age-predicted maximum HR is supposed to be 220 – your age. This is said to be the maximum heart rate (MHR) you can safely attain through exercise, regardless of your training status. For example, an obese 20 year old has an MHR of 200, whereas a 30 year old Olympic level decathlete theoretically has an MHR of 190. There’s your first clue that HR data means little – an athlete who’s taken years to qualify for their national Olympic team should have a lower MHR than a 20 year old who’s spent years eating shit while sitting on the couch? Not likely!
Where does that equation come from?
I’m not entirely sure, but it was fed to us by both the medical and exercise science departments since year one at uni, and to decades of students before that. So it’s no surprise that it’s used to widely. I do believe that the number came about through research evaluating exercise and heart disease, so if anything, it may be useful in the training of individuals who have heart disease.
Heart Rate Zones for Training
Have you ever trained with an endurance sports athlete who used an HR monitor? They’re constantly trying to adjust their pace – usually to make it slower – in order to keep their HR in the “aerobic zone” so they can go the distance without boinking. It’s similar to the advice you’ll get from a trainer at a commercial gym or the guidelines you’re given by health schemes – keep your HR at 60-70% of your MHR to stay in the “fat burning zone.”
[I’m genuinely having a chuckle while I read and write this, because those claims actually sound ludacris!]
The image below is an example of these heart rate zones.
Let’s look at an example of these zones and what they tell us about performance. Consider a group of professional athletes all aged 25. In the group we have an F1 driver, marathoner, rugby athlete, baseball pitcher and tennis athlete, all of whom compete at the highest level.
F1 drivers have an average HR of about 160 beats per minute (BPM), which is similar to the average match HR of the tennis athlete and that is not far off from the marathoner’s average race HR. A baseball pitcher (who rarely does much work in a game) has an average game HR of about 175 BPM, similar to that of the rugby player. Interestingly, the average HR of a rugby referee is similar to that of the athletes’!
The fitness requirements of these comparative sports are vastly different, yet they elicit a similar HR response. Could a marathoner perform like the F1 driver if we were to throw them into the cockpit? Would a baseball pitcher go the distance in a game of rugby? It’s not a rhetorical question, the answer is no. There’s more to HR than just physical demands.
Although F1 drivers need to be physically fit, the heat and stress they’re exposed to raises the HR significantly. Similarly, the baseball pitcher’s senses are dialled before pitching the ball and that elevates the HR. Your HR during physical efforts tells us little to nothing about your physical abilities in that task. HR zones are therefore a poor guide for training intensity.
Heart Rate and Training Intensity
A reminder about intensity: It is directly defined as power output which is determined by the amount of work completed in a given time.
Power Output (Intensity) = Work / time
Here is where the HR zone chart starts contradicting HR zone guidelines. Let’s use the most common example to examine this – the endurance athlete. In general, endurance athletes are to keep their training HR in zone 3 to improve aerobic fitness while limiting muscular fatigue. Yet the chart shows that training in zone 5 maximises performance? This is why so many recreational endurance athletes “boink” on race day. That means they “hit the wall,” start cramping up or experience debilitating muscular fatigue. It’s because they focus on preventing themselves from blowing out in training by limiting HR, only to be exposed to a far greater intensity on race day.
Intensity rules, especially when you learn how to adopt very good movement patterns under fatigue.
What about the F1 driver from above. His MHR should be 195. His average race HR is 160 BPM, about 82% of his MHR. According to the HR zone chart, he should only last 2 – 10 minutes. Instead, he is as lit up as his instrument panel all the way through the race!
How does he do that and how do we apply those principles in YOUR training? We use interval training. We get your HR really high, many times higher than what your MHR should be, add in some rest and then repeat several times. Or, we maximise your power output (intensity) in training by keeping the duration of your exercise bouts where there is greatest carry over for all energy systems. And then we ensure that there is a healthy dose of structured variance to keep you working beyond the realms of your experience and comfort.
On the training topic, your HR monitor cannot accurately calculate your caloric expenditure from exercise. The equation is complex.
So, HR is a poor indicator and guide for intensity, training effort and performance – even if you are a true endurance athlete. Regardless of your sport or health goals you simply need to develop the capacity to go harder for longer, and your HR isn’t going to tell you if you’re doing that or not.
Should you control your food portions? It’s a question I’ve covered a lot on the blog and in nutrition seminars. My answer is always yes, and no. Whether you should or not is dependent on your goals and your personality traits. But there’s no point getting into that unless you understand what portion control is.
There are some visual guidelines of what your plate should look like, and for some those guidelines work. If you’d like to get it done correctly you do need to measure your macronutrient intake. It makes the amounts specific to YOU, and the numbers enable you to make educated changes about your portion sizes.
What is a Macro?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, rebuilding and all basic body functions. There are three macronutrients that all food is categorised under:
What do Macros Do?
On one hand, all macros provide calories (energy). Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Aside from providing calories to fuel various functions, each macro has a different set of responsibilities in the body.
We need CHO because:
They are the body’s main source of fuel.
They are easily used by the body for energy.
All of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy.
They are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.
They can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy.
They are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.
We need protein for:
Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
Making essential hormones and enzymes
Energy when carbohydrate is not available
Preserving lean muscle mass
Fat is essential for:
Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorbing certain vitamins ( like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Providing cushioning for the organs
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Why Measure Macros?
As you can read above, macros provide calories. We need enough calories to support exercise but NOT body fat. One reason for measuring macros helps to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of calories in. The other reason is to ensure that you’re giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to fuel and recover from exercise, and for basic human function.
Food quality is more important than quantity though. You can’t out-measure a shitty diet.
How to Calculate Macros?
There are a ton of different methods but they essentially come down to a few differences. One thing most methods do have in common is that they should be based on the individual’s body composition and levels/type of activity.
Calorie Based: These methods only calculate macros in order to calculate caloric intake and they do so under the belief that weight management is based simply on balancing calories in and calories out. There’s much more to that equation. More importantly, this method leaves people thinking that a calorie is a calorie, and it’s not.
Sustainability Based: These methods keep food categorised at CHO, fat and protein instead of calculating calories. They also place a high emphasis on food quality. The changes implemented in one’s diet are intended to be lifelong so change is gradual and maintainable.
Sports Based: These methods have been founded on systems used for athletes in weight category sports such as martial arts, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Or in sports that simply require an athlete to be at particular body weights for optimal performance or aesthetics. Such methods are characterised by having “cutting,” “building” and “maintenance” phases.
Yay or Nay?
If you are far above or below a healthy body composition, then yes, learn how to calculate and track your macro amounts. If you’d like to improve your performance in general or specifically for an event, yes, calculate your macros. If you would like to AND are able to manage flexibility with the foods you eat, yes, calculate your macros.
But only if you have the correct mindset.
For example, if you have a problem with balance – you know, the all or nothing sort – I would avoid calculated portion control. (If you’re reading this and are denying that you have a problem with balance, you have a problem with balance). Whereas if you are able to manage balance and flexibility in what you do and don’t eat, counting macros could be extremely valuable.
If you are good at AND are honest in understanding your body needs, you shouldn’t need to measure macros at all. That said, a 2-4 week stint of measuring and tracking would be good because you’d be able to compare it to what you’ve been doing by just listening to your body. If you’re good at listening to your body, there shouldn’t be much difference.
Quality and quantity both matter, but unless you, your goals and your approach fit the bill, there’s no point in measuring quantities. More importantly, you can’t out-measure or out-train a shitty diet 😉