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Eating Really is Cheating

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When it comes to drinking alcohol, the old saying “eating is cheating” you used to throw around when you were young and out on the town is not so far from the truth.

Today, I wanted to talk about alcohol, drinking habits and how it relates to health, particularly weight gain and how eating could really be cheating when it comes to alcohol consumption. I have discussed alcohol briefly before in my 5 tips for avoiding weight gain over the holidays and does Christmas really make you fat but today I’m going to go a little bit deeper.

When we look at the literature and studies of alcohol consumption, we can see that in populations that have a no alcohol or a moderate one to two drink per day intake, there isn’t a huge correlation to gaining weight or obesity.  On the flip-side, populations with heavy drinking or binge drinking habits have been pretty closely linked with gaining weight and obesity. This also tends to lead to inflammatory adiposity, meaning you are not only gaining weight through subcutaneous fat (under the skin) of the arms and legs, you are creating more inflammatory fat around the midline – the well known beer belly.

Let’s consider what happens when you consume alcohol.  Your body sees the alcohol as a toxin and makes that the primary metabolic source of fuel over and above anything else that you consume at the time. The body seeks to convert the toxin to energy and burn it up as a way to remove it from the body. It prefers alcohol energy over all others as it is aiming to remove the danger from the body.

This simultaneously inhibits fat oxidation.  It spares the burning of fat as fuel, therefore, leading to fat storage and long term weight gain. However, this only occurs when other fuel is being consumed by the body. So if you are eating whilst consuming alcohol, the body preferences getting rid of the toxin and stores the rest of the energy (carbohydrate, fat and protein) in the muscles and liver and then as adipose tissue in fat.

According to Ben Greenfield “If you were at a caloric deficit and alcohol is being consumed as a primary source of your calories, you should be more concerned about the liver, the inflammation, and the amount of acetaldehyde, the toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism more than you should be concerned about weight gain.” So although eating with drinking causes you to store body fat, drinking on its own causes oxidative stress and inflammation all over the body, especially the liver as it deals with the toxin.

All of this means that timing your drinking is important. Allowing your body time to first process the alcohol and not have to process the energy from the food is a good idea. Having a pre dinner drink, rather than a drink with your dinner, would be a better option and only having one or two in total. So, for those who have prescribed to the eating is cheating philosophy in their younger years – it may not a complete farse. You may have used it when you were young to sound cool and tough, but ironically, it may actually work again in middle age to try and help avoid the dad bod or beer belly!

We also know that alcohol influences many different hormones and, what appears to occur, is that alcohol can increase appetite and influence hunger by acting on the serotonin pathways in the brain, sending hunger signals.  It can inhibit the response of leptin, the hormone responsible for telling you that you are full, or have eaten enough, resulting in overeating! Therefore, heavier alcohol consumption will suppress your appetite-regulating hormones and increase some of the hormones responsible for appetite.  So alcohol consumption is leading to weight gain by default, by messing with your hormones!

The other weight gaining factor for alcohol is the high fructose, sugar and calorie content. Four to five  standard drinks could add another 2000 plus calories to your daily intake. This is easily similar to, if not  larger than the amount of calories in a meal. It is like you are adding another meal or two to your daily intake! It also may lower your inhibitions, resulting in poor food choices in regards to the meal you are eating, like that late night kebab as you stumble home!

So, how do I avoid weight gain… light to moderate levels of drinking seems to have some longevity benefits especially if you’re drinking a nutrient-dense form of alcohol, such as red wine.  In addition, drinking on an empty stomach when the liver’s glycogen stores are empty, is probably going to help you out with the potential weight gain from alcohol.  Analysing your genetics to see if you should be taking certain supplement stacks or certain antioxidants like glutathione is something else you good do to negate the bad effects of alcohol.

So if you plan on drinking, consider these tips:

  • Do it in a fasted state on an empty stomach – eatin’ is cheatin’!
  • Take extra antioxidants to counteract the inflammatory and oxidation response, something like glutathione.
  • Don’t eat whilst drinking, that adds to the calorie count and to the storage of fat. (But remember to monitor your standard drinks and drink responsibly).
  • Consider a nutrient dense form of alcohol, like red wine.
  • And for longevity, don’t have more than one or two drinks at a time.

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Motivation

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I am here to help you get your mojo back.
I have recently written about being fit, ready and active for anything life throws at you.
Being ready to perform feats of strength, endurance and fitness without really training specifically for it. But what to do if you have lost total motivation
I understand that after big breaks from fitness, whether its due to injury, illness, holiday or completing the race you had trained months and months to do, it is super hard to get back to it, especially if there are no goals or races you are working towards. Hopefully you can get your motivation back and hit the race courses soon.
 
I have compiled a little list of things that help me get motivated to run or workout:
1. Buy some new gear- go shopping, get some new workout gear, shoes or even a new watch with all the gadgets!
2. Lose the gear- probably contradicts the first one on the list but sometimes is great just to workout or run without the numbers, without worrying about your pace or total kilometres or calories burnt. Just get out there and exercise with no tech!
3. Chose a different activity- try swimming if you never swim or mountain biking or Stand up paddle boarding- just the act of variety might keep things interesting and you may even fall in love with a new sport or activity.
4. Watch a documentary or read a exercise based book- my favourites docs recently have been the Barkely Marathons, the Fittest on Earth-its about Crossfit but still good (they are on Netflix I think), Rise of the Sufferfests (about OCR), Books like Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karanazes are also great. 
5. Read a few blog posts for ideas- www.breakingmuscle.com/fitness/4-tips-for-getting-your-mojo-back-running-mojo-that-is was a good one I found after a quick search.
6. Do Nothing- thats right, sometimes taking a step back and doing nothing for a little while will make you realise you do love exercising and you do like working out. You will come back around in your own time!
7. Get outside- go for a walk, get outside with your dog and family, do some hiking, make exercise less structured and more lets have some fun moving outdoors!
Hope that helps you get back out there…
In the coming weeks I will write about the Bravehearts 777 Marathon and you will see how that ties into being ready for anything and my personal experience with being ready to perform!

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

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3 More Things a Primal Athlete Does to be “Fit for Life”

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During our period of no defined race goals and just getting back into exercising I thought I would touch on the next three important areas we should focus on to make you a good all-round athlete that can perform any given activity at any given time when called upon That might be an intense Crossfit session, a long run or even a swim. Last week I discussed the first three key concepts to focus on. These where Get Strong, Exercise Long and Run easy. The next big three are Sprint, mobility and rest. If you look at the Primal Blueprint, the 10 must do Laws developed by Mark Sisson to become “Primal” you will notice my to do list is very similar. From an evolutionary stand point it makes sense that we follow, as close as we can in this modern life, the things that helps us evolve into the people we are today. It makes sense to get stronger, to eat good, healthy unprocessed foods like meats, vegetables and fruit and it makes sense to perform long slow endurance activities. It also makes sense to sprint once in a while, to be agile and mobile to avoid predators. It also makes sense that we get adequate rest and recovery so we are able to perform these tasks again and again.

#4 Sprint

Once every week, try and perform a high intensity sprint workout. This could be as simple as 5-10 all out sprints over 50-100 metres. It could be up a hill, on sand dunes, at the beach or around a 400m track. Even repeated, intense intervals on a bike. These short bursts of intense activity increase the level of human growth hormone and testosterone. These adaptive hormones are released to improve the body so that if this kind of intensity is needed again in the future the body is better adapted and ready to perform.

#5 Mobility

This isn’t so much a Primal Blueprint law, but it would be on my list of must do’s for a modern athlete. Being able to perform when called upon relies on the fact that you are fit and able to do the activity required of you. If you are injured, imbalanced or inflexible you might not be able to perform to the best of your ability, you might be in pain or may even injury yourself due to being muscularly imbalanced. This is the reason why I believe it is imperative to perform corrective exercises, foam rolling and strengthening exercises 2-3 times per week.

#6 Rest and Recover

The body needs time to rest, recover and adapt from the hard workout or exercise in able to perform better the next time it is called upon to perform that task. Exercise in itself is a stress on the body. It creates (good) inflammation and oxidative stress that the body must then heal itself to become better. The problem is if we keep piling up hard, intense workout after hard intense workout the body becomes too stressed and overwhelmed by the oxidation that exercise becomes detrimental. That is why I like to prescribe no more than 4 workouts per week (in periods of no defined race goals or the “off season”) so it gives your body a day or two to recover. Performing exercises like Stand Up Paddle Boarding or long hikes are a good way to “actively recover” by doing something that is less intense but still gets the body moving at much lower heart rate intensity. Recovery doesn’t mean doing nothing. In fact that is much worse. Keep active, move around but just keep that intensity down!

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3 Things a Primal Athlete Does to be “Fit for Life”

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What happens when you train hard for months with a race goal in mind, you get there perform well and then… what do you do after the event? Keep training hard, no worries? Or are you like most folks… do you lose motivation, stop training, have a few weeks off and then really struggle to get back into it.
This led me to think what is your motivation in the off season or with no race goal in mind.
Without having a race or specific goal in mind I keep motivated by the idea that if friends rang up and said lets go for a hike, a mountain bike ride, for a swim, a surf, to the gym to lift weights or a run I would be able to keep up, would I have enough fitness to finish the activity and not be too sore the next day!
This also made me think about what makes a good all round athlete. I have discussed it before about being a good “life all rounder” and what things we need to do to be able to be a good all round fit human that could do any activity at the drop of a hat. Sometimes with no specific goal or race to work towards, trying to get back the fitness you had is hard. It is hard to find the motivation to get out there and exercise. What are the things we should do to be a fit, healthy all round everyday athlete?
So three things I try and do are…

#1 Get stronger

This one is a no-brainer: stronger athletes are faster, less likely to get injured, and bounce back from hard runs or exercise quicker than those who don’t do any strength exercises. One of the Primal Blueprint Laws outlined by Mark Sisson is to be more like our primal hunter gatherer ancestors and to Lift Heavy Things.

This is great in theory, but how exactly do you get stronger? What exercises are best? When should you do them?

The three strength routines I do each serve a purpose and each one is athlete-specific and should make you stronger and faster.

The MSP (maximum sustained power) is a power/stamina workout for endurance athletes. It is designed to avoid muscle fatigue on the back end of long exercise. It builds strength in all the areas that athletes need, like the hips, glutes, abs, and lower back.

The Runner Specific Workout is a more challenging strength workout that focuses on hip and glute strength. These muscles are critical for injury prevention and speed, power and endurance during your runs (or any activity).

The Upper Body Strength Workout is specifically designed to increase the strength that you will need during your Spartan Races like grip strength, upper body strength, and the ability to carry odd loads. It helps functional fitness and strength and has a cross over into life in general. It should make you more mobile, injury free, more resilient and be able to carry out daily task with seemingly less effort. Exercises include the bench press, the deadlift, squats, presses and carries.

#2 Exercise Long-Endurance 

Most athletes need more endurance. If you take that simple concept to heart, you WILL run faster.

See, too many runners think they have to run faster to race faster. But most of the problem is not being able to maintain a fast pace – and that’s a problem of endurance.

And the long run is one of the best ways to develop that endurance. On your long runs aim to run 5-7 kilometres longer than your next longest runs of the week.

Even if you’re not training for a race, it helps to run one long run per week that’s about 20-30% of your weekly mileage. Keep working at it and focus on very gradual increases in distance every 1-2 weeks. This concept can be used for developed endurance for life in general and being able to run, swim, bike, hike etc when called upon and can be used for any endurance exercise.

#3 Run EASY!

As you are aware my training philosophy is in alignment with the Primal Endurance principle of making your easy days really easy, and your hard days harder.

Polarizing your training this way helps you gain more fitness on hard days while boosting recovery on easy days.

Not sure what “easy” really means? Just follow the “3 C’s” of easy running. Easy runs should be:

  • Comfortable
  • Controlled
  • Conversational

Prioritizing recovery and mobility on easy days will help you run even faster during more challenging workouts – and ultimately, your races.

These three strategies can help you cut your injury risk, gain more endurance, run a lot faster and be ready for any type of exercise when its needed.

I could add #4 Sprint, #5 Work on Your Mobility and #6 Rest and Recover to the things good all round athletes do but we might talk about those next week…
An example of a non specific race training week for me might look like this
1x Long Endurance Run of an hour plus.
1x Strength (Running specific, MSP or Resistance workout)
1x Easy Run or Sprint- less than 45 minutes
1x Body Weight Workout- 5 Rounds for time of…
  • Wide Push Ups (chest) 8

    Mountain climbers (abs) 20 each leg

    Side lunges (Legs) 6 each side

    Plank (abs) 30 sec

    Burpees (Full body) 8

    Air squats (Legs) 

    Bench Dips (arms) 15

    Rest 2 min

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Fasting FAQ’s

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Following on from my previous two posts Fasting 101 and My Top Ten Fasting Tips, here are a few of the most frequently asked questions from my clients with regards to fasting…

Should I consult my doctor before doing a fast?
Yes you should. Like any new endeavour, please make sure you check with your doctor if exercise, fasting or nutrition is right for you. I am not a doctor and don’t claim to have all the answers to fasting, nutrition or weight loss so please consult them first.

Will I get hungry?
More than likely yes. If you are quite fat adapted (see my blog post here) you body will prefer fat as its primary fuel source. It will be much easy to get through a fast if you have spent several months eliminating refined carbs (grains, wheat, flour, anything processed) and replacing them with a higher amount of good fats for meat, fish, eggs chicken and coconut oil, butter, heavy cream, avocados etc etc. This will help the body chose fat as its fuel source. If you are still concerned about hunger, ride it out it does not last. Use is as an act of self discipline, knowing that you can and will get through it and you will be better for it as you have refrained from breaking the fast!
If you need some extra tips or tools to get through get out my last blog post here, but you can have some black coffee or tea as they act as an appetite suppressant. Drink as much water as you would like. Have some home made bone broth which is full of minerals that help the immune system as well as reduce inflammation and heal the gut. Bone broth has minimal calories so you are technically not breaking your fast.

Can I still exercise?
Absolutely! Training in an aerobic heart rate zone will help to train your body to prefer fat as its fuel source, as whilst you are working in that low heart rate, steady state exercise zone you are burning predominately fat- this zone of approximately 180 minus your age gives you your maximum aerobic heart rate. Stay under this zone and you will increase you fat burn during a fast. Try to avoid any exercise that is too high an intensity and plan that for days when you are not fasting.
The benefits of exercising in a fasted state are:
*Recover quicker due to an increase in human growth hormone
*Burn more fat due to the higher fat oxidation rate
*Train harder due to increased adrenaline
*Wont bonk or run of energy if you stay in the aerobic or fat burning zone as you have an abundance or stored energy in you fat cells

How should I break my fast?
Do it gently, the longer the fast the more gentlier you should be! I would recommend breaking the fast with a small snack/appetiser then eat a small meal 30-60 minutes after that. Take your time, chew your food and enjoy the experience. Have smaller portions and break drink. Try salad, soup, nuts or almond or peanut butter.

What are the problems to watch for?
Low blood pressure:- often when standing up after squatting down or picking something up of the ground causes dizziness which can be due to low blood pressure or low electrolyte balance. Check with your doctor first if you have low blood pressure before starting and if experienced during the fast consider eating a small meal.
Electrolyte management: as above if you experience dizziness when standing up this could be due to an electrolyte imbalance. Try a magnesium supplement with a 250ml glass of water and a teaspoon of Himilayan rock salt to correct the imbalance.
Headaches: could be withdrawal types symptoms for a lack of sugar, refined carbs or coffee! Could also be a sign of dehydration. Drink more water, it if persists take some curcumin, if it continues stop the fast with a small meal and consult your doctor.
Constipation: it is not uncommon to see slight constipation or at least a decrease in bowel movements- especially due to the fact you are eating less!
Muscle Cramps: again supplement with bone broth and or magnesium tablets.

Will I be cranky?
Maybe- see question 1 to fix the hangry

Will my stomach always grumble?
No. Hunger passes-ride the wave . See my top ten tips here.

Will I be confused?
No you shouldn’t. As fat is a clean buring fuel people are often surprised that during fasting you have clear focus, mental clarity and have a more awareness and concertratrion. This could be due to that fact that your body can now focus on cleaning up cells and getting rid of celluar debris and not have to worry about being constalty focused on metabolism, digusting and processing food and making new cells. oss so please consult them first.