Coffee

So ya… sorry and all that for falling off the face of the planet.

Things that have happened recently:

  1. I got engaged and have been doing lots of planning and celebrating including taste tests.
  2. I bought a house which required sooooo much house hunting and ate up a huge amount of brain power and time, not to mention stress.
  3. I decided not to compete on June 14ths due to the above 2 things and proceeded to eat delicious food and gain weight instead… it’s been marvellously gluttonous though I am not looking forward to having to take the weight off. 😦

So that’s my explanation for basically exiting stage right with no word of warning. I’ve even stopped instagramming and posting on facebook! Ahhhh, I’m a terrible blogger. I’m sorry!

I literally have been in the gym about once a week. I haven’t been that infrequent in YEARS and it kills me.

But enough whining, and explaining. Here some info on coffee for you!

Some of you may have picked up on the fact that I adore coffee. And I espouse it’s beneficence to whomever will listen. I cringe when people say things like “Isn’t it bad for you?” or “You shouldn’t drink that”. I firmly believe that the benefits of coffee far outweigh the negatives for the average individual.

Most (if not all) of the negatives of coffee are either related to drinking too much of it, or related to a condition of the person drinking it. Here’s a snazzy little infographic highlighting this fact. If you’ll notice, all the Pro’s are things like lowers risk of disease… yay! And all the Con’s are things like MAY or CAN cause this issue… if you are prone to that sort of thing and/or decide to drink 10 cups of coffee a day.

What’s funny is it doesn’t even mention the obvious number one Pro. Coffee makes life so much easier, it increases brain function and has been shown to make you smarter in addition to just feeling more awake and productive.

It unfortunately also doesn’t mention some of the softer Con’s. Things like adrenal fatigue which can happen with excessive long-term coffee use to replace appropriate amounts of sleep. Or increased caffeine tolerance leading you to need more and more just to feel human throughout the day. Or the worst one in my opinion, which is the inability to self regulate and relying instead on coffee to run your daily rhythm.

Because of that, about once a year I GIVE UP COFFEE! (for 2 weeks to a month)

Oh my god right? But I love coffee?! WHY?!?!?!

Basically I go on a little coffee detox in order to reset my system, give my adrenals a break, decrease my tolerance and try to get back into a good sleep rhythm. Also, I’m not going to lie, that first cup of coffee after detoxing is magical. Full on bliss.

I’m currently on day 4 of the detox and normally would have a withdrawal headache around now, but I have been drinking black teas so have been getting a little caffeine and seem to have avoided that unpleasantness. I am however unreasonably sluggish in my thoughts and super tired. But the tiredness has resulted in fabulous sleep… so there is that.

If any of you feel that you are addicted to coffee, you are not alone. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But sometimes it’s good to give our bodies a break from things. Food for thought.

Reactions to exercise

Almost at the 12 week mark from my next competition. Hooooo boy. I have been slacking, but on the plus side in 2.5 weeks since I “started” (soft start?) I have actually managed to drop 2 pounds… so yay?

Also I’m pretty out of shape.

Please understand that when I say that I don’t mean I look fat, or have lost muscle tone.

What I mean is I have not done cardio in forever and a day and I nearly cried while on the stairmaster the other day.

Not a joke.

Actually almost cried.

This is not uncommon… and here is why.

I think people react differently to exercise of different types. Everyone has a unique reaction, but in general there are sort of… camps of reactions to the two broad types of exercise. So I wanted to discuss what happens to me versus other people and why it’s important to learn your reactions.

Exercise type #1 – raised heart rate for an extended period of time. This is usually in the form of cardio (either HIIT or LISS of the LISS is at a high enough intensity) but can also be from circuit style weights or active rest etc.

My reaction –crying/getting choked up. I really don’t know why this happens but it does, I usually stop before I actually start to cry, but I have let it go too far once or twice resulting in extreme embarrassment in the gym. Basically if my heart rate is too high, for too long I start to get that “lump in the throat” feeling and my breathing gets a little heavier and then the tears start to prick my eyes.

It’s a purely physical reaction… I don’t feel sad, or proud or anything else other than confused at why my body is deciding to cry from exercise. But the important thing is that I know what the reaction is and why it’s happening… I’m pushing too hard.

I’m a firm believer in pushing to your limit. I’m also a firm believer that your limit is where you should stop. All the “motivational” memes about throwing up and/or dying can go to hell. I stop when my body tells me to, which is ideally BEFORE the tears.

Exercise type #2 – intense heavy lifting or long holds. This is the purely muscular type of exercise and oddly I’ve had similar reactions when I am doing a 3rd set of max weight deadlifts as when I hold a pose too long in yoga (to be fair it’s usually because I have already worked that muscle outside of yoga, but the point stands).

My reaction – yawning and then failing at whatever the task is.

The failing aspect is pretty obvious. Your muscle is tasked past its limit, so it gives out and if, say, you have a 200 pound bar on your back, you are going to fall… hard… and probably hurt yourself (which is why you squat in a rack and/or with a spotter right?!). Temporary muscular failure is a good and useful thing to incorporate in exercise and I am by no means recommending to stop as soon as you fail. You just need to, again, know your limits.

The failure that I’m talking about happens AFTER the yawning. Yawning for me is a sign that my whole body is exhausted and it’s trying to get more oxygen to push through. This is usually about 4 exercises in to leg day and all my energy stores are tapped. It’s also the point where I start to struggle with doing my “normal” weights and have to drop to a lower weight in order to finish. This is a good solution and preferable to stopping. It’s also why I order my workouts from most difficult exercise to least difficult, usually ending with isolation or machine exercises. This cuts down on the risk of injury and mentally helps me get through to the end. Thoughts like “don’t be lame, it’s just calf raises” have definitely cropped up.

I would say that my reaction to heavy training is a fairly normal reaction, the whole crying thing is most certainly not normal, but I’m sure there are other people who experience the same thing. The important thing is to know how YOUR body reacts and whether that reaction means you should stop, ease up, or keep going. So here is a list of other reaction to look for that may help you identify what your body is telling you:

  • Dizziness or blurry vision– usually to do with blood pressure – stop immediately before you hurt yourself and/or pass out. Let it pass and then see if you can keep going once you recover.
  • Hyperventilation – you overexerted yourself. Take a break, get your heart rate down and see if you are able to push through.
  • Nausea – could be to do with what you ate before working out… or you could be going too hard. Either way, ease up on things and consider eating a lighter meal before exercise
  • Tired/sleepy – did you get enough sleep? Yes? You’re pushing too hard, go easier, but keep going
  • Red face/sweaty – you’re exercising… this is as it should be! Unless you are popping blood vessels, in which case you should breath more.
  • Euphoria – of course you are happy, endorphins! Keep at it!

I love Lifting!

Sometimes people say they wish they could be motivated to weight train like me, or they wish they could compete. I usually follow this by asking why? Usually it’s something like I want to lose weight, or the magazines look so good etc. Almost always I give them the same piece of advice; “Do what you like.” Not in a snarky, do whatever you want, I don’t care kind of way. But literally, find something you like and do it.

Gains are made when you are loving the gym 🙂

Not everyone likes weight training, even though it is a great way to get in shape. There are other ways! (blasphemy) Some people prefer running or swimming and like to just do cardio. Other people like team based sports. And still others like the competitive workouts of crossfit or martial arts. These are all legitimate ways to get in shape and I bet every person could find something fitness related that they LIKE to do.

I don’t just like lifting weights. I LOVE it. Very few things make me as happy as picking up heavy things and putting them down. I guess I’m pretty simple that way. 😉  haha

But sometimes I get it in my head to do workout “programs” or “methods”.  And I do. I experiment with these things all the time. But then I find myself skipping the gym a little too often. And when that happens I often go back to what I normally do… and I have an epiphany.

I have an epiphany that I have about once a year. A Re-piphany if you will.

And that is that I really like doing my own thing in the gym. My love of weights is contingent on it not being overly structured or programmed.

I’ve even blogged about it before! So why do I forget?

Well I’ll tell you why, but first let me tell you what I mean by “my own thing”

I like following frameworks, and not schedules. Principles and guidelines instead of a strict timeline and regimen. It keeps me engaged with the process and gives me the flexibility to adapt to my schedule outside of fitness or even how I am feeling that day.

If I follow a strict program that someone else designed I don’t feel like I’m really working towards MY goals… I’m working towards THEIR goals (or the ones they imagined for their user). And that’s great for the most part. But I inevitably can’t follow it to the letter because of such and such a reason and I end up modifying it, and then I am basically doing what I normally do anyways. EXCEPT now I feel guilty because I’m supposed to be following this program.

So now I have this ridiculous, self-imposed guilt that I’m carrying around, and my workouts start to suffer. I’m  not giving it my all, or if I am, I’m just not “feeling it”.

Stop that!

Let’s stop with the theoretical now. Yesterday I went to the gym and decided that I was getting really bored of the tempo I was imposing on myself from the program I’ve been following. It has a 1-0-3 tempo (1 seconds contraction, 0 second pause, and 3 second decentric movement) So that’s a slooooow down phase. It forces you to focus on form, and also means you probably have to drop the weight.

But I like lifting HEAVY. It’s motivating for me. So yesterday I decided to shed the tempo counts and just lift like a beast. It was back day and I really wasn’t feeling that into it at the start. There were no treadmills so I decided to warm up on the row machine. I managed to bang out over 1000 meters in 4 minutes! (1 min intervals) So that put me in a good mood.

Then the lat pull down machine was being used, which is normally where I start my  back day… ok well second in line is one arm rows, so I decided to start with that instead. With the slow tempo I had been using 40-45 pounds and struggling. But without the tempo restriction I decided to give 50’s a shot. After banging out 12 it felt pretty light. So I decided to try 60’s – My previous PR is 55 for the record. I did 10 clean reps with the 60’s and did a second set! It still felt pretty easy. So I upped it to 65 pounds and still managed a last set of 10 clean reps!!! I couldn’t stop smiling and definitely got a couple of weird looks.

After that I thought I would be completely toast for the rest of the workout. But I wasn’t I upped my weight on every single exercise. Partially because I was using a much faster tempo with gives you some momentum, but I think a lot of it had to do with me ENJOYING my workout.

OK, so here is my point.

I often want to try new programs because I see them around all the time. So and so it one this diet, that persons doing these workouts etc. So I give them a try, but in the process I lose sight of what I love about my workouts and they become a chore. It’s such a small change too! I’m not forcing myself to try to become a runner, I’m just using a different structure to my weight training sessions.

So listen up… if you feel like you can’t get in shape, or weight lifting just isn’t for you… that is OK. You are a unique person with individual likes and dislikes. But I promise you there is some form of fitness out there that you will fall in love with. You just have to find it! So experiment, try new sports, methods, times of day even! Just keep trying until you find what you love. And once you do, keep doing it! 🙂

Turning 25

Today is my birthday. I turned 25 today and I feel no different.

Usually on my Birthday I feel this big excitement build up to the day and then this sense of shedding and starting over for the next year of my life. No so this time around.

Enjoying time with my wonderful boyfriend on my birthday.

Enjoying time with my wonderful boyfriend on my birthday.

But it’s not a bad thing. I think instead that today feels like any other day because this past year has been one of the best and most balanced of my life.

There were most certainly some bumps along the road in the last year, but overall I felt very at ease.

Some of the things that contributed to this were:

  • I focused more on my health and fitness, and less on my appearance than I ever have in the past. I glorified in new PRs and didn’t worry so much about the scale. I enjoyed many a grassfed steak and didn’t cut off the fat. And it made me more whole and at peace with myself.
  • I moved back to Toronto where my family and best friend are… and my wonderful boyfriend moved with me. I now feel like I have a better relationship with my family, I actually see my best friend more than 3 times per year and get to spend every day with the love of my life, I don’t have to choose between time spent with any of them.
  • I actively chose to worry less about my work. I no longer put so much effort into appearing at social functions and being the social butterfly. I just did my job well, didn’t work excessive over time and when work was over, I didn’t think about it. I had a much easier time of this because I switched offices, so I didn’t have an existing pattern to try to reverse, but it was incredibly liberating. I still do an amazing job in my work, but I don’t put in so much effort to try to make everyone and their mother happy.

    Posing with my Doctor Who license plate cover with my brother.

    Posing with my Doctor Who license plate cover with my brother.

  • And more generally I just made an effort to enjoy life in an “easy” way. I didn’t go out clubbing and partying which is something that always felt hard for me, instead I went rock climbing, or for hikes, I drank wine and ate cheese, I completely vegged on the couch and watch whole seasons of Doctor Who with my sister.

This year has been the year where I finally feel like I figured out what makes me happy and what makes me feel whole. And it’s funny because it’s what I have always said it is, I just finally actively pursued those things. Health, fitness, family, friends and most importantly love.

So this coming year, before I turn 26, I want to make sure I have an even better year, and I have some goals and plans to make it one.

  1. Make a change in my career: I actually (finally) really like my job and the role I have, but it’s time for a change and the chance for new successes. This might be as small as looking for opportunities in another line of service, or a big change in moving to a new job.
  2. Be more compassionate to those I love: I tend to be hardest on those closest to me, probably because I am so hard on myself. But it’s something that I know I need to be more cognizant of and I am going to actively try to be more empathetic and not as quick to get frustrated.

    Some evidence of the "more moderate approach.

    Some evidence of the “more moderate” approach.

  3. Be more consistent with my fitness in the “off-season”: while I’m really happy with my progress in the past year, I know that in the few months after my show last October I really swung too far the other way because I was burnt out. This year, I have tried a more moderate approach and hope to maintain a more consistent training regime and diet throughout the year so I can…
  4. Compete in a figure competition and win!: I am trying my hand at a figure competition in just 6 short weeks, but my goal for this one is to just do my best, I would love to place, but it’s not actively my goal. That is for the next competition!
  5. Go on a super relaxing vacation: This year my boyfriend and I vacationed in california, 5 days were spent doing super intense hiking and the rest of the trip, while amazing, was crazy busy. This year I want to go and have a laid back trip, or at least part of a trip that is relaxing… I’ll probably get bored after 2 days on the beach and start trying to seek out adventures 😉

Thank you to everyone who has made this last year so special including all of the wonderful people I have “met” through blogging. You are the most amazing, supportive and creative group of people and I feel privileged to be part of this community.

Here’s hoping for another year like this one!

Fasting: Another tool in the belt

I am sure many of you in the fitness arena have heard of fasting or intermittent fasting, maybe you have even experimented with it. I have been doing a lot of research on it and a while back tried the lean gains protocol (back before competition prep started) but I didn’t find it suited me. Nonetheless I thought I would give my perspective on fasting protocols and how they fit or don’t fit into a fitness lifestyle.

Firstly, for women I think fasting is a lot harder both physiologically and psychologically than it is for men.

Physically, women are not made to fast for as long as easily as men. We generally have a harder time transitioning to burning fat for fuel for one. But what is more concerning is that fasting seems to have a negative impact on our hormonal balance leading to potentially negative consequences on reproductive health as well as general mood issues. 

Psychologically, many women have or still suffer from eating disorders, myself included. A major concern of mine with the proliferation of fasting is that women will use this as a socially acceptable reason not to eat. It’s very convenient to say that a meal is “not in your eating window” for the day, but then just not eat at all, or not eat enough. And we don’t need more excuses for disordered eating. 

So in general I think that if a woman is thinking about intermittent fasting it should either be done occasionally, or with a shorter fast or 14-16 hours only and not the 20 hours recommended by some protocols. 

That being said, fasting can be a great tool to use in certain circumstances. 

For instance, over the weekend I overindulged both calorically and with the amount of sodium I had. I felt very bloated and lethargic, so decided to embark on a single 24 hour fast. It’s important to note that although my fast was for a longer period of time, I have no intention of repeating it within the next few weeks. Many protocols recommend a 24 hour fast once per week… I think I would die. At the earliest I might fast again in 2 weeks, and that’s extremely unlikely. 

So why would I do this?

  1. Firstly, I did NOT do this as a punishment for overeating on the weekend… there was ZERO negative self talk about my indulgences on the weekend, only fond reminiscences of delicious chicken wings…. mmmmmmmmm 
  2. Fasting gives your digestive system a “rest”. It gives your system a chance to process all the food that is already in it without having to deal with the next things coming in. The is especially nice if you have eaten lots of hard to digest foods like meat and nuts (like I did). 
  3. I took extra vitamins and BCAAs to help my body with cleansing itself, which helped my system process everything in it already as well as limiting the potential for losing muscle during my fast
  4. It helps to restore glucose sensitivity if you have been eating a lot of carbs as you will not have any carbs throughout the entire day, keeping your insulin low and helping to deplete some of you glycogen stores and help burn some extra fat throughout the day.

It’s important to plan your fast to have the most benefit and do the least amount of damage.

  • If you plan on working out during your fast, try to workout at the end of your fast and eat right afterwards to limit muscle breakdown. 
    Alternate Day Fasting

    Alternate Day Fasting (Photo credit: HealthGauge)

  • Sip BCAAs throughout the day and especially during your workout again, to avoid muscle breakdown
  • Take supplements that help to detox the body like vitamin C in order to aid in the fasting’s cleanse
  • Take supplements that will help maintain electrolyte balance like magnesium 

If you are smart about it, fasting can be a great tool in your diet, but you have to make sure you physically and mentally prepare for a successful fast and don’t ever use a fast as a negative. 

Here is a fabulous article about fasting for women from Paleo for Women