I'm pretty sure that just about every time I ask someone how they are these days the stock standard response seems to be "I'm good, busy". There is nothing wrong with this response of course and I don't doubt that it is genuinely the case, but it got me thinking - with everyone being so busy all the time, what are some strategies people can use to ensure they are eating well and adequately fuelling their on-the-go lifestyles?
Convenience foods are everywhere and sadly most of them are not the best choices for good health (highly processed, full bad fats, salt and sugar). Combine that with being hungry and needing a quick meal as you move from one task to another and you have the perfect environment for making less than ideal choices. Not eating the healthiest option every now and then is ok, but it shouldn't become a daily habit. Below are some tips that I have found helpful for ensuring I am fuelling myself with good food when I am busy (and not breaking the bank in the process):
Eating healthy on the go is doable and although it does require some forethought, your energy levels will be better and your body and wallet will thank you. Of course, the odd indulgence is fine – life would be no fun otherwise - but try to save those not so great for you treats for when you can actually sit down, savour and enjoy them, not for when you are in such a rush you are barely tasting what goes in your mouth.
Love, Health and Happiness,
Pilates was pioneered by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century and is widely believed to have been popularized by dancers because of its strengthening and rehabilitative qualities. It is a wonderful form of low-impact exercise. Its emphasis on deep breathing, being aware of your body, creating a strong mind/body connection and engaging your core in every movement, makes it a perfect compliment to other higher-impact forms of exercise, such as weight training, running or sports, which require balance, strength and co-ordination.
Pilates recruits your inner core muscles, those ones which help hold you upright and keep your spine straight, and focuses on always engaging your "powerhouse" (this is the area between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hip bones). Pilates uses a particular deep breathing technique to assist you to actively engage your powerhouse and other muscles. Its practice is based around the following 6 core principles:
From a personal perspective, I have found that the regular practice of Pilates (whether classes or incorporating some of the exercises into my workouts), has helped me maintain good core strength, has improved my co-ordination and my mind/body connection is stronger. This has been highly beneficial for running, weight training, sports and my posture. In addition, I think that a Pilates class is a wonderful exercise in mindfulness - you are so focused on your body, your breathing and the movements that everything else just fades into the background. I find that Pilates leaves me with the same sense of inner calm as yoga does. If you are looking to try something new, or wanting to improve your core strength and mind/body connection, I highly recommend you give Pilates a go.
Love, Health and Happiness,
If you have ever set foot in a health store, a gym or read a magazine (particularly one aimed at women) you will have noticed that the diet and fitness industries constantly promote all sorts of 'magic' pills and potions that promise to help you lose weight, burn fat, gain muscle, get stronger, be happier, be more attractive, turn into a sparkly unicorn with magical powers - well maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. Each of these advertisements and the supplements they market target people's insecurities about their bodies and suck them into believing that if they buy these pills and potions they will obtain the body they have always wanted and their life will then be perfect.
In a seemingly endless sea of supplements, there is one which is consistently promoted as being the key to muscle gain and weight/fat loss. That is protein powder. Body builders, bikini/fitness models and athletes all promote one brand or another and credit it with being the key to their physiques and to their success in their chosen field. But what about the average everyday fitness enthusiast - is protein powder really necessary, or is it an expensive bit of hocus pocus?
It is well documented that we need to consume an adequate amount of protein everyday for general health and that in order to build and maintain muscle having a sufficient daily protein intake is key (generally accepted guidelines are 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day for an average person and 1.4-2g of protein per kg of body weight per day for a person who exercises regularly). Most people (whether vegetarian or omnivore), if they are eating a varied and balanced diet, are able to meet their daily protein requirements through food alone without having to resort to using protein powder. On this basis, it is not necessary to include protein powder as part of your diet. However, with that being said, protein powder is an easy way to get some of your daily protein and is much more convenient than carrying around a cooked chicken breast (which contains about the same amount of protein as 1 scoop of protein powder). For this reason, I think that protein powder, while not absolutely necessary, is definitely a helpful tool in a busy fitness bunny's arsenal. It is also versatile, it can be drunk as a shake on its own or it can be mixed into all sorts of things (oats, yoghurt, smoothies, baking). I keep a tub of protein powder in my office drawer so that when I get to work after the gym in the mornings I can have a protein shake with my breakfast and know that my muscles are being adequately refuelled after my workout. This also helps keep me full until lunchtime as protein is satiating.
If you have never looked at using protein powder before, the large number of brands and types available can be quite baffling. Whey protein is generally the most common type but you can also get egg white, soy, casein, brown rice, and pea protein, to name a few. There are also protein powders aimed at men who want to gain "mass" and "size" and protein powders aimed at women who want to get "lean" and "toned". But don't be fooled by the marketing, in reality these are essentially the same product with different packaging and with maybe a few different ingredients or a slightly different ratio of protein : carbohydrates : fat. Personally, I switch between a whey protein powder and a brown rice one depending on what I feel like and I always go for the natural protein powders that have the least amount of ingredients (ones that I can actually understand what they are) and no artificial sweeteners.
If, like me, you decide to use protein powder to help you reach your daily protein requirements, from my perspective, there is one key thing that you should keep in mind - it is a convenient supplement to help you reach your required protein intake for the day but it is not magical. Simply taking protein powder will not cause you to instantly gain muscle or to slim down. Muscle gain or weight/fat loss (depending on your goals) are ultimately the result of a consistently good diet and regular exercise.
Think of your body as being like a cake (who doesn't love cake). The base layer of the cake is your diet - this is the most important factor and will have a large impact on how good the cake is overall, so it must have a good consistency, texture and taste. The icing on the cake is the exercise you do - this should complement the cake and be neither too thin nor too thick. Finally, the sprinkles on the top are supplements such as protein powder - these look nice and add that extra bit of oomph to the cake, but have no real impact on it as a whole. To have an amazing cake overall you need the cake itself, the icing and the sprinkles to work together. If the base layer of the cake is bad, it wont be saved by the icing or the sprinkles no matter how good they are. Essentially, you cannot out exercise or out supplement a bad diet.
To sum up - protein powder is not necessary for most people if they eat a balanced diet, but it is a convenient way to refuel your muscles after a workout and ensure you are reaching your required protein intake for the day. It is not a fix-all and will be of no benefit to you and your body (and a huge waste of money) if your diet is not consistently good and you do not exercise regularly. Whether you choose to use protein powder or not is entirely up to you and your personal preferences and goals. I recommend always doing your research on the kind you are buying (look up any ingredients if you are unsure of what they are) and don't get sucked into the shiny, exciting advertising that goes alongside it - no matter how much you want it to, protein powder (or any supplement for that matter), will not turn you into a sparkly unicorn with magical powers.
Love, health and happiness,
Yoga is the 'in' thing to do right now, although it is by no means a new form of exercise - the practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years. There are yoga studios popping up everywhere in Auckland, lines of activewear dedicated exclusively to it and wearing yoga pants as an everyday outfit (guilty!) has become socially acceptable. I had heard people rave about how much they love it - my parents, sister, friends, the internet - and my cousin is a yoga teacher in Christchurch (she runs her studio from her home and always looks glowing and amazing), so I thought I should give it a try.
Luckily for me, there are regular classes at community hall just down the road from my house so I really didn't have to make much of an effort to find one that fit my schedule and was easy to get to. I have done a lot of Pilates throughout the years and really enjoy it so I was interested to see how yoga compared. Feeling a little nervous and unsure of what to expect I attended a Saturday morning 'flow' class (I am still learning the differences between the various styles). I was greeted by a fantastically friendly and warm teacher and a welcoming group of people, so I felt instantly at ease. Once the class started it took me a while to settle in and focus my ever-racing mind on the poses, the position of my body in space and my breathing, but once I did that I found my 'zen' (like I do when I'm at the gym or running) and the hour and a bit class raced by.
I found some of the poses more difficult than others and felt 'the burn' in my muscles during some of them, especially in my quads during the warrior pose sequence, which I wasn't expecting. It was certainly more of a workout that I was anticipating and quite different from Pilates. I loved the encouragement from the teacher to just "do what feels right for your body" and that whatever that was, was 100% fine. Afterward I felt very relaxed and bendy - sitting at a desk all day combined with lifting heavy weights several times a week means I am often tight throughout my hip flexors, hamstrings back and neck - yoga stretched all of that tension out. I really enjoyed my first yoga experience and I can certainly see why people love it and why it suits all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. I think it's something that I will try to incorporate into my life on a regular basis.
Love, health and happiness,
I have always been what I would consider a fairly active person. From the ages of 3 to 18 I was always involved in some form of dancing (including competitively for a significant period of time) and/or sport. During high school I also played hockey for our top school team, did Pilates and gymmed/ran intermittently in the off season. When I finished school and moved to Dunedin for university, no longer having any structure to my exercise routine and being more interested in going out and partying than going for a run, my routine fell to pieces and I became rather unfit.
In my second year of uni I got back on the exercise wagon, making it a key part of my life and I have never looked back. I discovered the magical stress-relieving properties of exercise and began to (and still do) see it as my time out away from everyone and everything, like a form of mediation. I go into my zone and have fun setting myself challenges and completing them, always competing against myself.
What has changed in the last 10 years has been the types of exercise I do. I love trying new things and have done everything from zumba, to long distance running, to kick boxing and hip hop. I used to be very focused on cardio training and weights were an after-thought. However, just over two years ago, I decided to take more of an interest in health and exercise and encouraged by my SO (who is always super fit) and a friend who was very much into lifting, I began lifting weights as much as I did cardio. The changes in my body were noticeable within a short period of time. I was tighter, leaner and most important of all, stronger.
These days I continue to take an active interest in and educate myself on all things fitness, health and well-being related. I lift 4x a week now (with a 5-10min warm-up being the only cardio component) with the odd run thrown in every few weekends. During this time I have noticed that my cardio level of fitness hasn't actually decreased at all from the pre-lifting days in which I ran 5-15km 3-4x a week. I have dabbled in a variety of strength and hypertrophy training programs and have found that a 4 day upper/lower split, with each muscle group being worked out twice a week, works best for me (I'm currently running a modified version of a program called PHUL and really enjoying it, in case anyone's interested).
So how has lifting weights changed my fitness journey? It has boosted my self confidence and I love the feeling of lifting heavier or for more reps than I did in my last session - always challenging myself to beat myself. I can squat, bench and deadlift more than my own body weight in each lift (I'm aiming to hit a 2x body weight deadlift this year). I can do proper push ups and on a good day I can do 7 full unassisted pull ups. I wouldn't say I'm crazy strong and I'm certainly not crazily muscled, but I would like to think that I am "toned" and strong relative to my size. I have learnt the importance of proper nutrition and rest and that these things are an absolute must for both improvement and recovery. I'm no longer scared of the weights room at the gym and have actually found that most of the guys in there are very nice, considerate and decent to any women who do venture away from the cardio machines. The weights room at the gym used to be considered the realm of men only, but that is changing - there are some amazing women at my gym who lift heavy weights regularly and look fantastic. I have learnt that lifting weights won't make me bulky and that to be fit and toned I do not have to spend hours doing cardio (boring!) I have enjoyed researching and teaching myself new lifts and techniques. But most of all, I feel empowered. Women should be proud of the space they take up, instead of always striving to be smaller, and should love their body (easier said than done I know) no matter what size or shape for all of the amazing things it can do.
I would wholeheartedly encourage all women to lift weights - you don't have to give up cardio if you don't want to, you don't even have to lift a lot (beginning with some simple body weight exercises until you build up some strength and get your form right is a good start). I can tell you that the benefits are 100% worth it - you will look amazing and feel sassy, strong and powerful - and I promise you won't turn into the hulk as soon as you lift a barbell!
Love, health and happiness,