What does health mean?

Health means different things to different people: physical, nutritional, mental, emotional, spiritual, anything that the person feels is blocking them or not allowing them to move forward or progress.

tempOver the 2017/2018 Christmas and New Year period, I allowed myself some downtime to think about what health meant to me and what I felt was lacking in my life. I wasn’t sleeping, my food wasn’t on point, my training and emotions were all over the place and I wasn’t giving myself any love and attention. The way I was treating myself was mirrored in what and whom I was attracting in friendships, relationships and situations.

After working incredibly hard during 2017 I had a decent book of business, but this was to the detriment of everything else in my life. This was the energy that I was giving out, therefore it is what I was getting back.

My personal life was a wreck last year. Among the suitors I attracted, was one particularly awful one who I met at my place of work, and who I still see on an almost daily basis. I was trapped in a relationship with him for 5 months, where he at times had a terrible temper, which was aimed at me. We had an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship, terrible rows and despite my 4 brains screaming at me to get out, especially after he was twice physically aggressive towards me in a heated argument, I stayed with him through what I can only assume was lack of self-love and self-esteem. He eventually cheated on me, most likely more than once. I was being shown the same amount of respect and love that I had been showing myself.

IMAG0054At the beginning of 2018, health for me therefore meant emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I started the year positive, determined to change the energy around me, but 4 weeks in nothing had changed and I drove myself into the ground by working long hours (including weekends), not sleeping enough and eating poorly. Whilst the extra calories helped my training, they didn’t do much for my self-esteem. When sleep deprived and low, I feel overwhelmed by things and people, and I jump straight into my hole. One of my friends picked up on this and nudged me to book a week back home so that I could reset.


What these past few weeks of turmoil have made me realise is that I have only 1 life, 1 body, 1 soul. I should be filling my time with people who care about me, activities that I enjoy doing, and not allowing anyone or anything to break through and pollute my energy. I am open and friendly, but know deep down that I have allowed into my inner circle of energy people who are not genuine with me or genuinely interested in me, even as a friend. The door is meant to swing both ways, but after being smacked in the face by it so many times over the past 12 months, I have finally decided that I need to come first. I have been making time again to meditate, which has helped a great deal with trying to balance out my energy and find myself again, after being emotionally and spiritually lost in 2017.

IMG_3430Step one: coming back to Portugal, my home, for a week, to my friends and family, and grounding myself again. I have only been here for a few days but I am feeling so much better already, after completely shutting down from work, sleeping, eating, spending time by myself, going for long walks on the beach and most of all, listening to myself. We lead such busy lives that we often don’t hear what our bodies and soul are trying to tell us. I have been able to block everything out and get back in touch with me. I have also been using a mood map to establish who and what I no longer want in my life as the feelings associated with them are negative. There is no room for negativity; only positivity and happiness.

Health for me, currently, is still my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. My 2018 starts again now, where I come first.


Do Fitbit Wristbands Work?

photo 2I am currently recovering from a left hip arthroscopy, with a left shoulder arthroscopy looming up, so I have been trying to find ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite not being able to exercise as I have been previously used to. I have gone from doing Strongman training, Olympic lifting, kettlebell training and running, to bodybuilding training and static cycling (for the hip), so my primary concern at the moment is whether I’m exercising enough and maintaining a balanced enough diet to allow me to still keep losing body fat while maintaining muscle mass.

dashboardWhen I heard about Fitbit I was intrigued as it appealed to the busier side of me – I liked the idea of everything being done automatically over wifi, therefore requiring little effort on my part. Like most people these days, I have very little time for anything that falls outside of routine and what I’ve planned for during the day, so Fitbit sounded like quite a convenient way for me to be able to monitor my exercise, steps walked, food/water intake and sleep for the day, all in one place, and mostly automatically. I looked into it and decided to buy the Flex wristband and Aria scales.


photo 1The Aria scales were fairly easy to set-up but I had to wait a few hours for the wristband battery to charge before setting up my account fully. While Fitbit does have their own programme to monitor food, there is the option of synching it with myfitnesspal (among others), which I have been using for years and have all my meals and frequent foods saved in. Synching the two was not as straightforward as claimed by the online instructions and I needed to link/unlink the accounts multiple times before the data started to flow through.

Monitoring sleep

5h29 sleepOne of the major appeals for wanting to use Fitbit was because it is able to monitor sleep (as well as it can, for what it is). Since starting my working life I’ve been a really poor sleeper and I wanted to know just how much sleep I am getting each night. Sleep is extremely important for muscle mass growth and it affects my performance in the gym. While I can get by in the office by having coffee, my body needs the physical and mental rest for me to be able to reach my goals, especially as I am always on the go and never stop. The body and mind need the 8 hour break overnight.

There are 2 settings for sleep – normal and sensitive. The normal setting only counts you as being restless when you physically turn over in bed. I used that setting for the first night and apparently I had 6h48m sleep. Seeing as I woke up feeling like death, I gathered the setting was too kind to me, so I have been using the sensitive setting since (which counts most movements as being restless) and I believe it is painting a more accurate picture.

3h32 sleepOver the past 14 days I have had between 3h32m – 5h29m sleep a night (taking me around 45-60 minutes to fall asleep), which is not enough for there not to be added stress on the body. I have a very demanding job, I’m studying sports nutrition on the side and I also ask a lot of my body in the gym. I’m a busy person. I have to resort to caffeine to compensate for my lack of sleep. 1 cup of coffee can raise cortisol levels for up to 2 days. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in the body in response to stress. If there are elevated levels of cortisol in the body for an extensive amount of time it can lead to weight gain, lack of quality sleep, cravings, headaches, chronic fatigue, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to a decrease in protein synthesis, which, for someone trying to put on (or at least maintain) muscle mass, is destructive. So while I know all of this, I still normally need 3 cups of coffee and pre-workout all before 12pm to be alert and “energised” enough for my lunchtime lifting session.

Changes to lifestyle

weightAs a result of seeing how poor my sleep patterns are, I have been making some changes to my caffeine intake during the day. As my workouts are not as intense as they were pre-op (except with my trainer) I’m no longer having my pre-workout drink and I am having only 2 cups of coffee. I’ve switched to jasmine tea after 12pm (so nothing with caffeine). I’ve also started to read paper books again in bed as opposed to watching/reading something on my tablet. My tablet is not allowed to cross the threshold into my bedroom! The bright screen of a tablet suppresses the creation of melatonin and interrupts the sleep/wake cycle. It’s therefore unreasonable to expect that as soon as the lights are out that your body will relax and sleep.

lean vs fatI receive notifications to let me know how far off my 10,000 daily steps I am, when I’ve hit my target or how many I have over-achieved in the day. Appealing to the competitive side of me, I have started taking stairs instead of lifts, walking up/down escalators and going for walks at the weekends (when I typically would have had at least 1 Pyjama Day and remained on the couch) to ensure I walk at least 10,000 steps each weekend day. I am normally closer to 15,000 steps on weekdays.


bmiThere are two main things missing from the Flex wristband – both of which will be most likely solved by the Surge and Charge models which are coming out in 2015. The first limitation is that it doesn’t always recognise my gym time as an “active” time of day. While I might be killing myself doing leg presses or push-ups, because the wristband is not moving, nothing gets registered. The other limitation is that it doesn’t monitor my heart rate, therefore I still need to wear my separate heart rate monitor when exercising. Once there is a heart rate monitor on it, it will definitely recognise my doing press-ups as one of my most active times in the day! I also don’t take too much notice of the body fat percentage reading as it is not really possible to get an accurate reading by standing on scales. If you want a good reading it is best to do calliper/skinfolds testing. Fitbit has me at 34% body fat whereas calliper testing has me at 23%.

Does it work?

While some people may think the Fitbit wristbands are just a gimmick, I have actually really benefitted from my Flex wristband and Aria scales in just 2 weeks as I have made what I consider to be some very positive changes to my lifestyle as I try to resolve one of the biggest issues that I have that is preventing me from reaching my lifestyle and fitness goals: lack of sleep.

Lifestyle, Nutrition

The Benefits of Water

Water DropWe’ve all read varying pieces of advice about needing to drink 2-3 litres a day of water but have you stopped to think about why? And is this pure water, liquids in general, does water from food count? So many of us don’t drink enough water, which is more detrimental to the body than we realise. The body is like a car: if you don’t give it petrol or motor oil or wiper fluid or air in the tyres, the car will break down and stop working. The body, just like a car, needs to be provided with nutrients and water in order for it to be able to survive and work properly. It is able to live longer without food than it is without water, as hydration allows the body to be able to function properly.

Liver - Male anatomy of human organs - x-ray viewBetween 45% and 60% of the body is made up of water around (45% for children, 55% for women and 60% for men) and all of our tissues, organs and fluids have water as a main constituent. It allows the body’s organs (such as the lining of mucus membranes, the digestive tract and the bronchial tubes) to be kept moist and hydrated enough to the allow them to function without putting added pressure on other organs. If we take the kidneys as an example, their primary task is to remove waste and excess water from the body in the form of urine, as well as maintain a balance of salts and other substances in the blood. If the kidneys are not functioning properly because they are not hydrated enough, they will transfer most of their functions to the liver, which in turn will not be able to perform one of its mains tasks which is to metabolise stored fat. If there is no fat metabolisation then it means that the person in question will start to gain weight.

Water also helps to lubricate joints and membranes; it transport nutrients throughout the body; it dissolves minerals and other substances for the body to absorb; and it holds substances in colloidal suspension; it stays as a liquid over various temperatures. Water also acts as an appetite suppressant, therefore the feeling of satiety is reached quicker. If there is a higher intake of water, the person will eat less and the body will metabolise fat more efficiently.

Pouring Water From Bottle Into Glass On Blue BackgroundThere are 3 hormones that regulate fluid loss (antidiuretic hormone and aldosterone which help with slowing down fluid loss in the urine; and atrial natriuretic peptide which increases urine flow rate). Fluid intake is made up of fluids that are ingested, food that is ingested and metabolic water (resulting from metabolic reactions in the body). Water loss is made up of excretion/evaporation from the GI tract, the lungs, through the skin and the kidneys. This typically accounts for 2500 ml in water gain/loss. Exercise/illness will cause an excess of fluid excretion, therefore, replacing the water lost is important. It is also important to understand that the fluids in the body (digestive juices, mucus, saliva, blood, lymph, sweat, urine) also have an impact on regulating fluid loss as they account for varying amounts of fluid in the body.

It is important to ensure that there is not an overload of fluids at any one time, therefore allowing the body to process the fluids. This can be achieved by regular intakes of fluid throughout the day (regularly spacing out the normally recommended 2 litres a day throughout the day) to ensure the right balance in the body. Over-hydration can also impact the body by creating hyponatremia (a reduction in the salt level in the blood) resulting in an electrolyte disturbance.

When the body doesn’t receive any nutrition it goes into starvation mode and holds on to the fat that is currently in the body to allow it to feed off it to ensure its survival. The same happens with water – if the body doesn’t receive any fluids it will start to hold on to the fluids it currently has (in the extracellular spaces in the body), known as fluid retention. Fluid retention generally results in swollen feet, ankles, legs and hands. Once the body starts to receive liquids it then starts to release the water that it has been holding on to for survival. Fluid retention can also be caused by the person’s sodium intake being too high, which requires an excess of water to dilute it before it then goes to the kidneys to be processed.

Kidneys - Male anatomy of human organs - x-ray viewFluid retention also causes other organs to start to become dehydrated as the body tries to hold on to water. One very obvious sign of water retention (and therefore dehydration in that specific organ) is constipation – the colon becomes less moist (which has a direct impact on bowel movements) as the body retains the moisture in other organs. In the case of the kidneys, water retention can actually cause kidney failure as the kidneys are no longer able to remove excess water from the body in the form of urine.

The average person requires around 2 litres of water a day (and an additional 250ml for every 25lbs they are overweight by). In hot climates or during sport the requirement will be higher given the loss of fluid through sweating. Many of us can suffer mild symptoms of dehydration during the day (which include fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, light-headedness, nausea or feeling excessively hot). You can also tell easily by the colour of your urine whether you are dehydrated – anything darker than pale yellow indicates that you need to drink more water.

There is the misconception that soft drinks or flavoured water can be counted towards the daily water intake requirement. While these will provide your body with the hydration needed, unfortunately, the amount of added sugar and chemicals that are in them will far outweigh any hydration benefits as you could be at risk of putting weight on, causing tooth decay or suffering an increase in blood sugar levels. Obesity in children is on the rise in Europe. In the UK the consumption of fizzy sugary drinks has doubled over the last 15 years and studies have shown that children and adults are missing out on essential nutrients in food because they are eating less at mealtimes following the constant consumption of fizzy drink.

abstract heart on purity waterIt’s easy to drink water throughout the day. People who know me know that I never go anywhere without a bottle of water. If I am going to meetings at work (which is here I spend most of my day nowadays) I am usually clutching my 1L bottle of still water and I periodically sip it. I always carry a bottle of water in my handbag also. If you can make 1 important change to your lifestyle, decrease your consumption of sugary drinks and replace them with water. Sparkling water with a fresh berry or a slice of lemon in the glass will satisfy your craving for taste. Your body will love you for it!

Lifestyle, Nutrition, Training

The Importance of Weight Management in Sport

Scale Weight.When discussing weight management in sport, it is important to discuss not only the physical importance of weight changes but also the mental effects they have on athletes. Weight loss is used in sport usually to qualify for a competitive weight category or to enhance performance. In order to lose body fat, the athlete needs to be expending more calories than are being consumed. This works best through a combination of diet and exercise as opposed to one or the other, and over a gradual period of time as opposed to through a quick crash diet. If we give the body time to adapt to the weight loss then there is a better chance that we will be able to maintain the weight loss, as opposed to if the weight loss is sudden, which can create secondary health issues.

Sumo wrestlerWhile a certain amount of body fat is important in order to survive, most sports require a loss of body fat in order to enhance performance. Carrying around an excess of fat can slow an athlete down (such as in explosive sports that require the athlete to move their body weight or a loaded bar quickly, as mechanical efficiency and power are reduced), it can affect their endurance (as an increase in fat can increase fatigue) and strength. One of the only sports where an increase in weight (typically body fat) is considered advantageous, is Sumo wrestling. While in most sports where being of a larger size allows for an increase in the momentum required for throwing an object or knocking an opponent over, Sumo wrestling is the only sport where the weight increase is generally fat as opposed to lean tissue; Strongman competitors, for example, are usually heavier but this is typically muscle mass as opposed to fat.

Woman holds fat fit silhouettes on a scale symbol of Diet WeightThere are 2 types of fat: essential fat and storage fat. Essential fat makes up around 3% of our body weight and is present around our organs to protect against damage, our brain tissue, cell membranes, nerve sheaths and bone marrow. Women have an additional sex-specific fat which makes up a further 5%-9% (usually around the hips and breasts) and aids with oestrogen production. As soon as a woman’s body fat starts to fall below 15%-20% there can be an impact on menstrual function. This is especially important to take into consideration with sports such as bodybuilding, where there is a requirement to have extremely low body fat percentage and hydration levels in order for the muscle bulk and fibres to be more visible. Storage fat is used as an energy reserve and is usually located subcutaneously (under the skin) and intra-abdominally (around the organs). Fat loss can occur from any area of the body and it is not possible to target one specific area for the fat to decrease as our fat utilisation patterns are based on our genetic make-up and our hormonal balance. Exercising (especially weight training) can help with increasing the muscle mass of that area but it will not affect the fat storage in that area as muscle and fat are two separate types of tissue and are non-interchangeable.

Bodybuilding fitness gym iconsBodybuilding is a good example of weight gain and weight loss in sport, as there are 2 phases that the athlete goes through in order to prepare for a competition: there is the bulking phase (also known as off-season) which lasts a couple of months (although there is no set timeframe) and then there is the cutting phase that usually happens in the months leading up to a competition where the aim is to lose body fat without jeopardising the muscle gains too much. During the bulking phase, the emphasis is on increasing the calorific intake (normally from an increase in lean meat, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats) versus expenditure so that the athlete puts weight on and more specifically muscle mass (as opposed to fat). This is the time where the athlete makes 95% of their improvements in their physique and therefore the right nutrition is required for this. While protein is usually used to build and maintain muscle mass, carbohydrates are especially important post-training as they increase the insulin levels and help the muscle to absorb the glycogen. Fats are also essential in building muscle, reducing cortisol, providing energy and increasing testosterone levels (the higher the testosterone levels, the more muscle mass; the more muscle mass, the higher the testosterone levels).

Back Of BodybuilderThe bulking phase can be a mentally difficult phase for the athlete as the emphasis is on putting muscle mass on but it is impossible to do this without putting on body fat also. This can sometimes cause the athlete to start questioning themselves and adapting their nutrition to not include as much fat or as many carbohydrates as are required to build muscle, given the visible increase in fat. If the athlete cuts too soon, they risk losing the muscle mass they have worked hard to put on. It then becomes a question of whether the athlete can cope mentally with their larger appearance whilst they wait for the cutting phase.

Bodybuilding. Man and womanDuring the cutting phase the emphasis is on reducing the body fat percentage while losing as little muscle mass as possible. While some muscle mass loss is expected, the diet is changed to decrease the carbohydrate intake and increase the protein intake (in order to save muscle mass) but having a carbohydrate-depleted diet can create a lack of energy which can also be mentally draining for the athlete who is trying to still exercise at the same level of intensity but with nowhere near the same amount of nutritional support. The cutting phase is also equally mentally challenging for the athlete, as while they look at their strongest because their muscle bulk and fibres are becoming more visible, they are actually at their weakest because their bodies are depleted of nutrition and their body fat is approaching dangerously low levels the closer they get to competition time.

Man sees other self in mirrorThis type of lifestyle can be rewarding for a short space of time after all the hard work, however, there are also health risks, both physical and mental. Constant yoyo dieting can increase heart disease, because when the athlete’s nutrition starts to normalise, the fat is usually re-deposited intra-abdominally (and therefore closer to the liver), rather than peripherally (the hips, thighs and arms); yoyo dieting can also cause a loss in lean organ tissue, which can damage the heart muscle. So while bodybuilders need to ensure that they are as lean as possible for their chosen sport, it can come with risks. It is, however, not only physical risks that can be associated with bodybuilding, but also emotional and mental issues, as the constant yoyo dieting and changing in body size can cause the athlete to start changing the way that they view themselves. This is known as body dysmorphic disorder and can be suffered by both men and women, where they are unable to see the true image of what they look like. They are not satisfied by their physical appearance and are in most cases unable to see the muscle bulk increase or body fat loss that the people around them can see. This causes them to keep pushing the boundaries and in some instances either develop an eating disorder or consider taking performance enhancing supplements to reach the next level; except that they will never reach the next level because of this disorder.

Female Resting With Intense WorkoutAny competitive sport is difficult to train for and excel in, as it is a combination of training periodization and the right nutrition that will give the athlete the tools to be able to prepare their body for competition day. Weight management plays a huge role in whether the athlete will make the necessary weight category, whether they will have enough strength to overpower their opponent, or whether their muscles will be more defined and symmetrical than the next competitor. The right nutrition can give an athlete the edge that is needed to reach the next level, however, yoyo dieting may not necessarily be the key to optimum health, given the mental and physical risks associated with it. It is therefore always preferable to manage weight in a more steady manner that allows the body to acclimatise to it and maintain the changes.