Over eating doesn’t always have to be bad
Food is fuel, there is no question about it. We need food for energy, growth, health and concentration. Without it, we can’t expect to be productive and accomplish tasks to the best of our ability. The same applies in the gym…
Last week was the long bank holiday weekend and, as expected over the Easter period, I treated myself to plenty of chocolate and delicious treats. I ate out (and drank) on multiple occasions, loosely tracking my macros, but most definitely eating in a calorific surplus. Whilst I had a lot of fun and didn’t regret any of it (apart from the tub of Reeses peanut butter I drunkenly devoured in the early hours of Friday morning), I was aware that I was not sticking to my calorie allowance and would consequently gain a little bit of fat over the course of the 5 days.
Whilst my eating may not have been as strict as normal, eating high carb every day, rather than following my usual carb cycle, my training was through the roof. I had energy like the Duracell bunny, smashing out rep after rep of heavy lifts and even managed to make a 7.5kg PB on my squat cleans (mostly down to a technique change but still!). My body recovered super fast from each workout and I felt alive and motivated to keep adding in sets and new exercises. It’s safe to say I put those extra calories to great use and felt awesome for it.
Now let’s compare the above to the current week I have just had. To compensate for my high food intake, I dropped my calories down to 1700 on Tuesday and Thursday. On Wednesday and Friday, I consumed my usual 2000 calories, but due to not factoring in sufficient time for dinner before going out drinking, a good 750 of them were from alcohol rather than nutritious foods. Over the week, I was in a calorie deficit, consuming an insufficient quantity of real food.
Considering all of this, it’s pretty ridiculous to think how confidently I strolled into the gym on Saturday morning, expecting to hit some PBs. As you can probably guess, within minutes of starting my workout, my energy levels felt low, my muscles felt drained, PBs were not on the cards and I left the gym feeling pretty disappointed.
Now I don't need to reiterate how important food is for productivity in general day to day life and for exercising to any sort of respectable level – I mean, pre and post workout snacks wouldn’t be a thing otherwise. But looking closely at the past couple of weeks and comparing my workouts, has really highlighted this for me. To be able to build muscle and get stronger, you don’t just need to be eating decent protein levels, you need to be eating a sufficient quantity of food. When I first started my program, eating 1200 calories a day, yes I was losing body fat quickly, but I wasn’t making anywhere near the progress I am now. I don’t know if I was getting much stronger at all to be honest. Now I consistently discover new weights I never thought I could lift and surprise myself by how much I can do week on week. That’s not possible in a huge calorie deficit. By really fuelling my body with high volumes of food, I give myself the opportunity to surpass goals quicker than I thought I could.
What I’m trying to say with this story, is that we need food for exercise and we need more food for exercising harder and improving. Obviously everything in moderation and I’m not suggesting eating pints of ice cream every day, but if you use your calories wisely, then eating a little more than normal isn’t necessarily something to be scared of, it’s something to be embraced. It is the best way to fuel your training and get a little bit more out of yourself.
So next time you want an extra slice of cake or extra cheese on your pasta, don’t immediately shy away from it, even if you are trying to lose weight. Think of it as fuel for your workout, allowing you to lift heavier weights for more reps and ultimately, burn more calories and build more strength in the process.
Let’s talk about progress…
I am most definitely a fan of taking photos as a way to track progress and often find myself in front of the mirror doing just that. But one of the big problems I have found recently with photos, is how much the lighting and positioning can affect the overall image. In some pictures I compare, I look as though I have made the most incredible change in a matter of days and similarly, when I compare photos months apart, I see minimal change or even regression. I have to admit it can be pretty demoralising.
Take these particular photos for example. What do you think - A few days between the shots? A week? Maybe a month difference? Would you believe, especially with the amount of work that has gone into training and eating in this time, they are actually 6 months apart? Considering how proud I have been at some of the photos I have taken over this time, I have to say, I had expected there to be much more of a wow factor...
After a bit of time playing around with filters trying to create a bigger difference than there was and overthinking what I’d clearly been doing wrong for half a year, I decided to take a step back for a second, forget about the ab lines and measurements, and really compare the two.
In the first lot of photos, the girl you are looking at eats an average of 1200 calories a day, staying away from carbs and constantly thinking about every piece of food passing her lips. She trains about 4 times a week, hitting decent lifts, but nothing serious to show off about. She avoids going out for meals with friends and prefers to see them for a coffee or at a non meal time so she can make sure she knows exactly how much she has eaten.
Now look at the second girl. She eats 2000 calories a day, mixing Cadbury’s chocolate spread, peanut butter and Reeses pieces into her big bowl of porridge. She also trains 4-5 times a week, but she can deadlift almost double her body weight, clean her body weight and squat a whole lot. She makes arrangements with friends at the weekend and goes out for pizza (with garlic bread to start and maybe a dessert if her company is game). Yes she still cares about what she is eating and sticks to her regime the majority of the week, but she’s not afraid to eat ‘bad foods’ when she wants them. In fact, she has a nutella/lotus biscuit spread/whatever indulgent spread she can get her hands on, before bed every day.
You see, sometimes progress is more than what first meets the eye and can’t simple be decided by a tape measure, instagram filter or scale number. Sure they have their use and I do recommend you use them, but they are not the be all and end all and we really shouldn’t get too hung up on what they show. Success should be how you feel when you put your clothes on, hit a new lift in the gym or when you order what you actually want off a restaurant menu. Because sometimes it’s the progress that no one else can see, that really means the most.
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Quick Calories Burners
Haven’t got much time, but want to fit in a quick workout?
I’ve pulled together my 5 favourite HR raising workouts sure to get your blood pumping and metabolism racing. Squeeze these into your day and you’ll definitely feel the benefits! You could even add them on at the end of your session for some extra fire.
Feel free to adapt the specific exercises to fit your needs/style, but if you’re short on time and looking to burn up some calories quickly, these workout structures are definite winners in my book.
- Every minute on the minute - 5 rounds (10min):
(complete total reps as fast as possible, resting until the next minute kicks in, then begin the next exercise)
- 50 skips with skipping rope
- 10 spider walk out into push up
2. Barbell complex - 5 rounds, 2-3 minute rest (20min)
- 8-10 deadlifts
- 5-6 cleans
- 5-6 power presses
- 12-15 back squats
3. Tabata – 3x 8 rounds (15 min)
(20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest x 8 alternating between the 2 exercises. Then 1 minute recovery before round 2 etc)
- Push ups
- Mountain Climbers
- Air jacks/star jumps
- Box jumps
- Kettle bell swings
4. 20:20:20 – 5 rounds (15 min)
(complete all 20 reps of each exercise, 1 min recovery between rounds)
- 20 Slam balls
- 20 walking lunges with weights
- 20 Russian twists
5. Sprints – as many rounds as you like until you get bored/knackered
(I usually do about 6 – 8 rounds worth, so15-20 min with warm up and cool down)
- 30-45 seconds sprint eg. level 15
- 60 seconds fast walk eg. level 6.5
Give them a go and let me know how you get on!