I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to come to this point. This insight. This inner peace. After years of being slightly terrified of getting back into an exercise routine, I have finally made the jump. During my world traveling, I kept noticing an inner desire to start working out again. Of course, a part of this came from feeling like I was losing fitness and very obviously (due to the most part of my traveling partner, my dad & also because I was immersed in Italy and Paris and happily making the most of it) eating and drinking differently to the way I do at home, as a Nutritionist. However, it was more than that. I was experiencing a yearning for exercise.
I’ve been experiencing a ‘yearning’ (so to speak) for exercise for quite some time; since I stopped my exercise routine a few years ago. However, this particular yearning was different. It wasn’t one that was stopping me from living. It wasn’t something that was controlling me. There is something to be said about following your intuition and listening to your inner cues. There were many times when I would go through the stories in my head about why I wasn’t exercising- telling me that I was just in fear, I was just being lazy or that I would never get into exercise again. I would try going for runs and doing yoga- however, it just didn’t feel right. Something wasn’t in alignment.
I’ve always tried to be the girl that did yoga and was considered a ‘yogi’. I’ve always wanted to be that girl. Why did I want it so bad? Was it because of the image that is associated with a girl who does yoga? Probably. When someone hears that you do yoga- they immediately think that you are a) fit b) dedicated and c) evolved. That’s what jumps into my head (those good old judgements we sometimes can’t avoid), when I learn that someone does yoga daily. More often than not, this is true- however, it’s not the reason why people do yoga. I think. I’ve always been the type of person that isn’t able to do something for too long if it doesn’t feel right. There have been times when I’ve ignored my intuition and done it anyways- but more often than not, I’d feel the “payback” for avoiding my inner voice. There is a lot to be said about conditioning and growth. Although we continue to grow and get older- we still remain the same inside. Thus, we tend to continue to be attracted to the same things that we always were. This is due to a lot of reasons (spirituality, psychology, personality psychology, sociology, cultural sociology, genetics, science- you name it), however- it still remains true; our fundamental core does not change.
I’ve always been more attracted to individual sport activity. In school- I enjoyed cross country, badminton (singles) & horse riding much more than basketball and other team sports. I still did those team sports (mostly because I felt like I should to maintain my ‘status’ and ‘image’)- however, deep down I knew that a cross country practice was way more rewarding for me than a basketball team practice. Fast-forward to now, same thing remains. This doesn’t mean to say that I can’t do team things. I can thrive in group work and team activities and love to work with people. My comfort, though, is to work on my own. This makes a lot of sense to me. I like to work on my own because that way I can put more focus on the task at hand and less focus on worrying/thinking about what everyone else is doing and thinking about me. I have less fear of judgement. I have less fear of disappointment. I have less fear of losing love or not being loved. One may argue that as a result- I will experience the most growth putting myself into these group environments where I have to face these fears. Absolutely! However, it doesn’t mean that I have to spend my ENTIRE life in a group. I know from experience that I thrive in independence. For example, I love writing. One of my absolute favourite things to do- is what I am doing riiiiight now. Sitting in a café, sipping on a delicious drink (coffee, a green juice, tea) and writing while listening to music. So much so, that sometimes- when I am in a group environment I experience thoughts like ‘man, I wish I could just go and write right now’ or ‘wow, that’s a great blog topic’.
So, with this in mind- the question begs: isn’t yoga an independent activity? Sure. In fact, yes, it is. However, for me at this point in time, going to a yoga class includes doing an activity with a group of people- all at the same time. This creates an environment for me to have those same fears: do these people think I’m doing good? Do I look as good as her? He’s doing the movement better than me. I’m sure that these are all thoughts that frequent a lot of people’s minds. The thing is- for me- when I’m doing other activities, they don’t. This brings me to my next topic: being in the zone. I was introduced to this idea a long time ago- however, I forgot about it until just last week. I attended one of Josh Gitalis’ talks where he discussed the 5 Key Strategies for Running a Successful Practice. He mentioned the idea of “being in the zone”, defining it as the moment when time becomes immeasurable and hours go by in a flash. Going into this, deeper, I think of it as the moment when you are fully present. You are not thinking about what has been or what will come (or who thinks what); you are just being. Some people say that this is a place that can only be achieved through one thing in your life. I don’t think that this is true. I think that once you consciously discover what your zone is- you can experience it all the time, in all facets of your life. It’s about being, instead of doing or not doing. For instance- I feel my zone when I’m writing, when I’m horse riding, when I’m having a beautiful conversation with a dear friend, when I’m cooking and in relation to this post- when I am working out with my personal trainer.
Since I got back from my trip I felt this deep desire to contact an old & dear friend, Michael Okech. We worked together years ago (back in the day when I worked at Golds Gym) and always had an authentic connection (I always felt like he is an awesome person and felt comfortable with him). As soon as I got back from Hawaii I started personal training with him- and I have been ever since. What can I say: it’s been incredible. It was time. I know so deeply that I was ready, it was time. I know this so well, because I have been supporting my body (with nutrition) since I started getting back into training.
I started working out when I was quite young, I remember how it began so clearly. In middle school- every semester we had to run the Mile Run. This was a moment that each and every one of us despised so incredibly deeply- that the moment the day came when our PE (physical education) teacher greeted us with a warm and sneaky smile while declaring “the day has come everyone, get to the lower field, you’re running the mile run”, we all felt a visceral response of pain. I too hated this moment very much. Especially back in the earlier years of middle school when I was out of shape and slightly overweight (unfortunately, like so many kids now a days in our world). However, once 7th grade came around- and I started controlling what I ate and lost a little bit of weight, everything changed. That day came around, and I ran the mile run. However, this time around- I didn’t hate it and I didn’t suck. I ran the mile in 7 minutes. Now a days it seems pretty crazy how slow we were running that mile (and how far and long it felt at the time) but back then, 7 minutes was pretty good. So good, that my teacher noticed and immediately asked me if I had ever thought about joining the cross country team. Me? The Cross Country Team, no way. I couldn’t believe someone thought of me as a runner. That’s when it all began. Running, sports, working out and unfortunately, eating disorders. It was a correlation of things of course (external stimuli, media, magazines, celebrities, peer pressure)- however, everything in my life became about losing weight and desperately searching for love. This equated into all exercise being void of any nutritional understanding or support. I would run in practices and races without any food before, during or after. I would work out for hours in each day without any food. It was a dangerous and slippery slope- that lasted all the way up until, well, now. Even in University, I worked out religiously and strenuously, sometimes 2-3 times a day- all the while not thinking about what to eat or drink before and after. Instead, I would work my hardest to staple my hunger and avoid all hunger so that I could have less calories available to burn and therefore- burn all the excess fat I hated so much. Makes sense right? If you don’t eat before and after exercising- then your body will just burn off your fat and you will get skinny and beautiful.
This, my friends, is not the case. This is where my nutrition background comes in. This really has taken me a while to come to. Even once I learnt it, I still didn’t accept it. I suppose I still didn’t want to believe it. My mind would say to me: ‘sure, this may work with most people, but it doesn’t with my body’. After years and years of control and practicing this “starvation mode” to losing weight and controlling my eating habits; the idea that you needed to eat to increase your health & to look and feel better- was completely ludicrous. I was in total fear of it.
So how does exercise nutrition work? It’s quite intricate (after all, it’s about our body and it’s systems of metabolism) and as with anything and everything in relation to bodies, biology, and nutrition (as well as exercise & diet), mostly everyone has an opinion about it. There is however, some straight facts- when it comes to exercise nutrition, that you simply cannot argue with. First off, you can split it up into three parts: pre-exercise nutrition, (during) exercise nutrition and post-exercise nutrition. The first point is this; they are all important when it comes to performance, sustainability and recovery. When you think about exercise it’s just another activity you are asking of your body. Depending on the type of activity/exercise you are doing- your body requires something in order to perform at it’s best. Thus, exercise nutrition is going to differ when comparing an elite athlete to a regular gym work out. The duration of a work-out also changes the required nutritional support. A long distance runner requires something different to a sprinter. The level that you take in exercise nutrition also relates to how important your fitness and performance is to you. What I mean by this is, there are varying levels of depth & understanding when it comes to nutrition. The simplified version and the in-depth version. An elite athlete would probably be looking more into the in-depth version (that would make sense). However, there are some simple steps that everyone should truly follow when it comes to exercising in general. That’s what I am going to be talking about more today.
Before we get into any of this, know this simple fact- exercise and nutrition go together. There is no one or the other! These are both forms of supporting our bodies and sustaining a healthy and happy vesicle within which we can continue to live and enjoy life in. Treat it with love.
Contrary to what I practiced for many years, it is important that your body has available fuel before a work out. The reason this is important is because if there is no available fuel (aka, glucose)- then it will search for it in other ways. Our bodies are incredibly resourceful in this way. Now, to a certain extent, this can also be broken down into what type of work out you are doing- muscle building/strength or cardio. However, regardless of the type of exercise or duration- everybody needs fuel to work out.
The best and most available form of fuel is something that is easy to digest, easy to eat and full of natural nutrition- Fruit! Fruit is filled with an amazing list of nutrition that is great for you and your body during a work. Also, fruit is the easiest thing to digest- thus, your body won’t be using it’s energy digesting- while it is being asked to perform an exercise/activity. When it comes to pre-workout nutrition, the most important thing is to keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate things. I know that there are hundreds (thousands) of supplements out there that promise you weight loss, crazy amounts of energy- and all that jazz. However, when it comes down to it- our bodies want simplicity. If you are in need of an energy kick before a workout a bit of caffeine doesn’t hurt (green tea), however, it’s important that you don’t burden your body with high protein and fat meals before a work out. If you are going to be focusing solely on muscle-building during your work-out, then simple forms of fat are a good way to sustain satiety and avoid any hunger pangs.
Before any work-out, upon waking I always start my day with a large glass (1 liter mason jar) with fresh lemons (I put the whole thing in there, cut in half)- with filtered water and a splash of boiled water. This creates a room temperature drink that is fantastic for waking the body, igniting the work of my body’s organs and starting the process of detoxification and elimination.
A good example of a breakfast to have before doing a muscle-building workout is: sliced apple with nut butter & cinnamon, dates stuffed with nut butter OR a simple apple or berry buckwheat/quinoa porridge. Cinnamon is always a great addition to a breakfast because it is a fantastic blood glucose stabilizer and helps to slow the assimilation of sugar into the body. Apples and berries are great sources of sugar because they are lower on the glycemic index, meaning that they have a more gradual effect on your blood sugar (they don’t spike your blood sugar). Nut butters are great sources of fat because they are whole foods, unsaturated fats and seriously delicious. Combining fruit with a good quality nut butter (raw, organic, unpasteurized is the most optimal form) allows your body to digest the food slightly slower and thus, ease your hunger longer.
That being said, if you are doing a work-out that is mostly cardio or HIIT-style (high intensity interval) training, I recommend sticking to a simple pre-workout meal, such as fruit or a light juice/smoothie. A great source of glucose is beet sugar! Making a simple juice with beets is a great way to obtain the energy needed for your performance.
During Workout Nutrition:
This side of nutrition becomes important if you are exercising over a longer duration and at a high intensity. For example, an elite athlete such as a football player or marathon runner. The most important thing to do BEFORE and DURING a workout is hydrate. Always make sure to drink water before you work out- not only do you lose a lot of water throughout your workout- water is also required for a lot of processes that take place during and after a workout. Similar to pre-workout- if you are working out over a long period of time it is optimal to have something that is a quick and easy source of natural sugar such as fruit or my favourite suggestion: dates! Not only are dates easy to eat- they are also an optimal form of glucose that is both easy to digest and optimal for assimilation.
When it comes to exercise and eating, post-workout is severely deprived of a general understanding and consensus. The key with post-workout nutrition is that what you consume (or don’t consume) after exercising will greatly affect your body’s recovery and building process. The best analogy to use when discussing the body and fuel is a car and fuel. Just like fuelling up a tank before a long-drive- it is just as important to re-fuel your car when your tank is close to empty, before you park it. Otherwise, you run the risk of running out of fuel the next time you drive. If you re-fuel (with the right fuel) before you park your car, you will be able to drive a longer distance on the next drive- before stopping at the gas station again.
The same applies to your body. After a work out, a few factors affect your recovery process. The type of nutrition and timing are the two main factors. If you finish a work out and don’t replenish your body with food and water- you are not only going to be really sore and tired the next day; you will not benefit from the workout like you would if you supported your body with nutrition.
The three most important variables to keep in mind when discussing post-workout nutrition are: 1) replenishing energy stores 2) increasing muscle size or quality 3) repairing any damage caused by the workout. If these factors are established through nutrition then you are able to increase your performance, improve your appearance and decrease your recovery time (thus, increase your amount of activity over time). Also, a large benefit is that by becoming stronger- you are preventing yourself and your body from suffering from an injury. I have witnessed these beneficial effects first hand from proper post-workout nutrition. I have experienced less soreness, I can work out more, I have more energy and my performance and appearance have improved fantastically!
The two important food groups to focus on post-workout are carbohydrates and protein. This is where confusion seems to have developed (including my own prior to nutrition school). The common misconception is too stay away from carbohydrates after exercising, or else you will gain weight or cancel out the hard work you have just put yourself through. The truth is quite the opposite. Providing your body with the right & available nutrients will prompt it to utilize the workout more to it’s benefit.
What is oftentimes referred to as the ‘window of opportunity’, refers to the time period after exercising that is short and vital for recovery. Most research and science dictates that this window is as short as 2 hours. This is the time when your muscles are really primed and ready to accept the nutrients to repair, build and strengthen. Immediately post-workout, (right after to up to 20-30 mins after) it is optimal to get a good source of carbohydrates in, so that your body can immediately begin it’s recovery. A piece of fruit is a great option! An apple, grapefruit or berries (bananas too, I just tend to stay away from them because they are overly “sprayed” with pesticides unless organic and well sourced). Research suggests that the most optimal post-workout snack should have a 4:1 carb to protein ratio, thus I suggest a piece of fruit or post-workout drink.
Once you’ve showered and recovered from your workout (1-1 1/2 hours after workout) you can have your recovery meal that can also include fat– I tend to have a salad that contains a good combination of carb:protein:fat.
I must admit, I am pretty shocked that I am writing on this topic. Not only that, but I’ve been really drawn to it lately (aka thinking about it, talking about it, going back and looking at my nutrition books and reading on it). There is still a part of me that I am conscious of that wants to control it and take it to an extreme. I witness those thoughts before and after a workout such as “am I losing weight, do I look different?” However, these thoughts are not controlling me in the same way. I am eating before and I am eating after. I can feel there is a shift and there is a balance. I can feel that my body is getting stronger (versus before where all I could feel is that I was getting skinnier).
This shift that I’m speaking to also reminds of Josh Gitalis’ talk. In his Clinical Nutrition Practice- he has a health model that he discusses with each and everyone of his clients. This model is somewhat like a timeline- that goes in two directions (a straight line). One direction is towards health while the other is towards illness/death. I believe this model is totally accurate. I have come to realize that in my life- I am always moving in one of two directions: towards love or towards fear (away from love). Thus, in relation to this model- I used to use exercise as a way to move away from love (and in actuality, towards illness/death). This shift that I have recently noticed (gradually over the past 2 years) is a shift in the direction I am moving- I am now moving towards love. It’s such a visceral shift, that as soon as I realized this, I truly, madly and deeply felt it. I used to choose to do a lot of things that were moving in the direction of illness, self destruction and fear. It used to be my choice of movement, it was my place of comfort (pain). I think that a lot of people can relate to this. There are several levels in this model- a lot of it truly isn’t conscious. For example, our food system. Nutrition is very much about moving towards health or away from health. Now a days, it really is becoming common knowledge that our food system is corrupt and a lot of the foods that are so heavily available to us are quite toxic. Although the information is out there- this shift isn’t just about information and knowledge. Much like my experience with exercise- I learnt about the nutrition science behind it way before the shift happened. It took some time before I made that deep connection.
You can relate this model all different facets of your life. For instance, the diet industry. In my opinion, all diets (and the way they market themselves) work in the direction of fear & illness. They promote themselves as weight loss tools- which is always going to be about fear. As a nutritionist, I know all too well- that working with a client (or yourself) with the sole goal of losing weight is a slippery slope that is never successful long-term. Weight loss must be a side-effect. Health (love, happiness, balance) is what to focus on. True health. The same thing can be said for muscle-gain (from a perspective of image rather than health). If you are doing something in order to achieve something that you think is available to achieve (grab), then it is not moving in a direction of love or health. This is sometimes why there is an issue with goal setting (this is a whole other blog topic, obviously).
TO END this rather long post, I want to mention that it really is important that your main focus in any endeavour is to support and love yourself. Consciously check-in from time to time and ask yourself “what direction am I working towards in this decision, love or fear?” It’s easy to get carried away when we are on our self-improvement journey, that we sometimes lose sight of anything but our goals and visions. Continue to humble yourself- we are all the same; what sets us apart are our stories that we can share to inspire, love and create from. This quote says it all for me:
“The brighter the light is the more you see the shadows”
Resources & Inspiration for this post:
1. Laura Verbich– fellow health entrepreneur & blogger