I’ve been writing Fitness On Toast for a year now – it’s been huge fun, the response has surprised me enormously, and has taken me on some fabulous adventures! A big thank you to everyone who has supported the blog, for reading, for browsing aimlessly, for your lovely emails and heartening comments… I’d like to propose a toast to fitness; let’s make 2014 the healthiest year yet! Now I don’t want to sound like a spoil sport, and a bit of a tipple is called for around this time of year, but to help you along, I’m reposting this “Alcohol vs Fitness” article I wrote at the start of 2013, as it’s totally relevant for this evening :D! HAPPY NEW YEAR xx (more…)
Many of my clients aren’t from the UK, and often ask me how to read the food labels here; it’s vitally important to understand the label in order to be in command of what you’re nourishing your body with. Even if you do understand it, far too few take the time to read and digest it – no pun intended! This post will set out some tips and tricks for staying on top of the label.
Questions I ask myself every time; is it high in fat? saturates? salt? carbs? sugar? Knowing the answers is essential to maintaining a balanced, healthy diet. The label should, at a minimum, list the information on energy – calories, protein, carbohydrate, fat and salt. Nutrition information is shown per 100 grams and sometimes per portion of the food. A good deal of supermarket products show a ‘traffic light colour coding’ system where red is a warning, and green is fine – but relying on these without further thought is lazy and won’t help awareness for the diet.
1) WHAT ARE THE GDA’s ???
Some product also list Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs). The GDAs are based on UK government-set figures and are recommendations that give approximate amounts of certain nutrients and calories required for a healthy diet. GDA’s don’t account for your size, age, lifestyle, activity levels etc, so take them with a pinch of salt (literally!).
– FAT: Adult GDA is c. 70g, of which ‘saturates’ should be 20g (see ‘Ingredients’ below for more on this). Beware if the product has >20% fat, and I tend to think that <5% is truely ‘low fat’.
– SUGARS: Adult GDA is c. 90g. Sugars are carbs, so look for the ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ part on the label. You might see it as sucrose, fructose, maltose, honey, corn syrup or starch – but ultimately it’s still sugar. Aim for complex sugars, which are slow release, and sustain your blood sugar levels at a more constant rate through the day. Think whole grains, whole wheat, seeds, nuts and pulses. Too much simple sugar risks diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
– SALT: Adult GDA is c. 6g (one teaspoon!). Also labelled as sodium, it regulates nerves and the overall fluid balance in the body, but too much over time increases blood pressure and can lead to heart disease and/or stroke, plus it can make you look and feel bloated as it retains water. To cut down on salt when cooking use herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, lemon zest or chili (will up your metabolism!) instead, to add flavour. Use low-salt stock. When buying tinned foods get them without the added salt or brine (e.g. tuna in spring water). Avoid microwaved ready meals, and if you must (for some inexplicable reason) get it with reduced salt. Keep an eye on sauces they’re are often high in sodium too.
– CALORIES: Adult GDA is 2000 Kcal (calories) a day, though that will clearly vary hugely depending on gender, activity, metabolic levels etc. It’s a measure of energy contained within the food, so if you consume too much food-energy, you’ll store the excess as fat. Basic, but sometimes people forget this. Equally, if you have too little, you’ll lack the nutrients required to function properly! It’s about balance and control, which is the whole point of this post!
2) INGREDIENTS ???
– When reading the ingredients manifest, the nearer the beginning an ingredient is listed, the higher the content, e.g. if honey is the second thing listed on your granola bar, then that bar certainly contains a lot of sugar.
– Avoid transfats, they are usually fish or vegetable oils that have been artificially hardened by hydrogenation, they increase bad LDL cholesterol 🙂 and reduce good HDL cholesterol 🙁 which can contribute to stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, and worse. You can usually find them in biscuits, cakes and pastries – so watch out for any oil that says ‘hydrogenated’ before it.
3) THE LAW ???
– All food products must legally be labelled and not be misleading – great in theory, but unfortunately it’s not like that in practise. You might fancy yourself for having an antioxidant boost when you drink a ‘blueberry milkshake’, but often it won’t contain blueberries – much like ‘cheese & onion crisps’ usually don’t contain onion.
– The word ‘light’ also has no legal definition, and simply means the product might be lighter than another product (which product that is we don’t know), whilst it might only refer to fat, alcohol, sugar or salt. Similarly, with ‘Low fat’, there’s no legal guideline around this, which makes it lazy and misleading to just ‘trust the claim’. Check it. Don’t let the food manufacturer insult your intelligence!
4) HOW TO COMPARE & CONTRAST !!!
– Deciding which product is healthier for you is very easy – don’t over-complicate it, and don’t be intimidated by the numbers.
– Whenever you look at two products, each will show a ‘Per 100g’ or ‘Per 100ml’ column – if you see that product A has 20g fat, that’s 20%. If you see that a similar product B has 10g fat, that’s 10%. If product A happens to weigh 200g, then you’re eating 40g fat out of your c. 70g GDA – that’s clearly way too much! Product B (also weighing 200g) would invariably be a better choice here at 20g fat. There are complexities around types of fat, amount of sugars (as discussed above) etc, but broadly, the process should be that simple.
I really hope this helps not only foreigners like myself, but also encourages more curiosity about what we’re putting in us (think ‘horse’ or ‘beef’). Worth checking the sell-by date too – the fresher the better!
I had a wander in Harrods this weekend and came across this shiny fitness contraption, who’s proper name is the Technogym Kinesis…
As an aside; to keep the motivation-factor high (and the boredom-factor low!), I love seeking out new fitness-related concepts, be it the latest equipment, a new ‘group exercise class’ or even some novel ‘superfood’ hitting the supermarket shelf! In short, innovation = motivation! However full-on your workout may be, sometimes we all need a bit of variation and inspiration, and regardless of how many years you’ve been training, there’s always something new to learn and take away from a different experience. I regularly have a look around the gym to see what other people are up to and whether there are any exercises I haven’t encountered – then I steal them if they’re any good!
Back to Harrods’ newest toy, the Kinesis. It’s the highest expression of designer gym furniture. It’s only 1sq metre in size. It’s fitted with three handgrips. It operates in total silence. It facilitates over 200 different exercises that target all muscle groups. There’s an electronic dial to gradually & precisely increase the resistance. Each arm has three pivots that the cable slides through, allowing smooth movement in all directions. I think that if I were to have one of these at home, I’d use it to build strength, increase flexibility and improve my posture – amongst many other applications. And all for just £8,980!!! Oh well, it was fun to play with!
One of life’s greatest pleasures is eating – for me that means trying out new restaurants or cooking for friends and family, but I remember a time when eating felt more like a guilt trip. As a young, impressionable teenager I used to guinea-pig my way through unrealistic diets because I was led to believe (through clever marketing, and a pressurising ‘media onslaught’) that eating 5 bars a day was ‘the best way to be healthy’. I also thought the word ‘skinny’ was synonymous with ‘healthy’ and that the quickest way to achieve ‘skinny’ was by eating less food. The scales may have told me I was right, but I felt physically tired, emotional, starving and frankly miserable…. That is anything but an informed understanding of ‘healthy!
I think that especially amongst women, there is a vast and dangerous misconception. By eating far too little in order to lose weight you starve the body of essential nutrients, & have less energy to do anything, including work out! My ‘trick’ is to eat the right food, little & often, throughout the day, to speed up the metabolism. Weighing scales can be very deceiving. Going on bizarre fad diets which promise ‘rapid weight loss’ generally rely on either water loss (i.e. dehydration – bad, as c.70% of the body is made up of water, and there’s a reason for that!) or the loss of your natural muscle mass. Some long term diets may also slow down your metabolism further. Caring for your body by eating well and by being active, you’ll lose the right kind of weight (thus improving the ‘body fat percentage’ ratio).
I hope some of the recipes on my blog can help inspire healthy eating. With that in mind, here’s my asian-inspired lean Chicken Curry packed with nutritious flavour! It’s perfect for sharing!
FOUR KEY HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE RECIPE ???
1) GREEN FRESH JALEPENO CHILLI
Chilli is full of immune-stimulating and health-promoting properties. One is capsaicin (which gives it the spicy kick, and is a strong anti-diabetic). It also has anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic properties, whilst reducing (bad) LDL cholesterol levels. These Jalepeno peppers are pretty fiery (2500 on the Scoville scale of ‘can you handle the heat?’), and are more than enough to raise your metabolism a few notches too! It’s rich in vitamin-C (100g chilli = c.240% of RDA) which is immune boosting and fights free radicals from the body. There’s a good amount of minerals such as potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium too, all of which will help regulate the blood pressure. It also provides your body with its required dose of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1).
Contains beneficial ‘essential oils’ (counter-irritant, anti-fungal & anti-septic properties), as well as vitamins and minerals (such as vitral, lemonal, and aldehyde responsible for that strong lemony scent, but which also has strong anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties). It contains a mini ’99 calories per 100 g’ and not a trace of cholesterol! The stem and leaves are high in folic acid (19% of RDA) which is important in cell division & repair. Plus it’s also rich in vitamin B5, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-1 (essential for the body to replenish). There’s also a cheeky amount of anti-oxidant vitamin-C and vitamin-A (immune and sight-boosting respectively), and finally lemon grass has plenty of bonus minerals like potassium, zinc, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. The body needs these – lemongrass has them!
Garlic is a great source of potassium (regulates blood pressure / oxygenation & heartbeat pace, lubricates joints), iron (supports red blood cell formation), calcium (promotes healthy bones), magnesium (aids nervous-system functions, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production, and hormone balancing) manganese (an antioxidant enzyme), zinc (cell regeneration, digestion-aiding, with anti-cancerous properties), and selenium (heart-healthy, antioxidant enzyme). It also has a compound called ‘allicin’ which has been shown to reduce cholesterol, alleviate high blood pressure and help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
4) ORGANIC CHICKEN
Free -range, hormone & antibiotic free organic roast chicken breast (100g contains 116 calories, 22g protein, 3g fat) is perfect if you’re trying to lose weight, as it’s lower in fat and calories than other meats such as beef (100g fillet steak contains 196 calories, 26g protein, 9g fat) and pork (100g pork chop contains 260 calories, 28g protein, 16g fat), whilst still being high in lean protein. It contains vitamins B6 and B3 (to help cell recovery) and contains essential selenium (anti-cancerous properties) and zinc (as per description in ‘garlic’, above). A small serving of chicken can meet the niacin requirements for the entire day (essential for brain health, shown to help protect against Alzheimer’s disease & dementia), as well as Vitamin E, betacarotene, and Vitamins B6 and B12.
Click more below to see the full instructions to make this delicious and healthy dish. Enjoy, and I’d love to hear what you think of it! email@example.com for any feedback and questions. Faya 🙂
1) WHY CYCLE ?
Cycling is one of my favourite ways to travel around as it not only gets me there, but I can do some bonus cardio training in the process. It burns calories (c. 120calories per mile), elevates the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, eases the risk of cardiovascular disease and it’s pretty soft on the environment too! Compared to running, which puts a lot of strain on the body (especially the knees), cycling is very low impact exercise and is kinder to your joints. It builds stamina and strength, with fewer injuries along the way. If you’re worried about losing precious muscle mass because of the cv, cycling actually develops muscle, especially in the lower body as power is generated by the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, which will fuel additional calorie burn even after the journey has ended. It will also stimulate the production of HGH (human growth hormone), and remember, muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, so this is exercise that keeps giving!
2) THE BIKE ?
In the pic above, I’m on what I think is the Ferrari of bicycles; the sleek, curvaceous, sexy ‘Pinarello’ FPQuattro. This exceptionally serious road bike is built for speed, it’s ultra lightweight (the frame weighs a feather-light 1.1kg!), and has a carbon chassis honed in a wind tunnel to perfect the aerodynamics! I don’t own it, I was merely lent it for the day, but this is my idea of a dream bike!
3) THE ROUTE ?
These days there are so many gadgets to kit out your bicycle with. There’s the low-tech mudguards / mirrors / bags / bells / comfort-saddles… but I like the more high-tech functional stuff. The Garmin GPS is my way of keeping track of my routes. I think it has enhanced my cycling performance by making my training far more productive; it enables measurement of the heart rate, power, speed, altitude and even position in London’s cafes to remarkable accuracy. Not only will you know where you are but also exactly how far you’ve been or need to go; and you can race your ghost if it’s a regular route, which encourages progress! The GPS is route-tailored meaning it will select the right route for your specific training, e.g. endurance, long distance, hill rides etc. So in essence, I think it helps you to cycle smarter!
And once at home after a long relaxing, hot shower you can sit down with a cup of tea, download and analyse the data on your computer, and figure out exactly how to improve your performance for next time. You can even create an online profile and connect with the social media world to share and receive info, courses and routines etc. They’re not cheap, but I think they’ve revolutionised my cycling experience, and my ability to get a good workout from it!
4) THE COMMUNITY ?
Just as there are running clubs, so too are there cycling clubs! In the same way my motivation is boosted by doing a group class at the gym, it’s the same with cycling; find a cycle group in your local area and go for a trial session. Training in a group will improve your cycling giving you the tools and focus you need whether you’re looking to train in the lead up to an event/race or just for general fitness. I find it’s nice to have a deadline or goal in mind, so why not discover charity bike rides! A friend (and cycling-novice!) took part in her very first charity ride last year – London to Paris – and she absolutely loved it, describing ‘a massive sense of camaraderie’, and ‘feel good you just can’t beat!’ She did add it was a very intense 4days and added that you must, must prepare well ahead of time.
It’s dangerous on the roads, so maybe join an ‘advanced road safety’ group which teaches you how to stay safe in the mental London traffic! It also explains bike maintanence which is crucial for trips and newbees.
Cycle buddy links cyclists up with other cyclists in the same area for training rides or mountain biking. The website encourages you to log your ride to share routes and training experiences.
Happy cycling! Faya x
Hot on the heels of being invited to the ‘Skinny Bitch Collective’ class, I also got the call to check out the newest London workout, straight from the United States – Barry’s Bootcamp. It’s a regime that’s tried and tested by the famous & glamorous, such as Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Katie Holmes, not to mention personal trainer Jillian Michaels who’s been bringing all her ‘Biggest Loser’ contestants to Barry’s for years. What could all the fuss be about?
Based in north-west London on the Euston Road, the entrance to this bootcamp-themed space (think dog-tags, camouflage wallpaper, metal military details etc.) is guarded by a friendly receptionist, and flanked by a FUEL BAR that serves up some very tasty protein shakes indeed! The studio itself, which caters for c.40 people is seductively lit in red and blue, and is equipped with 20 Woodway treadmills, who’s treads are more like the caterpillar tracks on a Howitzer tank than the belt on your average gym treadmill! They’re made from rubber T-slats, which give extra cushioning whilst maintaining the natural bio-mechanics of your stride, and are a pleasure to run on (relatively speaking!).
Though there are about 10 ‘drill sergeants’ in Barry’s London ‘platoon’, my class is lead by the beautiful Icelandic personal trainer Heidi (pictured above) – a former IFBB figure-fitness champion! I expected this class to be tough; Heidi did not disappoint. The Barry’s workout combines strength and interval cardiovascular training, leaving minimum recovery time and maximum exertion. I’d say half the time, the class was on a treadmill (c.10 minutes at a time) and the rest of the time was spent on the floor, tackling strength training. It is remarkably demanding, and you take it to your own level, but the atmosphere (lighting, group, equipment, motivating trainer, military theme) spurs you on to the next level up.
1) WHY INTERVAL TRAINING?
As discussed in my previous post HIIT ME AGAIN interval training is the optimal cardiovascular training to achieve fat burn goals. By not sticking to the same pace for the entire cardio session (whereby the body would otherwise go into a steady state and tries to conserve energy) HIIT shocks the body by introducing different intensities, maximising time and transforming it into a fat toasting 10minutes!!
2) WHY STRENGTH TRAINING?
I’m told that Barry’s always include strength training in the class. Today was a full body workout class, taking each exercise to failure with good form. There’s very little rest after each exercise, it is either followed by another exercise or some element of additional cardio, e.g. step ups. This keeps the heart rate elevated, gives the body hardly any time to think/get bored, or indeed to object. The additional bonus of not having much rest is that you burn even more calories – perfect for unwanted fat! And muscles burn c. 15 times as many calories as fat (even at rest) which increases your metabolism yet further!
Ultimately, the class is exceptionally high-energy, utterly exhausting, satisfyingly endorphine-releasing, and doesn’t allow you time to think, moan or get bored. The equipment is incredibly well-invested (really superb treadmills) and the grouped format brings out a competitive nature, encouraging you to push through those sickeningly tough sprints! Try it out!
Click here for some photos & explanations of what my Barry’s Bootcamp session involved.
It’s cold and wet outside and if all you want to do is snack – at least graze on something healthy!! Part of my daily goal is healthy snacking, so here is my recipe for heart-healthy ‘Protein Cookies’. These cookies are the ultimate snack for the working day – full of protein (c. 15g per 50g cookie), low in carbohydrates, and the mild sweetness comes from natural fruits and a couple of spoons of immune-boosting Manuka honey. I’d suggest taking two generous protein cookies to work with you, eating one between breakfast and lunch and the other towards the end of the day when you are ready to give in to the vending machine! The four different flavours I make are apple, carrot, banana and peanut. I usually add pecan nuts, raisins and flaxseed to all four different cookies to give them a bit of crunchiness, and to release sustained energy. Experiment and use your own favourite nuts and seeds! I personally LOVE flaxseed (aka linseed), and try to use it in/on almost everything – in my uber-muesli, sprinkled on salads, soups, and broths. It’s one of the richest sources of the fatty acid Omega 3 (c.7.2g per 30g) – it boosts heart health, it reduces inflammation throughout the body, the joints and in the blood vessels. There’s also a school of thinking that suggests omega-3 may help lift depression and ease rheumatoid arthritis. Since the body does not naturally produce omega 3 fatty acid this is such an easy way to make sure you get enough of it on a daily basis.
Sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to go to the gym solo, especially in these cold winter months. When I feel like that, I go along to group classes, to up the motivation-factor! This week, I was invited to an all-singing, all-dancing, all-sweating, all-girl fitness class in London’s West End. With a catchy, cheeky name like ‘The Skinny Bitch Collective‘ how could I decline?! The class was held just off Baker Street, and is led weekly by the founder, Russell Bateman. Under his enthusiastic guidance (and stern yelling!) all ten girls had to put in 110% to keep up with this very demanding routine. The class is basically an intense metabolic workout including some unusual ‘primal movements’, and is set to classic Ibiza house mixes, which marks the aim and tone of the session!
Here are just 6 of these primal movements included in the ‘Skinny Bitch’ session – they definitely got my poor legs bitchin’!!
Be inventive and make your own protein powder recipes! But rather than some horrific chemical-tasting ‘banana’ concoction, why not try adding almonds, oats, chia seeds, hemp seeds, frozen or fresh blueberries, blackberries and plain yogurt to thicken the texture, diversify the flavour and inject some nutrients! In this post, I run through my two personal favourite protein recipes. They’re a great way to start the day, a strong boost before/during a workout, as well as an excellent reload after a tough session!
Protein enables so many vital functions in our bodies; it helps to regulate hormones (e.g. insulin to control blood glucose levels), maintains and repairs the body, regulates enzyme release (including that for digestion), and stimulates antibody production and muscle growth, to name just a few. In that light, it’s worth making sure you’re consuming not only the the right amount but also the correct quality of protein on a daily basis. If you’re a veggie it’s worth taking particular care to ensure you have enough ‘complete proteins’ in your diet (most plants are incomplete proteins meaning one or more of the essential amino acids are missing). One way to tackle this is to combine certain plants as they aren’t missing the same amino acids, and thereby forming a complete protein (such as beans, lentils, grains, nuts & seeds). If you’re not a veggie, then apart from what I just mentioned, then meat, dairy and eggs are the obvious sources of protein. A foodstuff will never be absolutely pure protein, so check into the quality quantity and saturated fat content of the product.
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?
Your daily protein requirement will depend upon your body weight and lifestyle, upon how active you are, and upon what type of training goals you have. Training puts the body under an increased amount of stress, following which it’s in need of repair and recovery. Almost all muscle growth takes place outside the gym (especially whilst you’re sleeping) and depends upon what and how much nutrition you provide your body with to initiate muscular repair. This is the time to ‘up’ the protein intake. I often get healthy stuff from the store next to my gym, Holland and Barrett. They have a vast selection of protein powders and offer good deals with things like their penny sale (buy one, get another for a penny). I do want to emphasise that these powders are supplements, meaning they are additive to an already existing complete and healthy diet – they are not replacements for meals! There is no precise science, but typically, nutritionists will calculate the min. daily protein requirement by taking your body weight in kg and multiplying that by 0.8 (if lbs, it’s x 0.37). The number you get is the number of grams of protein you should be eating as the daily minimum. So if I weigh 55kg, I should be consuming a minimum of 44grams of protein every day.
See my two favourite protein powder recipes here!