Now this is a sentence I never thought I’d type – I found a really very good article on the Mail Online this week (via Facebook).It is based on a new book by Dr Charles Clark, a consultant surgeon, expert on diabetes and honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow. The crux of the article is that two common activities associated with getting fit actually do more harm than good – jogging and low fat diets. I was ready to jump to the defence of running but the advice is actually very good: “Jogging is an excellent form of exercise when you are fit (but) if you are overweight with poor muscle tone, jogging is a fast track to ruining your hip and knee joints and put unbearable strain on your heart and lungs.” This feeds right into something I have mentioned previously – running is a high skill activity. It is not easy and if you are seriously out of shape you probably can’t do it safely. Dan John has been quoted as saying “Squats don’t hurt your knees, what you are doing hurts your knees.” and the same applies here. If you are just starting out on a mission to get fitter there are much better options. Look at the pros, their movement is smooth and they seem to glide over the pavement. Even if we will never be as quick, this is what we should aim for too. For a lot of runners that is far from the case – to be frank they look awful when they run. No movement that is being done well ever looks bad. A rule of thumb I follow is to try and make every movement look as good as possible. If it looks smooth and athletic, then the form is ok. If it looks clunky and painful, it’s probably not. That’s not to say that all my movements look good, far from it – but that’s the aim. This is demonstrated perfectly by picture they use of Boris Johnson. You can clearly see that both his feet are touching the floor. One of the key characterstics of running is that one foot is always in flight. Boris isn’t running, he’s doing a wobbly,fast walk thing with an exaggerated heel strike. He’d be better off lifting weights and using one of his bikes. The article also has great advice regarding diet. Essentially that low fat dieting is a farce because the foods are so high in sugar – they have to be to actually taste of something. This extra sugar plus a generally high carb intake is the actual cause of people’s weight gain – sounds familiar. Why mid-life health kicks can WRECK men’s bodies: Jogging and low-fat food will make you fatter and damage your heart
In my first post about primal/paleo eating I gave a (very) brief overview of the principles of eating this way. In this one I will talk about the process I followed to make the change to my diet.It’s worth pointing out that I wasn’t really planning to make this change when I started. Instead I wanted to solve other issues I was having like staying full after meals and low energy levels in the afternoon – it turned out that this was the best way of doing it. It meant I went into it gradually, meal by meal, which is contrary to a lot of advice, but made for quite an easy transition. Hopefully it will be useful for other people thinking of making a similar change but that feel like it is too big a leap. Change one – breakfast
Breakfast as I was growing up was always cereal and I carried that on as an adult. The trouble was that no matter how much I ate in the morning, I would find myself hungry again by 10am. And not just a bit peckish, a gnawing, light headed, ‘have to eat’ kind of hungry. I used to solve this by simply eating again but a few months ago started to wonder if there was a better way – if I was getting that hungry so quickly after a meal, maybe there was something wrong with the meal? Initially I tried muesli, oats and porridge but nothing changed (they are still cereals!). I then tried quiche and salad for a while, which was ‘just plain wrong’ according to my Dad, and that didn’t work either. As I did more research and understood more about using fat for fuel I also read (I can’t remember where) that the first meal of the day dictates whether you continue burn fat following your overnight fast, or start to rely on a continued intake of carbs for fuel. This sounded like it could be the answer so I switched to eggs for breakfast. Initially the mid-morning hunger was still there, but it was a different, more manageable feeling. I found I could ignore it quite easily and it would go away. After a few days it was gone altogether – winner! Change two – lunch and snacks
I was intrigued. The idea of primal eating had always appealed and now I was starting to see the benefits for myself. I’d wake up, have my eggs, feel energised all morning, then eat sandwiches for lunch and promptly feel like I was about to fall asleep at my desk. As the my experiment with a high fat/protein breakfast had been successful, I thought I’d try continue it through the day. I switched lunch to a salad with loads of meat and oily fish and cut out all sugary snacks. The snacks were difficult at first as the people I work with are biscuit fiends. I resisted by always having some almonds in my desk and would snack on those whenever I was tempted. This was great as it meant I was never hungry and never felt like I was missing out. After a few days I was not at all sleepy in the afternoons. I was amazed, doubly so as this this was just after having our new baby and my sleep was awful. Change three – dinner
By this point my Wife had been seeing the effect this diet was having on me and had made similar changes herself. There was really only one change left to make. To see such great results during the day only to eat a massive pasta dinner seemed ridiculous. Plus many of our favourite meals are some combination of meat, fish and vegetables. That was it – the whole process took place over roughly six weeks. The great thing was that each decision was reinforced by its effects and the incremental nature of the changes made it easy to build, and keep, good habits. It has been a bit of challenge to our food budget but we have found ways around it. There is an excellent farm shop not far from us that sells meat in bulk. Not only is the meat great quality, it’s also good value. Plus I get to say things like ‘we just bought quarter of a pig’, which is truly awesome.
This is the next in the series on each attribute in my What do you need to do to be fit? post.
I’ve been a bit slack with keeping up with this series of posts, work has been extremely busy which has left my brain a bit fried.I have also been back and forth about what to write here. I am no expert in nutrition and, as much as it’s good, my food intake is not perfect – so I’m not best placed to give dietary advice. That said, your levels of fat and lean mass are important to overall fitness and should be managed carefully. We can all agree fat is not fit for performance reasons but fitness is also synonymous with looking good. I think you would be safe to say that losing weight and improved appearance is the most common reason people exercise and care about fitness. The idea of losing weight, not fat, is slightly misguided though. If appearance is a priority then what you see in the mirror counts as much as the weighing scales. Even if you have very low levels of fat, to look good, you will still need a decent amount of muscle. The benefits go beyond just looks. In the excellent book Biomarkers muscle mass is listed as the number one determining factor for increased health and longevity. We need to build some muscle mass to increase our health. If you consider that muscles atrophy with age, you need to build muscle just to maintain your current levels of lean mass as you get older. A desire for some extra lean mass should be a part of everyone’s fitness regime, including you ladies out there. You’ll look better and feel better. Providing you don’t eat like a horse and take a ton of steroids you WON’T end up looking like a bodybuilder. Be sensible with it though – the pursuit of greater muscle mass shouldn’t negatively effect mobility, flexibility or any other fitness aspect. Seeing the new muscle may involve losing some fat (not necessarily weight) and this is were diet comes into it. There are more diet approaches out there than I can list all with plenty of scientific studies to back them up. Look for a diet that is based on good general principles that make sense to you. The most important thing is that it is sustainable – crash diets are no good – it has to become part of your lifestyle to have a lasting effect. Be realistic though. You still need to live – an occasional Jaffa cake will keep you sane, an occasional packet will keep you fat.