Monday, December 27, 2010

Tips to Stay Fit and Healthy during the Holidays

Firstly, before i forget, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone Happy New Year. This is the last post for 2010 and you can look forward to many more posts in 2011. What a year its been and it sure did zoom past at light speed.

With December being a festive month, where lots of people are on leave and traveling, the urge to eat more than our usual is always there. Almost everyday i meet someone who tells me how they have put on weight this month, or how its impossible to watch your figure in December. Well i admit that it is harder than other times, but definitely not impossible. So i decided to do a post on tips for staying healthy during the holidays.

1) Plan your meals
If you are going for that big dinner party tonight, then maybe you want to have smaller meals through out the day to save the additional calories for your big dinner party. The problem is, many people continue eating like normal and then pig in even more during the party. So if you are going for a dinner party and planning to go all out, reduce your intake for the rest of the day. This way you can enjoy your dinner party without guilt. So start planning your meals and you should do just fine.

2) Do some extra exercise
Now i am not sure how full your social calendar is going to look like, but if you can, try to fit in some time for a jog or walk in addition to your usual workout routine. If you could throw in an additional 20 minute jog every other day, it will go a long way in preventing your festive luncheons and dinners from going straight to your waist. So if you are going to eat more than usual, make sure you balance it off with some exercise. If you are traveling, make sure you bring along your running shoes. This way there is no excuse of why you can't squeeze in a quick 20 minute run somewhere.

3) Alcohol Consumption
OK, i am not going to say NO alcohol at all during the holidays, as i know sometimes we just want to relax and unwind. PLUS, when its festive season, its that much harder to say no. If you are consuming alcohol, do your best NOT to have a huge feast after your drinks at the end of the night. Also, your 20 minute jog the next day after your drinking session becomes extremely crucial. So once your hangover dies down, make sure you do some exercise. While our body is breaking down alcohol (which is toxic to our body), our fat burning system is turned down low. Which is why you want to avoid that post drinking feast. This is one of the main contributing factors to why people put on weight when they drink. One way to reboot our fat burning system is to exercise. So if possible, do some exercise the next day. It does not have to be as intense as your other days, but some exercise is way better than none.

4) Eat slowly
Whenever we eat a meal, it takes time for our brain to register that we are full and signal us to stop eating. So if you eat extremely fast, there is a high chance you are going to overshoot that stop signal, overeat and feel over-stuffed. So slow down your eating and ENJOY your food. After all, what's the hurry. This way you get to prevent yourself from overeating and passing your "stop when full" point and you will stop just at the right spot.

5) Reduce sweet drinks if possible
Sweet drinks are really just empty calories. they do very little to fill you up but it adds massive damage to your calorie intake. I know we all crave to have a sweet drink here and there, but be mindful of it and don't go overboard. For me personally, i would prefer to save those calories for food rather than sweet drinks. So yeah, have your sweet drinks if you must, but keep an eye on it. There is nothing worse than sipping sweet drinks and cola all night only to realize you consumed a good 1 liter of it through out the entire night.

There you go... some simple tips to help you stay fit during the festive holiday season. All these tips are so easy to do, so i really hope you guys try them out. As you would have noticed, these tips are not about don't eat this and don't drink that. You are allowed to enjoy yourself, but you just have to be a little more mindful of things if you are concerned about your waistline. At the end of the day, i personally believe that moderation is key. As long as you remember this rule and follow it, you will do just fine during the holidays.

Do you guys have any other tips to share on how to stay fit during the holidays? If you do, please do share. As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is running outdoors dangerous?

I recently gave a fitness talk and was asked many interesting questions. From what kinds of food we should eat pre & post workout to how to gain muscle mass. I rarely get asked about muscle gain during my talks, so it was refreshing that there were so many questions on it. Many also asked how they should exercise to see optimum weight loss. It really was an exciting and very interactive talk. One question which caught my attention the most was if running was bad for you? So i explained that its not, as long as you do it properly. So i wanted to cover this topic in this weeks post.

As many of you know, i am not too fond of running... but recently, i have kinda developed a small addiction for it. I think i just like challenging myself with something that i am not good at. and i am making great progress, which makes me want to do it anymore. I am actually looking at joining a 10km race sometime next year... maybe mid next year. Anyone care to join me?

Many people out there believe that running outdoors is extremely bad for your knees and that using a treadmill is safer. Well it is probably less risky than running outside, but running outside is far more superior in terms of building your cardiovascular endurance and burning calories. Why? Because when running on a treadmill, all you are doing is replacing your steps, while running outside requires you to actually pull your body weight through the distance. in short, running on a treadmill is like running on the spot. Secondly, the uneven terrain and speed makes it more challenging than a treadmill. For these reasons, it is far more difficult to run outdoors than it is to run on a treadmill. If you can run on a treadmill for 20 minutes non stop, it does not mean you can run run outdoors for 20 minutes non-stop as well.So is it recommended that we run on treadmills instead of running outdoors? Lets look back at history to our ancestors. Before there were cars, and horse carriages, mankind depended on their legs to get around everywhere. Because of this, people developed strong legs to carry out these duties. Today, in our sedentary lifestyle, we don't need to do such physical demanding tasks anymore, so in other words, our muscles and bones are kinda "pampered". Just because it is pampered does not mean that you shouldn't work at improving it. Law of use and disuse - If you don't use it, you will lose it. What i am trying to say is, we are NOT incapable of running outside. We just need to start developing this slowly.

Here are some tips to running outside without injury

Get a good pair of shoes - I can't emphasize this enough. If you like running outside, invest in a good pair of shoes. So far the best running shoes i have used are New Balance shoes. For about RM 300 to RM 500 you can get a decent pair which will take you far. A good pair of shoes is not necessarily the one with the most amount of padding and cushioning. Too much padding and cushioning can cause foot muscles to atrophy while shortening and stiffening our foot’s tendons. This over cushioning and pampering of our foot can lead to more injury.

Correct technique - Avoiding injury in any sports comes down to technique. If you run using the right technique, there is no reason why you should injure your knees or any other part of your body. There are various techniques to running safely which you can google easily. Try googling Pose running technique. If you can watch some You Tube videos on this, it will provide an excellent tutorial to you on the proper techniques of running. I will cover more tips on proper running techniques in one of my upcoming posts. Its too long to post here.

Do "them Squats"
- Like mentioned earlier, because of our sedentary lifestyle, many of us probably have underdeveloped leg muscles which need to be strengthened before you can run a decent distance. So start doing those squats and other leg exercises and start strengthening your leg muscles, core and back. It will go a long way in protecting yourself from running related injuries

Stretching before and after your run - Stretching before your run and after your run is essential in preventing injuries. So take about 2 or 3 minutes to stretch out your muscles before you head out for your run and another 2 or 3 minutes after your run. I personally find that this also helps with the post workout pains. I usually take a slow walk for about 1km after my run to cool down and then stretch for about 2 to 3 minutes. To warm up, i walk for about 2 minutes and then start my jogging.

Start slow and progress at your own pace - I cannot emphasize this enough. I have seen too many people who get excited and force themselves to run 5km on their first run... then get injured and give up running altogether. Start slow and make it a point to progress, at your own pace. Just because someone you know could progress 1 km a week, does not mean you have to keep up with them. Progress at your own pace and based on the goals you have set for yourself. Everyone is different, so your development needs will be different too.

Running on grass vs concrete - Running on concrete / road will have more impact on your joints compared to running on grass. If you are really worried about injuring your knees, i highly recommend starting on a grass field first. Then as you gain confidence and perfect your running technique, you can attempt running on the road. Again, running on a grass field is still far more superior than the treadmill.

So there you have it. Some simple tips to help you prevent injury when you run outside. For me, running outside is not dangerous. It only becomes dangerous when done wrongly, and done without the right precautions. Just like driving. It can be dangerous if not done properly, but that does not mean we should avoid driving because of the potential risk. With the right precautions, you can avoid injury.

If you follow the simple tips above, running outdoors does not have to be dangerous or harmful to you. Running on a treadmill may be safer, but can be dangerous if done wrongly as well. So go ahead. Try these tips and enjoy you runs outside. Running outside does not have to be dangerous. As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Many Calories Should Each of My Meals Be?

I was recently asked this very interesting question from a friend of mine and i decided that this will make an excellent blog post. he asked me how many calories should each meal have? Meaning would a 600 calorie meal be considered too much or is it OK?

Well i thought about his question for awhile and then i told him, well that truly depends on a lot of things and its hard for me to just say if that is too much or not.

Firstly, it would depend on what your goals are. If you are looking to gain weight, then your calorie per meal would be different than that of someone who is trying to lose weight. Secondly, it would depend on how much activity are doing for that day. If all you are doing is sitting at home and watching the CSI marathon, then you are not going to need much. Thirdly, it would depend on what you are going to be doing for the next 3 - 4 hours after your meal. if you are just going to watch TV, then you won't need as much as someone who is heading to the gym or going for a jog. It would also matter how many meals per day you are eating.

With a puzzled look, he asked me. OK, lets just say i am an average Joe who just wants to lose weight and eats about 3 meals a day. Then how many calories should i be looking at for each meal. He says he always goes to a restaurant and is not too sure how much to eat because he just doesn't know how many calories he should be eating for each meal.

Well again it would really depend on how many calories you need to eat in a day (based on your body and activity level) and you need to eat less than that to see weight loss. So for example, if your Daily Calorie Requirement is 1,500kCals a day and you eat 3 meals a day, then roughly, each meal should be around 500kCals. To find out how many calories you need in a day, you can check out one of my previous posts by clicking here. Now to lose weight, you want to eat less than 1,500kCals a day. So in this case, lets say you want to reduce it to 1,200kCals per day... this would mean that each meal should be roughly around 400kCals.

So i told him though it is OK, to follow this rough calculation of just dividing, its still better to eat as per your activity level. So i offered him some tips as below which help to make his calorie decision for weight loss more effective:-

1) Eat lower calorie meals when you know you are going to be inactive after the meal. Like dinner. You don't need to as much calories for dinner as you would for other meals.

2) Eat higher calorie meals before or after a workout or when you are going to do intense activity. So if you are going to laze around, eat less calories. If you are going to spend those calories soon, you can eat more

3) If one meal is higher than what you should be eating, make sure you adjust it for the next meal. Let's say you are aiming for an average of 400 calories per meal and end up eating a 600 calorie meal. Then be sure to subtract 200 calories from another meal to ensure you don't go above your target.

4) If your target us weight loss, then its always better to eat less than more. Meaning if you are deciding between foods and trying to justify that the higher calorie food is still OK, but you are not too sure, then go for the choice which has less calories.

5) It is also important to consider what i like to call the fill up factor of the food. A bag of Twisties has about 500 calories but does little to fill you up. A Fillet-O-Fish in McDs will be about 450 calories. Eating 5 apples will be around 250 calories. Which one is more satisfying to your hunger?So how many calories should each meal have? Well firstly you need to calculate how many calories you need in a day and then start doing the math. Its OK to just divide evenly and have each meal have the same number of calories but its far more effective to eat according to the tips i presented. If your goal is weight loss, then following the tips above will make a huge difference in the results you. From there you will be able to make a better decision on how much each of your meals should be. Try it out and see. As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Weight Room Ethics

One of the main reasons why i get up so early in the morning to go to the gym, is because the weight room is not over crowded at 6:30am. There are usually only 3 or 4 people in the weight room at this time, and that's how i like it. This way, i get to go in, do my work out quickly with minimal interference and be out of there. Secondly, i realized that here in Malaysia, a lot of people are unfamiliar with what i like to call weight room ethics. These are just simple unwritten rules that everyone should know when stepping into a weight room. Now i know these are unwritten rules and not legally binding. But at the same time, i think following these rules (if you want to call it that) is just plain courtesy to the others. But sadly not many people are aware of this and don't follow it and it really irks me sometimes. So here are some of the things that should be followed when you are in a weight room.

1) Re-Racking your weights
If you are done with the weights you are using, please put them back. The reason for this is, 1) it keeps the weight room looking neat and not to mention safer so no one trips on your dumbbell 2) it lets people know that you are done with it. Just this morning i saw a guy jump from the decline bench press, to the incline bench press and then the bench press. As he went a long, he just left the weights there and moved on. Come on buddy... you can recycle the weights. Meaning that you can transfer the weights you were using on your decline for your incline and so on. This is one method of clearing of the weights while re-racking your new bench. It takes the same amount of effort and time as pulling new weights from weight rack. So please... the next time you are done with something, put it back. I have seen incidences where i walk into the weight room at 6:30 am (i am the first use of the weight room for that day) and i see all the dumbbells scattered all over the floor and all over the weight room. It makes it difficult to walk around and a chore to find the dumbbell you are looking for. Situations like these should not be happening

2) Sharing your bench
Now it is OK to share your bench with someone else between sets. After all, you are not doing 3 sets of bench press back to back without any rest. So while you are resting, whats wrong with sharing it someone else. I usually get 2 responses when i walk up to someone and say "Hey buddy, you mind if i work in with you?". 1) some of them just say OK and then take everything and run away. This has happened to me many times. I am not kidding. 2) OH i still got 5 more sets. YES, i know you have 5 more sets, but can i jump in for a few sets between your sets. I don't understand why people just can't share it. What irks me the most, is he tells you he has 5 more sets and then he is busy chatting with his friend who is hogging the incline bench press. Jeez dude... if you want to chat, why don't you let someone else use it while you are chatting. You get this a lot when you go in the evenings when the gym is crowded. I have experienced this so many times when i attempted going to the gym in the evening after work. This is one of my main motivation factors to stay away from overcrowded weight rooms in Malaysia. When i was in the States, it was a general understanding that people jump in between sets. In fact, that's how i made so many friends. It just makes everything better. Plus, you now have a spot.

3) PT's can't share equipment with normal folk.
Personally, this has never happened to me. The PTs that train their clients in the morning are really cool and i have loads of respect for them. They usually ask me if they can share the bench with me and similarly i have also asked them if i could jump in for sets while their client is resting between sets and they are OK with it. But i know friends who have experienced snobbish PTs who won't share and worst still, being shoo-ed away by the PT, because they want to use the bench you are using. Well they don't literally shoo you away with words, but they ask you in a nasty way and then just stand about and look at you hoping to intimidate you. This should not be happening. As a PT, you should not be setting the wrong example in the weight room. Or maybe PTs are resorting to this because of reason number 2. Hmmm.... makes me wonder.

4) Don't stand in fron of the mirror and block someone else
If a guy is using the power rack to do squats, please don't stand right in front of him and do bicep curls and block the mirror. This is just plain rude. Whenever you are doing an exercise, take a look and see if someone else is using the mirror first. If there is someone else behind is using the mirror, find another spot to do it. Don't plant yourself right in front and block that person. Its just rude. This has happened to me enough times and i really feel disgusted with this.

5) Spotting someone correctly
Maybe i should write a post on how to spot someone properly, because generally, most people don't know how to spot properly. Over and over again, i have seen one person doing bench press, while his spotter is doing bicep curls at the same time. Group workout???? When you spot someone, you are not supposed to lift as much weight as you can so that the other person doesn't have to do much. I understand when you are helping someone move houses, you would like to help as much as you can, but when it comes to lifting weights, its not the same.

You are supposed to stand by just in case of an emergency and offer minimal help to get them through their sticking point. That's it. Please don't attempt to do bicep curls while i am doing my bench press. When you are spotting someone, ask them how many reps they are going for and ask them how many reps they think they can get on their own. This way you have a better picture of how much help to offer and when to offer it. If i am aiming for 8 reps and say i can do 6 on my own, try not to touch the bar before 6 reps... unless i really get stuck, then yes, do jump in. But otherwise, please don't start your bicep curls from the first rep.

So here are just some weight room ethics which is at the top of my list. What about you guys? Have you experienced any other "irk-ing" scenarios that you wish to share? Or did i miss out any other weight room ethics worth sharing. Do share your thoughts and as usual, look forward to hearing your comments.