What’s in a number?

Yesterday I did something that I’ve been thinking about having done for a while. I went to the University of Westminster to have a BodPod analysis done. I first saw and heard about the BodPod at the GSK Human Performance Lab. It’s a highly accurate, non-intrusive, extremely rapid method of measuring body composition. It utilises a technique called air displacement plethysmography. Yeah, I can’t say that either, let alone understand what it means. But having done a bit of internet research it appears that it’s the ‘gold standard’ for accurate measurement of body composition.

For the last 18 months I’ve been measuring my body composition on a pair of Tanita41wGkKHG96L__SX425_ body fat analysers. For the first year or so they provided me with a really good picture of how I was progressing. I started off at 42% and at one point had got my measurement down to 29%. I know that it’s not a particularly accurate way to measure body composition but it’s allowed me to monitor trends very effectively.

But over the last six months or so I’ve noticed that the analyser is affected by all sorts of things. How hydrated I am, whether its warm or cold, the time of day etc and so I’ve started to lose faith a bit in the answers that it’s been giving me. I can measure myself at the same time of day two days in a row, under seemingly similar conditions and get results which are 2-3% apart – clearly not possible to lose or gain that much body fat in 24 hours.

So I started considering other ways to get an accurate measure of my body fat. It’s not that I really care too much about the actual number but I feel that I’ve lost my ‘marker’ of where I’m at and want to re-establish that to help me monitor progress.

The option that a lot of people consider to be very accurate is calipers. But they need to be used by someone that really knows what they’re doing, and the thought of a stranger squeezing my fat at several places over my body really didn’t appeal.

And then I came across the BodPod and found out that the University of Westminster had one. After umming and ahhing over the cost I decided that I was intrigued enough to pay to find out. So yesterday morning I went along to their clinic for my analysis.

20140815_100228The BodPod is a bit of a strange looking capsule. The door opens outwards and you sit inside on a platform. You have to wear tight fitting underwear or a swimsuit for the test and have your hair up in a swimming cap. I must have looked a treat.

After being weighed on a set of scales attached to the machine I was then asked to sit inside, keep still, breath normally and not talk. There were three sets of readings taken and in between each the door was opened to recalibrate the air inside.

It was actually pretty comfortable in the capsule, not as claustrophobic as it looks at all. There were a few beeps and I was aware of very small pressure changes but beyond that, and concentrating on sitting very still it wasn’t obvious that anything was going on.

After the third reading I got out of the pod for the moment of truth.

My body fat is 38%.

It was fair to say that I was gutted. I was expecting something in the low 30s. Jean Pierre the BodPod operator could see that I was a bit shocked and re-assured me that a lot of people who have been using body fat composition scales have higher readings on the BodPod. Even so I felt pretty deflated – 38% is excessive amounts of fat and there was me thinking that I was getting towards the ‘moderately lean’ category.

So I sulked for a bit and then posted about how I was feeling in the Extreme Inferno Facebook group. I had some absolutely lovely responses and it made me realise that although the number is higher than I’d hoped for that it really changes nothing.

It doesn’t take away from the progress that I’ve made over the last 18 months. It’s clear that I’ve lost a substantial amount of fat – I didn’t have a BodPod analysis done at the start, if I had done it would probably have been close to 50%.

It doesn’t change the fact that I’m not where I want to be yet. I knew that before I stepped into the machine. Knowing the actually number doesn’t change that at all.

What it does do is provide me with a baseline to measure against. One that I can trust to be accurate. Something that will provide me with re-newed focus and something to keep me totally motivated on losing that fat.

I am going to go back for another test in a few months time towards the end of the year. I intend for that number to have decreased significantly.

And to cheer me up I decided to focus not on my body fat number. But on a number that I’d achieved that morning. A new PB on a move called Arnold press – 10kg in each hand and I know I could do more.

10610638_10152170937861012_2023188936351421075_nI much prefer that kind of number!

 

 

 

 

Protein – are you getting enough?

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m a biochemist by training. I’ve got a BSc in Biochemistry and an MSc in Clinical Biochemistry with Molecular Biology. It’s a long time since I went to University and since I now work in a role which has absolutely nothing to do with biochemistry I’ve forgotten about 80% of what I was taught.

untitledThat doesn’t stop me from getting a bit science geeky every now and again. So when MaxiNutrition invited me to an evening at the GSK Human Performance Lab to find out about how the research they do is translated into MaxiNutrition products I jumped at the chance. That and the fact that I got to meet Dame Kelly Holmes – but I’ve already told you about that.

 

After a tour of the impressive facility that is used by Olympic athletes and top flight rugby players, we settled down to find our more about protein. Why is it so important for recovery and building strength and how much do we really need to eat. Rather than try and explain all the science myself I’m going to quote directly from the MaxiNutrition website as I think they sum it up quite nicely

Protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs, along with fat and carbohydrate. It’s used by your body for a variety of essential functions, one the most important being the building of structural tissues like skin, bone and muscle. Protein is digested and broken down into chemicals that will help muscles recover, protect the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, which combine in unique ways to perform specific tasks. Some of these aminos can be synthesised by your body, but others – the ‘essential’ amino acids – can only be provided through your diet.

Although you can find high levels of protein in all kinds of food – such as dairy, meat and pulses – it can be difficult trying to achieve a complete balance of every amino acid in the correct combination.

Some essential amino acids, the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), have been seen in studies to encourage the formation of muscle tissue. By taking in more of these, along with your balanced intake of protein, you can make sure your body has what it needs.

When your body is being pushed harder by training, sports or performance, it’s only natural that you will need more protein coming in. Studies have proven that active people can require up to 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day. Both the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) use this figure. Consuming over this amount has not displayed a greater benefit, so it can be treated as a sensible maximum.

We need a higher amount of protein when we are active because protein is hard to store in the body. We are constantly using the protein that we eat, turning it over as we perform. To stop our body from using up the protein that we store in our muscles – and stop our muscle mass from reducing – we have to put in as much as we are taking out of our bodies. This is called achieving protein balance.

So you get the picture – protein is important and we need to make sure we get enough of it – especially when we’re training hard. I’ve got to admit to being a bit sceptical about a company that make protein products telling me how much protein I need to eat. But the information that was shared on the evening was all backed up with research – the papers were actually quoted through the presentations – so it felt less sales pitch and more science.

We were also told about some research that suggested that the most effective way to build muscle was to spread protein intake out over the course of the day. 4 evenly spaced ‘doses’ being better than two larger ones.

untitledOver the course of the evening it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea of how much protein I eat on a daily basis. For someone that exercises as much as me – intensely for 5-6 days out of 7 the recommended intake is somewhere between 1-1.2g of protein per kg of body mass. I make sure to base my meals around protein and add vegetables and I quite often take a protein supplement but I have never stopped to work out how much I’m consuming.

My interest heightened I decided to embark on a fact finding mission. For a week I tracked my food using My Fitness Pal to see how much protein I was getting. I haven’t tracked my food intake like that for a very long time and I was slightly concerned about getting fixated on calories, but it was actually quite an enlightening experience.

It turns out I’m eating enough protein on most days, which is good to know. In fact on Capturesome days I’m having more than the recommended intake and could drop it down a bit – I’ve realised that my typical breakfast has plenty of protein and I don’t need to supplement it with a whey shake.

For someone who is trying to shed fat, overall calorie intake is also important. I don’t count calories – that’s far too depressing, but knowing that I can cut a few things out of my diet easily and reduce my overall intake by a bit is also helpful.

But I also quite like protein shakes and the odd protein bar here and there – they add a bit of variety into my diet and feel like a sweet treat without being sugary. So based on what I’ve found from the tracking I’m just tweaking a few things here and there.

I had a fascinating evening with MaxiNutrition, it really made me think about my diet and I learned a lot. I must also say thanks to them for the protein bars and powder that they sent after the event. Chocolate flavour – yum!

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Extreme Inferno – the halfway point

I’m not quite sure where the last six weeks have gone. But gone they have and I’m now at the halfway point of Extreme Inferno, Julia Buckley’s fat loss and fitness programme. I’m absolutely loving it, even more so that the pilot that I took part in last year and there’s a couple of reasons for that. 20140801_071227

The structure of the programme has changed a bit from the pilot and there are now 3, four week phases rather than a 10 week course. Julia has introduced some new workouts which weren’t in the pilot and they seem to be increasing in difficulty and also volume. Just as we’ve mastered a session or move it’s time to move onto something new. That’s the way to keep the body adapting – shaking things up every few weeks and setting it a new challenge.

The other thing that’s very different from the pilot is the number of people taking part and the way that Julia is supporting us. Rather than each have individual contact with Julia via our journals or e-mail Julia is running everything through a private Facebook group and answering all our questions in there. At first I thought this might mean that it would feel less personal than the pilot, but somehow the exact opposite has happened.

Julia’s been leaving us video messages to motivate us which has felt far more personal than a note in a journal. And the group has developed into one of the most friendly and supportive environments that I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. With members located around the world it seems that there’s always someone in there to say hello to, share stories of success, ask for guidance or look for support when we’re feeling frustrated. Checking in has become part of my daily routine and it’s fantastic to know that there’s more than 80 other people taking part in the programme and doing the same workouts as me on a daily basis.

At the halfway mark I am very pleased to report that I have completed every scheduled workout with the exception of one, when we were on holiday (I did over half an hour of open water swimming that day so I’m going to call it a win anyway). A key part of fat loss is consistency and I feel like I’ve got the exercise part of that well and truly nailed. A mixture of HIIT, bodyweight circuits and weight training and working out 6 days out of 7, the sessions in EI are intense and take me well outside of my comfort zone – exactly where I need to be for fat burning.

PhotoGrid_1406787105452So what differences have I noticed? Well I’m definitely stronger, I can see muscle definition appearing in my shoulders and my quads in particular. My tummy is slowly shrinking, it’s not dramatic change but I can see and feel it, and that’s what’s important. I’m getting better at pull ups and needing less assistance. I’m still a long way from being able to do one unassisted but the point is I’m making progress. The training is what’s important rather than the ability to do the move all by myself.

PhotoGrid_1406700210716And there have been a number of firsts in the last few weeks. My first time running outside in short shorts being quite a significant one for me. I’ve always been too self conscious to wear short shorts in public but that’s now changed. I’m pretty pleased with how my legs are shaping up, for a 40 year old they’re not too bad at all. I’ve realised that most people really aren’t looking at me when I’m out running – they’re just going out their business in the same way that I’m going about mine. So ‘yay’ for the short shorts.

Overall I’m feeling pretty fantastic, full of energy and excited about what changes the next six weeks will bring. Bring it on!

20140729_071751 And if you’re curious about what EI involves then Julia has uploaded one of the workouts to You Tube so you can give it a go yourself. This one is an active recovery session – one of the less intense ones and all you need is a resistance band. It’s a lot of fun and one of my favourite sessions from Phase I. Give it a go and let me know what you think.


 

 

 

Running for fun – Run or Dye giveaway

I’ve not posted about running for ages. Truth is I’m not running much at the moment at all. Since the London Marathon back in April and the resultant injury I’ve run one 10K race and some sprint sessions as part of Extreme Inferno. That’s it.

Am I missing it? A bit, although the hot weather in London at the moment is making me thankful for the fact that I don’t have any big races on the horizon. I have dropped out of Tough Mudder (more about the reasons why in another post) and while I’m focussing on fat loss and 100% committed to EI I’ve decided to keep any running I do to 5K maximum for the foreseeable future.

One thing I do miss is having an event to look forward to and prepare for. Since I can run a timed 5K for free every Saturday morning with parkrun I find it hard to justify shelling out cash to run a 5K race. But this summer I’ve found a couple of events that are a bit different which will give me something to look forward to.

Tomorrow I’m taking part in Pretty Muddy a 5K muddy obstacle course organised by the people behind Race for Life. Having done Tough Mudder and The Major Series I’m not expecting it to be too intense, it’s designed for women of all abilities to complete, but as I’m doing it with a group I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Then on September 27th I’ll be taking part in Run or Dye - a new event which claims to be the worlds most colourful 5K. I’ve not done one of these kinds of events before but it looks like it’s going to be messy! Check out the promo video and see for yourself.

Again, I’m taking part with a group of people which will make it even more enjoyable. And you can join in the fun if you want to.

My friend, PT and blogger Danielle has a discount for the race where you can get £3 off the entry fee when registering and using the code SIMPELLE. The code is valid for any of the events across the UK.

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Even better than that I have two free places worth £27.99 each for any of Run or Dye UK event to give away. If you’d like to win these for you and a friend all you need to do is leave me a comment and I’ll pick a winner at random ( i.e. I’ll put the names of everyone that’s entered into a bowl and get Mr J to pick one out).

The competition is open for two weeks and I’ll announce the winner on this page on Sunday 9th August.

Good luck!

 

 

 

GrooveCycle

A few weeks back I was invited to attend a GrooveCycle spinning class at the Reebok Sports Club in Canary Wharf. Spinning isn’t something I do on a regular basis. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that with the other exercise I do I don’t have extra time for this kind of class. However, when I do go along to a class I always enjoy it. Since the country was in the grip of Tour De France fever I thought I’d get in on the cycling thing and signed up to go along.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I doubt very much that Team Sky would have a GrooveCycle class featured on their training plan. It’s an indoor class that combines fitness and dance and involves cycling to the beat. Yes, we were on spin bikes, but a GrooveCycle class is about more than just cycling. Groove Cycle creator and Instructor, Sarah-Jane Aboboto developed GrooveCycle through her love and passion for music, dance, fitness and feeling good. As I walked into the spin studio to the sounds of SL2 ‘On a Ragga Tip’ I realised that this wasn’t going to be your regular spin class.

GrooveCycle _1!Super friendly and high energy from the moment she introduced herself, Sarah-Jane made sure that we were all set up correctly on the bikes before getting us started on the warm up. If she hadn’t have told us otherwise I would have assumed that we were straight into the main part of the class – it was intense!

Cycling to the beat of the music combined with moves to work the core and arms – I had soon worked up an impressive sweat. The music was really good – a variety of tunes, all of which had a really good beat and we were encouraged to match our leg speed to the rhythm of the music throughout the class. This isn’t a new concept – I’ve seen it done elsewhere – but the bit that was new to me was the ‘freestyle’ sections where we were encouraged to ‘groove’ – i.e. have a bit of a dance on our bikes! To begin with I felt a bit awkward and inhibited but by the end of the class I’d relaxed and enjoyed these sections.

Sarah has rhythm and its obvious that she’s a dancer. The choreography to each track was well thought out – during the course of the session we ‘raved’ (read pedal hell for leather while out of the seat) to the crazy breaks in The Prodigy’s ‘No Good’ and punched the air in time with the ‘yeah yeahs’ in Michael Jackson’s ‘Wanna be Starting Something’. It was fun.

By the end of the class I was exhausted. Personally I think a 45min class might be better than a 60 minute one. There was a section towards the end where we used hand weights for some ‘strength work’ but for me that was pretty pointless – the weights were 1.25kg each – barely worth picking up – and I’d have rather skipped this bit and had a shorter class.

Overall I really enjoyed the class – it was fun and a bit different and I worked up a real sweat. The only downside for me, apart from the weights section, was that there were metal bits on the pedals of the spin bike that kept digging into my feet – I could feel them through my trainers and it made it quite uncomfortable to pedal each time we were out of the saddle – which was a lot. I’m sure that would be different if you were wearing clip in cycling shoes, but unless you’re a keen cyclist that’s not something you’re likely to invest in. At other spin studios I’ve been to there’s been an option to hire clip in shoes and had that been available here then I would have taken up the option.

So would I recommend GrooveCycle? Yes – it was fun and I enjoyed it. Classes are £10 each which is very reasonable for London and the Reebok Sports Club has great changing facilities and free lockers. GrooveCycle classes are held at 6:25pm on a Thursday and 11:30am on a Saturday. If you’re already a member of the Reebok Sports Club then you can attend classes as part of your membership and everyone is entitled to a free first class. What’s not to like?

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Talking burpees, ice baths and goals with Dame Kelly Holmes

Last week I got the opportunity to meet and have a chat with Dame Kelly Holmes, double Olympic gold medalist, as you do._2018534

I had been invited to an event at the GSK Human Performance Lab in Brentford by MaxiNutrition. It was an opportunity to find out more about the impressive facility, the research done there and how that is translated into the development of MaxiNutrition products. I may not have mentioned this before but I have a background in biochemistry so I jumped at the opportunity to get a bit ‘science geeky’ for the night. Obviously the chance to meet a middle distance Olympian was a bit of a draw as well!

I’ve got to admit to being a bit nervous about the whole ‘interview with an  Olympian’ thing. I’ve never really met anyone ‘properly’ famous and was a bit concerned that I’d get tongue-tied or ask really dull questions or that she’d wonder what on earth little old me was doing there talking to her. I needn’t have been concerned. From the moment we met she was relaxed and chatty and I felt totally at ease.

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The first thing I noticed from a distance was how tiny she is. Really small. Although she’s also got guns of steel and definitely a look of someone that I wouldn’t mess with. Up close it was clear that she is still in amazing shape, 10 years on from her Olympic triumphs in Athens.

 

I asked her about what her training regime had been like as an international athlete and particularly how much strength training had played a part. I was quite surprised when she told me that an awful lot of her training was strength related. On reflection I probably shouldn’t have been. To run 800 or 1500 meters quickly, you’re going to need strength and speed and my own experience over the last year or so should have told me that this would play a major part in a middle distance runners training.

With up to three sessions a day Dame Kelly’s training included sprint sessions, fartleks, weights work and good old bodyweight HIIT, including burpees. I may have to change my opinion on my least favourite move – if it’s good enough for an Olympian then it’s got to me good enough for me!

She told me that she thought more runners should pay attention to strength training to help them improve. Too many people in her opinion start running and do nothing else to support their training and then get frustrated when they stop making progress or start getting injured. Strength training in her opinion complements running well and it’s definitely something she’d encourage runners to do.

We moved on to talk about recovery. Training up to three times a day is pretty hard-core and it’s going to take its toll on the body so maximising recovery would surely be important? Dame Kelly let me into a little secret – contrast bathing. I’d asked her whether she thought that ice baths worked and she said that she definitely did but that the most effective type of recovery in her opinion was switching between cold and warm. So 10 minutes in a ice bath – a dustbin full of it in her case, followed by a warm shower or brisk massage of the muscles and then back into the ice. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about whether or not ice baths actually make a difference. I’ve used them during marathon training and they’re not a lot of fun but now that I know they have the Dame Kelly seal of approval I’ll try to embrace them a little more.

I asked Dame Kelly about how she trains these days and how she keeps herself motivated. She told me that to mark her 10 year anniversary she decided to set herself a challenge to take part in one duathlon every month. Cycling, she said, was quite difficult for her, it uses totally different muscles to running and she’d had to train really hard to become proficient in it. To keep herself motivated she sets herself small achievable goals, like taking 20 seconds off her bike time. She told me that she gets a real buzz out of competing in the events, from watching the elites whizzing past to staying around to support the tail enders come home.

My time with Dame Kelly was soon at an end and I asked if we could have a photo taken, expecting to pose for a regular shot. As quick as you like she was up out of her chair saying “come on lets pose doing squats”. And before I knew it there I was with a barbell on my back, squatting next to a double Olympic champion. Excuse my poor form, I was a bit overexcited!

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Project Barbados – Week Six – we’re here

Capture

So my six week pre holiday fat loss project is over and I’m typing this from the veranda of our hotel room in Barbados. We’ve been here since Saturday afternoon and it’s beautiful – the view from our room really isn’t that different to the photo above. Stunning.

In reality my fat loss project doesn’t finish here – I’m only 3 weeks into Extreme Inferno and there’s another 9 weeks to go, including this one. I’ve packed plenty of workout clothes and a resistance band and have already done two workouts. It’s really humid here so I really worked up a sweat but luckily the pool is just steps away from our room –  the perfect way to cool down.

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I’ll update with my progress through the rest of EI at the end of each phase. There’s already progress for sure – I’m lifting heavier weights, achieving more reps and I feel stronger. I’ll do some weights and measures next week – although the after effects of a week’s holiday might mean that it’s a few more weeks until there’s any significant change there.

It’s going to be pretty easy to eat well here – loads of fresh fruit, meat and fish on offer. On the other hand alcohol is also in plentiful supply –  champagne at breakfast and lots of lovely cocktails and the local beer is also pretty nice. I’m going to relax and enjoy myself for the week – I’m on holiday after all!

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