Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Preventing Illness through training and nutrition

With the winter months well and truly here, I thought I’d write about how regular training/exercise and proper nutrition can really boost your immunity and help fend off any nasty bugs or illnesses. This time of the year is notorious for more people taking time off work, one of the main reasons being due to the colder and wetter weather. People tend to stay indoors more often during the winter and understandably so, but this means we’ll come in to contact with more dangerous bacteria, for example people coughing and sneezing around us. Also something else to consider is during winter months we are hidden from natural sunlight, meaning we will more than likely be deficient in vitamin D, which can lead to a whole host of health problems such a skeletal deformities, achiness/soreness, gut problems, and poor mood, in worst cases leading to depression. Through better nutrition and maybe supplementation our vitamin D levels can be at a more “healthy” level.

Of course we can take care and be more vigilant in our own hygiene and other simple habits to help protect ourselves as much as possible. Simple things like washing our hands regularly, putting our hands over our mouths/nose when we cough/sneeze, maintaining stress levels, sleeping properly (7 hours minimum) and then of course exercise and nutrition, which I will go into a bit more detail. Put this all together and fingers crossed, your immune system will be boosted and more protected from illness. Let’s hope you can not only go all winter without being ill, but all year round too, if you stick to this advice.


It is well known that through regular exercise, whether that’s going to the gym or playing sports, can be the pillar of good health. It will improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, control body weight and protect against various diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job more efficiently.

You don’t have to exercise every day to benefit from this. As long as your body is training or exercising at least 20 minutes, a few times a week, your immune system will spark new cells that will help keep foreign invaders away. This could be a simple dog walk, a jog around the park, or a weights session in the gym. As long as you’re breaking a sweat, it’s exercise!  Each time you exercise you’re immune system will build up and therefore you’ll be at less risk of getting an infection, like the common cold for example.


Now onto the most important element of this subject. When it comes to nutrition, think of your body as a car. If you put the wrong fuel into a car, it’s not going to last long; it will come up against problems and will breakdown. It’s the exact same thing with the human body. If we fuel our body with the wrong foods, our body will not perform to what it’s optimally capable of, we’ll get ill, we’ll feel less energetic, stressed, unhappy, the list goes on. When I say “bad” foods, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what I mean. But here’s a list of a few food categories you should avoid:

  • Processed food (takeaways), do we really know where they’re getting there sources of food from?
  • Foods high in sodium, sugar and trans-fats (chocolate, crisps, sweets, cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks etc.)
  • Foods with additives, e-numbers and hidden chemicals/sugar (Ready meals, “low fat” products, smoothies/fruit juices, cereals, coffee shop products etc.)
  • Alcohol.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting junk into our bodies. Some of the stuff above we can have in slight moderation, for example a couple of pints of beer at the weekend or a glass of red wine with a meal out is fine and can actually have some health benefits (red wine). The devil is in the dosage with a lot of the foods above. One takeaway a month won’t kill you, a cheeky bit of chocolate at the weekend again won’t hurt you, again dark chocolate has health benefits (80%+),  it’s just when you see all of the above mixed together frequently, you’re potentially at a very high risk of a lot of health problems, which I shouldn’t have to explain.

Now onto some positive information. The human body was designed to eat anything that:

  • Flies (poultry like chicken, turkey, duck, eggs)
  • Swims (fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, seafood, etc.)
  • Runs (farm animals like cows, lambs, pigs)
  • Grows out of the ground or on trees (fruit, vegetables, grains,  nuts, and seeds)
And one other key component of our nutrition we tend to forget about is water for hydration of the body and vital organs. All of the above should be a staple in your understanding of basic nutrition. Not only will all these foods provide you with the right amount of protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins to fuel you for day to day activities, but also help fight against infections. These are packed full of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, water soluble vitamins B, C and folic acid. They also provides other key minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and selenium, which help the function of vital organs in the body. Eat a variety of foods from the above categories, incorporate as much “colour” in your diet as possible to gain the maximum amount of nutritional benefit to help run that very precious machine of yours, your body! You will see the difference and hopefully prevent illness.
After reading this I hope you now have a bit more knowledge on what to do when it comes to avoiding illnesses. So if you’re one of those people who always goes down with a cold this time of the year, follow my advice, put it all together; hygiene, exercise, nutrition and proper sleep/rest and I guarantee you you’ll feel better in some shape or form!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Training with a new born

Some of you reading this may have heard that very recently I have become a father to a baby boy. The past year has been a whirlwind, last October I found out I was going to become a father and a month ago my son, Isaac, was born. A new-born has a huge impact on your life, and I knew my training would have to change with less sleep, less time to eat and generally less time to do anything! It's not about you anymore, you always have to put the baby first and so I am going to tell you how I've changed my training to keep myself fit and maintain the strength I have built up since starting to train 5 years ago, whilst raising a baby with my partner.
Previously before becoming a dad, I had enough time to train 5 times a week and play basketball once or twice a week. I love training and have come far since starting when I was 18. With a new-born, you will have less sleep and find it hard to keep your nutrition intact (I've tried my best!), therefore you will have less energy to train regularly. So I knew I wouldn't be able train as much as I used to. I've reduced my training frequency to 3 times a week and if I have time I add a 30 minute cardio session. It's built around compound lifts and is split into a push day, pull day and leg day, with abs at the end of 2 or 3 days for 10-15 minutes or so. Here is what I do:

Push day:
Flat/incline/decline bench press 4-6 reps x 4 sets -  change each week.
DB Shoulder press/barbell push press 6-10 reps x sets
Tricep extensions/skull crushers/narrow press ups - tri set 6-12-25 x3

Pull day:
Deadlifts/stiff legged 4-6 reps x 4 sets
Pull ups wide/narrow 6-10 reps x 3 sets
Lat pull down/one arm row 8-12 reps x 3 sets
Seated DB curls/Z bar curls/Cable curls - tri set 6-12-25 x3

Leg day:
Barbell front squat/back squat 4-6 reps x 4 sets
Good mornings/negative hamstring curls 6-10 reps x 3 sets
Walking DB lunges/leg extensions 8-12 reps x 3 sets
Sprints/Prowler sprints 25-50m x 5 sets

Cardio (optional):
Treadmill Interval training- 30 second sprint, 45 second rest. 10-15 minutes.
Keiser bike- 15 minutes.

So there it is, as you can see it's built around heavy compound lifts such as the bench press, shoulder press, deadlifts and squats. This is to maintain or even stimulate muscle growth and strength, depending on my sleep patterns and nutrition. The rest is a mix of strength and hypertrophy. With some exercises I will go to failure on the last set, on one arm rows or leg extensions for example. In terms of abs, I will set up a mini circuit of 3-4 ab exercises (e.g. hanging knee raises, leg raises, bicycle crunches, ab wheel rollouts) of 10-20 reps on each exercise and complete 3-4 times, with a rest time of 90 seconds in between circuits. I will do this 2-3 times a week at the end of a workout.

Not only do I think this is a great 3 day split for my situation and others in it too, but it's also a great training plan for newcomers to weight training. It gives you a full days rest in between each training day to recover, so you can put 100% into each workout without feeling too tired or over trained. E.g. Monday (push), Wednesday (pull), Friday (legs) and Sunday (optional cardio). Once you feel you have plateaued on this plan then add in another training day or come up with a new split, as there are tons of different ones out there. I have been doing this for 4 weeks now and feel great on it. I haven't lost much of what I have gained at all and I have even increased my deadlift weight. Once Isaac starts sleeping through the night and I finally get 8+ hours sleep then I will increase my training days again, but until then, this is working fine!