Travelling makes me sick

The body is finely balanced, and grows accustomed to routine. Most of us have routined and predictable lives. In my case, I exercise a certain amount, I eat certain foods, go to bed and wake up a certain times, in short, a fairly predictable routine. And the body grows accustomed to this. A sudden change, and the whole chemical balance is thrown off and the result, you get sick.

A holiday is a sudden change. Suddenly you can be in a different time zone, eating different foods, and because it is a holiday, you stop exercising. A shock like this weakens the immune system. I’m notorious for getting sick when I travel too far. I travelled to Las Vegas recently. I was determined to not get sick. I planned on eating well, using the hotel gym, and even more conveniently, using some fitness apps on my phone that don’t even require me to leave the hotel room. The plan was to deviate as little as possible from my “normal”.

Sadly, I did get sick. By the time my head hit the pillow in my hotel room, 24 and half hours after I’d woken up, I had a sore throat, headcold, and coldsore. It seems my body is more delicately balanced than most. I had packed plenty of medication knowing this to be the case.

Even if you’re not as fragile as I apparently am, lots of people get sick on holidays, or around Christmas because of the break in your routine. Your body adapts to your routine, change it, and the shock can make you sick. This applies to micro as well as macro changes. For no reason in particular, I’ve always combined cheat day with rest day, until recently I heard bodybuilder Dennis James question why anyone would do this, its a shock to the system. Cheat day and rest day should not be the same day to minimise the shock.

The lesson, any changes to your routine should be small and gradual.

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Airplanes – recycled air for 12hrs
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Airport Yoga Room – more of this please

 

Carbs

I’ve known a few people to cut out carbs as way to get healthier. Although I’d be skeptical if the goal is to get healthier or to look better. Carb molecules encourage your body to store water, so by eliminating them, you’re essentially wringing your body like a sponge. So the pounds will fall off pretty quickly on a no-carb diet. Quick and easy weight loss success on a no carb diet is just dehydrating yourself and its just water weight you’ve lost.

On a slightly longer term view, a low carb intake means less muscle mass. Without the glucose found in carbs to burn off, your famished body turns to precious amino acids instead, causing you muscles to catabolise. And with this quick reduction in lean mass, your metabolism starts to stall, burning fewer calories, making real weight loss harder still.

And its not just your body, its your brain too. Your brain uses up over half of your bodies glucose stores. A few days into a low-carb diet and you’ll struggle understand all the subplots in the latest Fantastic Beasts movie.

Its true not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs have been associated with obesity. I recently heard a phrase I like and it went something like this, “don’t ask if its good for me, ask when its good for me.” If you’re a professional athlete, you can handle a lot of carbs. If you spend most of your time watching Netflix, you should limit your intake.  Foods don’t exist in a vacuum, you have to look at your carbs in the context of everything else you eat and do. Its all about balance, and some days that means a pasta.

Eat to fuel your body for performance, not to look good.

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Pasta and broccoli – thats lunch sorted for a few days

Taking a break from training

Sometimes it is important not to train. Over the Christmas holidays I’ll dramatically reduce my training. I want to see friends and family, eat Christmas dinners, selection boxes, mince pies, Christmas cake, drink Coca-Cola, and spend a lot of time sitting. Its a big swing from one extreme to the other. My Christmas holidays could be considered unhealthy, especially my Christmas diet. While you don’t need to go to my Christmas extremes and stuff your face with chocolate, cake, and coke, but it is as important to plan breaks from your training.

Even without a obvious breaking point like Christmas, its important to remember that good health is supposed to be a pleasure, not a chore, and scheduling deliberate breaks can stop you forming negative associations with your training. Enjoyment is a crucial factor in sticking to a fitness plan. Without enjoyment you’re likely to quit. Even the most varied of training plans can become stale, so a short break is good to re-energise your enthusiasm.  A scheduled break will also prevent overtraining. Overtraining can lead to spikes in cortisol, which at high levels leads to muscle weakness and weight gain, so a break in your training may well help you achieve your training goals, rather than set you back. So go ahead, take a break. Happy Christmas.

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Tea, Donut, and relaxation

Realistic Aesthetics

Recently I saw Sylvester Stallone posted the picture below from the set of Rocky 3. He describes how between scenes, he had to go to the corner and turn up-side-down to get blood back into his head. In order to look the way he did, his body fat was 2.9%, which made him light headed during scenes, and in order to continue, and not faint, this up-side-down trick was needed. Stallone goes on to say that while he looked in great shape, he was far from it. Transforming his body for Rocky 3 left him very unhealthy on the inside, despite outward appearances. I admire Stallones honesty.

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I’ve read similar things in the pages of Men’s Health magazine from today’s action heroes. Daniel Craig became a vegetarian for a time after James Bond because the diet needed to get his Bond-look was, in his opinion, disgustingly high in meat. Chris Hemsworth was eager for a run because his Thor training regime specified zero cardio work, at one point he stopped training when he outgrew the Thor costume. Henry Cavill says the Superman physique disappears very quickly after filming because it’s not designed to be sustainable.

The action hero physiques you see in the movies are built on training regimes designed to make you look a certain way for the brief period that you are filming. They are driven by aesthetics, not health, and they are ephemeral, not sustainable. That’s not to take away from the effort that these guys put into attaining their physiques, the hard work is very real, but the results are primarily aesthetic in nature, and the schedules not conducive to even their own lives. Aesthetics are important for your mental health, we all like to look good, but don’t base your training goals on what you see in the movies. I work in an office from 9 to 5, so more realistic goals are required.

How much fruit and veg?

I recently read that the Japanese government gifts their citizens a silver sake cup when they reach 100 years of age, and that the policy is being reviewed because last year it cost the Japanese government $2 million. In Okinawa, Japan, you’ll find the world’s highest prevalence of proven centenarians. Not only do they have the highest life expectancy in the world, but also the highest health expectancy, they remain vigorous and healthy into old age. I’m sure there are many reasons for this longevity, and diet must be one.

In Britain and Ireland we’re all familiar with the “five-a-day” maxim. The Japanese government recommends up to 13 portions of vegetables a day, plus four portions of fruit. A spokeswoman from the British Department of Health (I assume Ireland just copied these guys) said of the five-a-day campaign, “There must be a balance between what is healthy for the British public and what is feasible”. In other words, 5 was chosen because its a sufficiently low, unthreatening number.

Below is my attempt at an Asian style meal: rice, egg, spinach, and steak. Delicious yes, but a very Western slant on Asian cuisine, with just one portion of veg. It doesn’t help that the variety of interesting fruit and vegetables that grow in Ireland is low.

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There are many ways in which eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial for health. Both are high in fibre, which makes you feel fuller for longer, which can help reduce unhealthy snacking. Fruit and vegetables are also a natural source of numerous vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining good all-round health. I eat a lot of fruit, but I’m not so good with vegetables (the better of the two). If I want to live to see the year 2086 and beyond, I’ll have to add more veg to my diet. More fruit and veg, good advice for all.

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