Wednesday 24 June 2015

Pre- and Post-Workout Habits

   When you get used to doing something, all kinds of little habits can develop. This is true for pretty much any aspect of your life, but you notice it only when those habits are removed from you for a while. Habits like brushing your teeth before bed or heaping teaspoons of loose tea aren't easily stolen unless you have no loose tea or you lose your tooth brush. But when I went on holiday, a lot of my fitness habits went out of the window - and I don't just mean not exercising at the time I usually would, if at all some days, or eating clean. Those are more lifestyle choices than habits. I mean the little things that can make or break a workout. Call me finickity, but I, like many others, am a creature of habit, and when certain things are important to people, the habits that come with them are, too.

   My fitness is important to me. You probably noticed. And, as I've been at it for so long, certain habits have stuck. Some form but break after a week or so, others come and go without me realising, but there are a number that I've held solidly pretty much since I started.

A suitable breakfast
   I exercise in the morning, so my breakfast is made into an even more important meal than it usually is. I need fuel for what I'll be doing an hour later - but not too much. I don't want to get hungry too soon and I want to be able to get through the whole thing without stopping due to fatigue, but I'm also trying to lose the last bits of stubborn fat as well as get fit, so I need my body to use fat as fuel, too.
   Protein is important, and especially when it comes to breakfast. It causes your food to digest more slowly and subsequently releases the energy at a more steady pace through the morning, so it makes it an important breakfast component whether you're exercising or not. But, of course, you also need energy, so a dose of healthy carbs like fruit or oats is always a good idea - that's why you so often see different porridge or oat recipes on health/fitness blogs, or combinations of fruit and yogurt. Fruit and oats give you lots of nutrients and fibre as well as a good source of carbs and, subsequently, energy.

   For me, however, while I always start the day with a glass of hot lemon water, what I eat for breakfast depends on the workout. If it's Monday, Wednesday or Friday, I skip the carbs and go straight for protein, be it an omelette, plain Greek yogurt or even a straight-up protein shake. This is because on those days I'm either doing cardio where I'll want to shed the fat sooner because I find cardio harder to maintain, or I'm doing yoga which I use more as an active recovery day rather than all-out exercise or all-out rest. I'm not sure if it's the healthiest thing to do, I'm not a nutritionists, but I've never suffered any ill effects from doing so - not a slow-down in weight loss 'nor increased fatigue while or after exercise.
   On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, however, I go for a protein porridge. This is because I do strength training on those days and I want to do that right, and I also know that I can rely on my body to use the energy from the oats to lift the weights, exhausting all of the glycogen in my muscles without exhausting myself, so that I can go on to cardio afterwards and burn fat more effectively.
   My protein porridge consists of Quaker whole grain oats, a scoop of PhD Woman's strawberry exercise support shake and a heaped teaspoon of Aduna's baobab powder, and it comes in at about 200kcals. It is deliciously thick, fruity, clean and wholesome, and is something I really look forward to starting my day with. And if I'm going for just protein, my omelettes consist of 1 egg, 1 heaped teaspoon of Aduna's moringa powder and a small piece of smoked salmon, which consists of 100kcals, as does the yogurt and the protein shake. I don't like PhD Woman's strawberry shake outside of porridge, though, so I usually just go for PhD Nutrition's Diet Whey in chocolate. Another delicious start to the day! I follow all of that up with a nice cup of Twinings green tea - pretty much anything from their green tea range, but 'cherry bakewell', 'pineapple and grapefruit' and 'jasmine' are my favourites.

   Okay, so breakfast admittedly goes without saying. It's important, whether I exercise or not. Some people say you lose more weight by exercising on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, others say you lose more if you have a small breakfast first, but studies have proven quite inconclusive. I believe it depends on what you eat, how you exercise and for how long. Personally, I admit I saw a fraction more weight loss when I used to exercise on an empty stomach, but I also got many more headaches and injuries because of it. Once I started having breakfast an hour and a half before hand, I saw a drastic improvement in my daily health, and only a small drop in weightloss, and let me tell you that I really prefer it this way.

   But another habit that I can't really explain as well are thermogens. Around May last year I started taking thermogenic capsules before my workout because they supposedly help you to burn fat more effectively through your workout. I have absolutely no idea if this is true. I don't have two of me, so I can't run a fair test to find out, but it's become a habit I can't shake. The reason for this is because you have to take them, on average, 30 minutes before you start your workout for them to be effective, so when I take them I'm more or less committed to that workout. From that point I know that I have 30 minutes to brush my teeth, tie back my hair (it's so long that tying it into a basic ponytail is, no joke, a 5-10 minute task), prepare my post-workout shake, fill a bottle of water, use the loo, set up my kit, give Seeg a kiss and get started. And it works, because it guarantees that I get started right on time, and knowing exactly when you're going to get started can really help when it comes to mental preparation, especially when you're new to fitness. It's such a habit for me now that it isn't something I think about at all.
   I like to use PhD Woman's body sculpt capsules, or Real Nutrition Co's 'Raw'.

Electrolyte tabs
   My next habit is, as I mentioned above, my water. Yes, water is water, it's pretty much the most hydrating thing there is. And so, when I reviewed nuun electrolyte tabs last year on the blog, I was sceptical as to their necessity. But, honestly, I noticed an immediate difference. Nuun allows your body to absorb the water quicker than if it was just water alone, and I really was more hydrated, and it was something I noticed while working out, rather than later in the day. They have immediate benefits. I also drained the 500ml bottle easily in the 45 minutes I was exercising because it tasted beter, compared to drinking only about 300ml if it's plain water, and it quenched my thirst easily. I wasn't gasping for water at all like I was before I tried them. As a result, a nuun tab a day in my workout water (except Wednesdays as that's yoga and Qigong) has become another necessity. I have run out from time to time and, of course, used normal water, and I immediately notice the difference in hydration levels while exercising.

10-minute dance warm-up
   Another habit I have comes at the very start of my workout. As you all know, I am a massive introvert and I have to stay at home pretty much constantly to look after my mum because of her disability. As a result, I don't go to a gym. I do all my workouts in my living room, so I have quite a growing collection of DVDs and kit. When I first started using exercise DVDs, I would just use 10 Minute Solution dance DVDs for about half an hour, and that did me fine back then. It was hard enough, intense enough and I enjoyed it. It took a long time for me to touch weights or try body weight training, let alone learning to love it, so I built up a good collection of 10 Minute Solution dance DVDs because each of them had 5 different 10-minute dance routines, so there was plenty of choice for the day's workout. Now, of course, these DVDs barely cause me to break a sweat. In short, they're too easy, but I do still enjoy them. And it's because of both of these factors that I use one every single day. I decide on the single 10-minute routine I want to do out of a combined choice of 30 from all the DVDs, and I use it at the start of my workout for my warm-up.

   This method provides me with a fun 10-minute warm-up that not only focuses my mind but also boosts my enthusiasm because it's fun but still releases endorphins, making it extremely valuable on those days when I just don't want to do anything and would rather stay in bed playing The Witcher or Mass Effect. It can completely change my mood around. Don't get me wrong, once I've finished that 10-minute section (and maybe completed a second section if I'm feeling either particularly down in the dumps or particularly energetic) I'll put on a proper workout DVD and I'll still use the warm up right from the start of that, too, but it gives me the perfect length of time to warm my body and focus my mind, which is another part of while warm-ups are so important. So these old workout DVDs that could be useless to me have been given another purpose, and have by no means been demoted. Like I said, sometimes these dance warm-ups can really change my mood around and get me raring to go. Without them, I think there would be days when I'd turn it all off after 20 minutes and admit defeat. A single 10-minute dance warm-up has often lead me to complete my full 45 minutes even on rotten days.

   Another thing I've found that can make or break a workout is music. Like I said, I usually use DVDs, but that's not to say I don't put together my own sequences, use magazines or websites, because I do, and often. My cardio day consists of one or two different DVDs, but it also includes a pliometrics workout from a website and my own self-created Wild Animal workout; on strength days I often finish up with a 15-minute HIIT workout from the same website as the pliometrics, and my yoga day is mad up of 4 different routines from 4 different magazines. As a result, these would be silent but for my grunting and gasps of exhaustion. So I play music, even if it's just for 10 minutes. At the end of strength days when I've done 25 minutes of strength and 20 minutes of cardio, I don't really feel like finishing up with 10-15 minutes of HIIT. But as soon a that music goes on and I tell myself "I'll just do two circuits", I go for the full allotted time.

   I'm not a fan of conventional music, so what I workout to is usually game soundtracks. Be that World of Warcraft or Assassin's Creed - or, much more recently, The Witcher. There is, in fact, only one musician I can say I truly love, and that's Lindsey Stirling. Both of her albums are amazing to workout to, especially her first, though I admit that yoga is kind of difficult with that playing as my downward dog is more like a downward wiggle. If I'm kickboxing I tend to go for orchestral dubstep - in particular, pretty much any dubstep mix of Two Steps From Hell. It tends to have a consistant beat that I can keep up with, but the epicness of it also sends my fantasy-driven mind into overdrive and I imagine fighting all kinds of bad guys. It's a lot of fun. Like I said: make or break.

Post-workout shake
   I always finish up with a post-workout shake. I calorie-count, so I know I need a certain amount of calories a day as well as certain food types if I want my workout to be effective, but I also have to spread those calories through the day for maximum effect and to keep my metabolism moving, as well as keep me from snacking out of turn. As a result, a small 100kcal protein shake even follows my low-key Wednesday workouts. The calories, protein and carbs that follow my strength workouts are higher.
   I rather look forward to these shakes if I'm honest, especially at this time of the year. In the summer I make the shake before I start my workout and stick it in the fridge, so I have a nice, cold shake when I'm finished, and the protein in that shake will tide me over for the following hour and a half before lunch.

   I'm not so sure the post-workout shake can be considered a habit since post-workout nutrition is important in general anyway. Your body needs the protein to help it rebuild, and it needs the carbs to fuel that rebuilding as well as put some of your energy back after that tough workout. But that doesn't mean you have to have a protein shake - a chicken sandwich would be just as good. The meat provides good and high-quality protein (animal foods such as meat and eggs provide the highest quality protein, then comes animal-produced foods like dairy, and then, on the bottom rung of the protein ladder, comes the plant sources), while the bread provides good carbs. But try to go for whole-grain bread whenever you can as it's simply more nutritious. Avoid sauces and butter/margarine when you can as they're simply not necessary.

   For the rest of the day I try to get a good balance of protein, healthy fats and clean carbs. Don't get me wrong, biscuits sneak in, as does the occasional cake, but I tell you that if I didn't allow myself these things I'd be 3 dress sizes bigger because I'd have given up long ago. I know myself well enough (and have proven this a number of times in the past) to know that by cutting things out for good, I will cave. I'm not as strong as I'd like to be, and while I know that I can work on that by trying, I also know that by eating well and exercising often, these occasional treats do little to no damage, and it's easy to get back on the horse. And I'm still healthy, still losing weight, and still getting stronger. So the Kinder bar I ate an hour ago isn't going to my thighs, and if it does it certainly won't be there long. I'm not at all concerned.
   I get my supplements from UK-suppliers like Real Nutrition Co and PhD Nutrition/PhD Woman, so a lot of what I use isn't available to the rest of the world, but there are other brands like ETB in the US that supply their own of all of the pre-workout and post-workout supplements above and they're affordable to those who are looking to try it all out for the first time.


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