10 Tips to Navigate Your Holiday Nutrition

The silly season is upon us which probably means your social calendar is bursting at the seams. Even if you’re a little bit of a hermit (like myself), you will likely have Christmas plans that revolve entirely around a lot of calorie-dense foods. 

So, I’m dropping in to give you a few tips and tricks that will help you navigate your nutrition this silly season. 

Tip #1: Make sure your nutrition strategy is intentional!

Whatever you choose, be intentional about your goals. Do you want to ‘YOLO’ it and put yourself in a food coma? Do you want to maintain? Or do you want to stay in a deficit?

Whatever goal you choose, own your choice and accept the sacrifices that come with it:

  • If you are the type of person who likes to ‘YOLO’ it on Christmas Day, that’s cool, just accept that you may gain a little fat and weight in the process. 
  • If you’re more inclined to aim to maintain, accept that you will lose less fat that week. 
  • If you’re more inclined to stay in a deficit, accept that you may not be able to fully immerse yourself in your overflowing social calendar and you will need to apply a lot more restraint. 

Just choose a goal that is realistic and execute it!

Don’t intend to be in a deficit and then find yourself being the person who YOLO’s it. When you CHOOSE something out of AUTONOMY you are more willing to accept what comes afterwards. If you make decisions out of emotion and eat the whole pudding when you intend to be in a deficit, you’ll feel shit about yourself. 

Tip #2: What you do between January-November matters more than what you do in December-January

Everyone seems to lose their minds in December. People worry if they overeat a day here and there and then the whole ‘New Year, new me’ promises begin (this is really just an exaggerated version of ‘I’ll start on Monday’). Remember – consistent actions create consistent results. You won’t undo 11 months of hard work in a few days. Refer back to tip one and own your strategy. 

Tip #3: You can have your pudding and eat it too!

Whether you’re the ‘YOLO’ it kind of person or the type who wants to maintain or stay in a deficit, consider calorie cycling. Similar to how your week-to-week average weight is more important than your day-to-day weight, your average weekly calorie intake is far more relevant than how many calories you’re eating on a specific day. This is where calorie cycling can be useful.

LET’S USE A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE:

If you are recommended 1800 calories a day, your weekly net calories would equate to: 12,600 (1800 x 7 = 12,600) 

There are several ways you can use calorie cycling:

Now there’s nothing magical about calorie cycling and your rate of fat loss (or gain) will be determined by your overall energy balance – but it can enable you to have your pudding and eat it too (aka stick with your goals while enjoying a higher calorie day). 

Tip #4 Consider fasting 

Decreasing your eating window from 12-8pm can help decrease the overall energy you consume throughout the day. Just like calorie cycling, fasting isn’t magic. It is a tool you can utilise to decrease the amount of food you eat. 

Tip #5 Prioritise protein and vegetables before fun foods 

Christmas is all about the fun foods. If you turn down your Gran’s signature Christmas pudding, you probably won’t be doing yourself any favours, and let’s be real – Gran’s Christmas pudding is the sh*t. Try having a serving of protein and vegetables with each meal to increase satiety. Maybe you won’t need the whole pudding if you’re feeling full from loading up on protein and fibre. 

Tip #6 Stay hydrated

Fun fact, we often confuse thirst for hunger. Need I say more? 

Tip #7 Enjoy a few glasses of wine (or drink of choice) but maybe don’t get plastered

Alcohol is great at one thing – altering our ability to make rational choices. You might have the best of intentions to do X, Y and Z but your  perception gets a little distorted when you are looking down the barrel of a few empty wine bottles. Also remember that alcohol contains calories (yes, even your vodka lime soda). 

Tip #8 Eat mindfully

It takes a little while for your stomach to signal to your brain that you’re full. Take some time to chew your food and be present with it.  Your eyes are often hungrier than your stomach! If after a little while you find yourself still hungry, go back for seconds.

Tip #9 Stay active

Get yourself out for a walk with the family in the morning. This will help you to feel less sluggish after a big day of eating and drinking. 

Tip #10 Remember that all-or-nothing gets you all-or nothing 

If you find yourself overeating or having one too many drinks for a few days in a row, that’s cool. Just make good choices the next day and the day after that until you feel more like yourself. Don’t let a few days turn into a few weeks or a few months. Consistency is key!

Bonus Tip – Enjoy yourself!

No seriously, we rarely get a moment to be present with our loved ones. We often put SO much focus on food during the holidays and forget that this season is about coming together with the ones you love most to connect and celebrate the year that was, and the year that is to come.

Finally, we just want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for being part of the Coach Mark Carroll family.

Here’s to an epic new year!

Yours in cheer,

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit

Is it harder for women with PCOS to lose fat?

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a hormonal disorder that affects women of childbearing age. The most common symptom of PCOS is irregular periods, which can cause fertility problems, weight gain, and acne. In addition, PCOS is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Although there is no cure for PCOS, there are treatments that can help to manage the symptoms. These include lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and regular exercise and medication.

Nutrition and exercise play a massive role in the management of PCOS. This is because insulin resistance affects many other health conditions such as eye problems, heart disease and kidney disease. The insulin resistance seen in PCOS is also unlike that in type two diabetes because it also causes hyperandrogenism. Hyperandrogenism is an increase in the male sex hormone testosterone, which can impact a woman’s fertility. 

As a women’s health coach, my main goal when working with women with PCOS is to improve insulin resistance. Improving insulin resistance has a flow-on effect, such as improving testosterone levels and fertility and decreasing cardiac disease risk factors. From a non-medical point of view, insulin resistance can be managed through regular exercise and fat loss, which brings us to the topic of this week’s LEARN blog. 

Is it more challenging for women with PCOS to lose fat? 

I have worked with many women with PCOS as a coach, and anecdotally I have found that some women with PCOS can have a more challenging time losing fat. This is supported by a study by Georgopoulos et al (2009) assessed 91 women with PCOS and biochemical hyperandrogenaemia and found that basal metabolic rate was 40% lower in the PCOS group — yes, 40%! This means she would require 40% fewer calories than a woman without PCOS to maintain her BMR (not to be confused with TDEE). However, other studies have also looked into this finding and could not report similar results. 

With that said, a recent systematic review by Xiaohong Ding et al demonstrated that there may be a clear relationship between hypothyroidism and PCOS. The study outlined that women with PCOS also have a higher chance of sub-clinical hypothyroidism. What’s interesting about this study is that it is a bit of a chicken vs. egg situation. Meaning, is it PCOS that increases the risk of hypothyroidism or does hypothyroidism increase the risk of developing PCOS? This study suggests that having PCOS increases the risk of hypothyroidism. Further research is required before further conclusions are made, but this is interesting data nonetheless. 

Why? 

Because we know that untreated hypothyroidism decreases basal metabolic rate, and it will remain low if left untreated and unmanaged. 

Outside of these findings, it appears that women with PCOS have dysregulation in the satiety hormone CCK, which indirectly may make it more difficult for them to reach satiety (and, therefore, impair adherence). 

What does this mean practically? 

Suppose you have PCOS, or you coach women with PCOS. In that case, it might be warranted to have thyroid levels tested to determine if medication might be needed to treat sub-clinical hypothyroidism. Women with PCOS often report having difficulty losing weight and feeling hopeless when it comes to losing fat. It is worthwhile considering that women with PCOS may have a downregulation in their BMR and require supportive strategies to help them stay in a deficit for long enough to see results. Refeeds and diet breaks might be helpful in this circumstance to break up the monotony of dieting on low calories over an extended period.

Optimising satiety is also essential to mitigate dysregulation in the hormone CCK. Therefore, volume foods and high-protein meals should be prioritised to help with adherence. 

Yours in health,

Sheridan Skye

 

How much muscle can you grow in one year?

You may have heard of protein before, but what exactly is it? Protein is a nutrient essential for the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body. It comprises smaller units called amino acids, which are held together by chemical bonds. 20 different amino acids can be used to make protein, and the specific sequence of amino acids determines the structure and function of the protein. Proteins play various roles in the body, including providing structure for cells, transporting molecules, building and maintaining lean body mass and catalysing chemical reactions.

You might think protein is your muscles’ version of a savings account. But unlike a savings account, protein doesn’t have a storage capacity like carbohydrates or fats do. Why is this important? Because it means that you should be more strategic with how you space out your protein intake to maximise muscle protein synthesis throughout the day. But I won’t go into that here as I wrote another blog post on muscle protein synthesis and protein timing that you can read here. So instead, I want to outline how much protein is optimal depending on your goals.

How much protein do you really need? 

The RDA (recommended daily protein intake) sits at 0.75g-0.84g/kg/day. This recommendation only considers the amount of protein you need to consume to avoid deficiency and does not account for maintaining or building muscle mass. To maximise muscle growth, you should aim to consume 1.6-2.2g/kg/day of protein. Why the large discrepancy? We like to recommend the lower end if you are in a surplus or maintenance phase and the higher end if you are in a deficit. However, you may need to go as high as 2.4g/kg/per day if you are pretty lean and you are in an aggressive deficit.

Can you take your protein intake higher than this? 

Well sure. 

Will it be helpful? 

Unlikely. 

As I mentioned earlier, protein doesn’t have a storage capacity, so the protein we eat needs to be used for physiological reasons or excreted. The problem with increasing protein intake above this threshold is that it doesn’t contribute to building muscle mass at a faster rate, and it eats into the number of carbohydrates and fats you can consume. Carbohydrates are essential for exercise performance. If you want to ‘tone’ or gain muscle, exercise performance and execution are crucial factors in this equation. In addition, fat consumption is essential to promote neurological and hormonal health. 

What is your ceiling of muscle growth potential? 

Some people assume that eating more protein will lead to a faster rate of muscle growth. Still, the amount of muscle we are actually able to gain as a natural trainee (someone not on performance-enhancing drugs) is far less than you’d think, and it depends on your training age. For example, a woman who has been resistance training for less than one year can gain a maximum of 5.4kg of muscle mass per year (as an absolute maximum). This is because the untrained person will gain muscle much faster than a trained person, and the more advanced you become, the slower the process becomes. So if we look at the muscle growth potential of a trained woman, it decreases to a staggering 680g! 

Yes – that’s 680g of muscle mass over twelve months compared to 5.4kg in an untrained woman. 

This is why Mark and I stress the importance of building for a long time. If your main goal is to build muscle, it takes time. It is also why we don’t recommend trying to ‘recomp’ if you are a trained person. Think about it, if you can only gain a maximum of 680g of muscle mass in one year, if you eat in a surplus, train with intention and prioritise stress management and sleep — what chance do you have of growing muscle in a deficit? So at best, we want to maintain muscle mass in a deficit, not increase it. 

Other considerations

Your protein hierarchy of importance! 

Protein consumption is essential, whether your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat. Mark wrote a recent post on choosing your low-hanging fruit and nailing that to save the ‘all or nothing approach. We also have a hierarchy of importance when it comes to protein consumption. 

As you can see, your lowest hanging fruit here requires you to focus on your total daily protein intake. Yes, distribution matters. As explained in this LEARN blog. Protein distribution matters because there is a ceiling of muscle protein synthesis we can reach with one feeding of protein. Then we can consider where we consume protein relative to our training session. Again, this blog post talks a little more about the ‘anabolic window’. But the overarching priority is nailing your total daily protein intake before trying to nail protein timing. 

Sleep 

As any gym goer knows, lifting weights is essential for building muscle mass. However, it’s not just what you do in the gym that counts – what you do outside of the gym is just as important. In particular, getting enough sleep is crucial for muscle growth. Sleep helps reduce cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can break down muscle tissue. As a result, getting a good night’s sleep is essential for anyone who wants to gain muscle mass.

Training with intensity and execution

Even the best training program will yield minimal results if you are not properly executing it. This is why my motto is ‘it’s not your training program. It’s your execution that ultimately builds your best possible physique’. 

So what does training with intensity and execution practically look like? 

It looks like taking most of your sets within 2-3 reps of actual muscular failure, dropping ego lifting and executing each movement with near-perfect technique. 

 

Yours in health,

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit

How Many Calories Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?

As a breastfeeding mum, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting enough calories to keep up your milk supply and energy levels. But how many calories do you need for breastfeeding? This blog post by our Head of Nutrition Sheridan Skye, will break down everything you need to know about how to support your breastfeeding journey with nutrition. 

Do Mothers Need More Calories While Breastfeeding?

Yes, they do! In fact, breastfeeding requires far more calories than a pregnancy. During pregnancy, maternal fat mass increases to prepare for breastfeeding to ensure you have enough energy to sustain a process that is as metabolically expensive as breastfeeding (wild, isn’t it!) 

How Many Extra Calories for Breastfeeding?

Well, that’s the tricky part. It’s a nuanced topic; there’s no doubt about it. I dedicated an entire three-part series to answer this question in our postnatal series (shameless plug). But I don’t want to leave you hanging, and I hope this blog gives you some little nuggets you can walk away with and implement immediately.

You’ll hear several different values when it comes to this question. Some say 200, some say 300, and some say 800, which is a big difference when you stop to think about it!

Butte and King published a brilliant paper on energy requirements during breastfeeding. They concluded that women require up to 625 extra calories per day in the first five months to support exclusive breastfeeding. 

So does that mean ALL women should eat an additional 625 calories per day for the first five months? 

Well, not exactly! This number does vary a lot amongst women. Keep reading to find out more. 

Is Dieting Safe During Breastfeeding? 

Before we get into the complex topic of calorie requirements during breastfeeding, let’s address the elephant in the room. Is dieting safe during breastfeeding? The short answer is yes – dieting can be safe during breastfeeding. This means you can safely lose fat in your postpartum period without affecting your milk supply. Outside of severe protein energy malnutrition, women’s milk volume stays relatively consistent regardless of their calorie intake. In fact, your baby’s requirements are essentially what regulates your milk production, with supply matching demand. This means that each time your baby removes milk from your breasts, your body is signalled to ‘make more to match that supply. So the best way to increase supply is to remove more milk from the breast by increasing the frequency of feeds and ensuring your baby transfers milk well from your breasts. So while a deficit is not likely to affect your milk supply, when energy is restricted, your health is at greater risk of decreasing over the potential decrease of your milk supply. 

Can You Have a Calorie Deficit While Breastfeeding?

A slow and steady approach to fat loss (around 0.5-1kg per week) is safe for milk production. Since we now know that losing fat is safe during breastfeeding, let’s dive deeper into the possible consequences of dieting while nursing. Losing fat requires you to restrict calories (energy), which can decrease the micronutrients you consume. After birth, women are commonly depleted of essential micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin D, and EPA/DHA. Restricting food intake, while safe from a fat loss standpoint, might put you at greater risk of further depleting the micronutrients mentioned. So, if you decide to diet, prioritise your fruits and veggies (your pelvic floor will also love the added fibre, constipation isn’t great for a weak pelvic floor).

How To Determine My Breastfeeding Calories?

Here are some things you need to consider: 

  • Are you exclusively breastfeeding (aka, no other food such as solids or formula is being offered)? If yes, your energy needs will be slightly higher. If not, they are likely lower. 
  • How old is your baby? Energy requirements tend to be highest in the first five months of feeding, which usually coincides with the introduction of solids. When your baby becomes well-established on solids, he or she will begin to take in less milk. So a baby who is five weeks old compared to a baby who is nine months old will need different volumes of milk. Mamas who choose to breastfeed beyond 12 months will require even less energy for their milk supply because their (now toddler) will take in even less milk).
  • Are you feeding multiples or tandem feeding? Self-explanatory right – more babies = higher energy demands. 

These questions should help you to determine if your energy demands will be on the higher end of the 625 calories per day we quoted earlier in this blog. From there, you can estimate your maintenance calories using our TDEE calculator. It’s important to note that this calculator will estimate your maintenance calories if you are NOT breastfeeding. We suggest adding an additional 300-500 calories and monitoring what happens with your average weight over a two-week period. If you lose weight, you are in a deficit. If you maintain your weight, you have found your maintenance. If you gain weight, you are in a surplus. You will then adjust according to your calories by decreasing or increasing calories or keeping them the same. 

If you prefer expert guidance, our postnatal programs break down this topic in much greater detail, and you’ll have access to our Breastfeeding calorie calculator for peace of mind. 

Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding

Since your diet directly affects your and your baby’s health, there are some important foods to include during this time. First, consuming a wide range of foods from each of the three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, is essential. Regarding breastfeeding, many vitamins and minerals are vital for both mom and baby. One nutrient, in particular, is iodine, which helps the body make thyroid hormones for regulating metabolism and keeping cells functioning correctly. Fortunately, iodine is found in many foods like dairy products, seafood, eggs, fortified breads and cereals. However, breast milk is also a great source of iodine for your baby.  

One nutrient that is easily overlooked during breastfeeding is vitamin D. This vitamin helps our bodies absorb and use calcium, leading to strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in immune function and cell growth. So how do we get enough vitamin D while breastfeeding? The most efficient way is through regular sun exposure, as our skin produces this vitamin when exposed to sunlight. In addition, foods like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products can also provide vitamin D. 

Calcium is essential for bone health, and it’s also necessary for milk production. In fact, a nursing mum needs about 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day – that’s more than the recommended daily intake for non-nursing adults! So, where can a breastfeeding mama get her daily dose of calcium? Of course, dairy products like milk and yogurt are obvious choices. However, many non-dairy options, too, include leafy greens, almonds, and tofu made with calcium sulphate.

If breastfeeding, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting enough iron in your diet. Why? Iron helps keep your red blood cells healthy and supports oxygen delivery. This also means it sustains your energy levels and ability to fight off infection. Breast milk itself doesn’t contain much iron, so nursing mums need to get their daily recommended intake from foods like red meat, beans, lentils, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens. The critical thing for mums to know is that the recommended daily intake of iron for breastfeeding mothers doesn’t consider mothers with a regular period. This is because breastfeeding can delay menstruation! If you have your cycle, you should aim to get more iron in your diet. 

Other critical nutritional considerations include consuming foods high in zinc, folic acid and omega-three fatty acids. 

Should Mothers Take a Multivitamin While Breastfeeding?

Multivitamins can be a helpful supplement for nursing moms, especially if they’re not able to eat a balanced diet or are dealing with nutrient deficiencies. However, checking with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements while breastfeeding is always best. They’ll be able to provide personalised recommendations and ensure that the vitamins won’t interact with any medications you may be taking. Additionally, some vitamins can harm nursing infants in large doses, so it’s crucial to follow the directions and talk to your doctor about your individual needs. 

Is Training Safe During Breastfeeding?

When it comes to fitness and breastfeeding, there’s no need to stress. There are many claims out there that exercise decreases your milk supply due to increased lactic acid production, but this has been debunked in a study by Carey & Quinn (2001). So, generally speaking, exercise is completely safe during this time (unless your healthcare provider has advised otherwise). In addition, regular physical activity can have excellent benefits for both mum and baby. It can improve mood, reduce stress, and help with postpartum weight loss. As always, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard – gradually easing back into your routine will prevent injury and ensure you can keep up a regular exercise schedule that works for you and your little one. And remember, breast milk is easily digestible for babies, so they’ll receive all the nourishment they need even if mom has a sweat session. 

Try Our Pre and Post Natal Pregnancy Program

Becoming a new mom can already be overwhelming, and adding the pressure of getting back in shape can make things even more stressful. That’s where our postpartum programs come in. Created by experts in fitness and nutrition, they take out all the guesswork and provide an easy-to-follow plan for getting back into shape. You don’t have to navigate the overwhelming world of diets and workouts on your own – we’ve got your back. So let us help you become the strongest, healthiest version of yourself as a new mom. Trust us, you’re worth it.

Read our Other Educational Fitness and Nutrition Blogs:

 

Yours in Health, 

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit

5 ways to improve your gut health today!

Gut health is a hot topic these days, and there’s plenty of money to be made from those looking for ways on how they can boost their gut microbiome. From probiotics supplements or bone broth drinkables; it seems like everyone wants some “gut-friendly” food advice and there’s more than enough ‘gut health guru’s’ to help. The only problem I have with all this? Differentiating between what is fact and fiction and identifying practical steps we can be taking to improve gut health because the truth is, we don’t yet know a lot about the gut microbiome and there is so much more to learn. No doubt we will see huge advancements in this area of science in the future but as it stands here is what we know. 

What is the gut microbiome? 

The human body is home to a vast community of microbes, known as the microbiota. The microbiome refers to all genes within these organisms and can be found in most parts of your gastrointestinal tract (aka ‘the gut’). It mainly consists of bacteria, viruses, fungi or other microscopic life forms that live on our skin- oral cavity included! Microbes perform many important functions in our bodies, including one that is just recently being discovered: regulating the immune system and reducing risks for allergic diseases. Recent studies have shown how these microbes also contribute to brain health by providing essential nutrients like B vitamins which help with memory retention or boosting serotonin production (a hormone associated primarily with feelings such as happiness). 

Research suggests good gut bacteria may regulate other parts of your body’s systems like hormones. 

What makes our gut microbiome unique?

The research of the human internal ecosystem, otherwise referred to as “the microbe” or simply microbes has only recently begun. Our bodies contain thousands upon millions of cells that are home to these little creatures – but how do they affect us personally and what does this mean for future prospects in terms of health & wellness?? There’s no current consensus yet about what exactly constitutes an ideal profile when it comes down…

When things go wrong… 

The alteration or imbalance of your gut microbiome can result from any number of reasons including poor diet, antibiotics stress and even a lack in physical activity. This dysbiosis has been linked to many health problems such as irritable bowel disease (IBS) which causes abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea or constipation or even Crohn’s Disease. So, with that said, it’s important to look after your gut health. But that doesn’t mean going out and buying every naturopathic herb under the sun. In fact, there’s a lot we can do without any supplements. 

My top 5 evidence-based tips to improving your gut health

Tip #1 – Include pre and probiotics in your diet

Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) that we can find in some foods. When these bugs grow and interact with our bodies, they help keep us healthy by improving digestion functions or boosting immunity while also reducing inflammation levels when consumed regularly enough! A prebiotic on the other hand is fibre found mostly in vegetables like legumes, beans etc., which promotes gut health through helping create more natural bacteria habitats where good vibes reside too – kind of like how your favourite animal might hang out at home before going off into adventures around town. 

Examples of probiotics include: 

  • Yoghurt
  • Fermented foods

Examples of prebiotics: 

  • Nuts
  • Wholegrain cereals and bread
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Legumes such as lentils and chickpeas

Tip #2 – Eat a plant based diet that is high in fibre

You can take all the gut health tonics, powders and pills that you want but nothing quite moves the needle like having a fibre rich diet with plant foods.

Tip #3 – Limit alcohol 

Chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to result in gut dysbiosis. This affects your ability to keep fit and healthy by making you more susceptible towards illness, while also increasing inflammation levels – something we don’t need! So limit yourself only on days where it’s planned activities like dinner with friends.

Tip #4 – Reduce stress 

We all know how stressful it is to have an important deadline or event coming up. But did you also realise that chronic stress can affect our gut health? The body prioritises pumping blood toward major organs like the heart and toward muscles (to assist with flight or fight during periods of high-stress because they need more nutrients than other areas in order for survival. So, when we’re stressed out those areas get priority over everything else including digesting food!

Makes sense right?!

Tip #5 – Exercise often 

Exercise is a great way for people who lead active lifestyles to maintain their health. It can help reduce inflammation and increase productivity of certain vitamins, minerals or other nutrients.

So what does this all mean for gut health and the microbiome? It means that we are only just beginning to understand the complex relationship between our guts and overall health. The good news is that there are many ways to improve gut health, including eating a healthy diet, taking probiotics, and getting regular exercise. And who knows – maybe someday scientists will find a way to manipulate the microbiome to treat conditions like obesity and diabetes. In the meantime, it’s important to focus on maintaining a healthy gut by following these simple tips. 

Yours in health,

Sheridan Skye

@sheridanskyefitt

Is it harder to lose fat & gain muscle during menopause?

Is it harder to lose weight during menopause?

Our head of nutrition, Sheridan Skye answers this question and more, so read on!

I wanted to kick off this week’s blog with a topic I know many of you will find so valuable. Mark and I have seen many epic transformations in women in their 40s and 50s. It couldn’t make us both happier and more excited to see women owning their power and building physiques they never thought possible. But unfortunately, so many people are under the assumption that your metabolism slows down as you get older, and it’s harder to build muscle. So because I love myth-busting so much, I thought I’d bring this into this week’s blog. I hope the knowledge you learn throughout this blog empowers you to know that it’s never too late to work toward your best physique or start lifting heavy sh*t! 

What is menopause? 

Transitional menopause is a natural decline in hormone production that typically begins around 45-55 years of age. This decline in hormone production is a gradual process that happens over 7-14 years. A woman may experience symptoms such as hot flushes, moodiness, irritability, depression or a combination. Some women don’t experience any of these side effects, which might surprise you because Hollywood movies do a great job at portraying the moody woman who is excessively sweating as though she were in a sauna 24/7. Actual menopause occurs 12 months after a woman’s last period. 

The transitional period of menopause (aka perimenopause) 

The transitional period is where a woman will experience most of the physiological changes that occur when she reaches menopause which can impact her behaviours, health and lifestyle. The transitional period also increases a woman’s risk of losing lean body mass and increasing fat mass, which shows that many metabolic changes occur during this perimenopausal window. This doesn’t automatically equate to a woman’s metabolism ‘slowing’ down. It just means that she is at higher risk of losing lean body mass if she doesn’t engage in resistance-based training and eats in a surplus. 

Does menopause directly lead to weight gain? 

Simply put, no. There is a common understanding that menopause leads to weight gain because it slows down your metabolism. To understand what metabolism is you have to understand what Total Daily Energy (TDEE) expenditure is. TDEE is a sum of: 

  • Basal metabolic rate: the number of calories your body requires to maintain basic life-sustaining processes such as breathing and keeping your heart beating. 
  • Thermic effect of feeding: the amount of energy it takes to metabolise and digest your food. 
  • Exercise activity thermogenesis: the number of calories you burn during planned exercise. 
  • Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: the number of calories your body burns during subconscious movements like blinking or fidgeting. 

How does perimenopause impact metabolism? 

Perimenopausal women are at greater risk of losing lean body mass and having higher levels of fat mass because of the changes in estrogen levels. Lower lean body mass levels can directly impact your BMR because muscle is metabolically more expensive to maintain than fat mass. But people tend to overestimate the impact this has on metabolism. Just not to the degree that people believe. Yes, muscle costs more from an energy standpoint but not to the degree that you burn hundreds of calories extra per day just because you have more muscle mass. This means your metabolism isn’t automatically downregulated by hundreds of calories per day just because you lose some muscle mass. But it’s a good idea to maintain or even gain muscle mass in perimenopause. 

Does your metabolism slow down with age? 

A study conducted by Herman Pontzer reported that when fat-free mass was equated, there was no difference in basal metabolic rate from a 20-year-old to a 60-year-old. However, the study did find that BMR does start to slowly decline after age 60. This finding might surprise you because anecdotally, many women (and men) report that it was easier for them to stay leaner in their younger years than their older counterparts. 

So what’s the cause of this? 

Interestingly our metabolism doesn’t ‘slow’ down between the ages of 20-60. But, we tend to become more sedentary than our 20-year-old selves. We walk less, work more sedentary jobs, and don’t exercise as often. This ultimately decreases the number of calories you expend, but it doesn’t reduce your metabolism. 

All in all, this means that menopause doesn’t decrease your metabolism, and we simply tend to become more sedentary with age. This reduces our TDEE; therefore, we require fewer calories to maintain weight. Thus, weight gain can be attenuated if you consider this and change your nutritional habits or lifestyle to combat a decrease in total daily energy expenditure. 

Practical takeaways to support yourself during perimenopause 

  • Ensure you recalculate your maintenance calories each time you enter a new life phase. Changing jobs and reducing the number of training sessions or steps you do per day are good reasons to recalculate your maintenance calories. 
  • Continue resistance training. Perimenopausal women are at a higher risk of losing lean body mass. Resistance training ensures that you maintain or even gain muscle mass.
  • Ensure you are consuming enough calcium in your diet or consider supplementation. Lower levels of estrogen can affect bone mineral density. Calcium needs increase in peri and menopausal women. 
  • Ensure adequate levels of protein intake. Research shows that the older you get, the more protein you need to maintain muscle mass. 

Yours in health,

Sheridan Skye
Head of Nutrition
@sheridanskyefit

Creatine! What is it and why do we care?

Before we get into it, I’d like to make one thing very clear – I’m not a fan of supplements. In fact, I RARELY recommend them to my clients. My advice is always the same – eat well, prioritise sleep, get enough vitamin D, manage stress and you will mostly have all you need (I say mostly because there are situations that do call for supplementation). 

But there is ONE supplement that I recommend to almost ALL of my clients – and that’s creatine monohydrate!

What is creatine? 

Creatine is naturally produced by the liver or consumed in foods such as meat and fish and almost all of our creatine stores are found in skeletal muscle.

How does creatine supplementation work? 

Your body requires a molecule called adenosine-triphosphate (ATP) during hard exercise such as resistance training. In this case, triphosphate = three phosphate molecules. The energy required during resistance training causes one phosphate group to be removed through a process called hydrolysis. This leaves two remaining phosphate molecules (aka adenosine di-phosphate). Now ADP can still create energy but it is like using a used battery compared to ATP which is the equivalent of a full battery. 

The ATP–creatine phosphate system transfers a high-energy phosphate from creatine phosphate to (ADP) to regenerate ATP which is what we want if we want to perform at our best! Creatine can also improve muscle contractility (which is obviously important for hypertrophy) and it buffers pH changes brought on by lactic acid to improve recovery. 

Why supplement if you can get creatine through diet alone? 

It’s actually quite difficult to eat enough creatine rich foods to fully ‘saturate’ a muscle cell. Which is why supplementation is so beneficial. 

Benefits of creatine supplementation: 

  • Increases training quality 
  • Increases strength
  • Increases performance
  • Improves fat-free mass
  • Improves recovery  
  • Increases anabolic signalling (hello gainz)
  • Amplifies training induced adaptations 
  • May improve effects of sleep deprivation 

This means one thing for you – better performance and better recovery!

NOTE: Creatine does not prevent or suppress delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 

Dosage 

3-5 grams daily. 

Creatine becomes effective when it saturates the muscle cell. You can achieve this via two ways: first, you can take an initial loading phase of 20 g/day for 5–7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3–5 g/day. Or, you can take a daily dose of 3-5 g for X amount of days until the muscle cell becomes saturated. Obviously a loading dose will lead to full saturation of a muscle cell before a daily dose does. But some people find that they experience gastrointestinal upset when creatine is taken as a loading dose. This seems to be attenuated when a daily dose of 3-5 g is taken. It can take up to a month to saturate a muscle cell if it’s taken in a daily dose. 

When should you take it? 

If we are talking about what’s ‘optimal’, you should aim to take creatine after training and avoid taking it with caffeine. But the aim is to take it daily so whenever it works best for you. 

Which one should I take? 

Creatine monohydrate is the most studied formulation. It’s cheap and it’s effective. 

Side effects 

  • Gastrointestinal upset (especially when taken as a loading dose) 
  • Weight gain 

Now I know you are low key freaking about the weight gain comment! 

Remember that weight gain is not the same as fat gain. You will weigh more as your muscle cells begin to become saturated (how much weight depends on the person, expect up to a few kgs give or take) due to intracellular water retention. This is a good thing – your muscles will look ‘fuller’ once you reach saturation levels! It means the supplement is working and doing its thing. But it’s good to be mindful of this if you are in the middle of a fat loss phase. 

Myths!

A common misconception is that creatine is ‘bad’ for your kidneys. Several studies have shown that creatine supplementation does not cause kidney damage in the absence of acute or chronic kidney disease. If you have a pre-existing kidney injury, then creatine supplementation should be avoided.  Another common misconception is that you should cycle on and off of creatine. This isn’t needed. You don’t need to take a ‘break’ from creatine supplementation. Creatine also doesn’t cause muscle cramping as some people suggest. 

Does creatine cause hair loss? 

Okay so there is SOME merit to this – but the evidence isn’t strong. The theory is that creatine supplementation increases the hormone DHT and that an increase in DHT causes hair loss. The problem with this theory is that there was ONE study that showed that creatine supplementation increases DHT and several other studies were unable to replicate the findings of that isolated study in those who have a genetic predisposition to hair loss. More research is needed in this area for sure!

To wrap it up!

All in all, creatine supplementation is positive for performance and recovery and there may even be added health benefits, especially as we age!

 

Yours in health,

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit

Net carbs vs total carbs, which one should you track?

Our head of nutrition, Sheridan Skye answers this important question in this blog. Read on to learn more.

Please do me a favour!

Grab a packaged item from your pantry and look at the carbohydrate section. 

Does it likely say total and net carbohydrate? I’m going to bet it does. If it doesn’t, look at a few other items, and I bet you’ll find one. 

Is there a difference, and should you care? 

There is a difference. Whether you should care or not is debatable. 

The total carbohydrate value includes all the different types of carbs in a food or meal. These include starches, dietary fibre, and sugar alcohols. But here’s where it gets a little complicated. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food companies to subtract the calories found in some forms of dietary fibre and sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrate value even though sugar alcohols and fibre do contain calories. The FDA allows this deduction because some forms of fibre and all sugar alcohols don’t provide nutritional benefits to humans. 

All in all, this subtraction leaves us with the net carbohydrates (aka the remaining carbohydrates after sugar alcohols, and fibre have been deducted)

Typical foods you will find this in are ‘low calorie’ ice cream and protein bars. These products are often low marketed to be calorie because they are legally allowed to deduct the fibre and sugar alcohols from a product. The problem is that just because some fibre and sugar alcohols don’t ‘provide nutritional benefit’, doesn’t mean they don’t contain calories. Yes, even sugar alcohols contain calories, but how many? That’s the tricky part to quantify because there are dozens of sugar alcohols available on the market, and they all have a different number of calories per gram. 

So should you track total or net carbs? 

As with everything, it depends. Tracking total carbs can be an added layer of complexity if you are learning to track, and on the other hand, it can be a relatively simple process for someone who has been tracking for an extended period. Again, I say, use your discretion. Suppose you are at the beginning of your health and fitness journey. In that case, the difference between total and net carbs is undoubtedly not on your list of priorities, and your time and energy will be best pushed toward consistency and overall adherence. But suppose you are a bikini competitor or a bodybuilding competitor. In that case, it might be a valuable strategy for you, considering you need to be a little more nuanced to achieve optimal results. 

If you choose to track total carbs over net carbs, you will need to add the fibre and sugar alcohols to the listed value of carbohydrates, which gets a bit complex.

Why? 

Because you will draw various amounts of calories from fibre depending on your metabolism and, according to research, your body weight. Some people are more efficient at absorbing calories from dietary fibre than others. Efficiency in this context means that you draw more calories from fibre. In addition, each sugar alcohol contains a specified amount of calories per gram. For example, sorbitol contains around 2.5 calories per gram, and maltitol contains approximately two calories per gram. I prefer to overestimate in these situations rather than underestimate, so the strategy I use is counting each gram of sugar alcohol as two calories and each gram of fibre as 3-4 calories.

The point is that you want to be consistent in your efforts and remember that you will never be 100% accurate when you are tracking—Consistency and adherence triumph over any nuance. 

Yours in health,

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit

Are all calories created equal?

What is a calorie? 

A calorie isn’t a physical substance like water or juice. But, just like centimetres and litres, a calorie is a unit of measure. More specifically, it is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one mL of water by one degree Celsius. The total amount of calories found in food is measured via a bomb calorimeter. This device measures the heat of a fuel sample when burned under stable temperature conditions to evaluate the calorie value. So technically, you could put wood in a bomb calorimeter and receive a ‘calorie’ value. The limitation is that humans can’t absorb calories and nutrients from wood (obviously), so many argue that calorie tracking isn’t an efficient means to lose fat because ‘not all calories are created equal’. 

The Calorie has been used to describe the energy content of food for hundreds of years. Likewise, the energy cost of exercise has also been measured via calories. If you’re not new here, you’ll know that Mark (and I) have repeated time again that to lose fat, you need to burn more calories than your body needs. And if you don’t believe us, then believe the law of thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only converted from one form of energy to another.

But is it fair to say that not all calories are created equal? 

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, at least from a thermodynamic standpoint. Why? Because a calorie is a unit of measure. 

Now, does that mean that we all absorb the same amount of energy from foods? 

No!

A great example of this is found in the almond. Due to almonds’ natural cellular structure, we may absorb fewer calories than is displayed on the label. Another example is in resistant starch and insoluble fibre. Studies have shown that energy absorbed from these foods varies among individuals.

So, does that mean that energy balance is a lie? 

No! 

The amount of energy that we truly absorb from food is questionable. You only have to look at a person with uncontrolled Crohns disease or a coeliac who is eating gluten to realise that food absorption is not simple. But no one (at least those who understand science) is questioning that a bomb calorimeter indicates that if x = y calories, then you will absorb z calories. No, calories are simply the unit of measure. Energy balance is the difference between the energy you absorb and the energy you burn. Whether you absorb 100% of the calories found in almonds or 70%, you are eating (absorbing) your maintenance calories if you maintain your weight. If you lose fat, you are eating (absorbing) fewer calories than you burn. And if you are gaining fat, you are eating (absorbing) more calories than your body burns. 

So, what happens when we eat calories? Where do they go?

I will skip a few steps otherwise, this will turn into a novel. For simplicity, let’s say that your food isn’t ‘inside’ your body until it passes your intestinal lining. Meaning that the calories derived from food aren’t absorbed by your body until then. But once the food is inside your body, you will do one of three things with it: 

  1. Use it
  2. Get rid of it
  3. Store it

How do we use it? 

Your body will use glucose and fatty acids to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your body’s primary energy source. What isn’t converted to ATP will be converted to carbon dioxide and water. Now, amino acids can also be used to produce ATP (amino acids do many crazy and beautiful things, but I won’t go into that here). ATP is required to make your body function and is used up in this process. Then, suppose you have a shortage of a specific macronutrient (because they all play an essential role). Your body will synthesize them via processes like gluconeogenesis (to create glucose) and de novo lipogenesis (to produce fatty acids and protein). 

 How do we store it? 

Simply put: 

  • Amino acids are used to build or repair proteins.
  • Glucose is stored as glycogen.
  • Free fatty acids will be packaged into triglycerides and transported to your muscles and fat cells (this is how we gain fat) to be stored intracellularly or extracellularly.

How do we get rid of it? 

This is in the context of losing fat. Have you ever stopped to wonder what happens to that fat we lose? Does it just disappear? If we go back to the law of thermodynamics (energy cannot be used or destroyed), then the simple answer is no. So what happens to lost fat? It’s breathed out as CO2 or urine – pretty cool, right? 

Yours in health,

 

Sheridan Skye

Head of Nutrition

@sheridanskyefit