Originally written for www.leanfit.com
1. It’s not always as simple as calories in vs. calories out.
For people looking to lose weight or gain muscle, it isn’t always as simple as eating in a calorie deficit or calorie surplus. Depending on where you are in your nutritional journey, this may be a good starting point, but it will only take you so far. The type of calories (or macronutrients) consumed will have an impact on how much energy you expend during your daily activities. Various foods have a different metabolic effect on your body, and that’s an important consideration when working towards composition goals. Protein, for example, has a high thermic effect, which means the body literally burns more calories when breaking it down than, say, carbohydrates. For example, when you eat 100 calories of carbs, and 100 calories of protein, your body will actually burn more calories processing the protein. This is quite a complicated topic, with plenty of related science to consider, but if you can remember that a calorie is not just a calorie, this information will take you a long way.
2. What works for your neighbour will not necessarily work for you.
Nutrition is a complex topic, and our bodies are even more complex. People are often quick to jump on the diet bandwagon as soon as they witness someone having success with a particular eating plan. When they don’t experience the same success, they are left feeling confused and discouraged. Instead of playing the never-ending game of musical diets, jumping from one nutrition fad to the next, be consistent. Make simple and realistic changes to your daily eating habits. Choose sustainable practices that you can maintain and that work with your lifestyle. This is the first step on the road to healthy eating.
3. A little tough love: you might be eating too much.
This is a bit of a sensitive topic, because I meet many women, in particular, who are actually not eating enough. They’ve been on a calorie-restricted diet for years, and as a result, are experiencing some level of metabolic damage. Or, people limit their calories for days at a time, resulting in a huge binge at the end of the week, and consuming far too many calories for their body type. However, more often than not, people are fooling themselves. They believe that as long as they make healthy choices and are consuming nourishing foods, they should be good to go. The fat will take care of itself. And, although I wish it were as simple as this, calories do play a role. Now, this may seem contradictory to my first point of calories in vs. calories out, but we can’t deny that calories are important. If you are eating too much on a consistent basis, you will gain fat. It’s science. So that extra handful of nuts in the afternoon, eating mindlessly straight from the cereal box (guilty), or taking too many samples from the lady in Costco can really add up. All of the sudden, you’ve eaten 400 calories over your daily goal and you didn’t even notice! 400 calories x 7 days = 2,800 extra calories a week! Another example is falling into what I call “the smoothie trap.” Don’t get me wrong—smoothies and shakes are a convenient, nutrient dense meal to add into your nutrition routine. I have at least one every day. But, too often, people begin loading in the fruits and fats, without being cognizant of serving size. And, sure, every ingredient is real, nutritious food. But, suddenly, they’ve made a 900 calorie smoothie without even knowing it. It’s important to gain an understanding of what you are consuming in a day. Try tracking your food for a week, using an app like My Fitness Pal (see my previous post for more info). This will provide you with an overview of what you are consuming on a daily basis and areas of nutrition where you may be falling short (or going over!).
So, to sum here, here are the top 3 things I wish everyone knew about nutrition:
1. It isn’t always as simple as calories in vs. calories out. Our bodies process different foods in different ways. Pay attention to the types of foods you are consuming and find a balance between macronutrients.
2. Just because a particular eating plan works for your neighbour, does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Find sustainable and healthy practices that fit your lifestyle and be consistent.
3. You may be eating too much. Try tracking your food and begin to gain an understanding of what you are actually consuming in a day and changes that may need to be made. Knowledge is power.
Originally written for www.leanfit.com
Client question: What is the best way to track my nutrition?
Tracking nutrition is a great tool for those looking to gain a better understanding of what their daily food intake is. It helps build awareness of nutrition and often shines light on areas of our diet where we may be falling short. Although it isn’t for everyone, and certainly not a strategy that needs to be used daily, all year long, it is a tool that people can utilize to get their nutrition on track and learn how their eating style may be affecting their body composition and goals.
In today’s era of technology, tracking is easier than ever. Numerous aps and online programs have been developed that allow people to simply track their daily food intake. By far, the most popular of these aps is My Fitness Pal. MFP offers a variety of features, including goal setting, macro, calorie and exercise tracking, progress reports, and sharing your journey with friends.
MFP is an awesome tool, particularly for those who are working towards a specific goal. Remember: the more specific your health and/or fitness goal, the more dedicated you must be to your diet. MFP allows you to track each meal and lets you know when you have hit your calorie and macronutrient goals.
As much as I love this tool, there are certainly downfalls to be aware of. First, anyone can add foods to the MFP database, and it’s not always clear whether the nutritional information on these items is correct. The best way to combat this problem is to use the barcode scanning feature (available through the app, but not the online interface) if the food is packaged, or look for similar foods with the green checkmark beside them. This means the content has been verified. Another tip to remember when tracking your food is that “eyeballing it” isn’t always the most reliable method. Serving sizes may be misjudged, and that can be enough to throw you into a calorie surplus when you’re trying to eat in a deficit (or vise versa). Unless you are loosely tracking to ensure you remain relatively on point with your diet, I do recommend weighing and measuring your food when possible. Again, this is for those individuals who are striving to reach a specific goal within a given time frame. Otherwise, a more relaxed approach to tracking is acceptable and recommended.
Another factor to be aware of is that, by no means, is tracking a perfect science. Not only can there be error in the data, but everyone processes calories and nutrients differently. So it’s very difficult to know how your body will absorb and utilize the amount of calories documented for a specific food.
If you are working with a professional, nutrition tracking may be as simple as keeping a food journal. Your coach or nutritionist can then view your log and provide suggestions moving forward.
In conclusion, I think food tracking is an excellent tool to have in your nutritional toolbox. It can help build food awareness and support you in reaching your goals. That being said, it can be time consuming and inaccurate. So take it with a grain of salt and only use it if it makes sense to do so. Tracking is not a strategy that needs to be employed 24/7, so take advantage of it when it can be most useful to you. If you find yourself obsessing over the numbers, it may be time to opt for a less all-consuming nutrition approach.
I love the holidays. Not only do I indulge in over two weeks of winter vacation, but my days are filled with catching up with friends, celebrating the spirit of the season at different events in the city, and consuming copious amounts of delicious food.
Unfortunately, all of this indulging can often lead to a feeling of full-until-it-hurts, and the infamous food (or other) hangover the next morning. So how can you indulge without losing sight of your goals or forcing yourself to take up an air sandwich diet, post-Christmas? Well, with these challenges in mind, I decided to share my tips for surviving the holidays without sacrificing your waistline:
1. Backload your day
This is my favourite trick of the season. If I know I have a holiday event in the evening or afternoon, I will plan my calories accordingly. This might mean a light breakfast that is higher in protein and fats (saving most of the much needed carbohydrates for later), or I may even start my day with a mini fast. Fasting during the first half of the day not only allows you to eat more in the evening, but it also puts your blood sugar in a good position for eating more insulin-inducing foods (think shortbread, assorted chocolates, and sausage rolls. Oh my). These practices can also support your energy levels. By keeping sugar low during the first part of the day, you encourage healthy cortisol levels (providing energy), and limit your insulin response. Later in the day, when you are indulging in some yummy holiday treats, cortisol levels decrease as insulin levels are heightened. This is also helpful for our hormone levels, as the pattern supports a natural sleep cycle. Have you ever noticed how you become a bit sluggish after a large meal? That’s the power of a high insulin response. So keeping insulin levels low in the morning, can help aid in supporting a natural sleep cycle. Ultimately saving your calories for the afternoon/evening will allow you to really enjoy the holiday treats without feeling like you have to limit yourself to compensate for meals you have already consumed.
For the last few of years, I have immersed myself in the health and fitness world. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool and it has allowed me to be constantly surrounded by inspiring, strong, fearless women who motivate me to be better every day. I feel so fortunate to not only be able to learn and grow from these individuals, but to share my own journey with them and connect with others when I am in need of support or guidance. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and of course other blogs and podcasts have made this so easy, and have literally connected me with incredible people all over the world. There’s nothing more comforting than surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals.
Nutrition and fitness are my passion. Learning about and practicing both ignites something in me. It is when I feel the most like myself (does that make sense?). And there is nothing I love more than sharing this passion with others.
This interest has sparked conversations with many women in my life, some of who have become clients, and some who are just looking to chat or grab my opinion on a particular topic. This is often when the reality of mainstream media sinks in. I am dumbfounded when I learn that women are still doing an hour on the treadmill a day while consuming 1000 calories--and not getting the results they’re looking for.
Purchasing supplements can be an overwhelming process, whether it’s protein powder, fish oil, or an every-day multi vitamin. There are so many brands available, all with varying claims and reviews. It’s difficult to know what you should be purchasing and incorporating into your daily routine.
A personal supplement hunt of my own has been around finding the best tasting plant-based protein powder that meets my nutritional standards. Although I like to get the majority of my protein through whole foods, I still find this difficult to do in the morning, or when I'm really busy, which is why I turn to a powdered supplement to help me meet my protein intake goals.
As I’ve noted in the past, I prefer plant-based proteins because I tend to digest them much better than whey. This isn’t uncommon, as whey is a dairy-based supplement, and can be somewhat inflammatory, depending on your system.
Looking for FRESH breakfast ideas? Try my Quinoa Breakfast Bowl. With a complete amino acid profile, endless topping possibilities and all the warm comfort of a bowl of oatmeal, you'll be excited to switch up your breakfast routine!
Now, if you’ve never had a plant-based protein, I’m just going to say it: it’s not as good as whey isolate. Disagree if you’d like, but my personal opinion is that it’s rare to find a plant protein with a texture that even comes close to whey. For those of you who are regular consumers of plant-based protein, I’m sure you understand where I’m coming from—it can be grainy, chalky, and simply not good, flavour wise.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a few brands. So, I thought I would take some of the guess work out for you, and provide a brief review of each, based on my own experiences.
The three brands I am going to review are:
Vega Sport Performance Protein (vanilla)
Garden of Life Raw Protein (chocolate)
Lean Fit Naturals Complete Green Protein (vanilla bean)
When I’m looking for a protein powder, I am not looking for a meal replacement. That is, I almost always mix my protein powder with other foods, whether I’m making a smoothie, or (more often than not) a protein pancake. So I don’t need a nice balance of carbohydrates and protein. I can easily get my carbs and fats from other sources (I don’t know about you, but finding carbs to eat generally isn’t an issue for me…). So I look for brands that offer an adequate dose of protein (20g is preferable for me), while remaining low in carbohydrates (under 10 grams).
Vega Sport Performance Protein (vanilla)
I have previously been an avid consumer of Vega protein, because I didn’t know what else to use. However, I was never quite happy with the macronutrient breakdown. I felt like the protein was a bit low and the carbs were a bit high. So when I discovered Vega Sport, I was optimistic: for every 33g serving (131 cal), there are 26g of protein, and 4.5g of carbs. I was impressed with the numbers, so all it had to do was pass the taste test. I threw some into my morning pancake, and was reasonably satisfied. The taste was pretty good and the texture was smooth.
Vega is primarily a pea protein, with some sprouted whole grain rice protein added in. In my experience, pea protein is where it’s at, simply because of the texture it provides.
All in all, Vega Sport Performance receives my stamp of approval and I will continue to purchase it. As an added bonus, Vega products are readily available at many stores, so you don’t have to drive 45 minutes to your nearest organic/raw/local/really-expensive grocery store to find it. I picked this one up at the Loblaws down my street in the health section. It will run you around $55 (829g)—but watch the sales. I’ve seen Vega products on sale in Loblaws quite a bit.
Garden of Life Raw Protein (chocolate)
First things first: great marketing, Garden of Life. Your label makes me feel ultra healthy, like I must be making the right chose by purchasing your protein powder. Unfortunately, as soon as I put the product into my mouth, I was worried that my protein container had accidentally been filled with sand.
Ok, that was a tad dramatic. But, regardless of the macros or taste, the first thing I noticed about this protein was its texture. And not in a good way. “Grainy” would be the adjective to use in describing it. Although the chocolate flavouring was quite good, I just couldn’t get past the texture.
Although I won’t be purchasing this one again until some changes are made, I’ll give you the nutritional breakdown anyway. For every 23g serving (90 cal), you get 17g of protein and 1g of carbohydrates. So, although it wasn’t my favourite, the numbers are good. For those of you who don’t take texture into consideration, this could be a reasonable option for you. It contains sprouted brown rice protein, amaranth sprout, quinoa sprout, buckwheat sprout, garbonzo bean sprout, lentil sprout, and the list goes on (with more sprouted stuff). Its protein content is certainly different than most plant-based powders I’ve seen, which could speak to its different texture. Something to keep in mind when shopping around.
I do have to hand it to Garden of Life: they take mercy on all us food-intolerant folk and advertise that their protein is raw, vegan, organic, gluten free, fairy free, lactose free, and contains no fillers, no synthetic nutrients, no artificial flavours, or sweeteners or preservatives. Basically, if you eat it, you’re going to live forever (I think that’s what it means, anyway).
I paid about $57 for this protein (650g) on well.ca, my favourite online health and supplement site (but that’s another post).
Lean Fit Naturals Complete Green Protein
This one is a bit of a wild card. My mother actually discovered it at Costco for a reasonable price, so I decided to check it out. I had never heard of this company, never mind the protein. Despite putting in a good search effort, I couldn’t find any reviews or check points on this product, so all I could do is go off of the information provided by the label and my own opinion. I don’t love using a product regularly without reading up on some outside reviews, but it will just have to do in this case until the protein gains some popularity (if that day ever comes).
I have to admit, when I picked it up from Costco, the health snob in me said to keep my expectations low. So when I first gave it a go, I was pleasantly surprised. The taste was excellent, while the texture was smooth and combined well with other foods. Its nutritional breakdown includes 110 cal for every 30g serving, 18g of protein, and 8g of carbohydrates. Lean Fit uses a plant protein blend of pea, hemp, flax, brown rice, and chia seed.
I like it so much that I just ran out. That’s why I made my mom take a picture of her own supply and send it to me, so I could feature it here. That leads me to the product's main downfall: I have not been able to find it anywhere else except Costco. So, if you don’t have a membership, it could make keeping it in stock a little tricky (I am exhibit A, since I mooch off my parents’ membership every chance I get).
Update: Since this post was published, Leanfit has increased their availability and can now be purchased at many grocery stores and drugstores, in addition to Costco.
To wrap it up…
Based on numbers, taste and availability, I will be sticking with Vega Sport Performance protein, but will definitely pick up a container or two of Lean Fit Naturals when I have the chance, despite the lack of literature surrounding it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
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The world of nutrition is a complicated one. Head to the Health and Wellbeing section at your local Chapters and you’ll see what I mean. There are literally walls of books telling us what to eat, what not to eat, how to cook it, and when to eat it. This would all be well and good… except that they all seem to contradict each other in varying ways. So how are we expected to make it through this life with a healthy approach if the so-called professionals can’t even agree?
I pride myself in being able to read nutrition advice with an objective eye. I gather what I have learned from past resources and make my own judgments on what is truth and what is fad. Are all of my ideas surrounding health accurate? Probably not. Nutritional information is so vast, how could I possible know it all? But, I don’t feel too bad about it, considering that even world-class scientists haven’t got it all figured out yet. It is an ever-growing body of knowledge. That’s part of what I love about the industry. Things never get old.
However, as confident as I am in my own journey, if I’m not careful, I too can find myself feeling muddled by over exposure to information. I start to give in to the confidently worded, persuasive writing offered up by some health guru, meditating on a beach in California. I begin to question what I know to be true or effective. Although questioning your awareness and constantly building upon what you already know is an important part of learning, it isn’t always necessary, depending on your information source.
Protein. It’s difficult to consult any piece of nutrition literature without reading about the importance of it. Well, there’s a reason for that: protein is really important.
What is it?
When speaking in terms of food, protein is one of the three macronutrients that we consume through our diet (its two counterparts being carbohydrates and fats). If you’re looking for a more scientific explanation, proteins in the human body are made up of complex chemical compounds called amino acids. There are two categories of amino acids in the body: essential and non-essential. Our bodies are unable to make essential amino acids, and therefore, we need to consume them through our diet. Protein plays many important roles within the body, but let’s talk about it from a nutrition standpoint (otherwise, we could be here all day).
Why is it important?
Most women I talk to have similar goals when it comes to changing their bodies: they want to lose fat and look ‘fit.’ It is important to realize that looking fit tends to come from building or maintaining lean muscle mass. There’s a stereotype often associated with the so-called ‘gym rats’. You know the picture I’m talking about: the one with a 250lb body builder drinking a watery chocolate drink from his shaker bottle. As much as this visual may make you roll your eyes a bit, there’s something to be said about it. When we complete a hard workout, we put our muscles through the ringer and tear them down. In order to prevent a loss of lean muscle (that lovely material that gives us the nice toned look), it’s important to feed them with protein so they are able to repair and rebuild themselves.