Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Organic Vs Conventional

I remember at school there was the option of extra-curricular debating, if I'm honest, not my idea of fun. I'd rather spend my time on the rugby field with the lads (typical jock) rather than cooped up in a classroom debating political issues in a bid to enhance your ego. Or it could have been the case that I didn't want to get 'owned' by the class geek and have my ego severely dented...

Organic vs Conventional food always sparks a healthy debate. Thousands of articles/journals have been published on the differences between the two methods of food production. I'd like to give my opinion and what methods I encourage with my clients.

The term Organic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'A food or farming methods produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.'
Compared with conventional farming where pesticides are used. These are synthetic compounds which kill pests, such as weeds, insects and plant pathogens. The pesticides that are sprayed onto the land seep into the soil affecting its composition and therefore its degree of nutrients. The more nutrients in the soil, the more the plants can absorb. However not all of the nutrients are used directly, some have to be converted into a useable form by organisms that live in the soil and in return plants help the organisms out by secreting sugars and enzymes back into the soil so there is a continual cycle.

Various pesticides have been suspected to have unintended affects on human health. With studies showing that some of the synthetic chemicals used may increase the risk of cancer, neurological disorders and endocrine and immune system dysfunction. When you see the term 'may increase the risk of cancer' it may send shockwaves through your body, in a different context you're increasing the risk of cancer everytime you head out in the sun without and suncream on. Don't panic, eating a non-organic onion is not going to kill you! (It's also on the clean-fifteen list).

There's this great perception that everything organic is healthy and packed full of nutrients. Well it's not. If you eat an organic muffin, it's still going to have large amounts of sugar and contain heavily processed flour which will send your insulin levels sky high causing you to gain weight. I've even heard it myself when I was in Planet Organic "oh it's fine to have that cake, it's organic!' Brilliant!

Organic food is more expensive, but it's about putting it into context. Many people spend £5-6 everyday on lunch at sandwich outlets such as Pret and Eat, five days a week that equates to £30 a week on lunch. Organic food specialists such as Abel and Cole sell a medium sized fruit and veg box which is delivered to your door for £18, you chose what you put in the box. For an extra cost meat can also be added.

To help combat the issue of cost of organic produce, the US Government have come up with two lists titled 'The Clean Fifteen' and 'The Dirty Dozen.' These groups display a list of foods with the highest and lowest pesticide residue. The Clean fifteen are foods that show a low level of residue whilst the dirty dozen have the highest and so organic should be purchased.

The Dirty Dozen


The Clean Fifteen

Sweet Peas
Sweet Potatoes

The chart below illustrates a variety of minerals within certain vegetables and how their values differ between organic and conventional farming methods. Spinach (one of the dirty dozen) has dramatic mineral level differences between organic and conventional, magnesium levels a vital mineral which is needed to maintain bone strength, regulate blood sugar levels and support protein synthesis are considerably lower when spinach is produced the conventional way rather than organic. So this is a vegetable that I insist people buy organic. It also tastes so much better.


The debate between organic and conventional farming methods will be a continual talking poin. I believe we, more specifically the Government, need to look at is addressing the problem of obesity and getting people to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in their daily nutrition whether they are organically grown or produced using conventional methods. Obesity costs the NHS £4 Billion a year which is predicted to rise to £6 billion by 2015, a staggering statistic. Supermarkets also have a duty to the public to produce competitive prices and consistent offers on fresh healthy foods. Obesity is such a broad topic and I'm verging off the track a little, but it's a subject that I'm passionate about and it's an epidemic that needs to be halted. Anyway.. back to organics.. next time you're in the supermarket (or ideally a local farmers market) try and purchase foods from the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Principals Not Diets!!

As the London Mayor, and all-round legend Boris Johnson put it yesterday when addressing the ten's of thousands of people at Buckingham Palace at the Olympic Parade. The summer has come to a 'Tear-sodden juddering climax.' It's definitely been one to remember, and I feel priviledged to have been in the Nations Capital to witness history unfold.

As the athletes take a well-earned break and are probably nursing a sore head this morning I want to talk a little bit about nutrition. I'd just like to start by stating that I'm not a qualified nutritionist. I completed modules in my University Degree that covered nutrition and take a serious interest in the area, often reading articles and journals in an attempt to keep up with the latest research that would look to enhance my knowledge and reputation as a personal trainer. I believe that it's the cornerstone of any indivduals program and is just as important as the strength and conditioning aspect. I like the anaolgy that you can't put diesel in a petrol car.

I hate the word 'diet.' When people talk about going on a certain diet I believe that it sets themselves up for failure. Often these diets are extreme and completely change an individuals regular eating habits, forcing them to go 'cold turkey' and as a result the diet is not sustainable. The Atkins diet, The Calorie Counting Diet, The Weight Watchers Diet, the Lighter-Life Diet etc etc the list is endless. Often individuals see results during the first couple of weeks on a specific diet as they are 100% committed to the cause, but as time progresses the likelihood is that people start to fall off the track and go back to their old ways. Not to mention, these fad diets are nutritionally inadequate.

I believe nutrition should be build around principles. Principles allow variety but also give certain boundaries that should avoid being crossed (90% of the time). With the accessibilty in todays supermarkets of such a range of fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, pulses and certain grains from different cultures. It would be a travesty to limit the intake of such great fresh produce.

I'm not going to bore you with and endless list of do's and don'ts, instead four simple principles that allow freedom and choice in your daily nutrition.

1) Avoid Processed Foods

Processed foods have changed from their original state. They contain high amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fat and often are laden with refined carbohydrates that have no nutritional benefit. The ease of 'cooking' these processed products might seem an attraction but with an increasing amount of research showing that processed foods can lead to an increased risks of elevated blood pressure and cholestral levels and cancer forming properties, I'd advise everyone to stay well clear and focus on eating freshly prepared meals which boast a nutritionally dense profile.

2) Consume Protein with Every Meal

Protein is a powerful macro-nutrient. It acts as the building block for the formation and re-development of muscle cells. It's also a natural thermogenic which means that it contains fat burning properties. As the protein requires more energy to get broken down than carbohydrate and fat. It also keeps you fuller for longer so it helps to stop those dreaded sweet cravings. Perfect examples are lean meats such as chicken and turkey, eggs, nuts and fish.

3) Drink Plenty of Water

The consumption of water is essential for daily living. It makes up roughly 80 percent of the body's make-up. There is conflicting research out there about the total amount of water an individual should drink over the course of the day, ranging from 2 litres to a litre for every 50lbs of bodyweight. All I would say is that everyone needs to drink more of the stuff, it will help cleanse the liver and improve kidney function. Drink preferably from a glass bottle due to rising oestrogen levels through plastic bottles which can affect your hormonal balance. I would suggest having a bottle at work and look to get through at least 2 litres during your working day.

4) Eat a large variety of Vegetables

Fresh vegetables are hugely important. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants helping to fend off disease and shed bodyfat. Green leafy veggies are your best bet. Nutritionally dense and contain something called indole-3-carbinol which helps to fend off unwanted high levels of oestrogen which can cause an accumulation of bodyfat so stock up on brocolli, kale, cabbage, spinach and sprouts (not just for xmas).

Just four simple principles which I believe will result in a far more effective nutritional plan than any fad diet. All are easily attainable, so go out and give it a try and apply it to your daily food intake. I'll leave you with an amusing video of our London Mayor... he could definitely do with applying the four principles of nutrition..

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Little bit of a HIIT for a Tuesday morning

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock for the last 4 to 5 years, short, sharp and most importantly intense workouts have been scientifically proven to melt fat far more effectively than a conventional 45 minute steady state session on a chosen piece of cardio equipment. Don't get me wrong, the fact that an individual chooses to exercise is fantastic, but when I see people come into the gym and head straight for the cross trainer and upon asking them what their goal is with most replies being 'fat loss' it seriously grates me. This may be due to a lack of education (so hopefully they will all read this blog), or just the fear of leaving the comfort of a machine that lets you watch 65 channels...

A fantastic study from the Journal 'Metabolism' compared 20 weeks of aerobic training and only 15 weeks of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) in which participants did 15 sprints for 30 seconds and lost NINE TIMES more bodyfat than the aerobic group.

The cross-trainer clan always tend to argue their case by referring to the about the amount of calories that they have 'burned' during their session. True, some energy has been expended whilst watching 'The Weakest Link' on BBC2 and it will go a tiny way to that bikini body that people crave. 

However it's not about the total calorie expenditure, take the study that I mentioned above, the energy cost of the aerobic group was 28,861 compared to the HIIT group 13,614, less than half! I'm definitely not a mathematician (B-grade GCSE) but by looking at these figures I can see why people question the whole HIIT theory. 

By performing HIIT not only does it raise Growth Hormone and Testosterone levels, which aid muscle growth, it also uses a scientific phenomenon called EPOC (or Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption if we're being specific). EPOC causes an individual's metabolism to raise AFTER training, so the body is using more energy when it's actually at rest. Studies have shown EPOC to raise metabolism by as much as 38hrs post training.

Ok so there's the science and the reasoning behind it, now it's all about devising a workout. The type of exercise and intensity is crucial. HIIT is fantastic as it can be applied to such a broad range of exercises. Just ensure that the exercises are multi-joint so a high calorific demand is placed on the body. The clue is in the name HIGH INTENSITY interval training. So be prepared to sweat and to be pushed not just physically but mentally as well. However the beauty of this type of training is the short duration. As little as 160 seconds of work has shown to aid fat loss using the Tabata Protocol (more on this in a later blog). So HIIT is not only perfect for fatloss but it's also ideal for individuals who may be pressed for time. 

If you have a rowing machine and skipping rope to hand, try the workout below. This 'circuit' hits all major muscle groups and can be completed in a short period of time. Rest for one minute between each round. Keep the intensity HIGH. Including rest time and a comprehensive warm-up, this workout can be completed in 25 minutes. Give it a go and let me know how you get on.