Saturday, 26 March 2016

Digging deep: Putting my faith in the process

I’ve never been one to get fixated on the scales. Throughout my adult life my weight hasn’t fluctuated that much; it’s more been my body shape that changes depending on the lifestyle I’m living. If anything, in the last couple of years of beginning to weight train I was actually quite pleased when I saw the kgs start to creep up as I knew I wasn’t getting fat; quite the opposite really, so I knew my muscles were growing. I was more bothered about my body fat percentage which was looking good so I had assurance in the process.
The last 6 months have been a bit of a different story for me though as I came home from Australia 5kg (11 pounds) heavier than I went and I knew that wasn’t through muscle growth as my training hadn’t been consistent. I also knew I’d overindulged at times (a lot of times in fact but come on I was having a year off right? That’s permitted) so it was purely just fat.
As I started to train and eat cleaner when I came home the weight started to drop off albeit slowly as I was also starting to build my muscles back up. Again, this didn’t bother me massively that it was slow progress as I knew I was on the right track.
Over the last few weeks however the scales have become a daily demon in my life. Now I’m in the shredding stage I know the kgs have to come down whilst still maintaining my muscle mass. So every day first thing on a morning I get weighed and track this throughout the week to work out an average. It’s important to work out an average I’ve learned as your body can fluctuate daily depending on a number of things such as water retention, water intake, for women when it’s that time of the month, hormones and a range of other things.
At first it was just quite interesting to watch and track this but then the obsession kicked in. I started doing what I rolled my eyes at other girls for doing; worrying about every last gram of fat that showed on the scales. And feeling despondent if I didn’t see a good drop even if my body was looking leaner and I was feeling great in myself.
2 weeks ago my average drop for the week was 1.4kg (3 pounds) which for someone like me who isn’t carrying much weight (I average around 48kg-50kg normally) is a good drop. Now common sense prevails and says if I dropped this every week there would be nothing left of me but when you enter the world of bodybuilding; common sense goes out of the window.
So last week I watched some fluctuations in my weight and on Sunday I did my final weigh in and calculated a 0.2kg (1/2 pound) drop. Apparently I should be aiming for a 0.5%-1% drop each week according to my PT so this was on track but I couldn’t get my head around that and I was just disheartened at feeling I’d made so much sacrifice during the week and for very little output. This is one part of bodybuilding I hate; I hate what it does to me mentally for me to feel this way and to be obsessed with the scales.
I was feeling pretty down about things on Sunday night but my friend called me before I went to bed and gave me the pep talk that I needed ahead of another week. I’m very thankful for people like him in my life who keep me motivated and support me especially on my low days. My PT also gave me a similar talking to on Monday morning while I was at the gym (in thermal skins and a hoody fuelled on black coffee in a desperate attempt to sweat more and burn the calories during fasted cardio – what is life?) and this set me up well for the week.
My mentality this week has very much been to put my faith in the process. I know that if I train when I should and I eat what I should the results WILL come. It might take a bit of time and it might take a few tweaks here and there along the way but I have faith in my trainer that he will get me to where I need to be. I knew I had to move my mentality to this approach rather than concentrating just on the scales as otherwise it would really get to me.
I’ve found this mentality so important as the week’s progressed as the scales didn’t behave at the start of the week and Monday to Thursday I still wasn’t seeing what I wanted to when I stood on ‘the sad step’ as Joe Wicks (The Body Coach – Lean in 15) calls it; I’m in full agreement with him now!
And as the week progressed I felt an enormous sense of pride in myself at my attitude this week. Not seeing the results on the scales it could have easily thrown me off track and made me upset with the process. And looking back a couple of months when I first started dieting if this had happened then I’d have got the ultimate strop on and probably thrown my diet plan out of the window and sat with the face on whilst stuffing my face with Krispy Kreme haha.
This week I remained calm and in control and dug deep to find that mental strength to push through. It hasn’t been easy some days. When you wake up at 05:15 and see you’ve either stayed the same or even put a bit of weight on it takes a lot of self-motivation to pull on your gym gear, head to the gym and do 40 minutes fasted cardio when you’ve got a busy day at work ahead and you know you’ll be back in the gym at 6pm that night. It also takes a lot of willpower in these situations when your body starts to get hungry about 8pm and you know you’ve had your calorie allowance for the day so you drag yourself off to bed in a bid to suppress your appetite until the next day.
I know that I’ve been having a weekly re-feed; tomorrow is my last proper one for Easter Sunday before my competition so I know this will make a difference in the coming weeks not having that on a weekend. I also know I’ve got a few options to work with after chatting to my PT such as additional cardio, amendments to my macros and cycling my calories. Purely looking at weight alone I haven’t got far to go. 48kg is the lowest I can remember being over the last 4-5 years and my PT reckons I can perhaps get down to 46kg but that will be it. So I’ve got another 2kg (4.4 pounds) to lose in 8 weeks. It is do-able. It’s harder as you get smaller as the fat is more stubborn to shift as anyone will know who has lost weight; it’s those last few pounds that are the hardest to go.
I’m probably not likely to have dropped this week; I have my final weigh in tomorrow which I’ll then use to calculate my average for the week and unless I have a miraculous overnight drop it’s not going to take me under 48.2kg which was last week’s average. But yesterday I weighed in at 48.0kg and today I weighed in at 47.6kg which is the lowest I’ve been so far throughout this process so I know I’m heading in the right direction.
I’d just like to add that I am only 5’0” so I know this is a very low weight and not one that’s attainable or should even be considered as a goal for many of you reading this who were blessed with a little bit more height than I was. So I just want to put that out there before people either judge me for being so light or start to panic that you’re a lot heavier than me.
As with many things in life, as I’ve come to learn over recent years, it’s all about the mental toughness. Whether that be with training, with your career or generally just in life at situations that are thrown at you over the years. Building my mental strength to deal with things over the last 3 years has been an invaluable trait to me and I know that this whole experience will only add to that. Bodybuilding takes dedication, sacrifice, responsibility, 100% commitment, willpower, desire, motivation on days you feel the least like it and I know I’ll be a better person for all of this in 8 weeks time.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The reasons why I don't do comparison

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel”
It’s so easy these days to compare our lives with the lives of those around us. We’re surrounded by and influenced by social media daily. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest…the list goes on. And we all know that what we see on there isn’t the reality of someone’s life but sometimes you can think it is.
For example, when I was travelling last year I had days where I was homesick and cried or the day didn’t go too well for one reason or another. Did you see me posting that on Facebook? Generally not. You saw me swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, having the time of my life swinging from a bungee in New Zealand and laid on yet another beach on the Fijian Islands.
Or I sometimes post progress pictures on my Instagram. Do I post one at 9pm when I’ve had a day of food (granted it’s not much food) and 5 litres of water and my stomach is looking a little bloated? No I post one that’s taken at 7am after fasted cardio when my body is looking more shredded.
Similarly, if I post a selfie, do I post one taken at 8am on a Sunday morning when my hair is not brushed, my face isn’t washed let alone got any make-up on and I’ve got my fluffy dressing gown on? (Yes, this is my current status) No, I post one when my make-up looks on point, my hair is styled and I’m in good lighting.
So you see my highlight reel. Snapchat gives a bit more of a raw look at my daily life and I’ve made an effort with my blog posts to include the lows and not just the highs but essentially 90% of what you see of me on social media is the good bits.
But we seem to forget that when we look at other people’s sites and seem to think that they’re always that beautiful or always that toned or that they’re always doing nice things. And it’s not reality.
Don’t get me wrong I browse Instagram and Facebook daily and particularly on Instagram I follow a lot of fitness pages so I see fit girls and think ‘wow awesome abs’ or ‘good booty’ and use these as motivation but I definitely don’t compare myself. And I’ve found this to be more important for me not to do in the run up to competitions.
A few weeks ago when I committed to entering my first competition in May I did fall into the trap of spending one weekend browsing a lot of social media looking at girls from last year’s comp or just looking at girls entering comps around the world. And whilst it worked in one sense in that it kind of shocked me into thinking ‘right, absolutely no more slip ups now in terms of diet, you HAVE to be on point’ and that’s helped as I have stayed on track since then. But it also had me in a bit of a panic as I was looking at girls on stage who had had months of comp prep, some who had had years of bodybuilding, they were tanned to the max and they’d had their peak week where there’s certain things you do in the week leading up to comp to create this illusion on stage. How they look on stage is not how they look every single day when they’re walking down the street or at work. And I have to remind myself of that quite often.
And whilst it’s nice sometimes to talk to other girls going through comp prep and it’s reassuring to hear of the same emotional rollercoaster I’ve learnt that I actually don’t want to know too much about the details of their prep. As soon as you start learning of people’s progress, what they’re eating, what training plan they’re doing, what things they’re not doing etc. you can’t help but compare what you’re doing. Everyone’s going to be doing things slightly different as we’ve all got different body shapes and types and our bodies react to different things.
I’ve made a conscious effort this last couple of weeks to not get too involved in looking at people’s progress or reading on people’s stories as I had this conversation with my PT and as he pointed out we’ve all got different strong points. He recognises I’m not going to have the biggest muscles on stage as bodybuilding is a relatively new concept in my life, particularly on my upper body. Whereas some girls have had years of bodybuilding and gradually building their muscles up. But I’ve got strong points of my own which we will be focusing on.
I went through a stage when I was about 20 years old, as we all have no doubt at some stage in our lives, where I was pretty insecure with my body. This was before I started working out and whilst fortunately I’ve never been what I’d class as properly overweight, looking back I was untoned and because I’m only small in height this soon shows on me. And I always used to be comparing myself to other girls and it made me so miserable.
As time has gone on I outgrew this phase and particularly as I started training I gained so much more confidence in my body. This was knocked during my last few months of travelling last year when I put on about 5kg and lost all my muscle tone. I HATED how my body felt and looked but I’ve worked my butt off since I got home in October to get back on track and at the moment I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in and I feel brilliant.
I have my body hang-ups just as much as the next person and I don’t mind putting that out there. I wish I had bigger boobs, I wish I was a little bit taller, I would love to have flawless olive skin and it would be awesome if I naturally had abs and didn’t have to work so hard to maintain definition on my stomach. But I accept all that and appreciate my good points instead. I think when God was deciding on boobs or bum for me he got carried away with the booty and completely neglected the other but as a result I’ve been left with an ass that does not take any growing at all; a few squats here and there and it’s bursting my jeans haha so I’m grateful for that and a number of other things. So I challenge you to find anyone out there who’s got the ‘perfect’ body as it doesn’t exist. As what might be perfect to me, isn’t perfect to someone else.
My approach in the last 9 weeks to competition is purely to focus on me, as it has been from day 1 of getting back to the gym and not allowing my eyes to wander onto other people’s progress. It’s a hard concept for me as naturally this is a competition and as soon as that word is mentioned my competitive nature kicks in and naturally I want to win. That’s just who I am and who I’ve always been. I know it’s probably very unlikely that I’ll win given it’s my first comp but my adrenaline kicks in and that hunger for success kicks in. So I’m having to stop myself thinking about that as otherwise it will get inside my head and ruin the whole concept and experience for me. For now I’m putting my faith in the process. I have a diet plan laid out in front of me. I have a training plan drawn up. I know every day what I need to do and if I do that every single day then the results will come. I track my own progress weekly and that’s all I can do; push myself to keep improving in these last few weeks.
So for anyone out there who’s reading this I want you to stop comparing yourself to so many others out there. Whether that be in body image or lifestyle or profession, whatever it is. As cheesy as it sounds we’re all on our own journey and no one’s is right or wrong. You have to do what makes you happy and be true to yourself and appreciate yourself.
It took me a long time to fully appreciate myself and be confident in who I am as a person; not allowing people in my life who disrespect me and pull me down and not feeling like I have to conform to normality. Maybe this is just something that comes with age and a few different life experiences but I hope everyone out there reaches that point if you haven’t already as that’s what the world needs more of.
There’s so much pressure around us every day and I don’t know whether it’s from society, from social media, from friends and family or maybe it’s in our own head and it can be difficult sometimes to think you know what, I don’t care what everyone else is doing, I’m doing what’s right for me. And this is something I still do battle with occasionally. Now I’ve reached the age of 25 I look around at a lot of people my age, who I’m friends with or who I went to school with and it’s fair to say the majority are settled down, some married, some with kids. And that’s great for them if that’s the life they’ve chosen. But sometimes it can make you think oh jeez I’m so far away from that. And then I remind myself of everything I’ve done since I was 18; how much I’ve travelled, the experiences I’ve had that no one can ever take away from me that I’ve had whilst I’m young and carefree and I think of the education I’ve had and the career I’ve built for myself. And I wouldn’t change one bit of that for the world. And I’m not saying I’m any better than any of those people for doing what I’ve done, I’ve just chosen a different path, and that’s ok.
One day I hope to have all of that stuff; a family of my own and to settle down and I really hope that happens for me. And if it does it will have happened in the way that was right for me. I’ll have had my selfish years in my twenties where I’ve done exactly what I’ve wanted when I’ve wanted. I’ve taken a career break and experienced life at the other side of the world, I’ve had countless holidays, I’ve indulged in having nice things and spoilt myself, I’ve been able to dedicate a large proportion of my time to building a successful career that will now hopefully serve me well throughout the rest of my working life. I’ve invested in my health and fitness spending a lot of money on the experience I’m having now and in a couple of months I’ll be able to say I’ve competed on stage too. I’m going to America for the first time in June which I’m so excited about and then I’m back to Australia for a couple of weeks in September so 2016 promises to be a great year of even more wonderful experiences.
And then who knows; hopefully Prince Charming will walk into my life any day now, sweep me off my feet and we’ll live happily ever after (LOL – here’s hoping hey?)
Thanks for reading. Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

10 weeks in and the big event is confirmed

I’m now 10 weeks into my diet (3 weeks into the super strict one) and I’m pleased to say it’s getting easier week by week – fingers crossed this continues in the same form over the coming weeks.
I’ve wrote before about how I’m booked in for a photo shoot. This was a goal that my PT; Mikey and I set back in December. It provides an end-point to work towards and something to keep you focused. Originally I had this booked for the end of March but when I got ill a few weeks ago and had a really bad week coping with the diet and training I decided to move this back. I didn’t feel that my body would be in a state I was happy with to go in front of the camera in some tight lycra gym gear and when you’re paying for that you want it to be at a point where you feel happy and confident. So I moved this back to the end of April so I have just under 7 weeks now and this feels much more realistic.
I was also worried that if I decided to compete in May and the shoot was at the end of March I would have a 6-7 week gap in between. As my diet and training programme for the shoot was prepared like one for a comp I was worried about what I would do in between; either sustaining a very strict lifestyle for much longer or risk fluctuating during those weeks. By postponing the shoot it also gave me the opportunity to approach my diet in a slightly less-strict manner, allowing a cheat meal once a week which I just couldn’t have done if I was working to such a short timeframe. This was really important to me as I was struggling to cope on 100% clean as I wrote about a few weeks ago.
I don’t know why I say ‘if I decided to compete’ in the above paragraph as to be honest it was never in doubt. I remember before I went to Australia, being at Bootcamp one Wednesday morning a few weeks before I flew and during the cool down Mikey asking me ‘are you going to compete when you get back?’
That was the first time competing had entered my mind. I knew very little about it back then; it had never been something I was interested in and it just simply hadn’t been on my radar. From that day it has been. And I think I knew right from that day that it would happen. At that point I had a year of adventure awaiting me so that was obviously my focus but even so; the thought of being on stage never left my mind. I knew how much I loved training and I knew how much I loved a challenge and this provided the perfect opportunity for both.
So whilst I was away I curiously stumbled through websites and social media sites and learnt a bit more about the bodybuilding sport. And on my return home; with a fantastic year behind me I knew I’d need something to focus on outside of work that would motivate and challenge me. I began my journey back to health and fitness and to be honest my eyes have always been on the prize; being on that stage.
I think Mikey figured me out as a person pretty soon after we started training and I’m convinced he knew exactly what he was doing when he would drop hints into every session; talking about what poses would look good on stage and telling me he already had my bikini colour picked out haha. With every mention of it the seed planted in my mind a little bit more. And he knew this. He never pushed it though; it was always left to be absolutely my choice.
Despite being pretty sure in my head that it was going to happen even back in October, I would never commit to it. I used to tell my best friend Lucy I wanted to do it and I’d talk to her about it but never to anyone else. It was so hard after coming home overweight, unfit and unhealthy to visualise being up on that stage as I had such a massive amount of work to do. But week by week I saw the progress coming along and by December I’d already got my Pinterest page set up with dozens of bikini and body inspirations on there.
It was January when I booked my photoshoot after chatting about it with Mikey and I’m pretty sure he knew if he could get me on a comp-like diet for the shoot that when I saw the results and got to the stage of the shoot that I’d be tempted to go for a competition.
As I thought more seriously about it I remember floating the idea by my mum and dad. My dad just rolled his eyes in disagreement with the look of ‘oh dear what on earth has she got into her head now?’ I often come up with these ideas to do something that will push me and he knows by now that once it’s in my head, it’s going to happen. I can understand why he wasn’t a massive fan; I’m sure no dad wants to see his baby girl up on stage in a tiny bikini with all these muscles on show being judged by a panel and in front of an audience.
My mum, bless her, gave me the same look of ‘here she goes again’ but my mum’s a bit more open to trying to understand (or at least pretending she does anyway). After I’d answered her first question which was ‘isn’t it all a bit seedy though getting up on stage and parading about?’ (LOL) I think I’ve managed to get her on board…almost!! They’re the most supportive parents in the world and even if they completely disagree with an idea, they’ll never let my sister or I know that. They’ve got our backs 100% and that always means the world to me.
I didn’t really mention it to anyone else at that stage as not everyone understands and to be honest it’s not for anyone else to understand. If they don’t agree with it or think it’s a good thing, that’s nothing to do with me. Plus I never seek anyone’s validation so the only thing that mattered to me, was that I wanted to do it and that Mikey believed in me enough to be able to do it.
Whilst I’d committed in my head to aiming for that stage, I knew at some point I would have to make that commitment real as there are lots of things you need to organise when preparing for a competition. So last weekend I took the plunge and decided 100% I was going for it; much to Mikey’s delight. Although I think he knew it was always going to happen…even if he had to drag me up on that stage.
The wheels were put into motion last weekend as I booked in at my beauty salon a couple of days before the comp; making sure my trusty beauticians were available to sort me out with my manicure and eyebrow treatments. And I'm also booked in with someone for my hideous fake tan. It's very rare I get spray tans but normally you go in and ask for the natural look this year I'll be going for the darkest most unnatural look possible. I can see a Ross off Friends moment coming up with layers and layers of the stuff being piled on…although hopefully it will be on both sides of my body not just one haha.
And more importantly my first consultation is booked for my competition bikini. I’ll be going to Joanne Todd in Wakefield for my bikini to be custom-built and my first appointment is in a couple of weeks when I go and pick out the colour I want and the style etc. Eek so exciting.
I’ll be competing in the National Physique Association (NPA) Yorkshire which is on the 22nd May in the figure class. I’ve already booked the day off work the next day, partly so I don’t have to go into HQ with my ridiculously orange tan but partly so I can absolutely gorge on food all Sunday evening and into Monday LOL. Although I am being told that I won’t manage to eat that much food after being on such a strict diet for so long. But there’s one thing for sure, I’ll be giving it my best shot.
 Mentally it’s helped me so much finally committing to it too. I spent a lot of time last weekend trawling through the NPA website looking at their girls to see where my body needs to get to. And I’ve been looking through bikinis for inspiration. It’s made it so much more real for me now which has helped heaps too with my willpower.
I know 100% now I HAVE to be strict with my diet, there’s no room for slip ups and I’ll regret it so much if I have to step on stage in May knowing I could have done better and could have looked leaner.
So this week my diet has been 100% on point, sticking with my plan and having zero naughtiness. I was at a conference yesterday where there was a hot buffet and today at work we had a huge fuddle and I didn’t touch any of it. More importantly for me, it hasn’t bothered me that much not having it either. A few weeks ago it would have killed me and would have made me such a moody cow and I would have started feeling sorry for myself. But this week my mind’s just been in a different place. Today I was able to stand amongst the food and mingle with my team having a good look at all the snacks and not feeling like I really wanted anything. My goals are more important to me than 2 minutes of satisfaction from eating a mini-egg cake. And it’s as simple as that; that’s how I manage the temptations; I think about what the end goal is.
Today's much naughtiness...
 Tomorrow night I will be having a cheat; although not as bad as I had been having a few weeks ago when I would indulge in a Domino’s and follow it up with Krispy Kreme. My stomach just wasn’t agreeing with foods like this as it’s now adjusted to healthy, clean foods and so instead for my cheat I’m just having something ‘normal’ that’s not overly bad but not super-clean, but is a break from my diet programme. And I’m not going too overboard either staying around the 1600 kcal mark. This week is lasagne and garlic bread followed by my new favourite; salted caramel chocolate brownies from Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’ range – oh my days so nice. It’s funny when you only have one cheat per week how carefully you choose this. I’ve been debating since Wednesday whether I wanted lasagne or curry…first world problems hey?
I’ve also found this week that my cravings haven’t been as bad physically either. Things just don’t taste the same really. And it’s interesting having read up on this that this does happen and I’m certainly not complaining if it makes this dieting game a bit easier. A lot of research has shown that we do truly learn to have an acquired taste. Our taste buds get used to certain foods and therefore crave them more. If you eat processed foods that are higher in sugar and salts you will crave this more. Whereas if you switch your diet to healthier options, in time you will actually start to prefer these types of food. We can teach our taste buds what to enjoy. I fully believe this is true as over recent years I’ve introduced certain foods into my diet that at the start I absolutely hated and couldn’t stand the taste of. But after persevering and regularly eating these things I actually now enjoy them. Rye bread being one example; I remember when Mikey first told me to try it I genuinely thought I must have picked up the wrong thing in the supermarket as it looked nothing like bread and it tasted even less like it. I actually threw it in the bin after 1 mouthful after spitting that out it was so bad. Now after a few months of sticking with it, I love it and I can’t wait for the day when it’s actually allowed in my life again. Crazy!!
I normally love a good cuppa tea too (typical Yorkshire girl) but this week it just hasn’t done anything for me. Instead I’m craving my water with amino acids and glutamine in; which when I first started on these a few weeks ago, I absolutely hated.
Apparently it takes 6-8 weeks for our taste buds to adjust fully so this is probably why over the last week or so I’ve found it much easier. As much as I love my Saturday cheat I also find it hard as once I have a bit of chocolate and something sweet my body wants more of it; so I have to be careful with my cheat that it doesn’t turn into a full-blown binge as has happened previously.
My training has also been on point this week. I’ve trained 8 times; 4 mornings of fasted cardio, 3 heavy weights sessions and then tonight a tough abs session finished with a bit more cardio. I’m pretty tired to be honest from so much training and a busy work week so I’m looking forward to my rest day on Sunday. I can see and feel a huge difference in my body and it’s been really lovely this week to get so many positive comments in the gym with people noticing the changes in my shape and definition. It’s so encouraging to just hear these compliments and to know you must be doing something right. It seems that Mikey and I have hit the right balance at the moment with kcals and macros and it’s working really well. I’ve had successive weight drops Monday to Thursday this week, which with me already being small and light is really satisfying as I aim to get leaner.
The definition is starting to come through
The quads are finally growing
I’ve got 10 weeks to go until comp and I know there will no doubt be some more hurdles along the way but mentally I’m there and I know now it’s getting closer I just have to dig deep and do whatever it takes as it will be worth it on that Sunday when I pull on the bikini, step into my heels and walk on that stage. It’s a whole new world for me with bodybuilding and competitions but I know I’m in the best hands possible, under the leadership and guidance of Mikey.
I can’t wait to share this next stage of my journey onto stage with you all. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Sleep is for the weak...or sleep for a week?

It's almost the weekend guys. I hope you’re all having great weeks and smashing your goals. Tonight I wanted to quickly talk about sleep (I say quickly because I need to go to sleep haha).
How true is it when they say that as an adult you start loving everything you hated as a child? Sleep is the ultimate example. I remember as a kid watching TV on an evening with my family watching the clock dreading it reaching bed time as I just didn’t want to go to sleep. These days I watch the clock waiting for a time that would be considered acceptable at 25 years of age to go to bed.
I think people underestimate the importance of sleep and how much impact it can have on our daily lives. I bet if you ask the majority of people they would say that ideally they need more sleep than they get. Different studies have shown different results about how much sleep we need per night to function at our best. Some say 7 hours is enough, some say we should be aiming for 9 (wow that would be the day hey?)
But on average most advice describes at least 7 hours sleep as beneficial for us to live a healthy lifestyle. I think we all acknowledge that sometimes 7 hours sleep isn’t possible if you’ve got something on one evening and then you’ve also got a very early start.
I wrote in my last post at the weekend about how after my week off last week I was going to make a conscious effort to go to bed earlier to try and get a bit more sleep each night. As I’m up most mornings at 05:30 when I have fasted cardio I’d set myself a bedtime of 22:30 at the latest to give me my 7 hour allowance.
I seem to have taken this one step further this week and every night apart from last night I haven’t seen 21:30 haha. And I have felt so much better for getting more sleep each night. My concentration has been better, my mood has been good, my body has felt fresh for training and I’ve just felt much calmer in myself.
I’ve been doing some reading up this week on how sleep can benefit you when you’re training. There’s the obvious benefits such as having more energy particularly if you’re training after work when fatigue may sometimes be kicking in. But also for growing muscle. I read a particularly interesting article on (I’m really enjoying this site at the moment as there’s some really great stories and advice on there) which talks about growth hormone. As you fall into your deepest stage of sleep (stage 4) the quantity of growth hormone released into your bloodstream increases due to the action of growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH). GHRH is itself a sleep inducer too.
The article also talks about how not sleeping very well can have some reverse effect to this. When we are awake our stress hormones are increased and our GHRH is decreased and your immune system can be partially supressed. Biochemical evidence supports the role of sleep as a critical restorative process and without adequate sleep it can have a significant impact on your physical state.
Last weekend I spent some time food-prepping to make my week easier and this has allowed me to eat earlier on an evening after the gym and to not have as much to do to prepare my meals for the next day. So then I’m able to get a shower and have some relaxing down-time before I go to bed. I was talking about this with my PT tonight; about how important it is to have some time to wind-down before you sleep. If you race around all evening and then try sleep often you’ll find you take a bit longer to fall asleep or that your sleep is broken. Even having 10-15 minutes relaxation before sleep can make a big difference.
This week I’ve made an effort to get into bed early too and then have some time to read or to catch up with things on my phone; just to have that shut-off time. And routine is so important to me. I function better when in a proper routine so having a strict routine helps me massively. It’s not always possible to do this every day as sometimes things come up that need doing. Monday evening I had some paperwork to read through ahead of Tuesday so I had to factor that in to my evening schedule and tonight I’ve had to do a bit of work after training but most of the time you can build a good routine for yourself.
And by having more routine you’ll find it easier to get to sleep and to wake up if you’re doing this at consistent hours. I am a morning person so I don’t struggle massively to wake up apart from the occasional morning if I’ve been particularly busy but I’ve found it even easier with having more of a routine this week and going to bed earlier.
I have to be quite strict with my evenings too. I used to regularly have catch ups planned with friends, dinners out, go for coffee etc. and now I just don’t really plan anything like that during the week unless it’s just hanging out at my friends’ houses or at mine where we can just wind down. Some people might say that’s boring and it impacts on your social life but for me it’s all about making my life easier and making choices.
I work hard during the day which is tiring anyway. But add training into the equation (double sessions three days per week) and it’s pretty exhausting. The last thing I want to do after I come home from the gym is start getting ready to go out when I have a 05:30 wake up call. And I’m pretty sure my friends now know not to contact me after 21:00 on an evening as more often than not I’ll be in bed haha.
As I’ve said I know it can be difficult to get adequate sleep but making alterations to your lifestyle can help massively. Here’s a few key tips I’ve found that have helped me develop a good sleep pattern:
1)    Organisation: spending an hour or two on a weekend prepping for the week can help massively. Whether that’s lunch prep, dinner prep, doing all the washing, cleaning up etc. If it’s all done on the weekend you don’t have to worry about it on an evening.
2)    Routine: get into a good routine of going to bed at a regular time and waking up at a regular time.
3)    Environment: an hour before I go to bed I’ll light a scented candle in my room that’s relaxing. Then by the time I go to bed my room smells amazing and puts me in a relaxed state.
4)    Chill out time: try and give yourself some time every night before you sleep where you just relax. Whether that’s reading or watching some TV or just having some quiet time. Even 15 minutes of this can help put you in a calm state for sleep.
Why not try doing this for a week and see how much better you feel even if it helps you to get just an extra 30 minutes sleep than normal?
Having read this back to myself I do feel about 60 years old writing this post (cringeeee!!) but I don’t think it’s any secret how much we all love our sleep and even better that is has so much benefit to our lives.
It’s now approaching 21:00 and I still have to get a shower so time for me to sign off and go dream about yummy food (I’m not even joking; this is happening quite frequent now I’m in full diet-mode). Only 2 more sleeps until my cheat though…and I CANNOT wait.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A week in the life of a full-time athlete...

This week I’ve had the week off work and not had a great deal planned; I just had some annual leave to use up before the end of the financial year and so thought I’d take a full week to have some ‘me-time’. Onto the last couple of days now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having some downtime to just relax, refresh and rejuvenate before it’s back to the grind on Monday.
It’s been an insightful week for me as normally my life is 100mph and so fitting in training and managing a strict diet has sometimes been challenging. My PT said to me a few weeks ago that I would probably find it harder than some to diet and train on such an intense level as my job is very demanding and high-pressured. Whereas a lot of people following such a strict lifestyle prepping for competitions or photo shoots are often in the industry themselves or have a job which doesn’t demand that much of them so they can fully dedicate themselves to training and dieting.
I didn’t quite comprehend how much of an impact a stressful job can have on you in the balance of everything until this week and having had the week off and being able to focus fully on my health and fitness lifestyle I’ve realised how much of a difference it makes. My PT was telling me yesterday that if you’ve got a job where you have to use your brain a lot that it can burn up to 600 calories per day. So that’s a lot of demand on your body when you’re already training a lot as well.
I’ve loved it this week being a ‘full-time athlete’ as my PT has joked with me; a lady of leisure with the biggest thing to worry about being what gym outfits I’ll wear for my two training sessions per day. So I’ve documented my week and how I’ve felt each day:
Monday 29 February
After a lovely relaxing weekend in the Yorkshire Dales with plenty of walking it was an early night on Sunday for me and a rare lie-in on Monday morning, waking up at 9am. I can’t remember the last time I woke up at 9am as with me getting up so early on weekdays even when it gets to the weekend my body clock often kicks in and still wakes me up at some insane hour. So it was fasted cardio for me; this time outdoors which was so refreshing. As I have to do fasted cardio before work normally; it’s too dark for me to go outside on my own so I have to go to the gym to do it. On Monday it was nice to get up and get into the park for a quick 20 minute jog before nipping to collect my Asda order and then onto the gym for 11am for my PT session.
With no battles for equipment at that time we were able to use what we wanted, when we wanted and I was put through a gruelling leg session; finishing up with 100 bum-bridges with a resistance band. What a killer. Finished up with some post-weights cardio and then it was home for some freshly cooked lunch. I had a sports massage booked for 5pm which I try and have once a month to prevent injury and help my muscles recover and I felt like a new woman after a 45 minute intense rub down on my traps, hamstrings and lower back.
Legs and booty are growing...
Tuesday 1 March
March already – where is this year going?
Another day of fasted cardio. On Tuesday’s I do 30 minute steady-state so after waking up naturally at 7am I went with my mum on a power-walk around the local lake at around 9am. A chance for us to catch up on some gossip and get our morning exercise in. I then nipped home for a bit of brekkie and then it was onto the gym once again. Tuesday is arms and abs followed by some cardio and it was so nice to once again have the place pretty much to myself and take my time with my workout.
Wednesday 2 March
I was allowed back to Bootcamp this week after a couple of week’s rest from it as it was becoming a bit too intense on my nervous system with a lot of other heavy training sessions and reduced calories. But with a promise for a proper recovery session afterwards and having a steady week; I managed to get the green light from my PT. So happily (yes I’m crazy) I set my alarm for 6am and at 06:45 I was doing 10 sets of 10 sprints to ‘warm up’. This was followed by a tough circuit session and then squats to finish.
For the first time in months I didn’t have to rush off to work afterwards so I was able to go into the hydropool, recover in the ice bath, relax in the sauna and give my body some much needed TLC for a couple of hours. I very much was a lady of leisure on Wednesday as I nipped home for some breakfast before going to the beauty salon for my nails and eyebrows doing and then heading to the shops for the afternoon. I could get used to this!!
Thursday 3 March
8am get up today and my one day break from fasted cardio so it was healthy breakfast and cuppa to start the day with my feet up on the sofa whilst I watched the morning news and gossip shows. I normally hate daytime TV but I watched it just because I could and wondered what it must be like to be able to do this every day – watching them cook up some food on ‘This Morning’ and talk about some absolutely pointless rubbish. I’m sure the novelty probably wears off after a week or so. I nipped into town on Thursday morning for a couple of bits before heading to the gym for my midday PT session. Chest and back is what we train on Thursday so another tough session and 20 minutes of cardio to finish off.
Oh hey muscles...
Quick call home for some freshly prepared lunch consisting of chicken and broccoli (of course!) and then I went to meet a friend for coffee at one of the local hotels. It felt so nice to not always be racing against time and living life with a military-style schedule in order to make sure I don’t forget anything I’m supposed to be doing.
Friday 4 March
Fasted cardio day so after an 8am wake up I headed to the gym. There was no chance of this one being outdoors after the snow had graced us with its presence over Thursday evening making it like an ice-rink outside so it was up to Total Fitness for 30 minutes steady state cardio. It’s so much nicer in the gym during the day when it’s quieter and a more chilled out atmosphere. I didn’t have to do a weights session yesterday so the rest of my day wasn’t too taxing other than helping my mum move some boxes in the new house (so it did end up being a bit of a weights session after all) and then it was my cheat night last night.
After being allowed a cheat night for the last couple of weeks this week it was only a partial cheat night. My body just isn’t dealing with ‘proper’ cheats such as takeaways that well with the rest of my diet being so clean. Over the last two weeks when I’ve had my cheat I’ve been in so much pain afterwards and my stomach has felt so bloated and it’s put me in a full-on food coma for hours and hours afterwards. So me and my PT agreed to swap it for something out of my Lean in 15 recipe book so that it allows me to have something a bit different to my normal diet but it’s not too greasy for my body to digest. Last night I made beef burger and chips and it was so yummy. Finished off nicely with a dessert (this one was naughty…but so nice) and my body felt much better after that.
Lean in 15 is my second bible right now
Onto the weekend and it’s business as usual with a high intensity workout on Saturday morning to burn some fat from the cheat meal and tomorrow will be my rest day.
I’ve spent an hour or two today doing some food prep for when I’m back at work on Monday to make my life easier and so I can just grab my meals out of the fridge which makes such a big difference rather than cooking every single night for the next day. I have very much enjoyed this week being able to eat freshly cooked food though. It tastes so much better when it’s fresh out of the pan rather than cold or warmed up in the microwave but needs must. And it’s been so nice to eat when I want to and when my body needs it rather than rushing down my lunch in between meetings and grabbing my next snack on the go.
My body has felt much more rested and relaxed too and I’ve been able to recover so much quicker from my workouts. Getting adequate sleep every night and waking up when my body is ready to rather than with the 05:30 alarm. Being able to have a lie down on the sofa on an afternoon if my body is tired and having that time for me to just relax and chill out has made such a big difference.
Game face on...time to train!!
 Unfortunately that’s not real-life for the majority of us though and to be honest I’m not sure I’d want it to be. Don’t get me wrong it’s been lovely to have this week like this as a break from my normal lifestyle and I’m sure if this was my lifestyle permanently as a ‘full-time athlete’ I’d also have other things on during the week which I’d have to do. But if it was a permanent thing for me I think I’d miss having to use my brain. I’m always thinking when I’m at work; planning things, writing reports, coming up with ideas, contributing to meetings, analysing information, managing staff, responding to requests, fact-finding, meeting patients and families, speaking to different staff every day and it’s made me realise how much I enjoy that and how much I enjoy having the contrast in my life.
At work I can be Rebecca Mallinder; Head of Investigations & Learning where I have responsibility and pressure and stuff that needs my attention every single day. And when I leave the office and get to the gym I can be Rebecca Mallinder; gym-bunny, bodybuilder, whatever you want to call it but that’s my escape. It’s my couple of hours a day where I don’t have to have all that responsibility on me and I can just be who I am as a person. And I like that.
As with everything I do in my life I always like to learn something and take away something from every experience and from this week there’s a few things I’m going to try and build into my lifestyle going forward. At the start of the week I made a conscious effort to find a book I liked the look of and to make a start on reading it. I love reading but I never make time to do this so it’s one thing I wanted to do with my week off. I haven’t read as much as I hoped but I’ve left my Kindle on my bedside table so I can make sure I try and have a bit of time each night to switch off and read something. Even if it’s only 10 minutes. And I’m going to make sure my sleep routine is good. I am normally pretty good anyway at going to bed at a reasonable hour but I want to make sure I get at least 7 hours sleep per night so that means lights out by 10:30 latest each night. And whilst I do always do some food prep this has dropped off a little bit of late and I want to make more of an effort to do this each weekend to make my weeks that bit easier. It only takes an hour or so each weekend but it makes such a difference to your week life when you don’t have to start weighing out food and cooking things every night after work and the gym.
Meal prep for the next few days
It’s crossed my mind a lot over the last 12 months whether I’d want a career in health and fitness as that’s where my true passion lies. But my worry with that has always been that I’d kill my passion for it if I did it day-in-day-out. After having this week just living and breathing health and fitness I’m not sure it would kill my passion as I don’t think I could ever get bored of it but it’s made me have more of an appreciation than what I might have had before for having such a contrast in my life with my work-life and my home-life (I’m going to write another post in the coming weeks about how I achieve a healthy work-life balance). So for now I’ll stick with leading my double-life…NHS professional by day…bodybuilder by night haha.
My happy place!
Thanks for reading guys…hope you’re all having great weekends!!