Top 5 most commonly asked fitness questions, answered
As a personal trainer, I get asked a lot of questions on diet, exercise and general fitness, with some more often asked than others. So to help you get on the right path to better workouts and lasting progress, here are my answers to the 5 most common questions related to health and fitness I get asked.
Question 1: How should I plan my sessions?
Anyone aiming to increase their general health and fitness, should do a varied programme of weight and cardio training. When planning your sessions there are 3 areas you should consider:
- Your training experience – If you’re a relative newcomer to have limited experience in weight training you may decide to prioritise exercises with weights before your cardio. Getting your weight training in early each session will ensure that you’re attacking the weights in a fresh state, weights after cardio can lead to technical errors due to fatigue or a lack of concentration.
- Your goals – If you’re training primarily to gain strength and muscle, it’s advisable to perform the exercises that are likely to yield this type of training effect earlier each session. You’ll get the most out of these exercises at this point as you’ll be able to commit to each set without feeling too tired. In the same way, a trainee who really wants to improve their 10km run time might do best with some treadmill work before hitting their weights routine.For fat loss, the general consensus is that weight training should be prioritised over cardiovascular work across the board, but this is perhaps a rabbit hole that should be investigated in a whole other post!
- Your preferences – Possibly the biggest factor that dictates whether an individual is successful in reaching their health and fitness goals is adherence. Essentially, most programmes work – as long as you stick to them. If you dread the sessions you’ve planned, you’re more likely to talk yourself out of going. And we all know that once we’re actually at the gym with a bit of a sweat going, we can usually talk ourselves into doing a little bit of anything.
Question 2: I feel and look slimmer but the scales say I'm the same weight! How can this be?
The scales are an incredibly useful tool in helping to paint a broad picture of body composition. However, I would never recommend solely using the scales as they will only ever tell you part of the whole story.
As we exercise we’re likely to see a reduction in body fat and an increase in muscle mass. Muscle is denser that fat and therefore takes up less space on your body. This change in ratio is not accounted for by most generic scales so if the scales aren’t moving but you’re looking slimmer, I’d recommend confirming these positive results by looking at your performance in the gym. For example, if you’re stronger it’s likely that along with improved technique, you now also have more muscle. This will explain the confusion with your scales.
Question 3: Should I be choosing ‘low fat’ products at the supermarket?
If by ‘low fat’ we mean whole, unprocessed and natural foods that are inherently low in fat and relatively higher in carbs and/or protein then yes, that would totally be acceptable. Examples here might be various types of vegetable.
Products labelled as ‘low fat’ foods very often have their natural fat removed or reduced. A great example here is in yoghurt. In order to satisfy the ‘low fat’ parameters, a food needs to have less than 3g of fat per 100g and for drinks it’s 1.5g per 100g. This compromises the taste of the food, so with the absence of fat, these type of products are usually filled with sugar and artificial sweeteners. So while foods marketed as low fat may help to reduce the calories, just be aware of how this might impact how much sugar you're having in your diet by looking at the ingredients list on the nutrition label.
In a nutshell, eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat.
The fat we get from our diet isn’t the same as the fat that is on our hips. It’s actually a bit of a shame that these two things share the same name as if that wobbly excess on our midriff was called something completely different then a lot of confusion could be avoided.
Question 4: What are the best breakfast options for weight loss?
Most people who are trying to lose body fat will benefit from a breakfast that is high in protein and low in carbs. However, this is not a blanket rule so bear that in mind.
Reasons why high protein, low carb breakfasts can work:
- Many of us don’t consume enough protein. The most recent studies suggest anything in the range of 1.2-2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight is optimal but the general public will usually fall well short of this. Ensuring that protein is consumed at every meal (including breakfast) is one way to build up to a healthy total daily protein intake.
- Reducing the amount of carbohydrate in our diet can be desirable for those who are a) sensitive/intolerant to certain carby foods such as wheat, b) looking to reduce body fat by cutting overall daily calories, c) dependent on sugar and looking for ways to reduce its inflammatory effects.
- Theories around the negative effects of eating carbs in the evening have now pretty much been totally debunked. In fact, from a hormonal point of view, saving most of your carbohydrate consumption for later in the day is a very smart move. When we eat carbohydrate containing foods we see an elevation in the happy hormone, serotonin, and a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. The combined effect of these hormonal changes is increased feelings of relaxation and a sense of calm, perfectly timed for dropping off to into a blissful sleep at bedtime.
As a final point on this, I’d like to emphasise the importance of consuming a well-rounded breakfast. Breakfast cereals are still very much seen by many as the only real option for the first meal of the day. They have been conveniently packaged for us and sweetened with table sugar, dried fruit, artificial sweeteners and honey. We may eat them out of habit and nothing else. Who says you can’t have eggs, avocado and spinach for breakfast? This high protein, low carb and nutrient-dense combination would work very well. Similarly, there’s no reason why some of the previous night’s left overs couldn’t fill that gap.
Get creative with your breakfast in the same way you strive to be creative with your other meals.
Question 5: Should I give myself a 'cheat day' each week?
Cheat days have been utilised with some success by certain people over the years. Typically, these people tend to be very driven, committed to change and consistent. The first question you need to ask yourself when considering whether including cheat days into your weekly routine is whether you can honestly call yourself any of these 3 things when it comes to food. I would hazard a guess that most of us couldn’t.
For me, right from the get-go you’re setting yourself up for failure with a cheat day. The negative connotations around the word ‘cheat’ are enough to make this a bad idea. A more sensible way of framing this behaviour would be by calling it a treat day, but even then it’s not ideal to be rewarding yourself with food as a means of celebrating 6 days of sound nutrition. In both instances you’re instilling an unhealthy mindset around the food that you eat and allowing food to have much more of an influence on your life than it really should.
Instead, a more manageable approach might be to firstly identify problematic foods.
The foods that we cheat or treat with are often highly caloric, full of sugar and a far cry from being deemed natural. We can think of these foods as being ‘hyper-palatable’ in that they elicit a stimulatory effect that other, possibly blander foods don’t. You’re likely to have 2 or 3 hyper-palatable foods that really stand out in your mind.
If you’re looking to cut calories and gain control of what you eat, learning to steadily reduce the frequency you eat these foods is a good place to start. If chocolate is on your list, monitor how often you eat it over the course of a week. The next week task yourself to eat 1 portion less (obviously don’t increase portion sizes elsewhere). Over the following weeks you can repeat this until the habit of eating chocolate disappears either completely or is down to a more manageable and, in your eyes, acceptable level.
I hope you found these answers useful. If you have any questions you’d like to ask me, feel free to get in touch.
Personal Trainer & Nutritional Advisor
Pete Yardley Health & Fitness