Category Archives: Trainer’s Wisdom

Fueling up before gym

Earlier in my training regime, when I tracked my eating item by item on paper, my trainer used to jokingly tell me that whatever I ate prior to coming to gym was all gone, when I looked exhausted after an exercise. He would always tell me that food, especially those refined carbs, would be burned away as fuel very quickly during gym. It was thus important to fuel up before gym.

EDIT: This applies more to those in my current stage – weight training. If you are in the weight loss phase, don’t eat too much, as it would mean you will gain more calories to get rid of, resulting in less weight loss. Remember I am currently too light for my trainer, so I can’t not eat – I might even lose more weight!

The best time is about 2 hours before the session. That’s when I can load up without any anxiety. My trainer’s original instructions a couple of months back was to eat 4 slices of wholemeal bread an hour before gym. (I can hear your groan – wholemeal bread?? How exciting. But really, I enjoy it. I enjoy times when I can eat carbs without guilt).

It seemed to improve my energy, and to some degree my weight. But I varied this a bit and found a nice formula:

2 hours before gym: 2 slices of wholemeal or multigrain bread, with peanut butter or marmalade jam. Optional: coffee or tea, one cup.

1 hour before gym: 2 slices of wholemeal or multigrain bread, same as above, or with a slice of cheese. Water.

Don’t eat too much towards the 1 hour mark – or risk indigestion during training. When I followed my trainer’s original instructions to eat 1 hour before gym, that’s what happened. It’s not his error per se, but perhaps because my stomach isn’t used to it. Either way, I find the 2-hour plan much more effective. It gives me energy for the session, and keeps my weight up…. just before gym, isn’t that convenient. It is also nice to be “snacking” on carbs at 5pm and 6pm.

And in case you’re wondering, after gym I’m definitely hungry again.

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A low-carb diet does not mean a no-carb diet

Curious as to why I’m having a tough time maintaining muscle mass, I googled up this article by Chales Remington, “Exercise and Low-Carb Diets Make Poor Partners”, whose second page is entitled, “Keys to losing FAT without losing MUSCLE”. It seems to make sense and fits my own observations, as well as my trainer’s wisdom. Some key points:

  1. A low-carb diet does not mean a no-carb diet. Many people, when they first learn about the fattening effects of carbs, immediately adopt the idea that all carbs are poison and therefore attempt to eliminate all carbs from their diet (usually without success, but that’s another story). But this is simply not right – carbs are a natural and essential component of our food. OK, more so in the case for complex, natural carbs; less so for refined carbs. As Mr Remington puts it, “You need carbohydrate management, not carbohydrate elimination.” The problem is in over-eating, at the wrong time, and lack of exercise.

  2. A weight loss diet is not the same as a “body composition” diet. A lot of weight loss diets cause considerable muscle loss, rather than fat loss. Many weight watchers (including some who aren’t even watching) succeed, mysteriously, in losing weight. But the weight they lose is primarily from muscle, rather than fat. This is arguably the wrong weight to lose. The optimum goal is to achieve a good balance of muscle and fat, and not to eliminate weight indiscriminately. Look at some relatively slim people and you will realize that they are actually carrying more fat than at first glance.

  3. Under-eating carbs is very damaging. If you don’t consume enough fuel before exercise, your body will break down muscle in order to fuel itself.

  4. It’s vital to eat enough carbs before exercise, and you must eat after exercise for muscle recovery. In my own experience, eating a good (and often tasty) package of carbs, such as a bun filled with red bean/yam paste, or peanut butter, has little to no effect on my fat mass. And, as my trainer likes to put it when he sees me exhausted after 30 minutes into the gym sesion, “All gone already!” This charge-up meal before training is essential. Take it an hour or so before you hit the gym. And when you are done with gym, even if it seems very late for a dinner, you MUST eat. “It is important to never exercise without having at least one meal left in your day so that muscles can recuperate from exercise.” says Mr Remington. In fact – enjoy it! Have a good, enjoyable meal post-gym. It’s the best time to indulge in it, because you’ve earned the right. For me, I’ve been religiously having the grilled Cajun chicken breast steak from Botak Jones every Friday night after gym, with baked cheese potato and salad, and an extra fried egg. 

Mr Remington’s final thoughts:

Long term success managing weight starts with the right approach. If you are overweight, the real problem is that you have too much body fat for how much muscle you possess. A body composition solution is needed, not just a weight loss diet. Your goal should be to lose fat without losing muscle or sacrificing your health in the process. To maintain your results your eating habits must develop life long character. Low carbohydrate diets provide initial weight loss, but at the high cost of losing muscle and reducing metabolism. They are inadequate sources of fuel to support exercise activity, which is vital in maintaining good health. The risks to your health long term makes low carbohydrate diet’s poor solutions for life long weight management.

My trainer said to me that actually all this sort of information is common on the internet – everyone will say the same. I think though, that although we know it, trying to get and maintain a proper body composition is an intricate game of balance.

And we didn’t even discuss sleep.

“Leon, don’t go any lower.”

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My trainer’s words this morning when I weighed in at 68.8 at the gym (remember I’m about a kilogram lighter without my gym outfit). It’s almost unbelievable to hear these words from my trainer. Still, it is the lightest I’ve ever been. To be frank there’s still some flab around my tummy that bothers me, and I’m hoping that will slowly flatten out as I build muscle.

I asked my trainer if I should change my diet in any way in order to maintain this weight. His immediate reply was a “No” – keep eating as I am, though I could increase carbs a little (!) … especially before training. Protein still vital …. Darn, and here I was thinking about pizza, mee goreng and other rare delicacies….

Willpower – and a little forgetfulness goes a long way

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At 10.30pm last night, I had a little hunger pang. Not surprising, since I had dinner more than 4 hours ago. It being a little late, I ignored it.

At 11pm. I had a sudden urge to eat a snack. To be absolutely specific, it was an urge to eat tomyam flavoured fried ikan bilis (anchovies) with peanuts, stored in a little plastic container, out of sight, with the cooking spices.

How about a PLUM? Said the good angel.

TOMYAM IKAN BILIS.

I fixed my eyes on the TV, watching Octavian get fed up with Mark Antony.

IKAN BILIS.

How about a PLUM?

I touched my tummy, sitting lazily on my butt, on the sofa, being a couch potato.

IKAN BILIS.

How about a PLUM?

In the end, I ….. ignored them all. I ate neither plum nor little fried fish.

I even told myself, “I’ll have some ikan bilis in the morning before my cereal” but I forgot about it. A little forgetfulness goes a long way. And so does willpower.

If you are thinking about losing weight, I will advise this: for the next few weeks, ask yourself, really ask yourself, are you mentally up for it? Can you do it? Do you have the discipline. It may be that you’ve failed before, or you really don’t know. Then, test yourself – change your diet for the next few weeks and stick to it. Try cutting your rice/white bread and other refined carbs by 1/3 or 1/2. If you succeed, you not only have hope, but you might just lose a couple of kilos during the experiment.

I sort of knew I could change my diet, as I’d already done so for some months, but my weakness is exercise. I have no will to keep myself at it. Perhaps you are better disciplined at exercise than with diet.

Either way, don’t sign up for a weight loss programme until you have convinced yourself you really want to do this. (Or in my case, paying for the gym sessions does force me to keep at it – I am too poor a man to afford such waste).

And once you have accepted it, do not give up. Tell yourself that that is not an option.

Remember: you will get used to it. You will get used to eating less, you will get used to the pain, the exhaustion. My trainer told me on Day 1, when I nearly died halfway through gym, that I will get better with time. I did. When I lost it again while he was away, he said I would recover, and I did. I never thought I would overcome nasi lemak deprivation, but I did.

And worst of all, something that will cause all you ladies to scream in horror, I am now immune to chocolate. I walked into Marks & Spencers one day with my wife. I stood in front of an entire wall of chocolate, and their combined charm had no effect on me.

Well, then again, I am no woman. :)