Gym Online

Peak Week – The Madness and The Mindset 

 I thought I would write a short blog post this week to discuss how I am finding peak week in the run up to my first competition. For those of you who have just tuned into ‘Bite, Bench, Breathe’, I am competing in the ‘Ms Bikini’ and ‘Fitness Model’ categories at Miami Pro this Sunday (17th April 2016), and all being well at the UKBFF Bodypower Classic in May. I would say that my prep has been mostly smooth sailing, which I credit to my coach Eddie Abbew for pushing my calories high and keeping me away from cardio in my off season. To be honest, I really struggled with this at first. Running was my vice, my crack cocaine, so I will never forget walking into Olympian Gym to check in with Eddie, tail between my legs, and admitting that I had “fallen onto the treadmill”. Eddie and his assistant coach, the amazing Bodyfitness competitor Lisa Kelly, helped me through this blip and simply asked that I trust them, which I have done ever since! Trusted them every time they added yet another 40g of oats, or Vitargo, or nut butter (or all three!) to my meal plan. I appreciate that this sounds like a dream to a lot of bodybuilders, but to a girl with a history of disordered eating I felt like they were asking me to climb Everest. However, I stuck to the plan and, months later, I now see the method to their madness. 

The madness meant that I was able to start my prep on a high calorie diet, do zero cardio and still drop body fat. Combined with having a pretty fast metabolism, I was still managing to start the day on 80g of oats (my favourite!) and only do forty five minutes of walking a day right up until last week. So, what’s changed this week? Well, less than you would expect! I still have some carbs in my diet, and I’m still only doing forty-five minutes of cardio. I won’t be going into specifics here, for several reasons:

1. Every body is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to a peak week diet, or any diet for that matter.

2. There are different methods available to achieve similar results. I trust my coach, and believe that his approach (eating single ingredient foods and using LISS for cardio) is optimal, however that’s not to say that other methods (such as ‘if it fits your macros’ and using HIIT for cardio) cannot be used to get someone stage ready.

3. I pay for coaching, so have decided that some of the ‘tricks of the trade’ will remain under my cap – well, under my hair extensions at least.

So, rather than discuss macros and water loading I propose to talk about how being in peak week is affecting my mood, my mindset and my outlook for the competition.

Mood – Let’s be real, I’m in a calorie deficit, so it’s up and down. One minute I am bouncing around full of beans, and the next minute I am snapping at my mother on the telephone for asking me if I had watched the final of The Voice – “Of course I haven’t, I am far too busy training, posing, food shopping, meal prepping, working, sleeping, tanning, organising MY LIFE for God’s sake”! Then telling her I love her. We always take it out on those closest to us, so (as I mentioned in my last blog post) the patience and understanding of my family and friends is really appreciated at the moment. However, as someone who has once been at rock bottom, this peak week malarkey hasn’t caused me to kill anyone or have a mini breakdown just yet!

Mindset – I would say that I am feeling very reflective. This prep has been a real eye opener for me, and taking the lifestyle that I love to such an extreme has taught me so much about both my body and mind. Will I compete again? I honestly do not know. Sixteen weeks has flown by, and it has given me a real sense of how short life is. It has made me reevaluate my relationships and my career. It has made me make a commitment to myself that I will continue to surround myself with people who inspire me, who motivate me, and who simply MAKE ME FEEL AWESOME. Some of these people lift weights, and some have never stepped foot in a gym.

Outlook – I am freakin’ excited! I attended a Mock Show over the weekend, hosted by my fabulous posing coach Audrey Kaipio, and this has given me an even greater buzz for getting up on that stage. It’s common to start spouting ‘you are your own competition, it’s you vs. you’ at this point. But, lets be frank, I would LOVE to place. I don’t understand anyone who enters a competition and doesn’t have that drive to win. But I am realistic. My concerns are that I am too lean for stage, that I may not drop that little bit of water weight that’s still clinging onto my ass… But you know what, in comparison to the scrawny runner of yesteryear I fully intend to get on that stage feeling and looking fantastic.

 

As a final note, thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey, in real life and through both the blog and social media. First and foremost I am doing this for myself, then I am doing it for all of you.

Gym Online

Runner vs. Bodybuilder – Why You’re Not So Different After All

Long distance running and bodybuilding are two sports that are often viewed as being polar opposites. What springs to mind when you think of the typical marathon runner? A lithe female in a flouro cropped top and pair of Asics, venturing out on a four hour run on a Sunday morning perhaps. Meanwhile, when we think of bodybuilders we tend to think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, or at least some greased up, pumped up dude with muscle bursting out of his muscles.
These are extreme stereotypes, I accept, however even amongst the running and bodybuilding populations the two disciplines tend to have something of a disregard for the other. Running is the ultimate, purest form of cardiovascular exercise, something which the average bodybuilder avoids like the plague through fear of losing his or her hard earned ‘gains’. Heavy weight training, in the form of squats, deadlifts, presses and rows, are meanwhile deemed to be something to ‘approach with caution’ by runners. In this case there is a general appreciation that these compound movements may assist the average runner in terms of strength and subsequent speed, but the fear of injury and/or gaining too much muscle, particularly on the upper body, may make the average runner reluctant to step into the weights room.

 

I am all for specificity. If you are planning to run a marathon, you need to run. If you are planning to step on stage in a bodybuilding competition, you need to lift. However, as a marathon runner turned bikini competitor I believe that it would be advantageous for us to take a leaf or two from the books of our sporty brothers and sisters. By incorporating a lower body and core strength regime into a marathon training plan, perhaps the day before a rest day or ‘easy run’, runners are really improving their chances of hitting that desired PB. Meanwhile, if someone has been bodybuilding for years and only touching cardio for some pre-contest LISS (low intensity steady state), I would argue that it might be worth putting on a pair of trainers every so often and testing the strength of those other important muscles, namely the heart and lungs.

 

Three years ago I was training for the Brighton Marathon, a beautiful 26.2 mile race in my birth city. Fast forward three years and on the anniversary of this marathon I will be competing in the ‘Ms Bikini’ and ‘Fitness Model’ categories at Miami Pro. My body has changed significantly in this time, as anyone who knows me or follows me on Instagram can attest to. Running left me thin and lifeless, compounded by the fact that I was not fuelling my body sufficiently, but I finished the race in a respectable three hours and forty five minutes. I now have more curves and muscle definition, and my aim for Miami Pro is to enjoy stepping out on stage with confidence and the knowledge of how hard I have worked to get there. Different body, different goals, different mindset.

 

So, aside from these differences, is anything still the same? Well, yes! The one thing that has struck me in the past sixteen weeks of contest prep is just how similar it feels to marathon training.

 

The Duration – If you have a solid foundation of running, you can train for a marathon in sixteen weeks. If you have a solid foundation of muscle, you can diet for a show in sixteen weeks. In both cases, having that solid foundation is really important. I always remember someone saying to me “respect the distance” with regards to a marathon, and I ensured that I’d hung several half marathon medals around my neck before even contemplating the full distance. Likewise, in bodybuilding, having a long off season where you train hard, eat hard and rest hard will put you in the best position to be stepping on stage looking your best. But let’s not underestimate what we can achieve in sixteen weeks. Gradually clocking up those miles, gradually chipping away at the body fat to reveal what is lying beneath – both require discipline and consistency, and once results appear it will spur you on all the way to the finish line or stage.

 

The Hunger – Both metaphorical and physical. You’ve got to really want it, otherwise when it comes to seriously dig deep, on the road or under the squat rack, you will struggle. In terms of physical hunger, this will depend entirely on the individual, their training intensity and metabolism. I am no authority on how to fuel yourself for a marathon – it would be hypocritical of me to pretend to be when I myself restricted calories during marathon training. However, over the past three years I have learnt so much about how my body works and how it responds to carbs, protein, fats, water, sodium, cardio and rest. Despite being just a week away from stepping on stage, I currently feel so in tune with my body, and suggest that this should be the case whatever your discipline. Whether you are training for a marathon or a show, there are times when you are likely to be HUNGRY. Like, seriously hungry. To best satisfy this hunger, I recommend eating nutritious, single ingredient foods and to stay hydrated. Meanwhile, black coffee will take the edge off when you are fifteen weeks into prep and not due to eat for another hour… Yep, the struggle is real!

 

The Dreams – Or should I say, the nightmares! For runners, it’s arriving at the start line of the marathon only to realise that you’ve forgotten your trainers, or that you trip over a water bottle on Mile 1 and twist your ankle. For bodybuilders, it’s standing on stage in your Sunday best, looking down and realising that your previously shredded abs are now covered in a distinct layer of body fat, whilst being laughed off stage by the judges. This anxiety is normal, and something to embrace. I always believe that if we dream about something it’s because we care, or have some unfinished business, about the subject. On the topic of sleep, I’m a firm believer that you can never get too much, whether you’re in training or not!

 

The Moods – Running, weight training and dieting – all of these put a great deal of stress on the body, and subsequently your relationships. I sailed through the first twelve weeks of my prep, generally feeling like my usual chirpy self. But the past three weeks have been more of a grind. If you live with someone who is serious about an impending race or fitness competition it is likely that they are doing everything by the letter. Every training session and every meal counts. It is likely that one of the reasons that you love that person is because of their determination and commitment. Accept that “evil bitch/bastard mode” is a temporary phase, and think of the smile on both of your faces when they cross the finish line or step off stage with a trophy. All we can ever do is support the ones we hold dear.

 

The Taper – The worst part of any marathon training plan! You’ve smashed twelve weeks of training, clocked up some serious mileage, and then four weeks before race day you are expected to run less. What is this madness?! Likewise with contest prep, when calories and carbohydrates are reduced it would be foolish to try and train with the same intensity as you did when you were in a calorie surplus. I must admit that I have really struggled with this, and have to literally force myself to take rest days or to cut my training sessions shorter. I find rest days a lot easier if I take them at the weekend and have something else planned that is completely away from the gym environment. Meanwhile, I have found that the most effective way of shortening my training sessions is by taking my plastic stripper heels (yes, really!) into the gym and practising some posing at the end of my session. Whether running or in prep, the important thing is to trust yourself. Trust in the fact that you have already put in the hard work, and trust in your body to carry you through.

 

And finally one for the girls, whether marathon training or dieting… You Will Lose Your Boobs!  

 

Kitchen Online

Top Ten Tips – Meal Prep

So, we’ve all seen the photos on Instagram. Rows of perfectly lined up Tupperware filled with portioned protein, carbs and fats – I mean food of course, although the macronutrient breakdown is plain for even the non-bodybuilder eye to see. And matching Tupperware, none of this “last week’s Chinese take away box” juxtaposed alongside something swiped from the kids’ school lunchbox. I’m guilty of it myself. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing it all lined up to cool on the kitchen counter, or stacked neatly in the fridge.

However, achieving such levels of meal prep greatness can be highly stressful, and time consuming. Moreover, prepping five whole days worth of grub is a lovely idea, but is entirely unrealistic unless you have the appetite and/or calorie needs of a gnat. Whilst gaining weight I was eating just shy of 5000 calories a day, which turned my tiny kitchen into a continuous production line involving chunks of sweet potatoes and mounds of rice. Even during contest prep, when calories decrease and carbs can become a distant memory, the average bodybuilder tends to live by the “six meals a day rule”, thereby requiring more plastic boxes and fridge space than the average person.

With this in mind, I thought I would share my top ten tips for making meal prep that bit easier. These principles can be adopted whether you live a similar lifestyle as myself – generally working 9am – 5pm and eating six meals a day – or if your life allows more flexibility in terms of meal frequency or type.

1. Prep Whilst Doing Other Things. One of the first things I do in the morning (after coffee, of course) is put the oven on. In the hour or so that it takes me to get ready and eat breakfast I have simultaneously cooked some chicken breasts or a side of salmon. I let it cool whilst I am out at work, meaning that when I return in the evening my protein for the next day or two just needs portioning out before being thrown straight in the fridge.

2. Prep More than You Need. Not so much that you end up throwing half of it in the bin, but where possible always prep more food than you actually need. Cook enough chicken to last a few days, likewise rice, potatoes and veg. Trust in the ability of your fridge and/or freezer to keep them fresh. There is so much scare mongering out there about what might happen to you if you reheat a portion of rice, but just be sensible. Likewise, a tub of Greek Yoghurt that is two days past its Use By Date probably won’t kill you.

3. Don’t Prep Everything. Don’t Eat Everything from Tupperware. Unless you want to of course! However, I enjoy eating my breakfast from a bowl and my evening meal from a plate. It is also nice to have a hot meal if, like me, you tend to eat your other meals cold and from Tupperware throughout the day. When prepping for a competition and eating somewhat repetitive meals, these seemingly small perks can make a real difference to your eating experience. Meanwhile, use these opportunities to switch up your choice of protein or vegetables so that it doesn’t feel like you are eating the same meals day in day out.

4. Get Dry Ingredients Ready in Advance. If you are one of the fortunate people who have a spare hour or two at the weekend to meal prep, one of the best uses of this time is to get what I call “dry ingredients” – oats, rice, nuts, protein powders – ready for the week. By portioning out my oats and throwing in some protein powder in advance all I have to do of a day is add milk and (off season) toppings. Likewise, if your post-workout shake is more complicated than “one scoop of protein powder endorsed by a minor fitness celeb”, it can save a lot of time to get your shakers out and get these weighed out for the week.

5. Get Supplements Ready in Advance. An obvious one, but if you pop more than a couple of pills a day it’s worth getting them ready the day before. Alternatively, borrow your Nan’s handy pill divider and get them ready for the days ahead. It will save you valuable time in the week and means you are more likely to actually take them.

6. Invest in Gadgets and Tupperware. Ok, I’m not ashamed to admit that I love my Six Pack Bag more than any Michael Kors handbag… It’s a lifesaver for when I am out of the house all day. Don’t fall for cheap alternatives. If you are using it every day I would recommend spending money on a sturdy bag with decent Tupperware boxes, ice packs and space for supplements and shakers. If you make a lot of your own protein shakes and bars I also think it’s worth spending money on a good blender or food processor. Meanwhile save your pennies by buying food in bulk, especially meat and fish if you eat a lot of it.

7. Don’t be a Food Snob. So many food blogs that I have read demonise the microwave. But lets be frank, the choice of whether to sauté in raw coconut oil or whack something in the microwave to nuke says nothing about your morality. If buying frozen fruit and vegetables and microwaving them is convenient for you – and some frozen foods simply taste better in my opinion – go for it. Even if you prefer to have fresh ingredients, it’s still handy to have some frozen alternatives on standby for those nights when the prospect of turning out just to buy a bag of spinach is too much to contemplate. Speaking of spinach, this is a great vegetable to buy frozen and throw into smoothies for added greens and an icecream like texture.

8. Have Contingency Plans. Sometimes life just throws you a low baller, such as when your oven gives up the ghost when you are six weeks out (true story). In this scenario you have two choices – scream, shout, cry and speed dial Dominos Pizza. Or, scream, shout, cry (because it is perfectly ok to react this way to “first world problems”) and raid your emergency food stash. I keep the following items in the cupboard to help me stick to my meal plan as best as possible without an oven or fridge freezer – long life almond milk, long life egg whites, oat cakes, rice cakes, microwave rice packets, microwave quinoa packets, tinned tuna, salmon and mackerel, protein bars, nuts, nut butter.

9.Make Meal Prep Fun. Put music on and dance around the kitchen. Listen to a podcast and learn about something new – perhaps something entirely unrelated to food or your fitness life. Involve your family members. Practice mindfulness whilst prepping – focus on your senses as you handle the food and as you tidy up. My colleagues at work say that I make the best cups of tea and coffee, to which I always tell them it’s because I make them with love.

10. Ditch Perfectionism. An entire blog post in itself, but an important one to remember. Your food does not need to be perfect in order for your life to be perfect. Sometimes it can look ugly, taste like crap, contain a gram or ten grams too much or too little of something. The stress over minutiae is far more damaging on the body and the mind than the issue itself.

Happy Meal Prepping! Xx

 

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About Me

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

After years of deliberation I have finally put pen to paper and decided to start blogging… A bit late to the party I accept! However, through this site I wish to give you a little insight into my somewhat frantic but wonderful world! I confess that it’s a world dominated by fitness and food, albeit with an underlying interest in mindset and spirituality. But first, my backstory in a nutshell.

If I could use one word to describe my life up until now, it would be CONTROL. Damn, I even love writing that word! As a child I always liked things to be in order. From the way the pens in my pencil case were organised, to the way I would eat my breakfast (Bran Flakes all smashed up into “dust”), I always needed to feel that things were “just right”. As I grew older, moved away to University, started a successful career in the public sector and began playing that game we call “Adulthood”, I still craved control. There was nothing wrong with my life at surface level – I was young, had a good job, had a supportive family, a busy social life and was told that I hadn’t hit too many branches of the Ugly Tree on the way down. And yet, in order for things to feel right, for me to feel safe, I was locked into numerous habits, rituals and routines. Habits such as religiously checking cupboards, leaving the house at the exact same time every morning, counting anything and everything that could possibly be counted.

Before too long these compulsive behaviours filtered into every aspect of my life, including my two primary passions – fitness and food. I soon found myself locked into a pattern of excessive exercise. Not because I wanted to spend hours of my life mindlessly running on a treadmill, but because for some reason I felt like I had to. Meanwhile I began to adopt more and more “behaviours” surrounding my eating. I dread to think of the amount of time I wasted counting out blueberries, or waiting for the clock to tick before I would allow myself a sip of coffee. The weight was dropping off me, and suddenly all of those people who had been telling me how great I looked were now sending me emails from across the office apologising for staring at my arms and asking if I was ok. And the funny thing is, I thought I was! I was drunk in love with this life, I had never felt so in control.

However, as my weight plummeted I found it increasingly difficult to function. Work became a struggle. Relationships were either non-existent or extremely volatile. I was eventually diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). To this day I still have the irrational fear that I wasn’t “good enough” at Anorexia, that somehow the doctors had got that one wrong. But, in reality, I was too thin. Too cold. So so angry. I had my driving licence revoked and was caught in the trap of having to run the distance of a Half Marathon just to get to work each day. Which, lets be honest, I loved because it justified me doing even more exercise. I was admitted into hospital for the best part of a year, following which I came out and lost all of the weight I had gained and then some. I was re-admitted the following year, before discharging myself at an even lower weight than when I had gone back in.

In the months and years that followed I continued attending outpatient therapy. I kept up my fitness regime, perhaps controversially. I explored numerous food trends. I took time out every day to meditate. Somehow, with the support of my family, friends, colleagues, therapist and the social media community, I restored my body to a healthier weight – that Body Mass Index that I simply refer to as “Purgatory”. I then met my coach, the insanely knowledgeable and hilarious Eddie Abbew, who helped push me to a genuinely healthy weight. I stopped running – it simply isn’t good for me. I focused solely on weight training, with the occasional yoga class thrown in to help with the “head stuff”. I started eating Carbs on Carbs on Carbs. Peanut Butter on Carbs. The gorgeous Personal Trainer at my gym, who I had asked to yank me off the treadmill if he ever saw me running, later became my boyfriend having noticed the appearance of big old glutes as I walking lunged across the length of the gym. Finally, I had found my happy place.

So, what now? I still have my demons, and I can still be a bit of a control freak. But I am happy and healthy, for the first time in years. I am due to step on stage in April 2016 at the Miami Pro World Championships and in May 2016 at the UKBFF Bodypower Classic. I am proud of my body when it looks muscular and lean, but I am also proud when it is soft and more feminine. I am a Personal Trainer and Spin Instructor. I am fascinated by the way in which psychology and mindset affects our relationships with our bodies, with food and with exercise. I am a champion for the mental health charity MIND and hope that, by sharing my experiences and opening up the dialogue around mental health, I can help others who are affected by Anorexia and/or OCD.

My hope is that this blog will contain snapshots of my workouts, my meals, honest product reviews and links to other blogs that I love. I hope to do so with an appreciation of the fact that we all have a different relationship towards fitness, food and body image, some of which is positive and some of which needs exploration and development. My way is not the “right way”, it is simply what has worked for me. I welcome you to add me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@BimsWinter) for even more up to date content, and I would welcome any feedback or suggestions for future posts.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself. Love and respect yourself always.

Bims. Xx