More Fitness Myths Debunked

This article was first published in The Hindu in March 2018.

When and what to eat; when to work out; which work out for a particular age… there are so many myths in the fitness world. This article tells you what’s right and what’s not.

More fitness myths debunked

Vegetarians cannot build muscle or perform as well as athletes who eat meat.

This is not necessarily true. In a beautiful review of research done on Vegetarianism and fitness/athletic prowess, David C. Neiman, examines the impact of a vegetarian diet on fitness in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Carbohydrate and not protein is the first choice as an immediate source of energy during exercise, even weight training. When the body is depleted of glycogen, it begins to break down protein from the muscle to avail energy.

Protein is necessary for repair and growth of muscle during recovery.

It has been found that a vegetarian diet does not necessarily lead to protein deficiency as believed. One does not need to eat protein exclusively from animal sources to reap the benefits. What is required is a variety of vegetarian foods, including different kinds of pulses, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains and cereals. Although an isolated plant food source does not contain all the essential amino acids that are required and cannot be considered a “complete protein”, eating combinations of varied plant foods will create the necessary complete proteins.

A vegetarian diet also encourages the intake of a larger quantity of fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that reduce the oxidative stress of exercise.

Protein requirements for recreational weight training to build muscle can be very easily met with a well-balanced vegetarian diet. Protein supplements are certainly not mandatory. Consuming adequate amounts of pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds will fulfil the recommended amount of 0.8-1.4 gm/kg body weight of protein/day depending on your level of activity.

Your training intensity and strategy determines how much muscle you build with weight training. Consuming protein powders in the hope of building muscle, while not training adequately does not.

Famous cyclist Adam Myerson, body builders like Alexander Dargatz and Andreas Cahling, legendary tennis players Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, celebrated track and field athlete Edward Moses, Greg Chappell and the late Jack Lalanne, body builder and fitness expert, are all vegetarians or vegans and have magnificent bodies to show for it.

Vegetarianism should not be a reason for an ineffective workout or a well-trained body. The fundamental principle is balanced nutrition; smart training to keep fat per cent at the optimum and strength, stamina and flexibility to the maximum.

The best time to workout is in the morning:

Hard to convince someone who is not particularly a ‘morning person’ of this theory. It is not necessarily true. Every individual has a different body rhythm. Not everyone can jump out of bed and run out the door in their trainers at an unearthly hour. Particularly when starting a fitness programme, try and accommodate it into the most comfortable time of the day for yourself instead of adding further stress by trying to wake up early.

Some people do very well with a mid-day workout while others prefer a late evening routine. A short intense pre-lunch workout may be just right for a working person. By the end of the day she may be too tired to fit in an hour in the gym. Alternately, others may find that working out later in the evening is de-stressing after a long day and helps them unwind and even sleep better (provided it is not too close to bed-time).

Work with your own body, not against it. More important that when you workout, is how you workout and how you feel after your workout and for the rest of the day. If you are going to walk around in a daze all day as a result of an early morning, this may not be the best option for you.

Age is a constraint to working out:

Very often I hear people say they are too old to start working out.

What is “too old”? Today, 40 is the new 30 and 60 is the new 40. Age should never be a constraint to starting an exercise programme, provided you have clearance from your physician and are monitored and guided by qualified professionals.

I was recently most delighted to receive a mail from a reader who says she is in her 50s and participating in half marathons. We don’t often see this in our country. Women, particularly, tend to get complacent after their child-bearing years and settle into a sedentary lifestyle, with perhaps a walk in the park and some gentle yoga to convince themselves that they are working out.

Starting a Weight Training programme as late as the 90s has been found to be beneficial in improving strength, muscles mass and daily functionality.

The motive for exercise changes with age. As children, it is mostly fun. In the 20s, it is typically cosmetic. Prevention of disease is far from even contemplated. One feels invincible, the only concern being, getting into those skinny jeans. And of course these days it is hip to be seen gymming or carrying around yoga mat.

In your 30s, you probably start to think about needing to lose all that weight you gained during pregnancy. If you have been unfortunate enough not to have exercised previously, then the annoying back pains, fatigue, gastritis, depression, mood swings and so on set in and life becomes a chore. Maybe exercise will help, you consider it.

In your 40s and 50s, women particularly, come into their own. They are more confident and able to make decisions for themselves. Societal and family pressure is not a priority. The reality sinks in, as the weight gets more obstinate and unyielding. Lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes may make their appearance. Or at least you consider the possibility that they may. So you begin your journey into fitness. If you are already a veteran, you will be enjoying the benefits.

Later in your life, basic day-to-day functionality is of prime concern. Most people exercise later in life only because they have probably been recommended exercise by their physicians to control blood pressure, diabetes and so on. The incidence of falls and injury due to lack of balance increases and the fear of invalidity and dependence can keep people active.

Point is: one doesn’t even need to justify the reasons to start exercising at any age. It should be a non-negotiable part of your day, just like cleaning your teeth or eating. If you haven’t started already, please do.  

Is Your Trainer Fit for You?

This article was first published in The Rotary News in Aug 2018.

Is your trainer fit for you

When you start on your fitness journey, or even if you are already immersed in it, you may want to hire a personal trainer to coach and guide you. Many people need that extra motivation they hope their trainer will provide. So how do you go about engaging the right trainer and how do you decide if he is the right fit for you?

There are several bodies that certify trainers. It could be the IFAA-India (International Fitness and Aerobic Academy); ACE (American College of Exercise); ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine); or the National Academy of Sports Medicine and several more. Your trainer may be a physiotherapist by qualification who is specialised in a particular field such as strength training or pilates. Many trainers who are perhaps athletes or sports persons, or have been body builders, are absorbed by a fitness facility and trained there to work with their clients. Check into their background when you start to work with a trainer.

Although your trainer’s skill and knowledge are important, what is even more important is his or her interpersonal skill, emotional and social intelligence and ability to guide and motivate. He or she may be very qualified and knowledgeable but lack in empathy and understanding of the clients’ needs.

What is your trainer’s fitness philosophy?

It is worthwhile to ask your trainer what his idea of fitness is. Is it just about looking buff or lean, or is it more holistic, combining nutrition, motivation and overall wellbeing? Does he understand his clients’ needs or works solely from his own perspective? Does he believe in helping others achieve their goals?

Here are some questions to address

  • Does he understand the various aspects of fitness such as aerobics, strength, flexibility etc, and how  these should be applied to you?
  • Does he understand the importance of diet and can he advice the right diet for you or refer you to a nutritionist? Does he talk to you about your dietary habits?
  • Does he know enough to handle your health condition? Say, you are diabetic and on medication, does he know enough to manage you while exercising? Does he ask about the medication you are taking? Or, if you are a senior person, can he handle an older client? Has he worked with older clients before?
  • Does he ask you detailed questions to understand your lifestyle? For example if your job is sedentary, if you travel a lot, if you socialise a lot, where you eat, if you have trained before, what kind of exercise you enjoy the most and so on.
  • Does he give you motivating tips to fill in the rest of your day (not just the hour in the gym)?
  • How does he motivate and challenge you? Does he use negative associations (by saying — you are fat and need to lose weight) or is he positive in his approach (by saying something like losing weight will help you lead a healthier, more enjoyable life and praising you when you improve)?
  • Does he know just how much to push and challenge you or does he absolutely insist on pushing you beyond your capabilities to a point of exhaustion and injury?
  • Does he constantly compare you with other clients?
  • Are you motivated and inspired by him?
  • Does he use encouraging language and praise you often when you achieve small goals or does he make you feel you are just not good enough?
  • Does he help you set realistic goals and achieve them?
  • Does he teach you your exercises, explaining them to you, helping you understand why you do them and what body part they address etc?

Every individual is different and needs to be treated as such. The goals you set for yourself should be your goals and not your trainer’s. Your trainer should be a person who can guide you towards your specific goals. He should also educate you about your fitness routine. The objective should be to exercise independently when necessary and not be dependent on a trainer telling you exactly what to do and how to do it for the rest of your life. It’s okay to want to be motivated or inspired, but at some point the motivation should come from within you.

Finally, a trainer who wants you to be dependent on him is not really working with your best interests in mind. If you have a great trainer, you should eventually be able to exercise on your own, know enough about it and understand why you are doing what you are doing. You should be confident enough to be able to handle your own fitness routine and perhaps even inspire others. 

Enjoy Living in Your Own Body

This article was first published in The Hindu on Aug 12, 2012.

Enjoy Living in Your Own BodyAre you training for yourself, or the society at large? Accept yourself, says DR. SHEELA NAMBIAR.

So this lady says, “The thing is: I am scared weight training will make me muscular. I don’t want to become muscular. My friends tell me women shouldn’t look muscular.”I have heard this so often that, in the initial stages, this attitude is the rule rather than the exception. The concept of building muscle is almost alien.

Two things need to be noted at this point: We NEED to build muscle effectively (and burn fat to change the shape and composition of our bodies) for better functionality, to improve fitness.

It is not easy to become “muscular”, as the lady put it. That takes a lot of very serious training. You also can control what you “become”; it does not have to control you!

I understand what she means however. Aesthetically, most Indians prefer a curvaceous figure. Too much muscle definition (which is essentially achieved when the fat percentage is very low), especially in women, is not always approved of or thought of as appealing. It’s a cultural thing.

Here the question arises: whom are you training for? Yourself or the society at large?

You decide your body type
You have to decide what you want to look like and how much effort you are willing to invest to achieve those results. Don’t let anyone tell you what “looks” better. That is for you to decide. Appearances are after all external perception of the physical form. One may “look” slim and svelte, even shapely, but may not necessarily be fit in the real sense.

On the other side, I know many women who believe that the toned defined look is the ideal body shape. So who decided that the toned “gym” body is the most appealing? Once again this is only a perception.

The way you look has to be a personal preference. After understanding the benefits of being fit, exercising regularly and eating healthy for the most part, you have to decide what you want to look like. Do you want a more toned body with less body fat percentage? Are you comfortable with a more curvaceous body type? These should be your decisions, based on what you are comfortable with.

Improve quality of life
Often, it is hard to maintain that svelte body with an ‘excellent’ fat percentage and clear muscle definition. It takes very hard work and a continuous dedication to a rigorous diet. Not everyone can or, for that matter, wants to live an extremely strict and disciplined lifestyle all the time. Most people want to be able to indulge once in a while.

This is obviously acceptable unless the “once a while” becomes “ever so often”! Problems arise when there is a consistently unhealthy approach to life. Indulgences in food and alcohol every day, lack of regular exercise and sedentary living will have serious repercussions in terms of health, and not just the appearance of the body.

Decide what you want to do, not because someone else thinks so. It is not always possible to achieve perceived ‘perfection’; neither should it be necessary. What is more important is to improve fitness and quality of life.

Acceptance of your body should be priority. After all, it has served you well this far. Statements like “I hate my fat thighs” don’t serve any purpose. What is important is to accept and respect your body and treat it well by nourishing it with the right foods, exercising regularly to stimulate and energise it, and work towards improving it inside out.

Lifestyle and profession determine how much time and effort you can spend in a gym. Stressing about time you don’t have is pointless. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to spend two productive hours in the gym every day. Often it is a stolen 30-minute run on the treadmill, a quick total-body routine or 20-minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). But that’s life. If you have a full-time job, kids, husband and other responsibilities you sometimes have to work around them. I still think one can manage to include a good workout in one’s day. It all depends on priorities and willingness to perhaps sacrifice something else for a good workout.

Once you decide what you want from your exercise routine, have it designed for your unique needs and time available. If you have only 40 minutes a day, you can still get a good workout. You have to first determine how best to utilise those 40 minutes and delegate your cardio, strength and stretches accordingly.

Best version of yourself

One lady told me she was so impressed with another client’s results that she now wanted to look like her. Why would you want to look like somebody else? Why not try and be the BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF that you can possibly be? Why aspire for those Photoshop-edited models on magazine covers or movie stars whose profession demands a certain look?

There comes a time in your life when you are actually ‘happy’ with your ‘weight and body’. This does not mean that you stop working out and improving on it but that you are genuinely proud of and respect your body for what it has done for you and the way it has served you all these years.

Don’t indulge in self-deprecating statements like “I hate my hips”, or, “I wish I had a flat stomach”, or “I wish I was size ….”. Instead work towards a better self while still respecting and taking care of your body. This is a time to celebrate because now it means you can actually enjoy living in your own body.

My Experience With TFL

My Experience With TFL - KarishmaMy association with TFL goes way back to 2002. TFL is the best thing that has ever happened in my life and I am so grateful for it . Having Dr Sheela Nambiar as my wellness mentor is nothing better I could ask for.

For me, TFL in the beginning was just like going to any other fitness studio. I thought it would be just about exercising and losing weight. But I was so wrong. TFL is a temple of wellness for me where I was taught to be fit in all aspects…. physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It offered me a whole new world of good health and happiness. 

I was always on a lean side and I considered myself fit. I always lived with the misconception that being thin means being fit. But once I started my exercise routine with TFL I was shocked. I met ladies from all walks of life and all with different sizes and different age groups and I was left dumbfounded to see them perform their exercises so well with such perfection and good form. I was left ashamed… Ladies much older to me were so good in their form and their intensity so high… wow !!!! It’s then I realised I had a long road ahead. I made them my motivators, my friends and my TFL buddies. We keep motivating each other and share our fitness goals, a whole new world of positivity and happiness.

Dr Nambiar’s workshops (healthy eating, self esteem, self confidence and personality development) has helped me to think about myself and my family’s health holistically. I am now able to help my friends and family into leading a healthy lifestyle. Being a teacher, I am able to instill all the healthy tips and exercise routines into my students lifestyle and encourage them to respect and love them for who they are and to respect their body always.

The knowledge which I have gained about different food groups and their nutritional values had made my cooking so healthy. I can eat what I want without depriving myself but of course in right quantity and right proportion. So I am not starving or depriving myself or following any kind of crash diet courses.

Because of TFL, I am more aware of my body and I am always conscious about my surroundings. I now take the stairs instead of lifts, take a walk for getting work done instead of using a transport and very much aware of the food that I eat. I shop sensibly and I don’t get home any junk which might tempt me when I’m hungry. My fridge is always stocked with fresh veggies, fruits and nuts.

I am now a confident, happy and a better person. All credit goes to Dr Nambiar. The most important thing that I have learnt from her is “never give up.” Nothing comes easy in life. We all have to work hard to achieve our goals. So stay positive and be happy.
Dr Nambiar has always been a pillar of support and I always wish happiness for her. 

– Karishma Chugani                                                                                                               Primary Teacher and House Wife