Archives for August 2015

Suggestions for increasing protein intake | Trainer Tips


When I start working with a new fitness coaching client, I have them track their food. In almost all cases, I find them to be eating too little protein to accomplish their dual goals of building muscle and losing fat.

Helping them to increase their protein intake is often the first step we take together to improve their diet and elevate their energy levels.

Why eat protein?

Protein is one of three classes of macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fats) required by your body to carry out it’s day-to-day functions.

Protein is essential for:

  • the building and repair of body tissues (including muscles, ligaments and tendons)
  • enzyme and hormone production
  • maintenance of a healthy immune system (antibody production)
  • fluid transport balance

It increases feelings of satiety between meals and, unlike carbohydrates, doesn’t elevate blood sugars or trigger the release of insulin into the bloodstream. And with only 4 calories per gram, it’s an efficient way to keep your daily calorie intake in check while supporting muscle growth.

Typical animal-based sources of protein

How much protein do you need each day?

For many years health professionals have recommended that active adults consume 0.8 to 1.0 g of protein per kilogram body weight. That would mean that a 155 pound woman needs somewhere between 56 and 70 grams of protein daily.

(Still doing everything the empirical way? Take your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 to get kilos then multiply that number by 0.8 to 1.0. Now you’ve got grams of protein per kilograms of body weight 🙂 ).

Recent research suggests that this may not be enough for exercising individuals because protein can be used as fuel during exercise, particularly when that exercise is relatively high in intensity.

Protein recommendations for athletes are much higher; 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (or 85 to 127 g for our 155 pound friend).

For most of us, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. And, as with all things nutritional, it pays to be your own detective (that is, pick a number, aim for it for a few weeks, evaluate whether it’s getting you any closer to your goals and adjust accordingly).

Some obvious, and not-so-obvious sources of dietary protein

Proteins are structural molecules made up of specific combinations of 20 different amino acids, 8 of which cannot be synthesized by the body and must, therefore, be supplied by the diet.

Protein sources that provide all 8 of these essential amino acids are referred to as ‘complete’ proteins.

These would include all of the following animal-based sources of protein (as well as quinoa, a plant-based protein):

  • poultry, fish, beef, pork, bison, shellfish (the foods that we typically think of when we hear the word ‘protein’; 15 to 25 grams of protein per serving)
  • dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese (8 or more grams of protein per serving)
  • eggs and egg whites (7-9 grams of protein per serving)
  • whey protein powder (20-25 grams of protein per serving)

Most plant-based sources of protein are ‘incomplete’ and and include the following (as well as many others):

  • oats, rice, grains and barley (< 8 grams of protein per serving)
  • nuts and seeds (and butters made from them; 3-6 grams of protein per serving)
  • various vegetables including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus and kale (< 6 grams of protein per serving)
  • soy products, including edamame, tempeh and tofu (10 – 30 g of protein per serving)
  • hemp and rice protein powders (12 – 15 grams of protein per serving)
Non-animal protein sources and their protein content per serving

Non-animal protein sources and their protein content per serving

Note that most vegetarian options provide fewer grams of protein per serving than their animal-based counterparts. Combine that with their ‘incomplete’ protein status and it’s easy to see why vegetarians may have a harder time meeting their daily protein requirement than non-vegetarians.

Suggestions for increasing your daily protein intake when you’re on the run

For many of my clients, getting enough protein in the meals they eat at home isn’t a problem.

The challenge comes when you’re out of the house all day and you need some quick sources of protein (ideally, those that don’t require refrigeration) between meals.

My favourites?

  • string cheese (it doesn’t get all melty, like regular cheese, if you leave it in your gym-bag all morning)
  • individual serving tuna cans (just remember to bring a fork and a plastic baggie to put the opened, an often leaky, tin in when you’re done)
  • whey protein in a blender cup (choose one that mixes well with water)
  • edamame (I buy the pre-shelled frozen kind and scoop some into a plastic container before I head to the gym; it’s thawed by snack time)
  • home-made protein balls or energy bites (a Pinterest search should yield you hundreds of recipes in just a few seconds ;- )
  • raw nuts (I always portion these out and pack in their own containers; it’s way too easy to over-consume these calorie-dense goodies)
  • beef, turkey and salmon jerky (I made a rhyme!)

For more portable protein-filled snack ideas, check out this post >> 5 Emergency Snacks, No Refrigeration Required



4 Stretches for Tight Hamstrings

Quick. Take 15 seconds and read the questions below. I’ll wait 😉

stretches for tight hamstrings

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of them, chances are you suffer from tight hamstrings.

I say ‘suffer’, because chronically tight hamstrings can lead to a variety of conditions and injuries, including poor posture, lower back pain, knee instability and an increased risk of injury during sports and exercise. There’s even some recent evidence linking longevity to the ability to touch your toes (although I’m sure that there’s more than flexibility affecting this relationship; too much weight around the middle also makes it hard to touch your toes 😉 ).

Hamstrings 101

The three muscles that make up the hamstring complex (the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus are collectively referred to simply as the ‘hamstrings) are located on the back of the upper leg.

They cross both the hip and the knee and as such function to both tilt the pelvis backward (also referred to as ‘hip extension’) and bend (or ‘flex’) the knee.

stretches for tight hamstrings

In weight-bearing exercises (for example, squats and lunges), they also work together with the quadriceps (the large muscles on the front of your thighs) to move the torso up and down.

Common causes of tight hamstrings
  • genetics; general flexibility is determine, in part, by body structure. If you’ve always had poor, all-over flexibility you can blame your parents. That’s not to say you can’t improve on what nature’s given you though. You’ll just need to stretch regularly and consistently (and may never be able to match the performance of your favourite yoga instructor).
  • weak core muscles; like the hamstrings, the muscles of the lower abdomen and back attach to the pelvis. Their job is to tilt the pelvis forward. If either the lower-abdominal muscles or the low-back muscles are weak, they can’t counterbalance the pull of the hamstrings, which will shorten and tighten as they tilt the pelvis backward. In addition to stretching the hamstrings (see my 4 favourite stretches for tight hamstrings, below), you’d also be wise to add some core strengthening exercises to your weekly routine.
  • too much sitting; when you sit for long stretches of time you limit the range of motion through which both the hamstrings and the hip flexors work. As a consequence, the lower back becomes tight, as do the hamstrings and calves. Limiting sitting time, as well as performing full range of motion stretches (see below) will help to combat lifestyle-induced hamstring tightness.
  • previous lower back or knee injury; often, when we injure one muscle, other muscle groups compensate. Sometimes they overcompensate, leading to stiffness, injury or inefficient motor patterns, even after the initial injury has fully healed.
Stretching Tips

When stretching the hamstrings (or any other muscle group), keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • stretching is more effective when muscles are warm (at the end of your workout, after a gentle warmup or after soaking in a hot bath)
  • stretches should be static rather than ballistic to prevent injury
  • stretch only to the point of resistance, never to the point of pain
  • aim to straighten the limb without locking the joint
  • hold stretches for 15 to 30 s, relax and repeat
  • use props (e.g., yoga blocks, straps, towels, door jambs) to support stretches than are challenging for you
  • build stretching into your regular exercise routine (10-15 minutes, 3 or more times per week)
4 Stretches for Tight Hamstrings


Need ideas for stretching the rest of your body? One of the following posts may be exactly what you’re looking for:

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Tips for becoming an independent exerciser

Before we get to today’s post, I’d like to take a minute and share some exciting news with you all.

As of September 1st, I’m stepping away from my personal training job at the gym. Doing so will allow me to spend more time focusing on my Online Fitness Coaching clients and my monthly 40+ Women’s Training group. Time is truly my most precious commodity and I just haven’t felt like I’ve had as much of it as I’d like to have to give to these strong, focused and committed women.

While I’ll miss my in-person clients, I’m looking forward to having increased control over my schedule and connecting with more women who are truly ready to make change and commit to the exercise, nutrition and mindset habits required to reach their health and fitness goals. 

When I start working with a new personal training client, I’m already thinking about how the relationship will end.

Not because I don’t enjoy the process of helping women learn how to move and feed their bodies, but because my goal is to teach them to do it for themselves. Personal training is expensive and should be viewed as a temporary investment, not a life-long relationship 🙂

Just as I expect my children to some day leave ‘the nest’, I expect each client to eventually take charge of their own health and fitness and ‘fledge’; to become an independent exerciser, in their own right.

becoming an independent exerciser

Okay. I’m not quite ready for this one to leave the nest yet…

Tips for becoming an independent exerciser
  • Create a schedule. You might start by scheduling your workouts for the same time as your regular once or twice-weekly personal training sessions. Those days and times are already part of your routine and heading to the gym then will be second nature. If you’ve been doing an extra workout or two as part of your personal training homework, you’re already comfortable with exercising on your own; keep it up. My favourite way to schedule my workouts? An old-school desk calendar.
  • Follow a written program. If your trainer has provided you with written programs during the period of your training relationship, dust them off and re-cycle them. Just because you’ve followed a program in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t continue to benefit you now. Besides, you’ll already be familiar with the exercises and your trainer’s notes will include form cues and the number of reps and sets to be performed. Don’t have an individualized program? Grab the latest copy of your favourite fitness and exercise magazine (print or on-line). The most popular titles all include a workout program of the month. Take it with you to the gym and follow it to the letter.
  • Document your workouts. If you lift it, log it. Keep track of your progress, just the way your personal trainer did. For each exercise, write down the number of reps and sets you performed, as well as the weight lifted. Attempt to progress your workouts every week or two. Add an extra set. Perform a few more reps. Increase your weights. Then, when you stop making progress (or find that you’re tired of the program), grab a new program and begin all over again.
  • Make friends in the gym. Introduce yourself to the woman who always seems to be doing core work at the same time you are. Not only will becoming friendly with your fellow gym-goers help with accountability (you know they’ll ask you where you’ve been if you a miss a workout or two…), they can also be a great source of knowledge and information. Ask them about a new exercise you see them performing. Maybe it’s one you’d benefit from as well. Get them to show you how to use a machine you’re unfamiliar with. Most people are happy to share their knowledge, especially if you ask nicely 😉
  • Set some time-bound goals. Create some goals with a due date. Things you can work towards over the course of a few weeks to a few months. Write them down and include the date on which you’ll re-visit them. Then, re-visit them to celebrate your successes or to give yourself a compassionate, but no-nonsense talking to about how you’ll need to change your approach to reaching the goal for it to manifest.
  • Find a half-way solution. No longer need someone to correct your squat, count your reps and tell you when your Tabata interval is over, but not quite ready to go it alone? Ask your trainer if they’re willing to see you every 4-6 for a program change. That one-hour session may be exactly what you need to keep you moving forward towards full-on independent exercise. Another option? Find an online training community that includes monthly workouts, nutrition support and advice about how to customize the workouts to make them your own.
  • Re-commit to your ‘why’ daily. Remind yourself of why you value exercise. List the benefits that it brings to your life. Think of how you feel when you miss a workout or two. Use your best ‘trainer voice’ to encourage, motivate and support yourself. Focus on developing a positive mindset around exercise; do it because you love your body, not because you dislike it. Above all, mindset is key to becoming an independent exerciser. Think you can do it? You’re right! Think you can’t? You’re probably right too…

Grab a copy of my free 3-book, ‘5 Steps to Exercise Happiness’ if you’re still struggling to find your ‘why’.









Just like muscles, a healthy mindset needs training too

Today’s post involves a little navel-gazing. But I’m sharing anyways because I think it will resonate with many of you and I’m curious to know how you deal with that little nay-sayer in your heads…

A few weeks back, a woman whose physique, education and training philosophy I greatly admire paid me a compliment in the gym.

Looking strong! Your back definition is great! Such fantastic progress! Keep it up!

The back in question. The back that can do 3 sets of 10 bent over rows at 50 pounds a side. The back that needed to just shut up and say ‘thank you’


Instead of standing up straight, smiling at her and saying “Thanks for noticing. I’ve been working really hard!” (which is how we should always respond to a sincere compliment), I shrugged my shoulders and replied,

I try. But it’s not as easy at my age as it used to be… You know, two steps forward, one step back… Harder to keep the midsection tight…Have to be careful of injuries, you know…

(or something to that effect; I’ve forgotten my exact words, but you get the picture).

She offered a few more words of encouragement before moving on, clearly a bit taken aback at my response.

As was I.

In shrugging off her encouraging remarks, I surely made her think I questioned her sincerity. (And I’m betting she’ll never take the time to compliment me again. ..)

I’m not unfamiliar with women responding inappropriately to compliments about progress they’ve made in the gym .

All too frequently a female client or class participant says something similar to the words of encouragement I’ve bestowed on them. And it always makes me feel sad to realize that despite all the fabulous changes they’ve made to their outside, their mindset still hasn’t caught up.


I spent the next few days pondering. Curious about why I’d responded the way I did. Wondering where those words came from and why I felt the need to belittle her observations and undermine the compliment.

I came to the conclusion that mindset habits are just as quickly undermined as exercise and nutrition habits. Just as it’s all too easy to skip a week at the gym or slip into the pattern of having dessert nightly, it’s also pretty simple to let negative thoughts creep in.

Just because we’ve managed to extinguish a bad habit (or cultivate a new, healthier one), doesn’t mean that it won’t re-surface (or get forgotten) at a later date. And that as with fitness and healthy eating, we need to re-commit to a mindset that celebrates the lifestyle changes we’ve made. Each and every day.

It’s been a long time since that negative little voice in my head last cropped up. Here’s hoping, that with vigilance, it’ll be an even longer time before I hear from it again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I do whenever my exercise and nutrition routines lapse; practice, practice, practice!


Do you have difficulty accepting compliments about your physique?

Does your mindset lag behind your fitness and nutrition accomplishments?