What are your thoughts on plant-based/vegan nutrition plans?
A great topic and emotive one, so I’ll stick to the evidence and facts. If it’s a lifestyle choice, much like religion or the car you buy – it’s totally your decision, and that goes both ways. There is no added benefit to your nutrition by omitting meat or animal sources. Now, this does not mean you cannot be fit or healthy with a vegan or plant-based approach. It’s just not ‘better’ or ‘optimal’. Vegan diets will advise you to supplement with iron and B12. Would a diet that requires you to add supplements be ‘the best’? Probably not.
Nutritionists and dietitians have always advocated we eat more fruit and vegetables, along with legumes, pulses and seeds. This hasn’t changed. However, meat and animal sources are high quality nutrition that will make achieving your goals easier when eaten within a diet that has a moderate proportion of plants. Society tends to have a black or white approach that things are good or bad. It’s these extreme polar opposites that cause the confusion and conflict. One consideration I always pass onto Instructors following a vegan or plant based diet is to be aware you are eating a low calorie (energy) but high satiety diet – which is great for fat loss, but not so great when you’re teaching 6+ classes a week and you want more energy. So plan well and use the higher energy plant foods like oats, potatoes and grains (rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat) to help you with your energy and recovery.
What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting, and can it reduce inflammation?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary approach used to help people eat less total kcals and lose weight. It can’t and doesn’t help with inflammation I’m afraid. Adequate fuel and recovery will. The tricky thing with IF is that it might work well if you have a nine to five office job and are not very active. However, if you’re teaching classes and are active you need to replenish muscle glycogen and restore damaged muscle tissue with amino acids (building blocks of protein). So fasting for 8 or 12 hours in a day isn’t really ideal, not when you already fast when you’re asleep. IF is thought by some to be the Holy Grail, but it is simply another approach to eating less total kcals. If it works for you then great, but most Instructors will struggle because their energy demands require regular meals or snacks to sustain their output.
What the the benefits of pre-workout vs BCAAs
The benefits of a pre-workout (PWO) is to stimulate the central nervous system – increase heart rate (blood flow) – improve cognition and coordination. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) don’t do this sadly. They’re 3x amino acids (protein) and don’t stimulate the body in the way a PWO should. If you’re eating adequate protein, BCAA’s is something you can save yourself money on. For intra-fuelling during classes, your body wants and needs carbs, not amino acids. So I’d opt for intra-carb drinks with dextrose, glucose, sucrose, and maltodextrin to help with energy and readily available fuel to be converted into ATP.
What’s the best way to fuel yourself before and after teaching without becoming ravenous by the end of the day. Do you recommend BCAAs?
Short and cheeky answer, just eat food! Get the calories (energy in). We’ve been hit by society’s scaremongering of each macronutrient, so we are now fearful of eating foods because foods have calories and calories are bad. Whereas calories are fuel and energy, which we need as we’re fitness professionals, not part of the general population overweight demographic.
Look to eat a larger meal with protein and carbs within 2-3 hrs before teaching (if possible), then a higher carb snack around 30 minutes beforehand: this could be some fruit and coffee or rice cakes with your favourite topping. During class I’d stay hydrated with an intra-carb drink that has electrolytes. Post class I’d look to have a protein and carbohydrate meal with a ratio of 1:2 (30g protein – 60g carbs) as soon as practical. Then a further meal 2-3 hours after that of similar macro balance.
Smoothies and shakes can be useful as liquid kcals do count but the key here is to find what works best for you. What meals can you prep and take with you? I’d try to keep fat intake low around the teaching window – not because fats are bad, but due to the time taken to clear the gut with moderate to high fat intake.
Another reason to avoid keto! Protein and carbs are your performance and recovery macros! If you want to improve your performance and recovery, look no further. One of my favourites is overnight oats and whey with chia seeds and creamed rice with jam – simple – high nutrition – easily prepped.
How can I lose weight, but still have enough energy and focus to teach high intensity classes like BODYATTACK?
To lose weight we need a consistent caloric deficit. In my experience, Instructors generally under-eat. For example: 2-4 classes and reports of 1800kcal intake.
Now, it gets a little tricky with the energy balance and creating a deficit. There are in fact TWO ways to create a deficit.
Everyone thinks that we need to cut and reduce calories to create a deficit. Imagine trying to give your body even less fuel (food = energy) but keep asking it to do the same output? What’s the end result? Burnout, injury, fatigue, frustration.
The first approach is to create the deficit by pushing up the output side of the energy balance. Essentially I look to ensure that the components that make up energy out (BMR, NEAT, EAT and TEF*) are all optimal by ensuring adequate macros are eaten.
Giving Instructors targets for each macro (protein, carb and fat) will allow them to fuel their bodies correctly. What happens is that instead of suppressing and lowering BMR, we’re improving our NEAT and EAT because we’re not tired all the time and because we’re now eating more protein, we increase TEF. So just by ensuring the fundamentals and basics are in place – total calories and macros – we can influence the energy balance and create a deficit this way.
The second approach is to reduce calories to an unsafe intake like 1200-1400kcal when trying to teach BODYATTACK or any class. Not fun or effective.
Something else to consider is to have high-energy days (teach 2 hours or more) and ‘lower’ energy days (teach less than 2 hours). High days and low days can help ensure you stay in a deficit over the week. This also removes the need for eating habits associated with a ‘clean’ and ‘cheat’ mindset.
*BMR = metabolism, NEAT = non-exercise activity (step count), EAT = exercise (classes or training), TEF = thermal effect of food (protein has the highest amount of energy needed to digest absorb).
What amount of carbs should I eat to maintain energy, for example when teaching 10 cardio classes per week?
Sport nutrition guidelines would state 3-6g per kilogram bodyweight. I would use an A5 logbook and go old school here, track your total kcals and each macro for 5 days. Then work out your average and see where you’re at. If you’re falling short in carbs then look to increase it by 40-50g for a week. Track and monitor how you feel. Then add again until you’ve reached the guidelines and feel energised and are recovering well for each class, this includes having a great sleep. Try not think, “I’ll fix this in a day”… much like instructing, it’s about taking the feedback – monitoring – adjusting – applying. That reflective loop will help massively. One of the coaching points I use with my clients is: track + monitor + adjust = success!
Is timing really important? I’ve read it’s actually a myth to refuel within a specific window post-workout.
Well it depends. It certainly falls after this order of priority: 1) total energy (calories), 2) macronutrients, 3) micronutrients (food value) and then 4) meal timing. However, if you teach in the morning and then again at night, yes it matters. The sooner you restore and replenish muscle glycogen the better. So within 1 hour first meal, then again 3 hours later with protein and carbs as mentioned previously.
After teaching a class your fuel source is now lower (carbs) and your muscle tissue has been stressed/damaged. Your body would benefit greatly from both carbs and aminos acids to help repair and strengthen muscle tissue (also reduces DOMS) and restore glycogen (fuel). This is also why eating late at night after teaching is critical and where food quality is less of an issue – priority is calories back into the body and don’t go to sleep (fast) for 8 hours with your body empty and damaged. So a pizza with a side salad isn’t actually that bad at all, but will help recovery immensely. Use a bit of common sense and have the mindset that not every meal needs to be “super clean”.
This might be a bit niche - but your advice on nutrition for breastfeeding along with teaching classes?
Firstly congratulations! My daughter is just about to turn 2 in December so I have a little insight into this. The primary concern here is that you have enough fuel and energy on board for quality breast milk production and enough fuel left over for your own body, especially if you’re teaching. So for the time being I wouldn’t worry too much about watching calories and losing weight – know it’s easier said than done with the celebrities and comparison life of social media, but your little one is the priority. Breast milk is influenced by the foods you eat (as you know) so I’d look to vary your foods with moderate to high nutrition foods but not exclusively; if your body has a craving – listen to it and order double! Losing weight can come later so enjoy being a Mum because time flies.
Tim Meadows is a certified Nutrition Coach who has been an integral part of the Les Mills UK team for over 6 years. Throughout his time on the team he has performed roles as a presenter, trainer and assessor for BODYPUMP, GRIT and SPRINT, both nationally and internationally. Much of his passion for health and fitness comes from a sporting and strength background whereby he has accrued accreditations from the UKCC, UKSCA and AFN during his time teaching classes since 2009.
Tim is based in Scotland and now uses his expertise in nutrition coaching to help fitness instructors to their improve energy, performance and weight loss goals without extreme dieting.Tim can be followed on Instagram @tim_nutritioncoach for tips and guidance on instructor nutrition.