Month: August 2016

Why Stress is Bad for your Training

Why Stress is Bad for your Training

It’s beginning to be that time of year where the summer is coming to a close and the new school term is about to start. Gone are the carefree hours of relaxing in the sun and taking their place are hours of unending to-do lists, chores, organisation and planning.

September is a month full of school and house-moves, lessons, new jobs, clear-outs and new pencil-cases. You’re getting up earlier and falling asleep in front of the television, only to wake up and remember that you haven’t even made up your lunch for the next day.

For some reason, even if there’s not much actual difference in your routine, September just seems so much more hectic than August.

With this crazy month and all its obligations, comes the unavoidable increase of stress levels. When there is so much to do, and just such little time to do it in, it’s easy to become anxious, short-tempered and over-emotional; all go-to signs of significant psychological stress.

Whilst it’s no secret that stress isn’t exactly good for your psychological well-being, people don’t often think about the actual, physical consequences of stress on your body.

Why Stress can Affect Your Gym Routine

There’s a certain extent to which a little bit of anxiety-induced adrenaline can be beneficial to your exercise regime, as this will trigger your fight/flight response to give you a boost of energy, productivity and focus.

However, suffering from sustained periods of significant stress will, before long, begin to take its toll on your body and on your training.

Have you ever had a really good gym session, but afterwards you’re so hungry that you feel like you need to eat right away or you’ll collapse? This is because the body needs food in order for the muscles to recover, and hunger is your body’s way of telling you to fix it.

Coconut Water

 

Stress works in much the same way. If you’re feeling super stressed all of the time, then your body will struggle to balance and distribute the energy that it needs to exercise, and it also won’t be able to repair itself efficiently after a training session either.

The Science- Simplified

Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted through the adrenal glands in the body. Known as the primary “stress hormone” it is released in response to the body’s exposure to stress.

The body is put under a certain amount of physical ‘stress’ when exercising, which is different to the colloquial ‘stress’ we refer to when we say “I’m feeling stressed today”.

Nonetheless both these forms of stress are responsible for a release of Cortisol, which means that if you exercise (placing physical stress on the body) whilst you are also in a state of psychological ‘stress’ then the amount of Cortisol in your body will be exceptionally high.

Cortisol is responsible for providing the body with energy when there limited stores of glucose available, but it does so by using the amino acids found in the muscles. This causes a breakdown of muscle tissue and inhibits the transformation of amino acids into protein (protein synthesis).

The result of high levels of cortisol is such that the muscles do not have the protein that they need to repair themselves, and instead are being further destroyed by Cortisol for energy.

If your muscles are unable to repair themselves, then what you thought was a productive and efficient workout will actually result in you becoming weaker, instead of stronger.

How it takes its toll

No-one tends to walk about in their day to day life being aware of how high their Cortisol levels are – but there are certain pointers that will indicate whether your daily stresses are starting to take their toll on your training.

Stress Squat

1) You’ll fatigue too easily

Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue to create glucose for energy production. It’s the way the body has evolved to respond to panic, using every ounce of energy to react fast to an “emergency” (fight or flight). This form of energy, whilst giving you a big boost of adrenaline at first, isn’t designed to last very long. If you’re getting your energy from stores of cortisol-induced glucose, you’ll find that the initial rush wears off quickly, and you’ll be even more exhausted than before.

2) You’ll feel unusually weak after a workout

It’s normal to feel some muscle pain after exercising, but excess Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue and increasing the body’s susceptibility to pain. Chances are, if you’re too stressed then you’ll really feel it after your workout. Post-exercise pain should be good, satisfying, “I’ve worked hard” pain. Not “I’m about to collapse” pain. Make sure you get a lot of protein, either through your food or through supplements, to stop the muscles from wasting away.

3) You’ll feel run down

It’s not just the muscles that Cortisol breaks down – it also takes a big hit at the immune system. If you’re constantly falling ill with little colds and sniffles, or you’re just not feeling yourself, that’s when you know that your stress levels are taking over. Regain some control and make sure you’re getting lots of vitamin C to stop those nasty colds.

4) You’ll feel it in your bones

After a prolonged amount of time, Cortisol will start wearing away at your bones, as well as at your muscles. The breaking down of bone formation encourages a long-term risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones). This makes you be much more susceptible to injury, so when you’re feeling stressed maybe take it easy on the high impact training, and make sure that you’re practising good, safe technique.

5) You can’t sleep

Cortisol levels drop whilst you sleep, but if you are overly stressed then high amounts of cortisol in your body may result in difficulty sleeping, and an overall restless night. This will have a drastic effect on your training, as most of the body’s “repairing” occurs whilst we sleep. Try a chamomile tea or a nice relaxing bath to destress before bedtime. Limit your contact with phones, televisions and other devices to help you switch off from the stresses of the outside world.

slow down and relax

Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a break from training to de-stress for a while. In the end, it may be more productive than forcing yourself to workout in periods of high stress, and then suffering the consequences.

Although “not being stressed” is much more easily said than done, it’s important to look after your well-being and make sure that, even in the crazy months, you’re not getting overly worked up.

Take the time you need to relax and always, always, always make sure that your exercise regime is relieving your stress- not adding to it.

Ballet and Beyond: A Contribution to the Royal Academy of Dance MyDance Campaign

Ballet and Beyond: A Contribution to the Royal Academy of Dance MyDance Campaign

It’s incredibly difficult to write precisely what dance means to me without saying anything overly- sentimental or clichéd.

“My life revolves around dance”

“My dance teacher is my greatest inspiration”

“Dance defines me”

“Dance was my rebellion”

It all sounds a bit dramatic.

I had, what I consider to be, a fairly “normal” dance background. My older sister and I were sent to ballet lessons from the age of three in a slightly crumbling hall next to an old Castle in Knaresborough, in the North of England.  As I grew older, more styles were added to my repertoire – Tap at 6, Modern at 7, Character at 8, Pointe-work at 12. I worked my way up the graded-syllabus structure, completely and blissfully unaware of the role it played in shaping my childhood.

I loved it, to be sure, my mum would never have taken me to classes if I hated them. More than that, however, it was just a taken-for-granted part of my weekly routine, regular as clockwork – a steady and reliable friend amongst the ups and downs of growing up. My life did seem to revolve around rushing to dancing class from school, awkwardly getting trapped in my pink tights as I attempted to change in the back of the car.

Everyone loved the Principal of our school, Mrs Robinson, with that bizarre combination of fierce devotion and reverential fear that only a ballet teacher can muster. Rumours of her past, about which she was very private, were a source of constant fascination amongst her pupils. Her strict Russian training, her dance company in Peru and, of course, that time she single-handedly fought off three men outside a theatre in London, thwarting them of their attempts to steal her handbag by whacking them all in the face with a perfectly aimed Grand Battement.

Dance

The truth is that the majority of my most vivid childhood memories centre around Mrs Robinson and her Dance School in the Castle Yard. To this day, if I hear the music that was used in every class for our end-of-barre stretch, I experience a nostalgia in the pit of my stomach that can, quite genuinely, bring me to a halt. It is in that respect that dance does define me. Nothing teaches a child discipline and respect like a ballet class, where you curtsey to your teachers at the beginning and end of every lesson. The values and behaviours- (not to mention the posture!) -that I learned from Mrs Robinson are things that I still carry with me in my day to day life.

It was in my teenage years that dance became a form of angsty rebellion. Acting out against the predominantly scientific gene-pool of my family, I used my creativity and love for ballet in the same way that other teenagers would use tattoos, hair-dye or cigarettes. Despite being an admittedly tame form of rebellion, it was my own expression of control and individuality. It was with this attitude that, at 19 years old, I quit my nice, sensible, languages degree to pursue a BA in Dance.

It was only when I got to University that I met people who came from completely different dance backgrounds. People who had never experienced the excitement of getting your first pair of pointe shoes, the sickening nerves before a vocational exam or the pride of getting a solo in the annual show.

Dancing 3

As such, university taught me to expand my outlook on dance, its reach, its diversity and its “meaning”. Nonetheless, ask me about my ‘dance’ experience and my mind will immediately, invariably and irrationally go back to those weekly structured syllabus classes in an old crumbling hall, full of their unique traditions and quirky nuances, utterly bizarre to the outside eye. They were just as much a part of my life as school homework or birthday parties. I couldn’t imagine my past without them.

This post was written as a contribution to the Royal Academy of Dance MyDance campaign. If you have a story you would like to share about what dance means to you, get involved by going to the RAD website.

Recipe: “Healthy” Courgette Cupcakes

Recipe: “Healthy” Courgette Cupcakes

These cupcakes were a bit of a not-so-subtle attempt to get my boyfriend to try courgette, which is normally something that he avoids at all costs.

I have very little tolerance for fussy eaters- especially when the victim in question is as innocent as the humble courgette. They’re essentially just cucumber with slightly less water. Courgettes are certainly not offensive – I can understand the common distaste for mushrooms (the texture) or sprouts (the taste) but with a mild taste and a crunchy texture, I just can’t see what he has against them.

Nothing like cramming a vegetable into a sweetly spiced cake (covered in chocolate) to get a sweet-tooth guy to go against his morals.

Courgette Cake

Courgette- or Zucchini if you’re across the pond- work just as well in baking as carrots, because they create nice, mellow cakes that aren’t overly rich or sweet, but work splendidly well with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Plus they are full of Vitamin C, Potassium, and are a great source of fibre.

Despite being packed full of your essential minerals, the word healthy is a bit of a stretch when it comes to these cakes…they’re not vegan, as they do contain eggs, but apart from that the dairy is minimal, and they also don’t call for any butter or sugar. If you use quinoa flour (as I did) then they pack in some protein and can easily be made gluten free.

Courgette

The chocolate peanut butter topping was a half-arsed attempt to hide the give-away green of the courgette…needless to say he saw past my sneaky ways, but it was a pretty stellar addition, so I’ve added it to the recipe. Chocolate, nuts and courgette go mysteriously well together, which is bizarre because you’d never find yourself chopping up a courgette on a daily fridge raid and dunking it in nutella….

Or who knows, maybe you would.

Courgette Cupcake

Courgette Cupcakes

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2 large or 3 small courgettes, spiralized and roughly chopped (or grated)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil (either soft or melted)
  • 3 Tablespoons of Agave Syrup, or honey
  • 225 Grams Quinoa, or Wholewheat flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder (for an optional chocolatey-ness)
  • 100ml soy milk, soy yoghurt or greek yoghurt
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Essence
  • 50-100 Grams Dark Chocolate Chips

 

For the Topping

  • 100 Grams Palm-Oil Free Peanut Butter (or a different nut butter of your choice)
  • 125 Grams Melted Dark Chocolate Chips
  • Edible Gold Sprinkles (or other fancy garnish of your choice)

Vanilla

Makes 24 Cupcakes or 2 Round-Tin Cakes

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and either line a cupcake tin with paper cases, or grease your round cake tins with a little bit of coconut oil.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, then beat in the syrup and softened coconut oil, until combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa (if using) before stirring gently into the egg mixture. Add the yoghurt and vanilla essence, stirring so that all the ingredients are completely combined and have a fairly soft, but not too runny batter-y texture.

Batter

Once the courgettes have been grated and/or spiralized and chopped, pat them dry with some kitchen paper so that they don’t add too much water to the mixture. Mix these into the cake mix with the chocolate chips until both the chocolate and the courgette are evenly spread throughout.

Choc Chip Batter

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until they are ¾ full, or divide evenly into the two tins.

Raw

Put them in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Whilst the cakes are in the oven you can get on with making the topping, which is the simple yet heavenly job of melting together the chocolate and peanut butter in a pan, over a low heat and stirring regularly to make sure that it doesn’t burn.

Choc Peanut

Try not to add the topping until the cakes are completely cool…but if you don’t have the patience to add pretty sparkles want to eat them right away then I wouldn’t blame you!

Courgette Cupcake
If you have any more tips on getting fussy eaters to eat their vegetables, I’d love to hear them in the comments!