Blueberry Muffin Protein Smoothie

Sunshine makes me want smoothies. They are refreshing and always seem somewhat more indulgent than a regular drink. Most smoothies in restaurants are laden with additional sugar, instead of embracing the natural fructose from fruit. I have been craving anything blueberry muffin flavored since my Mum started burning this blueberry waffle cone candle from Bath and Bodyworks, so this protein packed smoothie satisfied my tastebuds that had been teased by that delicious smell!

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Macros: 278kcal; 29g protein, 28g carbs, 5g fat

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (approximately 250ml)
  • 1 scoop vanilla whey (approximately 30g; I used Dymatize whey isolate)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g fresh/frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 20g oats/oat flour/instant oatmeal (I used Ready Brek)
  • Handful of ice
  • Water

Method

  1. Add a handful of ice cubes to a Nutribullet/blender.
  2. Measure out all your ingredients into your Nutribullet and add water until you reach the ‘maximum’ line.
  3. Blend until thoroughly mixed.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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Deloading; My First Experience (From the perspective of someone who has previously trained for aesthetics rather than strength)

Deloading is something that powerlifters are incredibly familiar with, but for those of us who have come at fitness from a different angle, it is a wholly unfamiliar territory. Working out at a gym where several people compete in powerlifting competitions, I had both heard the term and seen it practiced before I experienced it myself and I can’t say it was ever something I wished was in my program before!

But, what is a deload? A deload is a deliberate and programmed reduction in training volume and/or intensity. Its purpose is to enable you to recover from intense previous workouts and improve your future training sessions. Deload weeks in powerlifting training typically end with a ‘test’ on your compound lifts, whether this be a new one rep max attempt or a set where you get as many reps as you can at a percentage of your one rep max. Either test gives you a number for you to gauge your progress from your previous training block and to establish a new baseline for your next training block. 

Despite this all sounding great, I was very apprehensive to have a deload, mainly because I am used to (and enjoy!) pushing myself to my limits every time I enter the gym. It is not in my nature to ‘go through the motions’ in any aspect of my life; I either give it everything or I don’t bother. I also couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I would gain lots of weight from drastically reducing my time and intensity during the gym. 

So, post deload how did I fare?

My first day of my deload, I felt very lost in the gym. I was extremely hesitant to workout (especially as it was a Monday at around 6.30pm, one of the busiest gym times of the week!) I didn’t want people to judge me occupying a squat rack to move minimal weight for a few reps. Looking back now, this was a bit of a ridiculous thing to feel! I don’t go into the gym judging women (or men) who aren’t squatting much more than the bar. In fact, when I spot a new face in the squat rack, I get weirdly excited! I either assume it is someone who is new to lifting and get excited because I hope they develop the same passion for lifting as me, or I assume they are an athlete of some sort (the gym I am a member of is a bit fancy!) and get excited because I know they will, directly or indirectly, motivate me! Despite this, I still did feel very cautious about approaching Monday’s workout and made my warm up far longer than I normally would to delay me squatting! My workout didn’t take me as long as usual, so I decided to spend about fifteen minutes stretching and foam rolling. Recovery and mobility are aspects of my training I severely neglect, and, mid-Monday foam roll, I decided to fully embrace the deload and make these the forefront of my training for the week. Altering my mindset and approach to my deload helped tremendously. Instead of being nervous and cautious, I actually embraced the week. To be honest, I almost forgot that this concept was novel to me and went on with my week as usual. When I entered the gym on Tuesday, I approached the session entirely differently and had come to terms with the fact that recovery is just as important as progressively overloading my workouts every time.

This particular deload ended with me doing AMRAP (as many reps as possible) with 75% of my progressed 1 rep max on my compound lifts. I got between 8 and 14 reps on my squat, bench and deadlift and felt both energized and ‘fresh’ when doing so. I rarely start a gym session without some sort of muscle soreness (those people who say that after a while of working out you don’t get sore just doesn’t seem to apply to me…I am always sore!) so it was an unusually empowering feeling to feel so rested! 

Post workout of doing my AMRAP sets, I probably actually felt more sore than from a usual workout. I had a 60 minute massage after my final workout for the week and the masseuse said that my traps, back and glutes were substantially tighter than most people’s. To put this into perspective though, I hadn’t had a massage in about two months and most people that get a massage do not lift weights six days a week. 

Aside from feeling like a gym phony, my other main concern was my weight. Right at the start of my deload, my calories were actually increased by 27kcal a day. Doesn’t sound like much, but, over a week, equates to 189kcal. I was convinced that my calories would actually decrease with a lower output, not increase! 

I started the week weighing 117lbs (53.1kg) and ended the week weighing 116.6lbs (52.9kg). This has really shown me that calorie expenditure is comprised of how you spend your day as a whole, rather than your workout dictating your calorie burn. I have a sedentary job, but I use my lunch break to walk laps and get outside and I ensure I get up from my desk at least once per hour. I always volunteer for any office task that needs completing too, as it typically involves moving around. Over the past year, I have become a lot more aware of my NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis), I.e. My activity levels outside the gym, and I make a conscious daily effort to ensure I get a substantial amount of steps in.

So why have I written this blogpost? When I was dreading the start of my deload, I was frantically searching for anyone’s personal experience of it. I wanted some reassurance that I wasn’t alone in having my concerns and also some reassurance that it would be okay. So, my final thoughts to you on this are, that it will be okay – better than okay – you will learn a lot from it and you will feel so much more energized at the end! You will not suddenly balloon and you do not need to cut calories. My best advice – embrace it, and make recovery and mobility your priorities for the week.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Cajun Cod and Dirty Rice

Cajun food is extremely popular in southern states – I typically associate it with Louisiana. Living in the south, cajun flavours and restaurants are fairly common. There is an abundance of spice in cajun cuisine, but also a lot of fat due to the high butter content. I rarely use any fat in my cooking methods because I think it is both useless if you have a good non-stick pan and I also don’t like the texture. This recipe excludes the butter, but definitely does not exclude any flavour! It is easy to prepare and cook and I don’t think that anyone would miss the butter! If you would like more of a seal on the fish, then I recommend adding a couple of tablespoons of corn starch to your seasoning. Catfish is often used in cajun cooking too, but is far less readily available than cod and I also don’t like the flavour of catfish very much. But, if you want to be truly authentic, I would substitute the cod for catfish. Enjoy!

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Macros per portion (based on 5 servings): 265kcal: 28g protein; 35g carbs; 0.5g fat

Ingredients

For the fish

  • 1.25 – 1.5lbs fresh or frozen cod (I used Trader Joes frozen Alaskan cod pieces)
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

For the rice

  • 200g long grain rice
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper

Method

*If you are using frozen fish, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted prior to use.

  1. On a large dinner plate, measure out the spices needed for the fish. Combine well to ensure each of the spices are evenly dispersed.
  2. In a small bowl, measure out and combine the spices needed for the rice.
  3. Cook the long grain rice according to packet instructions.
  4. While the rice is cooking, place the fish on the seasoned plate and ensure both sides of the cod are covered in the seasoning.
  5. Place a large non-stick pan over a high heat and add the fish when the pan is hot enough. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the fish for approximately 5 minutes per side. When the fish is cooked through, turn off the heat. (You may want to keep flipping the fish to ensure it doesn’t stick and that it doesn’t get over-cooked).
  6. Once the rice is cooked, add the spices from the bowl and stir well.
  7. Serve immediately – or portion out for a weekly lunch! I have teamed mine this week with steamed haricot verts and sliced fresh red bell pepper.

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-Benchpressingbaubles, x

 

 

 

Sweet and Sour Chicken with Udon Noodles

I typically associate Chinese food with being greasy take-outs with inconsistent quality (often resulting in stomach aches and regret the day after!) I love the flavor of sweet and sour chicken, but rarely eat it because of this. Most supermarket sauces, for me, are overly sweet and processed – this recipe is low calorie and SO much more delicious. It would work perfectly for an evening family meal as well as for a lunchtime weekly meal prep. I don’t recommend you eating this cold though, so if you haven’t got access to a microwave at work, save it for the evening!

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Macros per portion (based on 6 servings): 331kcal; 27g protein, 48g carbs, 2g fat

Ingredients

  • 1.2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 single serve packets sweetener
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp reduced salt and sugar ketchup
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp cold water
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 21 oz Udon noodles
  • 36 oz broccoli
  • 10oz water chestnuts

Method

  1. Add sweetener, vinegar, coconut aminos, garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder and ketchup to a small pan. Stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
  2. In a small bowl, add the 1tbsp cornstarch to the 2tbsp cold water and stir thoroughly until the cornstarch has dissolved. Add to the saucepan and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened. Reduce the heat further and stir every couple of minutes to ensure the cornstarch doesn’t ‘clump’.
  3. Slice the chicken breast into small pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Add the 4tbsp cornstarch to the bowl and, with a large spoon, ensure each piece of the chicken is thoroughly coated.
  4. Place a medium non-stick pan over a high heat. Add the chicken only when the pan is hot enough that it ‘sizzles’ when it touches the pan. Cook the chicken over a high heat, flipping continuously to ensure it is cooked through and does not burn. Once cooked through, reduce the heat.
  5. Add the water chestnuts to the pan with the chicken and then add the sauce. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli and heat the Udon noodles. (I kept the peppers, broccoli and noodles separate from the chicken, but you can add these to the pan with the chicken if you want all the ingredients incorporated).
  6. Serve hot!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

 

 

Am I even healthy if I don’t eat salad and go to the gym?

Fitness is more than the gym. Health is more than eating salad. The perception seems to have evolved that you need to be a regular gym-goer and eat salad everyday in order to be earn your stripes as being ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’; this is simply not the case.

We, as a society, seem to have disregarded the ‘outdoor’ aspect of fitness, yet a lot of professional sports are played outside; football; athletics; tennis; baseball… to name just a few! You see very few posts and pictures on social media of people exercising outside. Instead, you are inundated with numerous photos and videos of how to manipulate a variety of gym equipment to hit the glutes. Not a day goes by on Instagram that I see somebody doing some obscure exercise on a machine that they swear is the latest way to build a booty, yet the pictures and videos I personally enjoy the most are people demonstrating strength, passion, accomplishment and enjoyment. I search for the pictures of people achieving PRs; I watch videos on repeat of people doing some impressive calisthenics and it makes me smile to see an action shot of an outdoor bike ride or half marathon race. To me, these posts demonstrate fitness. These people ARE fit; to progress and to achieve these successes, hard work and regular practice at these movements must have happened.

I, personally, love lifting weights, much more than I love running, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that the same level of passion and work has gone into achieving running accomplishments as I demonstreate in the gym. You don’t HAVE to lift weights if you don’t enjoy it. You don’t HAVE to go into a gym if you don’t like the atmosphere.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think everyone should exercise in some form! Not only is it good for your general health and wellness, but it also demonstrates you value yourself and your wellbeing.

If you don’t enjoy the gym, find something you DO enjoy – my sister goes rock climbing and does yoga; my brother plays tennis and goes to the gym; my Mum goes to the gym, she gardens, walks the dog and foam rolls/stretches and my Dad goes for a 3pm swim and walks the dog. All of these activities are just that…active, in other words, exercise. Each member of my family has found what exercise they enjoy. Do they all go to the gym? No. But why should they?

Your primary goals when exercising should be to find something you both enjoy and can make part of your lifestyle, permanently. Fleeting ‘bursts’ of going to the gym twice a day for a week is not ‘fitness’; making the effort to go for a lunchtime walk everyday is a much bigger leap into being ‘fit’. Too many people think extremes are needed to achieve results. If you currently do nothing, aim to do something. Focus on small adaptations; permanent adaptations. If you love having thick cream in your coffee, don’t vow to get rid of it. If you love a 3pm sweet snack, don’t stop. Instead, focus on other parts of your daily routine that you ‘just do’, but don’t provide you any pleasure. If you sit all evening in front of the television because of habit, rather than because you want to watch a particular show, change that! If you have cream in your coffee because your boyfriend does and not because YOU really enjoy having cream, then change it. Experiment. You will not get it right first time. Or even the fourth time. But, you didn’t walk the first time you tried either.

Being healthy and fit is SO much more than the occasional sweaty selfie. It is a permanent investment in yourself; a commitment and a promise that you are going to make changes that improve your quality of life; for now and for later. Not everyone can be passionate about fitness. Not everyone can view fitness as one of their greatest pleasures. It doesn’t make you unhealthy, or unfit. What does make you unhealthy and unfit is going through your day mindlessly eating and mindlessly remaining inactive. Choose to eat something healthy. Choose to eat something unhealthy. Choose to exercise. Choose to relax. Being more pro-active and demonstrating metacognition IS a step towards being healthier. No-one can ever completely embody health and fitness, so don’t even try. Perfection is not the goal. Getting the best quality of life for yourself is.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Thai Coconut Cod Curry

Thai curries are always so fragrant; this recipe makes use of homegrown, fresh and aromatic herbs and, combined with the creamy indulgence of the coconut milk, makes for a delicious curry. Paired with jasmine rice or noodles (or broccoli/cauliflower rice for a lower carb option), it will definitely be a meal that satsfies the whole family, or a meal that makes everyone jealous in the office when it is reheated!

Macros per portion (based on 3 servings): 286kcal; 31.4g protein, 20.1g carbs, 9.9g fat

cod and coconut curry

Ingredients

  • 1 large red bell pepper (approximately 200g), roughly chopped
  • 75g red onion, diced
  • 3 large zucchinis, sliced (approximately 650g)
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1 can lite coconut milk
  • 1lb cod (I used Trader Joes frozen wild Alaskan cod pieces which I had defrosted the night before)
  • 8 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
  • 3 stalks of fresh lemongrass, chopped
  • 2 tsp Sriracha

Method

  1. Place a large, non-stick pan over a medium heat and add the red onion and garlic. Cook until soft and then add the zucchini and red bell pepper. Reduce the heat and cook for about 10 mins, stirring frequently to ensure all the vegetables are cooked.
  2. Once the vegetables are soft, but still holding their shape, remove from the heat and set the vegetables aside.
  3. In the same pan, add the cod to and cook over a low/medium heat until the fish is white and cooked through.
  4. Add the curry paste, basil, lemongrass and Sriracha and combine with the cod.
  5. Add the vegetables back to the pan with the curry paste and cod and pour in the can of coconut milk. Bring the pan to the boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.
  6. Cook for between 20 and 25 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure the sauce is well-combined, thickening and none of the vegetables are sticking.
  7. Remove from the heat and enjoy!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Who Are You Now? Dealing with Post Show and Progression from Suicide to Strength

Post show blues is a real ‘thing’. I would class competing as life changing. As with anything that requires extensive preparation and ‘hype’ – a wedding, a holiday, a marathon etc. – SO much time, effort and money goes into it and then all of a sudden, it’s over. If you are not careful, you can be left feeling extremely ‘lost’. For a lot of competitors, competing is their entire identity. It is their sole structure for their day; it is everything. Now, don’t get me wrong, I gave prep my all, but it never was my ‘everything’.

Two years ago, my photoshoot preparation WAS my entire identity. It came at a point in my life that I will be forever grateful for. I was at a very low point in my life; I had zero confidence, was struggling to adjust to a trans-atlantic move, miserable at work and felt I had nothing to live for. The gym and the rigid diet gave me two elements I could both control and progress in. After the photoshoot was over, I felt like this control and reward was gone. My body was gaining fat and I was repeatedly fainting; this is when I hated myself the most. I had no post-photoshoot goals in any aspect of my life, I was purely ‘existing’ day to day. I was never diagnosed, but I was depressed. I can pinpoint my lowest ever point and it was then that I decided there were two options, one – to end my life, and two; to get better. I chose the latter.

It has not been linear progress, and it hasn’t been easy, but I am probably the most self-confident and happiest I have been in a good few years. I have learnt to never make my entire identity comprise of ANY one thing. I try and live my life by building up my back pocket – that is to say, adding experiences and skills to my repetoire. Not only does it make me more educated, more self-aware and more well-rounded; it also gives me assets that permanently shape my identity. No-one can ever take these away from me.

Over the past year is probably where I have made the most mental, and physical, progress. I have gone from fearing food, to starving myself to binge eating to having a healthy relationship with food. I don’t suffer with cravings and I don’t binge eat ever. I have weighed my food for about 18 months. I used to try and conceal this, or pretend I didn’t for fear of what others may think of me. Over the past few months, I have stopped caring what people think. I may get laughed at for bringing my lunch to work, I may get teased for weighing out lettuce, but I have realized this is mainly from a mixture of ignorance and surprise. Outside of the fitness bubble, people don’t weigh food unless they bake a cake. It is not something they are accustomed to and, as with anything like that (think how prejudice and stereotypes form), ignorance leads to teasing.

While I would say my relationship with myself and with food is far from perfect, (I question whether anyone’s relationship wth food IS perfect), I do feel, for me, I have come an awfully long way to achieving a balanced approach to both. Gone are the days where I pop multiple vitamin supplements prior to eating any meal with carbs; gone are the days where I feared chocolate and bagels would go straight to my hips and gone are the days where I would get dressed for the day and instead of meeting friends, cry and hide. I have learnt, through education, reassurance and experience about food and health. This, in turn, has enabled me mentally to progress to a state where I am confident in myself and my abilities.

So, who am I now?

I am not going to pretend that I feel optimal right now – I am tired, de-motivated and generally feeling a bit sub-optimal. I still have remnants of my tan, (so I am also streakier than bacon), but in a state of flux with scrubbing it off as I know that being pale won’t exactly fill me with self-love either (anyone else?!) Despite this, I do not feel really low or annoyed, as I did after my first show. I learnt SO much from this experience; it added another card to my back pocket. It enabled me to come away from my second show wholly more satisfied and has also enabled me to look more objectively to the future. My sister commented to me that she associates me with being strong, not someone who is lean and sparkly. This comment filled me with pride – I aim to personify strong. As with most people who are 27, I have been through my fair share of shit. Without this life experience, I wouldn’t be ‘me’ as I am today. I definitely wouldn’t be as strong. I definitely wouldn’t be as driven. And I definitely wouldn’t be as ambitious. I know the next few weeks will be a challenge as I adjust to ‘non-prep’ life, but I feel confident that both being aware of this and being okay with this, will ease the journey.

So what are my health and fitness goals now?

My immediate goals focus around my health. I want to get my hormones functioning correctly again. I want to improve my digestive system. I want to ensure I am drinking enough water. I want to reduce the number of chemicals I ingest. I want to focus on limiting my soy intake. I want to make sure I am supplementing with apple cider vinegar twice daily.

My longer term goals are to increase my strength – I want to squat 200lbs, deadlift 300lbs and bench 135lbs by the end of 2017. I want to compete in a powerlifting competition. I want to add more muscle to my frame. I want my legs to be leaner. I want my core to be stronger. I want to spend more time on my recovery – foam rolling, stretching and yoga. I want to learn how to sprint.

I have a lot of goals – these are just my health and fitness ones; two portions of my life and my identity. So my best advice for dealing with any big event ‘ending’; focus on all aspects of YOU. What is your identity? What do you value? What do you want to achieve? What do you want to do?

Don’t let one aspect of you rule your entire life, because, when it is over, who are you now?

-Benchpressingbaubles, x