Veganism vs. fitness?

I’m going to be honest with you, because what is a blog if not a safe space for honesty? Ben rightly pointed out the other day that my blog is “an adventure in veganism and fitness”, and so far all I talk about is veganism. Sure, I occasionally mention that training has been going well, or that I’ve tried this or that new routine or technique, and I’d like to think that the “veganism” aspect has been skewed towards healthy eating and the likes – but whether you picked up on this blog just every once in a while or have been following for a few months now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I devote too much attention to the “calories in” part of the equation.

While I promise to write a little more about fitness – fitness gear and equipment, techniques, routines – I’d like to explain why I think nutrition is easier to talk about and deserves to be talked about more.

In my experience, people actually know a lot more about fitness than they think, and a lot less about nutrition than they should. While everyone knows that they really just need to walk a little bit more often, take the stairs instead of the lift, and maybe occasionally try a few press-ups, people are often shocked to hear that maybe their “whole wheat” toast with jam and coffee isn’t their best breakfast option.* And I know from experience that we are often in denial about our own eating habits, so until someone lists your specific situation and gives clear and reasonable explanations and plausible solutions, it’s very easy to ignore it. For these reasons, I think nutrition is the sort of thing that ought to be talked about on a regular basis, offering multiple scenarios and viewpoints and alternatives.

The other thing is that food and diet surround us constantly. While studies can only show how much time is spent actively eating or drinking, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that for the vast majority of our waking hours, we are either eating, snacking, thinking or talking about food (either positively or negatively), have food within reach or sight, or are confronted with advertisements or articles about food and diet. However, we generally only have set times of the day when we can or will exercise, and often only in very specific places. Think about it; in that office meeting are you more likely to think about going out for a jog or about whether to eat one of the cookies on the table? When you get home late and exhausted from a long and busy day, are you more likely to think about what exercises you’ll do in the gym, or what you’re going to have for dinner? When organising an outing with friends, are you more likely to go cycling or for a meal? Obviously these are generalisations, but they serve to prove my point that in general, food is a more immediate issue than exercise. Plus, everyone has to eat something at some point – very few people these days ever need to take any sort of exercise.

However, sometimes it really is inactivity or lack of sufficient physical activity that gets you, and the thing is that these periods of inactivity often strike at times of lower dietary control, for example: on holiday with other people cooking; on a business trip or during periods of high pressure at work; or during the festive season. I know with me in these situations I know I can’t regulate the diet, but I can always do something to get moving – not just to burn calories or fat in the immediate, but so that when I can get back to the gym, I don’t have to start from scratch again. I would encourage everyone to see things from this angle: rather than worrying about getting fat and getting upset about putting on weight, motivate yourself to stay fit, healthy, and functional.

One tool I use to help kickstart an ad hoc maintenance routine is the Powerbreathe. As the name suggests, it helps train your breathing by providing resistance to the air you suck in, forcing your diaphragm to work extra hard, just like it would during a tough cardio session. I do 30 breaths, wait 5 minutes, then do another 30 breaths. Because it doesn’t make my muscles hurt, or make me sweat, or require any space or much mental exertion, I can’t come up with any excuses not to do it. Once I’ve done my first 30 breaths, the barrier is broken and it’s easy to continue with some exercise – the best way I’ve found to do that when motivation and/or time are low, is to stack together multiple sets which are all easy to complete on their own, but added together do challenge you.

Over the Christmas holiday period, when I was away with limited space and resources and had little motivation to get changed, get sweaty, refuel properly, shower, get changed again, this was the first workout I did on the first morning, before breakfast:

  • 30 breaths Powerbreathe
  • 10 narrow press-ups, 10 wide press-ups
  • 15 narrow half-squats, 15 full-range sumo squats
  • 20 full extensions raising arms overhead and sliding legs out (end position in a wide “V” with feet and hands just off the ground), 20 small ab crunches with legs off the ground (90° at hip, knee, ankle)

That took me 5 minutes, which meant it was time to do my second set of breaths and repeat the circuit. Total just 10 minutes of exercise, but my lungs got a workout, I had done 40 press-ups, 60 squats, and 80 abs – more importantly, the blood was flowing and muscles were engaged for the day.

If you’re wondering how many repetitions of any exercise to do, start with about 70-80% of what you know your limit is for the first exercise, but the total of two sets of a body part should be well within your ability. For example, I struggle to get more than 12 good quality narrow press-ups, but I can easily do 20 normal press-ups; so doing 10 narrow press-ups is fine, and I know that I can handle 20 total, so although I get so close to my limit on the narrow press-ups my mind knows I can finish the set.

You could easily complete the workout by adding, for example, a 20min jog or 15 minutes of running intervals (say, 3mins fast and 2mins walking), or just repeating the above in reverse order.

I haven’t posted this sort of thing before because it seems so basic – but sometimes the hardest bit is getting started. At this time of year especially, getting back into exercise can seem daunting, and getting business back on track often takes priority. Don’t be scared to take baby steps! Now that I have taken mine, I will be sure to share some more “no excuses” workouts with you in future – and as always, I’d love to hear your views, tips and tricks so get in touch!

*if you’re wondering why, it’s because whole wheat bread is often still highly processed, jam is largely just refined sugar, and coffee – while playing a helpful part in stimulating metabolism – will contribute to starting the day dehydrated and inhibiting nutrient absorption