Pre-Workout Prep – Y’all ready for this?

I will never forget the first and only time I’ve ever thrown up and passed out due to exercise because it was such a strange and random experience.  I was in the 3rd year of my Kinesiology degree in Calgary.  At this stage in my school I was back at Mount Royal College completing the Athletic Therapy program for my major.  In our “Clinical Rehabilitation” class we were studying various cardio programs that could be implemented for people who wanted to maintain their fitness while rehabilitating their injuries.

As a little background, this year was probably the most stressful of my university days due to the demanding curriculum and practicum commitments.  Classes, studying, clinical hours and working with varsity teams consumed days, evenings and weekends.  Needless to say, my personal health was not a top priority but I still managed to make time for a few workouts here and there…this was definitely a year of maintenance in the health and fitness department!

Back to class, 8am sharp we met at the gym with our lab partners (yes, in Kinesiology many of our “labs” were in the gym) ready to take each other through the paces.  On the docket that day were sprints on the stationary bike.  We were learning to challenge our anaerobic systems so the drill was short, only 10 minutes-ish, but during that 10 minutes we completed 10sec all-out sprints with 30sec recovery periods.  Now you have to understand, in a class full of individuals who love physical activity, almost every activity is an unspoken competition.  I think this is particularly true among girls… “Ohhhh, I think I’m only going to go about 80% today”  HAH. Fooled you!!! I sprinted my brains out for this 10 minute “lab” exercise.  Anyhow, the drill wasn’t so bad but about 15 minutes afterward I suddenly felt a wave of nausea come over me.  I cool-ly, “I’m feeling great” made my way over to the bathroom where the bagel I consumed about 30 minutes prior made a reappearance.  Interestingly enough, after this I felt completely fine.  First time that ever happened to me, I swear.  But I felt fine after so I carried on, business as usual!

The second half of the class was in the exercise studio where we stood in a group watching our prof give instructions.  Suddenly I started seeing stars and felt wobbly so I just put my hand on the shoulder of a friend standing next to me when all of a sudden BAM.. lights out!  I don’t think I was out for long and lucky for me the only thing truly wounded was my pride 🙂

tired runner

At the time I’m thinking what the heck??? This never happens to me and it felt so random!  But here’s the thing, was it really random? Could it have been prevented?

Enter the REAL physiology lesson of the day – fuel your workouts! Today’s lesson specifically dives into the details of why your body needs this fuel, preceded by a clear example of what can happen if you don’t give your body what it needs to exercise efficiently!  Here are a few reasons why my body reacted the way it did that day:

1) Insufficient time between eating and exercising:

I chose a high fiber bagel that morning and scarfed it down 30 minutes before rushing to class.  Though they are not a bad choice, high fiber foods are not ideal pre-workout (less than 60 minutes prior to exercise) snacks because your body takes a long time to digest them.  They’re going to sit in your stomach for longer than say, a piece of fruit or a glass of juice, which are considered simple carbohydrates and very easy to digest.   My tummy was hard at work trying to process the carbohydrates in that bagel, but it just didn’t have enough time!  By the time I had hopped on the bike to start my sprints there was a sudden demand for blood flow to my muscles so they could receive the nutrients they needed to perform, taking away from the blood flow sent to help with digestion.  So where did this leave my bagel? Lonely and half-digested in the pit of my stomach.  Post-workout my body was in recovery mode, working hard to clear the lactate and hydrogen that were causing an acidic state in my body.  Digesting food was no longer at the top of my body’s priority list – no energy to digest the bagel meant my body needed to get rid of it ASAP!

2) Low blood sugar:

By the time you wake up in the morning, your body has been fasting for as long as you’ve been sleeping – for most people that’s at least 6-8 hours.  To say your energy stores are depleted would be an understatement.  My blood sugars were low when I arrived to class as my digestive system was still working hard at getting the energy from my bagel into my blood stream.  The main fuel source for short-burst anaerobic exercise is carbohydrate, something my body was severly lacking prior to that workout.  So I was starting my workout running on empty, a problem in itself that aggravated another issue:

3) High cortisol levels:

Cortisol is a hormone released when your body is under stress (physical or emotional) and too much of this stress causes your body to break down amino acids (protein!) and convert them to carbohydrate, it’s a catabolic hormone.  Under the stress of school and more acutely, the stress of the sprinting, my cortisol levels were likely rampant.  The result? Cortisol was breaking down the protein in my muscles, desperate to synthesize fuel to restore the catabolic state I had suddenly created.  I had my body running at full steam doing everything it could to bring me back to a resting state but I just didn’t have enough in me, sending me crashing, literally!

This is a bit of an extreme case, but every now and again we find ourselves in varying levels of this situation!  Maybe you’re not throwing up or passing out per se, but your body might be working overtime, depleting your energy stores and sending you into survival mode. A stressful week at work or at home, combined with lack of sleep, sends you to the gym to give ‘er guns in hopes of reducing that stress.  If your body is improperly fueled and run down like mine was, you’re going to send it crashing.  This is why pre-workout nutrition, proper rest and stress management are so important not only to our general health, but also to achieving the results we’re hoping for when we exercise!

Here are your take-aways to FEEL your BEST in any workout:

1) Rest up!  Especially the night before a workout you know is going to be pushing your upper limits.

2) Fuel up! Ensure you have something to eat prior to working out.  If you’re working out early in the morning with little time between eating and exercise, choose simple carbohydrates like fruit, blended juices or smoothies. These foods are easy for your body to digest quickly and will provide you with the fuel you need. If you are working out later during the day, aim for a pre-workout meal 2-3 hours before working out including a serving of veggies, a serving of protein, a serving of carbohydrate and a small serving of healthy fat.

3) Lighten up! Make time for rest and rejuvenation throughout the day, this is quiet time for your body to slow down. It doesn’t have to be a long rest, even taking 5 minutes away from your desk, computer, cell phone, television, or whatever you’re doing can make an impact on your stress levels and cortisol release.  Think simple things like stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, read a few pages in a book, mediate, look out the window, anything that takes you into la-la land and away from your current situation.  You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel going back to whatever you’re doing.

Here’s to a week of keeping your food down and staying vertical at the gym!!! 🙂





Core Training? …that’s so 2005

The fitness industry has seen its share of trends and fads over the past few decades.  I can remember at a young age, my Mom in the living room sweating through various videos with titles like “Buns of Steel”, the classic “It Figures” aerobics session on TV each morning – mostly because this signified the morning run of cartoons were over.  In school I remember Billy Blanks’ “Tai-Bo” – as girls in high school we had the option to do these videos instead of running outside when the weather was crappy – you can guess what we chose!

10 years ago “core training” was hot in the fitness industry and it was everywhere, articles online, top 10 best core exercises gracing magazine covers, belly-blaster fitness classes, you name it, it was out there.  A strong core was the answer to everything back-pain related and a solid core workout was the secret to achieving that elusive bikini body.  Why was it so trendy? Because it worked!  People all over started doing exercises like planks and utilizing swiss balls to challenge their core in all kinds of wacky ways and with this, people were seeing significant reductions in back pain.  For the truly disciplined, when combined with a good diet and lots of cardio, that elusive 6-pack actually made an appearance.

I remember being in Costa Rica attending bible school and a group of girls gathered each morning under the careful guidance of one of the girls as she directed her personal “6-minute ab routine” all in hopes of avoiding the extra weight gain associated with travel…not to mention… she had that 6-pack of abs everyone was chasing!

Fast forward to 2015 – today.  One of the biggest trends now in training is GLUTES!  “Sculpt a better booty” “10 exercises to your best butt” “5 best exercises for a perky bum” “Brazil butt lift workout” – and this is just the first page on google! So is it just a crazy fad?  The next best thing for everyone that’s grown bored of holding a plank for minutes at a time?  Or is there actually something to it?  And more importantly, do we ditch the planks to focus on glutes now?

While core strength is still important, there’s so much more to a strong, functioning core than just the muscles in your tummy area, our mid-sections are much more complicated than that! You see, many of the muscles surrounding the pelvis (think booty and hips) also connect to the low back.  There are over a dozen muscles throughout your hips and pelvis that all contribute to the position of your pelvis and how it moves – why does this matter?  Because your back and the muscles of your “core” are all connected to your pelvis – if there is muscle imbalance in your pelvis, your core function is going to be affected.

So why the focus on glutes?  Glutes are a large muscle that helps to not only stabilize your pelvis, it’s what propels you forward during a walk or run, it gives you that extra peppy step to take the stairs two at time, they help us to lift heavy objects and climb hills.  Glutes play a pretty big role in allowing us to function in our daily activities, and for the really active crowd, it’s what helps us do the things we love with strength and efficiency.

Our unfortunate reality is that we are becoming a society of people who spend most of our day sitting and sitting is no good for good glutes!

Glute Cycle

Muscle imbalance is one of the main causes of overuse injuries in the low back, hips and knees and when pain is present we become limited in what we are physically able to do.  So there is something to this glute activation/strengthening trend.  But does this mean that we need to ditch out on the core work to address the glutes?  No way.  We need both for our body to function optimally, so we can do the workouts and activities that you truly enjoy.  BUTT (hehe) if you haven’t been addressing your glutes, try incorporating this mini glute circuit into your workout regime today to get them fired up!  …and remember a functioning booty will also become a good-looking booty!

Click the photo to open in a new window and get a closer look 🙂

How to Stop Dreading Exercise and Start Loving it

Woman running
One of my good friends is a new Mom – at least I consider her to be so.  She’s got an almost 3 year old and an 8 month old.  She’s always been super active but with the challenge of chasing after two kids, keeping up with housework and making meals she has found this past year to be quite challenging when it came to her own personal health.  (are you relating to her story yet??) Needless to say, she found herself hanging onto post-baby weight a lot longer than she wanted to and had lost track of her better nutrition habits.  In my opinion, my friend is beautiful inside and out, but we all know that feeling of not being able to fit into our clothes, feeling sluggish and run-down.  No one likes it, and no matter how you may appear to others, I believe that you have to be comfortable in your own skin and you need to feel good to be the best version of yourself!


So back to my friend, she decided to sign up for the fitness challenge going on at her local gym to help hold her accountable.  The contest is a point system based on how many classes you attend at the gym, before/after photos and of course weight/measurements. So far she’s doing fantastic and has lost 6lbs in just a few weeks!  I’ve been checking in on her on a weekly basis as I provided her with a few workouts and a basic meal plan to follow. This week I received really interesting feedback…


When I asked how her workouts were going she said she was doing really well but she had had a recent revelation.  When she looked at some of the other contestants, for whatever reason she decided that she wouldn’t come close to contending as a winner.  A little disheartening only a few weeks in, wouldn’t you agree?  Her chances, I would argue, are certainly debatable but that’s a discussion for another time 🙂  The important note here is her thought process, it went something like this:


“since I realized I’m not nearly good enough to win (the contest), I need to do things that are good for ME, not good for winning the contest”


So what did she do:


“I ‘gave up’ some points by not doing a boot camp and just ran.  But the run was so good for my soul, I was in a great mood after and I ran for an hour straight!”


WOW.  You can just hear she is beaming in her messages.  As an additional note, my girlfriend has always loved running, so just because the running doesn’t earn her as many ‘points’ should she really say no to a run that she’s in the mood for and do the class instead? The answer seems simple enough right?


How many of you actually enjoy working out?  Like really, truly, enjoy a good sweat?  I know we all groan and complain about how tough class can be or how sore we are the next day, but think deep down, do you actually enjoy the feeling of challenging your body?


I know this must sound strange coming from your ‘boot camp’ instructor…skipping boot camp???  But my message is this, you should ENJOY your workouts and it’s important to find what type of workouts bring you enjoyment!  Why spend the time exercising if it’s not something enjoyable or fun?  I know it’s not going to be fun every time (burpees anyone?) but for the most part, there should be something enjoyable about your workout that feeds your soul.  This is part of your ‘you’ time!  We all lead very busy lives, but our lives are meant to be lived abundantly 🙂


All things considered, keep in mind that variety is still important and your week of workouts needs to include cardio, strength and flexibility.  However, remember to make time for the workouts that you do love, especially on the days when you’re not feeling as motivated to get moving….on those days, stick to your faves!


So my challenge to you this week, is to take a few minutes to figure out and write down a few things:


1) What do you love about exercise? (I know there’s something!)
2) What gets you truly excited about completing a circuit/workout/class (it can even be the coffee date afterward!)
3) If you could pick one physical activity that you feel completely invigorated after, what would that be? (think outside the box on this one)
4) Why do YOU exercise, why is exercise important to you? (hint: not why it’s good for you, search a little deeper than that)


Write all these down and keep them somewhere nearby, these things are your MOTIVATION for working out.  These are your “WHY’S” for wanting to achieve your goals.


So here’s to a great week of workouts…and enjoying the sweat it brings!