An interview with Elitas co-founder and personal trainer David Cox

How long have you been a personal trainer?

I have been in the industry on a full-time basis for 14 years and have worked with people on a one-to-one, personal training basis for 13 of those years.


What kinds of goals do people have when they come to see you?

The majority of people I see want to improve the way they look and feel.  Most want to lose a fairly significant amount of body fat and have little to no experience using a gym.  I have also noticed that both physical and mental health goals are becoming more common than just body composition goals which is really great to see.


Older individuals I work with tend to prioritise strength and mobility as they realise this is so vital as we age to ensure a good quality of life.


What makes your gym and your coaching stand out from all the other gyms and personal trainers out there?

The gym is all about creating a great, positive and supportive community of people with a wide range of backgrounds, training goals and experience.  We look to educate and support all of our members, so that they feel confident in their training and their ability to reach their goals.


We know everybody by name and are always available to help people in whatever way we can. Gyms can be very intimidating for people so we aim to create a really positive space for our members and clients to come in and focus on their own training.  We also have a world class array of strength training equipment.  This equipment has all been carefully selected and added to over the years by myself and Ben.


Having originally started coaching clients on a busy commercial gym floor how would you say your service is different in your premium semi-private facility in Chichester? 

One of the best features of a more private facility is that we can always follow a carefully structured training plan without having to compromise the quality of training. Commercial gyms can get extremely congested, particularly around peak hours.  During the early stages of my career when working within a commercial gym, it was almost impossible to follow a training plan – there was always a compromise and the ability to utilise optimal training methodologies was impossible most of the time.


A lot of people can also feel very self conscious, particularly when they first start and it’s great to be able to train clients in a private environment away from hordes of people watching you from the row of treadmills.


Most trainers who work in larger gyms are typically very early in their careers and lack the experience that only years of working with people can teach. The service and quality of coaching at Elitas is a world apart from your typical gym.


Many people try and fail over and over again with their fitness and weight loss goals – how is it possible to break this cycle?

Education and guidance is everything and people need to understand the science and reasoning surrounding the steps they need to take in order to achieve their goals. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Show a man how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”.  This phrase rings so true and we are all about educating and offering explanation around all of our recommendations. This is always tailored to the individual and we never provide cookie cutter guidance, which I see in 90% of fitness professionals’ training programmes and dietary plans.


People often have very skewed concepts of what it takes to achieve their goals: assuming they have to train 6 days a week in order to get into great shape or thinking that a couple of runs will give them a super slim stomach.  Being very honest from the start and allowing for sustained development with minimal disruption to family, work and leisure pursuits is key for people to stay the course and enjoy the journey.


Do you have any simple advice for someone totally new to the gym and looking to get fit with no idea where to start?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You wouldn’t pretend to fix your car if something is wrong, you would seek professional advice. Your body is no different and it’s the only one you’ve got.


People waste so much time trying all the wrong things.  These choices lead to a lack of results and very often injuries and pain.  It doesn’t take long for this to destroy motivation and adherence.  Training should not be associated with pain and a lack of enjoyment; it should be something you really look forward to.

The Importance of Glute Activation

Strong and properly functioning glutes will serve to improve your performance in any activity involving hip extension (e.g. squatting, deadlifting, running and jumping) and help prevent pain and injury from occurring to the knees and lower back.


The gluteal muscles are made up of three separate muscles that make up your butt!  These muscles are:

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Gluteus Medius
  • Gluteus Minimus

Physiologically, the gluteus maximus is the strongest muscle in the human body!


The primary functions of the gluteal muscles are to:

  • Abduct the hip
  • Extend the hip
  • Externally rotate the hip

They also play an important role in stabilising the sacroiliac joints.


Why is glute activation typically a problem for people?

Most people spend a huge proportion of their time in a position of hip flexion (sitting down).  An inactive lifestyle is a sure-fire way to create glute dysfunction.  Extended periods of time in this posture over the long term will lead to negative adaptations in the hip flexor muscles.

Shortened hip flexors don’t allow for full hip extension, which is where your glutes are able to contract with the most force.  Additionally, being an antagonistic pair, short and tight hip flexors will actually inhibit your glutes.  The actual physical compression associated with sitting on your gluteus maximus will also impair blood flow and neuromuscular function.

Another reason the gluteus maximus has a tendency to shut down is because this can be easily enabled by the body through compensation patterns.  Most compound lower body movements can be performed by overworking other muscle groups: squats using the spinal erectors and quadriceps, and deadlifts using the spinal erectors and hamstrings.  If you often experience hamstring cramp or lower back discomfort when performing simple glute bridges then this is you!

When we begin working with a new client for the first time, glute function is one of the very first things we address and almost always we find issues.  We have to address the issue of glute activation by utilising specific exercises, stretching out the hip flexors and teaching effective mental cues.


How does a weak gluteus medius cause back pain?

When you are walking or running, as you plant your left foot your left gluteus medius is responsible for controlling the height and stability of the right side of your pelvis.  If this muscle is weak and not functioning correctly, the right side of the pelvis will dip, causing side-bending of the lumbar spine, resulting in compression of the left side facet joints and intervertebral discs.  Over time, many repetitions of this pattern can lead to damage to structures and chronic pain.

In the same scenario, the body can try to compensate for the weak gluteus medius by over-working the quadratus lumborum muscle of the opposite side.  This means when planting the left foot the weak left gluteus medius causes the right quadratus lumborum (muscle to the side of the lower back) to tug upwards on the right side of the pelvis to stabilise the lumbar spine.  This pattern of compensation will eventually lead to shortening of the muscle, resulting in trigger points and pain.


How to address weak and dysfunctional glutes?

It is important for most people to perform hip flexor stretches and glute activation exercises as frequently as possible, especially prior to exercise.

Two important static hip flexor stretches:

  • Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch

Statically contract the glutes on the side that you are stretching

  • “Sofa stretch” for the rectus femoris

Flexion at the knee targets the hip flexor that crosses both joints.  Statically contract the glutes on the side that you are stretching 


Five important glute activation exercises:

  • Double-leg glute bridge

Do not hyperextend the lumbar spine

  • Side lying hip abductions

Do not let the pelvis roll backwards

  • Side lying clams

Do not let the pelvis roll backwards

  • Quadruped bent leg hip extension

Flex and extend from the hip.  Keep the lumbar spine neutral throughout

  • Monster walks

Forwards, backwards and side-to-side walks with a strong glute band around the knees

Adding a strong and high quality glute band to any double-leg lower body compound exercise in your warm up will serve to increase the activation of your gluteus medius.  Here is a link to the product we use with our clients at Elitas.

Five Cool Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Nutrition!

1>  The nutritional value of a food is not only determined by the quantity of nutrients within the food you eat, but also by how well your body is able to break down and digest that food.

The amount of times you chew, acid levels in your stomach, the mind state you are in whilst eating and the health of your digestive tract all influence the nutrition you are able to extract from food. You could theoretically be deficient in certain nutrients, despite eating loads of fresh, healthy produce.   You are what you digest and not what you eat.  Some research shows that you can actually double your nutritional intake of vital nutrients to health just by doubling the amount of times you chew.

Fancy inhaling another sandwich at lunchtime, whilst staring at your computer? Think again!!


2>  Certain foods, such as Garlic and high SPF Manuka honey, have greater anti-microbial properties than any current medication.  Garlic in particular is probably one of the best anti-fungal compounds in the world. What is amazing is that bacteria don’t build a resistance to these products, but they do when exposed to some anti-biotics?  (That’s not to say that they will cure you, but they could be a useful addition to your healthy diet)


3>  When exposed to high temperatures, certain cooking fats oxidise, which turns their potentially therapeutic properties into particularly damaging ones.  Surpassing a fat’s “smoke point” creates the formation of free radicals, which induce oxidative stress in the body and can actually damage your DNA at cellular level.

Want to age quicker? Then eat lots of fats cooked in hot saucepans, woks and deep fat fryers.  Ghee (clarified butter) has one of the highest “smoke points” and is therefore the fat most suited to high temperature cooking. It is also high in butyric acid (a compound renowned for improving gut health). Certain oils extracted from nuts have the lowest smoke point and should therefore be consumed raw or prepared at low temperatures.


4>  Certain cells, such as cancer cells, grow at an incredibly slow rate when insulin is kept at an incredibly low level, such as those seen in a ketogenic diet. Certain cells thrive off glucose, so when you deprive them of their primary fuel source, growth can be limited, halted and some science actually suggests even regressed! Some clinics around the world actually use fasting and ketogenic diets to cure some conditions, such as epilepsy, to great effect and some physicians even claim to manage cancer in patients who are in a well enough state to cut calories or change their diet via the use of such diets.  The research surrounding this is still in its infancy and there is much to learn, but eating a higher fat based diet, moderate in protein whilst maintaining a low intake of carbohydrates, particularly high glycaemic load foods such as sugars, white starches, fat free dairy etc. is a good place to start.  Certain foods and exercise massively improve your insulin sensitivity (one of the primary reasons why exercise lowers your risk of just about every major disease known to man).  Carbohydrate should therefore be used sparingly and levels of your consumption should reflect your activity and exercise levels as well as your current levels of body fat.  Don’t exercise? Then you can’t really justify that second helping of chips!


5>  The colour least associated with hunger is blue. Research has shown that eating off blue plates or being exposed to the colour blue is associated with people generally eating less and having less appetite. Interestingly however, reds, oranges and yellows are associated with greater feelings of hunger and are associated with greater total calorie consumption. Incidentally all fast food chains use these colours in all of their packaging, merchandise and marketing!

Strength Training – A Powerful Medicine

When most people think of strength training, they think about the visual impact: building more muscle, losing body fat, changing body shape, etc.  What they don’t realise is that the physical changes that we see are just the tip of the iceberg. The real benefits (which scientific research has now demonstrated) are far greater than most people could possibly conceive.


The real issue embedding most people’s misguided view for strength training is that the media typically exposes us to the extremes.  If you were to ask most people on the street how they would picture a weightlifter or somebody who regularly lifts weights, you may get recollections of men with blood pouring out their nose from lifting 1000lbs and steroid abusing male and female bodybuilders who are just as unhealthy as many obese individuals.  When most people inform their doctor or family that they are weight training they typically get the same response: “But you’ll get too big!” or “you only need to do aerobics for heart health”. Unfortunately these misconceptions have emulated from years of stigma, myths and stereotypes.


How about the 40-year-old mum or the 50-year-old office worker who just wants to get in better shape and improve their health?  Lifting weights won’t just make you stronger and more muscular.  Used and programmed correctly it has the potential to literally transform your life and your health.


Here are just a few examples of the positive impacts of strength training:

  • Metabolic functions are boosted. Your ability to handle insulin and elevated blood glucose is significantly increased. Your risk of diabetes and all the secondary diseases that come with it are drastically reduced due to this greater handling capacity. . The impact for those who build even just a few pounds of muscle are actually far greater than those who just participate in aerobic sports. In fact, because of the increased carbohydrate consumption typically associated with prolonged aerobic training, metabolic resistance can actually be more likely, particularly in later years. This is truer for those with high training volume (e.g. marathon runners, triathletes etc.) who pile on the pasta, rice, carb gels and glucose drinks. Aerobic training certainly has a place but I would argue that the correct resistance training programme has far greater potency when it comes to metabolic health improvements.  It also causes less oxidative stress to the body.


  •  Your bone density greatly increases. Osteoporosis and bone disease is rife within Western society. The average person loses 1% of their bone mass every year from the age of 30 and quality of life is massively reduced in those who find moving painful because of bone demineralisation. Want to avoid fractures and severe bone degeneration? Get lifting and strengthening those bones alongside your muscles!


  •  Your immune system is dramatically improved. Strength training has been shown to have more of an immune boosting effect than traditional aerobic exercise.  The cortisol release from strength training is much lower than that of somebody hammering away on the treadmill every day. When people think about improving their immune function they think it’ll expose them to less frequent colds and tummy bugs. This is true, but the real value in regulating and managing your immune system is reducing your risk of the big time auto immune diseases, such as MS, ALS and even cancerous conditions in which the immune system is dramatically impaired or has become dysregulated. Many modern day health issues such as thyroid conditions, and arthritis are now considered to have an autoimmune/inflammatory component, so anything to improve your immune function puts you in a much healthier position.    Poor immune function even in earlier years is potentially a precursor to more serious issues later in life. Lymphatic tissue which carries a great deal of our immune cells has to rely on movement which acts as a pump.  Good nutrition and exercise in general are therefor not just a positive but an absolute essential if you want to live a healthy life.


  • Your neuromuscular health is improved.  Increased neural and nervous system adaptations come about as a result of training specific movement patterns with resistance, and greater neuromuscular health is associated with greater wellbeing, longevity and overall quality of life.  Improving the strength of your neuromuscular system not only improves your coordination but also has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence of trips and falls in all populations (most significantly the elderly).  This increased neuromuscular activity has also been shown to upregulate certain genes which optimise oxygen uptake, brain health and the rebuilding of damaged or irregular tissue. Optimising your CNS is another underappreciated component of health!


There are many more points I could add to this list but just these few key ones should be enough to convince even the most stubborn of people that strength training is an absolute essential. Strength training is so much more than just improving body composition and it is an unfortunate fact that most people cannot see the true value and this is further compounded by the myriad of myths and misconceptions.  Many people are guilty of this misguided view, even many doctors!


Once you look past all the social media fitness models, bodybuilders and strongmen (the extremes), you can see that strength training, aside from nutrition, could actually prove to be mankind’s best, most powerful yet most underutilised medicine. It is for this very reason that I actively encourage everybody I love and care for to participate in some form of resistance training, irrespective of their age, gender or abilities and I would implore you to make a start as well!




Eating Breakfast Cereal is One of the Worst Nutrition Mistakes

Breakfast cereals have been a main staple breakfast choice since the 1940s and have formed a seemingly integral part of the British diet.  Commercial marketing, social trends and widespread availabity of cheap and affordable cereals have formed a culture in which breakfast consists of a cereal such as Special K or a sugar-based children’s cereal such as Rice Crispies or Cornflakes.  Most supermarkets seem to offer a wealth of endless boxes of cereals, boasting enriched vitamin content, calcium for bones, iron for increased energy, and a tasty convenient way to start the day.  Affordability and competitive pricing, a long shelf life, cartoon characters and heavy celebrity endorsement make cereals seem like the ideal choice to the average consumer, but are they really a good choice for breakfast?


When reviewing the facts, we must use a good understanding of how the human body works and how our body responds to the foods we eat.  As you will find, your choice of breakfast could really be increasing your risk of ill health.


[box_header]So why are cereal grains such a poor choice of breakfast?[/box_header]

1.  Despite being calorie-dense, cereal grains are nutrient-poor. Cereals are in fact so nutritionally deplete that the World Health Organisation has forced manufacturers to fortify their foods with their own synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals, such as niacin and folic acid.  Figures during the rise of cereal grains back in the early 1900s show an increase in the diseases we associate with malnourishment, such as rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults, despite an over-abundant access to food. It was therefore deemed necessary to enrich manufactured foods with nutrients to improve these statistics. Unfortunately the vitamins and minerals, which are removed and then restocked during the processing of grains, are of poor bioavailability to the body due to the use of cheap oxides and other poor quality ingredients.


The fortified nutrients are usually of such poor quality there is an estimated 10-20% absorption rate. For example a standard generic cereal fortified with 200mg of Magnesium Oxide would provide your body with an available 20-40mg, an almost insignificant amount when we consider the levels of nutrients required for optimal health.

So why do the government not impose sanctions on grain products and instead recommend more natural, nutrient-dense foods if they are so nutritionally void?  One possible answer we must consider is that various grains such as wheat, barley and rye form a significant portion of our country’s GDP. Therefore changing our consumption and swaying public belief would have a great bearing on our economy. This is further compounded by the majority of positive research surrounding the supposed health benefits of cereal being funded by the cereal manufacturers.


2.  Cereals have an exceptionally high glycaemic index.  This means that the glucose broken down from that delicious bowl of Cornflakes is entering your bloodstream at an incredibly fast rate and in large volume. As your body is inundated with what in effect is sugar (yes even that wholemeal muesli is broken down into sugar), your pancreas is churning out insulin to direct that sugar into fat stores or glycogen stores within your liver or muscles. If you don’t have much in the way of muscle glycogen stores, are inactive or consume too many calories, most of that sugar is going to be directed into fat cells. As your cells are exposed to high levels of insulin they become desensitised to its action, particularly if they are exposed to sugar on a long term or sustained basis.  Poor insulin sensitivity and a poor ability to handle glucose results in poor cell signalling, inflammation and cellular damage.


What is very alarming to note is that malignant or tumorous cancer cells will multiply at an increased rate when exposed to an insulin rich environment which is why new research shows a positive response to ketogenic (high fat, moderate/high protein, and sub-50g daily carbs) diets. This is not to say these alternative diets are the best choice, it’s just that our current way of eating is causing some very serious health conditions.


Cornflakes for example have a glycaemic index of 80. When you consider that pure glucose has a value of 100 you start to realise how bad these cereals can actually be.  Sprinkle some sugar on to those Cornflakes and pour a load of low fat, processed milk over the top and you now have an insulin storm in a bowl.


3.  Cereals have a poor macronutrient profile.  From experience it is clear that an optimal breakfast should be centred around proteins and fats.  Unfortunately most cereals just do not provide either of these macronutrients in the format or quantities required for optimal health.


Numerous studies show that the best way to optimise lean body mass and health is to consume around 0.8g of protein per lb. of bodyweight. For the average male weighing 85kg they would require 149g of Protein per day to optimise body composition. When you consider the average bowl of cereal (including the milk!) will contain less than 8g of protein you realise that they are not the best choice when it comes to structuring your diet.


4.  Cereal is not the only problem here but also its accompaniment with milk. Most people choose to drench their cereal in skimmed or semi-skimmed milk for fear of consuming too much fat. This is again a big mistake as when fat is removed from milk you remove all of the fat soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A, D, E and K, as well as CLA (a trans-fatty acid with good health benefits).  You also raise the glycaemic index of the milk, which has negative implications on your blood sugar levels.


One of the biggest problems I personally have with non-organic dairy is in its production and not necessarily in the milk itself. Traditional dairy is pumped with antibiotics, growth hormones, growth factors such as IGF-1 and high levels of omega 6 fatty acids (high levels of omega 6 fat intake compared to omega 3 has been shown to be pro-inflammatory).


Fifty percent of the world’s anitbiotics are given to cattle, which contaminate the milk and is something we are exposed to every time we open a milk carton.   More recent research has shown huge advances in how antibiotic cultures influence our microbiome (the bacteria which colonises our gut and bowels). This research demonstrates that extensive antibiotic use can kill off a large percentage of our good bacteria as well as the bad. This good bacteria has now been proven to influence our thoughts, 70%+ of our immune system and our susceptibility to everything from depression through to cancer. In fact just a few months ago they were able to reverse the symptoms of Coeliac disease (previously thought to be incurable) just by re -introducing bacteria to the gut.  (Find the link to the study here).


Another issue I have with processed non-organic dairy is that cows are given oestrogen-based hormones to ensure year-round lactation to provide enough milk for the population. This aromatisation of our food chain could possibly be contributing to some serious health concerns which we link with oestrogen, ranging from gynecomastia in men through to breast cancer.


The best option is to purchase 100% organic, hormone-free milk, preferably from grass fed cows if you can source it. I personally like the produce from the Goodwood estate for this reason.

Environmental Toxicity (Part 1)

People massively underestimate the harmful effects modern chemicals have on our bodies and just how many we are exposed to in a standard day. A brand new car for during the first year can release over 6,000 chemicals into the cabin and a carpet can release hundreds over a 3 year period. Every time you spray a cosmetic, smell diesel, use a hand sanitizer , clean your house, open a new phone, smell air freshener, eat food, drink tap water etc. your body is exposed to tens of thousands of potential and well known harmful toxins and hormone disruptors.


It is an acknowledged fact that workers operating in new office buildings often complain of headaches and increased sickness and some people almost collapse when exposed to the faint smell of certain sprays. Maybe these chemicals explain why one in two people alive today will get cancer in their lifetime, a few 1000% more likely than 50 years ago? Maybe this explains the epidemic of childhood asthma and serious skin conditions? Maybe this is a contributor?


Lots of people will argue that there are insufficient studies to support these possible threats but it doesn`t take a genius to work out that everyday chemicals with skull and crossbones on the label, guys wearing full biohazard suits spraying our crops and the use of chemicals which are used to chemically castrate/sterilize rodents found in everyday cosmetics could possibly have no effect on us whatsoever.


We once laughed that arsenic was used in women’s beauty products many years ago, and I expect that years from now we will look back and ask “what the hell were we doing?”


It is therefore imperative that you give your body a fighting chance in handling this immense obstacle in reaching optimal health, so please strongly consider the quality of the foods you eat.  It bugs me when people complain about the cost of healthy food or organic fruit and veg but don’t blink an eyelid when buying a £30,000 sports car or brand new Iphone 6. I personally never skimp on food quality and neither should you!


Check back soon for specific nutritional strategies to help.

The diet conundrum (part 2)

In the part 1 we addressed the issue of metabolic down-regulation in response to prolonged low calorie diets.  We identified that these diets cause the hormones which burn fat, maintain our health, and regulate systems such as our appetite, lower in response to the stress imposed by eating in this way.


In the previous article we used a hypothetical example of a lady who had been dieting consistently for a 7 month period.  After dieting for the 7 months, she ended up with an increased bodyweight with extra fat mass.  Her body also required her to consume fewer calories in order to maintain this heavier bodyweight.


I feel that it is important to note that this type of hormonal/metabolic dysfunction is documented in all body types and is commonplace in society. It is normal to find bodybuilders, figure competitors, athletes, models etc. dieting excessively hard prior to a competition or photo-shoot only to find themselves gorging on junk foods after the event. Going from virtually no carbs, low calories, low fat etc. to drastically increasing calorie intake can see these people go from extremely low body fat measurements (less than 5% body fat in some cases) to actual obesity in just weeks and months. This is the reason you see some people get in incredible shape once and then never seem to achieve the same level of conditioning ever again.  This scenario may not apply to the vast majority of us, but the metabolic dysfunction experienced by the lady in our example certainly does.


Here are 3 positive steps you can take to reverse the ill effects of prolonged exposure to a low calorie diet. Ladies in particular take note:


1>    Train with resistance.

Muscle mass is metabolically active tissue. Active tissue requires energy in order to sustain its function and it is well documented that an increase in just one pound of muscle mass results in an extra 30-50kcal burnt per day with no extra activity or exercise. Add 10lbs of muscle mass to your frame and you will burn up to 500kcal per day extra from doing nothing.


Add onto this figure the calories burnt during the exercise required to build that muscle and you can start to see how somebody’s body composition can dramatically improve with less time investment and less restraint when it comes to eating food


Many women may be concerned about looking bulky or muscular and this is a regularly posed question but this is rarely ever the case. In fact, many women find themselves sporting smaller waists and much smaller figures despite actually gaining bodyweight from increased muscle. Not only that but muscle will add shape in all the right areas such as curving and shaping the buttocks, adding shape to the thighs, narrowing the waist and slim lining the upper limbs. If you are a weak-framed, obese individual and you lose weight without improving muscle mass then you will become a shapeless smaller version of your fatter self, only weaker.  That is all that will come of dieting if you are not intelligent with your training. It is important to note that your body fat should determine your categorisation as obese, not your total bodyweight like some are led to believe. In the view of many medical/fitness professionals you can be categorized as obese despite being underweight.  These kinds of people may look okay to you or I when fully dressed but strip off the clothes and underneath is a flabby, shapeless figure. Aside from mere aesthetics this presents some very real health issues and an all-round increased likelihood of suffering from everything from cancer to heart disease.


Gaining muscle or maintaining muscle whilst dieting is an absolute priority. Fail to do this and you will never look or feel great.   Squatting, deadlifting, split squats, pressing, rows, pull ups etc. will help you look and feel great. Your aim should be to train 3 times per week. Never be afraid to go heavy if your form and mobility are on point. If in doubt hire a coach to show you how to structure and perform these exercises and you will be far more likely to achieve the results you are after.



2>    Slowly increase your calorie intake


If you have found yourself eating very few calories and still struggling to lose any bodyweight you will need to get yourself back up to a good starting point for fat loss. Failure to do this will pin you into a corner and you will rebound as nobody can continue to deprive themselves of food for any significant period of time. If you have been restricting calories for a long stretch of time, even if you are in great shape and very lean it is important that you push your calories upwards at a slow rate. For most this should be no more than 50kcal extra per week. If your weight starts to creep up then it is time to slow the increase.  If it remains constant or even drops then you can be a little bit more aggressive and incorporate a little more in the way of total calories. Individuals who have undergone liquid-only diets or very extreme calorie-restriction diets (such as -500kcal per day) can be so metabolically “damaged” that it could take an increase of just 10kcal per week for as long as 2 years to get back on track without their health or body composition suffering. This is a very real and unfortunate issue. I find it incredibly irresponsible of people to market and promote such diets and even worse for it to be recommended by a doctor, yet this is something I see nearly every week and it is incredibly frustrating. Despite literally thousands of hours of experience, consults and sessions I am yet to see an individual experience long term success from this sort of diet.

Go slow and track your body composition, failure to do so is just guess work. Once you get your calories back to a higher point then you can start to then reverse this to start losing body fat.



3>    Do not go low fat


When dieting to extreme levels or omitting carbohydrates from your diet the biggest mistake people make is to remove or drastically reduce dietary fat. This is the worst thing you can do because eating fats will spare muscle protein.  When body fat levels drop, certain sex hormones (such as testosterone and oestrogen) can drop off.  This can lead to a decrease in vitality, low sex drive, sluggishness, mood swings, depression, infertility etc. When this happens and your motivation drops, you are going to reach for comfort foods and back away from your training and that is when the weight piles back on. Not only this but a drop in these sex hormones will lead to poor performance in your training, your sleep will worsen, your metabolic systems will slow, you may feel constantly unwell and depressed.


Interestingly enough your entire brain is made of fat, as is your CNS.  Most of your major hormones are fat soluble and every cell in your body is coated in a fat membrane. Nature supplies fats in many whole foods such as meats, nuts, milk, fish, seeds, avocado etc. yet we as a nation seem hell bent on removing it from our diets. We have been eating these foods for centuries and have never had an obesity issue as we have now.  When lowering calories or carbohydrates fat intake should actually increase. Aim for 3 servings per day from coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, oily fish, grass fed meats, avocado, full fat dairy , ghee etc. Fat is satiating, nutritious and vital for health. The only fats you should be avoiding are peanut oils, vegetable oils, margarine and hydrogenated fats found in biscuits, cakes, breads, breakfast bars, ready meals etc.


Eat the right fats and watch the body fat drop!


The diet conundrum (part 1)


This New Year, millions of individuals will set out determined to finally shed the fat and improve their health. Most people feel like they need something radical, or very different to what they are currently doing in order to see sufficient progress. The harder the effort and the greater the struggle the greater the outcome, right? Not quite!


Unfortunately most of us will look to dropping the weight by undertaking diets whose main component is to reduce and slash our total daily calorie intake to a very low level. For many individuals their total diet resembles that of an anorexic, prisoner of war during a famine, born without tastebuds. Every calorie is meticulously counted and any slight deviation is akin to murder.  This is doomed to fail from the start and here I hope to explain why.


The real key to fat loss is to position yourself so that you are eating as many calories as possible whilst simultaneously losing body fat and building/maintaining lean tissue. If you can afford to eat plenty of carbohydrates and plenty of total calories on top of a diet rich in protein, fibre and healthy fats, changing your body composition will be an easier and less challenging process.  There is much greater room for manoeuvre and capacity to make changes based on how you wish to look, feel and perform.


Our metabolic rate is governed by many factors, most notably from hormones secreted by the thyroid gland, leptin levels and muscle/tissue metabolism. If you were to half your current total calories say from 3,000kcal to 1,500kcal, it is dead certain that you would see a significant drop in bodyweight.  This weight loss would come from a loss of intracellular water, body fat and muscle tissue.


Calories in, calories out. That’s all that matters surely? If I eat less then I will lose body fat. Here is an example of how this is not correct.


Let’s take a middle aged woman (subject A) as an example.  Subject A is a 47 year old mother of two with an office job and a moderately active lifestyle.


Subject A: First day of the diet


Height: 5ft 4in

Weight: 14st

Body fat: 40%

Total daily calories required to maintain bodyweight: 2,349kcal


Currently daily caloric intake: 2,500kcal (an excess of 151kcal per day)


Let’s say that this lady started a typical western diet programme such as lighter life or weightwatchers.

Theoretically, if this lady were to drop her calories from 2,500kcal to 1,500kcal per day consistently for 2 months she would lose a considerable amount of weight and rightly so, as this is a major reduction in caloric intake. Let’s assume that this lady has at the same time decided to take up some moderate exercise consisting of three 1 hour dog walks and one aerobics class per week.  After 2 months her stats may look a little like this.


Subject A: 2 months into diet (moderate exercise) eating 1500kcal a day


Height: 5ft 4in

Weight: 13st  (a drop of one stone)

Body fat: 36%  (a drop of 4%)

Total calories required to maintain bodyweight:  1,800kcal   (549kcal per day less than day 1)


Weight lost: 5lbs of water, 5lbs of body fat, 4lbs of muscle


During these two months she was in an 849kcal deficit from her dietary changes and also burnt an additional 1,200kcal per week from her new activities (an extra 171kcal burned per day).

Her total daily caloric deficit was therefore 1,020kcal.



As you can see, this lady has made some good progress and she is likely to be very pleased with her results. However there are a few issues:


1)      Total caloric intake has dropped by 849kcal per day.  This is a big difference and will have been difficult and unpleasant to maintain.

2)      After just 2 months this lady now has to eat 549kcal less than she originally was every single day just to maintain her bodyweight. This is approximately 22% less food than what she was eating before the diet just to stay the same.

3)      The large reduction in bodyweight in such a short period of time will inevitably lead to lean muscle mass wastage.  This will result in her burning approximately 40-50kcal less every single day for every lb of muscle mass lost (i.e. in this instance 200kcal). The loss in muscle mass may also lead to a loss of stability and strength around the joints which could lead to joint pains, back issues etc.

4)      This lady still has much body fat to lose yet calories have already dropped considerably. She now has less manoeuvring space and it is inevitable that she will eat more on some days due to the significant increase in food cravings as the body attempts to rebalance the weight lost.

5)      Hunger levels will drastically rise as the hormone ghrelin increases. Constant hunger will trigger low level stress hormone release, which will increase systemic inflammatory markers and could typically increase body fat around the midsection due to glucocorticoid receptor density in the area and cortisol’s effect on the fat-storing lipoprotein lipase.  Muscle loss is also accelerated as a result

6)      The lady may begin to feel the cold more and feel more tired than usual as a result of a drop in thyroid levels


Despite a few issues and hardship, let’s assume that this lady has greater willpower and drive than most and continues to diet for another 2 months. Let’s take a look to see what happens:

Subject A: 4 months into diet (decided to drop calories from 1,500kcal to 1,000kcal and exercise everyday – 3 attending aerobics classes, 3 dog walks and a 1 hour jog at the weekend)


Height: 5ft 4in

Weight: 12st 4lbs (another 10lbs lost)

Body fat: 34% (another 2% down)

Total calories required to maintain bodyweight:  1,500kcal (another 300kcal less)


Weight loss: 3lbs of body fat, 7lbs of muscle


During these two months she was in an 800kcal deficit from her dietary changes and also burnt an additional 1,995kcal per week from her exercise activities (an extra 285kcal burned per day).

Her total daily caloric deficit was therefore 1,085kcal.



This lady has now lost a further 10lbs in the last 2 months but 7lbs of that has come from muscle tissue. This lady is now burning another 350kcal less per day because of this muscle loss. She is eating 1,000kcal a day (1,500kcal less than day 1!) and is hungry, tired and run down.


A few things now start to take place:


1)      Survival mechanisms up-regulate to preserve fat stores, whilst preferentially burning vital lean muscle tissue for energy. Stubborn fat depositions won’t budge!

2)      This lady is tired and run down and on some days resorts to binging on junk foods to rebalance peaks and troughs in blood sugar and appetite.

3)      Serotonin levels in the brain drop and she is likely to experience depression, low mood and poor motivation.

4)      Thyroid output halves and this lady feels incredibly tired, cold and lethargic. Various tissues which interact with thyroid function are also compromised. This can literally influence everything because every cell in your body can be bound to T3 and T4.

5)      The lack of total calories may lead to nutrient deficiencies so hair begins to dry out, nails crack and skin noticeably worsens. Concentration levels drop and general work productivity and drive plummets. Work becomes hard, days become long and drawn out and mood swings may occur.

6)      Insomnia may kick in so despite feeling tired all the time, sleep becomes erratic and of poor quality. Due to depleted glycogen stores this person is losing water and is regularly dehydrated, leading to headaches and fatigue.

7)      Exercise quality rapidly diminishes and the lady has started to develop inflamed joints, sore knees and a painful back. As a consequence of having little energy and less muscle she is now burning far fewer calories during her workouts

8)       She now has less sex drive than a 90 year old nun.

9)      The thought of continuing this way of living is becoming very hard. Many social occasions involving food become awkward and the idea of leading a balanced life seems impossible for fear of gaining weight.

10)  This lady notices that even small influxes in calories lead to weight gain. Her body is a skinnier, yet fat version or her former self as she has not only failed to gain muscle but actively lost it.


This lady is now in trouble and cannot drop calories any lower. She has cornered herself and has nowhere to go but up with her daily caloric intake. She still has much body fat to lose but cannot go lower without endangering her health. If she creeps her calories up she only has to go up a couple hundred calories (not very much at all!) and the weight inevitably starts piling on.



After another 3 months the lady’s stats may now look like this:

Subject A: 7 months after starting the diet she has inevitably increased her calories back up to an average of 2,000kcal per day. She can no longer exercise as she has picked up various injuries.


Height:5ft 4in

Weight: 14st 5lbs

Body fat: 44%

Total calories required to maintain bodyweight:  1,900kcal


She is now 5lbs heavier than day one and her body fat is up by 4%.  Her body also now requires 349kcal less to maintain her bodyweight.


This is now a worse position than when she started.  She is heavier and carries more bodyfat as well as less muscle mass. If she were to diet again this situation could get worse still and is likely to resemble that of the person who only has to look at a doughnut and piles weight on.  As you can see, the more crash diets you undertake, the harder it will become to achieve the body you want.

Any of this sound familiar?

How do we solve this situation? How can we fix somebody in this position? The good news is that there are ways in which to reverse this damage and there are many healthier alternatives which will lead to long term, sustainable progress.  You have to be smart!


Watch out for the part 2 or email [email protected] to arrange a consultation or session to discuss our nutrition and weight loss strategies and programming.

The Importance of Physical Strength

Not so long ago, lifting weights was limited to athletes and bodybuilders.  Developing physical strength was not something that we, the general population, were supposed to be bothered about.  Keeping our bodyweight within a certain range and performing plenty of aerobic exercise is what was recommended to maintain optimal health.


More recently however, scientists have identified muscular strength as one of the strongest predictors of mortality available, as well as the dramatic effects of the age-related decline in muscle mass.  Inactive adults have been shown to experience a 3-8% loss in muscle mass each decade.  This decline is even more profound after the age of 50, when muscle loss occurs at a rate of 5-10% each decade.  This is a huge problem for public health because skeletal muscle mass has a very strong influence on many conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.


I have built a business with a primary objective of making people stronger.  As a by-product of this strength training, my clients improve pretty much all markers of good health.  They lose body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, improve flexibility, reduce joint pain and improve their ability to function in everyday life.


Looking first at obesity, the largest component (under normal circumstances) of energy expenditure is resting metabolic rate.  Resting metabolic rate is elevated in both the short term as a result of a weight training session (more so than traditional aerobic exercise!) and in the long term by an increase in muscle mass (or a reduction in the age-related decline).  The likelihood of the food you eat being stored as fat is also massively reduced if you are regularly stimulating your muscle fibres at high intensities.  This effect is even more profound if you eat a high protein diet.


Increasing muscle mass and making the tissue more active through weight training is also an extremely effective way to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent type 2 diabetes, an increasingly prevalent condition.  Weight training also provides the mechanical forces on bones required for modelling and remodelling, aiding the maintenance of adequate bone strength and density as we age.  Interestingly, the largest loads experienced by bones come from muscle contractions (tendons pulling on bone) rather than direct external forces (e.g. landing forces), emphasising the necessity of strength and muscle mass in the prevention of osteoporosis.


In addition to the specific contribution of weight training and muscle mass to the prevention of certain conditions, there is a more general requirement for muscle mass in coping with immediate illness and trauma.  When the body is in a stressed state, such as following an injury or fighting an infection or cancer, there is an increase in the liver’s production of proteins required for immune function and wound healing.  The building blocks for these proteins (amino acids) are the same as those which make up skeletal muscle.  In severe cases, the requirement for these building blocks massively exceeds the rate at which we consume them in our diets; therefore we begin to breakdown muscle tissue to fulfil the requirement.  So if there is already a shortage of muscle mass, as there is in most sedentary individuals, the chances of being able to fully recover from serious illness or injury is massively reduced.


The take-home message is that weight training should not be viewed with apprehension by the general public, especially women and the elderly.  Instead it should be acknowledged and utilised as the exceptional tool which it is in the fight against disease.  In fact, I believe that developing physical strength and lean body mass should be the primary objective of any fitness regimen.

Healthy eating – the simplest and most effective approach

The most effective diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted.  If we take a moment to consider our genetic evolution, it is clear that changes to the human diet have occurred far too quickly for the human genome to adapt.  We are genetically identical to our ancestors of 20,000+ years ago.  Our physiology is adapted to living as hunter gatherers for the 2 million years leading up to the agricultural revolution (the Palaeolithic era).


The first evidence of any sort of domestication of plants or animals comes from around 10,000 years ago.  Although this sounds like a long time ago, human history dates back 2.5 million years!  We have therefore been living as hunter gatherers for over 99.5% of our evolutionary history!  When you then consider the even more dramatic changes to our diets that have occurred in the last 200 years since the industrial revolution, it becomes clear that our genetic code is not suited to the way we now eat.


Anthropology research has shown us that our hunter gatherer ancestors were taller than we are and virtually free of tooth cavities and bone malformations.  Additionally, despite their lack of medical care, they experienced an extremely low rate of infant mortality.  Ancient tribes that continue to this day to eat a hunter gatherer-style diet do not suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.


Modern advances in medical care have given us the ability to treat trauma and infectious diseases, which has improved our life expectancy; however the interaction of our hunter gatherer genetic code with our modern lifestyle has led to an epidemic of chronic disease and obesity.  This can be largely attributed to the dramatic change in our diets over the last 200 years or so.


Before the development of agriculture, human diets would have been limited to unprocessed wild animal and plant foods.  Today cereal, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, dairy products and alcohol make up over 70% of our diets!  The biggest contributor to obesity and chronic disease is arguably the increased consumption of sugar.  Research suggests that our hunter gatherer ancestors ate the equivalent of about 22 teaspoons of sugar per year.  Today the average person consumes 70kg of sugar per year!  These refined sugars are devoid of any vitamins or minerals, leaving us deficient in many.


Now onto the easy part: what constitutes a healthy diet?  Quite simply, a healthy diet should be composed of high quality proteins and fats (coming from meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil etc.) and lots of fruit and vegetables (they should make up the vast majority of your carbohydrate consumption).  Try to avoid grains (yes, even whole grains!), processed food and sugars, alcohol, and if trying to lose body fat, starches as well.  At first glance this may seem difficult; however there are thousands of great “Paleo” recipe books and websites to help get you going.  These are very straightforward guidelines and they will improve your health and body composition far more effectively and sustainably than any calorie restricted diet you may have followed.