Author Archives: Michela DiTocco

Training While Pregnant

By Michela DiTocco
Becoming pregnant is a wonderful and exciting time in most peoples’ lives.  It doesn’t mean that your whole life changes though. You can still enjoy the benefits of your existing training regime and see how it will benefit you during this stage of your life. It is important that by maintaining your fitness you can achieve your pre-baby body after the pregnancy sooner.
There are many benefits in training during your pregnancy including increased energy levels, gradual weight gain, improved cardiovascular fitness, and improved strength in lower back and pelvic muscles.  Although the training schedule may be slightly modified, it is recommended that you not introduce any new exercises. A few important guidelines to remember, don’t let your heart rate get above 140bpm when training, if training in hot weather always wear a hat and remain in the shade, always ensure you are well hydrated (drinks lots of water), take a few extra rest breaks during the session and avoid abdominal and high impact (running, jumping, skipping) exercises.
During the later stages of your pregnancy (2nd and 3rd trimester) remember to include exercises to strengthen your lower back, also be careful with exercises which require more balance as your sense of equilibrium may be affected. Utilise a Swiss ball for any weight based exercises, this reduces the stress on your joints and also keeps you off your feet. Your joints will also become more flexible and have a greater range of motion during pregnancy, primarily due to a hormone which is released called relaxin. This just means you need to be careful with any dynamic movement exercises and watch your range of motion in exercises like squats.
After your baby, time is precious and it is important that after 6 weeks, and your Doctor’s ok, to begin training again. If you have had a natural birth your pelvic muscles and abdominals will be very weak, so ensure you are including exercises to strengthen those areas.  The more focused you are the quicker you can achieve your health and fitness goals, just listen to your body, and your trainer, and you can have your pre-baby body back.  If you are ever unsure about what you can and can’t do with your training while you’re pregnant, train with a qualified personal trainer to ensure you are receiving the most accurate and up to date training information.

Vitamins Supplements, Are They Worth It?

Vitamins are naturally occurring substances that are found in most foods we consume in our daily diets. Although they are only required by our bodies in small amounts, they play a vital role in our health. Nutritional supplements may prevent or rectify certain deficiencies; eating a well balanced diet with lots of variety will also achieve this.

There are two main types of vitamins: water soluble vitamins, and fat soluble vitamins. This just means that they enter the body and are absorbed via different mechanisms. Water soluble vitamins include C and B-group vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K. Be aware that fat soluble vitamins are stored in fat cells when in excess, and are likely to reach toxic levels if they are consumed in large quantities (above RDI).  Also, water soluble vitamins do not stay in the blood stream for very long, so they need to be consumed in regular amounts to ensure that a deficiency does not occur.

There are many different reasons why people choose to use a nutritional supplement (multi-vitamin):

  • To supplement a poor diet
  • To improve overall health and fitness
  • To help alleviate stress
  • When they are feeling run down
  • To prolong vitality
  • To prevent or treat health issues (e.g. colds, cholesterol)
  • If you are on other medication which may deplete certain vitamins stores or inhibit their uptake
  • During pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • If a health care professional has recommended one

These are all great reasons to take a supplement, but are they necessary?

There are many health benefits from taking certain vitamin supplements, like vitamin C for immune system defence, vitamin E for cardiovascular disease protection, vitamin A for eye health, and vitamin D for strong and healthy bones; the list goes on. There are many individuals who will greatly benefit from taking nutritional supplements, including:
– Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (iron and folate)
– Women who suffer from excessive menstrual bleeding (vitamin B12, iron and folate)
– Women on a contraceptive pill (B-group vitamins)
– Strict vegetarians (iron, calcium and B12)
– Lactose intolerant individuals (calcium)
– Smokers (vitamin C)
– Alcoholics (vitamin B1)

All of these are excellent reasons to include a nutritional supplement in your daily routine.  Keep also in mind that an individual with very poor dietary habits (who isn’t going to change), will benefit from a multi-vitamin, as it will provide the RDI they need.

There are, however, valid reasons for not taking nutritional supplements:
– They are expensive
– They may guard against deficiencies, but they don’t rectify the issue of a poor diet and lifestyle
– Large, regular doses of fat soluble vitamins may cause toxicity
– Vitamins and minerals are more easily absorbed and utilised by our body from the food we eat, rather than from an artificial source
– If you consume a well balanced diet, you most likely don’t need to take a supplement (the body will eliminate excess vitamins and minerals, as it can only store certain quantities of each)

When choosing whether to buy a nutritional supplement, take into consideration why you think you need one and what deficiency you are trying to avoid, or problem you are trying to rectify. Compare brands and contents of each product, because they will vary depending on the manufacturer. Vitamin supplements can definitely be used as a “top up” to a healthy diet, to ensure your daily nutritional requirements are met.

However, if you are consuming a well balanced diet, it is not necessary to take them in the long term.

If you are unsure of whether you need a nutritional supplement or a change in your dietary habits, consult your doctor or nutritionist, to help you further understand your lifestyle and dietary habits, and what benefit vitamins and minerals can have.

Calcium – It’s An Essential Mineral

By Michela DiTocco
Calcium is an essential mineral which our body needs to function. Most commonly calcium is associated with bone strength and density; however, our body also uses it to perform other activities such as muscle contractions, nerve impulses, grow strong teeth –  the list goes on. Our body absorbs calcium via our diet and utilises it to carry out the necessary functions. Our body cannot produce its own calcium so it is important that we consume adequate amounts of this essential mineral on a daily basis. There are many foods which are rich in calcium, not just milk. All dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream and milk are excellent sources of calcium (just make sure you opt for low fat varieties). Some other foods which contain high amounts of calcium include broccoli, fish (with edible bones), tofu, baked beans, almonds, and hazelnuts. There are a lot of other products available which have been enriched with calcium to help meet the daily requirements, like orange juice, yoghurt, soy products, milk products and other juices. The recommended daily amounts of calcium are: for children <1000mg; for teenagers 1300mg; men & women 1000mg; and elderly men and women 1300mg.
One of the main reasons which we are constantly reminded to consume calcium in our diets is to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. This is a condition where the bones become brittle and lose their density and causes you to become more prone to fractures. This condition affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over 60 years in Australia. It is essential that from a young age you are consuming the RDI of calcium right throughout your life. For women from the age of 16 peak bone mass is around 80%. By age 30, maximum bone mass is reached and gradual bone loss will begin, therefore the stronger your bones are at this time the less risk you have of developing osteoporosis. For older women who have passed through menopause your bodies need for calcium increases and it becomes more difficult for your body to absorb calcium. You doctor may advise you to take calcium supplements and increase your exercise to delay the possible onset.
Calcium can also be taken as a supplement if your diet is not providing enough, under your doctor’s supervision. Such supplements are mainly recommended to women over 50 or men over 70 as their need for calcium increases. Vitamin D also plays an important role in the absorption of calcium in the body. If you become deficient in vitamin D you may also be low in calcium as they work together in the body. The best source of vitamin D is from the sun, as little as 10 minutes a day. It can also be taken in combination with a calcium supplement to improve the absorption rate.
Exercise is also an important with making our bones stronger and improving bone density. It has been well documented the positive association between weight based exercises and improved bone density. Such exercises allow you to work the joints (and not just the muscles) to improve strength and make your bones stronger over time. Also exercises such as walking, running or skipping can also improve bone density and prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
As calcium plays an important role is our day to day lives, it is important to monitor your intake and have your levels checked out by your doctor regularly if you have any concerns. A well designed weight program, by a trainer, can help you understand the benefits of weight training and bone strength and how they go hand in hand with your diet.

Benefits Of Meat

In today’s society we are a meat eating culture, where we consume some form of meat/poultry with most meals. We are told that too much meat is not good for us, that it is not good for our cholesterol and overall health; however there are many benefits in continuing to eat meat.

Red meat is a major source of b-group vitamins (B12, B1 and niacin), zinc, iron, protein, essential amino acids and long chian omega-3. Iron is important to our health and it helps our body to regenerate red blood cells. Our body absorbs on average 30% of its iron from red meat sources and only 2% from plant based sources. Zinc is vital for healthy skin and an immune system and the B-group vitamins are widely found in red meat and are used to maintain nerve cells and blood formation. Proteins in meats are complete (they contain all the essential amino acids), and these help in the body’s repair and renewal of our muscles and organs. By not consuming red meat you may become protein deficient, anaemic (low iron levels), tired and with low energy levels, constantly hungry, and having poor immunity.

Red meat and poultry can be high in saturated fats (which can raise cholesterol levels), due to the skin on poultry and the fat on certain cuts of meat. Due to the many health benefits of meat it is important to continue to consume meats; however, always opt for lean cuts with little or no fat and remove the skin from the chicken. The cooking method is important also. Healthy and recommended cooking methods include steaming, poaching, grilling, stir-fry and dry roasting.

You should be consuming red meat/poultry 2-3 times per week and for a daily serve of 65-100g (for women and men respectively). The following cuts are the leanest types and should be included in your diet regularly: chicken breast, beef rump steak, pork steak, venison, kangaroo, turkey steak and minced steak. White chicken meat (breast) contains less fat than dark meat (legs and wings) and is a healthier option. Including these in your diet a few times a week will certainly improve weight loss, and help you to avoid heart disease and reduce blood pressure.

Overall, excluding meats from your diet will not benefit you. There are numerous advantages with red meat, and as long as you choose low fat cuts of meat and cook using a healthy method, your body can obtain these important vitamins and minerals.  You will remain strong and healthy and not experience any of the symptoms you may get from not including meat in your diet.