Protein for the win

Losing weight doesn’t mean reducing intake across the board. In fact, for many of our clients at Inspirit Retreat it means increasing one thing in particular: protein.

Quite simply, protein is essential for weight loss and toning up. It builds and tones muscle, helps you feel fuller for longer, and improves the health of your metabolism.

When you’re working out your daily calories, always start with the protein. You can make up the rest of your calorie intake from carbs and fats, and can experiment with those to find a balance you enjoy, but the protein’s non-negotiable.

Females should aim for around 0.6g of protein per pound of bodyweight, while males need to be getting 1-1.5g per pound. Roughly speaking that’s a palm-sized portion of protein with each main meal for the girls, and two palms for the guys.

The best sources of protein are good quality lean meats, fish and seafood, dairy, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds (although obviously if you’re intolerant of any of these elements, avoid them).

The good news is it can make for some tasty meals. At our retreats in Portugal breakfast usually includes either lean bacon or smoked salmon with eggs and avocado, or high protein yoghurt and local fresh fruit. Washed down with some fresh coffee or a high vitamin smoothie, a protein boost gets the day off to a great start!

Carbs: don’t believe the hype

At Inspirit Retreat we spend a lot of our time dispelling myths. Here’s one: “you’ll never lose weight if you eat carbs.”

Thanks to the internet, there are a lot of overnight experts on this kind of thing – and there’s a huge amount of misinformation, too. The fact is, it’s perfectly possible to eat carbs as part of a long-term nutrition and weight loss plan.

The key word there? “Long-term.” The anti-carb brigade tend to be the ones who want immediate results after years of poor diet and stress – the ones who can’t wait to do the next cleanse, who believe they’ll find that magic supplement to make all the fat disappear, who want it all done yesterday so they never have to worry about it again.

Often, they’ll go to extremes, removing carbs and fats completely, and hardly eating any calories at all. This approach never works, and it can can sometimes do you quite a lot of harm. Apart from anything, it’s no fun at all – so why would you keep doing it?

The metabolism is incredibly complex. Thousands of chemical reactions and enzyme activities are occurring every single second. You can be storing fat in one part of the body, and burning it in another. With everything that’s going on, simply saying “drop carbs lose fat” is pretty meaningless.

Carbs are not the enemy, and they’re always on the menu at Inspirit Retreat’s base in Portugal. The important thing is that they should be part of an overall long-term diet and wellbeing strategy – and that’s exactly what we work on creating for each of our clients.

There’s no such thing as a free ride when it comes to carbs (or calories, for that matter), but you don’t have to go through purgatory either. Carbs, like every other food group, play an important part in a balanced, pleasant diet. An unbalanced, unpleasant diet is no use to anyone.

Five things not to do

Whether you want to lose weight, tone up, get fit or improve your confidence and energy, if you can make an effort to avoid these five things you’ll be well on your way…

  1. Detoxes, cleanses and restrictive diets. People who come on Inspirit Retreats are often surprised at just how much food they can eat and still see a reduction in stubborn body fat. Yes, losing weight means you need to maintain a calorie deficit, but that certainly doesn’t mean you have to eat lettuce and pine nuts all day, or put yourself through periods of extreme deprivation. It’s far better to play the long game: learn to enjoy eating real food with plenty of protein and fibre, and make it part of your life.
  2. Overdoing the cardio. Any activity is better than none, and there’s nothing wrong with running, cycling and so on – but if you’re serious about shifting body fat, then strength and resistance training should be your focus. Try and prioritize three or four resistance sessions each week, then ‘add in’ whatever cardio you enjoy – but keep it in that order. It will do wonders for your metabolism and muscle mass.
  3. Comparing yourself to others. Everyone is on their own journey. By all means get inspired by others, but their progress has nothing to do with your own. If you measure yourself against someone else’s achievements it’s a pretty sure route to frustration and failure.
  4. People who don’t support your goals. No one said putting your health and wellbeing worries behind you would be easy – you need the right network of people around you. That means spending less time with those who – consciously or unconsciously – want to sabotage your efforts. You already know who these people are. Be around people who ‘get’ you instead – a training partner or a trainer can be particularly helpful.
  5. Too much social media. Yes, we all do it. But don’t must of us have a nagging feeling that the time we spend checking (and checking, and checking…) our phones would be better used for other things? Social media is by no means all bad, but it can be a nightmare for people trying to improve areas of their lives. Just think about the health, energy and quality time you could be getting instead of starting at a screen…

Top tips for a trim tummy

One of the things we hear most often at Inspirit Retreat is “I want a flatter stomach.” That’s part of what we work on in Portugal, but there are five simple things you can start doing right now to lose that belly bulge and start looking more toned.

  1. Chew your food properly! Doing so improves the way you digest your food, which means less bloating. It also means you feel full more quickly.
  1. Track your food intake. Knowledge is power: if you’re not really sure what you’re consuming, you won’t be able to spot the patterns which will show you where you may need to make some changes. Keep an eye on how many calories you’re taking in each day. Also watch what you’re actually eating. Some people find that certain foods – dairy, gluten and some vegetables and nuts in particular – are harder to digest and may cause them issues.
  1. Look after your liver. If it’s not functioning effectively then fat is much harder to shift. You can improve the health of your liver with nutrient-dense foods, plenty of hydration and regular exercise. And you can make its life easier by cutting down on processed foods and excessive alcohol – if you do consume alcohol more than three or four times a week, your health and fat-loss are likely to plateau beyond a certain point. Stress doesn’t do your liver any favours either: supplements like milk thistle, glutathione, turmeric and artichoke can help on this front.
  1. Manage stress in general. The best way of doing this is to sleep better – both in terms of quality and duration. We find that taking zinc and magnesium half an hour before going to bed works really well, along with some deep breathing meditation. If you can start to improve your sleeping you’ll notice the results within a matter of days.
  1. Train hard and fast. Strength training and high interval cardio boost the hormones which will help you shed stubborn body fat. Effort here is never wasted.

Losing weight – how to win

Most people fail with their weight loss goals, even after extreme dieting. Often, the diets which give the biggest initial improvement actually give the greatest weight gain in the following months.

There are three common reasons why:

  1. The diet has been too restrictive, so you’re more likely to binge.
  2. The diet has been super low calorie and low protein, meaning most of the weight you lose is water and muscle. This can mess up your metabolism for months.
  3. The diet has been low fat. This is no good for your hormones, and it usually means eating more processed foods – which in turn affect your liver, your thyroids and immune system.

The good news is that you don’t have to take that path. If you’re serious about weight loss, there are some simple unflashy things you can do with your eating that really will make a big – and lasting – difference. Here’s a quick rundown…

  • Try to stay in calorie deficit – to drop weight you need a negative energy balance. But don’t go all low-calorie. Rather, stick to unprocessed foods to meet your needs, while factoring in occasional treats to keep it sustainable.
  • Drink 2 to 3 litres of water each day. A dehydrated body doesn’t work properly, and it halts stubborn fat loss.
  • Eat protein. Protein maintains muscle mass and promotes a healthy metabolism. Eggs, fish, lean meats, seafood, beans and dairy are all good sources. Women should aim for 0.6g per pound of body weight daily, men 1g per pound.
  • 12g per 1000 calories is a good target to aim for to stay healthy. That means lots of vegetables, with some fruit and grains.
  • Mixed fats are essential. Butter, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish will all boost your hormones – just keep an eye on the calorie count.
  • It’s OK to like carbs. As long as you’re mostly maintaining a calorie deficit then bread, cake and wine (in moderation…) are fine. Keep the journey an enjoyable one.
  • Resistance training is the best thing to do in the gym to lose weight. Bodyweight exercises are good for beginners, and you can move on to dumbells, kettlebells and barbells. You’ll look, move and feel better within weeks.
  • De-stress. Stress is the number one reason people hold on to fat. The place to start is by improving the quality and quantity of your sleep. Zinc and magnesium help, and it’s worth trying to stay away from screens late in the day.

We work on all of this at our retreats in Portugal. Get in touch if we can help you – and why not try these weight-loss tips today?

Having your cake and eating it

One of the most common questions Inspirit Retreat guests ask us is “What foods do I have to cut out to lose weight?” They’re sometimes surprised when our answer is “None – enjoy your food!” Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that.

If you’re serious about getting in shape you can’t just eat whatever you want whenever you want it, and it’s definitely good to understand a bit about nutrition and how it affects you. But we strongly believe that if you don’t have a diet you enjoy, it’s not going to work – and there are other lifestyle factors that are equally important anyway.

Just look at all the restrictive diets on offer out there: low carb, low fat, low calorie, gluten free, vegan, fasting and so on. If one of these diets was guaranteed to work, there wouldn’t be any others! When people have allergies or intolerances, then naturally it makes sense to cut out whatever’s causing the problem.

If not, then the one thing that can be said in favour of diets like this is that some of them might sometimes get some short-term results. But generally speaking they’re uncomfortable and unsustainable, and therefore get you nowhere in the long run.

At Inspirit Retreat, our ethos is different. Healthy eating matters but it’s a question of balance, and we’re lucky to be based in a region where the local cuisine makes it easy to prepare excellent nutritious food. The meals we serve are tailored to each guest and do get results, but they’re intended first and foremost to be enjoyed – and to lay the foundations for a future approach where taking a sensible approach to food is a positive pleasure, not a minefield of negative prohibitions.

Breakfasting Bad

These days, the importance of breakfast has been pretty well established. It’s bad to skip it, it’s bad to fill yourself up with pastries, and it’s bad if all you manage is a grande latte with two extra shots…

But there’s still a surprising amount of confusion over what you do need to do with the first meal of the day – and some mainstream views are by no means ones we’d agree with here at Inspirit Retreat.

Low-protein, high-carb breakfasts have been in vogue for some time. Porridge, breakfast cereals, toast, fruit smoothies, fruit salads, yoghurts – they all sound quite healthy, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with consuming them now and then.

These combinations, though, will tend to make you prone to snacking during the day, reduce your energy levels, send your blood sugar levels swiftly up, and stress your liver, making it harder for you to drop fat.

The Inspirit Retreat approach pays a lot more attention to the importance of protein early in the day. You’re far more likely to find us eating lean bacon & eggs, omelettes, Greek yogurt and fruit, sausage, egg and mushrooms, or smoked salmon and cheese on hi-lo protein bread. It sets us up perfectly for a day focused on fitness and wellbeing.

Why not give it a go? Try spending a fortnight taking the Inspirit approach, and see how it changes the way you look and feel. You might well find the start of the day just got better.

One more cup of coffee

Like most people, we love coffee and think it makes the world a better place. But as fitness and wellbeing experts, we have to take a professional view too.

So do you want the good news? Coffee can have huge health and weight loss benefits! That’s because coffee is a very powerful antioxidant, and if you drink it before a training session it can massively increase your fat-burning potential.

This welcome truth does come with a big disclaimer, though: the other things that go with coffee – creams, milks, sugars and syrups – can turn it into a serious source of fat. With more than 200 calories in a cup, these souped-up versions are putting inches on waists everywhere.

And that’s not the only way coffee can cause a problem with your weight. Caffeine spikes the stress hormone cortisol, which becomes chronically elevated if high amounts are consumed.

Cortisol is good, earlier in the day. We need it to mobilize energy to go about our business, and it can break down fat when we exercise. But the higher your cortisol levels are later in the day, the more fat you’ll store around your belly.

Coffee is a big part of the culture down in the Algarve where Inspirit Retreat is based, and we often go to local cafés to enjoy it – but we’re careful to use it wisely.

We recommend you drink coffee earlier in the day (ideally before 1pm), keep it as low-calorie as you can (by avoiding all the extras), and use it before training to make the most of its fat-burning properties.

We also recommend you buy quality, organic coffee which hasn’t been exposed to pesticides. These can cause issues with excess oestrogen, among many others, which isn’t much good when it comes to weight loss. And properly good coffee tastes much better, too.

Negative needs

“Need” can be a dangerous word. Many of our clients come to us because they “need” to lose weight. They’re obsessed with that stubborn belly fat, those flabby arms, those big hips…

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with identifying problem areas to address. But if all your “need” is focused on the problem itself, there’s no room left for what you’re going to do about it, and it’ll always feel like more of the same.

So here are a few simple things which will help.

  • Go beyond concentrating on what you don’t want, and be clear on what you do want instead. Be specific.
  • Now you can find out what it will take to get there. This includes diet, workouts and lifestyle changes. Don’t just pick the latest diet fad. Ask someone who consistently gets results: how do they do it?
  • Focus on where you’re heading. Stop talking about those negative “needs”, and start looking forward to those positive results: once you’ve started the process, there’s no reason at all you won’t get there if you believe in yourself – so look forward to it. Visualisation techniques can help with this.
  • Be consistent with your training and diet. Yes, it would be nice to say it’s all in the mind, but be sensible and practical about the daily basics too.

If you “need” (!) any advice to get you started, reach out and we’ll help point you in the right direction.