The Lean Mean Salsa Machine (A concise guide to Eating, Moving and Sleeping)

23 May

No matter what you attempt in life, if your body isn’t in tip-top condition, reaching your goals will be nowhere near as easy as when your at your optimum.

For this reason I try to keep myself as healthy as circumstances allow and I’ve developed a pretty good awareness of what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve been interested in nutrition and exercise science since I was a chubby, unfit 15 year old who spent his time eating junk, playing video games and watching excessive amounts of TV. Since then I’ve devoured a small library of texts about health and I’ve changed my lifestyle considerably and now, thankfully, feel and look a whole lot better.

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach!

Abs: for many, the whole world of fitness and nutrition seems to boil down to a hard, lumpy stomach! Just in case you’re wondering, these aren’t my abs (I never wear black)!

When I’m running at optimum, it makes everything else I do a breeze and I believe that everyone else should do their utmost to look after their bodies so they can always bring their A-game to the dance floor (and everywhere else in life).

I could (and probably will at some stage) write individual posts for many of the points I’m going to mention here, but for the time-being I’m just going to give a concise guide to some easily modifiable aspects of your lifestyle. There are many people who will disagree with some of these points but that doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m only going to talk about things that I know work or have worked for me and may work for you too.

A note on individuality and self-assessment
Everybody is different (thankfully) and that means what works for one may very well not work for another. Thus, I can’t stress the importance of actively experimenting and trying to find what works best for you.
Please try out the following recommendations (and whatever variations of them which you can come up with) and take note of how your body reacts over time. Keep what works for you and discard whatever doesn’t.
Unfortunately, a lot of us these days have been in a state of suboptimal health for so long that we no longer know what it feels like to be truly healthy. So get some outside help and monitor your progress by measuring whatever values you can (weight, body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol etc.) before and after you make these changes. Give them time (at least 4 weeks) to take effect and hopefully at that stage these healthy habits will have stuck.

The following points are in no particular order. While I consider them all important I will make note of those which I feel have a particularly profound affect on your health. Obviously, the cumulative affect of a number of these together is greater than doing any one on it’s own.

Get enough sleep

This one is incredibly important. Lack of sleep disrupts hormones enormously especially those involved in growth and repair and appetite control. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for your body to reset and repair itself every day so can be ready for what the day throws at you.

I know from experience that when I don’t get enough sleep (for me 7-8 hours) the next day I’ll be rife with food cravings and much more likely to eat something that I shouldn’t, when I shouldn’t. Lack of sleep is one of the major reasons (I believe) that people develop food cravings that sabotage their attempts to eat healthily.

What constitutes enough sleep? This varies for everyone, some need less, some more, but I feel that 7-8 hours is a good starting point. If you have trouble sleeping try to address it as soon as possible (it may be as simple as using earplugs and an eye-mask, which I’ve been doing for years).

Don’t smoke

If you’re still doing this, you’re an idiot. Quit!

Don’t drink

While there may be some minor benefits to a little alcohol, these are far outweighed by the detrimental effects of its consumption in excess (experience tells me that the majority of people who drink, do so in excess).

I’m very lucky in that I never started drinking when I was a teenager and neither have I ever felt the necessity to do so. Do your body and your wallet a favor and either reduce your alcohol consumption significantly or eliminate it altogether.

Learn to read food labels

You can not know what you’re consuming if you don’t what is in your food. Learn to read food labels quickly (just takes a little practice) so you can scan them and eliminate unhealthy choices quickly and efficiently.

A good rule of thumb is; the longer the ingredient list the less likely it is to be a healthy food choice.

Eat enough fruit & vegetables to put a small cow to shame

Your parents were not lying to you when they told you to eat more veggies as a kid. Vegetables are not only full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants but they also contains hundreds, even thousands, of so far undocumented substances that can have a profound effect on keeping us healthy and disease free.

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you're not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you're not eating enough?

This is an example of what I have to lug home from my local supermarket every week! If you’re not getting exercise just by carrying your veggies home, you’re not eating enough?

Eat as many different coloured vegetables as you can every day but focus on dark-green leafy vegetables (like spinach, lettuce, cabbage etc.) and try to get plenty of them raw too. Make it a point to eat one huge, leafy-green salad every day.

Caveat: You should be eating vastly more vegetables than fruit, as veggies are far more nutritionally dense and some fruits contain a lot of sugar (which is fine if your exercising regularly but may not be so good for you if your sedentary). For moderately-active to active people, 3 to 5 pieces of fruit a day is fine (1 piece is equivalent to an apple, a banana, a medium slice of pineapple, a big handful of berries etc.). Dried fruit should be avoided, it’s far too calorie dense.

Cook for yourself

The most surefire way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body is to prepare your own food (or as much of it as possible).

I’ve always loved cooking but if you can’t, now is the time to learn. You don’t need to be a master chef either. Just learn a few healthy recipes that you like and alternate them.

You don’t have time, you say? I’m a time-efficiency freak so I’ve developed a few routines to keep my kitchen time as low as possible. The trick is to cook in bulk. I prepare up to 10 meals worth of food in a gigantic pot, divide it into separate containers, freeze it and then just heat it up when I need it. At any one time, my freezer is full of different chilies, curries and stews ready to be eaten at a moments notice.

Eliminate grains from your diet

I never buy bread, pasta or rice. Grains, especially processed ones are simply sources of calories and provide little nutritional value when compared to other carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and legumes.

Whatever nutrients they do contain are poorly absorbed due to compounds they contain called phytates which bind to minerals in food and prevent their absorption in your gut. So all you get is a hefty dose of carbohydrates that wreaks havoc with your blood sugar and will leave you feeling hungry in a few short hours.

The worst offenders are gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats as the gluten content has a negative effect on digestibility and gut health which, although not having as strong an affect in the general population as in people with coeliac disease, can result in sub-par physical condition. Think of how full you felt the last time you had a heavy meal full of pasta or bread, it probably took quite a while for that uncomfortably full, bloated feeling to subside. That’s more than likely the gluten blocking up your digestive tract.

Do this as a test; entirely eliminate gluten containing grains and their products from your diet for about 3 weeks and then have a meal containing bread or pasta. Do not expect to feel well a few hours later!

Eliminate processed sugar

SUGAR IS THE DEVIL!!! Repeat it until the phrase sticks in your head folks, “Sugar is the devil”.

This one point alone will have a huge affect on your health (and appearance).

The real culprit in sugar is probably fructose which more and more scientific studies are showing has negative affects on health when consumed in excess (which is what most people consume). It has been linked to obesity, liver damage, high blood pressure and even gout. No one wants gout!

Unfortunately, sugar is as addictive as crack (or so I’ve read) and is ubiquitous in modern processed foods. Sugar is pure carbohydrate with absolutely no nutritional value and you should avoid it in all it’s forms so check labels for the following; table sugar, high fructose corn-syrup, honey, raw cane sugar, fructose, sucrose, rice syrup, agave syrup etc. Although some of these are lauded as health foods, they are virtually all identical; almost pure sugar, devoid of fiber and containing only trace amounts (if any) of vitamins and minerals.

I have, in the past, dropped my body-fat significantly by simply eliminating foods containing refined sugar, and nothing else, from my diet.

Remember, “Sugar is the devil!”

Get enough protein

Be it animal or vegetable protein, aim for about one gram per kilogram of lean body-weight. Protein helps to repair your body (especially after strenuous exercise) and keeps you feeling fuller for longer than carbs or fat.

Good sources are lean meats, fish, eggs and (if your a vegetarian/vegan) properly cooked legumes like lentils and beans. A simple rule of thumb is that you get between 20-25 grams of protein per 100 grams of uncooked meat or legumes.

Get adequate Omega-3 oils

Diets high in Omega-3 oils have been shown to improve symptoms of chronic inflammation (such as arthritis and psoriasis), depression, heart disease and a whole host of other ailments common in the modern world. Unfortunately they’re not so easy to consume if you don’t eat a lot of oily fish, like trout and salmon, which are amongst the best sources of these healthy fats.

While Omega-3 oils can be found in plant sources like flax and chia seeds, walnuts and hemp oil, they need to be converted to more active forms (EPA and DHA) by the body, which is not very efficient at doing this. So in my opinion the best way to get them is to eat a large portion of fatty fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel once a week. If you’re a fan of salmon sashimi like I am this will be good new for you. If you’re not a big fish fan (like I was before I lived in Japan and Colombia) you can always buy Omega-3 supplements (of which Krill-oil is now supposed to be the best option).

Exercise

Your body was made to move and if your not moving, your doing yourself a great disservice. Doing any type of exercise is better than doing none but I really recommend lifting weights (here’s the routine I recommend that actually made me love going to the gym) for the huge changes it can bring about in your appearance and in how you feel everyday. Lifting weights is a great form of exercise for both men and women (ladies, don’t believe any “lies” you may have heard about women who lift weights ending up looking like the incredible hulk, it just doesn’t happen like that. Some of the most beautiful bodies I have ever seen have been those of women who lift weights regularly).

This is what you look like without exercise. Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!!

This is what you look like without exercise.
Remember: diet makes you look good in clothes, exercise makes you look good naked!!! (The spelling mistake isn’t mine)

If you can’t find a gym try body weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups etc at home. If you can’t do anything else, running is fine but you get much more bang for your buck, so to speak, by dedicating your time to more intense exercise like weightlifting.

That said, the effect of regular, low intensity exercise can’t be ignored. I know from experience that I lose weight quickly if I’m social dancing 3 or 4 times a week and when I’m cycling a lot. A bicycle is usually one of the first things I buy when I move to a new city and I try to travel by bike as much as possible so I’m getting some exercise everyday.

Avoid environmental toxins

This one, unfortunately, is not so easy to accomplish in the modern world. Our food, homes, cooking utensils and hygiene products are loaded with chemicals that disrupt hormones and in many cases are linked to cancer and other diseases.

For this, I try to reduce the amount of chemicals I use in my home as much as possible, I never cook with aluminium nor  non-stick cook-wear and I reduce the amount of contact my food has with plastics of all types.

Fast

These days, people eat a lot, so much so that we can rarely truly say that we have an empty stomach. A great deal of research these days is revealing the beneficial effects of fasting, especially in the area of weight loss.

I’ve practiced fasting, in one form or another, since I was in university and have always felt better because of it. It gives your body, especially your digestive system, a chance to rest and reset for itself and it has a hugely beneficial effect on the hormonal systems involved in repair, weight loss and blood sugar control. I used to do a weekly one day fast but now I practice intermittent fasting (eating a late lunch and dinner and no breakfast) almost everyday.

Not only do I feel healthier doing this but I also save a huge amount of time during the day as instead of eating 4 times a day, as I used to, I only eat two big meals daily which means I spend a lot less time preparing food and have more free time to dedicate to things I want/need to do. Hunger pangs are rare and when they do happen they last for less than 5 minutes and then disappear. I also feel an amazing mental clarity while I’m fasting which I can only attribute to much more stable blood sugar and hormones. Give it a try and feel the difference.

Be flexible

The world is not perfect and neither are humans. No one can be expected to eat perfectly all the time. Life gets in the way; parties, dinners, dates, holidays, stress etc. can all mess up the best of intentions. If you slip up, accept it and get back on track as quickly as possible (I find fasting a great way to reset the system after a lapse into poor eating) and remember it’s what you do most of the time that maters rather than what you do 100% of the time.

If you need help sticking to any type of eating habit you can find a whole load of useful tips in these articles here and here.

Looking at this list now, it doesn’t appear to be as concise as I had first expected. Still, I hope you found something useful here and it helps you make your life and your body a little (hopefully a lot) healthier.

I love talking about health so I’d love to hear your comments and questions on this post.

Stay healthy and keep dancing.

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5 Responses to “The Lean Mean Salsa Machine (A concise guide to Eating, Moving and Sleeping)”

  1. Brendan January 3, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Good words, and good to see it in “print”.
    Nutrition is an integral part of training of any form. Some are genetically lucky, but for most of us, a proper diet helps ensure the physical energy & control, and mental alertness and focus needed to learn to&enjoy dance.

    Particularly true for us very pale stiff Northern Europeans IMHO….

    General exercise/training outside of Salsa helps a lot too – as at least until one gets to a reasonable level of ability, you’ll likely not be doing enough/energetic enough dancing for it to have a fitness benefit.

    Finally – I’m unconvinced on fasting as yet, I need to research/trial more myself, but one related point is that of Timing of food and food types.
    e.g Eating a (healthy/natural) source of simple sugar after an hour or two of intense exercise/salsa is, IMHO, actually the right thing to do (protein included also).
    The exact same quantity of sugar when you sit down to a movie after working a sedentary job all day is a very different story.

    • The Dancing Irishman January 3, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      Hey Brendan, thanks for the comment.
      You’re very right about salsa beginners not getting enough dance time in for it to have any visible effect. It takes a while for them to build up enough confidence to spend a whole night dancing.
      As for fasting check out http://www.leangains.com/ it has some excellent information on intermittent fasting. I’ve been doing it for a while now and I can’t recommend it enough.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How to be stronger than you’ve ever been in your life! | The Dancing Irishman - January 3, 2014

    […] Eat well. Make sure you’re getting sufficient calories and protein (here’s a great link that breaks down what you should be consuming on training and non-training days). I’ve also written an article with some great tips on what constitutes healthy eating. […]

  2. Why Salsa Dancing is the Greatest Fat-Burning Exercise EVER!!! | The Dancing Irishman - April 8, 2014

    […] Mr. Reynolds to shame. If you need some tips on tweeking your diet you can check out these articles here and […]

  3. Intermittent Fasting: Why I haven’t eaten breakfast in over two years! | The Dancing Irishman - July 22, 2014

    […] getting lean wasn’t the result of IF exclusively, my actual diet and exercise plan played a role but the great thing about IF is how easily it fits around other […]

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