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Getting "Stage Lean": Is It Worth It?

I'm on FaceTime with my friend around 11 in the morning. It's peak week.

After having a coffee, I've cracked an energy drink. I'm wearing two pairs of pants and two sweaters because I can't get warm. My eyes look heavy in the small box that stares back at me.

"Being this lean is the furthest from glamorous I've ever felt."

She seems surprised. I go further "I live in sweatpants, I can't think clearly, I feel dumb, I can't sleep, and my workouts are no longer enjoyable. I am weak. Meanwhile everyone is telling me I look great and strong, this is messed up!"

My friend tells me she's relieved. That there's all this pressure to look good in a crop top and have abs. "It's not worth it," I sigh.

The last few weeks of my contest prep were hard. My calories hovered around the 1200 calorie range on low carb days, scarily enough - the magic number often prescribed to women of any weight or size to lose weight - and I felt like I was dragging myself through life.

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Things I did on low carb days:

  • Turned the hose on pointed at my face while trying to wash the car
  • Nearly bit my tongue off twice in the same day eating salad
  • Left my headlights on all night
  • Forgot to pack underwear to gym to change for work, so wore my workout leggings under my jeans
  • Lost some bladder control
  • Spelled my own name wrong (Gillian with a J instead of G)

Luckily, unlike a lot of these diets prescribed to women, it was short term suffering after months of eating very high calories and macros (I was eating 2300+ calories while bulking...around 2500 some days!) while building strength and muscle that I slowly tapered down to get "stage lean".

While bulking

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Stage lean

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And it worked. Like a sculpture, the fat was chipped away and my muscles were revealed. While I hated being hungry, I loved seeing the result of my hard work. And since I was working with science, I got to add in high carb days to keep my body out of starvation mode and my sanity intact (read more about the science of refeeds here.)

I was able to push through because I knew the suffering was short term and that I would soon gain my health back after show day by going back into maintenance calories (along with some fat).

Unlike some competitors, I made a point of avoiding fat burners, stimulants other than caffeine, water and sodium depletion.

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Like a science experiment, my coach and I played around with low and high carb days, and discovered I looked best after high carbs. I actually had two consecutive nights of big pasta dinners and wine leading up to my show, and loaded up on salt, fat and carbs on show day. While I was by no means the leanest on stage, I brought my personal best.

The whole process taught me that getting lean - especially lean with muscle showing - takes A LOT of work. To achieve the look that most of us are going for takes a lot of practice, research and sacrifice. For the average person, it is by no means worth it. If you're passionate about competing or need to be on the cover of a fitness magazine, then yeah, it's worth suffering for.

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As someone who has really embraced a stronger, fuller body over the years (I was underweight and struggled with an eating disorder through part of my late teens and twenties) it was weird. I actually didn't feel as sexy as I did when I was bulking. I lost desire to put effort into my personal appearance and instead needed to focus on staying warm and awake.

While it's easy to say "man, I want a six pack", it's not easy to get. I believe you can achieve anything you set your mind to, so if you want it, by all means, go for it, but be prepared to suffer and sacrifice a lot. For most women it also means losing your period and throwing your hormones out of whack.

After a long improvement season, I can definitely see myself competing again, which would include another dieting stage. I loved presenting my hard work with pride. And leading up to competing again I will get to eat and lift plenty to gain more muscle. Hello brain AND body gains!

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So...getting stage lean...is it worth it? For the stage - yes. For real life - probably not.

Now excuse me while I go make myself a snack and enjoy my functioning body and brain.

Comparing Protein Powders

Trying to pick a protein powder can be overwhelming. While I believe you can definitely get enough protein from plants and animals, I love having a protein powder on hand to add to my morning smoothies, oatmeal and sweet creations. It helps to balance my hormones, build my muscles, make me feel strong and emotionally stable.

But where to begin in choosing one? I've tried a huge variety, so I've lined up a side by side comparison of some of my favourites:

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NuZest

  • Protein: 21.07g (per 25g)
  • Ingredients: Pea protein isolate, natural vanilla, natural fruit protein.
  • Flavours: Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Creamy Cappucino
  • Pros: Clean Lean Protein is protein in its purest form - all natural and free from all common allergens. It's 100% vegetable, yet has all the potency (and them some) of other proteins.   Has all 9 essential amino acids and more.
  • Cons: Need to order online.
  • Cost: $44.95 for a 500g tub (20 servings) *trial and small packets also available
  • Taste: One of the best tasting plant protein powders I've tried
  • Calories: 95 calories (25g serving)

Nutrition-Panels-Vanilla

*stats from Vanilla flavour

 

quest protein

Quest

  • Protein: 22g per scoop (28g)
  • Ingredients: Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein), Natural Flavors. Contains less than 2% of the following: Cellulose Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Steviol Glycosides (Stevia), Salt, Carrageenan, Sucralose.
  • Flavours: Chocolate, Peanut butter, Strawberries and Cream, Vanilla, Multi-Purpose Mix
  • Pros: High protein, very low carb and sugar, tastes like dessert!  Great for baking or mixing into basically anything.
  • Cons: Not available in Canada yet, slightly artificial tasting.
  • Cost: $39.99 for a 2lb canister online
  • Taste: Amazing (even if a little artificial)
  • Calories: 100 per scoop (28g)

*stats from Vanilla flavour

sun warrior

Sun Warrior

  • Protein: 15g (per 21g scoop)
  • Ingredients: Raw Whole Grain Brown Rice Protein, Rice Oligodextrin, Vanilla Extract, Stevia, Xanthan Gum, Ancient Sea Salt, Pectin.
  • Flavours: Natural, Vanilla, Chocolate
  • Pros: 100% plant-based, alkaline-forming, and provides a complete, balanced array of essential amino acids.  Sunwarrior uses an old-world, low temperature, enzymatic process that includes the whole grain of brown rice, including the germ, endosperm, and bran.
  • Cons: Not everyone enjoys the taste, lower protein and higher carb than other powders (new warrior blend has higher protein and lower carbs).
  • Cost: $29.97 for a 500g tub (online - US)
  • Taste: A little earthy, not everyone is a fan
  • Calories: 80 per scoop (21g)

*Stats based on classic vanilla flavour

vegaone

Vega One

  • Protein: 20g per scoop
  • Ingredients:

vegaone ingredients

  • Flavours: French Vanilla, Vanilla Chai, Chocolate, Natural, Berry
  • Pros: Made from real, whole food ingredients and packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and probiotics.
  • Cons: Earthy tasting, higher calories and carbohydrates relative to other protein powders.
  • Cost: $39.99 for a small tub, 69.99 for a large tub (Online in Canada)
  • Taste: A little earthy, but not bad, good in smoothies!
  • Calories: 160 per scoop (46g)

*Stats based on French vanilla flavour

Vega Protein Smoothie

  • Protein: 15g per scoop (22g)
  • Ingredients:

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  • Flavours: Bodacious Berry, Choc-a-lot, Oh Natural, Tropical Tango and Viva Vanilla flavors
  • Pros: Lower calorie, blends well into smoothies.  Two servings of veggies, including Vega'€™s signature greens blend.
  • Cons: Lower protein, not cheap, and only available in smaller sizes.
  • Cost: 19.99 for a 264g pouch
  • Taste: Most are fine, but the chocolate is really good!
  • Calories: 90 per scoop (22g)

*Stats based on vanilla flavour

shakeologypic

Shakeology

  • Protein: 16g per scoop (35g)
  • Ingredients:

shakeology

  • Flavours: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Greenberry and Chocolate Vegan
  • Pros:  Antioxidants and Phytonutrients – to help detoxify and protect the body against free radical damage.  Adaptogen Herbs – to help increase energy and combat stress.  Prebiotics, Probiotics, Fiber, and Digestive Enzymes – to aid digestion and promote regularity.  More than 70 super-nutritious ingredients. Proteins, Vitamins, and Minerals – to help reduce hunger and food cravings.
  • Cons: The cost and ordering system is a huge setback.  It's also higher in carbs and sugar than some.
  • Cost: $142.95
  • Taste: Good - the whey based ones are much more delicious than the vegan one.
  • Calories: 130 per scoop (35g)

 

 

My final thoughts:  Choosing the right protein powder for you totally depends on your goals, current diet, and budget.  I like all of the protein powders listed above and vary them depending on what I'm looking for.  I'm currently digging Quest protein powder because it fits my budget, tastes delicious, and I'm getting enough vitamins and minerals from my diet and multivitamin, but I'll likely switch it up again soon!

 

Did I miss one of your favourites?  What do you like to use at home?

Next... your favourite protein bars reviewed.  Any requests?

The Coffee in Paris is Brewing

When I lived in Paris I grew accustomed to the typical Parisian brew: strong, bitter and acidic. While I loved my morning ritual of standing at the counter with a string of older men for my one euro espresso, I often chased it down with a cube of sugar before darting out to start my day.

These days, Paris is changing.  While not everyone likes it, I am happy to finally be able to get a great cup of coffee.

Last Saturday, after a late night of wining and dining, I needed one.  I stopped into Holybelly Cafe near the Canal St.Martin where Nico Alary, one of the owners, was kind enough to whip me up the first cup of the day while I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

I loved Nico's response to the NY times article on 'How Hipsters Ruined Paris':

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The cup was the opposite of the what I used to drink in Paris.  Nico explained that most places use a mix of low grade beans which are roasted really dark in big batches, then prepare the coffee in machines that are never cleaned.  They all end up tasting the same - a little bit like charcoal.  At Holybelly they use locally roasted beans from Belleville Brûlerie and he cleans his machine daily.  The result is a dreamy, creamy cup of coffee.

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Nico opened the cafe with his partner in crime Sarah Mouchot in October.  His coffee obsession started in Australia where the pair lived for three years and Nico worked as a barista and Sarah worked as a chef.  It's also where he got his croissant tattoo, a tribute to his favorite French pastry that he longed for during his stay.

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The two bring their skills together brilliantly at Holybelly – Nico runs the front of house and Sarah runs the kitchen in the back.  The duo are passionate about what they do and even documented their whole journey to open the café here.

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Nico and I spoke about how Paris is changing.  While some moan about hipsters taking over, it's become a blurry label.  Can anyone clearly define what hipsters are anymore?  What I see clearly is a movement of young people who care about their craft.  In a city like this it's easy to bank on what was: you can serve tourists crappy espressos and overpriced food simply because it's Paris.  While a really great cup of coffee made by a smiling tattooed barista might not fit the typical Parisian daydream, the reality is there's a lot more to love.  The old brasseries have their own charm but I have had enough rude service and bitter espressos to last me a lifetime.

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You can see that the local clientele agrees. While sitting with Nico regulars dropped in one after the other, up bright and early on a Saturday morning for their epic looking brunch (I spotted some incredible looking bacon and pancakes) and caffeine fix.

Places like this that make me feel like I could move back to Paris.  While I'll always be drawn here for the romance, it never lasts.  A good cup of coffee, that's another thing.

Holybelly Café
19 rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010
+33 9 73 60 13 64
Metro: Jacques Bonsergen