Muscle, Exercise and Protein


One of the things I love over Christmas and New Year is watching The World’s Strongest Man contest. It’s brilliant to see these guys carrying cars and tossing kegs.

Dr Gabrielle Lyon did a podcast with Dr Rangan Chatterjee and said that if we gain more muscle, we can protect our skeleton, improve mobility and balance, burn more fat, lower our risk of disease, increase our energy levels and live longer, better lives.

The WHO definition of healthy ageing is “to retain functional independence”.  So it’s the strength rather than the size of muscles  that matters and the new drugs that only increase muscle mass do not bring benefits.


Our muscle mass reaches its peak in our mid-30s and then goes down by about 1% per year. For over 60s, it’s been found (WHO) that the death rate is halved in the strongest 1/3 of the population. If you didn’t get an exercise habit when you were young, it becomes more and more important as you get older.

Muscles store energy as glycogen, a type of sugar. With less muscle, there’s less storage space for sugar and this can change your metabolism making insulin resistance and diabetes worse. Muscles also burn energy all the time even when you’re resting, so increasing your muscle is great for weight loss.

Hospitalization presents another danger. 10 days of bed rest causes a muscle loss of 2% in a young person but 10% in an elderly person. That’s 10 years of muscle loss in just over a week and very hard to get back. Accelerated muscle loss in the elderly is called sarcopenia and is a cause of frailty, falls and death.


Even though muscle is important in so many ways, weight training remains much less popular than aerobic exercise. Gyms can put people off – the costs, the equipment, the other people that go there…(!)… Luckily, it’s easy enough to do resistance training at home, either with some simple hand weights (eg dumbbells, tins or bottles) or your body weight (eg press-ups, lunges and squats).

Large weights put people off and can cause injury. Fortunately you can get a similar benefit by using small weights and doing the exercises very slowly. Women worry about getting big muscles but it’s very unlikely. I’ve been weight training for 40 years and my upper arms still measure only 10″ (25cm) like they always have.

Best of all is to do a mix of exercise types. Gabrielle recommends resistance training at least four days a week plus high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Dan John suggests everyone >50 should check that they’re able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds, so a 30-sec deep squat, hang from a bar for 30s, get off the ground without using their hands and do a 5 foot standing long jump. Brendan Egan recommends 2 sessions of strength work and 3 sessions of aerobic a week plus stretching/flexibility – I once heard Donny Osmond say, “as you get older it’s important to stay limber.”

Another big hazard is sitting for long periods. Just stand up every 20-30 minutes to engage with gravity – it’s called non-exercise movement (see Joan Vernikos, Sitting Kills) and brings big benefits for something so simple.

Brendan concluded from his studies that it’s never too late to start exercising and everyone can gain strength. Find a gym or personal trainer to advise you if you’ve never done it before or look at YouTube and people like Joe Wicks. Anything you do is good and if you start doing more than you’ve been doing before, that’s great so have a go and feel good about getting moving.


We all need protein, and not just for building muscles. Protein is made of amino acids and these building blocks are also essential for making your bones, enzymes and hormones. There are ways of calculating how much you need if you’re willing to go to the trouble. Dr Stuart Phillips believes the sweet spot is ~1.2g of protein per kg of body weight. The modern carb-heavy diet mean we get little protein except in the evening meal.

I encourage people to include three things in every meal: plants, proteins and fats. Most breakfasts are not much more than sugar and really class as deserts so it’s the meal with most scope for improvement eg by adding some egg, ham or fish. In Norway they serve herrings done 3 ways. This morning I had mackerel (protein) with half a pear (plant), some seeds (fat) and half a slice of buttered (fat) toast.

If you don’t want protein in your breakfast, you could add more to your lunch, like this salad. There’s a threshold of about 20g to trigger muscle building (3 eggs or a couple of ounces of meat). In studies of older adults, protein and exercise, Brendan Egan found the key amino acid is leucine (whey is a good source) and that omega 3 fats increase the effect suggesting that animal proteins are better. On the other hand I just saw a pubmed abstract of a 10-week study showing similar results from exercise with plant only or mixed omnivorous protein.

There’s no need to go mad though. If you eat more protein than you need, or you eat it without exercising, your body will turn it into carbohydrate and burn it or turn it into fat, which is a waste of such a high quality food when we all get more than enough carbohydrate already.

Older people will need more protein in each meal just to meet their basic needs. Appetite decreases with age often leaving people getting too little. At the same time, absorption decreases so it’s a double whammy.

When trying to build or retain muscle, timing matters too. Brendan’s trials found that eating a high-protein snack 20 minutes after exercising is best. After 2h the muscle-building effect is lost.

Bonus Nutrients

Protein source foods bring other valuable nutrients with them and the type matters as well as the amount. Animals fed on grass produce superior fatty acid profiles to animals kept indoors and fed on grains and soya. If you don’t eat animal foods you are probably deficient in vitamin B12, iron, sulphur, creatine, carnosine, taurine, long chain omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA), collagen and conjugated linoleic acid. There are supplements available. Fake meats should be avoided by everyone. They usually contain high levels of harmful omega 6 fats as well as chemicals (not necessarily listed on the label) to make them look and taste fit to eat.  As always, eat real food.

Top tip – Do resistance exercise and include protein in your meals.

Quote of the Month – Type 2 Diabetes

Obesity is NOT part of ageing.

Diabetes is NOT part of ageing.

They are causing untold damage to people & health services worldwide.  The pandemic we should all be worried about is the ‘Alarming’ rise in type 2 diabetes among UK under-40s.

The good thing – IT IS REVERSIBLE.

Dr Karen Malone

Here are some extracts from an article in the Guardian (Andrew Gregory).

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

The growing numbers of overweight and obese children and young adults across the UK is now translating into an “alarming acceleration” in type 2 diabetes cases among those aged 18 to 39.

The number of people under 40 in the UK diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has jumped 23% from about 120,000 in 2016-17 to 148,000 in 2020-21.

This analysis confirms an incredibly troubling growing trend, underlining how serious health conditions related to obesity are becoming more and more prevalent in a younger demographic,” Chris Askew, the chief executive of Diabetes UK, said.

Until recently, type 2 diabetes has been quite rare in people aged under 40.

The condition can have a devastating impact on people and their families – it is a leading cause of preventable sight loss and lower limb amputation, and increases the risk of kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes.

– – – – –

A 23% increase in 4 years is unbelievably huge!!! Diabetes is a killer and needs to be taken seriously. And obesity certainly took a huge step up in just 2 years due to lockdown.

The best news –

lots of GP surgeries will now help you manage your diabetes or put it into drug-free remission with diet and lifestyle.


Your Best You Helps the NHS

It’s clear that the NHS is in dire straights and we hope it’s not broken beyond repair. It’s understaffed and over-burdened and people are suffering and dying from not being able to get help they need, when they need it.

  • It’s not just that it’s underfunded.
  • It’s not just that it’s hampered by bloated, unsuitable systems with lots of wasted resources.
  • It’s not just that it’s understaffed (exacerbated by staff losses due to a badly executed Brexit and Matt Hancock’s mandates).
  • It’s not just the bed-blocking (again exacerbated by mandates that cost the already struggling care sector 40,000 workers, laid off for refusing to be bullied into giving up their right to informed consent).

By all means lobby your MP to sort out the big top-level problems.

And also think about how you can help more personally.

The main thing the NHS struggles with is

  • ever increasing demand.

And not just from the ageing population – who could and should be healthy enough to mostly take care of themselves, but also from younger and younger people. The percentage of the population succumbing to lifestyle-related diseases (T2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Cancer, Alzheimer’s) continues to go up and up and up.

Obesity and related diseases took a massive, sudden step up because of lockdown. Some people did use the time as an opportunity to get fitter but most didn’t and I bet you know people who are still heavier now than in 2019.

One of the best things you can do to help the NHS is to be your best you. To use them as little as possible – for the things they can fix that you can’t.

To quote Dr Phil

Health care begins with self-care.

So take self-care to the next level.  Do all you can to avoid such chronic diseases as can be avoided by prioritising movement, fresh air, sunshine, rest, stress reduction, relationships, sleep and real food. However young or old you are, whatever maladies afflict you, it’s always worth looking after yourself as well as you possibly can.

In recent conversations, people have asked, “What do you do?” And then when I said, “Nutrition Coaching”, exclaimed (while patting their tummies) “Ooooh I could do with some of that!!!” It wasn’t one person, or two, but several. People know what they need, they know what they’re unhappy with and they know what they want.

Translating desire into action is a different thing. Yes, their enthusiasm could carry them through to action, but what action?  You need to know the right things to do.

I can give you understanding of why many real foods you’ve been avoiding are actually your friends and help you learn to eat well.

So far, so good – enthusiasm and understanding are hugely important; so is commitment.

1.Commitment to change

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” (I’ve seen this attributed to many people from Albert Einstein or Henry Ford to Forest Gump).

If you’re not slim and healthy the way you’re eating now, you won’t become slim and healthy eating the way you’re eating now.  You need to reach the point where you’re ready for change.

2.Commitment to effort

You’ll have good reasons why you do what you currently do. Haven’t got time? Ready meals so much easier than cooking? There are always better solutions. OK, it might take a little while to get used to new habits but the extra energy you’ll have will compensate for the time taken to prepare your own food.

3.Commitment to yourself

Need to do this for this person? Or something else for someone else? Or your job? Or your family? Great. Except your own good intentions can easily get squeezed out. By moving yourself higher up your priorities you can start to enjoy better health. With extra energy you’ll be able to look after everyone else better too.

That’s why I’ll be asking for your commitment as a client if you want to work with me. We’re all wasting our time if all you gain is understanding of how your current diet is harming you while you carry on eating the same. If you’re determined to subsist on breakfast cereal, low-cal ready meals, take-aways and fizzy pop, then no-one can help you much.

If you’re serious about making your health important in your life then I can help you to enjoy a more vibrantly healthy life, – and you’ll help the NHS.

Top tip – Be your best you to help the NHS

Quote of the Month – don’t ignore your body

If you are overweight, your body is trying to tell you it doesn’t like being ignored”

Paul McKenna

Deprivation, calorie counting, strange foods, non-foods.

There are lots of ways to ignore your body

it’s called going on a diet.

Short-term weight loss draws people to diets but deprivation slows your metabolism forcing 98 out of every 100 people to put the weight back on later.

You can enjoy diet clubs for group support and recipe ideas but tweak to avoid low-fat food products and seed oils.

This year, I encourage you do your body a favour

don’t diet…. Learn to Eat Well


There are Christmas recipes everywhere you look – have you been watching Jamie’s Easy Christmas? I made his Christmas pasta for lunch today! Great inspiration for us for home-made main meals and other dishes.

It’s easy to grab a jar of something factory-made to dollop on the side – sauces, dressings and gravy. Trouble is, these are often stuffed with unhealthy ingredients like vegetable oil, artificial flavourings and flavour enhancers, thickeners, preservatives etc so here are a few you could make over the next few days.

Apple Sauce

Peel, core and chop a cooking apple. Heat gently in a pan with a little water and a teaspoon (5ml) of brown sugar, maple syrup or xylitol. You can add more water if it becomes too dry. You can make it plain or spice it up with half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg, or all-spice. When the apple is soft you can beat in a teaspoon of butter with a wooden spoon.

While still hot, put in a sterilised jar and it will keep for ages unopened, and in the fridge once opened for 4 or 5 days. It freezes well too (in a plastic container, not glass).

Cranberry Sauce

You can make it the old-fashioned way just by heating cranberries in a solution of water and sugar until the berries have burst and softened.

Or you can fancy the recipe up a bit with some orange juice and zest, some cinnamon, ginger (which I love) and cloves (take these out before you put it in jars!). You could even add a slug of ruby port after it’s cooked. All delicious options – hot or cold.

If you want a clear jelly, cook the berries without sugar, squash with a potato masher, put them through a suspended jelly bag overnight, then heat with sugar at about 45g per 100ml of liquid.

Christmas Chutney

Cranberries come in bag or boxes, not loose, so you might have some left once you’ve made some sauce. You can use the rest in s festive chutney.

Put about 800g dried fruit in a bowl (chopped apricots, dates and raisins) and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak.

Meanwhile peel, core and chop a cooking apple, zest an orange, grate a bit of ginger root (~1”) and chop one large or a couple of small onions. Put these in a pan with ~300ml vinegar and cook gently with a lid on until the onion is transparent. Add the soaked fruit and a tablespoon of sugar, xylitol or maple syrup. When the mixture starts to thicken, it’s ready to jar.

Bread Sauce

This won’t appear on our table but I know people who love it most of all at Christmas.

Peel an onion and stick half a dozen cloves in it. Put it in a pan with ½ pint of milk (~300ml or a mug full), a bay leaf, salt, pepper and some whole peppercorns. Bring the milk to the boil slowly, then remove from the heat and let stand for at least an hour. Strain or remove the onion and other solid bits, then add ~100g of fresh breadcrumbs and a knob of butter. Bring back to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. If you make this the day before, leave it a bit less firm as it will thicken more when you re-heat it.


As your turkey/joint cooks, skim off the juices and collect in a pan.

If you stuff your bird with roughly chopped onions, carrots and apples and cover it with streaky bacon, that adds wonderfully to the flavour.

Then add some gravy browning or cornflour (both of these need to be mixed with cold water before adding to hot liquid), bring to the boil and simmer to thicken.

Salad dressings

Given the current cold-snap (our central heating has gone wrong – Brrrr!) I doubt many of you will have salad as a main course, but you might do a starter with a salad garnish.

You can’t go wrong with plain extra virgin olive oil and vinegar – balsamic if you want some sweetness, eg for on tomatoes and onions, or white wine vinegar for a light touch.

Here’s a mix we use a lot:

Into a glass screw-top jar or dressing bottle place:

– 6 tablespoons olive oil

– 2 tablespoons avocado oil

– 1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

– squeeze of lemon juice to taste

– 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

Shake well. It will keep fine for a week.

This dressing contains omega 3 and 9 fats with only a little omega 6.


Paul’s Rapeseed Oil Mayonnaise

In a blender, blitz an egg, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp Dijon mustard, a tiny clove garlic (optional), a splash of cider vinegar (~ 1 dsp).

Drizzle in ~ 400ml rapeseed oil while blending

This one is higher in omega 6. You can use olive oil instead; it has a stronger flavour. It will still be better than shop-bought which is made mostly from sunflower oil.

Ditch the Carbs Easy Mayo

Try this one from Libby at Ditch the Carbs.

Tips to get easy mayonnaise recipe to work every time are:

  • use mild flavour olive oil

  • ingredients don’t have to be at room temperature

  • keep the blade attachment at the bottom of the jar until it thickens

Top tip: Get saucy in the kitchen this Christmas.

Quote of the Month – Mingle


Even though we’re supposed to be the smartest beings on the earth, we’ve lost the plot; we’ve lost the point of us and it turns out that the point of us is to mingle.

Ruby Wax


May we all enjoy mingling with our nearest and dearest this Christmas.

Free Yourself From Counting

Do you track what you eat? Wear a fitness watch? Like a long streak? Lots of us love a good graph but it can be dangerous too. Achieving measures and collecting data can be addictive – to your detriment.


When I help people learn to eat well, one of the things that surprises them is the lack of counting. It’s all about nutrients, pleasure, satisfaction and health, caring for yourself with real food, with not a calorie in sight. Calories are all very well as a physics measure of energy but they tell you nothing about biology or how your body uses different types of foods in different ways. Counting them tends to drive people towards bad food choices.

Most diets are based on calorie restriction, even if they disguise that by using measures like points. So dieters head for lower calorie foods and manufactured food-like products. Often these are low in fat, so valuable nutrients are lost.

Natural fats like butter, lard, dripping, olive oil and coconut oil are useful to the body.

  • We need fat soluble vitamins.
  • We don’t absorb minerals as well without fats.
  • Fats boost our metabolic rate so we burn more energy. Depression of metabolism caused by calorie restriction is one of the key reasons that dieters stall/plateau and then regain weight.
  • And fats add flavour which is why low-fat and fat-free products have to be loaded with sugar, sweeteners and flavouring chemicals.

The supermarket section labelled as healthy contains many products that are bad for you.

Food Apps

Pausing midway through a film to boil the kettle, I caught a few minutes of a BBC3 programme about eating disorders. A girl was saying that having put on weight as a student boozing and eating kebabs she started using a food-tracking app. I suppose the same thing happens with these apps as other types of scrolling, addiction to likes and other built-in artificial rewards. It’s all designed to keep you doing the next thing, and the next, making it hard to control or to stop. The girl became obsessed with her food app and lost so much weight her periods stopped and a year later they still haven’t restarted, although thankfully she’s eating again.

Exercise Apps

The same day I had been speaking to someone who had read that the fitness apps, exercise trackers and watches that people wear has made them over-exercise at times when their bodies really wanted to rest and this has exacerbated chronic post viral fatigue (including long-covid).

Like so many things that ‘everybody knows’ the 10,000 steps a day has no science behind it at all. It was marketing by a Japanese company that manufactures pedometers. Yes, it’s good to walk. No, it is not good to feel forced to do a certain number of steps each day, regardless of how you feel. And there are better types of exercise that get neglected because apps reward you for consecutive days of doing the same thing. Research shows aerobic exercise on its own reduces your all-cause mortality by 16% and strength training one its own reduces it by 21%, whereas if you do both, you reduce your all-cause mortality by 29%.

Not only that but exercising every day can be counter productive. The benefits come during the recovery phase, so you need days off or to change the part of the body you work on. Here’s a study showing muscle weakness caused by 3 days of consecutive exercise.

When I was competing internationally (and also had a very demanding full-time job) I kept records, even created a visual monthly training records chart to identify training patterns leading to better performance.

I certainly trained at times when it would have been better not to – even when injured, which caused me damage as well as pain (more fool me).

The morning of writing this blog post I slept in. Weirdly, even though I work for myself, I still feel guilty about things like that, such are the expectations on us to work hard all the time. But truthfully, with plenty of time to prepare for someone coming later in the morning, it wasn’t a problem. No need to crack the whip.

It’s a part of human nature to push ourselves to do more and now it’s been made worse by tech.

Time to take back control of our lives and not be told what to do and when to do it. Ditch the apps sometimes – at a weekend or for a week or a month or forever.

Time to listen to our bodies, be kind, recognise that we change day to day and sometimes rest is good.

Be Free From Counting

I help people to change their relationship with food so that they are not trapped in a prison made of numbers. Your body’s needs won’t be the same every day or in every situation. There’s no need to be trapped in a rigid ‘on it – off it’ diet mentality. Rather than fighting against yourself with miserable, strict denial you can listen to your body and provide nutrition in a caring, flexible way.

Top tip: Set yourself free from the tyranny of counting.


The shops are full of chocolate again. There are chocolates in scary wrappers (with scary inflated prices) for Halloween and the big tubs for Christmas are out already. The UK chocolate market is worth almost £4 billion pa. We eat a staggering 8 kg a year each which means the average person will eat more than half a tonne of it in a lifetime. The Swizz and Austrians eat even more.

Mostly it’s bad for you, so you might be glad that a bit of quality, dark chocolate does you good. Chocolate can be better or worse depending on the other ingredients used. Check labels and avoid anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), any artificial sweeteners and any artificial preservatives. You’re now spoilt for choice with companies that make high quality, ethical, organic chocolate, including Love Cocoa run by James Cadbury (great, great, great grandson of the original John Cadbury).

If the cocoa/cacao names have confused you – raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao to make “raw chocolate”. Cocoa is made from roasted cacao seeds so has lost its enzymes. Some studies show health benefits from both types, others suggest that raw cacao is best.

The amount of sugar in chocolate varies greatly from milk to dark. There are all sorts of amazing flavours but some of those come with extra sugar. Any with sort centres or caramel will be very sugary.

Here is one of Dr David Unwin’s wonderful sugar equivalent infographics which shows the effect on your blood sugar.

Dr David Unwin

The most popular type in the UK is milk chocolate which is very bad. People often find dark chocolate a bit strong to start with but you can retrain you palate to prefer less sweetness in only a couple of weeks which is well worth doing. You’re less likely to eat dark chocolate in large amounts because it’s so rich.

The high concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and poly-phenols make dark chocolate (>70%) a superior snack in small amounts – a few squares a day, not a few bars.

Here are some of the healthy things in it:

  • resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, good for blood pressure, heart health and your brain
  • flavanols which are anti-inflammatory.
  • cocoa butter, containing approximately 33% oleic acid, the same healthy monounsaturate as olive oil.
  • minerals including potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
  • valeric acid (a stress reducer), caffeine and theobromine (nervous system stimulants). Dark chocolate enhances mood, concentration, learning and memory.
  • tryptophan which the brain uses to make serotonin and may be why we get a chocolate ‘high’.

A Swedish study even found that it helps reduce heart disease risk.

Downsides (apart from over-consumption)?

– chocolate may trigger migraine in some people.

the caffeine in chocolate may stop some people sleeping if eaten late in the day.

– if you have a chronic health problem, it’s really helpful to stop all sugar.

If you’re healthy then enjoy dark chocolate and enjoy it in moderation.

Top tip: A little dark chocolate does you good!

Quote of the Month – Obestity

Obesity shows us primarily what is being done to people, not what people are doing to themselves.

Several studies have found that chronic stress, loneliness, lack of fulfilment or negative life events are strongly associated with weight gain. Job insecurity and financial hardship are especially significant.

If any country is to reverse one of the world’s most stubborn trends, its policymakers must recognise that the solution will come not from haranguing people, but from improving the quality of their lives and their environment.

John Burn-Murdoch


Financial Times