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Exercise for Maximum Reward in Minimum Time

No time for a full high-intensity workout? Try introducing a few Movement Snacks, to begin with so that you see the benefit it has on your energy levels, concentration and mood.

This week we’re going to talk about HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. HIIT is on the rise and for very good reasons – firstly, traditional endurance training is known being shown to be bad for our health when performed excessively (more on that in the next blog), and HIIT training has been shown to improve many of the same things as traditional endurance training, with some extra benefits – and all in a fraction of the time. HIIT has been shown to:

  • increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • reduce blood pressure
  • increase mitochondrial biogenesis (the ‘powerhouses’ of your cells)
  • improve cardiovascular health
  • enhance insulin sensitivity, protecting against diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease
  • improve cholesterol profiles
  • reduce abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass
  • burn more calories in less time than traditional workouts

HIIT involves repeated bouts of high-intensity effort followed by varied recovery times. The intense work periods may range anywhere from 10 seconds to 8 minutes long and are usually performed at high intensity (see below for more detail). The recovery period usually lasts for less time than the work periods and are either total rest or low-intensity exercise (see below) and the workout continues with the alternating work and relief periods, usually taking anywhere from 8 to 60 minutes.

Why is HIIT Training so Popular?

HIIT training can easily be modified for people of all fitness levels and special conditions, such as overweight and diabetes. HIIT workouts can be performed on all exercise modes, including various forms such as resistance training (using weights or bodyweight), traditional cardio training (cycling, swimming, running etc.) or a combination of all of them.

HIIT workouts give you a much better ‘bang for your buck’ because they tend to burn more calories than traditional workouts, especially after the workout. This critical post-exercise period is called “EPOC”, which stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which means that you continue to burn extra calories for a couple of hours as your body restores itself to pre-exercise levels. Now, that’s good news!

HIIT also leads to much quicker metabolic adaptations, which are driven by upregulated gene expression in response to the intense work. What does that mean? Basically, the body realises that it needs to ‘up its game’ and responds accordingly. So if you do long duration steady state runs, your body will respond appropriately. Up the intensity, and the body ups its’ response.

Practical Guidelines for HIIT?

Before you do a HIIT program, consider the duration, intensity, and frequency of the work intervals and the length of the recovery intervals. If you know your max heart rate, ≥ 80% is your desired target, or use a ‘perceived exertion’ of between 7 and 9 on a 10-point scale. Using the talk test as your guide, that range of 7 to 9 goes from ‘it’s difficult to carry on this conversation’ to ‘I can’t talk right now’! The interval should either be rest (for shorter workouts), or 40-50% of your estimated maximal heart rate (around 3 to 5 out of 10) for longer work periods. This would be a physical activity that felt very comfortable, in order to help you recover and prepare for your next work interval.

The relationship of the work and recovery interval is important. Many studies use a specific ratio of exercise to recovery to improve the different energy systems of the body. For example, a ratio of 1:1 might be a 3-minute hard work (or high intensity) bout followed by a 3-minute recovery (or low intensity) bout. These 1:1 interval workouts often range about 3, 4, or 5 minutes followed by an equal time in recovery.

Another popular HIIT training protocol is called the “spring interval training method”. With this type of program, the exerciser does about 30 seconds of ‘sprint or near full-out effort’, which is followed by 3 to 4.5 minutes of recovery. This combination of exercise can be repeated 3 to 5 times. These higher intensity work efforts need to be shorter bouts but can increase up to 60 seconds as you get fitter.

One of our favourite ways to do HIIT workouts at Ritualize is ZUU HIITS – these a variety of bodyweight exercises that we program in a certain sequence (targeting different muscle groups) so that you keep the intensity high without having to stop due to muscle fatigue. Check out Ritualize for these ZUU exercises and try using a work: rest ratio of 20:15 seconds (for beginners), increasing up to 30:10 work: rest for 12 exercises for advanced. That will give you a supercharged 8-minute workout (shown at Ritualize.com under the exercise section) that targets all of your muscles (including ones you didn’t know you had), has a high cardiovascular load (as it’s anaerobic), uses strength throughout range of motion, and increases mobility – no other workout that we know of does this!

How Many Times a Week Can You do a HIIT Workout?

HIIT workouts are more exhaustive then steady state endurance workouts. Therefore, a longer recovery period is often needed. Perhaps start with one HIIT training workout a week, with your other workouts being steady state workouts. As you feel ready for more challenge, add a second HIIT workout a week, making sure you spread the HIIT workouts throughout the week.

A Word of caution!

If you have been living a sedentary lifestyles or haven’t been exercising regularly, make sure you get a check-up before starting HIIT training. A family history of heart disease, cigarette smoking, hypertension, diabetes (or pre-diabetes), abnormal cholesterol levels and obesity will increase the risks.

Prior to beginning HIIT training, it’s a good idea to create a base fitness level by doing some more traditional steady state exercise such as running or only reaching about 60-70% of your maximum intensity during the work periods. Safety in participation should always be a primary priority, and you should focus more on finding your own optimal training intensity, rather than trying to keep up with others.

It’s a good idea to go through the Pre-exercise screening questionnaire on the link below – especially if you are over 40 or haven’t been exercising regularly!

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Let’s Chew the Fat

Benefits Good Fats in your Diet

Most of us have had it drummed into us that fat is bad and we should only be eating food low in fat to prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a host of other preventative diseases. However, does the evidence reflect the guidelines we have grown up on? To look at this properly, we need to go back in time and look at the story of saturated fat.

The thinking that saturated fat is bad for you originated from one man in the US – Ancel Keys. He had a hypothesis that high cholesterol caused heart disease and that because fat (especially saturated fat) increases cholesterol, it must be the driver of heart disease. I will write much more about that story in another blog, but suffice it to say that he got a large number of Cardiologists and Government agencies on board by publishing studies from 6 countries (and later a 7tth), showing a strong association between fat intake and heart disease.

However, there are 2 major flaws with this:

  1. Association does not mean causation – we now know that cholesterol does not cause heart disease per se and that cholesterol is raised if you are chronically stressed or have systemic inflammation – both more direct contributors to heart disease.
  2. Most importantly, his research was fraudulent! He actually studied 22 countries, but because the data did not fit his theories, he cherry-picked the 6 countries whose data best fit his theory. This is the complete opposite of good science.

There are also a lot of flaws with subsequent studies that came out to show a link between saturated fat and heart disease, such as researcher bias, publication bias, poor study design, the possible inclusion of harmful trans fats under the saturated fat umbrella, and a poor understanding of the metabolic drivers of heart disease.

Now that we have a better understanding of the metabolic drivers behind heart disease, and having completed some better-designed studies, lots of researchers are now saying that the current government guidelines on fat intake do not reflect the evidence. We now understand much better than total cholesterol does not cause heart disease and even LDL is not a good measure, and that HDL is even more protective than we once thought.

What is emerging is the dangers of oxidised LDL, small dense LDL particles, high triglycerides as well as low HDL and other factors like inflammation, high blood pressure, central obesity and diabetes. These are all independent risk factors, and when you get combinations of them it points towards metabolic dysregulation at a cellular level.

From a cholesterol perspective, what we now know is you should strive to have as high a level of HDL as possible and minimise your oxidised LDL and small, dense LDL – big fluffy LDL are not pathogenic and shouldn’t be of any concern. You should also keep your triglycerides and blood sugar under control.

Your diet has a big impact on all of these, so let’s discuss the interactions between fat, carbohydrate and these risk factors.

The Fat Story

When we’re talking about fats, we know that monosaturated fats are actually very good for heart and brain health. Recommended examples are extra virgin olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, any nut oils (except peanut) and unsalted, raw nuts.

Saturated (SFA) fats have been unfairly demonised. As I mentioned above, they increase your level of protective HDL and encourage big, fluffy LDL and do not induce damaging, small dense LDL. So, a moderate amount of saturated fats is perfectively fine. Don’t worry about the fat in dairy either – eat a moderate amount of full-fat dairy, eat fat on meat (as long as it’s grass-fed) and coconut. Avoid processed fats, trans fats and vegetable oils – stick to stuff low on the human interference factor and you’ll be ok.

With this in mind, here is a list of great cooking fats, which we cook with regularly in our family. If you’re going to fry foods, especially at high temperatures, you should be using saturated fats, as they don’t become oxidised. So this list is good, not just because they’re safe to cook with, but also because they taste so good!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

This should be your go-to fat for sautéing and medium temperature cooking. Whilst normal olive oil has a smoke point of 140 degrees, extra virgin is 210 degrees – and it also maintains most of its polyphenol content after frying, so is the healthiest fat to use. As well as this, when you saute vegetables in EVOO, there is a chemical reaction that creates a class of fatty acids known as nitric fats, which are protective for your heart and brain. Make sure it is cold-pressed, as heat-pressed oils can already be oxidised. But be aware some of the polyphenols will deteriorate at temperatures of around 150-160 degrees Celsius, so for higher temperatures, you should use saturated fats.


Ghee is clarified butter, and it’s popular in Indian cooking. Because the milk solids have been removed, it’s very low in lactose and is almost entirely fat – mostly saturated. Use ghee to brown meat, top a few teaspoons on a roast and add to roast pumpkin or sweet potato. A tablespoon of ghee contains 8g SFA, 3.7g MFA fat and 0.5g PUFA.

Coconut oil

Along with ghee, coconut oil is one of the best fats to cook with because it’s almost entirely saturated. In fact, coconut oil is more than 90% saturated fat. While this makes it the devil according to the government guidelines, this is not the case. Coconut oil has some unique properties. It is a special type of saturated fat called medium chain triglyceride (MCT). Unlike other fats, MCTs do not require bile acids for digestion. This means they are easily absorbed in the upper part of the small intestine. Coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid, a fatty acid found in breast milk that is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral. We are known to eat it by the spoonful! Mix it with almond or macadamia nut butter for some added goodness. Coconut oil has 4g of SFA, 0.3g of MFA


Lard is very popular in cooking and baking because it has little flavour. It’s an incredibly versatile fat and can be used to brown meat and roast vegetables. Unlike olive oil, vegetables roasted in lard do not get soggy or greasy but stay crisp with a wonderful flavour. A tablespoon of lard has about 6g MFA, 5g SFA and 1.6g PUFA.

Duck fat

Potatoes roasted or fried in duck fat…. divine! Before rancid, industrial oils appeared, the French cooked their fries in duck fat!. Roast your veggies or homemade chips in duck fat and you’ll discover why the French love it so much. A tablespoon of duck fat has 6 g MFA, 4 g LCSFA and 1.6 g PUFA.


Good quality, grass-fed butter has an amazing taste and despite it being demonised, it’s very good for you. It is full is vitamin A, E and K2 (the latter involved in calcium metabolism). It is a great fat to put on fish, low heat scramble eggs in or slow-cooked stews. Butter has a lower smoke point than the other fats, which makes it less suitable for high-temperature cooking and it burns easily. A tablespoon of butter contains 7.2g of SFA, 2.9g of MFA and 0.4g of PUFA.

A Word on Commercial Vegetable Oils

In our house, we avoid these like the plague as they are high in Omega 6 fats. Whilst some Omega 6 fats are necessary for good health, at higher amounts they start to trigger dangerous inflammation at a cellular level. We get sufficient Omega 6 fats from eating vegetables, but using vegetable oil for cooking is, in my opinion, one of the worst health recommendations we have made. Commercial food processing destroys a significant amount of essential fatty acids, and polyunsaturated oils (Omega 3 and 6) are unstable and very quickly become rancid. Oxidized fatty acids are dangerous to our health, and unless you buy cold-pressed oils, the actual process of expelling the oils using heat (to get it out of the plant in the first place) will cause oxidisation.

The bottom line is to eat food that is real and cut right down on processed foods. This includes your fats. The best thing you can do today is throw away your margarine and your vegetable oils and replace with the fats listed above. You are doing this for your health and your taste buds!

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Welcome the cruciferous family to your life

Benefits of the cruciferous family

What do broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy have in common?

They’re all members of the cruciferous, or cabbage family of vegetables. And they all contain phytochemicals, vitamins minerals and fibre that are important to your health.  Two big benefits to consider is that they may help reduce your risk of getting cancer and oxidative stress (which can lead to cancer).

There are many delicious ways to cook these super veggies, so if you have childhood memories of soggy Brussels sprouts or smelly, overcooked broccoli, forget the past, open your mind and get cooking!  They will soon become a daily addition to your plate and a massive benefit to your health.


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Love your guts…

Importance of Gut Bacteria in Your Diet

There is more and more research coming out on the importance of gut bacteria on our health and well being.  The bacteria in our intestines outnumber our cells by 10 to 1, which means we are more bug than human!  The gut is now being described as a second brain, with more than 100 million neurons.  Even happiness can stem from your gut.  In fact, 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, so if your bugs aren’t happy, then neither will you be!  Gut bacteria is negatively affected by poor lifestyle choices, such as processed foods, many vegetable and seed oils, alcohol and stress to name a few.

Working towards a healthy gut is about making healthy choices.  Fermented vegetables (found at many health food shops, or homemade) are full of good bacteria to help populate your gut.  You can feed your bugs on what’s called resistance starch from things like beans, cooled cooked potatoes and certain forms of fibre.  Vinegar is also great for your gut bacteria, so make your salad dressings from extra virgin olive oil and balsamic or apple cider vinegar.