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Do I need to be skinny to look toned?

Want to achieve that ‘shredded’ look? It usually requires an increase in muscle mass and a descrease in body fat.

Increased muscle mass (i.e. size, width and volume of your muscle fibres) will help your muscles become more visible beneath body fat; however, significant mass is not always necessary for improved tone.

According to exercise scientist Johann Ruys, “Muscle mass increase is generally associated with an increase in tone, but an increase in tone is not necessarily associated with a major increase in size.”

How to achieve that ‘shredded’ look

To achieve the ‘shredded’ look of a figure model, increased muscle mass is generally required – more so than for the taut, slender lines of a bikini model. However, the acquisition of either body would usually require a decrease in body fat.

“Less body fat will increase the ‘visible effect’ of tone,” says Ruys. “But tone can improve your shape, even with body fat.”

Figure competitors sport around five to 10 per cent body fat for a competition, but it’s certainly not kept that low all year round. This means that even for the most muscled individual, sculpted abs (or indeed a sculpted aesthetic) is not always a reality.

Alexa Towersey, personal trainer and co-founder of the Creating Curves program – a program based on her experience training models and Miss Universe competitors – says “The training you do in the gym creates the muscle tone or muscle mass, and the correct nutrition allows you to get lean enough to show it off at its full potential.

If you’re looking for clear muscle definition, you need to lose the subcutaneous, or surface, fat. It’s true when they say, ‘abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen’.”

NEXT: Check out our Body transformations section or read about How to improve muscle definition




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Energy boosting eating plan



Breakfast is an essential start to the day. It kickstarts your metabolism after the overnight fast and provides a great opportunity to get some dairy and fibre into your day. By giving your body the right fuel every morning, you reduce the risk of weight gain by elevating your metabolic rate and lowering the tendency to snack inappropriately. Choose one of the following options.

Cold Breakfast

» ¾ cup high-fibre, low-GI cereal (e.g. All Bran, Guardian, cooked raw oats) with 200mL skim milk, topped with ½ sliced banana

» 2 x hi-fibre Weet-Bix with 200mL skim milk, topped with sliced fresh fruit

» 150g low-fat yoghurt topped with ⅓ cup rolled oats and blueberries

» 1 cup fresh fruit salad with 200g low-fat yoghurt

Hot Breakfast

» 1–2 poached eggs on 1 slice sourdough with mushrooms

» ½ cup baked beans on wholegrain toast 

» ⅔ cup cooked porridge with 100mL skim milk, grated apple and cinnamon

» Omelette: 1–2 eggs, ¼ cup skim milk, 2 tablespoons grated reduced fat cheese with vegies such as capsicum, onion, spinach, mushrooms, tomato

»1 slice Burgen fruit toast topped with ricotta cheese and sliced pear

» Toasted English muffin with grilled cheese (40g) and tomato plus mushrooms 

  • Never skip breakfast.
  • If you are not hungry in the morning, try reducing what you eat in the evenings or schedule exercise before breakfast. 

NEXT: Lunch

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The key to targeting stubborn fat


The term ‘stubborn’ almost creates an unnecessary mental predisposition when it comes to fat loss. Clients are often too quick to assume they have ‘stubborn fat’, when most people simply have more fat to lose before they can start burning fat in those notorious areas, such as the belly and hips.

The average fat loss dieter should not be thinking they can strategically target specific areas of fat. When losing weight, your body wants to save calories, so areas such as the arms, neck, fingers, face and feet tend to lean out quicker than the belly, butt and thighs, as having fat in these areas will burn more calories. The body is always adapting to be more efficient.

Clients that have already been training and/or dieting for fat loss from anywhere between eight to 16 weeks and are close to their desired body fat percentage can consider some of their fat as ‘stubborn’. In this case, a little more strategy can be employed.

I find that, for women, the upper body often needs to be almost completely depleted of fat stores before the lower body really becomes active. We store excess energy as fat based on two types of cell receptors: alpha receptors and beta receptors. Alpha promotes fat storage, while beta metabolises fat and makes it available to ‘burn’ as energy. Generally, women have much higher densities of alpha sites in the legs, butt and thighs.

If you want to burn fat from stubborn areas, decreasing alphas and increasing betas is the goal. This could perhaps be related back to our external and internal hormonal environment – basically our oestrogen to progesterone ratios. There is a lot of current research on this matter, and protocols that can help with this hormonal balance include: cutting down on non-organic food and coffee, increasing consumption of cruciferous vegies, drinking lemon water, reducing use of plastics and dry brushing. A useful website is and their app Skin Deep, which indicates the toxicity level, effect on the body and potential for harmful additives found in your primary cosmetic and cleaning products.

Another specialised practice that can shed some light on potential imbalances and obstacles to fat loss is Applied Muscle Testing (AMT). Muscle testing works in the same arena as kinesiology, by testing your body for feedback to identify deficiencies in nutrients, problematic foods, potential beneficial supplements and even helping provide information on specific training protocols that may suit you personally.

Three easy things you can do today to expedite stubborn fat loss:

1. Exercise two to three hours after your last meal or on an empty stomach. This may reduce alpha receptor activity. It also causes us to increase catecholamine hormone production (adrenaline/noradrenaline), which may increase beta receptor activity.

2. Train intensely: use compound multi-muscle, multi-joint movements. For lower body, try lunges, squats and deadlifts. Include some type of interval training into your cardio workouts and then cool down with a 30 minute walk: this can assist in dipping further into fat for fuel now it has been released into the blood stream during training.

3. Stay positive: what your mind believes, your body achieves. If you tell yourself you can’t get rid of that last little bit of fat over and over, you’ll convince your subconscious mind that it’s true and it will obey you. Keep an open mind, visualise the results you want and don’t settle for ‘almost there’.   




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4 reasons you’re not shedding those last few kilos

4 reasons you're not shedding those last few kilos - PHOTO - Women's Health & Fitness


1. Liquid energy

Less filling and easy to over-consume. Smoothies and juices may seem like healthy options, but can be packed with sugar and kilojoules. Cut back on sweetened beverages. Think carefully about long-term alcohol habits and drink less.


2. Portion size

Eat slowly and use smaller plates.

3. Mindless eating

We live in a culture of plenty, and food is easily available. Keep snacks out of sight to avoid temptation and overeating.


4. Inadequate protein

Inadequate fibre and/or protein can lead to overeating. Both these nutrients are filling and should be included at every meal. Protein is important also for maintenance of muscle mass.

So how can we stay on track?

Think about your core values and what you want out of life. What brings you happiness? Perhaps you rank health as a high priority and want to feel good and have more energy? Now look at small steps you can take to live in line with these values.

Find something that suits you. Hate the gym? Then don’t force yourself to go. Instead find something you enjoy (maybe yoga, bushwalking, pole dancing or underwater hockey is more your style?). If you indulge in fitness pursuits that you value and enjoy, you will be happier and more motivated.

Be open to change. Just because running half marathons worked for you five years ago, doesn’t mean that running is still the best option for you now. Listen to the needs of your body and switch to a new fitness routine if necessary.

Have realistic expectations. If you weigh under 100 kg then it’s not safe or realistic to try losing more than 0.5 kg per week. If you weigh between 100 to 150kg, then one kg per week is achievable, and if over 150 kg, then two kg per week is considered healthy.



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How to fast-track fat loss



To fast-track coveted progress such as greater fat loss, Tramontana says you need to get back to basics.

Cardio is not ‘hardio’

With a combination of higher intensity interval training (HIIT), low-intensity steady state (LISS) training, body weight training sessions and a nutritious diet, Tramontana ensures his clients are given the best formula for their body.

“My cardiovascular programming is based around a 75/25 split of LISS and HIIT. So based on the available amount of time for a client to add in cardio on top of resistance training would determine the amount of each they conducted,” he says.

Here’s what your cardio program could look like:

2 hours per week for cardio training = 30 minutes of HIIT over two to three days + 90 minutes of LISS over one to two sessions.

Be wary, if HIIT was all you did, you may encounter the downside of too much stress on your body, which can ironically turn HIIT into a fat retention tactic.

So what about weight training?

“For fat loss, I structure everything around two to three full bodyweight training sessions – two sessions based on linear periodisation macro cycle of 16-to-24 week programming, altered every four to six weeks,” he explains.

Translation? A program that begins by incorporating high-volume and low intensity weight training, and progressively moves into phases when the volume decreases and intensity increases.  Tramontana is a strong advocate for women to hit up the weights rack, “I find a lot of women are lifting nowhere near their capacity. Don’t be shy to lift heavy weights and test your ability regularly.”

The importance of rest

All this talk of intensity may have you thinking full pelt should be the only gear you work in, but without adequate recovery, you may be undermining your fat loss chances at the dumbbells. Both injury and overt fatigue can see you performing at less than 100 per cent over multiple sessions.

“Recovery begins with the post-workout meal. I advise at least 25 to 50 per cent of overall carbohydrates be included in this meal – either using complex carbohydrate sources or a combination of simple and complex carbs,” says Tramontana. “I also recommend at least one body therapy session per week.”

Think physiotherapy, massage, sauna, steam, floating, dry needling, sleep in, meditation, yoga, grounding – or something as simple as reading a book.

How to fuel your body with the right food

For Tramontana, eating for fat loss should focus on controlling hunger, which translates to better portion control and craving management.

“I ask that protein be included in every meal upon waking, generally an even or slightly escalating amount each meal depending again on habits and hunger patterns,” he says.

“For fat loss, I personally urge the exclusion of high-energy carbs even post workout – with the exception of competitors in the later stage of preparation.”

Supplementation may also give you an edge in the health and results stakes. Depending on your goals and needs, Tramontana advises the use of creatine, glutamine, vitamin C, branch chain amino acids, fish oils, whey protein, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and a good-quality greens supplement to aid recovery, general wellbeing and lean muscle growth.

Read the full article in the August 2016 edition by journalist Katelyn Swallow. 

NEXT > Discover ways to boost your metabolism.



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5 ways to change your eating habits

Step #1 Start slow:

If you struggle to eat bitter foods, try white cabbage rather than broccoli when first introducing more leafy greens to your diet.


Step #2 Quit warm turkey:

“Most people find reducing – not eliminating – foods like saturated fat, sugar and refined carbs works best if done gradually,” says psychologist Kellee Waters, who specialises in food addiction and obesity. For example:

Swap, don’t stop: If you’re a Dairy Milk fiend, choose a healthier chocolate – think a six per cent cocoa dark chocolate – and build up over weeks/months to an 80 per cent one. Likewise, rather than trading white bread for wholemeal, try a white fibre-enriched bread, then a sandwich with one slice of white and one of brown to help you adapt to the taste and texture.

Reduce sugary drinks: Reduce sugar in your tea from two teaspoons to one then to half then to none. Start diluting juice with water until you only need a dash for flavour. Eventually, cut it out completely.

Switch oils and spreads: If you’re trying to use less butter and more olive oil, start with one that has a light flavour.


Step #3 Serve the same food different ways:

Not a fan of vegies? Start by grating them into meatballs or adding a few more to your stir-fry. Or use a different cooking method – for example, roasting your vegies with olive oil instead of simply boiling. This will give you different taste sensations and increase the chance that you will find one or two that make the food appeal to you more.


Step #4 Edit:

If you don’t trust yourself with foods that belong to your old taste way, the best cure is prevention. “Avoid [keeping] unhealthy food at home and then you will have no choice but to adapt your taste buds to the healthier choices,” Taste expert Eugeni Roura from the University of Queensland‘s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences advises.


Step #5 Combine:

“When cooking at home, make healthy food taste great by combining tastes like umami (e.g. mushrooms or soy sauce) with sour (e.g. lemon juice),” says Roura. “This more complex taste stimulation is likely to enhance your fullness and satiety.” In short, by mixing and matching a few different tastes in one dish or on one plate, you will get greater enjoyment from the food and feel more satisfied at the end of your meal.

NEXT: 5 ways to resist your cravings


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