Zella knows best...
As a teacher, Assistant Fitness Coordinator Zella van der Toorn Vrijthoff regularly receives questions from athletes about nutrition and diet. And how she does this with her work and family. Zella shares her story and tips:
In 2011 I took part in a fitness competition for the first time, it was a C (beginners) competition. It was also the year of a number of changes in the world of bodybuilding competitions. Two new classes were added; the Bikini Fitness for women and the Mens Physique for men. In these classes, the physique is similar to the tight fit girls and to the athletic men featured on the cover of Men's Health Magazine. As a fitness coach, it seemed a huge challenge to me to see if it was feasible for me to get into that shape and to combine the strict training schedule and accompanying nutritional schedule for a fitness competition with my work and family.
Although I exercised three to four times a week and watched my diet reasonably well, I noticed that over the years I had gained six kilos. In 2011 (at the age of 38) at the start of the competition preparation I weighed 64 kg (my height is 168 cm). Nothing wrong with that, but in my head my 'ideal weight' was just under 60 kilos.
The preparation for the competition was tough in my opinion, especially the feeding schedule. However, the result was there. After all the hard work I finished third. On the competition day I weighed 55 kg and my fat percentage was 12% (see photo). Personally, I thought the result was good, but I found myself very thin. In the weeks after my first competition, I went back to eating 'normal' and my weight quickly climbed back to 64, even 65 kg. That was not intended and I found it disappointing that I had not been able to hold it anywhere around 59kg.
Fortunately, in the years that followed, the fluctuations between my competition weight and normal weight became smaller. The preparation for a competition is actually a separate period where you work towards a peak moment. Over the months it is important to maintain balance, i.e. do not put on too much weight and continue strength training to maintain your built-up muscle mass.
The real transformation that I have undergone was visible last year at A-competition, IFBB Grand Prix. In 2019 I came second in the Bikini Fitness Master class (35 years and older) and qualified for the European Championship. My weight 62 pounds with 12% body fat. (see picture). Seven kilos more in muscle mass in 9 years and 7 competitions.
Healthy diet and lifestyle
If people think that I am always on a diet to stay 'in shape', then they are very wrong. It is more of an adjustment in your lifestyle. For example, rice and chicken are almost standard on the menu. But eating healthy doesn't have to mean that you have to eat dry, tasteless and very little. It is an illusion that you can go from eating little food to gaining muscle mass and a toned body. In the fitness world it is not for nothing that abdominal muscles are made in the kitchen. It is important to have a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and good fats in your meals. Knowing what the good and bad options are within the different product categories. A regular distribution of meals throughout the day can ensure fewer peaks and dips in your blood sugar, which can prevent overeating and snacking / snapping.
We have taken our children along in a healthy lifestyle from an early age and let them get used to healthy meals and snacks. Our girls now eat everything and because they are all very active with sports, the girls also know that nutrition is an important component. After exercise, a little quark and before exercise an extra wholemeal sandwich or two rice cakes with chicken fillet. Occasionally something less healthy or a few sweets in between is best because denying everything at a given moment only backfires. The same goes for adults. A 'cheat meal' is also part of a healthy lifestyle once a week. As a family we are grateful for our cheat meal where a brick oven pizza or oven fries with homemade hamburger are our favorite.
(Strength) training, weight and fat percentage
Strength training has ensured that I have built up more muscle mass over time, partly because of this my weight and fat percentage remain fairly stable. More muscles ensure a higher combustion, making it much easier to maintain weight with healthy (normal) food. Muscle mass can ensure a better posture, more toning and a beautiful shape of your body. If you do not go too crazy with your diet, more muscle mass will lower your fat percentage and / or it is easier to ensure that it remains stable.
My weekly training schedule consists of four strength workouts. I feel most comfortable with that in terms of training. It is feasible for me to combine four training courses with work and family. And so my muscles get enough rest and recovery. If you train too often and for too long, there is a good chance that you are 'overtraining' yourself. Consequences of overtraining can be; injuries, pain in your body, insomnia, little energy, little appetite, and a decrease in muscle mass, increased fat percentage ('skinny fat shape').
With every training (of about an hour) I always pick up a different muscle group or a combination of two muscle groups (usually 1 large and 1 small). In fitness we call this a split training schedule. The advantage of split training schedules is that you can do more exercises for the same muscle group and that, for example, with muscle pain in your upper body, you can train your legs / buttocks the next day. Split training schedules can also be adjusted to two or three training sessions per week and you can make many variations with regard to the exercises (think of training with machines, free weights, bodyweight exercises and other equipment).
I mainly use cardio to adjust my fat percentage by doing about 30 minutes 'steady pace' / low-intensity cardio after my strength training on the treadmill or cross trainer. Sometimes I do cardio somewhere separate in between (cycling, walking). When I want to improve my fitness, I switch to cardio training with a higher intensity. Consider, for example, small sprints in between or plyometrics exercises such as burpees and squat jumps, or following a HIIT class.
The secret to staying 'in shape' stands or falls with good and efficient planning. This applies to both eating and training.
Cook ahead and prepare your food for the day in advance as much as possible. My husband and I do this too. We usually cook extra dinner, for example for days when I have an evening shift or for days when we are both home later because we go to work out after work. At such a moment it is very nice that cooking does not take too much effort and that a healthy meal is on the table on time. Preparing your food the night before (including your children's lunch boxes) is really a must that will save yourself a lot of stress in the morning before you go out. In addition, you will easily avoid having to buy unhealthy meals somewhere and the chance you will grab an unhealthy snack.
When it comes to sports, first try to see what kind of sport or type of training suits you. Rule number 1 is that sports should be fun, otherwise you will not keep it up. Then make a schedule and see per week how often it is feasible to train and what you will do. It works best to put the exercise in your calendar just like other appointments.
Consistency is the key to success
With my story I hope that I can motivate and inspire people. Weight is really just a number. If you are training and losing weight, then have your fat percentage measured. Don't give up if you think you don't have time to exercise or to cook healthy, but make a good plan and you will see that you can free up more time and have less stress about it. Planning and having a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand. Keep in mind that things can sometimes go wrong and that you cannot easily change from one day to the next. Give yourself time to grow in it and make it your own.