How I lost weight for a weightlifting competition by eating more carbs

When I signed up for Southern Masters WL competition (at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club) I had six weeks to lose 3kg. Olympic lifting is a weight-class sport and in my first competition in May, I competed in the 55kg category and I intended to do the same this time. 

On the one hand 3kg doesn’t sound like very much but on the other, I didn’t want to crash diet or do any potentially dangerous dehydration methods that would my jeopardise my lifting performance, both on the day and in the run up in training.

In the months after May’s comp (Essex Weightlifting Club Open Series) my weight had crept up, mainly through a habit of unlimited portions of peanut butter and nuts (seemed so healthy and innocent at the time!) so by August I was a clear 58kg, and now that meant a 3kg cut.  

A weightlifting meet (official word for competition) isn’t a bikini or bodybuilding comp where you just stand and flex on stage. I have to be in great mental and physical shape to nail highly technical lifts at heavy weights (in front of a room full of people). Feeling weak from fasting would be catastrophic.

So I sought professional help. I’d met recently Dr. Sinead Roberts, PhD of Feed.Fuel.Perform at a CrossFit competition a few months prior and she was recommended by several people who I train with. One look at her Instagram and I knew she knew her stuff. 

We spoke on the phone and discussed my weekly training schedule so she could work out my fuel and refuel needs for my training load. She then calculated my macros accordingly, which means exactly the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat I should consume daily to achieve the desired weight loss without affecting training or performance.

sinead roberts nutritionist

My personalised nutrition plan…

This was the fun bit. My daily calories were in a slight deficit (1732 total) but my carb count was higher than I was used to (198g), whereas my fat intake had to be much lower (52g) and protein as high as I expected (122g). So, fewer calories but made up of more carbs and less fat, so that I could fuel and refuel my sport while leaning out 3kg and keeping energy levels up.

So no cutting carbs! What a delight. A weight loss programme where I had to eat more carbs than usual? Awesome. Sinead presented me with comprehensive doc detailing the nutritional breakdown for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and post-workout fuel so I knew exactly how to structure my meals. As a vegan, I’ve always been unsure how to hit high protein counts but read on and you’ll see how I did it.

Higher carbs were scheduled for pre and post-workout and breakfast so I could fuel and refuel sufficiently and then medium/lower carb count for lunch and dinner (36g each). Bedtime snack was low carb but higher in fat to help stabilise sugar levels overnight. 

What a relief to have scientifically backed nutritional breakdown calculated personally for me, to achieve specific goals. No more guesswork, no more trying to figure it out myself, and no fluffing my way through six weeks of attempted weight loss, not knowing if I’d actually get there or not.

Having a professional do the work they’re trained to do is absolutely the best way, for peace of mind if nothing else. 

No more guesswork, no more trying to figure it out myself – having a professional do the work is the way to go

Here’s how I got on and what I learnt… 

  • The first couple of weeks were definitely adjustment phases as I had to get used to a completely different nutritional intakes. Turns out carbs are not the enemy! 
  • I used MyFitnessPal to track my food and with the premium option I was able to see all the nutritional values and meal breakdowns. This was a game-changer as I could instantly see the effect certain foods (and portions!) were having on my daily goals. 
  • I quickly released how my nut habit had contributed to my weight gain – I was probably overeating about 4-600 calories a day over the last few months just through nuts and peanut butter!
  • I put away the kg-tub of peanut butter, stopped free-pouring olive oil over my food (a little bit is fine but my previous habits were out of control!) and found new snacks to buy instead of my go-to brazil and walnuts. 
  • I rediscovered the joys of fruit – previously (for the last 18 months or so) I’d favoured fat for fuel so my fruit intake was quite low. I started stewing plums and apples for my porridge oats and having a banana in my post-workout shake to help aid recovery. Sinead explained that without post-workout carbs the body will dip into muscle mass to take energy from there. For strength building, this would be a disaster. So now my post-workout shake had approx 30g carbs and 20g protein.
  • I surprised myself by hitting the 122g protein target quite easily almost every day. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be as all the little foods, like veggie sides and oats, contain protein too, so it all adds up quite quickly. I made sure to have about 100g tofu or other type of meat substitute daily, a protein shake straight after training then protein poured over my breakfast oats, and maybe a protein shake before bed.
  • Food prep became my daily norm as it was the only way to get all the macro nutrients I needed in the quantities I needed. I became very diligent at prepping my breakfast and lunch every night for the following day, and I still am.
  • I learnt that no/low fat in my post-workout shake was important – as fat is the slowest of the three macros to digest so to get fast energy to muscles, then best to leave the fat until later. 
  • I started eating simple carbs again – because my vegan diet is already high in fibre, Sinead recommended simple carbs like pasta, white rice and bread to add less strain on my digestive system and for fast-release energy rather than high fibre wholewheat options.
  • I had a low-carb, high protein and high fat snack in the evening before bed was often soya or coconut yoghurt with a small dollop of peanut butter and protein powder – this would help regulate blood sugar levels overnight, give muscles something to feed on and help with muscle repair.
  • I thought I’d hate tracking my food (I’ve previously thought it creates a bad, fixated relationship with it) but I actually enjoyed the process and found it quite educational. I think if there are specific goals to reach then tracking can shed a lot of light and insight.
  • Having professional support is really helpful, whether it’s checking what type of snack to have or voicing worries big or small, having someone to call on through the process, especially towards the end, was invaluable. It also helped that Sinead is just so nice to work with – nothing was ever too much trouble for her and all her instructions were simple and effective, which is why I’ll be working with her again for my next weightlifting competition. Can’t wait!

There were loads of other interesting details I learnt – another benefit of working with an expert – and in exactly five weeks I was 56kg on the scales again. Whoop! I’m still so pleasantly surprised that increasing carbs was the secret to losing weight.

Happy to have made weight on competition day

Competition week…

The last kg was lost in the final week / few days before the competition (which is typical for athletes of a weight-class sport to do) and that’s done through a combination of reducing high fibre foods, taking long walks, stopping eating earlier in the evening, fasting the evening before the weigh-in and no food or fluids before the weigh-in. 

I won’t lie, it’s a stressful few days trying to lose that last kg before the competition as some days the scales don’t move at all and you wonder how on earth it will happen. But success finally came the night before!

When walked into the weigh-in room at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club at 8AM that day, I was 54.6kg, which was just perfect! It’s a fine art getting just below the 55kg threshold but not too low to affect performance, so we nailed it.

Thank you Sinead for helping me get there!

Once the competition was over I had ALL the treats, fat and carbs I could get my hands on. All well deserved and well worth the wait!

If you’re reading this and compete in a weight-class sport I highly recommend getting a nutritional expert to do your macros and help you get there on the day.  Would love to hear your experiences.

Please note: the nutritional macros in this article are individual and specifically calculated for my starting body composition, timeline, training history and lifestyle so readers shouldn’t assume they will be appropriate or healthy for them. Always seek professional advice.

Review: British Weightlifting Level 1 in Coaching

Getting my British Weightlifting (BWL) Level 1 Award in Coaching was not something I ever expected to do. In fact, when one of my friends Sophia Smith suggested joining her course earlier this year, I immediately thought no, I’m not experienced enough.

But, through a coincidental twist of events a few months later, I was invited by BWL itself (the UK governing body) to attend the course at Third Space in Canary Wharf. Spoiler: I found it really useful, had a great time, and passed!

I’m now so pleased to have done it as it’s been so useful and relevant for my training. So even if, like me, you have no plans or intention to coach, you’re still likely to get something out of it.  

Here’s what the course was like, what I learnt and what you need to know if you’re considering it, or if you’re just intrigued to find out more. Maybe you can surprise yourself by getting qualified too.

British Weightlifting  Level 1 in Coaching review

What is BWL Level 1?

A two-day face to face course in a small group environment with highly experienced Olympic lifting coaches alongside comprehensive e-learning modules.

It’s an opportunity to build your knowledge of the two Olympic lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk, and learn how to apply that knowledge to a class and coaching setting. You’ll also go through supporting lifts such as back squat and front squat.

The Level 1 qualifies you to assist a more experienced coach who is already qualified at Level 2 or higher. 

Who is it for?

You don’t need to be a coach or PT to do this course, in fact it’s designed for people with no coaching experience.

Experience in the lifts isn’t even a prerequisite although it’s advisable. (I couldn’t imagine attending a course to learn how to coach the snatch if you’ve never snatched before.) 

You’ll be introduced to the principles behind how a weightlifting class is put together, how to deliver it so students are safe and how to evaluate the outcomes and experiences. 

Even if you don’t plan to become a coach, it’s a great opportunity to deepen your knowledge of the lifts, which will help in training and progressing. 

What we learnt

>> The key components and cues for each of the three Olympic lifts – the snatch, clean and jerk – as well as accessory lifts such as back squat and front squat.

>> How to teach with minimal talking time – turns out coaching isn’t a continuous stream of instructions. You have to master the art of observation followed by selective, efficient and concise language to cue only the most important thing so not to overwhelm or confuse the student. Less is more.

>> How to plan, deliver and evaluate a weightlifting class and how to effectively assist more qualified coaches (level 2 and above).

>> We even learnt non-verbal instruction eg for the hard of hearing, which was an interesting twist.

>> We had access to the e-learning hub with lots of great video tutorials. The hub also covered off: roles and responsibilities of a coach, safety in the sport, basic rules of the sport, technicalities of the lifts and supporting exercises.

Few things that pleasantly surprised me

I have no sports coaching experience but I didn’t feel out of my depth. I think the years doing these lifts in a group and one to one setting have meant I’m familiar with the cues and instructions, which definitely helped me absorb and apply all the information received. 

Don’t be scared of the assessment – everyone wants you to do well so there’s lots of practice and the teacher breaks down each element so you’re fully prepared. At the end of day one the thought of being assessed the next day felt terrifying and daunting but once you get there it’s actually totally doable and ok.

You don’t need to worry about being perfect at the moves yourself. The most important thing is understand the key points and safety cues and this will help better your understanding of them.

I started applying the knowledge straight away – in the training sessions immediately after the course. I’m now so aware of my positioning and movement through the lifts and mentally use the cues I learnt every time I lift, which is great, a testament to how useful the course was.

Before you book…

Even though it’s not a prerequisite, knowing the moves will help. As mentioned, you don’t have to be a pro Olympic lifter but at least know what a snatch and clean and jerk  is and have some experience of them.

Allocate some time before the course starts to do the pre course e-learning. You’ll need at least two or three evenings to work through it without rushing. 

Don’t make plans on the night after day one as you’ll have day two’s assessment to prepare for. There’s a lot to take in so it’s not worth rushing, panicking and not feeling prepared for the assessment.


If you think this could be for you, let me know! A limited number of exclusive discount codes are available through me, so message for details if you’re keen.

My Story On Metro.co.uk

yanar alkayat weighlifting

I was so excited to be interviewed my Metro recently for an article on the importance of weight training for women: Weight training should be an essential part of your workout routine.

Journalist Natalie Morris asked me to share my fitness journey, how I got into weightlifting, what I love about it, what it adds to my life and why more people, particularly women, should give it a try.

It’s a fantastic article – full of quotes from me! – and some expert tips from others. Hopefully it will inspire more people to pick up a barbell and feel the benefits for themselves.

If you’re still feeling hesitant, maybe intimidated or scared about weights, and unsure how to start improving your strength, then have a read and let me know what you think.

Here’s an extract – my top tips on why you should start weightlifting

Confidence

There is no better feeling than doing something you previously couldn’t or imagined you could do. It will send your confidence soaring.

Coming from zero strength means I’m super proud of my body and my journey –  it still amazes me today that I can do these things. I never forget where I started.

Progress sometimes feels slow and gradual but there are many small wins and milestones along the way.

A huge mental shift in how I view my body

When my fitness journey became about what my body can do, not what it looked like, it became more than just a workout. My mental attitude towards my body is so much healthier now.

The focus is no longer to stay slim and it’s not about achieving a certain aesthetic. My goals and objectives are all related to performance now.

Future-proofing

I decided I had to lay stronger foundations for the future, especially with a family history of osteoporosis and knowing women’s muscle mass shrinks with age.  I was determined to go into my 40s with a stronger physique.

The quest to build all-over body strength led me to CrossFit where I learnt how to move well with weight bearing and bodyweight exercises.

So while I work on my fitness goals, I’m also building a body for everyday life so I can lift, push and pull things without hurting myself, and building stronger bones for later years.

It’s a lot of fun!

Having a purpose is one of the best ways to enjoy exercise so it never feels like a chore. It’s never an effort getting up early or training after a hard day at work when you have goals in mind. And once you’ve finished a great barbell workout, the endorphins are through the roof.

Mental focus

I always have short term and long term goals – whether it’s hitting a certain weight on a lift or working towards a competition – and these keep me locked in and committed.

The people

Being surrounded by people who are also working towards various fitness goals is hugely motivating and that kind of positive, determined, can-do attitude is contagious.

So the cliche of surrounding yourself with the right people is not just a saying, it’s very true.

You’ll break down barriers

I also want women to breakdown their own perceptions of what they think can do and achieve.

What is heavy or seems impossible one day, will be normal some day in the future if you keep at it so don’t get too frustrated with what you can’t do. Focus on learning how to improve it. 

Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/21/weight-training-should-be-an-essential-part-of-your-workout-routine-10136518/?ito=cbshare 

Follow more of my fitness and weightlifting journey at @yanarfitness

My journey into weightlifting and what it’s like to be a beginner weightlifter

vintage split jerk

I never set out to do weightlifting. A few years ago I didn’t even know what Olympic lifting was, but I’d started CrossFit and a whole new world of fitness had opened up. The killer combinations of Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk, power clean, etc), gymnastic / bodyweight moves and functional training challenged me physically and mentally.

I was hooked on the adrenaline and intensity of the workouts – heavy weights, fast paced and fierce. Plus, I was learning all these new barbell and gymnastic skills so the journey didn’t stop there…

 

The prequel

During the first few years of CrossFit training I was still running marathons.

The deadlifts, back squats and cleans and functional training such as box jumps and kettle bell swings, all helped me to develop more strength and more power through my hips, glutes and core, which translated really well to stronger running. I could run faster and for longer, and without any sight of injury.

I ran Snowdon Marathon in July 2018, coming in the top half of women (I’m usually trailing at the bottom of the pack) and felt elated not be defeated by a mountain.

However, I decided to park marathon running for a while and spend the next 12 months focusing on bodyweight and barbell skills, particularly pull-ups, toes-to-bar and the snatch, as I was still lagging behind in these. And you know how the saying goes, work your weaknesses, so now was the time.

I found a great weightlifting coach – John McComish, an ex-national champion (for England and Ireland) in Olympic lifting – at Peacock’s boxing and weightlifting gym, which is a local community place but known for its competition training, and I immediately felt in good company.

 

Being a newbie all over again

When I started having weekly one-to-one session with John, in October 2018, all I wanted was to improve my snatch and gain more confidence getting under the bar. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of a weightlifting competition, but by February 2019 my numbers were all going up and John started seeding the idea of entering one ‘some time this year’, which of course, sounded ridiculous to me.

Entering a comp was a bit like how running a marathon feels like something impossibly out of reach for a new runner. The distance feels enormous and you have no concept of what the training or the event is like.

Because I still remember those days, all those years ago as a beginner runner, and also as a beginner CrossFitter, I can recall that feeling of being new to something and how it can feel a bit intimidating at times.

That’s why I always like to remember my journey and where I’ve come from – from super slim, no-upper body strength, serial runner in my 20s and early 30s, to now being able to deadlift 100kg and clean and jerk 55kg (my body weight). It makes me feel super proud.

So I try to cut myself some slack when I’m frustrated that I’m not performing or improving, as I’d like to. It takes a while to build strength and technical skill and I respect that I’ve only been focusing on this for six months.

 

When it sparks joy (and when it doesn’t)

There’s no better feeling than hitting PBs (or PRs if you’re reading from the US). I felt mighty high and floated around with a new confidence when I hit a 40kg snatch (which I used to think was a far-off distant goal) followed unexpectedly by a 42.5kg snatch the following week, and felt totally euphoric for hours that evening.

I’d never experienced the bar riding up so smoothly before, and then catching the weight within seconds and standing up with it strong above my head, and I just wanted to do it again and again.

But of course those big weight PBs don’t come all the time so with the highs there are also lows. I’m currently missing a lot of lifts and it’s hard not to feel like I’m doing something wrong or that maybe, I’m just not right for this. Imposter syndrome definitely springs to mind!

My inner critic might occasionally try and whisper that I’m not a natural lifter and that I’m forcing myself into this sport but I just have to gently shut that voice down and get on with my training. At the end of the day, even if I don’t make huge gains, I’m doing it because it’s fun and hugely rewarding.

Learning something tough that pushes your limits toughens you up, and the confidence and strength I’ve gained has carried over into other parts of my life, so the joy it all ‘sparks’ as had a domino effect.

 

Sharpening the tools

In my mind, I regularly visualise each lift and each part of it and sometimes fall asleep replaying the sequence over and over. It’s great to have something so positive to focus on but it’s also frustrating when the lifts don’t happen in reality.

Powerlifting, which is made up of the deadlift, back squat and bench, is different as the bar doesn’t have to travel overhead or fast so the skillset needed is quite different.

Olympic lifting, particularly the snatch, is highly technical – you need mobility, strength and speed, as well as the mental focus to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I think the combination of mental and physical skill really appeals to me.

The snatch is performed fairly fast but to make it happen several tiny adjustments have to come together perfectly, and if or when, one tiny element is out of synch then the lift just doesn’t happen. Failing lifts is part of the practice, which is why training can be really frustrating.

I surround myself with a gang of super positive fitness friends who motivate me to work hard and stick to it. And, for all its faults, Instagram can be a motivating place too – I follow small but mighty women, such as 55kg weightlifter Allie Rose (@livlaflift58) and CrossFit queen Jamie Greene (@jgreenewod) as well as CrossFit athlete turned weightlifter Jocelyn Forest (@jocelynforest).

 

What next

I absolutely love spending time, effort (and money) on this new fitness goal. While it can take over your life (in the same way CrossFit or any other sports training can), I’m trying to see it as just a very healthy hobby. I love seeing myself get stronger, not just physically but mentally too, and love learning and drilling the skills.

I still run – little and often, although no long distance this year – and I still do one or two CrossFit classes a week as I have a lot of friends there, and I enjoy it, so I haven’t given up the fast and furious workouts just yet.

I have no idea where this weightlifting journey will take me – just like how I had no idea that starting CrossFit four years ago would lead me here – so I’m excited by that unknown too. I trust I’m on a road that’s positive and empowering so I have no worries of what may come.

 


 

Are you a beginner, or experienced weightlifter? Have you nuggets of experience or wisdom to share? Have you also transitioned from CrossFit or maybe you just want to give it a go? If so, let me know! Keen to hear more on this topic…