Monday, October 31, 2011

The Cotton Ball Diet...SAY WHAT!??

In my research I've always come across some pretty strange diet ideas, and many have given me a chuckle or two.  In fact for the majority of fad diets out there, a chuckle is really all they're good for.  Most can't be sustained, and in the end, good ol' clean eating is your best solution.

But this diet stopped my chuckle, and nearly kicked me out of my chair.

It's called the cotton ball diet.  Guess what it involves?  That's right, EATING COTTON BALLS.  Why on earth would someone do such a thing?  Well the theory is that they're extremely high in fiber and basically have no calories.  If you've read my previous articles, you know what those two things amount to....SATIETY.  You'll be full to bursting, with almost no energy in your belly.

The cotton ball diet claimed to enable people to eat almost zero calories at meal time and still feel completely full.

But seriously?  Did they really think that would work?  I have news, it DIDN'T.  Sure those little puffy snacks filled them up, but it caused extreme malnutrition in many subjects, as well as digestive problems.  No, cotton won't kill you, but I seriously doubt you'll feel too good after popping twenty of those suckers.

Strangely enough, this diet was supposedly used big-time in the modeling industry, where models will do pretty much anything to maintain an unrealistically slim figure.  i found this quote on about a model discussing her take on the cotton ball diet.

"Cotton wool totally helped me feel fuller, I didn’t even need to binge, I just binged on cotton wool and drank lots of water and it filled me up! I also read somewhere that cotton wool contains a lot of fibre. I know it might sound gross and a bit unhealthy but its better eating that and being skinny than eating something tasty but being fat. You can make it a sweet snack by dipping it in strawberry or chocolate food flavoring (0 cal) or make it even a savoury dish by adding herbs/spices and pepper to it."

Absolutely ridiculous.  The girl goes on to say that she soaked the cottonballs in gelatin or orange juice to help them go down easier.  DO...NOT...TRY...THIS.

Fad diets are usually bad news.  If you'd like to know about any fad diet in particular, just comment on this post, and I'll be sure to post an article about it.

Eat real food, don't fall for fads, and as always, good luck!

Macros: What They Are, And How To Use Them

Aren't calories the bottom line?  I mean, the number of calories you eat during the day must be surpassed by the amount you burn in order to lose weight.  That's what you've always heard, and seems to be the most popular knowledge floating around weight loss classes/forums today.  And I'm not here to disagree with it, because bottom line, that is the truth.  For the most part.

But I'm going to pose a little example to you, which might change your thinking just a little bit.  Imagine your weight loss calorie goal was 1800 per day.  So one day, you eat 1800 calories, with most of those calories coming from protein.  The next day, you also eat 1800 calories, but this time 90% of those calories come from carbs.  Now imagine you have a carb sensitivity (your body doesn't like to burn through carbs as quickly as you'd like, and therefore you're more prone to gain weight off of them).  While you still may have eaten your daily goal, you won't have the tendency to lose much fat, because your body will maintain the fat you have if you don't use all the carbs (and an entire days worth of carbs is pretty hard to completely use up.)  

You can think of the body as a house.  Carbs are bricks, protein is cement, and fat is wood.  You can't build a good house with just one of those things.  You need a bit of everything.  Better yet, you need certain RATIOS of those things (I wouldn't want quite as much cement as I would want bricks).  These ratios are referred to by the fitness community as "macros", which is shorthand for macro nutrients (carbs, protein, and fat).  A typical macro ratio looks like this:


So if you see this while perusing the fitness forums and don't know what it means, be confused no longer!  What that simple shorthand basically stands for is the percentage of your calories from each macro nutrient you should be getting in your diet.  The first number refers to the percentage of carbs .  The next, protein, and the final, fat.  40% of daily calories come from protein, 40% come from carbs, and 20% from fat.  

OK, so now you know what it means, but it still sounds like a pretty daunting task to calculate these.  And I used to think so too.  But in reality, it just takes a little trial and error, and usually you can figure out the rest of the percentages if you already have one.  

So what's the easiest one to calculate?  Protein!  A person trying to maintain lean muscle mass should be trying to take in 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  So try that in your diet, and calculate the calories coming from those foods you've chosen.  Because only 20% should come from fat, calculate how many calories would come from the amount of fatty foods you'd put in your diet.  How many grams?  Well 20 is half of 40, and if 40 grams of protein represents 1 gram per bodyweight, you should eat about half that many grams of healthy fats.  Simple enough, right?  

Carbs represent the fillers.  Any left over calories in your diet should come from good, complex carbs.  And don't hold too much stock in "low carb" diets.  Sure there's a time and place for those diets, but unless you're really aggressively looking to drop the last few pounds, I would try to maintain a decent amount of carbs, at least initially.  Low carbs=low energy= ABSOLUTELY MISERABLE all day.  That's why a lot of people drop low carb diets quite quickly.

This above statement will be very controversial among keto diet followers, and I know there have been claims/individual proof of giant fat loss/energy boosting from ketogenic diets.  I'm just speaking for the general, average dieter here looking to get into a better habit of eating.  I wouldn't have them hop right into a ketogenic diet.

So this is all well and good, but how do you figure out the best ratio for you and your daily habits/genetics?  Unfortunately, it requires experimentation.  But in this article I can at least give you a good place to start, by listing a few common macro ratios that are used for specific goals.

40/40/20- This diet represents a muscle maintaining/building diet.  It's a very common macro set, and is used throughout the fitness community.  It's not optimal for weight loss, but everyone will respond differently to macros and it's not to say you can't lose weight on these percentages.  Just adjust your daily calories within the ratio.  

55/30/15- This diet is more for bulking.  The large carb percentage will make your body want to store that excess energy as body mass, and therefore you'll grow more easily on this macro set than you would on a lower carb one.  Carbs are especially important for hard-gainers (skinny people who want to build muscle but just can't put the weight on), and you need to eat significant amounts of them to ensure your body can grow.  Again, adjust your overall calorie intake as needed.

25/40/35- This is a common ratio for fat loss.  You're getting around 25% of your daily calories from carbs, and 40% from protein to maintain whatever muscle mass you have.  This will encourage your body to run off the fat you have instead of the carbs you're consuming, and therefore you should burn an extra few pounds.  Unfortunately the body can stop responding to low carb diets rather quickly, and if your fat loss suddenly grinds to a halt I would suggest getting some more carbs back in your diet.

10/40/40- This ratio is called the ketogenic, or "keto" diet.  It's EXTREMELY low carb, and the basic idea is to get your body into a ketogenic state where it is burning only your body fat for energy.  Followers of the keto diet claim increased energy and extremely accelerated fatloss, but there has been a lot of skepticism about the actual merit held by such a low carb diet plan.  The Ketogenic diet will definitely come up in a later article of mine.

So that's about it.  Experiment with your own diet.  Take your daily calorie goal and try to split up those calories by the percentages stated in your chosen macro diet.  Do this by the grams of each macro nutrient you consume (grams of protein, carbs, and fats).  Sure it requires a little math, but hey, gotta keep that brain sharp.  

Count carefully, experiment, and as always, good luck!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Ultimate Movement

This is a Knol I wrote a while ago, and was quite proud of it.  I suggest learning the overhead squat if you are able, as it will do you a World of good.

The Ultimate Movement

Exploring the Benefits of the Overhead Squat

In truth, there is no one "greatest" exercise to perform. Not for strength, endurance, flexibility, nor any other subset of the fitness world. However, there are a few that can produce great results in most of these fields. This article will discuss one of my personal favorites: The Overhead Squat, and why exactly it can transform someone into a very strong, flexible, powerful individual.

The overhead squat, by nature, is a scary sounding exercise.  It can be even more daunting to watch, as someone who's never seen/tried one before will find it very hard to understand how one can hold such huge amounts of weight over their head, then descend beneath it into the deepest, most straining of squats, and rise back from the depths to full standing height, miraculously unharmed, shoulders and legs fully intact.

Ben Smith demonstrating the overhead squat

Without doubt, this exercise is difficult.  It is strenuous, and requires vast amounts of strength, stability, and flexibility.  And with higher weights, the term "vast" becomes more and more of an understatement.  But even at very low weights, this movement remains one of the greatest full body exercises one could ever do in their routine.  It engages muscles everywhere, and therefore will build complete, full body strength.  To figure out one movement can do so much, let's examine the overhead squat piece by piece.

It should be mentioned first that any type of weighted squat will do wonders for building remarkable strength.  Why is this?  Well, squats require the activation of a huge amount of muscle fiber in order to complete even one with good form.  You may think of squats being synonymous with leg workouts, and while this is initially a correct instinct (a good squat will activate the hamstrings, glutes, and quadricep muscles), they activate many more muscles as well.  In fact, to be stable in a deep ATG (ass to grass...pardon my french...) squat requires an extremely strong core.  Core in general means muscles in, you guessed it, the MIDDLE of the body.  This includes abdominal muscles, upper legs, lower back, and obliques.  More formally, it is defined as the entire spine, pelvic girdle, and hip joints.  This is a remarkable 29 muscles at least!  That's a LOT of muscle fiber.  And the best part of all this?  All that huge amount of muscle fiber is actually USEFUL.  The muscles you're activating while squatting are some of the most used in the majority of other strength related exercises.  So when you squat, you build real, usable strength, everywhere.  

A second, equally important reason as to why squats are so important may be of interest to those guys looking to get bigger and more muscular quickly.  Because squats activate the largest muscles your body possesses, as you squat you release a large amount of testosterone, which will cause your body to go into, put simply, "muscle building mode." You'll pack on lean mass relatively quickly (obviously not that quickly, building lean muscle take a LOT of time), and the strength gains will be as close to immediate as you can get.  Ladies, don't be scared by the word testosterone, squats will only help you, as will all weightlifting.  In fact, adding any muscle mass will increase your metabolism and help you shed unwanted pounds.  And you will NOT bulk up.  I don't care who says you will, they are wrong.  Go look at any female Olympic weightlifter in the lighter classes.  They're throwing 300lbs above their head, and they're still lean, mean, sexy machines.  

On an aside, SQUAT DEEP.  Parallel squats are what hurt your knees, as they take the brunt of the force as you go from descending to ascending.  As you go below parallel, that same force is transferred to your hips and hamstrings, which are bigger muscles that can definitely take the strain.

Well there's the squatting portion of the exercise.  And talk to anyone who know's squatting, it's not easy.  People spend years developing good squat form (not to deter anyone from trying, I suggest it to anyone and everyone looking to put on a little muscle).  But with the overhead squat, squatting is really only half the battle.  The other portion is obviously making sure that the huge weight above your head, doesn't come crashing down from it's precarious perch above your head.  This requires even MORE strength.  A lot more.  

To hold the weight overhead, there's generally a specific grip used.  It's called the "snatch" grip, and is named after the Olympic lift (the snatch) where athletes bring the weight from the ground to overhead in one fluid motion, catching it guessed it...a full overhead squat.  There's a reason those athletes are considered the strongest in the world.  The snatch grip itself means to hold the bar with one's hands very spread apart, nearly at the collars of the bar.  

  This requires less shoulder flexibility to remain upright and "tight" in the bottom of the squat.  The narrower the grip, the more shoulder flexibility is required to go ATG.  This is because as you descend, your shoulders must rotate backwards in order to keep the bar aligned over your heels, and in turn keep your entire body balanced.  Drift too far forward or backwards, and you'll be forced to dump the bar.  What this basically describes is an extremely tight isometric exercise for your entire upper back, core, shoulders, and chest.  One must keep their traps squeezed together and their arms locked out throughout the entire motion.  This, without doubt, becomes very fatiguing VERY quickly.  Little tiny bits of bar movement suddenly require huge efforts to fight and contradict.  And after a few sets, it's almost a guarantee you'll be sore the next day where you haven't ever felt sore before, because most likely you've never worked stabilizing muscles to such a high degree.

    To even do one overhead squat, with any sort of weight, is an accomplishment.  No one should claim it's not, because it'd be safe to say the large majority of gym-goers have ever ventured from their routines enough to try one.  The flexibility requirements of overhead squatting is large.  One must have very flexible hips, knees, hamstrings, calves, quads, shoulders, chest, and spine.  Luckily the overhead squat itself is not inherently possible without such flexibities, so the risk of strain or dislocation decreases.  One who isn't flexible enough, will be forced to drop the bar before any sort of bodily damage can occur. 
     In order to increase flexibility for such an exercise, many stretches should be done on a daily basis (perhaps this is a good time to say that this article is merely meant to describe the benefits of overhead squatting, and should not be considered a guide to either the exercise itself or the supporting exercises or stretches.)  And not only will stretches help your overhead squat, the overhead squat itself is an amazing full body stretch, and therefore will only help you to become stronger and more flexible in the long run.

So is it the Ultimate Exercise?  Is overhead squatting the greatest, most beneficial movement one could do in the gym?  Again, certainly not exclusively.  But the benefits associated with the exercise are immeasurably large, and definitely place this exercise near the top of the list.

Talk to Marcin Dolega, champion 105kg class Polish weightlifter, about the benefits of overhead squatting.  That's a full Olympic snatch^^^....and is about 400lbs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Spot Fat Removal: ONE GIANT MYTH

Have you ever seen those commercials for the ab belt?  Or the ab spinner?  Maybe the glute strengthener?  Or the shake weight?  I've seen all these commercials, and all have one thing in common (besides being absolutely ridiculous.)  They all claim to be able to remove fat from those "stubborn" areas, like the lower abs, under arms, and legs.  They claim to target those specific areas and blast away the fat from wherever you would prefer.

Or maybe you don't care about those infomercials, and like me, think they're pretty ridiculous.  However you're in the gym every day doing crunches, determined to make that six pack poke through your belly.  Sit-ups, V-ups, leg raises, planks, you've done them all, but still can't see those abs.  While you may not believe in those infomercials and they're stupid methods, what you're employing is something almost as naive.


That means that you can't choose where to take fat off of.  Doing more crunches will NOT burn belly fat specifically.  Doing squats won't take weight off only your back end.  Your body doesn't work like that.  Fat loss happens gradually, and symmetrically.  Where you lose fat first is completely up to your genetics.  Yes, I'm sorry, but that's the truth.

So ladies, you say you have "trouble areas"?  I'm sorry to say, but those trouble areas won't go away from focusing on working them specifically.  You need greater overall fat loss.  Accomplish that, and I guarantee those stubborn fat areas will disappear.

So here's a piece of advice that you can take to heart.  You want six pack abs?  Stop doing crunches, and start doing some cardio.  Your abs will only show through when you have a very low body fat percentage (around 11%), and a calorie deficit for the day is really the only way to make sure your body is using fat stores for energy.  Here are a few suggested techniques to really get your fat loss kick started-

HIIT:  Hate running for incredibly long periods of time and seeing no results?  It's time to pump up the pace a little bit, and decrease that monotonous treadmill time.  HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) means you alternate between high intensity and low intensity exercise in timed intervals. Probably the most common example is to alternate between sprinting and fast walking (slow jogging.)  Try it out next time you're on the treadmill.  Jog for about a minute and a half, then full out sprint for 30 seconds.  Really push yourself.  Make those thirty seconds as intense as you can without risking injury.  After the thirty seconds, bring the pace back down to the original jog.  Repeat a few times, so your total time is between 8 and 20 minutes (you can start with less than this though, I'd suggest only 4 minutes of HIIT if you're just getting into it.)

HIIT will make your metabolism go NUTS.  You're heart will be working in overtime, and your metabolism will be elevated for up to 18 hours after you're done with your workout.  Now that's an after-burn effect.

Hill Sprints:  Yeah, they sound horrible.  And I guess I'll reveal that, no surprise, they don't feel good.  But they are extremely effective at both burning fat and building leg muscle.  It's a  pretty simple concept.  Find a hill, and sprint up it.  Walk back down it, then sprint up it again.  Do this as many times as you feel necessary (I would suggest around 4 to start, and 10 if you're a seasoned hill sprinter.  Try jogging back down, or find a longer/steeper hill to add difficulty.)  These are kind of like HIIT.  Short periods of high intensity exercise followed by a recovery period of low intensity exercise.  These will set your metabolism in FLAMES.

Build some muscle:  Muscle burns calories.  The more you have, the faster your metabolism will be.  So many people (I'll pick on women here) refuse to lift weights because they believe it has nothing to do with fat loss.  WRONG.  It has everything to do with it.  If you're looking to increase your resting metabolic rate, I would strongly suggest you lift weights.  Cardio is great, but definitely needs to be combined with weight lifting to have lasting effects.

Think of it this way.  You may lose fat by running.  But if your metabolism can't support your new lighter weight, you'll put it all back on.  More muscle will help you to support this leaner you.

And ladies, don't worry about bulking up.  You could lift heavy almost every single day and would never look like a bodybuilder.  Your hormones will NOT allow you to put on massive amounts of bulky muscle.  I can't emphasize enough that lifting weights will only do you good.

Go the extra mile:  Take every opportunity you can to just be a little bit more active in your average day.  Park a little farther away from the grocery store.  Stand for an extra ten minutes while you're watching TV or making dinner.  Walk the dog, or do some yard work.  If you put in a little effort, OFTEN, it will add up quite quickly.  An extra 100 calories burned per day will definitely add up quickly.

So if you're looking for those abs, stop doing crunches, and go find a hill, or a longer walk, or a hike, or some dumbbells.  Because like I said before, you may hate that belly fat, but it's not going away until your body decides its time.  And the only way you can make your body decide is to force all the fat you can off that muscle of yours.  Start slow, and build up, as with anything else.

Run hard, run fast, walk more, and pack on the meat.  Good luck!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Transforming Taste Buds

If you're like a lot of people, I can talk about healthy foods all day and you'll still imagine a nasty taste in your head.  What's he talking about, tomatoes tasting good?  Butternut Squash being absolutely delectable?  Steamed broccoli and cauliflower hitting the spot?  It may be completely foreign to imagine such natural, raw, bland foods to taste so good.  You'd much rather stick with your heavily spiced up food with sugar and salt, because that actually tastes like something!  But I emplore you, give these more natural foods a chance.  I can 100% guarantee that through a little bit of practice, you can make those foods taste as good as I think they do.

So what are you doing wrong?  Nothing really, it's just the habits you've been supporting.  You may eat the processed  overly sweet stuff on a regular basis.  So guess what?  You've come to accept it as the norm.  If you think that chocolate cake tastes sweet, think of how it tastes to me, someone with a very low sugar diet.  Think of it like, albeit a little depressing, a drug addiction.  You've become addicted to food that packs an extremely powerful sodium, sugar, and fatty punch.  All three of those things taste great to you because your instinct is to consume things that your body can run on for long periods of time and give great energy (fat and sugar.)  Your body doesn't really know any better that that mayonnaise smothered quizno's sub is wayyy overkill.  Yup, it's an addiction of sorts, so like a powerful drug addiction, anything less potent won't get you that "high."

How can you break the addiction?  Well, like anything, it takes time.  First things first, DO NOT GO COLD TURKEY.  An extremely raw veggie, plain meat, clean diet will absolutely kill you if you try to switch all at once.  Your food won't taste like anything, and you'll give up in a couple days, maybe a couple weeks at most. Your taste buds are extremely adaptable, but only if you introduce new flavors slowly.  There's a reason why we learn to accept new tastes as we get older.  Children don't often like vegetables, but grow into the taste (or maybe they don't, as is the case with many adults I know.)  

In my personal opinion, there isn't much of an excuse not to like healthy food.  If you say it doesn't taste good, you usually either haven't given it enough of a chance, or haven't cooked it right.  Some foods may take 9 or more tries before you really start to appreciate them.  

Try these tips to slowly get yourself into eating healthier:

Mix veggies into food you already like:  Who doesn't like macaroni and cheese?  Or maybe a big heaping pot of beef stroganoff, or a plate of crispy nachos?  What these all represent are prime opportunities to start mixing vegetable flavors into already delicious foods.  Try some diced tomatoes on those nachos, or some broccoli in that cheesy mac and cheese.  Put some carrots or onions in that beef stroganoff.  Heck, if you're having a big ol' burger, put a couple more slices of tomato on it than you normally do, and maybe another piece of lettuce.  Slowly pull those natural tastes into your diet, just a little at a time.  Each time you do it, maybe take out a little of the main flavoring (and probably unhealthy) ingredient.  Add a little less salt in your food, put only a tiny skim of mayonnaise on that burger, use a little less cheese in that macaroni.  Try to emphasize the vegetable taste just a little more each time. 

Vegetable side dishes:  Don't do these plain at first, use some kind of a healthy additive.  Saute your veggies in a tasty oil, or spread a little salsa on them.  Sprinkle some cayenne pepper on them for quite a kick, or just regular black pepper might do as well.  Try to use frozen veggies, or the ones that steam in the bag.  Canned usually has a little too much sodium, and they don't taste as good anyway.  At first, steam your veggies pretty aggressively.  Make them soft, chew-able, so they melt in your mouth a little easier and don't fight back with a harsh crunch.  And try to put at least a few on your plate at every dinner.  You don't even have to eat them all.  If they're there, you're more likely to at least give them a shot.

Less sauce on the meat:  This one's pretty self explanatory.  If you put BBQ sauce on your chicken, next time you have the chicken make a conscious effort to maybe put about a third less sauce on the next time.  Then a little less the next time after that.  You don't ever have to completely get rid of it if you don't want to, but try to emphasize the flavors of the meat above the sauce.  Another good idea is to have sauce every other or every third time you have the meat, as a rare treat.  I bet this'll make it taste better anyway, and you won't take that BBQ sauce for granted.  

Cook meat with care:  If you're going to put less sauce on, you might as well try a little harder to cook that chicken so its as tender and delectable as possible.  Make your dinner meats taste great by themselves, and you'll be less likely to top them with all sorts of crazy, unhealthy toppings.

Replace your snacks:  I've mentioned this one a few times.  To help your taste buds to adjust a little quicker, try replacing your afternoon potato chips with a banana, or a bowl of strawberries, or an apple.  Fruit is sweet, so you'll still get that sweet tooth satisfied.  It's also more satiating, so you'll be less likely to eat as much.  Just replace one snack at a time.  Take it slow.

Drink the pure stuff:  There is a LOAD of sugar in most soda, and believe me a glass of mountain dew will NOT help break your sugar addiction.  I suggest drinking more water, or maybe a glass of milk, or 100% juice.  Try your best to get those soft drinks out of your diet though.  Soda doesn't help anything, of that I can assure you.  If you're dying for a sugary drink, try a zero calorie drink sweetener.  

To close this article, I'm going to say this one more time.  To break a processed food/sugar addiction, you need to do it gradually.  If you do, your taste buds WILL adapt.  Give them time, and don't give up.  The younger you are, the faster it will happen.  Set goals for yourself.  Try a few more veggies every meal.  A little less ketchup, a few less potato chips, maybe fruit for dessert a few nights a week.  MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!!

Don't give up, you will adjust, and you'll be incredibly grateful that you did.  It's fun to watch someone wince as you munch on a tomato in absolute and genuine happiness.  Good Luck!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dark Chocolate, Justified Or Not?

In my personal opinion, dark chocolate is a little gift from heaven.  It's smooth, rich, savory, sweet, and gives you that momentary escape from the world around you.  I've always preferred it to milk chocolate, as has the rest of my family.  There's just something about that dark flavor that isn't quite as "in your face" sweet that captivates me, pulls me in and ties me down.  No other taste has really grabbed me quite the same way.  And if you're like me, you may love chocolate, but have a hard time finding a place for it in your strict diet.  Diets and desserts don't tend to go together too often, at least in the traditional sense.

But wait, you've heard about dark chocolate, you've heard that it has a secret.  Rumor has it that dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants, and actually is GOOD for you.  Yup, you may have heard it from a friend, family member, the radio, TV, newspaper, health magazine, really anywhere, as this so called fact is quite prevalent in society today.  Dark chocolate has antioxidants, and that's good enough for you.  You embrace that chocolate bar with renewed enthusiasm. Hello beautiful, where have you been all my life?

I can't tell you how frustrated I get every time I see my friends crunch into a dark chocolate candy bar, screaming "hey, dark chocolate's good for you!" in defiance as they see the disappointed look cross my face.  Listen folks, I love dark chocolate as much as anyone else, but lets put this rumor to bed.

So what are these antioxidants we're talking about in the same sentence as dark chocolate?  They're called flavanoids, and play a big role in decreasing blood pressure and supporting overall cardiovascular health.  It's powerful stuff, and getting more into your diet is certainly a good idea.  And dark chocolate does have a LOT of me...cacao beans have a LOT of flavonoids.  Dark chocolate doesn't quite pack the same punch as these raw, natural ingredients, however it still has a significant amount of these powerful antioxidants.

But what is significant?  Measurable?  A good percentage of the daily dosage?  Well, yes to both, but I'd consider a significant source to be a sustainable, every day source of antioxidants, not something similar to dessert.  Dark chocolate may contain flavanoids, but I'm here to say there are FAR BETTER sources.  And although I'm starting to sound repetitive, take a guess as to what those better sources are?  

You got it:  Fruits, and Vegetables.  

Dark colored fruits are an amazing source of powerful flavonoids.  These include most berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries), as well as citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons.  Vegetables rich in flavonoids incude onions, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, and peppers.  Although it can be argued that almost all vegetables have at least some flavonoids in them.  

Flavonoids are actually repsonsible for all the different colors fruits and vegetables take on.  This is why it is prevalent to some degree in any fruit or vegetable you could imagine, and also why the darker the pigment, the more dense the antioxidant punch.

Dark chocolate owes its flavanoid content to the cacao bean.  But dark chocolate is definitely not the healthiest source of flavonoids you could be eating.  You can think of it this way:  if dark chocolate tastes yummy to you, it's got plenty of sugar in it which make it to be that savory dessert you love oh-so-dearly.  And while sure, you may be getting some antioxidants with that bar of dark chocolate, that small benefit is not NEARLY enough to justify all the extra sugar and saturated fat you're putting into your system.

Especially when you could have just grabbed a banana and been done with it.  

So here's my final word.  ENJOY DARK CHOCOLATE.  But enjoy it for the right reasons.  Don't claim it to be some super food that it clearly is not.  Enjoy it because you love it's savory sweet goodness, and because you know you deserve a treat.  Keep your intake moderate, 1-2 ounces a day, at most.  Eat it when you're not incredibly hungry, so you don't over-indulge.  It's a treat, not a health food.

Keep on track, love chocolate, and good luck!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Food Worship #3: Chickpeas

These are my favorite salad topper EVER.  Call them what you will, Chickpeas, Garbanzo Beans, Ceci Beans, Indian peas, they all name the same superfood.  Chickpeas are loaded with nutrients, and are an amazing source of protein.  Here's a few reasons why you should get these little guys into your diet ASAP.

Chickpeas are one of the greatest sources of vegetarian protein you can find.  Many proteins in plants aren't complete proteins, which means your body can't actually utilize them until it matches the amino acids that are there with another incomplete protein that has the necessary remaining amino acids.  Chickpeas though, don't have this problem.  Your body can fully utilize the protein in chickpeas, making them an amazing muscle building salad topper.  For a 1/2 cup of garbanzo beans, you get a good 6g of protein.  Not bad, not bad at all.

Chickpeas are also a great source of fiber!  For a 1/2 cup of them, you get a whopping 5g of fiber.  That's a VERY fibrous composition, and all that fiber will help your body to more easily metabolize the food from the rest of your day by slowing down the digestive process.  Not to mention, it'll keep your digestive system at a regular pace (a very useful thing).

For one cup of chickpeas, you get a whole HEAPING load of vitamins and nutrients.  You'll get Beta Carotene, Vitamin C and E, and a ton of phenolic acids like ferulic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and vanillic acid.  You may be wondering what all these impressively named substances do, and how they could possibly be important in the grand scheme of things.  Quite simply, they help your heart!  Chickpeas reduce your risk of heart disease, and a daily dosage of them will keep you healthy and happy for years to come.  These acids decrease LDL cholesterol (bad) which help your heart to pump easier and with greater efficiency.  Combined with their high levels of folate and magnesium (which help to keep your bloodflow as unrestricted as possible), you couldn't find too many other foods that could cause your heart a more beneficial environment in which to do its oh-so-important job.

Garbanzo beans will also help regulate blood sugar, and reduce insulin sensitivity.  This is a must if you're looking to keep your body lean, and lose some of that spare tire.  Combined with the digestion slowing of the added fiber, chickpeas can most definitely assist you in your diet and weight loss goals.

And guess what?  Because of all that fiber, guess how you'll feel after you eat a good serving of them.  You'll feel pretty darn satiated, and therefore are less likely to overeat.  The ultimate diet food?  I think so!

Chickpeas are one of the best foods you can fit in your daily calories, and add a lot of flavor to any bland salad.  I love them for their texture, their taste, and all those healthy nutrients they contain.  Plus they pack a load of protein which helps my muscles rebuild after lifting hard day in and day out.  If you're interested in getting leaner, stronger, and healthier in general, scoop a few of these bad boys onto your salad today.

Good luck!     

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins Recipe

These are one of the tastiest snacks I've had in a while, and they're absolutely loaded with protein and other great vegetable obtained vitamins and nutrients.  I got the recipe off, a rich source of clean eating recipes and thousands of other health and fitness related articles.  Here's the link to the original article:

It comes with a video tutorial by Jamie Eason, a girl that most definitely knows how to work hard and eat right.

Here's the recipe.  These things are heavenly.  Throw a little chili powder on them and you're set.  Great source of lean protein and vegetables.  In fact I would suggest actually adding a few more veggies to the mix, perhaps some bell peppers, beans, or really anything you think might taste good.  Enjoy!!!

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins

Calories: 80
Fats: 2 grams
Carbs: 4 grams
Protein: 11 grams

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins
+ Click To Enlarge.
Turkey Meatloaf Muffins.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Spray muffin pan with canola or olive oil.
  3. Mix all your ingredients together in one large bowl.
  4. Roll the mixture into balls and place in muffin pan. Muffins should be about the size of a racquetball.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes.
  6. Makes 12 muffins.

    Serving Size:
    Women: 2 muffins
    Men: 4 muffins

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creatine: The Old School Powerhouse!

I'm going to go on a creatine cycle next month, so I figured why not post a related article?

Few muscle building supplements have been around for as long as good ol' creatine monohydrate.  It has been a staple in bodybuilding, strength training, and the entire fitness world in general for quite a while (the early 90's is when creatine was introduced as a supplement.)  But what is creatine exactly?  You may have heard quite a few stories about the stuff, and hopefully this article will clear up your understanding of that powdered powerhouse.

First thing's first, creatine is a natural element of food.  It's found in all sorts of meats, like beef, turkey, chicken, and fish.  It's composed of three amino acids, arginine, glycine, and methionine.  Those are some powerful muscle building blocks right now, and you should already be starting to see how useful creatine is for packing on lean body mass.

But if you're getting some creatine in your diet already (in your food, though I bet you didn't know you were until now), why should you spend your hard earned cash to get some more of that pricey powder?  Well first of all, creatine monohydrate, which has been proven time and time again to be the MOST effective form of creatine, doesn't cost much.  In fact it'll probably be less than half the price of that expensive whey.  And let me get this out of the way, it will NOT replace your protein supplement, in fact creatine is meant to assist in the more effective absorption of all that extra protein into your muscles.

But what will creatine do?  Creatine will cause fluid to be drawn into your muscles, causing them to bloat slightly and grow noticably.  I'm betting you didn't pay for a temporary "fake" muscle builder though, so keep listening.  Your muscles absorb nutrients and protein MUCH more effectively if they are hydrated, and that's where creatine does its job well.  It will pack your muscles full of water, making them ready and willing to take in as much of that extra protein as they can.

Creatine will also give you more anaerobic energy.  In simple terms, as your energy stores become depleted, creatine can donate part of it's molecular structure to allow your body another short burst of energy when you really need it.  This energy will be evident in anaerobic situations such as heavy max lifts, sprints, and other short, high intensity exercises.  If you want ravaging muscular power, I suggest trying out some creatine very soon.

How do you take creatine though, that's the real question.  There's been a lot of debate on this one, but the method I've used consists of a loading phase, followed by a constant dosage phase, followed by a cycling off.  What this basically means is that for one week, you will consume 15-25g (3-4 tsp) of creatine pre or post workout to completely saturate your muscles with creatine as quickly as possible.  If you just start off with a smaller, constant dosage, it will take longer to see benefits.

After this week of loading, you back off on the amount you take, trying now only to maintain your creatine stores.  Take 2-5g (.5-1 tsp) a day pre-workout, and that should be enough.  Keep on this pattern for a month, then stop taking creatine and allow your system to flush out. The reason for this is that there's rumors creatine can be damaging to your kidneys, however there is still a lot of controversy. People agree though that it's better to be safe than sorry.  ALWAYS drink lots of water with creatine, both to load your muscles up and to help flush out your system.

Like with any supplement, your body can get used to the extra creatine, and you won't see the effects after a while.  That's another reason to cycle off creatine every other month, to keep gaining for as long as possible.

If you're looking for a new, cheap, and easy way to build a little more muscle, before you buy 70$ worth of pills, try some creatine.  It's old school, and it works.  It'll pack on muscle, and make you feel powerful as the hulk himself (well, maybe not quite, but I like creatine...=]).

Load up, lift hard, and as always, good luck!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vegetables: To Cook or not to Cook?

I've always been intrigued by the debate about which is healthier:  Cooked vegetables or raw vegetables.  The claim by many is that cooking vegetables removes significant levels of the nutrients in them, therefore they become less beneficial to the human body.  The other side of the argument (which I tend to lean toward) is the fact that we as humans have weak digestive systems, and are unable to process much of the raw, fibrous plant matter contained in uncooked vegetables, so while even though more nutrients may be present in raw veggies, we can't actually absorb them.  There's good data for both sides of this argument, and many reasons to mix it up and have both cooked and raw veggies in your diet.

Reasons to cook vegetables:

1.  Easily accessible nutrients:  Across the board, all the vitamins present in vegetables (A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, etc.) tend to be more easily absorbed because the vegetables are softer, and easier to digest.  This means theoretically that while cooked vegetables have a tad less of each vitamin compared to their raw counterpart, you end up getting MORE of those leftover nutrients than you would have gotten originally if you'd just eaten the vegetable raw.

(Here's a chart displaying the amount of each main vitamin in various vegetables when they're both raw and cooked:

2.  Beta Carotene- This extremely powerful nutrient present in many vegetables (especially carrots) is absorbed much more readily when the vegetables are lightly steamed.  Beta Carotene converts to Vitamin A in the body, which will aid in eyesight (ever heard the myth that if you eat enough carrots you can see in the dark?)

3.  Antioxidants- Same deal here.  Useful antioxidants like carotenoids and ferulic acid are utilized by the body much more effectively if vegetables are steamed or boiled.   

4.  They taste better!  At least this is what the majority of people agree upon.  I am partial to cooked vegetables myself, they're quite delicious, warm, easy to chew, and the flavors are much more palatable.  My friends would be a little stunned to see this because I'm usually munching on a pack of raw baby carrots or a stick of celery.  However if given the choice, I'll choose cooked every time.

5.  You can eat more of them!  Cooked veggies aren't as fibrous as raw veggies, and therefore won't fill you up as fast.  That means you can cram more of those useful nutrients down your gullet before your body tells you to stop.  On a muscle building diet, this is a must.  

6.  Anti nutrients are destroyed:  These things won't kill you, but they definitely won't help you.  But what exactly is an anti nutrient?  A good analogy is an apple seed.  The seeds are the valuable part of the apple, and the apple tree doesn't want you to eat its future offspring, therefore apple seeds have evolved to contain traces of cyanide.  Raw grains contain many anti nutrients, and the amount you absorb can be reduced by cooking them before consumption.  This destroys a good portion of those pesky little devils, and the analogy holds true with vegetables (mostly beans) as well.  

Reasons to leave them raw:

1.  They fill you up!  Raw vegetables are extremely fibrous, especially greens like lettuce, broccoli, celery, and spinach.  These foods all are extremely low calorie, healthy snacks that can fill your belly in a heartbeat if you're having one of those hungry hungry hippo moments.  Try a cup of raw broccoli sometime.  No, it may not taste great, but you'll definitely feel like you've eaten a significant meal.  

2.  Easy to snack on:  Raw veggies are easy to pack up.  Try packing a bag full of carrots, celery, pepper slices, and broccoli and I guarantee you'll end up with a filling snack that didn't take more than two minutes to make.  Raw vegetables are firm and robust, and won't be easily crushed.  They're relatively dry as well, so you won't soak the rest of your lunch by accident.  Plus, raw vegetables give that satisfying crunch, and if you can get used to the natural taste, you're golden.  

3.  More Vitamin C:  This vitamin tends to be the one that gets the bad end of the stick when veggies are cooked.  Much of the vitamin C is destroyed by steaming, boiling, or frying, so if you're looking for a little more in your diet (and you should be) then crunch on a few raw veggies today.  

4.  They make your body work!  Have you ever heard of negative calorie foods?  Well stop thinking about them right now, because there are huge debates on whether they exist or not, and the evidence is leaning toward a big fat NO.  However that doesn't mean your body isn't expending large amounts of energy to digest raw foods such as celery and broccoli, and the few calories that are in those foods make them great choices to give your digestive system a workout.  This isn't a pointless endeavor, a healthy digestive system can save you from all sorts of health troubles later in life.  The fiber in those tomatoes will only do you good!  

I say have them both ways!  Veggies are good for you no matter if they're steamed, boiled, fried, cooked, or right off the vine.  I love the way they taste each way, and once you try a few I bet you'll like them too.  Buy some baby carrot packs and much on them at work, or on a walk, or while you're outside reading a book, or while you're cooking dinner, whenever, wherever however you like!  In my opinion, there isn't really ever a bad time to have some vegetables.  

Load those plates high, crunch into a few carrots, and enjoy!

Sodium, Potassium, And Your Body

We all think we know a little something about salt (sodium chloride), and how it tastes darn good on that dinner of ours.  It can enhance the flavors of otherwise bland food, and can save some people from the dreaded plate of veggies.  And our body NEEDs salt to survive, because it cannot manufacture the nutrients in salt on its own.  You need sodium to maintain blood pressure, water levels, and to prevent dehydration.

However what we don't realize is that the average person these days takes in wayyy too much salt.  In fact, the recommended daily sodium intake is around 2000-2500mg, and many people can eat this number within two meals if they're big on processed food.  While you may not have realized this, and haven't ever really felt the effects of an overly large sodium consumption,  all that salt isn't doing your body any good, and in fact can be hurting you in some ways you might not initially see or feel.  However these little behind the scenes acts of mutiny can really come back to haunt you if you're desperate to lose a few pounds, or just get healthier in general.  Here's what excess an sodium intake can do to you:

Heart Health:  Excess sodium will most certainly raise blood pressure, because sodium has the job of regulating water levels in your blood.  The more sodium in your bloodstream, the more water is drawn into your veins, causing a higher blood pressure, and forcing your heart to work harder than it already has to.  And eating high sodium foods day in and day out will definitely take a toll on that oh so important chest muscle of yours.

Excess sodium can also wear down your kidneys, as it's their primary job to regulate the sodium in your bloodstream.  Too much salt can cause kidney stones, and in extreme cases, kidney failure.

A salty diet will also be very detrimental to any weight loss goals.  It will cause you to retain water, become bloated, and therefore you'll be unable to shed those last few pounds.  And because excess water appears like fat over your midsection, causing a soft, flabby look, I guarantee you won't be too happy with your appearance either. This water retention can be easily cured with a diet adjustment, but if you don't know what's happening, it may be very confusing and disheartening to wonder why that scale isn't budging, and those abs are still hidden.

Foods to watch out for:

Canned anything:  The general rule of thumb is to watch out for the canned stuff.  Yes, canned soup, canned vegetable, canned meat, fish, etc.  If it's in a can, it usually has a LOT of sodium in it, just to help preserve it for extended periods of time.  I'm guilty of the canned food craze, because being in college, I can't really keep a ton of perishable food and expect it to last long enough to eat it all.  I also happen to LOVE canned tuna, salmon, herring, etc (GREAT LEAN PROTEIN.)  But I never go crazy on the stuff, and the reason for that is the sodium.  One cup of canned soup can have as much as 940mg (or more) per serving, and there's usually two servings per can!  That's incredible, more than half your days sodium for lunch.

Chicken Breast:  Many chicken breasts and other frozen meats, though lean and fresh, tend to be injected with a saline solution to preserve them for a little while longer.  This excess sodium can add up if eaten many days each week, and before you know it you could be consuming much more sodium than you thought.  Wash your food before cooking to remove a lot of that salty mixture.

Fast Food:  I'll start this one off with a quote:

How do you know if you are getting too much sodium?
"If you eat fast food even once a week, you are probably eating 2 to 3 times as much salt as you need," says Jill Minette, R.D., assistant director of clinical nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

That's incredible.  Fast food is absolutely riddled with salt.  Just plain PACKED with it.  Salt adds a lot of flavor to very bland, processed food, so it's easy to see why fast food chains use so much of it.  One footlong sub from subway can have over 2700mg of sodium.  One Big Mac has 1040mg of sodium.  A Whopper has 1355mg of sodium.  A medium side of fries has around 300mg of sodium, however how often do you eat those without adding a packet of salt or two.  If you're looking to decrease sodium intake, fast food is definitely not the place to start.

Sauces:  A lot of sauces, like tomato sauces, salsa, hot sauce, mustard, chipotle, etc. have a large amount of sodium per serving.  I am a fan of salsa because of it's high flavor to low calorie ratio, but I know it's definitely not a good idea to go crazy on the servings I consume, just because of the large amounts of sodium per serving.  I still suggest sauces as a great way to add flavor to your food (certain healthier sauces of course, I'll give a list in a later article), but watch out for that salt.  Read the nutrition labels!

Any processed food:  Another reason why processed food is bad.  Salt is used for preservation and flavoring, and like I said before, the crappy processed food is what needs the most flavor to keep it selling.  Read the nutrition facts on that lunchable, that ramen (1500mg per block), or that lean cuisine.  Grab a banana or an apple instead and cut that sodium intake a little.

But excess sodium isn't the only problem.  Like I said before, our body needs sodium to survive, and without enough of it, we can easily become fatigued, dehydrated, and overall very inefficient.  Some people may not be consuming an overly huge amount of sodium, but are instead completely messing up the balance of sodium to water in their body.  I've now discussed the desirable amount of each (8-15 glasses a day of water, and 2000-2500mg of sodium), therefore this is the ratio your looking for.  If either one gets out of whack, you'll feel it.  You may feel dizzy, or even slightly sick if suddenly your sodium intake changes drastically.  Try to watch this ratio, keep it in check, and I bet you'll feel a lot better.

Unfortunately the water-salt ratio isn't the only ratio you have to watch in your body.  In fact, yet another problem with a great percentage of diets these days is that people aren't taking in enough of the other electrolyte, potassium.  In fact, some people take in very close the daily recommended dosage of sodium, but because they don't get enough potassium they still see the detrimental effects that a salty diet can bring on.   Potassium works side by side with sodium in your blood to regulate the acid-alkaline balance in your cells.  Basically, sodium works outside the cells, potassium works inside.  Without enough potassium in your diet there can be serious bodily effects such as poor brain function and an irregular heartbeat.  This is because without the correct amount of potassium in your diet, electrical signals to your brain and muscles are very inefficient.

Banana's are a food rich in potassium, try one today!

So here's my final advice.  Firstly, try to cut back a little on sodium.  Replace a few processed snacks with healthier, fresher alternatives, such as fruits and vegetables.  This will not only decrease your sodium intake, but will increase your potassium intake, and will better maintain that critical balance.  Also, drink more water, and while I suggest cutting your sodium, don't go ultra-low salt, because your body does need a regular intake of the stuff.  Keep your ratios in mind, and adjust your diet accordingly.

Keep balanced, stay healthy, and good luck!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Don't Destroy your Salad

I love salads.  All my friends will vouch for me on that one.  There's nothing like finishing up a delicious entree then finishing off the meal with some greens.  I bet many of you will agree that salads are delicious.  And they're healthy too, right?  I mean all those vegetables in one place, it's like the holy grail of bodily nutrients.  But hold on.  I'm here to tell you that your salad might not be as healthy as you think.  You may be accidentally creating a meal that's got a lot of unseen unhealthy elements to it.  Here's a few tips to make sure that your salad is liberated and can do your body the good it deserves.

No Dressing:  Ah!  Madness!  No dressing on a salad?  That doesn't sound too good, does it?  Hold on a minute.  I eat my salads plain every single day, and I can promise you not one of them is ever dry, bland, or distasteful in any way, shape or form.  What's my secret?  I use very juicy vegetables!  Every one of my salads is piled high with juicy yellow peppers, red beans and chickpeas, cucumbers, and my favorite, tomatoes.  Mix those around a little bit and your salad will take on a natural dressing that is actually quite tasty.  And once you pop a bite into your mouth and crunch into a fresh and juicy grape tomato, you'd never know there was no dressing.  I suggest you guys give it a try!

But why do I prefer not to dress my salad?  Well I'll tell you a little something.  That pile of ranch on top of your salad probably has at least twice the calories as the actual salad itself, along with a lot of artificial ingredients, sugars, saturated fats, and things of the like.  In my opinion it's a LOT of calories you don't need.  In fact only two tablespoons of traditional ranch has about 150 calories, and I see lots of people put on two to three times that amount.  That's just ridiculous.  The natural flavors of the vegetables are masked, and any sort of nutrient benefit from the salad is being overshadowed by the shear caloric weight of the ranch.  This goes with all sorts of dressings, just read the nutrition labels.  Thousand Island, italian, you name it, a lot of it will most likely be more than you bargained for.

But don't despair you dressing addicts.  Salad dressing is not inherently bad, and there are a lot of very healthy alternatives.  Let's discuss a few, and how they can make your salad absolutely delicious without adding many calories or other undesirables.

Salsa:  Yes, that spicy, chunky, juicy, delicious tomato paste with peppers and beans.  Salsa is VERY low in calories (10-20 calories for two tablespoons) and VERY flavorful.  It can add a lot of character to any salad, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from.  In fact you can usually have your salad as spicy or sweet as you like with salsa.  It's a great alternative that I highly suggest.  Just watch out for the sodium, it tends to be pretty high in salsa, but 1-2 servings won't kill you.

Mustard:  Same deal here, high amounts of flavor for low caloric density.  Dijon and yellow mustard both can really give those greens a big kick, and will only add a few extra calories to the dish.  It's all about amount of flavor for very little cost.  Try it out!

Healthy oils:  There's been studies that have proven that many nutrients in salad are FAT SOLUABLE.  So you can kiss those low fat, high fructose corn syrup dressings goodbye.  In fact low fat dressings can actually be worse for you than their traditional counterparts.  But if you want great flavor and a lot of healthy, unsaturated fats to fully absorb nutrients from your bowl of veggies, I suggest either olive oil, or balsamic vinaigrette.  Both are delcious and high in healthy fats which will do nothing but good for your body.  Don't go overboard on the olive oil though, it's still high in caloric density, so measure out your portions.

Meats:  I love me some salmon.  And chicken.  And shrimp.  And anything of the like.  And what an amazing way to make your salad more enjoyable!  Stick some lean protein in there, make sure it's fresh and moist, and I guarantee you will NOT miss dressing for one second.  That is if you decide to have it plain.  I would also suggest trying any of the above dressing styles with meat, especially if you're looking to get some more protein in your diet.  Again though, don't go overboard, and make sure that the meat is lean, fresh, and juicy.  My all time favorite is a salmon salad, though shrimp and chicken are close seconds.

Portioned Traditional Dressing:  Like I said before, the salad dressings you're used to aren't inherently bad!  The shear amount of them is sometimes what kills you.  If you want that ranch, go for it!  Absolutely!  But take the time to measure out the serving size.  Heck, try half the serving size, and see if you can get by on it.  Sometimes if you just take a little more time to appreciate the flavors of the food, you'll realize you didn't need so much dressing to begin with.

It's up to you, but I'd suggest experimenting.  Try it plain, like me, and load it up with some juicy veggies.  Then try some salsa, see if you like the kick.  Then try the mustard, then some healthy oil.  The same old thing gets boring anyway, right?

Dress lightly, love those greens, and good luck!