Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All About Glycogen

I bet you've all had them.  Those days when you drag yourself to the gym, and for some reason can't lift even fractions of what you normally could.  You'll end up frustrated beyond belief at the end of your session, wondering why weights that you generally pull with ease just won't budge.  You may look in the mirror, and feel as if your muscles looks smaller, softer, and less "bulky" than they usually are.  You just may feel weak, a shadow of your formal, beastly self.  Why has all your progress suddenly come to naught?

The answer?  Glycogen depletion.

Glycogen is an extremely important substance that is stored in your muscles and in your liver.  It is the body's usable source of carbohydrates.  You've always wondered how all that food you ate ended up as usable energy.  Well, glycogen is the answer!  Your body basically converts ingested carbohydrates into glycogen, and saturates your muscles and liver with the stuff to use as an efficient and powerful fuel source.  Hence, after your workout (in which you've hopefully depleted a large amount of your glycogen stores), it would definitely be in your interest to consume carbohydrates with your protein (the ratio is under scrutiny, some say 2:1 carbs to protein, others say as much as 4:1) in order to initiate both protein and glycogen synthesis.  

Easy enough right?  To keep those glycogen stores topped off, keep some carbs in that post-workout meal.  But because you've read my other articles (you have, haven't you?) , you may, upon considering this information, have reached a quandary about replenishing glycogen stores.  You may have realized that there are multiple types of carbohydrates (namely simple, and complex).  So which does a better job of fueling up those muscles after a hard workout?  Or maybe you're wondering if it matters at all, as long as your muscles get those much needed nutrients.

Well we've established in previous examples that IN GENERAL complex carbohydrates are a more effective energy/nutrient source for your body.  They are released slowly and used efficiently, and are less likely to be stored as fat.  They'll give you lasting energy for long periods of time, and are the better choice for filling up those glycogen starved muscles.  Why aren't simple carbs quite as good?  Well here's a quote from a website I found that describes it better than I could:

"… complex carbohydrates … are more effective in replenishing glycogen stores than simple sugars. This makes sense because complex carbs are released slowly whereas simple sugars are released very rapidly, potentially overwhelming the glycogen synthesis pathways and "spilling over" into fat stores. Furthermore, the increased insulin release resulting from simple sugars causes more of the sugar to be converted to fat (Parillo, p.20)."

So there you go, glycogen stores are more effectively replenished via complex carbohydrates.  Good examples of easily consumable complex carbohydrate sources are maltodextrin and brown rice syrup, both of which can easily be mixed into a post workout protein shake.  

Brown Rice Syrup...lovely isn't it?
But simple, sugary carbs also have their place post workout.  In fact they play a very important role in initiating both glycogen and protein synthesis.  Simple sugars (like dextrose, a commonly used sugary carb in the fitness scene) will quickly spike your blood sugar, which allows muscles to rapidly absorb all sorts of nutrients.  In fact, post workout is about the only time you really want to voluntarily "spike" your blood insulin because it allows for all that good synthesis material such as amino acids, carbs, vitamins, minerals, you name it, to be sponged up by those soft, tired muscles in no time flat.  Pretty nifty biochemistry, if I don't say so myself.  

There it is, a simple explanation of muscle glycogen, and why it is so crucial in the strength/fitness scene.  Low glycogen levels=poor performance, and believe me nobody wants to feel like crap in the gym.  If you've come off a long training cycle, chances are your glycogen stores are very low.  Don't be afraid to take a day off and eat a good amount of quality carbohydrates.  Everybody needs a re-feed every now and then!

Keep those muscles fueled, lift heavy and run like the wind.  Good luck!

Reference Article (A great read if you have the time, delves into more complex topics about glycogen replenishment):

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Triple-Nut Butter *YOUTUBE PREMIER*

Hey guys, check out my latest endeavor.  It's a new Youtube account where I will put all sorts of food/recipe related videos.  This one involves the creation of Triple-Nut butter, something I thought of one day before Thanksgiving break and wanted desperately to try when I had some time.  The stuff is DELICIOUS!

The caloric information is about the same as peanut butter, around 200 calories for 2 tbsp.

But the greatest part has to be that this butter contains:

No hydrogenated oils

No high fructose corn syrup

No added sugar (and barely any sugar at all to begin with!)

High protein density

A ton of  healthy, unsaturated fat, great for weight loss and heart health!

And this recipe is easily modified to include all sorts of other goodies.  More nuts, flax seed, wheat germ, whey protein, you name it, you can easily throw it in there.  Let me know what you guys think, and enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Light Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving break was, to say the least, incredible.  The food was out of this world, as usual, and completely home cooked by my grandmother.  I'm guessing many of you had similar situations at your own homes, complete with delicious turkey and yummy stuffing and mashed potatoes to go along with it all.  And how could I forget the cranberry sauce?  And the pumpkin pie?  Yes, the delicious food was plentiful, as it should be on Thanksgiving day.

And I'm guessing some of you may feel pretty guilty after Thanksgiving, having gorged yourself as is custom on that holiday.  Maybe the diet went out the window, but got thrown a little too far.  Maybe a lot of you are upset you ate too much, and feel like you can't control yourself on days like these, where the whole family sits down and chows down.  How can one avoid overeating on such an important, enormous, delicious meal?  With Christmas right around the corner, and more fantastic holiday dinners, I think a few tips about controlling appetite are in order.  Fear not, eating in moderation is quite easy, even on the holidays!

First of all, don't stress about one night of rather large eating.  It happens to the best of us, and if you can hop right back on your diet the day afterwards, you'll be absolutely fine and see no difference in your results.  Sometimes it's just better to wake up the next day and forget it even happened.  A week from now that meal won't have even mattered.  Enjoy special dinners like Thanksgiving, don't be afraid of them.  

That being said, if you'd still like to make sure you don't go on an all out binge, here are a few tips that I PERSONALLY followed on Thanksgiving day in an attempt to enjoy the food, but in a healthy moderation:

Eat a light (but filling) breakfast and lunch:  Choose foods that have high nutrient content, but are relatively low calorie.  For breakfast I had a bowl of total cereal and a large pear, both foods that are extremely filling but very low calorie when they're not overdone.  For lunch, I had 8 shrimp (about 80 calories), raw broccoli and carrots, and some plain packaged salmon.  All in all it was less than a 500 calorie meal, but very filling.  

Keep snacking light to stay full:  I had several snacks throughout the day, including a few clementines (between 20-40 calories a piece) and another package of salmon (90 calories).  I also had some raw snap peas every now and then, as well as a few roasted chickpeas.  It's all about subduing your appetite without adding on too many calories.  DON'T STARVE YOURSELF TO SAVE CALORIES.  You'll only be hungrier by the time dinner comes around, and will almost certainly end up eating more.  

Drink LOTS of water:  I had at least a full glass of water with every meal and snack, which helped to keep me full.  But the real power of water comes in right before Thanksgiving dinner itself.  If you want to take a LOT of the hungry edge off, have 1-3 full glasses of water right before your dinner.  I had three, and my normally ravenous appetite was completely tamed. Because of this it was quite easy to enjoy the food in smaller quantities.  

Moderation at the table:  Like I've said before, enjoy IN MODERATION.  You can have a little bit of everything, but if you want to keep the calories low, don't take too much.  Take just a mouthful or two of things like stuffing and mashed potatoes, and if you want to load up on something make it the delicious steamed veggies.  Choose the whitest turkey meat you can find, and use just a dab of cranberry sauce.  If there are sweet potatoes served, choose those over mashed white potatoes.  Oh, and definitely try to avoid most of the sauces, like mounds of gravy and butter.  Those will just add a whole bunch of empty calories.
It's very possible to have a full plate without going crazy on the calories.  

Dessert:  This one's up to you.  I didn't have dessert, but I usually don't, so I'm very used to skipping it.  If you really want to taste that pumpkin or pecan pie, take half of a normal slice, and only go for the other half if you feel you REALLY need it.  Eat slowly, enjoy the rich flavor, don't hork it and go for more.  Make it a challenge to see how much you can enjoy a moderate portion of food.  If you finish it, distract yourself.  Talk with your family for a few minutes, have a sip of water, just wait.  I bet in a few minutes you won't even want more.  

There you have it, tips for Thanksgiving that can be applied to most any big holiday dinner.  Again, I can't stress enough that it's easy to enjoy such a delicious dinner WITHOUT going overboard.  Try it out, you'll be very proud of yourself if you can end up succeeding (and I know you can, these things aren't rocket science.)  

Happy Holidays, Keep those dinners rolling, and as always, good luck!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stress Relieving Food

Eating a poorly balanced diet can do more than change your outward appearance.  In fact, processed food can  degrade your mental state to severely frustrating levels.  Bad food stresses you out!  No one likes stress, it can make every new day a beast to tackle, and can affect things like social relationships with others, work quality, workout quality, and even your sleep cycle.  A healthy diet is one of the greatest ways going to manage stress levels, and there's no doubt in my mind or the mind of top scientists that healthy foods will make you feel a heck of a lot better.  Let's examine what's in healthy food that can really combat stressful situations.

First of all, this won't be one of those "top 10 food" articles for stress relief.  I don't take much stock in those kind of lists, especially because the nutrients those foods contain that somehow make them "top 10" worthy are in fact shared by hundreds of foods that are equally as good for you.  To ignore such amazing diet choices is a very poor and naive idea.

So what foods do the best job of combating stress?  Well that's not a hard question to answer, and I honestly bet you could take a seriously good guess.  Healthy foods like Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains do an amazing job at providing your body with the nutrients you need to produce the hormones needed to fight off excess cortisol, one chemical associated with stress when excreted in excess.

Both Vitamin C and omega 3 fatty acids are incredible combatants of excess cortisol, and therefore can significantly decrease stress levels.  Foods rich in these are most vegetables and fruits (bell peppers, asparagus, tomatoes, green beans, apples, oranges, bananas, etc.), and lots of fish including salmon, tuna, crab, herring, swordfish, and many other varieties.

Foods high in folic acid are also great stress combatants, and once again, these foods include most any vegetable you can think of, especially dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach, asparagus, cucumbers, and many others.  Try a few for dinner tonight!

Another main cause of stress is the excess of free radicals in the body.  Free radicals are atoms that have an unpaired electron in their outermost (valence) shell, which makes them extremely unstable and damaging to human cells.  Certain nutrients have been shown to eliminate free radicals quite effectively.  Foods high in anti-oxidants will do the best job at eliminating these pesky little guys.  Foods high in anti-oxidants include most fruits, like blueberries, pomegranates, apples, bananas, raspberries, strawberries, etc.  A fruit, helping you to feel better?  Who would've guessed.

Certain other nutrients will help to combat free radicals very efficiently as well, including many vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, B2, and E.  Surprise surprise, most fruits and vegetables are very high in all three of these.  Get some into your diet!

So there you have it.  Simple really, eat well, feel great!  Who knew?  Keep healthy foods in that diet of yours, and you'll do more than keep slim for the holidays.  With all that's going on these days, I'm guessing you could use all the chipper attitude you can muster, right?  Let those healthy foods help you out!

Eat your veggies, keep smiling, and as always, good luck!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kim's Best Pumpkin Bread

Today's the start of Thanksgiving Break!  I plan to write a whole bunch of T-giving related articles, but today I'm pretty darn busy with packing up in order to drive from Potsdam to Vermont right after classes end, and as a result I don't have time to post an in depth article.

That doesn't mean I'm going to let you guys suffer though, in fact I'll reveal to you a little gem of a recipe that I absolutely LOVE.  It goes by the name of "Kim's Best Pumpkin Bread" and is the moistest, tastiest, and overall best flavored bread I've had in a long time.  It's pretty darn healthy for what it is, and can be made even healthier through the replacement of oil with applesauce and a portion of the sugar with a zero calorie sweetener like Truvia.  At some point I plan to post a modified version of this very recipe where the changes have been made, so you know exactly what to put in.  Have fun with this one though, I bet you'll love it!


  • 1/3 cup fat-free milk 
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • large eggs 
  • large egg whites 
  • (15-ounce) can pumpkin 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup raisins 
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans 
  • Cooking spray 


  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk.
  • Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in raisins and pecans.
  • Spoon batter into 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on rack.
  • Note: To freeze individual slices, place in heavy-duty zip-top plastic bags. Remove excess air from bags; seal and freeze up to 4 months. To thaw, let stand at room temperature.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 53.6g
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 
Saturated Fat 
Trans Fat 
Total Carbohydrates 
Dietary Fiber 
Vitamin A 56%Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 3%Iron 6%
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet

Nutritional details are an estimate and should only be used as a guide for approximation.


Calorie Breakdown (?)
Nutrition Breakdown
Daily Values (?)
Daily Values

Read more:

THIS BREAD IS DELICIOUS!  I've been eating a slice with breakfast every now and then, just because it's a great simple carb source that will wake you up quickly.  Also, foods high in sugar should be consumed earlier in the day so that the body actually has time to make use of them instead of storing all that sugar as unwanted fat.  

Again, I hope you guys enjoy, and stay tuned for the modified recipe!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Alcohol's Big Fat Secret

Here in college, I am near large amounts of alcohol in every direction.  Each night I hear those stumble in who've had a little too much, or get the pleasure of seeing someone's roommate completely plastered, laying in bed, face covered in marker and flour.  Usually I just sigh and go on about my way, as there isn't much I could say that would stop such occurrences,  It's just a way of life around here, books and booze.

We all have heard alcohol is dangerous.  We've all heard the forboding statistics echoing off the walls of every educated establishment to every person of relative youth.  "Don't drink, you'll die, one way or another."  Of course alcohol is dangerous!  It's a poison!  Your body doesn't really enjoy poison too much, and works very hard to filter it out of your system.  That's what your liver is for, and without it you wouldn't be walking around today, that's for sure.  People who drink work their livers extremely hard, hence they are more at risk for liver disease, sclerosis, and all that other fun stuff.  Not to mention all the impairment risks, which I bet you've heard before a million times.  I don't plan on rattling them all off again to you, that's not what I intended to do with this article.

In reality, there's another little caveat related to alcohol consumption that is rarely discussed.  In fact, if this fact was more widely known, I bet drinking in excess would most likely decrease as a whole.  The truth is, ALCOHOL IS FATTENING!!!!  In fact, the calories in alcohol add up quite quickly, especially on party night.  Let's examine the nutrition of several alcoholic drinks, and discuss why each one could easily take your carefully planned diet and flip it on its head.  

Beer:  Of any alcohol, I think this drink is most commonly associated with those who are overweight.  I mean come on, have you seen some of the "beer bellies" out there these days?  Ridiculous!  The average beer has between 100-200 calories per drink (12 fl.oz), and in any sort of drinking game that can add up fast.  After 3 or 4 beers, you're could be almost a third of your way to a new pound of fat on your midsection (one pound of fat is approximately 3500 calories.)  And many people with heavy alcohol tolerances don't stop there.  I regularly hear of 10 beer sessions.  What's the record I've heard of?  it was somewhere between 22 and 28 in one night, I don't remember exactly.  But even on the low end of the spectrum, if they were average 150 calorie beers, that's 3300 calories.  Amazing.  

Beer can also have large amounts of simple carbohydrates (killers in the fat gain department), with some containing up to 15 grams of carbs per beer.  It varies greatly though, and some beer can have as little as 3 grams per 12 fl.oz.  Read that nutritional label!

Wine:  This drink is one that you can usually drink a good bit of, similar to beer.  Its alcohol content usually isn't as "aggressive," and can keep you drinking for quite a few hours.  The calories start to add up though, more than you might initially believe considering how light wine seems to be.  Red Wine has around 130 calories per 5 fl.oz (the average serving size).  White wine is about the same, with about 120 calories per 5 fl.oz.

These figures may not seem like much, but you have to remember that alcohol goes on top of everything else.  You have wine with dinner, and usually a fancy dinner at that.  Fancy dinners contain foods covered in fancy sauces, which are usually very delicious due to the high saturated fat content (our bodies love the taste of fat.  Just think about peanut butter, isn't it great how smooth and delicious it tastes?  That's the fat!)  Another 300 calories on top of an already unhealthy meal will only throw you from the frying pan into the fire.  Watch those calories!

Shots:  These little suckers are dangerous.  Not only do they contain about the same amount of alcohol as an entire beer, they also have quite a few calories per serving.  70 proof liquor has about 85 calories per shot.  80 proof is around 100 calories per shot.  90 proof is 115 calories per shot.  And 100 proof has a whopping 130 calories per shot!  And honestly, who drinks just one shot?  

After 4 or 5 shots (By the way that's a LOT of alcohol), you've consumed around 400-500 calories.  Add that on top of a day of eating, and you can kiss those weight loss goals goodbye.  Many people don't consider shots to have that many calories because, well look at them, they're tiny!  How could there possibly be any sort of real caloric value to that little bit of happy juice?  Believe me, those calories are there, and in a night of partying, they will add up quickly.

Mixed Drinks:  These drinks are a little harder to judge in terms of nutritional information because well, they're MIXED!  But I can give you a few figures just to get your mind working a little:

Margarita: 150-210 calories
Pinacolada: 250-300 calories
Long Island Iced Tea: 200-230 calories
Country Cocktail (with JD): 150-200 calories

Chances are, the "foofier" and more grandeur that drink of yours is, the more calories it will contain (not to mention all that salt on the rim of a margarita glass).  These drinks aren't generally meant to get you drunk in one straight shot either (although there are exceptions), so more than likely you'll be able to go back and buy another.  That's what bars and restaurants are best at, keeping you drinking, so they get to take as much of your money as possible.  After 4 mixed drinks, you could have taken in as many as 1000 calories.  And that's on top of that veal or goose that's taking such a long time in the kitchen!  Talk about a fat happy meal.

And here's one more little fact that you should take into account when drinking alcohol.  IT STIMULATES YOUR APPETITE!  That's right, when you drink alcohol, you're very likely to eat much more than you would have initially.  That's another reason most restaurants love to sell you alcohol with dinner.  Have you ever heard of the munchies?  You associate with pot right?  Well it can just as easily be applied to alcohol.  Believe me I see plenty of the "drunk munchies" around here every single weekend.

Bottom Line: So there you have it.  Not only can alcohol be dangerous, but even in small amounts it is VERY calorie significant.  I'm not saying you can't enjoy alcohol (responsibly), but just make sure you know what you're consuming.  It's not water, and can really throw a diet into the garbage if not taken into account.

Know your limits, count your calories, and as always, good luck! (and stay safe, my fellow college students.) 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Size v. Strength: The Great Debate

Ever since the dawning of the modern workout, there has been a great divide between two main trains of thought regarding muscular growth.  There were those who wanted to get BIG, and those who wanted to get STRONG.  Such desires spawned two completely different methods for lifting weights, and two completely different types of athletes.

For the time being, lets ignore the casual "I just want to get toned" gym-goer (although I will admit this is a large percentage of gym-goers...).  

When I say two completely different athletic builds, I really mean it. Put these guys next to each other and rarely will you see extreme similarities.  Make them train alongside each other, and the differences will become even more apparent.  The methods are DIFFERENT.  To get big, you must train in separate fashion than you would if you were specifically looking for strength.  Yes, some traits carry over from each method of training (an athlete looking for strength only will inevitably put on muscle mass), but I'll say again, in general they are distinct from each other.

Let's examine the methodology behind each muscular goal.  What goes into the workout, why does the method work the way it does, and how can you incorporate it into your own gym related endeavors?

SIZE:  We've all seen them.  The fantastically enormous bodybuilders that appear to be half man half gorilla, all muscle.  They're basketball sized biceps, ginormous pectorals, and shredded abdominals seem to defy some law of nature.  Yet there they stand, bigger than any human we've ever seen.  How do they do it?  Well aside from an extremely picky diet, and some "medical enhancement," it's all in the gym, and their method of training. 

Bodybuilders train for hypertrophy.  Hypertrophy is the increase of overall cellular volume.  More specifically, bodybuilders train for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and focus more on training their slow twitch, or I muscle fibers.  This basically means that bodybuilders train to experience an increase in cross sectional area of their muscles, and not really associated strength.  It's common to watch bodybuilders doing unbelievably high volume with very sub-maximal loads, at least relative to their muscle size.  Judging by their physique, it appears that they could throw a car above their head.  But in the end, they simply do not have the strength that they appear to have.  

But to them, this doesn't matter so much.  They train for APPEARANCE. And there's a lot to be said about appearance.  Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy allows you to look big and strong, often a more impressive trait than actually being as strong as an ox but only average in the muscular department.  This hypertrophy also more readily accelerates your metabolism, allowing you to burn more fat more quickly, and build that physique you've always wanted.  

How do you go about training for this type of muscle gain?  Well for building big muscle, you want a big rep number, with sub maximal weight.  Don't go super duper light, but work those muscles to exhaustion.  As you've probably heard before, FEEL THE BURN.  Super sets, drop sets, and negative reps are all great ways to overload your muscles for set after set to really ensure a good growth stimulus is sent to your brain and those muscles increase in volume as quickly as possible.  The most general rule for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is to keep reps within the 8-12 range, for at least 3 sets (I've seen people do as many as 10-15 though.)  This is only a general guideline though, and I suggest heading over to to get a more detailed workout routine.  

STRENGTH:  Let me bring to mind an athlete you may or may not have heard of: Pyrros Dimas.  Dimas was a three time Olympic gold medalist for weightlifting.  He weighed in at a meager 182 pounds, yet lifted 473lbs over his head in the Sydney Olympics.  He was the ultimate example of a strength athlete, and is one of my personal heroes.   

So how is it possible that Dimas was able to get so ungodly strong without becoming enormous and inflexible?  Well he, and other strength athletes alike, train for Myofibrillar hypertrophy, or an increase in overall muscle fiber connections.  This type of training surprisingly does NOT drastically increase cross-sectional area or overall volume of the muscle being trained, but instead allows the muscle to contract with much more force than it could previously.  Believe me, to put that much weight over your head, you need a LOT of targeted, raw, force.  

Myofibrillar hypertrophy deals more with fast twitch, or type II muscle fiber, the kind often referred to as "usable muscle."  Athletes like sprinters, Olympic lifters, power lifters, and other related force athletes often have large amounts of fast twitch muscle.  This muscle contracts, as the name implies, hard and fast, and can apply great amounts of energy to objects in very short amounts of time.  It is not, however, very effective endurance muscle.  Muscles can only contract with remarkable force for relatively short periods of time, hence the reason that joggers, bodybuilders, Nordic skiers, swimmers, and other endurance athletes (I put bodybuilders in there because of their ability to hit fantastic numbers of reps, NOT their running ability, which I'm sure is horrendous) possess much more slow twitch, endurance muscle fiber.  

It's always good to get strength training into your workout routine, as being able to lift heavy weights is not only healthy, it also builds a more solid body and strong neural connections between your brain and your muscles.  So where do you start?  Well, first of all, drop the huge number of reps.  Next, increase the weight.  Finally, do this for a good number of sets, 10 or so.  For an olympic lifter, a squat workout program may look like this:  10 sets of 2 reps, every rep at around 85-95% of max.  Believe me, though it may look like an easy workout, it is anything but.  That weight is very heavy, and will ALWAYS be very heavy.  This type of training does work though, and I can personally vouch for it.  The majority of my training is strength targeted.  My squat has gone up around 90lbs in 6 months, and shows no signs of slowing down.  And I don't look too much different, implying I haven't experienced much sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.  Watch out Dimas, here I come!


So which is the best way to train?  ....HAH!  What a silly question.  That's not possible to answer, and rarely will anybody who knows there stuff about exercising/fitness give you a straight shot one way or another.  For the average person, I suggest a mixture of both!  You'd like to look good and be strong at the same time, right?  Well that's a great goal, AND entirely possible.  Switch up your workout, either weekly, monthly, yearly, daily, I don't care.  Confuse your body, train both high and low reps, high and low weight, high and low volume.  You want to see benefits across the board right?  Well you will!  There's always carryover from each type of training.  Even though I said bodybuilders aren't relatively strong...well...I said RELATIVELY.  They're still unbelievably strong, because look at how much muscle mass they've got!  And sure, Olympic lifters aren't overly huge, but I mean they aren't exactly tiny either.  Train for both size and strength, and you'll get both.  Sure, what you'll always get isn't the BEST of either world, but it'll be a pretty good start into each one, and it'll do your body a huge favor.

Get big, get strong, and as always, good luck!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ultimate Snack: Canned Fish

My Dorm Room
I've been wanting to do this article for a while, as it covers something dear to my heart.  This food has some of the greatest health benefits per calorie of anything I've ever come across, and should be a staple in anybody's diet, especially those looking to support the growth of lean muscle mass.  The best part is, it's cheap stuff, portable, and low calorie, and therefore can easily fit into almost anybody's daily meals.  What is this remarkable super food that I personally am sooo fond of?

Canned fish!!!  Or actually, I should say packaged fish.

Whether it be salmon, tuna, crab meat, herring, mackerel, or even anchovies, canned fish will do wonders for your diet.  It's satiating, and an extremely rich source of some of the leanest protein available.  It's a must for gym goers, and I usually have it at least once a day as a between meal snack.  Another great benefit to canned fish is that there's so much variety!  Seriously, go to your local Walmart and look around, you'll see fantastic amounts of fish of every variety in cans or vacuum sealed packages, ready to eat AS IS!!!  Let's examine some of the benefits a little more closely, and see why it's truly one of my most favorite foods in existence.

Protein:  OK, clearly I've already stated these varieties of canned fish are packed with lean, dense protein.  But exactly how much?  Well, in most average sized cans of tuna there are two servings of the fish, and there can be anywhere between 10 and 20 grams of protein PER SERVING!  Eat the whole can and you've got yourself a serious muscle meal.  Plus, for chunk light tuna in water, you're only getting 100 calories PER CAN!!!  WOW!!!  That's a lot of protein for barely a caloric blip in your diet.  Perfect!

To give an example of the protein power of fish, check out these two different foods I have in my dorm room.  One is a package of pink salmon (absolutely delicious might I add, and at 98 cents a package they are more than affordable), and a dedicated protein bar (a remarkably good bar for such a low price.)  The bar has 20 grams of protein, and 180 calories.  The salmon?  17 grams of protein, but only 90 calories!  I could eat two of those salmon packages and get 14 more grams of protein for the same amount of calories!  That's pretty impressive.

Omega-3 fatty acids:  These unsaturated fatty acids are essential in everything from heart health to skin health to joint health.  They will support healthy cholesterol, and will help keep joints lubricated and sliding smoothly throughout your day.  They will also help to support the immune system, and have shown signs to being an effective anti-inflammatory supplement as well.  They alleviate pain all over the place, and keep that heart of yours ticking powerfully and efficiently.

Vitamins/Minerals: Fish naturally have a whole host of beneficial vitamins and minerals, including large dosages of vitamin B12, niacin, selenium. vitamin A, and folate.  The great news is that no matter what fish variation you choose, you're most likely going to get a heaping helping of the daily nutrients your body needs.

There's no doubt whatsoever that canned fish has a lot of good packaged with it.  There are a few little things to watch out for though.

Sodium:  Packaged fish usually has a pretty good amount of sodium in it.  Some isn't too bad, and I specifically look at all nutritional labels before I buy, but some are pretty substantial.  On average I'd say canned fish has between 150 mg and 500 mg of sodium per serving, and there's usually two or three servings per can, so all that salt can add up fast.  Read the labels, and go for the varieties lower in salt.

Mercury:  Many people are extremely worried about mercury poisoning when it comes to fish.  Yes there is a slight risk if you're having the stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  But a can of tuna per day won't do you much if any harm at all, and I bet you won't feel a speck of difference even if you ended up doubling that number.  My advice?  Take a couple days break from fish if you eat it a lot, but don't be afraid of it.  If the mercury starts to add up, you'll know it.

So what are my favorite varieties?  I like all sorts of things, but tend to drift towards bumblebee and beach clif brands.  Here's a quick little description of the varities I have in my dorm room:

Chunk Light Tuna- This stuff is my foundation.  I get it in water, not oil, to cut down on both calories and fat content.  It takes a little getting used to, especially if you eat it plain.  What I would suggest is eating it with some salsa, or mix it in with some vegetables.  You can even spread it plain on some whole wheat bread and top it off with mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, or whatever floats your boat.

Tiny Shrimp-  These are probably the most protein packed of anything I have on my shelf.  They're exactly what the can says:  tiny...shrimp.  For about 140 calories you're getting 30 grams of protein, and they're delicious!  Especially if you like traditional cocktail shrimp.  Eat them plain or with a little salsa.  I've mixed them into brown rice before as well, and boy was that good!

Salmon- I have a bunch of varities of this big fish in my dorm room.  I eat it both from the can (bumblebee pink salmon) or via my new favorite method, vacuum packed pouch.  Salmon is naturally a very tasty fish, and will taste better to most people than tuna straight from the can.  Again though, mix it in with a few things.  I've had it accompanying some butternut squash, and as mentioned above I've had it with salsa as well.

Fish Steaks- I love these things!  Fish steaks from beach clif are dense, yummy, and really fill you up.  They're great to eat plain, especially the ones covered in mustard sauce or Louisiana hot sauce.  They've got some sodium, but aren't atrocious compared to some other varieties.  Just pop the top, grab a fork, and dig in!

Crab Meat- This stuff is goooodddd.  It's very "light" and fluffy, and has a much less distinct taste to it than say, tuna.  It still is packed with protein, but tends to be very low calorie (only around 80 calories per can).  Because it doesn't have a huge amount of taste to it naturally, I like to add it to things that do have some taste, or at least eat them with it in a meal.  I used to have a can of crab meat and a sweet potato for my morning snack.

Sardines- These little suckers are tasty, but might take some getting used to.  They have a powerful taste, and still have the bones in them!  Don't worry, the bones only add a tiny little bit of texture (which I enjoy a lot), and are actually a great source of calcium!  Give them a try.  If you don't like them straight off the bat, try them on a whole wheat cracker or something, or again, mask the taste with a healthy sauce.  Give them a chance!

Kippered Seafood Snacks-  These big flat cans are full of smooth, tasty goodness.  The kippered herring in these things is absolutely delectable!  It's filled with healthy oils, and slides quite easily down your throat.  The high fat content will help them to taste much better to most people, and I highly suggest giving them a shot.  They're only 130 calories per can, and I'm sure they'll fill you up!

The bottom line:  Fish is unquestionably one of the greatest foods you could fit into your diet.  It's packed with all sorts of health benefits, and will really help your body to maintain healthy muscle mass and a resulting fast metabolism.  I'm not going to say fish straight from the can is immediately palatable by everyone, and I wouldn't suggest digging straight in.  Mix some canned fish in with other foods, like rice, vegetables, chilies, pastas, anything really.  You'll find you'll take to the taste much more quickly, and pretty soon you'll be popping cans of tuna and salmon out of your lunch box for a quick, low calorie, protein packed snack.  Give them all a try, I bet there's a variety out there you'll love!

Give fish a chance, your body will thank you.  Good Luck!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bodyweight Isn't Everything

I'm a firm believer in the fact that if you train hard as hell and eat right consistently, you can accomplish fantastic feats of strength, endurance, and power DESPITE being overweight, underweight, or right on your supposedly perfect "BMI."  That video above is partially of Caleb Ward (in the blue shirt), an upcoming 105kg+ class American Weightlifter.  Yes, you heard me right, he's in the 105kg+ class, which means he weighs over 230lbs.  Can most of you flip around like Caleb?  No?  I can't either, and I'm over 70lbs lighter.  Some of you may be absolute gym rats, completely ripped to shreds and strong as a bull.  Can you flip around like that?  I'd be inclined to say no.  A better question might be, could you clean 440lbs?  No?  Well not many can, but Caleb has done it, on multiple occasions.  He is an absolute powerhouse, one of the most consistent, strong, flexible,  and promising weight lifters in this country.  And if he was just walking down the street, I bet you'd just think he was overweight.

The point I'm trying to make with this article is as follows:  Even if you're overweight, you can still be extremely "fit."  And even if you're sitting right on your perfect weight ratio for your age, you can still be extremely unhealthy and out of shape.  What do I mean?  Well, I'll tell you stories of countless people I know who suffer from a condition called "skinny-fat."  This condition involves being very skinny, but eating like absolute crap.  I have a friend who's about 6' tall, weighs a whopping 128lbs, and last night for dinner had a heaping pile of linguine, then an entire cheese quesadilla, followed by two cream puffs and a donut.  He didn't touch a single vegetable, fruit, or protein (other than maybe the beef chunks he loaded into the quesadilla.)  How many calories would his dinner amount to?  I'd guess around 1700 for the dinner, and probably another 600 for the dessert.  And I can't even count the number of unhealthy sugar carbs he just had.  Honestly I was flabbergasted.  How could someone, ANYONE, eat like that, and expect to go about their merry way with no further consequences?

Here's news for all of you.  If you eat horribly like my friend here, no matter what your outward appearance may be, you WILL feel and perform like your body has never exercised a day in its life.  Do you think that someone who has this kind of diet can maximize their lifestyle and gym performance?  The answer is a big, fat, NO.  Your performance will reflect your preparation.  And your preparation (training) hinges on a balanced diet with all of the essential nutrients in carefully balanced ratios.  So it all comes back to food, and even those who are blessed with fast metabolisms will feel the wrath of the quesadillas eventually.

Here's some more food for thought, just because I believe the more evidence that's presented, the  more you'll be inclined to see what I mean about correct diet and training regardless of body weight.  Here's a quote from regarding another weightlifter named Shane Hammond:

"Even the bulkiest Olympic heavyweights make astonishing leaps.  Shane Hamman, the top American lifter in the history of the sport, weighs in at 350 pounds but boasts a vertical jump of 36 inches.  Most NBA players top out at 34 inches.  Not only can Ham-man dunk (he's 5'9"), he can also drive a golf ball 350 yards."

Can you imagine a 350lb man who's 5'9" tall dunking a basketball over your head?  I find it a little hard to visualize, but not impossible.  Shane is as strong as a bull, and trains hard.  He eats BIG, but he eats right, as to all superheavyweights of the sport.  He is an epitome of human strength and power, and he gets around just fine at a weight that most people would need a wheelchair.

I believe seeing is believing though, so here's a few more feats of remarkable strength by those of remarkable size:

      A man who weighs 350lbs doing 13 pullups.

A 315lb man running what they claim to be a 4.6 forty (even if it was slightly slower, that guy is MOVING FAST).  This goes for a lot of NFL linebackers, I wouldn't doubt that most can run faster than I can.  Excuse the fowl language at the end of the video.

Pat Mendes, a US weightlifter weighing about 280lbs, jumping and touching a 10ft garage door.

Here's my final word.  I'm not going to suggest for a second that any of you should just drop your fears of becoming obese and beginning to eat as big as you want.  That's not the point.  My point is that eating right and training hard can make anyone an absolute monster in the field, on the court, on the platform, or anywhere else really.  Being overweight isn't good, no, but as you've seen it's not by any means the be all end all if it's not all fat and laziness crowding up your arteries.  And don't think for one second that just because you might be able to get away cramming that double cheeseburger without weight gain, that you'll be able to out-power or out-sprint the huge guy walking down the street who's been training for years on end and eating big and clean.  Performance rewards those who work for it, not those who get lucky.

Train hard as hell, eat as best you can, and as always, good luck!

Shane Hamman and his astounding vertical leap.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Canned Fruit: The Good and The Bad

It's a pretty common story.  You buy a bunch of fruit for your new, healthy diet (good for you!), and stick it on your counter in a nice, decorative bowl.  However you don't end up eating it as fast as you had originally planned, and it ends up sitting for just a little too long.  In the end you have to throw out a good quarter of the fruit because of that nasty fruit rot.  What a waste!  How the heck can you get more time out of that healthy, delicious fruit?

Can it!  Canned fruit will last, for all intensive purposes, indefinitely.  It's cheap, tastes great, and is readily available at your local grocery store.  Fruits don't lose any sort of nutritional benefit upon being canned.  They may lose a little of their original texture, but once you get past that you're virtually golden.  What a great way to get more of those essential vitamins and other nutritional benefits back into your diet!

BUT HOLD ON!  Don't run out to your grocery store and buy a whole cartload of canned fruit just yet.  There are a few little things that you should be aware of before splurging on canned fruit.  When it comes to the cans, not all are created equal.  NOT BY A LONG SHOT.  How is this possible?  Well, it's actually quite simple.  Some canned fruit is canned in syrup (either heavy or light), and some is canned in the natural juice of the fruit.  I'll give you one wild guess as to which one is better for you.  I'll even give you a's not the syrup, and here's why:

Canning syrup isn't composed of much except a whole BUNCH of added sugar.  This is something you really don't need, especially if you're trying to keep blood insulin levels low and your body from storing excess fat.  To give an example of what I mean, here are the nutritional facts for three different varieties of canned peaches:  

Peaches Canned In Fruit Juice:

Nutrition Facts
Calories 43(180 kJ)
% Daily Value 1
Total Fat0g0%
Sat. Fat< 0.1g< 1%
Sodium4mg< 1%
Total Carbs.11.4g4%
Dietary Fiber1.3g5%

Peaches Canned In Light Syrup:

Calories 53(221 kJ)
% Daily Value 1
Total Fat0g0%
Sat. Fat< 0.1g< 1%
Sodium5mg< 1%
Total Carbs.14.3g5%
Dietary Fiber1.3g5%

Peaches Canned In Heavy Syrup:  

Nutrition Facts
Calories 73(303 kJ)
% Daily Value 1
Total Fat< 0.1g< 1%
Sat. Fat< 0.1g< 1%
Sodium6mg< 1%
Total Carbs.19.5g7%
Dietary Fiber1.3g5%
Note that all these nutrition facts are for a 3.5oz serving.  

Wow, 8 extra grams of sugar between heavy syrup and fruit juice?  That's pretty impressive.  And considering that's only about half a can, by the end of it all you'll be getting 16 grams more sugar than you would if you were eating raw peaches canned in their natural juices!  That's ridiculous honestly, nobody needs that much extra sugar, especially in fruit.  With fruit, you want to look for sources that are as truly natural as possible, filled with all the fiber, simple carbs, and vitamins and minerals you need.  While it's true that canning may alter the vitamins you take in slightly, there's no reason that canned fruit has to be any less nutritious.  Here's how to avoid all that extra sugar:

Remember my favorite phrase?  Well here it comes again.  READ THE INGREDIENTS!!!  It's pretty obvious which varieities of canned fruit are the ones filled with syrup.  They will either say.

-"Made with/packed in heavy/light syrup" right on the front (look a little harder for this title, it may not be quite as visible)

-Or on the ingredients, it might say "sugar."  Simple right?  That means there's added sugar on top of all the natural sugar in the fruit already.  Steer clear!  

-To determine that there isn't any added sugar/syrup, look first on the front of the can for phrases like "packed in fruit juice" or "no added sugar."  These are good indications that the fruit is packaged only in its natural juices with no sugary syrup surrounding it.

-Look again on the ingredients.  If it says anything other than the fruit, the fruit juice, and maybe some water, you know there's something fishy.  Raw, canned fruit will have an extremely simple ingredient list.  

-Look for other forms of sugar on the ingredient list.  If it has something like glucose, fructose, dextrose, or sucrose, come to think of it pretty much anything ending with "ose," then there's a good chance it has added sugar.  

-Watch for calories!  If you think that a particular can of fruit has an unusually large amount of calories for being well, fruit, then there's a good chance there's added sugar.  Take a second to look at the calorie figures posted above, notice how the fruit juice variation has 40 less calories per 3.5 oz.  The more natural the fruit, the fewer calories.  Keep that in mind!

So that's it!  I'll suggest fresh fruit over canned fruit all day long, but I understand the need to have long lasting food that has no risk of spoiling before you get to enjoy it.  Just be careful with your canned purchases, and enjoy all the nutritious benefits of a fruity snack!

Be scrutinous, watch for sugar, and as always, good luck!