Monday, December 12, 2011

Gorilla Strength

Every now and then, I like to remember my place in nature.  My strength, my diet, my bodily abilities, they're all highly evolved traits that have manifested themselves over thousands of years.  Darwinian nature at its finest, right?  And to see us humans in comparison to other creatures really puts in perspective that, wow, is all this evolution really.....evolution? I mean the term evolution implies that we are evolved, more advanced, newer, more up to date version of our animal friends.  But if you compare our fellow human beings to our more native brethren, the jungle apes and monkeys, what we've gained in smarts, we've lost in functionality.

Before I get into my real animal comparison, let's first look at our nearest cousin, the chimp.  A full grown male chimp is said to be nearly three times stronger than an adult man.  And even the adolescents can have their way with just about any zookeeper.  I remember watching shows of "wildlife specialists" playing with the little toddler chimps (which could already walk, climb, swing, and do other things no human toddler, or adult for that matter, could ever dream of doing).  The little guys were practically ripping the arms off of these animal loving humans.  And they're just tiny little babies!  Seriously, that's pretty amazing.

And to get to my main point, let's examine the gorilla, probably my favorite creature of all time.  These guys are massive, the largest males weighing over 400lbs!  Yet they can still swing from one arm at a time, and have extreme intelligence and dexterity.  And just wait until you hear how strong these guys are.  It's been rumored that an adult male gorilla can be anywhere from 6-16 times as strong as the strongest human male to ever have walked this earth.  16 TIMES STRONGER!  WOW!  That's probably the most amazing thing I've heard in a while, and one of the hardest to fathom.  Can you imagine snapping 2 inch steel rebar, or thick bamboo stalks, with your bare hands?  Both have been done by gorillas, the latter on a regular basis.  That's just phenomenal.

And what's more, look at a gorilla's diet!  They're herbivores!  We spend so much time worrying about protein intake, and getting massive amounts of lean meat in our diet just to put on a little bit of measly muscle.  The gorilla is basically eating raw salads all day, and consuming nothing but plant protein, which doesn't quite add up as fast.  And yet they still could toss a washing machine around like a beach ball.  So what's the deal, how are gorillas able to complete such incredible feats of strength?  Well, there are a few key reasons that may help to explain why gorillas are the beasts that they are.

First, let me put a disclaimer down that all my research has led to possible theories, and shouldn't be taken for absolute fact.  

Type II fiber:  Remember when I went over this subject?  It's mostly in my "Strength v. Size" article here: .  Read up!  Gorillas are supposedly composed of much more type II "fast twitch" EXTREMELY DENSE muscle fiber, which is drastically more efficient at creating vast amounts of immediate force.  This extreme density results in having a LOT more fiber per unit area than a human could ever dream of possessing.  

Muscle Recruitment:  It's quite possible that gorillas, through their own specific evolutionary processes, have transformed themselves into much more efficient muscular beings as a whole.  That means that they can use more of their total muscle fiber whenever they put their mind to it.  An average male who does NOT work-out is said to only be able to recruit around 20% of their muscle fiber to use at any one time.  That's so inefficient it upsets me to be of the human race.  When working out, you eventually increase the connections between your muscles and your brain, and after years of training you can increase this figure significantly, however you'll never reach 100%.  I doubt you'll even come close.  I'm not sure of a gorilla's exact muscle recruitment percentage, but I'm willing to bet it would be much more than even the most experienced weightlifters.  

Brain vs. Brawn:  Believe it or not, a lot of our daily caloric intake goes toward thinking!  Approximately 10-20%.  That's a pretty decent amount, and can explain why you're physically tired after a long test.  Gorillas, while very intelligent, don't have our kind of mental capacity, and therefore a lot more of that food energy goes right to those giant muscles.  This is the same for chimps and other monkeys as well, and helps to explain why they're so much stronger for their size.  

Diet Volume:  Sure, gorillas are MOSTLY vegetarian.  But don't forget that a full grown male gorilla can consume nearly 40lbs of vegetation a day.  No-matter what the heck is in all that, there's got to be plenty of every nutrient you could ever need for muscle growth.  

Body shape:  If you didn't know anything about a gorilla's strength or physiology in general, it'd still be easy to guess at their massive muscular abilities just by their body shape.  I mean just look at them!  They have massive chests, short legs, giant shoulders, and a fantastic set of core muscles.  All their muscle fiber is in relatively efficient positions compared to that of a human.  We're lanky, and not built for brute strength.  Our legs and arms are too long, and our core is relatively pathetic.  We can't compare with the pure physical nature of the beast.

So there's some food for thought this Monday morning.  Remember your place among the wild creatures, and remember that no matter how much you lift, or how clean you eat, the gorilla eats cleaner and lifts more weight than you could ever imagine, and usually does it on a daily basis.  Pretty funny how evolution works, isn't it?

Stay strong, be the beast, and good luck!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Train Those Triceps

I bet you've seen them all too often in that gym.  The curl monkeys.  You know, they're the ones near the dumbbells, curling the heck out of any weight they can handle before eventually tiring out and slamming the thing on the floor.  They'll then make their way to the preacher curl station, and go nuts on that.  They might even do the unthinkable, and curl the bar inside the squat rack (the gym's biggest sin).  And just when you think they've done enough biceps, they hit a few poses in the mirror, and get the heck out of there.  What did you just witness?  A gym failure due to improper knowledge of workout techniques and muscle anatomy.

Sure, obviously there's merit in training your biceps.  They need attention, and without proper exercise you won't get the giant guns you've always wanted, and won't be able to hand out those tickets to random girlies (tickets to what?  Why the GUN show of course!!!)  But if you want big arms, overtraining your biceps isn't the way to go.  In fact, you may be hampering your progress.  If you want big, rippling arms like tree trunks, TRAIN YOUR TRICEPS.  In fact, you might want to pay a little more attention to your triceps than your biceps.  Why's that?  Let's discuss!

(by the way, did you know that the words "triceps" and "biceps" are both the singular AND the plural versions?  Even the singular terms have an "s" on the end!  Leave it to latin...)

The biceps is a muscle defined by two distinct heads ("bi"..."cep"...that's Latin for "two, heads.") Your triceps, that muscle on the and side of your arm, has, you guessed it, three heads.  They can be defined further as the lateral head, long head, and medial head.

Check out the left-hand figure, it shows the different triceps heads
If you study the picture, and flex your triceps, I bet you can find all three heads on the muscle, or at least get a general sense as to where they are.  Different triceps exercises work somewhat different heads, though it's very difficult to isolate just one (muscles are good at working together).  But still, why would it do you good to pay a LOT of attention to those muscles that you can't even really see?

Well, guess what.  Your triceps are actually 2/3 OF YOUR ARM!  That's right, getting big triceps is a much faster route to building big arms than big biceps.  In fact, if you look closely enough at many pictures of bodybuilders and strength athletes, their biceps might seem pretty small in comparison to their massive triceps jutting underneath those ungodly giant arms.

See what I mean about the size difference between these two muscles?
Ok so now you get it, right?  Triceps are what really give those arms the mass you want.  But how should you go about training them?  Well, the sets x reps scheme for training triceps is up to much debate, but I can't really see how a beginner could go wrong with three to four exercises, each one 3 sets of 5-10 reps.  Certain exercises are better off 5x5-10, but I'll leave the research up to you.  I can give you a few of my favorite triceps exercises though!

Skull Crushers- A real killer when it comes to nailing the backs of those beastly arms.  This exercise involves taking a dumbell and laying flat on a bench.  Hold the dumbbell straight up with your arms, and get set for an exercise that you DON'T wanna mess up.  Slowly bring the bar down to to your forehead, bending only at your elbows and keeping your upper arms (biceps and triceps) completely perpendicular to the bench.  Keep those elbows in tight!  Press back up with your triceps when you reach guessed it...SKULL...and repeat.  Make sure you have a strong grip with this exercise, and don't be afraid to start relatively light.  You'll learn quickly what kind of weight you feel comfortable handling.

(The skull crushers start at 2:15)

Triceps Rope Pushdowns-  This one is pretty simple, yet can still be done improperly if you're not careful.  It involves a cable pull down machine complete with a rope attachment that most gyms possess.  You want to grip both ends of the rope firmly, stand close to the rope itself, and extend only with your tricpes, keeping back and legs fully locked.  You can flare the ropes out at the bottom for an extra triceps burn if you wish.

Diamond Push-ups-  These are killer!  Basically the normal pushup's evil twin.  Firstly, kneel down on the floor, and place your hands together so that your two index fingers and thumbs make a "diamond" shape (like on the playing card).  Next, put your palms flat on the floor with your hands still in this position.  Get into a good push-up start position, making sure the spade is centered under your chest.  And the next step?  DO PUSH-UPS!  Keep your elbows VERY tight into your body for the best triceps workout, and don't be discouraged if these are extremely hard at first.  They're probably the greatest body weight exercise for triceps I know of.  

Body-weight/ Weighted Dips:  This involves those two random handles that you may see in your gym, jutting out from some pull up bar/roman chair/dip machine hybrid.  I think you'll know what I'm talking about when you see the video.  Anyway, this exercise is pretty simple, but is yet another absolute killer with just body weight.  Step up to the two handles, place a hand on each, and push yourself up so that you're held in place in air by your locked out arms.  Slowly "dip" between the handles, bending at the elbows, and upon reaching a bottom position of choice (don't go too low at first, you might not have the flexibility), push back up with your triceps muscles.  When you get really good at these, you can add weight like the guy in the video, however I strongly suggest starting only with body weight.  

If you're still not quite strong enough to do body weight (don't be ashamed, this is a very difficult exercise), check out the second video, which shows chair dips, where the same action is performed except your feet are now suspended on something.  These are much easier to start out with, and a great first step toward body weight dips.  

(Suspended Dips)

(Chair Dips)

There's a good start to any respectable triceps workout.  Get to the gym and stop neglecting those powerful muscles on the backs of your arms.  They actually have the potential to be much stronger than your biceps, but they won't be if you ignore them!  

Train them hard, build massive arms, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Healthy Breakfast Cookie Bar Recipe

These things are absolutely awesome!  Virtually nothing in them that's unhealthy, everything proportioned just right.  The only suggestion I might make is to add some whey protein, just to give it a little more of a muscle building punch.  If I ever get around to experimenting with that I'll let you guys know how it goes.

But anyway, try these things out!  No sugar, and the delicious flavor of oats and raisins.  They're really moist too!


Packed with Fiber, Protein, and even a little fruit!


Serves: 8

Units: US | Metric


  1. 1
    Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. 2
    Crush cereal, and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add oatmeal, wheat germ, and cinnamon; set aside.
  3. 3
    In a medium mixing bowl, combine yogurt, applesauce, vanilla, honey, beaten egg, and skim milk powder: mix well to combine.
  4. 4
    Add baking soda and baking powder to the yogurt mixture. Mix well.
  5. 5
    Gradually add the cereal and oatmeal mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir well.
  6. 6
    Add raisins and mix to combine.
  7. 7
    Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the batter and roll it into a ball. Place onto a non-stick cookie sheet, or lined with baking parchment, and lightly flatten.
  8. 8
    Bake at 350°F for 15-18 minutes. Makes 24 cookies.

Oh and by the way I, The Food Guru, did what they forgot to do on the original site, calculate the caloric information!  For one 24th of this recipe (or one cookie bar), it's around 80 calories.  And there's no processed sugar in any of that, just sweet, natural honey!  YUM.

Read more:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Keep Those Joints Healthy

Joint health is a big deal to me, and should be to you as well.  Your muscles can't do their job efficiently if they're inhibited by stiff, painful joints.  And believe me, a pain in the elbow or knee that won't go away is not a fun thing.  It's obvious that maintaining joint health should be something you do proactively, and there are several ways that you can make sure those bodily hinges stay nice and lubricated as both the age goes up and the workouts get tougher.

A lot of joint health can be maintained merely through a healthy diet.  Many vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy products contain a lot of the nutrients needed to keep your tendons sliding smoothly time after time.  But there's a lot that can be said for supplementation too, certain pills and medications that really make a difference when it comes to stiff joints.  Let's examine a few proactive measures you can take both through diet and supplementation that will keep you walking pain free for many years to come:

Calcium:  We've all heard this since we were kids.  "Drink your milk, it'll build strong bones!"  And it's true, Calcium plays a large role in bone and joint strength.  The body uses it to increase bone mass (especially in children) so that bone problems are far less likely later in life.  What are some foods rich in calcium?  Well you had it right from the beginning with the dairy products.  Milk and cheese are great examples of food rich with calcium.  Also, almonds, several herbs, and yogurt are all packed with the stuff.  Make sure you consume a good amount of Vitamin D and Potassium as well, because both those nutrients will aid in the absorption of calcium.

Fish Oil/Omega 3 Fatty Acids:  These fatty acids are most often found in fish, and go a LONG way in helping your joints slide smoothly and pain free.  They decrease joint inflammation, and fish oil has been known to work wonders for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis and other joint conditions.  It's a great preventative medicine as well, and will encourage healthy joints throughout your life.  I don't supplement fish oil, I eat plenty of fish as it is.  Fish like tuna, salmon, herring, crab meat, shrimp, and krill all contain significant doses of Omega 3's.  However some people like to supplement fish oil in pill form with their morning medication, and this is a great way to ensure your joints are getting what they need.  If you take a trip down to your local pharmacy, you'll find that fish oil comes in all sorts of different dosages.  It can be confusing, but you can't go wrong with a light/medium dose.  If you're really confused, talk to a doctor or pharmacist.  Here's a quote from about fish oil dosage:

The best fish oil supplements contain 280 mg of DHA and 120 mg of EPA per capsule.  (That’s more than double the normal amount of DHA in most “average” capsules). A total of 400mg of DHA and EPA.
So 2 capsules a day will give you 800 mg in total, around the level proposed by the AHA. And the recommended dosage, (taken from the label), for adults is 2 capsules a day.

Fish oil/omega 3 fatty acids support heart health as well, so they're a very useful tool in any nutritional diet.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin:  This is one of the most famous joint health supplements in any runner's bag of nutrition related tricks.  It's been known for a long time that daily supplementation of a Glucosamine/Chondroitin pill can help those joints slide smoothly.  I've always associated it mostly with knee pain, but any joint pain is fair game to be cured by this wondrous little pill.  Here's a great explanation from regarding why these two supplements are so important:

How do glucosamine and chondroitin work?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are two molecules that make up the type of cartilage found within joints. Inside your joints, cartilage undergoes a constant process of breakdown and repair. However, to be properly repaired, the building blocks of cartilage must be present and available. The theory behind using the glucosamine and chondroitin joint supplements is that more of the cartilage building blocks will be available for cartilage repair.
  • Glucosamine is a precursor to a molecule called a glycosaminoglycan-this molecule is used in the formation and repair of cartilage.
  • Chondroitin is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage and is responsible for the resiliency of cartilage.

Some will say that it's questionable as to how well an oral supplementation of these two nutrients will inevitably work, but there are many success stories out there that support the theory that a G/C pill in the morning can really make a difference with joint health and comfort.  I have experimented with the pills myself, and while I've never noticed a giant difference, they do seem to help my knees stay strong after all the squats I do.  Hey, better safe than sorry right?

And there's a little explanation of what you can do to actively keep your joints healthy and pain free.  Keep on that healthy diet, and experiment with supplementation if you're starting to feel some pain.  Again though, I don't claim to be an expert in the field, so I would suggest talking to a doctor or pharmacist if you're really looking to get some answers as to what could really help.

Keep healthy, stay mobile, and as always, good luck!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Get Big, The Right Way

Sometimes, if you want something done, you just have to man up and do it.  I'm sorry ladies, but I don't believe this article will too strongly apply to you (there's always the occasional exception, but I'm speaking to the majority here).  I know a ton of guys out there wanting to get all big and strong, burly and beefy.  It's a common goal, one that many males wish to accomplish as soon as they possibly can.  Unfortunately, getting big isn't so simple, and there are thousands out there doing it wrong, or not doing it at all, day in and day out.  Getting big the right way takes work and commitment.  It takes sacrifice and determination.  And above all else, it requires a lot of food, and, as Ronnie Coleman (7 time Mr. Olympia) so famously put it, "lifting heavy ass weight."

So where do you start?  How do you jump on that muscle building train?  First of all, you have to realize that a good mass building regiment will require a change in diet and exercise routine.  Let's talk diet first.  A lot of people just think that to get big, you have to eat big.  OK, I can follow that train of thought, and to a certain point I will agree.  When it comes down to it, IF YOU WANT TO GET BIG, YOU NEED TO EAT BIG.  

What does eating big really mean though?

Well, in most general bulking terms, eating big means eating around 500 calories OVER your maintenance calories, or the caloric value at which you can maintain your weight.   There's a lot of room for little nuances here and there, but this is the most general formula.  And most of the time, it will relate to about a one pound increase in body weight per week.  Later, I'll describe what else you need to be doing to make the most of those extra calories, and ensure to a certain degree that you're putting on as much muscle as you can.

Where should these extra calories come from?

Well, the uneducated meat-head would most likely scream out...PROTEIN!!!  While there's value in that statement, and while you should consume more protein, the calories should really be a mix of nutrients that fit into your macros (remember macros? If not, here's my article about these wondrously useful little things: ).  I would suggest starting with macros that are pretty close to around 55/25/20 (55% of daily calories come from carbs, 25% of daily calories come from protein, 20% of daily calories come from fat).  You'll need to determine the actual amounts yourself, depending on the calories you calculate you'll need to take in.  Here's a free calculator that can help determine your daily caloric needs:

Here's the deal.  Bulking requires experimentation to determine what your body responds to best.  If you go a few weeks on a new diet and find you aren't gaining weight, YOU HAVE TO CHANGE SOMETHING!!!!  You won't gain weight if you don't find the right diet.  Either eat more, or change around your macros.  Sometimes something as simple as a few more daily carbs can kick start the weight gain.

If you gain for a while on a certain diet, then stop, most likely you need to increase your calories.  Go slowly, add another 100 or 200 every day and see what happens after a week or two.  Also, keep your macro ratios consistent.  They were working...right?  Don't bulk too fast, or you'll end up putting on unwanted bodyfat.  Though that's another point I should probably cover.  DON'T BE AFRAID TO PUT ON A LITTLE FAT.  To get big and strong, sometimes you need to sacrifice that perfect six pack.  If you're depressed about this, remember that if you're as skinny as a pole, abs don't count anyway.  You can always cut fat later, and with a higher muscle density, it will be much easier in the long run if you ever do decide to lean out.  If you're eating big, a little fat will inevitably show up.  Keep an eye on the mirror as well as the scale, and if you feel like you're putting on too much, either change your caloric intake, or your macros.

What are the best bulking foods?  Well, I like clean, slow bulks.  That's what I've been on for a few months now.  I'm not looking to pile on the weight, I just want a slow, steady gain.  So I eat big, but I eat as clean as I can.  My favorite bulking foods are:

Sweet Potatoes:  A great complex carb source, and without a doubt will help to put on quality mass.

Peanut Butter:  If you want to put on weight, peanut butter is your best friend.  It's easy to eat, and very dense in calories.  Get the natural stuff, and you'll get a whole heaping of healthy fats and proteins as well as a bunch of quality calories.  Quality calories=quality mass.

Mixed Nuts:  Same deal here, lots of calories for not that many pieces.  Easy to eat, and will help the weight come on nice and steadily.

Oatmeal with Whey Protein:  My favorite breakfast food.  Lots of complex carbs with a whole heaping of protein, will fuel those muscles and help them grow quite quickly.

Chocolate Milk:  Packed with calories, simple carbs, and an awesome blend of whey and casein protein that will feed your muscles for long after a workout.  Drink a glass with lunch, or more optimally, after a heavy workout.  You can even add some whey in there.  If you have a blender, you can add some peanut butter too.  Get creative!

What about meats?  Well I still eat very lean meats, like fish, chicken and turkey, but you can throw a few more caloric meats in there if you want.  Enjoy some steak, or pork every now and then, especially after a tough workout.  It'll really add mass quickly due to the high caloric value and protein density.  Not to mention it's amazingly delicious.

To finish off the diet section, I just want to say one more thing about clean bulking.  It's a great idea, and a noble one, but for some, it just doesn't work.  Honestly, if you're a hard gainer (gain weight extremely slowly if at all, no matter how much you seem to eat), you may need to throw a few "questionable" foods in your diet.  Enjoy a heaping plate of pasta with meat sauce a few nights a week, chow down on that burger or pazo, and have a big glass of chocolate milk a few times a day.  And keep spooning that peanut butter down your piehole.  There isn't a person on earth that can't eat enough to gain weight, so stop complaining that you can't put it on.

I will suggest clean bulking every day of my life, but "dirty-bulking" has its place, and has been known to work wonders for the impossibly skinny.  My advice? Stay as clean as you can, but don't be afraid of a big, greasy, meat packed burger once in a while.  You're trying to pack it on...right?


Now I don't want to make this section quite as long, however it has the potential to go on forever.  Let me start by saying this:  If you want a serious mass building routine, head over to, or look at some of Mark Rippetoe's stuff, or...well basically you HAVE TO DO YOUR RESEARCH.  I don't have the perfect routine for you.  Chances are no one does, you'll have to improvise, and see what works best.  But I'll give you the general gist of things.


What does this mean?  It means squats, deadlifts, standing presses, bench presses, and more squats.  You want to use every muscle in your body in every single rep, with heavy weight.  The mass building rep range is generally 5-8 reps, though I've seen people recommend as little as 1-3 (though this is more strength training territory.)  Load up the weights, and push yourself with every set.  This is the only way to ensure that all those calories you're consuming go to where you want them to:  your muscles.

Why are compound movements the best?  First of all, they use a TON of muscles.  Second, they activate your biggest muscles (leg and back muscles) which in turn release testosterone which encourages maximum muscle growth.  Keep those weights heavy, and the intensity high.

Anatoly Pisarenko squatting as deep as possible

Franco Columbo completing a deadlift with textbook perfect form

If you're a hard gainer, and are having an extremely hard time putting on mass, here's what I suggest.  Cut your workouts a little short.  Do a couple fewer sets (but make the ones that you do count for double), so that you burn a few less calories, and those calories can in turn go toward rebuilding a bigger and stronger you.  It's that simple really.  Oh, and one more thing.  CUT CARDIO.  If you are already a hard gainer, cardio won't help.  If you really want to keep that treadmill in your workout, make sure you're eating like a horse.  I mean it.  A bull even, or an elephant.  Scarf those calories.

So there you have it.  The most basic ideas behind getting big.  As you may have seen they're not even close to one-size-fits-all, but like anything, it's a start.  Head over to if you want some real great mass building tips, and DO YOUR RESEARCH.  Like I said, getting big takes commitment.

Eat big, lift big, be the beast.  Good Luck!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stretching: Before or After?

We all have our little routines at the gym, a nice mental checklist to follow so we can get in and get out having accomplished everything we needed to in order to feel good for the rest of the day.  I see people all the time come in to the gym, lace up those shoes, put on that sweatband, fire up that ipod, and head right over the stretching mat, where they tend to contort themselves for a good 5-10 minutes before hopping right on the elliptical and pumping away an hour.  Chances are you've seen similar things, if you're at the gym for any reasonable amount of time.  Is there anything wrong with it?  It doesn't appear so, but if you follow a similar routine (and don't be ashamed, as thousands upon thousands do), you might actually be hindering your workout performance without even realizing it.

How the heck are you doing that?  Stretching.  Specifically, static stretching.  This involves placing a leg or an arm or a foot or hand or WHATEVER in a position that lengthens the respective muscle to its highest tolerance, then putting pressure on it to go slightly further.  The pressure/light pain you feel is the stretch, and over time it can dramatically increase flexibility.  This is a good thing.  So what are most people doing wrong then?  

They static stretch BEFORE they work out.  Believe it or not, this is a big no-no.  Static stretching before a workout can actually decrease overall muscular strength by UP TO 30%!!!  Wow!  What the heck?  How's that possible?  I thought static stretching before a workout helped!  That's what everyone told me! 

And you'd have a valid point, because it's pretty common knowledge to stretch before working out.  But why should you work hard to break this trend?

Well you see, when you static stretch, you will be forcing your muscle to stretch further than it has before, and at the same time you're also basically de-loading your muscles, forcing them into a state in which they cannot contract with nearly as much intensity as was previously possible.  It's like stretching a rubber band, and holding it at near breaking point for an extended period of time.  When you finally do release the tension, it might be a little longer, thinner, and less springy overall.  It has lost a lot of strength, and so have you.  

And there's something else too, which can also be explained with a little rubber band analogy.  Imagine sticking a rubber band in the freezer for a while.  Now, after a few hours, take it out, and try to stretch it.  I bet it'll snap almost instantly.  That freezer represents your average lifestyle activities, slow, monotonous, and cold.  It may even represent sleep, where you are most likely at a state of zero movement.  Your muscles aren't being used, and so in a way they "freeze" into very inflexible positions.  Now imagine trying to stretch cold muscles, just like you tried to stretch that rubber band.  Doesn't sound like a good idea, does it?  It sure isn't!  And most likely, eventually you'll get the same result.  You'll experience a muscle tear.  So why do you go into the gym and stretch those cold muscles to the breaking point day in and day out?

  Bottom line: Don't static stretch pre-workout.

However after a workout, static stretching is a great idea!  Your muscles are warm, you're through with using them, and if you just let them sit in their tired, spastic state, you'll most likely LOSE flexibility.  So stretch them out!  It's been shown in all sorts of studies that those who stretch post-workout are most likely to avoid future injury.  It's a pretty simple concept, right?  

But there MUST be something you can do pre-workout, right?  I mean you don't just expect to hop on that elliptical without some sort of warmup?  Good news for you, there's a different kind of stretching that will not only warm up your muscles, but won't stretch them to the breaking point or lose you strength.  These kinds of stretches are called dynamic stretches or ballistic stretches.  They involve stretching muscles through movement, encouraging them to activate and work at their highest potential.  It's much easier to show rather than tell about dynamic stretches, so here's a YouTube video that goes through a great pre-workout dynamic stretch routine.

(By the way, that guy is probably one of the strongest and fittest and most shredded on all of youtube, and is sponsered by several high end supplement brands, so I definitely trust his word, or lack of them, on most things.  Check his videos out, verrryyy inspirational.)

I will vouch for dynamic stretching all day long, and it's exactly what I do before every Oly-lift workout.  Warm up those hips, legs, shoulders, back, arms and neck.  You want to stay loose and primed for any sort of upcoming activity.  

Oh, and make sure you take time to actually do a routine somewhat like the one above.  It's worth it, and can prevent injury.  And believe me, you DON'T want to be injured.  

Stay loose, stay flexible, and good luck!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Maple Syrup: Sweet with Benefits

I'm originally from Vermont, therefore maple syrup to me is a way of life.  I've experienced arguably the best maple syrup this side of the Canadian border, and believe me this amber nectar from the gods themselves will always hold a place in my heart.  It truly is one of my most favorite tastes, and honestly I've never consumed one of the artificial counterparts (like Aunt Jemima) without a slight level of disgust and confusion as to how that stuff even came close to imitating the real deal.  Real maple syrup really is something special, and despite it being....well....SUGAR, it does have quite a few health benefits that allow it to find its way into a health food blog such as this.

Firstly, I'll give those of you who aren't native to sugaring country a little background as to how maple syrup is made.  It is originally created from sap of the maple tree, which can be collected only in a certain window of time during early spring when it drops below freezing at night and rises above freezing during the day.  This causes the sap inside the tree to flow up and down the trunk and right past any sort of tap you've hammered into the tree.  Many maple sugarers collect the sap in hanging buckets, but the more large scale operations use vacuum tubes that basically meet up with the tap and suck the sap down to a holding tank hundreds of feet downhill, which is also connected to an entire web of other vacuum tubes winding all over the forest.  It's a pretty impressive sight come spring time, if I don't say so myself.

Once the sap is collected, it must be boiled in order to remove most of the water (sap is mostly water with only a tiny hint of sugar.)  This boiling process takes a LOT of sweet time, and ends up removing a lot of the raw material.  In fact, it usually takes in the ballpark of 40 gallons of sap to make one measly gallon of syrup.  And I remember some of my friends back in high school claiming they and their families have made thousands of gallons of syrup each year!  That is a LOT of sap.  Then, based on the quality and color of the syrup, it is either labeled as grade A or B.  All three have distinct tastes.  A is usually called "fancy" syrup and is lighter on your tongue.  Many consumers less used to the distinct taste of organic maple syrup prefer grade A because it tastes more similar to artificial syrups they might have had before.  Grade B is the heavier syrup with a more viscous, powerful taste, and really packs a maple punch (I prefer this =]).  You'll see many more locals using grade B, because to us it represents the most pure taste of Vermont.

 Grade A is made earlier in the season, and usually Grade B is made later.  

I lied slightly, there are multiple grade A syrups, with increasing maple flavor as they get darker.  From left to right, these grades are:

  • Vermont Fancy, light amber color, delicate maple bouquet
  • Grade A Medium Amber, medium amber color, pronounced maple bouquet
  • Grade A Dark Amber, dark amber color, robust maple bouquet
  • Grade B, darkest color, strong maple bouquet

And they're all pure Vermont organic!

So I did mention health benefits, did I not?  Good news is that maple syrup (especially grade B) is packed with large amounts of certain nutrients, so you're getting some good stuff along with all that sugar.  What would that good stuff be?  Let's find out!

Manganese:  This interesting little mineral has all sorts of benefits.  It has shown to be a great supporter of bone and joint health, which you definitely want especially as age starts to catch up with you.  The strength of your bones can determine comfort levels later in life.  Manganese also supports general overall cell health, protecting them from damaging free radicals.  It even promotes good sensory function, specifically taste and smell.

You'd do well to get some more manganese in your diet, and guess what, 1/2 cup of maple syrup has over 250% of your daily recommended manganese!  Impressive!

Zinc:  Maple syrup is also packed with zinc, a fantastic mineral that supports HDL (good) cholesterol levels as well as other heart health benefits.  You definitely want to keep that heart of yours beating strong and stress free, and if you like a little organic maple syrup on your whole wheat waffles, then you'll be doing your heart a favor.  1/2 cup of maple syrup has 45% of your daily zinc (though I should've mentioned before that 1/2 cup is a pretty big serving size when it comes to maple syrup.)

Zinc is also very important as it helps your immune system to function at optimal levels, which you'd definitely be keen to paying attention to this time of the year.

Calcium:  This bone-related mineral is in pretty high supply in maple syrup.  1/2 cup of maple syrup will have around 11% of your daily required calcium, and perhaps a little more if it's grade B.  You definitely don't want to be short on calcium, especially women, as this will increase your chances of osteoporosis.

I found a great nutrition profile of maple syrup online, which I'll share with you right here:


  • Serving Size 1 tablespoon
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories 52
  • Calories From Fat 0
  • Calories 52.00 kcal
  • Carbohydrates 13.44 g
  • Calories from Carbohydrates 52.00 kcal
  • % Calories from Carbohydrates 100.00 %
  • Fat 0.04 g
  • Calories from Fat 0.352 kcal
  • % Calories from Fat 0.67 %
  • Monounsaturated Fat 0.0128 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 0.02 g
  • Saturated Fat 0.0072 g
  • Ash 0.12 g
  • Calcium, Ca 13.4 mg
  • Copper, Cu 0.0148 mg
  • FA 16:0 Palmitic 0.0072 g
  • FA 18:0 Stearic 0.0008 g
  • FA 18:1 Oleic 0.0128 g
  • FA 18:2 Linoleic 0.02 g
  • Iron, Fe 0.24 mg
  • Magnesium, Mg 2.8 mg
  • Manganese, Mn 0.6596 mg
  • Niacin 0.006 mg
  • Pantothenic acid 0.0072 mg
  • Phosphorus, P 0.4 mg
  • Potassium, K 40.8 mg
  • Riboflavin 0.002 mg
  • Selenium, Se 0.12 mcg
  • Sodium, Na 1.8 mg
  • Sugars, total 12.74 g
  • Thiamin 0.0012 mg
  • Vitamin B-6 0.0004 mg
  • Water 6.4 g
  • Zinc, Zn 0.832 mg

Clearly maple syrup is packed with all sorts of healthy vitamins and minerals, and is a big step up from plain cane sugar which has around 0% of just about everything.  So what does that mean?  It means you can enjoy one of the greatest sweeteners known to man without feeling too guilty.  In my opinion though, as much as I love the stuff, don't go overboard with maple syrup.  A tablespoon or two is fine, and most likely it'll be all you need.  Go much further and you're well on your way to sabotaging your own diet.

But don't be afraid of maple syrup!  In moderation it is absolutely delicious and extremely good for you.  So go ahead, enjoy one of the most beneficial organic sweeteners on this green (soon to be white) earth.

Enjoy those waffles, love the maple tree, and as always, good luck!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chew Gum, Stay on Track

Even as I type this, I'm already chewing a piece of gum.  I'll be honest, I love the stuff, and I'm not alone.  Thousands of people chew gum for different reasons, whether it be to freshen their breath, cure temporary boredom, work out the jaw, or even help them stay on their diet.  Gum is a great tool in many regards, and if you don't already chew it on a regular basis, I hope this article might help you to take advantage of some of the benefits gum can offer.

First of all, before I say anything else, I recommend SUGAR FREE GUM.  This is the stuff you want, not its sugar packed cousin.  Sugared gum will have quite a few more calories and will most likely spike your insulin unnecessarily, kicking your diet off track little by little.  Sugar free gum only has sugar alcohol, which is only partially digested, so the calories are next to naught.  There are between 3.5 and 5 calories in sugar free gum, depending on whether you get the longer flatter pieces, or the shorter, more compact, thicker pieces.  Just check out the nutrition label on the back of the package.

So what are some of gum's most awesome benefits?  Let's examine a few, shall we?

Curbs Appetite:  Yes that's right, gum might keep you from overeating.  Because the action neccessary to chew gum so closely resembles consuming food, you may be able to trick your body into thinking it's actually receiving food when you're actually not!  Neat!

But don't go overboard on this nifty little fact.  Gum won't keep you full, and generally the effect will wear off or even reverse after a certain amount of time, because your stomach keeps expecting food it's not getting.  Gum should never be used as a meal replacement, or even a snack replacement.  It should be used as temporary tool to curb any existing hunger after you've known you already ate enough, or wish to take the edge off before a meal.  Simple things like that.  It doesn't work miracles, but it can definitely help you stay on track.  For example, it's said that gum chewers consume up to 10% less than non-gum chewers.  Not a bad figure, especially for such a simple solution.

Decreases Anxiety:  I bet you've noticed this effect before, as I certainly have.  Gum can help calm your nerves, as it focuses the mind elsewhere and gets rid of a little pent up, tension related energy.  This effect, in the long run, can end up helping you eat less, because anxiety is a HUGE culprit of binge eating.  If you're a little nervous, a simple stick of gum might do wonders for you.

Oral Health:  OK, I'm not going to say that chewing gum is a replacement for brushing your teeth, so don't get too excited.  But studies have show that chewing sugar-free gum can both directly and indirectly decrease the effect of plaque on your teeth.  Direct effects may include the actual removal of harmful food matter off of your teeth, and indirect effects include the stimulation of salivary glands which will help to fight the effects of plaque after a meal.  So pick up a stick of gum after dinner and you might impress your dentist a little more come your next appointment! (Though they always seems to complain anyway, don't they?)

Cognitive Performance:  Amazingly, gum can help your mind perform more sharply and efficiently.  There have been all sorts of studies done on gum and its effects on the brain, and many have shown that chewing gum can help test/school performance as a whole.  In fact, this article describes one of the studies quite well:

It turns out there’s an excellent rationale for this long-standing cultural habit: Gum is an effective booster of mental performance, conferring all sorts of benefits without any side effects. The latest investigation of gum chewing comes from a team of psychologists at St. Lawrence University. The experiment went like this: 159 students were given a battery of demanding cognitive tasks, such as repeating random numbers backward and solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of the subjects chewed gum (sugar-free and sugar-added) while the other half were given nothing. Here’s where things get peculiar: Those randomly assigned to the gum-chewing condition significantly outperformed those in the control condition on five out of six tests. (The one exception was verbal fluency, in which subjects were asked to name as many words as possible from a given category, such as “animals.”) The sugar content of the gum had no effect on test performance.

That's pretty remarkable if I don't say so myself.  Although I bet you're asking why this effect occurs.  This article goes on to state that this temporary sharpening of the mind (yes it's temporary, in the same article it said effects were only noticeable for about 20 minutes) is due to "mastication-induced arousal."  Now don't read that phrase out loud, as it will probably cause you to burst out laughing, but it basically means that chewing something wakes you up and causes you to be more alert.  It's a pretty simple concept, yet definitely one worth noting.

Chewing gum can definitely be an advantageous activity, and the great news is that it's probably one you already enjoy.  So chew with confidence, as you know you're doing your body a bit of good!

Remember, sugar-free.  Good Luck!

A few References: