Sunday, April 29, 2012

Training For Gold: Week 10

It's been a while since I've updated you all on as to how I'm progressing through my training.  This post serves only as a short update, as I realize it's really only of interest to a few people.  Though this is a pretty good spot to get my thoughts down, if I don't say so myself.

I'm please to announce that I'm continually feeling stronger than I ever have before in my life.  The workouts are brutally difficult, however I'm constantly surprising myself with hitting double and triple snatches that I didn't think were even close to possible for me.  The strength is there, and Ivan, my coach, clearly knows exactly what he's doing.  I have an unbelievable amount of respect for him.

In terms of injuries, I'm overcoming a shoulder pang that's been nagging me for a couple weeks, however through ice, heat, and lots and lots of massage and stretching it's recovered despite not ceasing my training.  Awesome!  It never effected my numbers either, thank goodness.  I'm also overcoming a bout of patellar tendinitis with a combination of foam rolling, a LOT of fish oil, and even more ice. All three combined are working wonders, and 12 days after I could barely walk, I'm feeling absolutely great.  Another week and I should be up near 100%.

I hit two new max lifts yesterday, which was absolutely remarkable because the workout surrounding the max attempts was designed to drain me of any energy I had left by the time I actually got the lifts themselves.  That means good things, such as LOTS of untapped potential deep within my muscles to lift a good few kilos more in both the clean and jerk and the snatch.  I have no doubt I could hit at least another 2 kilos in the snatch, and maybe as many as 5 more in the clean and jerk.  Regardless, here's my latest video of both lifts:

You can see more at my YouTube account specifically created to document my lifting progress: Liftm0re (yes, that's a zero, NOT an "o").

I'm due to max out in week 12 as well, so we'll see how that goes.  Progress is coming at relative light speed, and I cannot WAIT to see what else I'm capable of lifting.  A 150kg clean and jerk by the end of this year may not be so far fetched after all, especially if the muscle keeps coming on like it has been.  I'm up to 74 kg!

Stay tuned for more progress, cause I'm not quitting any time soon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fish Oil: The Magic Pill

Let me tell you a little story about me, and fish oil.  About two weeks ago, after a seriously heavy squatting session, I walked back to my dorm with burning hot knees, feeling like they were on fire every single time the ligaments moved at all (which they were doing quite frequently while walking...surprise surprise.)  I knew it was every Olympic lifter's nightmare:  patellar tendinitis.  This is where the tendons across the front of the knee (the patellar tendon and surrounding tissue) become inflamed and swollen, and therefore are very resistant to sliding smoothly like they should.  The cause?  Overuse.  It's a quite common injury among lifters, as well as runner, jumpers, and any athlete who runs, jumps or squats day in and day out.  For an Olympic lifter, it can be extremely depressing, as it means that future squatting sessions will be full of pain and misery.  And taking time off from training unfortunately ISN'T an option.  Any time not spent under the bar is progress lost toward new PR's, podium placings and gold medals.  Patellar tendinitis isn't dangerous, just VERY uncomfortable and debilitating.

So what did I do?  At first, I started ice massage, which helped a little, but never seemed to make any progress in the grand scheme of things.  Every workout after that was pain and suffering just as bad as before.  So I did a little more research, and through countless hours of internet searching I found what I hoped to be a possible cure:  Fish oil.

I read that Olympic weightlifters, when faced with patellar tendinitis, often go on a mega dosing fish oil regimen.  That called for 5000 mg a day for the first week, and an additional 2500 mg a day ever week after that.  I read that the condition should improve noticably in 10 days, and be almost gone by day 30.  I figured it couldn't hurt, and so I picked myself up 300 caps of 1000 mg fish oil pills.  The very next day I started in on 5 pills, spread throughout the day.  Well my friends, it's been ten days, and I'm pleased to tell you that my knees feel SOOOO much better.

Sure, I kept icing, massaging, stretching, and foam rolling, but I have absolutely zero doubt in my mind that fish oil is a nearly "magic" cure for joint pain.  If you don't believe me, just read the countless testimonies by other happy consumers who have loosened up and feel tip top thanks to a pill filled with oil from a fish.  But after I started dosing, I did some reading on the pills.  Turns out fish oil is far more beneficial than I ever could have imagined.  Honestly, I would recommend EVERYONE get on fish oil pills, because what they do to your body is absolutely astounding.  Let's look at these magic capsules a little more closely, and really see what I mean about their truly remarkable power at improving your health and well being.

Omega-3:  A lot of the magic in fish oil pills comes from this substance right here, omega-3 fatty acids.  This stuff is like liquid gold.  It's probably some of the best cardiovascular support you could ever get, and will lower bad cholesterol considerably if regularly dosed.  It also acts as a strong anti-inflammatory, which helps bloodflow, joints, and pretty much everything else in your body work smoothly and pain free.  There are a few types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA.  The two most biologically available and important of these are EPA and DHA, and both are found in significant amounts in fish oil.  ALA isn't as important in our body, and can be found more often in flax oil.  These are called "essential" fatty acids because our body cannot produce them on its own and yet requires them to function.  That's why fish oil supplements are an extremely good choice, especially for those who don't get much fish in their normal diet.

On a side note, in order to achieve maximum health status, you need a good ratio of omega-3's to omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.  The two latter are often found in other fatty foods such as nuts and seeds, and therefore we usually get plenty of them.  However omega-3 fatty acids are usually lacking in the average individual's diet, and therefore it's very important to supplement fish oil.

Decreased Stroke Risk:  Strokes are caused when plaque builds up in your veins to the point where it begins to break off and cause a clot in your brain's blood vessels.  That's NOT good.  Luckily, fish oil has been proven to break down the plaque in your veins, drastically decreasing the chance of suffering from a stroke.  I'll take that and run with it, thank you very much.

Improved Mental Health:  Fish oil has actually been shown to support proper levels of serotonin production in the brain, which will help treat/prevent conditions such as depression.  It has also been shown to aid in memory and overall cognitive ability.  I think that's awesome, don't you?

Healthy Skin:  Fish oil has been proven to improve the health of your skin, allowing for greater elasticity through optimum collagen production.  It'll keep you looking young and wrinkle free.  I'm not saying it works miracles, but hey, healthy skin is always a nice thing to have, don't you think?

Fat Loss:  Haha ok, I'll go into a little more depth on this one, as I can guarantee it'll peak the interest of a few more people.  Fish oil is an EXCELLENT tool for fat loss, and I'd say it's essential for anyone wanting to see real results as quickly as possible.  Fish oil increases the production of leptin, which both increases your metabolism and decreases your appetite.  A faster metabolism means more fat burning power, something many people would absolutely love.  Secondly, fish oil is able to increase insulin sensitivity, which allows your body to release less insulin when it senses ingested carbohydrates.  This ensures that you'll be less likely to store excess carbs as body fat.  Thirdly, fish oil actually helps build lean muscle mass, which will also increase your metabolism and cause your body to hold onto less body fat.  Fish oil, despite being 100% fat, actually is probably one of the most powerful fat loss tools you could ever have in your arsenal.  Cool huh?

Joint Health:  OK, I saved this one for last because I've already sort of discussed it.  Fish oil is one of the best tools out there for maintaining healthy, pain free joints.  Its anti-inflammatory properties keep things sliding smoothly, and hey, the slippery properties of oil don't hurt either.  Thousands upon thousands of people have obtained amazing pain reducing effects from dosing fish oil on a regular basis, and if you think it's too good to be true I IMPLORE you to give it a go for yourself.  You'll be very surprised at how effective this stuff is.

Fish oil has been touted as the only supplement worth taking.  While I don't completely agree with this, I do agree that it is almost 100% necessary for any serious gym-goer, casually active individual, or couch potato. Seriously, this stuff will do you nothing but good.  If you don't believe me, try it for yourself.  Pick up a bottle, start your dosage at 3 a day, and see what changes start to occur in your body.  I can almost guarantee you'll love this stuff as much as I do by the time you're done.

Love the fish, keep healthy and happy, and as always, GOOD LUCK!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fear Of The Unlabeled

I recently had a discussion with one of my friends, and an interesting topic arose concerning eating healthy and controlling calorie intake (I have such interesting conversations, don't I?)  He mentioned that he was afraid of eating foods that didn't have nutritional labels associated with them, for fear of consuming too large an amount of calories, or other bad stuff (like trans fat) without ever knowing it.  I too used to have this fear, big-time.  It's a common one.  Heck, if you don't know what's in your food, how are you supposed to know if it's healthy?  It's a legitimate quandary, and I decided right then and there that I would write my next article on that very subject, namely, how to get over the fear of unlabeled food.

Firstly, I'd like to say one thing:  YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE AFRAID OF EVERY FOOD THAT DOESN'T HAVE A LABEL.  Why not?  Because some of the healthiest stuff in the entire WORLD doesn't have a nutritional label on it.  For instance, go and pick yourself an apple.  Does it come with a nutritional label pasted to its skin?  Nope.  Does this mean it's not healthy, and you shouldn't eat it?  NOT AT ALL!  In fact, you'd do well to eat that apple right at that very instant and start benefiting from the enormous amounts of nutrients it contains.  The same goes for fruits, nuts, and vegetables.  In their natural form, there's no way they could be bad for you.  Just absolutely no freaking way.  In fact, almost every single container of organic food you can buy at your local health food distributor will NOT have a nutritional label, and yet those foods will do so much more good for you than any sort of boxed crud you could get at any old grocery store.  So if you see a bowl of apples sitting there in the cafeteria, or a bucket of tomatoes at the salad bar, don't avoid them.  Dig in.  You won't get fat, you won't have a heart attack, and you WILL make your body healthier.

But that's a no brainer...right?  Yeah, I thought so.  So what about the more complicated stuff?  Let's look at the situation I'm regularly in when I go to my school's cafeteria.  They make a LOT of healthy food, and a LOT of crappy food as well.  And rarely is any of it labeled correctly (though they are trying, I'll give them that.)  But do I stress?  Not one bit, because I know what to look for.  That means I can look at a plate of sauteed vegetables, and tell if the cooks have used too much oil, or if there's a sugary glaze overtop of them to make them more appetizing.  And this is what you need to do.  With complex dishes, you need to use a combination of past knowledge (what have you eaten in the past similar to this, and how was it made?), and a discerning eye for ingredients (know what oil looks like, know what fried foods look like, and determine what ingredients make up the entire dish.)  If it's a relatively plain dish, as in no glaze or anything like that, you can assume that those veggies aren't any more caloric than the raw ones at the salad bar.  If it's a stir fry, I still wouldn't be worried, you can easily account for a few extra (healthy) calories and still have a good meal.  Heck, a little cooking oil will give you some healthy fat in your diet.  If those veggies are rolling around in sloppy meat and brown sauce, skip them, as you know they've been too doctored up to really be beneficial for you.  It's not a hard concept, go with stuff that looks more plain, or more sparingly dressed.

What about meat?  Well that can be a little more daunting, but still not a horrible situation.  Breaded or fried meats are generally a no-no, as they'll have many more calories (sometimes almost double the plain variation), and a lot of bad fats that you know won't do you or your figure any good.  Heavily sauced meats are generally in the same boat, and you should avoid things smothered in BBQ sauce or a sugary marinade.  If the meat is only spiced (seasoning baked in), it could be just fine, or it could have excess sodium.  That one's really a toss up, but a little salt every now and then will do no harm.  In my opinion though, the plainer the meat, the better.  Go for the grilled or poached chicken, or a medium portion of turkey/beef.  I'd stay away from pork and fattier cuts of beef, as they'll be the secret killers, ESPECIALLY if they're unlabeled.  Fish is an AWESOME choice as long as it's not fried.

Also, you have to know your portions.  6 oz of meat is a decently thick piece about the size of your palm.  6oz of any sort of plain meat ranges from 120-250 calories, based on whether it's chicken, pork, fish, steak, etc.  Knowing portions is just as important as knowing ingredients just by looks.  If the cuts are too big, slice it in half and throw out the rest (or give it to your friend who loves meat.)  Not hard, right?

Another reason NOT to be afraid of unlabeled food is as follows:  Just because a food has a label, doesn't mean it's healthy.  Just 'cause you know how many calories are in an Oreo doesn't mean eating them is a healthy choice.  Heck, have you seen a Lean Cuisine package?  I picked one up the other day, and my jaw nearly dropped open at how many chemical ingredients were in that thing.  Low calorie?  Sure.  Healthy?  NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!  You'd be better off eating a piece of meat that you had no freaking clue how many calories were in rather than one of those things.  Ridiculous.

So here's the bottom line.  If you want to eat as healthily as possible, you have to move away from labels.  The healthiest stuff on earth is unlabeled, and you have to deal with it.  I'm pretty sure most of what I eat doesn't have nutritional labels on it, and I'm seeing fantastic results in both strength an leanness as I continue to train.  Don't be a label addict.  It'll only limit your diet to the point where you're absolutely stifled when it comes to mealtime.  If you're a serious addict, you can always look up nutritional information online after (or before) the meal.  But seriously, don't stress.  It'll only cause tension, hormone imbalance, and in this case, hunger.  Remember one thing:  calories aren't all that matters.  Nutrients are where it's at.

Know your portions, know your ingredients, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Cooking Oil Guide

When it comes to throwing that fillet on the skillet, or frying up the tastiest stir fry this side of the moon, you're going to be using a little bit of oil in that hot, hot pan of yours.  I'm here today to tell you that not all oils are created equal, and while sure, any one of them might give you a nice browned fish or seared chicken, some might actually detract from the health factor that's inherently in the foods you're choosing.  Let's make sure you make the right choice when it comes to choosing an oil, OK?

In terms of your choices, they're actually quite varied.  Oils tend to be very high in calories due to their dense fat content, so as far as calories go, you definitely want to get the most bang for your buck.  So let's get started, and see which cooking oil might best suit your next meal:

Canola Oil:  When it comes to cooking in oil, you'd do well to avoid canola oil, despite it being cheap.  While it is very rich in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, it's an EXTREMELY processed oil that's formed through intense chemical processes.  It's basically an industrial product, and was actually initially intended for usage as a machine lubricant.  As you probably know by now, processed foods can do some serious harm to your body, and while I don't believe canola oil will destroy you single handedly, there are definitely quite a few healthier choices out there.

"Generic" Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil):  Generic "vegetable oil" is kind of hard to define as one specific oil, but for the most part it's considered refined soybean oil.  When I say refined, that means, you guessed it, it's processed.  In fact, most generic vegetable oil is along the same lines as processed canola oil, in that the polyunsaturated fats it contains are in general too processed and "rancid" to actually be healthy for you.  They're not along the same lines as healthy polyunsaturated fats that come out of nuts, seeds, fish, and other similar foods.  Is vegetable oil unhealthy?  Not disgustingly so, but like I said for canola oil, there are better options out there.

Olive Oil:  Ah, here we go, the original "healthy" oil.  Olive oil is extremely good for you, in that it contains unprocessed, natural, healthful monounsaturated fats, and tons of antioxidants and polyphenols to boot.  Olive oil is great to fry in, especially extra virgin olive oil.  It has a remarkably delicious flavor that can be a fantastic addition to many dishes, and in my personal opinion is one of the best tasting oils out there.  The only downside to olive oil is that it has a relatively low smoke point, and therefore will burn in a pan over 350 F. With extra virgin olive oil, you can avoid this problem somewhat because it has a smoke point of a little over 400 F.

Sunflower Oil:  If you haven't tried sunflower oil before, I would definitely suggest doing so.  It's extremely good for you, very tasty, and very easy to cook with.  It's very high in vitamin E, and contains huge amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats that are unprocessed (and therefore healthy for your body.)  There are three varieties of sunflower oil, high oleic acid, linoleic acid, and NuSun.  Depending on which type you get, you'll get different amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid ratios, but in general you can't go wrong with any of them.  If you have to choose though, go with the NuSun variety, as it is the least likely to form harmful trans fats when heated.

Peanut Oil:  This is a tasty oil if you enjoy nuts.  I love the taste of peanuts, and therefore a little nuttiness in my food is most welcome.  Peanut oil is another natural, healthy alternative to processed oils, and is very high in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acids.  It also has a very high smoke point which means it can be used in recipes requiring high heat.  For the most part, peanut oil is also cheaper than olive oil, so it's a more economic choice for the average health oriented person.  It will impart a little of the nutty flavor into the foods you're cooking, but in my opinion it's quite an enjoyable flavor.

Macadamia Nut Oil:  This is a very interesting cooking oil, and in some ways a very "exotic" option for frying your food.  It's an extremely healthy natural oil, with not only huge benefits from monounsaturated fats (like almost every oil here), but also from containing large amounts of antioxidants such as squaline.  It also contains high amounts of vitamin E, a necessary addition to any healthy diet.  It can also help lower cholesterol due to its healthy fat profile (well, so can almost every oil mentioned, but I had to say it somewhere, right?)

Coconut Oil:  This oil is a little bit different from all the rest, in that it DOESN'T contain many unsaturated fats, and in fact is comprised of almost 90% saturated fats.  Don't worry though, this doesn't mean the oil is unhealthy.  In fact, coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils out there.  It has a high composition of lauric acid, a powerful antioxidant that is also very heart healthy and supports your immune system.  Coconut oil, despite being high in saturated fat, can also help to LOWER bad cholesterol.  It's also quite tasty and can add an exotic flair to any stir fry.  Coconut oil is blatant proof that not all saturated fats are bad, and that they don't deserve the devilish reputation they've been given.

Hopefully that list gave you a little bit better idea of what exactly to look for when buying oil.  In all honesty, it's hard to go wrong when choosing a cooking oil, so don't stress.  Even canola oil, while processed, won't degrade your health, you just won't be getting some of the fantastic nutritional benefits available in other, more natural cooking oils.  Switch it up a little bit, try a new oil every time you get a chance, I guarantee they can really make your meals quite interesting, flavorful, and add a whole new layer of health benefits.

Keep that pan oiled, and those veggies sizzling.  Good Luck!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Negative Calorie Foods: The Ultimate Diet Fantasy

We've all heard of them, those foods that supposedly require more calories to digest than they actually contain. Like celery!  Don't you remember that celery had something like 5 calories, and took 15 to digest?  Now I don't really know where those numbers came from, but I sure remember hearing that statement uttered from the mouths of quite a few of my friends and relatiFves.  But is it really true?  Could you just theoretically eat a whole ton of celery and burn more calories than your daily trek in the gym?

Unfortunately, no.  These rumored zero calorie foods are just that, rumors.  They don't actually exist.  There isn't a single food out there that requires more calories to digest than they actually contain.  Each and every day, your body takes about 10% of your caloric intake and uses it to actually digest the foods that you've eaten.  Now this 10% can vary based on how many calories you actually consumed, and if it happens to be over the caloric value of celery, then whoopee, maybe in that instance celery was a net loss of calories.  But the difference is nearly negligible, and hasn't been shown to aid in fat loss (the effect hasn't, the food most surely has!)

Does this mean you should cut back on celery?  Or how about broccoli? (Another supposed zero calorie food.) HECK NO!  Both of these veggies can aid in huge amounts toward your weight loss goal.  They contain massive amounts of fiber, which will not only keep your digestive system fit and healthy, but will keep you satiated and slow the digestion of other foods, making it a more efficient process and allowing the body to more readily use the nutrients it has been given.

Listen:  You're not going to get fat off of celery.  I'd be willing to wager you that you could eat as much celery as you wanted, and you'd get full long before you ever gained even an ounce of fat.  Raw, green veggies are just too darn nutrient packed to be bad for you, even in huge quantities.  Actually, I'll go out on a limb and say that if "no limit" foods exist, celery, broccoli, and other deep greens like spinach and lettuce are definitely worthy of that title.

Eat to your heart's content!  But don't think you'll be in a net calorie loss by doing so, because even though I hate to say it, your body doesn't work like that.

 Myth BUSTED!  

All in a morning's work, and now off to class.

Eat those veggies, and GOOD LUCK!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Most Dangerous Restaurant

No, I don't mean that you're at greater risk of getting mugged or stabbed in one particular restaurant over another.  The term "dangerous" here refers completely to the food they serve, and the fantastic potential of that food to make you resemble a big, bloated Santa Claus.  That's right, these places serve the food that rips jeans, bulges shirts, and sprouts new chins.  Sounds horrific, doesn't it?  Just about the scariest thing going for sure....

So which restaurant do you think it is?  Wendy's?  KFC?  How about the big ol' Micky D?  Actually, it's none of the above.  Yes, that's right, in my opinion the most dangerous, fat condoning restaurant is far worse than any fast food chain, and it has a lot to do with the quantity of food they make available to you.  Did that give you a hint?  If you didn't catch it, here's a little riddle that might make things clearer:  What's sweet and sour and comes in endless quantities?

That's right, I believe truly that the most dangerous restaurant out there is a Chinese buffet, and honestly, it's not hard to see why.  First of all, they're relatively cheap.  Secondly, you get an unlimited supply of some of the worst food going.  Thirdly, that horrible food tastes better than anything you could ever imagine.  I mean seriously, what tastes better than a couple egg rolls and a plate full of General Tso chicken?  Not much, my friend, not much.  And howabout that lo mein?  Oh my gosh it's to DIE for.  And here, you can see the problem.

If you ever find yourself in one of these places (which I'm sure you will at some point or another), take a look around you.  Half the people will go up for seconds and thirds, bringing back plate after plate of fried chicken, oily, slimy noodles, and cream cheese stuffed crab rangoons.  And after they finish those monstrous piles of food, they'll go back and grab some sort of dessert from the vast selection of cake, ice cream, and other baked goods.  And of course, you have to have a fortune cookie at the end of it all, right?  I mean it wouldn't be a complete trip without that.

What is the average number of calories consumed at a Chinese buffet?  Well, I'm not sure if this will come as a shock or not, but it's quite easy to break 3000 calories in one meal at a buffet.  Heck, when eating competitively with my friends a few years back at a Chinese joint, I probably broke 5000, easy.  Seriously, when everything is fried, prepared with lots of oil and sugar (and other nasty chemicals), food takes on enormous caloric density.  If you want to succeed on a diet in a Chinese buffet, you HAVE to realize this.

The good news is that not all foods at a Chinese buffet are unhealthy.  In fact, some are extremely good for you.  Here's a list of what to go for at a buffet, and also a list of what to avoid.

Healthy Chinese Buffet Choices:

-Steamed vegetables (with no sauce)
-Plain Shrimp
-Brown Rice
-Muscles, clams, and most other shellfish
-Sushi (in small quantities)
-Grilled meats such as chicken with LITTLE OR NO SAUCE
-Wonton or egg drop soup
-Salad Bar

What to avoid:

-Lo Mein
-Sweet and Sour, General Tso, or any other sort of heavily sauced up fried chicken
-Egg rolls
-Fried rice
-Crab rangoons
-Dessert bar

Sure, Chinese buffets are dangerous, but they don't have to destroy your diet.  Be smart about what you choose to eat, stay in control of your appetite, and you'll be just fine.  That fried food may look, smell, and taste amazing, but think of the long term.  What will it really do to your body, and your future goals?  Yeah...doesn't look so appetizing anymore, does it?

Choose wisely, think of the future, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lots of Protein, Little Gains

This is kind of a fun thing to think about, at least in my opinion.  All you muscle heads out there: have you ever really stopped to consider all those supplements you're taking, the ones that claim to be super effective, and contain recovery formulas so advanced that they're basically GUARANTEED to make you bigger, stronger, faster, more quickly than anything else on the market?  Well I've got a picture for you:

That there is two 13 gallon bags filled with containers of protein, representing about 8 months worth of supplements.  Contained inside are five Combat Powder tubs (4lbs of protein each), two tubs of Wheybolic Extreme 60 (2lbs of protein each), and two generic brand protein tubs (I believe one was a Six Star whey protein tub, and a Body Fortress protein tub, each again containing 2lbs.)  I've also had a couple more tubs of the Body Fortress protein that were thrown out previous to this instance.  That's a total of at least 32lbs of whey protein, not to mention a couple other supplement bottles in there like Amplified N.O. Loaded pre-workout and Purple Wraath (a branch chain amino acid blend.)

Let's think about this for a second.  Do I have more muscle mass than I did at the beginning of this year?  I sure do!  But do I have an extra 32 lbs of solid muscle packed onto my frame?  NOT...EVEN...CLOSE.  If I've gained 4 lbs of muscle this year, I'd be quite pleased.  And believe me, it didn't all come from the supplements (I've been eating like a horse.)

So what does this mean?  Are supplements worthless?  Are they placebos?  Are the supplement companies screwing you out of your money?

The answer is no.....and a little bit of yes at the same time.

Sure, you can bet those companies make their products for a LOT less money than they charge you.  But are they selling you worthless powder in a plastic jug?  NO!  Supplements have come an extremely long way since their introduction in the 70's, and they ARE very advanced blends of fast digesting proteins that your body has a much easier time using to build muscle. Believe me, I wouldn't be able to work out nearly as often or as hard as I do without supplementation.  They greatly assist with recovery, and keep me feeling tip top in order to hit it heavy as often as possible.

But supplements AREN'T miracle workers.  The muscle building process is a slow and tedious one, and despite the quality of that powder you're putting into your body, at the end of the day only a tiny fraction of it will be used to build the solid muscle you so desperately desire.  It's a depressing fact, but it's one you should know before you go scooping loads and loads of the latest whey protein blend into your shaker bottle.

In my opinion, you should obviously keep supplementing with proteins, pre-workouts, and stuff like that.  They work.  But don't go overboard on the dosage, because you'll just be wasting the stuff.  Your body  can only use so much, and as the picture above shows quite clearly, it adds up after a while.

Oh, and if you're looking for a way to cut down on supplement cost, how about eating some more real food?

Lift hard, eat big, and get strong.  Good Luck!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Confessions Toward Getting Bigger

I've been wanting to write more opinionated, personal articles for quite some time.  Sure I love bringing you guys all sorts of healthy foods to try out, but rambling off nutrition facts gets old after a while.  So I'll bring this post to the other side of the blogging spectrum and give you an inside look on some of the struggles I've had with dieting, weight goals, and how they affect the big picture.  Sit back and grab a bowl of air popped popcorn, this is about to get deep.

So as you may or may not know, I'm a weightlifter.  No, that's not what you think, I don't just go to the gym and lift weights like everyone else, trying to target specific muscles and get the "big guns."  A weightlifter is technically someone who lifts weight in the Olympic style, focusing on two main lifts, the clean and jerk, and the snatch.  I won't go nuts trying to explain those two lifts, look them up on youtube if you're curious.  Let me just tell you that they're far different and far more total body intensive than your traditional bicep curl.  Anyway, being a competitive weightlifter means I'm in the gym 9 times a week, squatting, snatching, cleaning, and jerking as much weight as possible for high volume.  Because this sport is judged solely on how much weight is lifted successfully, I need as much muscle as possible packed into as little space as possible.  I need dense, explosive, muscle tissue that's very flexible and ready to work at a moment's notice.  Sounds easy to get, right? Just load up the steaks on the grill, mix a few protein shakes, and train hard as hell.

But there's a catch.

This sport is also judged in weight classes.  What this means is that everyone who competes falls into a class depending on their body weight, which more accurately pits athletes against each other and can really determine who is stronger, has better technique, or in general a better combination of both.  It wouldn't really be fair to pit the scrawny, short, 63 kg dude against Mr. big and brutish weighing in at 150 kg, would it?  This means weightlifters, while being able to eat a LOT depending on their training, need to watch their diet and make sure it's the most effective combination of foods that will give them both enough energy to complete workouts, and enough excess calories to rebuild torn muscle fiber.  Diet is extremely important in Olympic weightlifting.

And there's one more catch too.  Every lifter has an optimal weight to lift at, usually based on their height and build.  To lift optimally at a body weight of 77 kg, you should be about 5'7".  And here's where my struggle comes in.  I'm 5'11", which means I should weight around 200-230 lbs to lift at my optimal capacity.  I currently weight 162 lbs, which puts me in the lower end of the 77 kg class.  I knew I needed to gain weight, and believe me, my coach has been yelling that fact in my face for the longest time.

Maybe you're thinking "so what the heck are you waiting for!?! You get to EAT A LOT OF FOOD!  NICE!!!!"  But not so fast.  I'm not too keen to get big and fat quickly, as I considered myself pretty fit and trim at 158-160 lbs.  I had visible abs, pretty decent build, and felt good.  Purposely trying to gain weight, no matter how cleanly, might mean I need to sacrifice a good looking build for the sake of added muscle.  This, to me, was a little bit depressing (and honestly, it still is.)  Sure, putting on weight by eating a lot of clean food and training your butt off ensures that MOST of the weight you put on will be muscle, especially if you're not in a huge caloric excess.  But there's absolutely zero percent chance of gaining weight and having it be 100% muscle.  In fact, no matter how clean you do it, the percentage usually isn't even close to that number.  And purposely putting on fat, to me, didn't sound like fun.

But I changed my diet anyway.  I added about 500 calories more initially, and when I plateaued around 161 for a week or two, I added a couple hundred more.  I eat all the clean food I can, and don't pay attention to calories quite as much as I used to when I was merely trying to maintain my weight.  Roughly I'm around 3200-3300 calories a day now, but when I get up to above 170 lbs, I'm sure this figure will have to increase by another 20% at least.  My training is hard enough that I need to eat a LOT of food to maintain my weight.  And, resembling more the ectomorph build, I have a pretty fast metabolism as it is.

Honestly, while I love food like no one else, it makes my heart sink a little to know that I have to keep shoveling in the food to the point where I force my body to gain weight one way or another.  I don't like seeing the little bits of fat showing up around my midsection (though at this point they're very very small, and I doubt anyone would really notice), but I do like looking in the mirror and seeing a more full, muscular, stronger me.  So how do I get through it?  How do I keep a positive spin on the weight gain process?

Well, firstly, the way you look can depend a lot on the clothes you wear, the amount of water you're retaining, and the mirror you're looking in, not to mention a million other variables.  What I know in my head is that when I see myself in my dorm room mirror, and I think quietly that I look big enough as it is, and maybe I should stop trying to gain, I remind myself that this view is skewed.  I'm close to the mirror, and have my own mental image of myself that warps reality a bit.  Anyone around me would tell me I look like a rail.  I know that.  I don't look big to others, and therefore I tell myself I shouldn't look big to my own eyes either.  I only weigh 162 for goodness sake.  162 lbs ISN'T big, especially if you're 5'11".

I also keep looking at pictures of my weightlifting idols.  Klokov, Chigishev, Ilin, Dolega, all 105 kg or 105+kg lifters.  They are huge, with ginormous amounts of USEFUL muscle.  I tell myself I need to look and perform like them, and I won't stop training or eating until I do.  I tell myself every bite and every squat will bring me one step closer to glory, and when I achieve that, I won't look half bad regardless.  How could I?  Tons of healthy food, tons of exercise, what could go wrong?  So what if my abs aren't quite visible.  When I throw 230 kg over my head, I don't think anyone will care, and I don't think I will either.

Dmitry Klokov, probably my favorite lifter (my height too)

Evgeny Chigishev, the pure essence of POWER

So my friends, if you're on a journey to get bigger, and are second guessing the weight gain, remember to take a deep breath, realize that abs aren't all that matters in the world, and grab a sweet potato.  Train hard, eat big, get strong, grab glory.  I won't stop until I do...that's for sure.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Salad Rant

Every now and then, I'll see something health or diet related that really irks me.  It's always something that makes me go.."Are you serious?  You can't believe what you're doing is actually healthy, can you?"  And yet of course they think that, because obviously they don't read my blog.  Makes me wish I had some big "foodguru802" stickers to go and slap on the shirts of health violators, you know what I mean?  But I digress.  What's the subject of this rant?  Well my friends, it's a little topic I like to call the ignorant salad eaters.

Salads are great.  No...they're BEYOND great.  Packed with nutrients, loaded with fiber, absolutely 100% healthy for you in their most RAW forms.  They have the power to keep you healthy for extended periods of time, and make sure your body stays in tip top condition throughout all you put it through.  I contribute my uncannily good health throughout last winter's cold and flu season to my large salad/vegetable intake, and while I'll never know for sure if it was the veggies or shear luck that kept me healthy as a horse, I can definitely assume that all those raw foods played at least a little role.  Salads are powerful things.

But....they're not miracle workers.  They don't have the power to counteract a bad complimentary meal.  What really frustrates me is to see someone with a plate loaded high with chicken nuggets, garlic bread, french fries, and cookies, at the salad bar to make sure they cancel out some of that bad food with a nice green salad (smothered in ranch may I add).  What are you guys thinking???  Don't get me wrong, it's great to get some veggies in regardless of whatever else you eat, but seriously, look at your waistline.  There's a reason your pants barely fit.  What you're doing is the equivalent of piling the stinkiest garbage you can on the floor, then trying to get rid of the smell with a can of Febreeze.  That garbage is still going to reek no matter how much of that wretched spray you end up using.

Sure, maybe they're just getting salad because they like salad.  And I'd be willing to believe that, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, until half the time they open their mouth to their friends and say something along the lines of "Gotta be healthy today and grab my salad."  Are you kidding me?  See that face sized cookie on your plate?  You threw all illusions of healthy out the window when you picked that sucker off the shelf.  Salads don't counteract bad foods.

Oh, and just so we're clear, salads don't counteract bad dressings either.  Sure, that marvelous combination of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and chickpeas may be a fantastic meal on its own, but once it's smothered in a cup of fatty ranch, or oily Italian, or sugary rasperry vinaigrette, it loses most of its illusions of health.  It's not completely destroyed, but now it has probably three times as many calories, and two thirds of those calories now have absolutely no benefit to you.  If you're going to dress your salad, pretend it's dressing for a hot summer day and do it MINIMALLY.

So there's my little salad rant.  By all means, eat as many greens as you can, they'll work wonders for your health, that I can guarantee.  But there is no magic in those leaves, or those tomatoes, or those beans.  They're vegetables, and only have the power to help you by themselves, not counteract all the other crap you may decide to shovel in your mouth.  Get it?  Awesome.  Food Guru out.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Eating For Your Goals

I'm back again after a long weekend filled with homework, but I definitely wanted to make sure I addressed what I consider a very important topic regarding diet and exercise.  Now I may have touched on it once or twice (or about ten times...), but never have devoted an entire article to this simple little piece of wisdom.  And that special nugget of knowledge, my friends, is that even if you're training hard as heck to accomplish whatever goals you may have set in the gym, you're only concerning yourself with half of what you need.  That's right, if your diet doesn't compliment your goals, you may never reach your true potential under the bar, on the track, in the pool, or wherever else you want to make your mark on history.

Now sure, we all know to "eat healthy, whole foods."  But that's wayyyy too general to work sometimes.  I'm talking more specifically about eating a diet tailored EXACTLY to your sport or activity.  If you haven't done the research and adjusted your intake regarding both quantity, quality, and what exactly it comprises, then you aren't going to hit it perfectly day in and day out like you need to in order to become the best.  Let's delve into this a little further, and see exactly what I mean.

Before I go much farther, let me address one thing.  I mentioned eating was half of performing well. isn't.  You can eat crap, train as hard as physically possible, and still see results.  But will they be optimal results?  Will they come as quickly as physically possible?  Will you look and feel your best the most possible amount of days?  If you say yes, you're kidding yourself.  OF COURSE NOT.  Eating may not be everything, but it's a HUGE part of performing the way you want to perform.

Now each sport/activity/goal you have in mind has a specific diet type that works optimally for the desired results.  Here are a few examples of what you need to be eating based on what exactly you want to achieve:

Lose fat:  Clean foods, raw foods, whole foods, all in a caloric deficit will work very well.  To see optimal results, keep a lot of water in your diet, keep the sugar far away from your piehole, and make sure you're getting lean meats dense with protein, complex, slow digesting carbs full of fiber and whole wheat, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil.  You MUST keep in a caloric deficit though, which will be a different value for everybody based on weight, age, metabolism, muscle density, and all sorts of other factors.  To lose large amounts of fat, ketogenic diets (very low carb) diets have been known to work well, and I have a whole article on those, so read up.

What doesn't work as well:  Junk foods, high in saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, and especially lots of sugar.  Sure, if you're in a caloric deficit at the end of the day, that's great, and you'll still lose weight, but I can almost guarantee it won't happen as quickly or efficiently as possible.  You're basically using up calories that instead could be replaced with lean meats to help maintain muscle mass and fiberous veggies that will keep you full.  If you eat like crap, you'll tend to look know.  

Gain Mass:  Lots of food.  You need to be in a caloric excess at the end of the day, but try to keep an eye on the actual amount you go over your maintenece (the number of calories you require to maintain your weight).  Overshoot this number by too much, and you'll start putting on an excessive amount of fat.  And we all know the name of the game when gaining mass is trying to put on muscle with as little fat as possible.  To do this, like I'll always say, keep it clean, but calorie dense.  Red meats are great, as are scoops of peanut butter and sweet potatoes.  Gaining mass isn't about eating anything and everything in sight.  This is what's called a "dirty bulk," and almost always results in too much fat gain and very little actual muscle gain.  Train hard in the gym, do big, compound lifts, and don't skimp on the meals.

What doesn't work as well:  Obviously, eating under or at maintenance levels will make any gains in size impossible.  Yes, that's right, IMPOSSIBLE.  It goes against the laws of nature.  If you don't consume more energy than you use, your body won't have an excess to build things bigger and stronger.  So if you're trying to gain a six pack AND get bigger, you might as well forget about it.  Focus on the muscle, eat big and often, and worry about cutting up later.  Seriously, there isn't much more of a futile situation than trying to get big and eating too small.  Get it?

Gain Strength:  Here's the deal, if you're looking to gain strength, like gaining mass, you need food.  Sure, keeping it clean is always the goal.  Eat a boatload of protein, lots and lots of complex carbs, and as always, healthy fats like nuts and seeds.  Eat a LOT of them.  Your body needs every ounce of fuel to replenish itself for maximal loading as frequently as possible.  Here's the deal though.  Strength athletes, if truly specific to their sport, generally don't get all the power they need from healthy, clean foods.  Usually they'll throw in a few borderline foods, and many just go all out on the junk.  Sure, it's bad for you, but a burger, a piece of meat pizza, and a pile of fries really helps you push a LOT of extra weight up.  Believe me I know, some of my best squat sessions were after an accidental overload of food the night before.  All that caloric energy, while not optimal for lean looks and rippling abs, sure works great for strength.  Would I reccommend going for the junk?  HECK NO!  I believe there's always a clean alternative, and here it just lies in eating more food.  Drink milk, eat peanut butter, have a couple of sweet potatoes.  That'll give you the energy.  It may fill you up, but hey, your stomach could lose a bit of stretching. 

I will say this however.  If you're training for strength, you're not allowed to cry if you slip up and eat a burger and a few pieces of cake.  Remember, you don't train to be lean, you train to be strong.  If you go over caloric requirements, even by a lot, so what?  Use it to fuel your workout.  Eat as best you can.

What doesn't work as well:  Obviously, less food doesn't work.  Cutting carbs DOESN'T WORK.  Low calorie diets DON'T WORK.  Heck, I'll say in general that trying to put a cap on your calories DOESN'T WORK! If you want to be strong, eat when you're hungry, eat a LOT whenever you can, and make sure you're working hard enough to stay hungry frequently.  I will say that unlike mass gain, it IS possible to get stronger without excess calories, but it's definitely slow going for anyone other than a newbie.  High carb, high fat, high protein.  That's the name of the game for strength under the bar.  

Before you go thinking you can deadlift that, realize that those big plates are 100lbs a piece
Endurance:  Carbohydrates.  Need I say more?  If you're running miles upon miles a day, you need carbs, both simple and complex.  I'm not a runner, so I can't give you a specific diet that will make you as successful as possible.  But I will say that from the endurance athletes I've met, they're always shoveling in the pasta, fruit, and veggies.  Sure, they eat a lot of lean protein to help rebuild ripped up muscles (and pop a lot of joint supplements for those pounded ankles), but as far as I know the main focus is carbohydrates.  This goes for swimming, running, biking, hiking, or other sports/activities where you're active at medium-high intensity levels for extended periods of time.  Your body needs fuel, make sure it gets enough.  

What doesn't work as well:  Well honestly, I was going to say ketogenic diets.  However, I know that there are runners out there who follow ketogenic diets and are quite successful.  I believe these people have been on keto diets for quite some time though, and personally I don't believe it's the greatest idea to limit carb intake and expect to perform as well on extended runs, bike trips, etc.  Don't limit carbs, don't eat in a caloric deficit, and for obvious reasons DON'T DEHYDRATE YOURSELF.  Lots of water, LOTS AND LOTS!

Listen, once again, if you don't eat for your goals, you're probably not going to reach them.  I say probably because for some reason, certain people get lucky.  But those people are few and far between.  Not losing weight?  I'd look to your diet first.  Not improving on your lifts despite lifting heavy day in and day out?  You're probably not eating enough.  Trying to gain mass but the scale won't budge?  Heck...EAT MORE!  Can't seem to run a 5 minute mile?  Well, have a big plate of spaghetti the night before and see if you just can't break that barrier tomorrow.  It's simple stuff.  Sure, there can be lots wrong with a training program, but I'd really make sure your diet isn't off kilter first.  Have a good food base, and go from there.  After all, we are what we eat, and I'll take that saying a step further and say our accomplishments tend to reflect what we eat as well.

And then there's Chad Ochocinco who eats McDonalds every day and still seems to perform better than was thought to be physically possible.  *sigh*, it's people like him that take away credibility for the healthy stuff.  Oh well.  There's only one of him, and there's many more people like you and me....the normal people.  Just don't follow his example, OK?  Please?

He eats McDonalds EVERY DAY!?!  As Chad would say..."Child Please.."

Eat to be strong, to be fast, and to win.  Good Luck!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pushing Through Fatigue: Don't Be A WIMP!

It's been a while since my last article, and for that I apologize.  School has kept me quite busy, especially as the semester is wrapping up.  But today, I wanted to address a topic I see far too often among my friends looking to get healthy, fit, strong, ripped, or whatever else you might want to call it.  And that, of course, is the topic of fatigue.  You know, tiredness, soreness, yawning-ness....yeah I just made that word up.  But you know what I mean.  It's that feeling you have the day or two after a really hard workout, where you crawl out of bed, open your eyes, and realize that you want nothing more than to skip today's scheduled workout and curl up on the couch with some chocolate milk and a bowl of cereal.  Your muscles hurt, your brain can't think, and you feel so inflexible that it wouldn't be out of the question to attempt to loosen your muscles with a rolling pin.  So what should you do?  You know you have to work out -- you have a goal you have to meet.  But you're sooo tired, and maybe your body is crying for rest.  Which should take priority?  Your long term goal, or your aching back?

Well, honestly, it depends.  Sure, there are times when you should take an unscheduled day off and occupy the couch like it's your J-O-B.  But, my loyal readers, you won't be happy with what I'm about to say (or maybe you will, I don't really know.)  When it comes down to it, THOSE TIMES ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN.  If you've been on your workout plan for a while, and it's been working, your body probably can handle the workout for that day, even if it doesn't feel like it.  Heck, I work-out 9 times per week, nearly three and a half hours a day (two sessions.)  If I'm not walking into the gym a complete zombie, then I know that day will be absolutely fantastic.  When push comes to shove, you NEED to learn how to push through fatigue if you're going to get anywhere fast in your workout.  If it's not your rest day, it's time to push yourself to your max.  Will it be the same maximum level that you had on a good day?  Probably not.  But as long as you're giving it your all, that's enough.

But I can hear you yelling at me "WHY!?!  Why should I force my way through the crappiest, most painful feelings I've ever known!?!  What are you doing to me??"

First of all, calm down.  Second of all, I'm going to ask you, as politely as possible, to suck it up.  Listen, lifting weights hurts.  It makes you big, strong, and ripped, but it hurts.  It's fun, BUT IT HURTS!  If you're not feeling at least a little pain the day after, you're not working hard enough.  And to answer the question as to why you should push through the pain, the answer is quite simple:  It forces your body to adapt to heavier, more frequent loading.  It doesn't just "suggest" to your muscle fibers that they grow bigger and stronger, it FORCES them too.  If you're pushing your muscles to the point where they start screaming "NO MORE!!!" to you the next day, then laugh in their face and push them harder.  If you do, I can almost guarantee two things will happen.

FIRST:  You will make GREAT progress.  Heck, I'd say have of the personal records I've set have been on days where I was so sore and tired I couldn't think straight.  Something about fatigue brings out the animal in people.  You tell me, would you rather lie on your bed, nursing your wounds?  Or lift heavier weight for more reps than you ever have before?

SECOND:  Your muscles will probably just shut up and work.  Sure, you may be in pain now, but unless it's sharp, violent, strained-a-muscle type pain, it will go away when you start forcing your muscles to lift weight again.  You will almost always be sore somewhere if you're working out at least 3 days a week.  It's futile to avoid working sore muscles, and it's not harmful if you do lift with the same muscle groups again even while they're recovering.  Like I said before, this will force even greater muscle gain, and you'll see quick progress.  Once you warm up and start lifting, I can almost guarantee all that pain and fatigue will take a back seat to the task at hand, which of course is getting bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner.  Sounds great right?

So working through some of the worst fatigue can give you some of the best gains.  We know this now.  But how can we avoid some of that pain and fatigue in the first place?  Well, if you spend a little more time devoted to active recovery work, I bet there won't be nearly as many days where it hurts to pick up your coffee mug, or takes actual effort to keep your eyelids open.

Stretch:  After a heavy workout, static stretch your muscles thoroughly, ESPECIALLY your legs.  The bigger the muscle, the more frustrating it will be to combat post workout tightness the next day.  You can keep things loose and flexible by spending about 10 minutes after your workout really stretching those muscle fibers, which will aid in recovery speed, and will actually help strength gains overall.  Plus, you'll be more flexible, allowing for better form and less chance of injury.

Massage/foam roll/lacrosse ball:  If you can get someone to give you a massage, do it.  If you can't (which probably will be the case), do some foam rolling on your sore muscles, or if you're feeling frisky use a lacrosse ball and really dig in.  Caution, THIS WILL HURT!  And when it hurts, you know you're doing it right.  Massage goes an extraordinarily long way toward helping muscles recover.  It loosens them up, and encourages fresh bloodflow to places that usually don't get too much, especially if they're tight as a drum.  This bloodflow will allow the muscles to receive better nutrition and hydration, and will help them to grow bigger and stronger, faster.  After the massage/rolling session, I bet you'll feel a million times better too.

Lacrosse ball foam rolling, except 10000 times more painful (and effective...)
Post workout nutrition:  This one is a well known technique, but should NEVER be overlooked.  Immediately after a workout, consume a fast acting protein and a few carbohydrates to ensure your muscles IMMEDIATELY have the nutrients they need to start rebuilding themselves.  This will go an extremely long way in ensuring you aren't sore the next day, or at least not nearly AS sore.

Diet/nutrition in general:  If you're working yourself to your max, you need to keep your entire diet taylored toward recovery and growth-- lots of protein, quality carbs, and healthy fats.  Don't cut calories down, or you'll definitely feel it in your muscles and general level of fatigue.  Clean foods go a long way, make sure to eat lots of chicken, vegetables, fruits, and fats like nuts and oils.  Heck, what am I talking about, I've got near a million articles all on food.  CHECK THEM OUT!

Pre-workout supplements:  Sometimes, even after everything, you need a little kick in the butt.  A good pre-workout supplement can supply this with a respectable dosage of caffeine, nitric oxide, and creatine, which when combined give you a flood of energy, usually more than enough to kick you out of your funk and into lifting mode.  I would suggest Cellucor C4, or Assault by MusclePharm.  Both great supplements.

Fatigue, annoying yes, crippling?  NO.  Of course, it's up to you when you hit the gym.  But I'm here to tell you that your body isn't always right when it says you're too tired to hit the heavy stuff.  In fact, it's usually wrong (not ALWAYS, but usually.  You'll have to find your own threshold, but again, usually it's MUCH higher than people think.)  Push through the pain and see great results.  Now how can I hammer this point home?  Hmmmm....

Don't be a WIMP!

Good Luck!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Our Daily Eats "Spicy Maple Pepitas" *Review*

I'm back with another fantastic snack that I've recently had the pleasure of stuffing my face with in every possible instance.  As you may or may not know by now, I like things with flavor, things that can kick you in the mouth a little bit with a spicy, sweet combination, yet keep your belly full and waist trim at the same time.  I don't come across store bought snacks that provide this unique feeling too often, yet today I'm pleased to say that a new food has graced my plate with its presence and given me something I truly enjoy.  They're made by a company called Our Daily Eats, and are named creatively "Spicy Maple Pepitas."

So what are these things exactly?  Well, they're pumpkin seeds to be exact.  Small ones, that are spiced up with cayenne pepper and maple syrup.  If that doesn't sound like a combination made in heaven, I don't know what does.  And as far as taste goes, these things really hit the spot.  They're exactly what you'd expect, spicy and interesting, yet deliciously sweet at the same time.  If you're not a huge spice fan, don't worry, these things don't burn, they just let you know they're there with a nice little twinge of flame.  And the maple syrup...well coming from Vermont you can already tell I'm a fan.  I love maple syrup, and I truly believe it is a PERFECT addition to these spicy little seeds.  Together they create a very unique taste that I believe you must taste ASAP.

But what about the actual nutritional profile of these seeds?  Well, as you know, I don't eat food that's not healthy/beneficial toward my body in some significant way, much less write a review on it.  And I'm pleased to announce that the nutritional profile on these pepitas is AWESOME!  Let's look a little closer, shall we?

Ingredients:  This is the first thing that caught my eye.  There aren't any chemical/artificial additives!  In fact, the only ingredients are: Pumpkin seeds, maple syrup, cayenne, and sea salt.  That's FANTASTIC!  Seriously, they don't even have any artificial sweeteners, or even added sugar (other than the maple syrup, which is considered a purely natural sweetener that is MUCH better for you than the granulated stuff).  Normally if you see salt on an ingredient list, you need to be wary of sodium content, but NOT THIS TIME!  We'll get more into that later.  But like I said, this list is short and sweet, and completely fulfills the claim "100% natural" that's boasted on the package.  PERFECT!  

Caloric content:  Now as we know, nuts and seeds tend to be very calorie dense, but they're also quite filling, so you're unlikely to go hog wild on such a product.  1/4 cup of this product has 125 calories, which is quite managable and is a PLENTY decent serving size if you're looking for a quick, midday snack.

Added Nutritional benefits:  As the package states, pumpkin seeds are quite rich with unsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids, which you can pretty much always use more of.  They're extremely heart healthy, and lower your risk for heart disease or other cardiovascular health ailments if consumed on a regular basis.  They also help lubricate your joints and keep things sliding smoothly, keeping you mobile as age creeps onto all of us.  Pumpkin seeds are also very rich is minerals such as iron, zinc, and manganese, and have good helpings of vitamins C and E.

Sodium content:  Now usually you have to be wary of packaged nuts and seeds for their sky high sodium counts, but not this time.  In fact, per serving, there are only 85 mg of sodium, which is EXTREMELY low compared to most other similar products.  There's just enough salt there to support the delicious flavor, without causing that sodium level to skyrocket.  Awesome!

Entire Nutritional Information:

Serving Size: 1/4 Cup
Calories: 125
Total Fat: 5 g
   Saturated Fat: 1 g
   Trans Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 g
Sodium: 85 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 15 g
   Dietary Fiber: 0 g
   Sugars: 3 g
Protein: 1 g

So would I recommend this product?  ABSOLUTELY!  They're ridiculously delicious and are a great tool to either trim down or bulk up, or even just maintain your weight.  They're very healthy, and are a refreshingly powerful flavor compared to most other bland health food.  Just watch the serving size and you're golden.  Excuse me while I go and have another handful...

Eat healthy, stay creative, and as always, GOOD LUCK!