Thursday, May 31, 2012

When To Shovel It In

Today, my coach put the hammer down.  He watched me in my last set of squats, and told me bluntly something I already knew in the back of my head:

"Seth, your form looks great.  Your speed is good, your depth is great, and as far as technique goes everything is fine.  But there needs to be about 50kg more on that bar, and the only way that's going to happen is YOU HAVE TO EAT MORE!"

(imagine all that with a thick spanish accent, even though he's like half Chilean and half eastern European.)

Now, I was repping 110kg.  That's about 245lbs, and I was squatting it so deep my butt was basically touching the ground.  My max is around 140kg, or 310lbs, to the same depth.  For skinny little me, that's not bad, and others might be happy with those numbers.  But when it comes down to it, I really should be cleaning 110, easily.  My leg strength is lacking, and in all honesty it's really ticking me off.

Squats and food go hand in hand.  When people Olympic lifters diet down, their squat is usually the first thing to go.  Then the clean, and finally the snatch.  The more leg dominant the movement, the more it will suffer from calorie cutting.  I've been stuck at around 163lbs of body weight, and I knew I needed to bump up my calories (from 3200), but hearing it so aggressively from my coach put me in high gear.  I shoveled down about 4 grand today, and will try to hit close to that with each successive training day.

But enough about me.  How can I relate this back to you?  Well, I'd like to let you in on the little hints your body might be giving you that it's about time to increase caloric intake.  They're pretty easy to spot, but not necessarily isolate as a diet issue.  And let me tell you, I experienced ALL of them, without any real clue as to why for the longest time.  DON'T make the same mistake I did:

Constant Fatigue (despite adequate sleep):  Sure, this could be a bunch of things.  But if you know you're getting AT LEAST 8 hours per night, are healthy without disease, and haven't changed much in your training recently, you can probably guess that your body is running on fumes.  Increase caloric intake by a few hundred calories, and see where that takes you.  I can almost guarantee you'll INSTANTLY feel better.

Strength Decrease:  If your lifts aren't going up  (and again, you know that other factors aren't to blame), it's time to put a little more food on your plate.  Don't be afraid of another sweet potato, or another helping of chicken and rice.  You'll thank yourself for it when the very next day your bench feels better than ever.

Injuries Won't Heal:  OK, this one could be for several reasons, and you shouldn't immediately attribute it to malnutrition. That being said though, eating too little will definitely not aid in healing.  It's very likely that a muscle tear, strain, or general aches and pains will get worse the more undernourished you are.  I noticed recently I've been having more and more strange pains in my legs that were never there before and appeared for no apparent reason.  Every day I've increased caloric intake, they've been barely noticeable.  I'm not sure what the details are on this one, but running low on food can show itself in strange places.

ALWAYS HUNGRY:  Well this one seems obvious, however many people fail to eat more even when their body is screaming for more food.  Listen, if you're getting a clean diet of complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and are still hungry at the end of the day, don't be afraid to eat more.  If your food is nothing but quality, then your hunger pangs are definitely not false/fake.  Feed your body when you need to.  It's as simple as that.

Name Calling:  Yeah...I'm constantly getting called "skinny" by my coach.  Pretty obvious incentive to eat more.

Eating more can be daunting, but like I've said before, as long as you're eating clean, and training hard as hell, you will NOT be disappointed with the results.  Your body won't be able to afford to put on much weight as fat, and the little that does show up will live in the shadow of massive muscles.  I can't wait for that day, believe me.

Good Luck!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Food Worship #14: The Kidney Bean

Sorry folks, I know it's been a while since you've heard from the Food Guru.  I've been quite busy, but finally have a little time to sit down and discuss with all of you another of my favorite foods.  As you may or may not know, I'm a huge fan of beans.  They're a fantastic source of carbohydrates, and are absolutely DELICIOUS.  They come in all shapes and sizes, and I could honestly go for a few days rambling on about each one regarding its benefits, nutritional value, and why YOU should be eating them.  But today, I must choose only one.  And so I've made it my second favorite, as I've already written about my number one (the chickpea, or garbanzo bean.)  Today's bean of choice is....*drum roll*.....the humble kidney bean.

These medium sized beans are a little bit funny looking, being shaped like, well, kidneys.  But I assure you, they're one of the best foods you could ever put in that ever improving body of yours.  Not only are they delicious, but they have a whole host of powerful health benefits that will without a doubt make you feel (and look) absolutely amazing.  As per the usual routine, I'll now provide several bulleted categories of beneficial aspects of the bean, as any professional blogger would (despite me not actually being professional...yet.)  Let's get started, shall we?

Fiber:  First and foremost, as with a LOT of beans, kidney beans are very rich in fiber.  Fiber can help lower cholesterol and greatly improves digestive health.  It also makes your body more efficient at digesting the other foods in your diet and utilizing the nutrients in each one.  In all honesty, you want to get as much fiber in your diet as you can, ESPECIALLY if you have a high protein diet (as any muscle-head would.)  Fiber is your friend.  One cup of kidney beans will have about 220 calories and a whopping 16 grams of fiber!  That is a LOT of fiber, and will do your body a LOT of good.

Complex Carbs:  If you're looking to build muscle and have long lasting, powerful energy throughout the entire day, you need a lot of good quality, slow digesting complex carbs. In terms of carbohydrates, you can't get much higher quality than kidney beans.  They'll provide your body with exactly the energy you need, and will promote muscle growth and glycogen replenishment.  Unlike sugary carbs, complex carbs will NOT provoke as aggressive insulin response by your body and therefore will allow you to avoid unnecessary fat gain.  Kidney beans are like high octane, awesome quality fuel for your body, so eat up!

Stabilize Blood Sugar:  Not only are fiber and high quantity of complex carbs an excellent source of digestive health and long lasting energy, they also both help stabilize blood sugar, leading to less fat gain (if you're bulking up), or easier fat loss (if you're slimming down.)  Low and stable blood sugar levels are crucial to a healthy diet and trim figure, especially as you age.  

Protein Packed:  Kidney beans are absolutely LOADED with protein.  One cup has about 14 grams of protein, and while the beans themselves don't provide a complete amino acid profile (the protein in the beans isn't immediately available to your body for muscle building), when the beans are combined with a good whole grain, the amino acid profile can be completed and you'll get all the benefits of that hearty, protein packed legume.  Want the guns to impress the ladies?  Grab yourself a can of kidney beans and dig in.  

Nutritional Profile:  To wrap the rest up into one little section, kidney beans have a great nutritional profile overall.  They're very low in saturated fat, very low in sugar, and of course, if you buy the right ones, are all natural.  I love the canned beans, which have all the same nutritional benefits, but unfortunately with a bunch of added sodium.  If you get canned beans (which again, is completely FINE), make sure to rinse them thoroughly before consumption to wash the majority of that salt right down the drain.  Easy enough, right?

Here's the nutritional information for canned kidney beans:

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 cup
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 8
Calories 218
% Daily Values*
Total Fat 0.87g1%
Saturated Fat 0.128g1%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.484g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.069g
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 873mg36%
Potassium 658mg
Total Carbohydrate 39.91g13%
Dietary Fiber 16.4g66%
Sugars 0.56g
Protein 13.44g
Vitamin A 0%Vitamin C 5%
Calcium 6%Iron 18%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Nutrition Values are based on USDA Nutrient Database SR18
(Lots of sodium if left un-rinsed, so make sure to remember that step.)

All in all, kidney beans are a must-eat if you're at all concerned with health, fitness, or general well being.  They're absolutely delicious, and go well in all sorts of recipes.  Personally though, I love just eating them plain with some good spicy seasoning next to a piece of tilapia and some natural almonds.  YUMMY!  They're cheap, accessible, and ridiculously healthy.  Pick some up ASAP!

Love the kidney bean, a magical fruit, and as always, GOOD LUCK!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Salty Situation

Every now and then you consume a little more of something than you had intended.  Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you didn't, but it happened (or was going to happen) regardless.  This kind of situation is a very common one in the diet world, and honestly, I think it usually falls into one of two categories.  You either eat too much sugar, or too much salt.  The first one I'll discuss in a later article, however I wanted to cover the necessary steps to take if you find yourself overdosing on sodium, as I happened to do this weekend (though somewhat intentionally.)

Now I knew that this weekend I would be training with my coach down in Eliot, Maine for two days, and would be spending the night in the gym.  Not wanting to break the bank on eating out, I decided to pack some food.  I only had one small suitcase, and no cooler or anything like that, so my options were limited.  Not only that, but I'd be training quite hard, therefore I knew I needed quality protein and carbs and PLENTY of each.  Can you guess the most convenient food packing option here?  That's right...CANNED FOOD.  Into my suitcase I threw two giant cans of tuna (10 oz), two giant cans of chicken (also 10 oz), a four pack of 5 oz tuna cans, and a 4 serving can of black beans (I also packed some oatmeal for breakfast, and had a wholelotta whey protein).  Every single one of these foods is AWESOMELY clean and has an epic nutritional profile, except for one little blip, which of course, would be the sodium.  Holy moley, that was a boatload of salt.  Somewhere around 2000 mg per meal if I calculated it correctly.  That's about 85% of my daily recommended intake.  What was I to do in order to battle such a crippling dosage of salt?

Well, the first thing to remember is that you cannot destroy your body (or your diet) in one or two days, no matter what you do.  It just doesn't work like that.  You won't wake up twenty pounds lighter just because you had an awesome workout the day before, and you won't wake up a fat lard the next day if you had one extra slice of cake.  Diets are about long term results, and the same goes for sodium.  Sure, if you consume a lot of it one day by accident, you'll probably retain a lot of water and feel (and look) pretty bloated.  But your heart won't stop, your blood pressure won't skyrocket, and you won't die.  Phew!  Now that we got that out of the way, let's see what I did to minimize the huge salt intake on my body.  

Firstly, if you're going to consume huge portions of salt, you need to consume even larger portions of WATER!  That's right, I probably drank two gallons each of those days.  Drinking more water will actually cause you to retain less, and will also do wonders in helping your kidneys filter out all those extra minerals.  Chug that stuff like there's no tomorrow.  I had at least two bottles of it with every meal (6 meals), as well as two bottles worth in my pre and post workout shakes.  DO NOT STOP DRINKING WATER.  I saw very minimal water retention, and I think drowning myself in the stuff did the trick.  Obviously don't drink past a semi-comfortable level, but don't be afraid to stick your head under the sink and go to town.  

Second thing to do?  Consume more POTASSIUM.  The sodium/potassium ratio in your body is a very important one, and must be respected.  In an ideal situation the ratio should be 1:1, meaning for every milligram of sodium you take in, you should have one milligram of potassium to match it.  The reasoning for this goes down to the cellular level, however without getting too complicated I'll just say that sodium and potassium are both EQUALLY responsible for ensuring proper hydration of your body, and without the correct balance you're in for trouble.  Potassium actually helps regulate the amount of sodium your body retains, so consuming more may ensure that you don't hold on to that crazy salt dosage.  It'll also help combat the hypertension inducing effects of sodium, lowering blood pressure considerably.  No matter your sodium intake, it's usually a good idea to make sure to eat potassium rich foods on a regular basis.  This goes even more-so if you're regularly physically active.  While I suggest whole foods such as bananas for this purpose, another easy way to get more potassium quickly is to consume a sports drink like Powerade or Gatorade (my solution for this weekend.)  

Despite a pile of salty food this weekend, I kept my diet clean and my body happy by counteracting the effects of excess sodium intake.  A little too much salt every now and then is no reason to fret, as long as you don't make it a habit.  Keep conscience of your sodium intake, and take the simple steps listed above in order to ensure it doesn't get out of hand.  

Eat big, train hard, drink LOTS OF WATER!  Good luck!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Heartbreaking Dawns 1498 Scorpion Chili Sauce *Review*

OK, I confess, I'm a wannabe chili head.  Allow me to explain.  A "chili head" is someone who absolutely loves, and in some ways is quite addicted to, incredibly spicy, flavorful foods.  These usually include the peppers which are truly the hottest of the hot, the chilis that make Jalapenos taste like unflavored popcorn, and Habaneros akin to a quick night time snack.  I'm talking peppers like the Naga Viper, the Trinidad Scorpion (and similar strains like the Butch T or 7 pot), and of course the infamous Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper).  All of these peppers boast heat ratings over a million Scoville Heat Units (SHU).  To put that in perspective, a Jalapeno is only about 3,000 SHU.  These peppers are HOT!!!!!

Chili heads also enjoy many sauces and spices created from these super hot fruits.  I've had quite a bit of experience with sauces myself, and have always liked challenging myself with what I've considered to be quite spicy foods, and am always looking to try the next level.  My tolerance to heat isn't bad, but it's nothing compared to the true chili enthusiasts, or perhaps I should call them "heat seekers."  However I am always looking to try the next step up, and decided I'd like to purchase a real powerhouse hot sauce and give it a go.  I  wanted one that would make Tabasco look like the wimpiest little bottle going, but still wanted one made with natural ingredients and actual peppers, not just super hot extract.

After a lot of research, I came upon a company called Heartbreaking Dawns, and let me be the first to say that while my experience with hot sauces isn't as vast as some, these folks blow everyone else out of the water.

Heartbreaking Dawns is a company based on home brewed sauces made with the tastiest combinations of natural ingredients you could ever come upon.  They've got everything from pineapple jalapeno sauces to super spicy yet flavorful ghost pepper varieties.

I, however, wanted something with a little more kick.  So I settled on their "1498" sauce, made with Trinidad Scorpions, one of the original peppers to dethrone the Bhut Jolokia as the hottest pepper in the world.  Boy was I in for a treat.

Flavor:  This sauce tastes absolutely fantastic.  It's not just a destructive, eye watering heat with no flavor to boot, oh no.  It has an extremely rich combination of ingredients (discussed in more detail later in the article) that taste FANTASTIC together.  This sauce went through many prototypes, and boy did they get the end product right.  It tastes great by itself, but even BETTER on food, and BEST on meats.  Seriously, it's got all sorts of fruity aroma, including hints of blueberry and scotch bonnet peppers as well as the very flavorful Trinidad Scorpion pepper.  It adds a lot of character to almost any meal, and honestly I can't really imagine it going poorly with anything.  It doesn't overpower, despite the intense heat.  Awesome!

Heat:  I won't lie, this stuff is HOT!  But I'll also say that it isn't killer.  Sure, if you think Tabasco is hot, you'll have a little bit of an adjustment period (and will want to go light on the sauce at first),  but it won't set your whole face alight.  It's got a "nice" burn to it that lingers, and makes you sweat it out for a little while, but actually feels good once you get used to it.  As you can probably tell, it's hard to describe.  All I can say is that if you're looking for a kick, this sauce will DEFINITELY give it, especially in larger quantities.  But it can also be used sparingly for a great heat without making you cry for hours.  Be prepared for tongue and throat burn though, they can get intense.

Ingredients/Nutritional Information:  Here's a picture of the ingredient list.

As you can see, the ingredients speak for themselves.  No extract, no artificial sweeteners, no HFCS, just all natural ingredients.  Nearly zero calories per serving, only a TINY bit of sodium (very unusual for hot sauces), and a blend that'll make even seasoned food critics quite intrigued.  It's fantastic, and it really brings a smile to my face to see such natural ingredients in such a tasty sauce.

Other comments:  Check out how cool that logo is, really tattoo-esque, right?

Overall, I highly highly HIGHLY recommend this sauce.  It's a perfect blend of heat and flavor, and is about as natural and healthy as you can get.  It'll add awesome kick to any food, yet will also compliment the existing flavors quite nicely.  You can't go wrong with Heartbreaking Dawns.  Be adventurous, get some heat in your life!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The "Smart" Diet (Food For Final Exams)

Well, final exams are over, and I don't like to brag, but I did quite well.  I believe such grades were earned, as I  studied hard and made sure to manage my time efficiently (or as efficiently as possible while still maintaining my sanity).  Yes, all in all, I'm quite pleased with my grades, and god does it feel good to be done with these piles of work.  It's as if all at once, the pressure's been lifted.  The lid's off the pressure cooker, ya know what I mean?

Anyway, before I start rambling, I'd like to bring up an important concept relating to my success in this year's final exams (and school year in general).  It's actually a concept I talk about quite frequently.  Could you guess what it might be?  If you said "food," or "diet," you're right.  I relate a lot of my success this year to my study habits, but feel that credit should also rest in what I've been putting in my belly.

How, you ask, does food have ANYTHING to do with academic success?  Well, unlike a lot of articles which just spout off fact after fact and tout study after craftily worded study, I'm just going to tell you about my personal experience.  I mean sure, I'll say that you'd be crazy not to think that food has an effect on your brain. Nutrient dense food does wonders for cognitive ability, leading to better memory, lower stress levels, and greater confidence.  Good food helps you stay happy, healthy, and ready to take on the world (or a nasty, brutally complicated exam).  This isn't any secret, yet so many people fail to accept the fact that a healthy diet can keep them successful when they need to be.

Did I personally do anything special to my diet in preparation for exam week?  Well, the changes I made weren't initially geared toward the exams themselves, however I soon realized that they worked great for cognitive ability as well as physical prowess.  You see, on my Olympic lifting training program, I work double sessions in the gym multiple times per week.  This week, being pretty much empty other than an 8 AM exam every morning, I decided I'd go even harder on the double sessions (as the only other thing I had to do each day was study.)  To support this brutal attack on my body, I made sure I was getting another hundred or so calories ON TOP of what I had already calculated to be a 200 calorie excess.  I've been stalling out recently on weight gain, so I figured it couldn't hurt anyway.  I made sure these calories came from clean sources such as almonds and egg whites, as well as a few more veggies on my plate.  So far, such diet programming has been working beautifully for my workouts, and I've been maintaining strength despite increasing squat volume considerably.

This caloric excess also did WONDERS for my level of alertness, stress (low), and energy.  That healthy food pushed me through extra study sessions as well as extra squats, and a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, whey, and peanut butter woke me up and got me going each and every morning.  To put it bluntly, I felt, and still feel GREAT!

And one more little nugget of useful information:  heavy brain work burns a lot of energy.  Yeah, you heard me right, you're burning more energy than you think just trying to remember that darn equation for energy stored in parallel inductors.  Ever feel drained after a big test?  Like it's time for a nap?  Well, you're drained because you've been working hard as heck.  The bottom line is, my body needed those extra QUALITY calories, especially this week, in the face of the final test of knowledge.

Note to students:  Those "care packages" or "study packs" your college offers to your parents to buy for you are full of absolute junk.  Dum-Dum lollipops will NOT help you pass that final, and will likely send you on an aggressive sugar roller coaster that will leave you either too hyper to think or too monotonous to care about which bubble you're filling out.  And all that chocolate?  It won't help your brain grow, but it sure will grow you out of those jeans.  

So what's my advice to you?  If you've got tests coming up, don't be afraid to eat hearty meals of clean food.  I would suggest heaps of complex carbs, as well as plenty of protein and fats from sources such as nuts, milk, and fish.  You do NOT need to be waking up a completely drained wreck, unable to focus and unable to think about anything but how hungry you are for lunch.  Keep yourself fed with "premium fuel," 'cause hey, you wouldn't put anything but the best in an expensive sports car right?  Your body is the fastest, sleekest, most valuable car you own.  Fuel it as best you can, and you'll not only see your lifts increase in the gym, but your grade point average climb as well.

Good luck on finals to all my fellow college students.  Eat well and let's start this summer right!!