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I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

12 Nov

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a LOT about weight loss, fitness, and nutrition. I’d like to think that I wasn’t totally ignorant before I started on this self-improvement journey. Generally speaking, I’m a reasonably smart guy. I have a college education from a prestigious school, I’m a big reader, and I’m naturally inquisitive. That all said, I WISH I had known then what I know now!

I’ve recently been having people ask for my help and guidance on how they can lose weight, get in shape, etc. At times been shocked at how ignorant people are about nutrition and fitness! The things people hold as self evident truths about fitness and nutrition, while silly to me now, are many of the same things that I believed once upon a time! Reflecting on it, I’ve thought of a few things that I wish I had known, or done a bit differently when I got started:

1) Don’t Start Over Your Head – I had a few failed attempts to whip myself into shape in years past. I bought P90X from Beachbody because of the flashy infomercial and super fit people doing the workouts on TV. Boy was that a mistake! Not because it isn’t a great program, but because it was WAY too advanced for me at the time. What ultimately got me to stick to a routine was not getting in over my head right away. In February of 2012, I started with Power 90 (which I call “P90X-light”). Power 90 is geared towards a typical fitness beginner. The workouts are shorter, and less intense than P90X which made them more approachable for me and helped me to stick with the program. I lost 33 pounds in 90 days on Power 90, and then couldn’t wait to tackle P90X from there. The moral of the story is to start slow. If you are truly trying to change your lifestyle, the important thing is that you start doing something. By biting off more than you can chew right away, you are likely to get frustrated and give up.

2) You MUST Focus On Nutrition – Ask any serious trainer, body builder, fitness model, etc., about their physical conditioning, and they will tell you that results are 75%+ nutrition. Ever hear the old adage, “you are what you eat?” This is so true! If you are serious about losing weight, improving physical performance, etc., you have to have a proper diet. You simply cannot out-exercise bad nutrition. A definition of “proper nutrition” however is a bit subjective. For me, proper nutrition has taken the form of adopting a Paleo diet. For more on this, I recommend the book The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. At a minimum though, I recommend people eliminate processed foods, minimize/eliminate wheat and grain, eliminate sugar, and eat more vegetables. I’ve experimented with a variety of nutrition schemes, and hands down Paleo has yielded the best results and made me feel and perform my best.

3) Have A Plan – If you are serious about losing weight and getting in shape, you need a plan. Just going to the gym and fiddling with the various equipment does not count. In order to have a plan, you need a goal – lose 30 lbs?, gain muscle?, train for a sport?, etc… Sometimes, your goal may be obvious. When I started, I was 227 lbs and had a 40″ waist dress pant. My goal was simple – LOSE WEIGHT! I adopted a plan that limited my calories and gave me a broad workout with a mix of circuit and cardio training. Whatever your goal is, make sure you are selecting a workout and nutrition regiment optimized to get you to your goal. While on your plan, I also found it very motivating to keep records. I tracked my body measurements and weight so I could visually track my progress. Before and after photos are also a great idea. Keeping a workout log in a notebook is a must. Monitoring your reps/weights and tracking them over time shows your progress. It also makes just keeping track of what to do workout to workout easier.

4) Educate Yourself – Reading about fitness and nutrition has been very important to me. I’ve learned a ton about the subject I didn’t know, I’ve “unlearned” things I thought I knew that was just wrong, and I’ve incorporated new things into my routines and nutrition that have vastly improved my results. Knowledge is power, so educate yourself!

Mass Building One Month Progress

7 Nov

A month ago I switched over to a mass building focused workout plan. I’m doing it while: 1) eating paleo, 2) taking creatine and BCAA supplements, and 3) a high quality whey shake. For the last month, I have not been counting calories, but rather relying on my paleo diet regulated hormones to tell me to eat when I’m hungry. It turns out, I’m eating a TON! I’m going to track calories for the next week or so to get a benchmark, but I’d guess I’m 2900-3500 calories a day. I’m also guessing my macronutrients are around 20% carbs, 40% protein, 40% fat.

My workout is based on volume training. Lower weights, for high rep/set counts. My split consists of Chest & Back, Legs & Abs, Arms & Shoulders. My workouts are about an hour each with the bulk of the workout being a push-pull alternating superset, with ten reps and ten sets. For example, my chest routine is a flat bench, followed by machine row. 90 second rest periods, for the ten set rotation. I then finish off with 3 sets of 12 reps incline dumbbell flies and lat pull downs.

Here is my 30 day progress:

Day 1

Day 1

Day 30

Day 30

A bit of visual progress perhaps… I’ve noticed that I’m adding muscle for sure. My arms and chest are definitely “thicker” looking and feeling. I’ve also noticed a difference in my glutes, quads and hamstrings.

My plan is to keep at this mass building through Christmas.

Volume Training for serious MASS

5 Nov

A couple weeks ago, I switched up my routine to a volume based training style. The goal is to try and add as much muscle size as I can between now and Christmas. Week 4 is about to start, and so far the results are great!

Volume training is basically a method which uses higher rep and set ranges, but with lower weights. The tempo of the move you are doing is also very important in this style. Slower, more methodical movements with good form are essential. “Time under tension” is an advanced and time honored body building technique. Even with less weight, slower, full range of motion moves stimulate the muscle and promote growth.

My particular routine is a 3 day split — Chest and Back, Legs and Abs, Arms and Shoulders. Each day has a top superset with 10 sets of 10 reps in each set. For example, Chest and Back is a bench press, followed by machine row, with 90 second breaks in between. The cadence is a 4 second lowering of the weight, followed by an explosive, but controlled, move up with the weight. I definitely had to lighten the weight significantly due to the increased difficulty of slower reps… not to mention having to do 100 of each move total! After the main superset, I finish up with 3 sets of 12 reps with two supporting moves. In the chest workout, it’s incline dumbbell flies and lateral pull downs.

In just a few weeks, I’ve already noticed an increase in muscle size! My plan is to keep going with this program through Christmas.

Special note – I am using creatine and Promasil whey shakes during this mass building phase. I’m also eating paleo/primal. My only deviation from paleo is that I use milk once a day in a post workout shake. I’m not counting calories, but just eating when I’m hungry… which turns out to be every 2-3 hours! I haven’t been using the scale, but rather just visually looking at muscle growth and weights used. As long as I look good, and I’m steadily increasing weights, I’m happy for now. After the holidays, I plan on a strict 3 month “cutting” program.

The “Gluten Free” Myth

24 Oct

When my family and I started eating paleo, I checked out the “gluten free” section of my fancy grocery store. While I knew that paleo is largely about eating natural, single ingredient whole foods, I figured that there must be some goodies tucked away in the “healthy” gluten free section of the grocery store. I was WRONG!

As I picked up a variety of gluten free products (breads, cookies, cereal, pastas, etc.), and read the ingredients, I quickly found out that wheat and gluten were just replaced with another type of filler ingredient. A processed food is a processed food — take out the wheat, and the food companies simply replace it with soy, rice, potato starch, or some other undesirable item.

The up side to my grocery store misfortune was unexpected. When I got home and told my wife what I discovered, we decided to start making our own high quality snacks and paleo-friendly recipes together. We now make large batches of paleo cookies, dinner recipes, nut bars, and other tasty treats using quality whole food ingredients. We make large batches and use our vacuum sealer to freeze things for later use. We get the kids involved too. My girls, ages 5 and 7, help to measure, stir, and add ingredients to our paleo concoctions. We have turned our healthy eating food prep into quality family time! Instead of taking the easy route and buying processed foods in a box, we are now all living healthier, and happier together!

Eat Fat, Get Lean

22 Oct

Too good to be true? Can you REALLY eat fats to get lean? OF COURSE!

We have been indoctrinated as a society to believe that “low fat” and “no fat” foods are the way to go for being lean and healthy. Just walk through your local grocery store and pay attention to the marketing of low fat foods. On that same trip, look around at the people shopping for these low fat foods. How many of them look lean and fit? Probably not many!

I myself falsely believed that low/no fat foods were “healthier” than their full fat alternatives. I had to do a lot of research on my own, and try out a higher fat diet, to find out for myself if fats were my friend or enemy. Here are my top reasons why you should ditch the low fat foods and embrace a big fat intake in your diet:

1) Low / No Fat Foods are Junk – when companies market low fat foods, they are actually removing something healthy (the fats) and replacing them with fillers that are not (such as soy, soy derivatives, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or chemicals that you can’t pronounce).

2) Fat is FULL of nutrients – gram for gram, fats are more nutrient dense than protein or carbohydrates. Not only do fats contain numerous vitamins and nutrients, they also have another interesting benefit. Many vitamins and minerals are actually fat-soluble, which means that eating fat increases the bioavailability of nutrients of other foods. In other words, eating fats allow you to get more nutrients out of the non-fat foods you are eating!

3) Fat DOES NOT make you fat – this is probably one of the most common misconceptions. I’ll say a couple of things about this. First, fat is very satiating which means it makes you feel full, thus it prevents over eating. This is especially true when you are paring the consumption of fat with a low-carb diet (like paleo). Second, study after study shows that high fat and limited carb diets improve your body’s ability to access stored fat you already have for energy. This has the result of improving body composition (increasing lean muscle mass and reducing body fat percentage).

4) Fat DOES NOT increase cholesterol and clog your arteries –There are no studies that link the consumption of fat to increased blood cholesterol. In fact, the best studies available indicate that cholesterol is most negatively impacted by high carb diets that are wheat based. Similarly, clogged arteries are caused by inflammation (which is also the number one cause of all diseases in the body). Inflammation is much more causally linked to the consumption of wheat and carbohydrates. You don’t consume fats that in turn get poured into the blood stream and plug things up… it just doesn’t work that way.

5) Fats make hormones – hormones are pretty much in charge of doing EVERYTHING in your body. Dietary fats are a key structural component of hormones. Having your hormones in proper balance, and in adequate supply, are critical for sex drive, building muscle, regulating your mood, etc.

EASY Paleo Honey Lemon Chicken

21 Oct

I find that eating healthy, whether it is Paleo or not, is always easier when preparing meals that are a) delicious, and b) made in bulk.

I tweaked a few recipes I found online to come up with the perfect combination of flavor and ease to make this delicious crock pot honey lemon chicken. I make a big batch with about a half dozen or more chicken breasts at a time, but you can make more or less depending on your needs.

Ingredients

4 skinned chicken breasts
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1/4 of raw honey
1 tsp of minced garlic
Olive Oil

Directions

Cover the bottom of the crock pot in a layer of olive oil, mix the lemon juice, honey and garlic until combined. Placed breasts in the crock pot and drizzle them with the lemon and honey mixture. Cook on low heat for 3.5-5 hours.

To make sauce, remove cooked chicken from the pot and pour the remaining juice into a sauce pan. Over medium low heat, add 1 tblsp of arrowroot powder and stir regularly for 2-4 minutes. Let cool to thicken.

I usually make at least double this recipe. I find that freezing two breasts in a vacuum sealer and freezing them works great if you want to make a very large batch and have delicious healthy food ready for later!

Mayonaise… It’s good for you???

16 Oct

Don’t let the title trick you… mayo can be good for you… delicious, and healthy! This recipe is loaded with healthy fats from egg and olive oil, and it has none of the junk ingredients and fillers found in store bought mayo.

Doing paleo, sandwiches are out, but I make a delicious chicken salad using homemade mayo. The stuff in the store is just garbage. I checked out leading brands, and the best names and most expensive are loaded with bad ingredients. Cain’s “with Olive Oil” mayo for example has soybean oil as the first ingredient!

This recipe is awesome! Tastes just like the jar stuff, but it is healthy, and paleo friendly. Make sure you keep it in the fridge, no longer than 72 hours.

Ingredients:

1 egg
1 tblsp of apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

In a blender, blend well egg, apple cider vinegar and sea salt. SLOWLY add the olive oil in a thin stream while blending. Continue to blend on low/medium setting until it reaches the consistency of mayonnaise.