Soup night! Make some minestrone

Chilly winter nights require steaming hot bowls of soup; it’s science! Packed with heart-healthy vegetables and beans, hearty minestrone soup is easy to throw together, low in sodium, and it will fill you up while it warms you up.

This is a great recipe for using up vegetable odds and ends that may be lingering in your fridge. Leftover green beans? Toss them in the pot. Swiss chard, kale and cabbage are excellent substitutes for baby spinach — just be sure to increase the cooking time of your greens so they have enough time to become tender.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 small zucchini
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 14.5 oz can no salt added diced tomatoes
1 32 oz carton (4 cups) no-salt-added chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups of water
2 15 oz cans no salt added kidney or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup small pasta (ditallini, orzo, elbow or mini shells), uncooked
2 packed cups of baby spinach (cabbage, Swiss chard and kale are great substitutes)
Optional, chopped Italian parsley
Optional, grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Quarter carrots and zucchini lengthwise and slice into bite-sized pieces. Cut celery in half lengthwise and slice into bite-sized half moons.

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until softened, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute.

  1. Add basil, oregano, carrots and celery to the pot and stir to combine. Stir in canned tomatoes with their liquid, broth and water. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are just tender, 10-15 minutes.
  2. Add zucchini and rinsed beans to the pot. Bring to soup back to a simmer and continue to cook until zucchini is tender and beans are hot, about 15 minutes.

  1. While soup is simmering, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside until soup is ready.

  1. Stir cooked pasta and spinach into soup and simmer until heated through and spinach is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot. If desired, garnish with chopped parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6-8. Makes 12 cups.

Nutrition

Nutrition per cup.

Calories 127 Total Fat 1 g
Saturated Fat 0 g Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg Sodium 46 mg
Potassium 453 mg Total Carbohydrate 23 g
Dietary Fiber 8 g Sugars 3 g
Protein 7 g

 

The Definitive Guide to Picking a Sports Performance Trainer

Youth sports are now big business. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. Every year parents spend exorbitantly to give their children as much opportunity as possible, or at least to keep up with everyone else. Once common, three-sport high school athletes are a rare-to-extinct breed in this world of year-round seasons, skills coaches, showcases, and strength and conditioning gurus. Even with a growing industry built on exploitation, many youth athletes still wonder how to navigate this world. In particular, how to best choose a sports performance trainer?

Strength and conditioning, like most fields, is full of good and bad apples. Consumers must be aware of incompetent posers spouting nonsensical, baseless training philosophies who fumble through gimmicky methods that they do not understand.

This sounds harsh, but parents must prudently approach trainer selection. YouTube makes it easier than ever to throw together several flashy exercises in ways that do more harm than good. Social media allows anyone to gain a larger audience and create a loyal following thrilled to have their ego stroked by trainers who post about them constantly. Select organizations and parents are, in effect, paying for a babysitter who gets the kids moving.

Trainers who know only the “cool” exercises, who don’t understand the fundamental principles of strength and conditioning will not make athletes better in the long run, and they could actually make them worse. Almost everything makes youth athletes stronger, faster, and better conditioned in the short-term. This is the beauty of training young athletes with low training age: timing and genetics are on your side. As they progress past baseline competencies, it becomes essential to account for other training variables and to program towards specific outcomes.

While this is not a piece about training science or periodization, parents must understand that more training is not necessarily better for adaptation. Incompatible, poorly timed, or poorly executed training methods can negate good work and reinforce patterns that make injury and overuse likely. There is a difference between training and working out. Beach Body may be great for fat loss in your 30’s, but it’s a terrible high school athletic development program.

Training Principles Over Workout Methods

“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is no a shortage of really good strength and conditioning coaches, but many are confused about how to find them and how to know the difference between good and bad. As a parent, this can feel overwhelming. How can you make a well-informed decision about who should train your child without immersing yourself in studies of bio-energetics, physiology, and training principles?

When looking for a qualified strength and conditioning coach, look for a few certifications. I am partial to the CSCS and the CSCCa certifications. Both do a phenomenal job preparing trainers to train for athletic performance. Great additions that include practical application, not just book study, are the RKC, SFG, and USAW certifications. Unfortunately, trainers with numerous certifications might have slipped through the cracks and fail actually coach in the manner they were taught. Likewise, there are a million other routes to develop tremendous sport-performance coaching ability. A trainer can intern under a master like Mike Boyle, Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, Exos, or any of the other tremendous training facilities. There are also exceptionally good trainers with a NASM, ACE, ISSA, or other certification. Certification is a good starting point, but not the end all be all.

Find a Chef, Not a Cook

I would insist on some sort of credential other than participation in college athletics or even in “the league.” In my experience, former athletes are the most common trainers and the least qualified. I do not necessarily blame these men and women. I understand why they think that they are trainers. They know how to do the exercises and have been through all the workouts. However, following a chef’s commands or recipe does not make you a chef. Likely, you would be lost if the chef were removed. Chefs understand cooking principles and all possible variables and combinations. These former athletes are not chefs. They are dangerous because they know only ingredients, but have no cookbook, no recipe. They triple the sugar, cut the flour in half, and forget the yeast.

The Definitive Guide to Picking a Sports Performance Trainer - Fitness, youth athletes, competitive sports, choosing a trainer, youth sports, youth development, principles

Simplifying the Process for Parents

I’ve created the following questionnaire to score trainers on how qualified they are to train your son or daughter. If insulted by your insistence on these questions, the trainer might not be a good fit. You are looking to hire, so approach this decision as an interview. Some of these questions may not seem applicable to your situation, but they are still essential to determine the trainer’s competency and ethics. I have included possible answers. Do not let the candidate see these. Rather, make an informed decision as to which answer his or her response most reflects.

The Definitive Guide to Selecting a Sports Performance Trainer

a. Good Response: 3 Points

b. OK Response: 1 Point

c. Possible Deal-Breaker Response: 0 Points

  1. My son/daughter trains at school with his/her team a few days a week. How will that impact your training in regards to frequency, duration, intensity, etc? Do you need to know what nights he/she practices and plays games?
    1. Good: Any response that mentions the need to account for all training stressors and that communicates a need to understand the school team’s workouts. He or she should mention the need to communicate with the coaches.
    2. OK: He/she makes it clear that this is important and that he/she will be certain to always communicate with your son/daughter about planning.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Any nonchalance about other training.
  2. His/her sport demands speed. How can he/she become faster?
    1. Good: Any response that mentions strength relative to body weight or “relative strength.” Any response that talks about sprinting and jumping (but not as conditioning). Any response that talks about getting stronger. Any response that concedes that while speed can be trained, genetics are a limiting factor.
    2. OK: He/she vaguely mentions strength and power, and/or running sprints and jumping.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: If he/she mostly discusses conditioning. Speed must be trained at max output with full recovery. Anyone who hears the word speed and thinks conditioning is not qualified to train your son or daughter. Also sleds, parachutes, and box jumps are often gimmicks. He/she should know that they must be reserved for short distances and lower reps at max output.
  3. What would the first session with you look like?
    1. Good: Focuses discussion on evaluation, baseline, teaching, etc.
    2. OK: Vaguely mentions assessment.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: “Exhausting! He/she will hurt all over!” While soreness is likely, particularly at first, an emphasis on exhaustion is a very bad sign.
  4. How soon will you have him/her lifting heavy and maxing?
    1. Good: A response that recognizes that your son/daughter needs to demonstrate safe movement patterns over a few sessions with low to medium weights. If your child is younger than 15, it may be completely unnecessary to lift heavy. If the trainer doesn’t believe it important for your son/daughter at this junction that may be a very wise decision, just as it could be true that heavy lifting would be very beneficial.
    2. OK: Vague, but references a need to assess.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Anything extreme. From “it will be the first thing we do” to “athletes should never lift heavy.” Demonizing strength training, regardless of sport, could be a very bad sign.
  5. How much rest would he/she have between sets? Say, between sets of three squats.
    1. Good: Two or more minutes. Exceptions might include mention of cluster training, supersets, etc.
    2. OK: Vague, but mentions a need for rest between sets
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Less than 90 seconds. If he/she talks about “sport specific” time intervals and “functional training” here, they likely don’t understand basic strength training, the foundation of speed and power. “Sport-specific” is another buzz word that often indicates substituting gimmicks for an understanding of training principles.
  6. (Follow up to above question) What would you have him/her do during that rest time?
    1. Good: Any mention of breathing exercise, mobility exercises, a small number of jumps, or activation exercises.
    2. OK: Nothing. While I don’t love the idea of paying for a lot of downtime, it is better to rest between sets than to rush sets and ruin progress.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Any reference to conditioning.
  7. I saw (make up a famous sports athlete) doing really cool ladder drills. What do you think about ladder training for footwork?
    1. Good: Any response that recognizes ladder drills fit in the warm-up and as early coordination training, but don’t have much benefit long-term. “Footwork” is a buzz word that often means very little. Another acceptable response might be: “I’m not a big believer in ladder drills”
    2. OK: Vague response that acknowledges the use of ladder drills, but does not make them out to be any sort of “holy grail”.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Insistently proclaims how great his/her program is for footwork. Goes into great detail about all the ladder drills he/she knows and how much of his/her program is taken from professionals. It is very easy to find videos of professionals working out. Copying their program is a recipe for disaster.
  8. I’ve been taking him/her to CrossFit and doing lots of box jumps so he/she should be really powerful already, right?
    1. Good: Any response that notes the difference between conditioning and power. A good trainer will probably mention how unsafe it can be to do box jumps for conditioning and will probably mention needing to account for any future CrossFit sessions.
    2. OK: A respectful inquiry as to whether you plan to keep taking him/her to CrossFit workouts.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Enthusiastic support for high-rep box jumps and a promise to continue them in your son/daughter’s future training.
  9. What are your suggestions about nutrition for him/her? (Nutritional demands will vary greatly depending on goals and current background. However, a few things are fairly constant and a few responses are major red flags.)
    1. Good: Any remark that humbly notes the limitations of a strength coach’s expertise, while recommending a balanced and moderate approach that features lean meats with fruits and vegetables. Beans, nuts, and whole grains are also probably good suggestions. He/she should not mention dieting or starting with a ton of supplements, although suggesting whey protein is fine. He/she does not mention counting calories or purchasing expensive eating programs. Advice focuses on long-term habits rather than quick fixes.
    2. OK: He/she notes the importance of nutrition but recommends speaking to someone more qualified.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: He/she pushes counting calories and pretends to have an idea of exactly how many your son/daughter needs each day. Promotion of numerous supplements is also a red flag, particularly if they are all from the same company.
  10. Should I worry about recovery or overtraining?
    1. Good: He/she discusses the importance of eating a balanced diet, sleeping eight or more hours a night, avoiding overtraining, and having balance and relaxation in their lives. Add a bonus point if he/she brings up recovery practices like stretching or meditation. Add another bonus point if he/she mentions the challenges of overspecialization and playing the same sport year-round.
    2. OK: A vague yes.
    3. Possible Deal-Breaker: Anything along the lines of “Nah, these kids are resilient. When I was their age I’d run a few miles in P.E., then go lift after school, and then play a varsity basketball game.” While I agree that it is possible to thrive in fatigue and to reach exceptional levels of stamina, advice like this ignores the principles of progression and adaptation.

Scoring

Add up all the points.

  • 20 – 30 Points: Consider hiring as long as you also got a good feel for his /her ethics and ability to connect with your son or daughter.
  • 10 – 19 Points: Approach with extreme caution. Perhaps he or she is great but struggles to communicate or understand the questions well. A simple plan can be brutally effective, but I’d eliminate this candidate if there were more than one responses that graded as “Possible Deal-Breaker”.
  • 9 or Fewer Points: Why are you still standing there. Don’t walk. Run!

The Proper Wrist Position for the Kettlebell Press

Let me confess right off the bat that I enjoy pressing tremendously. Single bells, double bells, I love them both! If I could meet all my goals by working on only one lift, it would more than likely be the kettlebell press. I enjoy coaching the push press and jerk, but there is just something utterly primal and enjoyable about strict pressing a big bell over your head. (And by “big” I mean half your body weight or more.)

As with any true joy in life, some work must be done beforehand. The joy of pressing heavy can only be attained by learning how to press properly and repetition of correct technique. There are a number of details that go into the proper technique for the press which we will dive into at a later date, but for this article we will focus on the most common mistake I see people make when they press: improper wrist alignment.

Why Wrist Alignment Is Important

Most people who are new to kettlebell training, or who come to it with a barbell or dumbbell background, support the weight of the bell on their palm, as below.

Incorrect Grip for Kettlebell Presses

This is a natural instinct given their previous training, but it causes the wrist to extend so the palm faces upward and the back of their hand moves closer to their forearm. This change places the bell in a mechanically disadvantageous position making it harder to support. More on this detail in a moment, for now I will admit this is not a deal breaker, at least when pressing not-so-heavy. Technical errors can be pushed past when the weight is not challenging. But hopefully your goal is to press a “big” bell, as defined earlier, and to do so, you must press well. Pressing well requires you to support the load with your skeletal system and if you keep your wrist in straight alignment with your forearm, that mission will be accomplished.

The principle difference between a kettlebell and a barbell or dumbbell is clearly its offset handle design. When pressing a barbell or dumbbell the lifter grabs the center of mass so the wrist must extend a small amount when putting either of these tools overhead or the load will not be sufficiently supported. This is not the case with the kettlebell. The offset handle of the kettlebell, in fact, does not allow the lifter to control the center of mass so the lifter is always forced to move a bell from a disadvantageous position making it pound for pound more challenging to stabilize than a bar or dumbbell. Also, with the bell we are literally putting our hand through the weight which allows and requires us to modify the wrist position.

Keep a Neutral Wrist

There’s a saying in martial arts that there are “no wrists” in punching. This means you want to keep your wrist neutral when striking with the fist, maintaining a straight line from your knuckles to your elbow and/or shoulder (depending on the punch) in order to deliver maximum force upon impact. Flexing or extending the wrist will minimize power and potentially cause some self-inflicted and easily avoidable injury—this saying also applies to kettlebells. Bending the wrist out of alignment with the forearm will move an already hard to stabilize weight further off-line making it even harder to control and taking energy that we could otherwise use to press the bell. In short, we must have a straight wrist when we press the kettlebell, as below.

Correct Grip for Kettlebell Presses

We can cheat through bad form with a light bell, but remember that “practice does not make perfect, practice makes habit.” Why build a bad habit on your lighter reps when you can continue to learn proper technique? (That’s a rhetorical question. There’s no good reason, so don’t do it.)

So how does one accomplish this preferred, efficient neutral wrist position? There are a couple of tactics you can employ to dial in the proper wrist alignment for pressing the kettlebell. The first is simply to not allow the bell to extend your wrist, pulling your palm to the sky. Simply crank down on the handle of the bell (like throttling down on a motorcycle) so you feel like you’re pulling your palm toward the inside of your forearm. Below is an exaggerated example so you can see what I mean. As the bell gets heavier and heavier, this action will probably not be visible, but the effort and effect will still be there.

Grip with Exaggerated Flexion

Another choice is to shove your hand deep into the handle of the bell and angle the handle diagonally across your palm from just above your thumb to the outer corner of your hand.

Example Grip for Kettlebell Presses

This angle will reduce the amount of pressure pulling your palm to the sky. If you grab the bell and allow the handle to run side to side, across your palm just under your fingers, (as in the example below) you will be in a dramatically more disadvantageous position to support the weight.

Perpendicular Wrist Position

Get in there deep instead and you will feel much less pull on the palm. Go ahead and try both versions now with your max press weight bell (or heavier) and feel the difference.

Put It All Together

These two things done in concert will allow you to get the optimal wrist angle for pressing the kettlebell. Try them both in your next training session and feel the difference. And finally, remember that pressing well and heavy brings joy to your life, so do these things purely in the pursuit of happiness. You’ll be glad you did. Now get to pressing!

Hold On TIght! 3 Grip Building Exercises

Having a strong grasp, a firm grip, an iron hand, is a game changer. You may have a sense of your grip strength from pull-ups or barbell exercises like deadlifts and traditional weightlifting movements. For most beginner and intermediate trainees doing functional fitness exercises coupled with weightlifting, there’s a good chance that some ancillary grip work isn’t a bad idea. It couldn’t hurt. Now, while we’re going to focus on exercises here to build the muscles of the hand and its digits, it’s probably a good idea not to neglect your forearms and wrists because they do play a role in overall grip strength. After all, the muscles controlling fingers and thumbs lie in both the hand and the forearm.

The Musculature of the Hands and Forearms

Flexors (fist bump)

  • Pollicis longus (thumb flexor)
  • Flexor digitorum superficialis and flexor digitorum profundus (all finger flexors)

Those three muscles also flex the wrist along with the palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris (adductor), and flexor carpi radialis (abductor).

Extensors (high five)

  • Extensor pollicis longus and brevis (thumb extender)
  • Extensor digiti minimi (pinky finger extender)
  • Extensor indicis (index finger extender)
  • Extensor digitorum (all finger extender)

Those four muscles also extend the wrist along with the extensor carpi ulnaris (abductor), extensor carpi radialis longus (abductor), and extensor carpi ulnaris (adductor).

grip strength, finger muscles, hand muscles, forearm muscles, building grip

As you see, there are many multiple-function hand and digit muscles. To completely isolate the digit muscles, therefore, is impossible. However, there are some exercises that place more stress on the fingers and thumb that you can incorporate into your grip-strengthening program.

Plate Pinch

Pick up two bumper plates, preferably smooth, no bevelled edges that can ease the grip. Use a pinch grip, literally like pinching the plates between your thumb and fingers, and try and pick them up. It’s not going to be easy and if you can’t do it then, drop down to a lower plate weight.

Make sure you take some care because there is a chance that the plates may slip, or you may drop them when you get fatigued, and you don’t want to train your toes for collision damage.

If you feel emboldened, you can walk with the pinched plates, adding a little more of a degree of difficulty to the exercise, and giving you a way to measure the length of the pinch other than counting the time in your head.

Dead Hang

Hold On TIght! 3 Grip Building Exercises - Fitness, improve grip strength, grip, grip strength, dead hang, farmers walks, pinch grip

One of most functional grip strength builders is the dead hang. It is just like what it says, you jump up on the pull up bar, get a good grip, make sure your feet are off the ground, and you hold on for dear life. You probably do something like this as a way to stretch yourself out. This time, you’re doing it to keep that grip strong.

The other great thing about a dead hang is that you can mix it up with your grip:

  • Pull-up grip with the palms facing out
  • Chin-up grip with the palms facing in
  • Hook grip, a must for the weightlifter
  • Finger isolation, try holding the bar with three fingers active only or two
  • Mixed grip, with one palm facing in and one out, might make it easier to hold on longer
  • Palms facing each other using a parallel grip
  • Rope hang to really challenge that grip. Just wrap a towel, a rope, anything you can hang on to safely, over the bar and grip the ends.

Farmer’s Carry

It gets called a lot of things, loaded carry and farmer’s walk are among two. Dan John, the exercise guru, has been noted as saying, “The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and an athlete.” Moreover, Dan thinks of the farmer’s carry as the “King of Carries.” Chief among its benefits is, of course, phenomenal grip strength.

The simplest things you can use for a carry are kettlebells or dumbbells. You can also use hex bars and from there, anything from the giant bottles you use on water coolers to an actual suitcase. In fact, if you grab water bottles at the neck and carry them that way, as opposed to the handles they usually have on the side, you can get a really strong grip workout. Whatever you do, a heavy carry is a total body workout irrespective.

That’s it. Very simple. Very effective. Your grip should be getting a workout on the barbell and bar exercises that are a part of our regular workouts. These supplemental exercises are there to give you that added support in building up your grip strength.

That’s plenty of options to help you target your hands and fingers and thumbs because, like we said earlier, there are plenty of muscles in your hands and arms to work. Our opposable thumbs, our typing skills, our ability to play the piano, all these things make us more human and they can all get a little more love if you have strong hands and a strong grip.

Community: The Real Fitness X-Factor

No shortage of fitness and nutrition advice circulates today. Nearly everywhere you look, there is a new diet or revolutionary new fitness regime. Claims abound about foods that annihilate fat like heat-seeking missiles and secret ten-second exercises that increase your metabolism by over 300% (this outlandish claim is actually selling programs).

Everyone seeks that effortless solution to shred fat but allow them to eat whatever they want. There is a reason the term “fitness fad” has come into vogue. These flashy gimmicks come and go as they prove themselves unsustainable, ineffective, or just bizarre (did we really expect the Shake Weight to be the answer?).

Even the scientific community sometimes feels confusion. A recent study about the breakthrough research behind “energy flux” found that the body’s energy demand (read calories burned) remains practically equal regardless of how much we move.1

Those who sit and eat all day process about the same daily calories as someone exercising like mad, except that they store those calories as fat rather than using them. It also appears that some may benefit from the “energy flux loophole” whereby more exercise and more food increases their metabolism, making them leaner. More research is needed in this area. This study, by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, only measured teens, an age demographic that can experience radical shifts in metabolism.

Start with What You’ll Do

This might be confusing and leave us unsure of the implications. As interesting as the energy flux concept is, it does not yet prove anything new. Nutrition matters more than exercise for weight loss. Yet, even if weight loss was only affected by nutrition, exercise is still essential to long-term physical and mental health.

The take-home message is, and has always been, to create lifestyle habits that promote long-term health. Counting calories proves ineffective, particularly when we consider how nutrient-deficient many low-calorie foods can be, and our tendency to quit counting as motivation wanes and life grows hectic. Rather than pretending to have a clue about our basal metabolic rate, we simply need to find healthy foods that we like to substitute for poorer choices. Similarly, while different exercise methods might suit our individual needs, it is most important to move more and sit less. Sure, a balance of strength, cardio, flexibility, and stability is ideal, but in nutrition and exercise, just start with what you’ll do.

So, What Will You Do?

If you are short on time and equipment, there is a workout plan for that. If you prefer to exercise outside, or with a lot of variety, or with heavy weights, or with lots of stretching, or with games, or with anything else, there are plans for those too. Most likely, however, you prefer to work out and eat with friends.

Breaking Muscle’s own Pete Hitzeman accurately pinpointed the only variable that matters for training, nutrition, and any goal: consistency, or what you do for the long haul. However, there is often more to being consistent. We all have the power to change, but willpower alone simply does not prove an effective strategy for most.

Community: The Real X-Factor

A drive for community is at the root of most of our actions. As paradoxical as it sounds, community is the key to creating individual health changes. We are social creatures that adopt the patterns of our environment. Regardless of your goals, the answer is simple: for long-term success, create community around your health and fitness.

Author Neil Strauss explains what finding a healthy community has meant for him personally:

Before, I’d go to the gym to achieve a certain weight or muscle goal, and I never stuck with it. Now I show up to see my friends, and we always exercise outdoors: at the beach, in a pool, on a lawn… It’s the highlight of the day. I have no outcome I want from it, and I’ve never been in better shape in my life. It helped me realize that the secret to change and growth is not willpower, but positive community.

Community: The Real Fitness X-Factor - Fitness, nutrition, fat loss, community, connection, fitness fads, fad diet

Strauss does not say anything groundbreaking yet he profoundly articulates the solution to our poor health epidemic. Lack of community and connection drives poor mental health. Healthy communities most influence the actions necessary for physical health. Nothing we do for ourselves is more important than creating communities of people who earnestly share a desire to realize health and balance.

Community is not only the most sustainable path, but it is a necessity for health. Psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad found social connection to correlate to a 50 percent reduction in the risk for early death. She concludes that, in regards to health toll, chronic loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.2 As we all know, social media and growing populations do not alleviate loneliness. Social bonds rely on physical presence, experience, and authenticity.

Creating Your Own Healthy Communities

Adult community and connection are the struggles of our time. As one client recently asked me, “How the heck to do you make friends now?” We go to school with similarly-aged, like-minded peers, only to move on to the land of cubicles. We enter the “real world” and are met with social alienation. No one invites us to play racquetball. There are no intramural sports and no readily apparent hiking clubs.

We need connection and will find it one way or another. Many fill the void with drinking buddies. Adult softball leagues become the only exercise many people get, as they drink beer and laugh about how far their bodies have slipped. Community, however rare, becomes centered around the new realities of lethargy and immobility, as many social forces seem intent to dissuade health.

The answer is you, the individual. Take steps to find the fitness community that you know you need. Start a group or try out something new. Maybe there is an awesome kettlebell gym or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio in town. For physical and mental health, social connection is the answer.

This can be scary. Daniel Coyle’s phenomenal new book, The Culture Code shows that deeper connection requires vulnerability. We have to risk failing and being “the new person.” We have to risk rejection or feeling awkward in a new group. Health happens when you roll the dice and live. With a little grit, we can all create the physically and socially nourishing communities we need to thrive.

References:

1. David John Hume, Sonja Yokum, Eric Stice; Low energy intake plus low energy expenditure (low energy flux), not energy surfeit, predicts future body fat gain, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 6, 1 June 2016, Pages 1389-1396

2. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316

The Athlete’s Toolbox: Build Your Base With Postural Mechanics

Every day, we, as athletes, dedicate precious time in the gym with the goal of improving our current self. Even if it is 45 minutes slammed in the middle of our busy work day, the time spent in the gym is sacred. Any fitness article, magazine, or headline that you read will bombard you with exercises you “should” be doing or routines you “should” be following. But have you ever asked yourself if your body is capable of performing these programs or exercises?

Placing strenuous exercise on a malfunctioning system is a recipe for injury, but how do we know what, if anything, is functionally wrong with us? The key to identifying these issues lies within your posture. Evaluating your posture can identify tight musculature, unbalanced strength within the system, and the causes of persistent pain. The good news is that even if you have a malfunctioning system, it can be fixed. You need to have a trained eye, functional know-how, and the patience to rebuild your fundamental mechanics. Does that sound easy?

The odds are that without the proper help, you will not be able to successfully fix yourself. For one, most do not have the proper physiological understanding of the body. Secondly, it is near impossible to fix what feels, for all intensive purposes, “natural” to you.

There Is Hope to Fix Your Mechanics

Although I cannot provide you with trained eye (unless you want to fly me out—I love to travel), I can provide you with the functional know-how to assess and correct your current posture. All you need to bring to the table is your unbeatable mind and the agreement that you will push the limits of your patience.

First, we must identify what proper posture looks like. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man provides a great glimpse into the inner workings of the human body. His work is a quintessential depiction of balance—and that is what perfect posture always boils down to at its purest form. Static posture must be balanced within the sagittal plane (right versus left) as well as the coronal plane (front versus back). Disruption within these planes causes imbalances that beget dysfunction and eventually cause pain.

The skeletal and muscular systems play the largest role within the body regarding posture. The following instruction will focus on the muscular system, as that is the only system of the two in which you can make a functional change. Our muscular system creates postural imbalances due to range of motion issues and unbalanced strength/activation between opposing muscles (think quads versus hamstrings). With most people, believe it or not, this stems from strength imbalances, not true range of motion issues.

It is vitally important from here on out to understand that your muscles never truly “turn off.” Your body simply remodels your motor patterns to compensate for poor postural habits. If you sit down all day, odds are your hip flexors are tight which then wreaks havoc on your ability to use your glutes properly. This pattern of equal and opposite will repeat itself over and over.

Now, let’s build your posture from the ground up.

Feet and Knees: Proper Posture and Fixing Overpronation

Feet should be parallel to each other when standing. Big toes should be firmly planted into the ground with the arch of your foot rigid and stacked off the floor. Your knees should be stacked over the midline of your foot.

Improper foot posture is seen primarily when your toes are turned out. Turned out toes are an easy indictor of ROM issues and underuse within your posterior hip muscles (gluteus) as well as tight, overactive anterior musculature (quads, psoas, TFL, and adductors).

Foot Positioning

Left: Correct Foot Position, Right: Incorrect Foot Position

Standing with your toes turned out also leads to the knee aligning over the inside of the foot. This is known as Pronation Distortion Syndrome and often leads to foot issues such as plantar fascitis. It also compromises the ACL in the knee.

I’ve used a simple trick with several athletes to help alleviate this problem. I will place two 25lb plates on the outside of the athlete’s feet and then have them actively press the sides of their feet into the plate. After a few seconds the athlete should feel the sides of their hips begin to burn a bit (“turn on”). I’ll start an athlete with this in a static position for 4 sets of 10-30 second holds. Add time as they get more confident and comfortable with this activation movement. You can have the athlete progress this by performing body weight squats while pressing into the plates. Always make sure their foot stays flat on the floor and their big toes do not come off the ground. I have seen this process take 3-4 weeks of practice before it starts to take hold in more higher intensity settings, like during a workout for example.

Plate Activation Drill

The Hips: Proper Posture and Fixes for Hip Imbalance

Your hips first should have equal weight distribution across both feet. Your gluteus muscles and lower abdominals should be equally engaged in order to properly set the lumbar spine.

A very common problem is seen in athletes who commonly shift weight primarily to one foot when standing. This is called asymmetrical weight distribution. This weight shift can cause the hips to be improperly engaged during movements. You’ll notice the imbalance if they trouble lunging on a particular leg or if their hips shift to the side during squats and deadlifts.

Hip Positioning

Left: Correct Hip Position; Right: Incorrect Hip Position

Another common problem is anterior pelvic tilt/lower cross syndrome. This is seen in approximately 70% of the population. It arises from overactive/tight anterior musculature and under activation of the posterior musculature of the hips in addition to nonexistent lower abdominal engagement.

Pelvic Tilt Collage

Left: Correct Pelvic Tilt; Right: Incorrect Pelvic Tilt

To fix asymmetrical weight distribution, constant reminders can be used, either verbally from a coach or intrinsically by the athlete, to correct their own weight distribution over and over.

To fix anterior pelvic telt, include the “dead-bug” exercise into your daily warm up routine. It is the best way I have found to correct an anterior pelvic tilt. It engages your lower abdominals and helps you to learn how a neutral spine feels. I cue my athletes to press their belly button into the ground when performing the dead-bug. As with the standing plate exercise above, we progress athletes from 10 seconds up to a 30 second hold. From there, you can progress the athletes by having them move their limbs while keeping the lower abdominals engaged into the floor.

The Shoulders: Proper Posture and Upper Cross Syndrome Fix

Your scapula (shoulder blade) should sit flush against the backside of your rib cage with your lower traps and lats engaged to keep your scapula from rounding forward. Moreover, your hands should rest with your thumbs facing forward and your arms by your sides.

Upper Cross Syndrome is a combination of tight anterior musculature and weak/disengaged posterior musculature. Sound familiar? Tight, overused pectoral muscles internally rotate our shoulders, and our weak lower traps and lats cannot pull the scapula down back into its normal place.

Shoulder Positioning

Left: Correct Shoulder Positioning; Right: Incorrect Shoulder Positioning

In addition, athletes who engage in CrossFit (most specifically) tend to compound this issue with the high volume of cleans and snatches. Overuse of the upper trap, used during shrugging movements, will amplify existing shoulder issues often leading to Shoulder Impingement Syndrome.

Shoulder Error Side View

In order to retrain the scapula we must first develop awareness and then strengthen the appropriate musculature. My favorite drill for upper back postural awareness is the “Belt Pull-down Drill.” The video demonstration is below.

Similar to the above exercises mentioned, we start athletes with a handful of holds lasting around 10 seconds. We progress them up to 30 seconds and add movements like a basic hip hinge into the mix. This will increase the athlete’s postural awareness during moves like the deadlift or power clean.

Spend the Time Fixing Poor Patterns

When you move correctly you have to do less in the gym to achieve more results. I cannot recommend highly enough setting aside the 5-10 minutes daily to ingrain these movement patterns into your neurological system. Once they become second nature you can back off and complete these as neural cueing drills on applicable days (shoulder girdle on overhead heavy days or dead-bugs on lower body heavy days). However, it can never hurt to truly master the basics of human motion, especially when striving for elite levels of fitness.

Can Colostrum Make A Difference In Your Life?

Thirty days ago I received my shipment of Colossal bovine colostrum. It arrived neatly packaged and protected from damage in reflective padded packaging. The whole thing screamed of advanced technology!

Colossal is a colostrum supplement positioned to accelerate recovery and is the latest entry in the world of sport nutrition. Colostrum is the first milk all mammals produce when they give birth. It’s a complex liquid that nature designed specifically for the unique needs of the newborn. Colostrum is high in immune factors, growth factors, vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Its benefits can be utilized by all species at any stage of their life. Colostrum is intended to provide vital elements to newborns that are critical for their survival. Colostrum is not a new supplement. Like many things, the processing to a powder is a better business model but some of the key factors found is colostrum are potentially compromised.

The advantage of Colossal is that it remains a liquid form for your consumption preserving the growth factors of colostrum—this is a very significant but costly move.

Colossal Nutrient Graphic

The Colossal Experience

To determine the effectiveness of Colossal, I consumed 20ml in the morning and evening while continuing with my typical diet. I measured my weight in the mornings and kept track of morning soreness and my desire to train (exercise). I had to get out of bed a couple of times when I realized that I had missed my second feeding of Colossal.

I would like to report that I was 10kg heavier with more muscle mass or maybe report that I felt better all day long, but I did not detect any measurable physical or mental differences while taking Colossal. I had no change in body weight or percentage of body fat, and I was not stronger in any of my strength moves. Most certainly we could attribute this to inferior genetics or that I’m in the 5th decade of life. I will let you be the judge on that score.

Colossal needs to be refrigerated but it wasn’t overly big and fit comfortably in my refrigerator. Colossal has a neurtral taste and does can mix with other beverages.

My personal recommendation is that you try Colossal to gauge your personal response to the product. It is not expensive and the science is interesting, at the very least.

Colossal Colostrum Supplement At a Glance
Features Colossal provides a variety of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and antioxidants
Use As a dietary supplment, contains liquid colostrum
MSRP $129 for 1200ml

Paleo Nutrition for Athletes: What to Eat After Workouts & Other Hacks

Workout nutrition is an age-old debate with tons of bro-science and bodybuilding message boards to prove it. From carbing up to fasted cardio, protein shakes and pre-workout snacks, there are hundreds of opinions claiming they know the way to enhancing performance, fitness and body composition. So what should you eat when you workout? It all depends on your goals, your workout, and your current health!

Here’s all you need to know about the role of workout nutrition—from a real food perspective (read: no candy-bar favored protein bars and shakes with chemical ingredients, macro or calorie counting slavery, and FitBit food-earning stepping included).

Workout Nutrition 101

There is no one size fits all approach to nutrition—or workout nutrition for that matter, but when it comes to getting the MOST out of your fitness in the gym, there’s no question that food matters…a lot. In fact, it’s been estimated that 80-90% of your fitness, performance, and body composition results are related to what goes into your mouth (or doesn’t go into your mouth) alone.

Without a cornerstone of nutrition, it’s as if you are trying to build a house without a foundation. Sure you can make a pretty white panel siding frame, and design Pottery Barn catalog worthy rooms, but without a solid foundation, all the pretty things or things you worked so hard to build won’t last.

So what does a “solid foundation” of good workout nutrition look like? While many people debate minute details (such as post-workout windows, nutrient timing, protein powders or fasted training), the 5 MOST important game changers when it comes to getting the most out of your personal workout nutrition plan are:

  • Eating Enough
  • Micro Nutrients
  • Hydration
  • Good Digestion
  • Consistency

Let’s chat about these 5 Nutrition “Game-Changers” then talk about how to use them in the context of your personal fitness goals.

Eating Enough

Are you eating enough? A common roadblock many fitness enthusiasts run into is under-eating—especially those who tend towards the “clean eating,” real food or paleo philosophy as well.

It’s easy to get full on proteins, veggies, and some healthy fat, but in the same breath fall into the trap of accidental dieting. The result? Slowed progress, plateaus, slowed metabolism, impaired appetite, and spinning your wheels in the gym!

Food is fuel! If you are serious about reaching your fitness goals, it can be good to conduct a baseline assessment of yourself to see if you are eating enough.

Calories = Energy

For a quick, general approximation of “how much” you should be eating use this calculation:

  • Multiply your current weight in pounds by 12 to 14 to get a baseline range of daily calorie needs
  • Then add 100 calories to this number for every 10 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity activity (spin, CrossFit, strength training, boot camp, Orange Theory).

No matter whether your goal is to build strength, boost performance, lose weight or lean out, if you are under-eating, you can bet your bottom dollar, progress will stall. Keep in mind: calories are energy and nutrients, the good kind, and the more quality cals you consume, the better your bod can maximize your fuel. Additionally, remember these are guidelines, not the gospel. Every body is different, and depending on your health history, current health status and body type (ectomorph or hard gainer versus endomorph or easy gainer), individual needs will vary.

Proteins, Carbs & Fats

Once you establish a ballpark range of caloric needs, you can figure out the “just right” balance of proteins, carbs, and fats for you. General fitness recommendations include:

  • Protein: 25-35% of total calories
  • Carbohydrates: 20-50% of total calories
  • Fats: The leftover percentage once proteins and carbs are determined

Keep in mind:

  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

So for instance, say you weigh 130 pounds and you workout in the gym five days per week and lead an active lifestyle with a combination of strength training, HIIT style boot camps, walking, and yoga. For best fitness, let’s do the math:

  1. Figure Out Baseline Health Calorie Needs.
    • Multiply 130 pounds x 12 calories and 130 pounds x 14 calories. You will get a range of 1560-1820 Calories (as your baseline requirement range).
  2. Figure Out Fitness Calorie Needs.
    • Multiply 100 calories x 6 (for the 60 minutes total of training you do most days each week). You’ll get 600 calories. Add 600 calories to your baseline numbers to get a target range of 2,160 calories-2,420 calories for your BEST health and fitness.
  3. Figure Out Baseline Protein, Carb & Fat Needs.
    • For 30% Protein: Multiply 2,160: x 0.30= 648 calories from protein, then divide 648 by 4 calories per protein gram to get 162 grams of protein as your baseline.
    • For 40% Carbs: Multiply 2,160 x 0.40=864 calories from carbs, then divide 864 by 4 calories per gram to get 216 grams of carbs for a baseline.
    • For 30% Fats: Multiply 2,160 x 0.30=648 calories from fat, then divide 648 calories by 9 fat calories per gram to get 72 grams of fat as your baseline.
  4. Eat Enough
    • Once you understand your baseline needs and find a rhythm for your body…PUT THE CALCULATOR AWAY.

While fitness and nutrition tracking apps can be helpful for ensuring you’re meeting your nutrient needs, more often than not, I find individuals who use these things religiously, feel attached to the numbers—more so than listening to our bodies.

There is a slew of other essential fitness game changers to consider when it comes to hacking your fitness nutrition (below). This is just the top of the iceberg to help keep you from overtraining. We will address more fine-tuned nutrient intake recommendations below for your unique goals (ie. leaning out, strength gain, performance or all-around general fitness) in the Nutrition Hacks section.

Micro-Nutrients

Eating enough is important, but eating ENOUGH quality, real foods matters more—at least for taking your health and fitness from good to great. True, macros are a piece of the equation (ie. proteins, carbs and fats), but not all chicken breasts, broccoli spears or sweet potatoes are created equal.

Moreover, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts tend to focus more on calories and macros, neglecting food variety and the micro-nutrients (i.e. the vitamins and minerals) that give your body the extra “umph” for power and nutrients.

For instance, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the nutrition value difference in a meal consisting of a farm-raised Tyson chicken breast, microwaved frozen green beans, processed olive oil and white rice versus a pastured raised chicken breast, with sautéed dark leafy rainbow chard in coconut oil and a side of rich, orange butternut squash and cinnamon. Just to be clear: B-Vitamins,beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, and essential (digestible) amino acids in the latter. In short: color=nourishment, and tons of vitamins and minerals that are often unseen if you are just focusing on counting your macro-nutrients alone.

Here are some of my favorite quality foods for fitness:

  • Meat and Poultry. Beef and lamb, but also pork, chicken, turkey, duck and wild game like venison, ostrich, etc. Organic, pastured, grass-fed and/or free-range is always preferable. Natural means nothing.
  • Pastured Egg Yolks. The albumin in egg whites is closely associated with autoimmunity and allergies.
  • Organ Meats (especially liver). The most nutrient-dense food on the planet. If you don’t like the taste of liver, one good trick is to put one chicken liver in each cube of an ice cube tray and freeze them. Then, when you’re making any meat dish, dice up one chicken liver and add it to the meat.
  • Bone Broth & Meat Broth Soups. Balance your intake of muscle meats and organ meats with homemade bone broths. Bone broths are rich in glycine, an amino acid found in collagen, which is a protein important in maintaining a healthy gut lining.
  • Wild-Caught Fish. Especially fatty fish like salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Wild is preferable. Aim for 1 pound per week in lieu of fish oil supplements or reach for a fermented cod liver oil.
  • Starchy Tubers. Yams, sweet potatoes, yucca/manioc, winter squash, beets, carrots plantain, parsnips, etc.
  • Non-starchy Vegetables. Cooked and raw. Especially dark leafy greens.
  • Fermented Vegetables and Fruits. Sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, coconut kefir, etc. These are excellent for gut health.
  • Fresh Fruit. (1-2 servings/day). Especially berries and green tipped bananas.
  • Traditional Fats. Coconut oil, palm oil, lard, duck fat, beef tallow and olive oil.
  • Olives, Avocados, and Coconut (including coconut milk-no additives, coconut butter, unsweet coconut flakes).
  • Ghee & Grass-fed Butter
  • Sea Salt, Herbs & Spices.

What about protein powders? Protein powders are not essential, but they can help some fitness enthusiasts meet their baseline protein requirement needs, granted you need to choose a digestible, anti-inflammatory powder.

Unfortunately, most fitness nutrition shops and grocery store supplement shelves are adult candy stores with protein powders flavored like “Cookies & Cream” and “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” that don’t do anything but end up out the other end in the toilet, and disrupt your gut bugs.

Nevertheless, if you choose a quality formula, you can maximize performance.

See this article on “how” to choose the best powder for you, along with some of my faves here:

  • Collagen Protein
  • Equip Foods Beef Isolate
  • Pure Paleo Beef Isolate
  • Equip Foods Prime Plants (if vegetarian/vegan)
  • Wild Foods Grass-fed Whey (if you tolerate dairy)
  • Primal Paleo Perfection Beef Isolate

Hydration

It’s no secret hydration is essential for fitness performance. In fact, just a 3-percent fluid reduction in the body can cause a 10 to 20 percent decrease in performance. Read more about research on active dehydration.

However, adequate fluid intake is easy to overlook. Thirst alone is not the first indicator of dehydration, and for this reason, mindfulness with drinking water throughout the day is encouraged.

Moreover, find yourself super hungry—often—between meals, or feeling fatigued or run down? It could be a sign your body needs more water. The same organ that triggers hunger (your hypothalamus) also triggers thirst, and fatigue and power in your workouts are not always just related to sleep and recovery hacks, like saunas and mobility sessions.

A general rule of thumb for a baseline of adequate fluid intake is half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 70 ounces or almost 9 cups of water.

When you add your workout sessions and heat into the mix, add 16 ounces for every pound of bodyweight (fluid) lost. No need to weigh yourself though! Factor in at least 16-32 ounces more to your daily water intake if you lead an active lifestyle, and sip throughout the day.

Straight up water, or water infused with citrus or cucumber and mint, is best. (No, Bulletproof coffee does not count as hydration—in fact, coffee dehydrates you). In addition, add a pinch of sea salt to a glass of lemon water in the morning and sea salt your food to taste for electrolyte boosting power (sodium, potassium, and magnesium).

Sports drinks are not essential unless you are training for intense athletic activity, sweating a lot or working out in a hot climate, to replace extra lost electrolytes and maintain proper fluid balance in the body. Pass on the Gatorade in favor of a homemade mix like this natural lemonade one.

Good Digestion

Digestion is an often overlooked component of any fitness nutrition protocol. You can drink all the protein shakes, creatine or pre-workout supplements, multi-vitamins, post-workout carbs, or chicken and broccoli in the world, but if you are not digesting your food appropriately, then you are not going to maximize the nutrients you’re taking in.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are at higher risk for impaired digestion, primarily because exercise is a stressor to the body.

While it is a positive stressor, two things happen when the body is stressed:

  1. Cortisol levels (stress hormones) go up
  2. Stomach acid goes down

Since optimal digestion happens in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state, elevated cortisol can impede with good digestion—especially directly after your workout. In addition, elevated cortisol suppresses stomach acid—leaving you more at risk for hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid).

For these reasons, a baseline digestive protocol for fitness enthusiasts includes:

  1. Soil Based Probiotic
  2. Pre-Biotic Fiber
  3. 1 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar in water or HCL Tablets with each main meal (to boost stomach acid)
  4. Digestive Enzymes (optional, but recommended for maximizing digestion)

Also, don’t neglect digestive hygiene at meals! Instead of inhaling your chicken and sweet potato, or slamming down your protein shake, do these 3 things to maximize digestion:

  1. Breathe. Pause for 1-2 minutes before meals to just breathe, and stimulate rest and digest mode.
  2. Chew your food—really well (you don’t want to recognize that chunk of chicken as a chunk of chicken when you swallow it)
  3. Prep your own food as much as possible. Food quality doesn’t just mean organic or non-GMO—the number of hands that have touched your food, or the length of time in storage in your fridge matter too. When you prep your own food, you know what oils and cooking practices went into the meal, as well as how old your foods are (for leftovers, consume within 3-5 days or freeze; for produce and meats, consume within 7 days)

Consistency

Lastly, but equally important: Consistency. The slow and steady wins the race when it comes to nutrition, and one or two days of “good nutrition” followed by five days of sporadic nutrition will not pay off. Fuel the machine. No, this does not mean “perfection,” but when trying a “new approach” to the way you eat, give yourself at least 3 to 4 weeks of consistency to see (and feel) the difference).

Q. What About Nutrient Timing? Does it matter when I eat? The short answer: No, for most fitness enthusiasts nutrient timing does not matter as much as you think. At least compared to considering what you eat consistently overall in a given 24-hour period.

Studies have confirmed that the “post-workout” window or “perfect time” for eating a post-workout meal really only matters if you haven’t been fueling up consistently or eating enough. Read about nutrient timing here.

In other words: Whether you eat 30-minutes after a workout or 2 to 3 hours after a workout is seen pretty much the same way to the body if you are meeting your daily energy needs (as discussed in point one).

Moreover, the food you eat today actually impacts tomorrow’s workouts and performance more than today’s, based on digestion and maximum power output since glycogen stores (energy for your muscles) are usually replenished within a 24 hour period (provided that daily energy needs are met). Nevertheless, eating around workouts is not a bad thing.

Generally, if you are eating regular, balanced meals and maybe one to two snacks each day to support energy needs, just time these accordingly around meals to allow for proper digestion before moving and grooming in your workouts (you don’t want to eat too close to your workouts and feel your sweet potato coming up; although some can tolerate simple-to-digest meals like a smoothie, protein powder in water, or banana).

For individuals wanting to maximize strength and muscle gains, a pre-workout meal of about 10-30 grams of carbs and 10-15 grams of protein. Some folks even do ok off of a dense serving of fat pre-workout, particularly endurance training athletes who actually run off fatty acids (not glucose) as the preferred source of fuel believe it or not.

Here are some ideas…

Pre-Workout Meal Ideas (2-3 hours before training)

2-3 ounces of turkey in a coconut flour tortilla

Half a sweet potato and 2-3 ounces of chicken from lunch

Smoothie (Scoop of protein powder in water or coconut milk, greens and 1/2 green-tipped banana or peaches)

2 pastured eggs scrambled with shredded Yukon gold potato

Tuna with mustard and roasted carrot fries

Ground turkey or beef and butternut squash

Organic roast beef roll-ups and roasted parsnips

Canned wild salmon and 1/2 white sweet potato

Pre-Workout Snack (30-60 minutes before training if you just need a little something to tide you over)

Piece of fruit

1 scoop protein powder in water

Applesauce with protein powder mixed in

Coconut water

Turkey or beef jerky

Bone Broth

If you tolerate healthy fats around workouts, you could also try:

1/2 Banana with 1 tbsp. Almond Butter or Coconut Butter

1 tbsp. MCT oil in chai tea

Coconut Butter Packet

1/2 Bulletproof Bar (if you tolerate Healthy Fats)

Energy Balls

1/3 avocado or guacamole with handful plantain chips

Nutrition Hacks for Your Goals

What’s your why—the reason why you train? It’s vital to recognize your primary goal behind your fitness in order to align the right dietary approach to your training. After all, if your goal is to gain muscle and strength, but you are eating as if you are leaning out or fueling for a marathon run, then you are spinning your wheels.

The most common fitness goals include:

  • Gain Strength/Muscle
  • Lean Out/Lose Body Fat or Lose Weight
  • Enhance Sport or Fitness Performance (ie. get faster, make the team, etc.)
  • Be Healthy! (Enjoy Your Workouts, have fun, break up with the diet mentality & improve general fitness)

So why are you training? Here are some nutrition hacks for taking your fitness goals to the next level.

Gain Strength/Muscle or Gain Weight/Size Hacks

“I want to add 10 more pounds to the barbell or see some muscle definition.”

  • Maximize Carbohydrates
  • Adjust carbohydrate intake until you begin seeing “gains.” Carbohydrate needs may be anywhere from 40-50% of total daily calorie intake if you’re looking to add lean muscle.
  • Fasting & Intermittent Fasting: Not So Fast:
    Fasting and intermittent fasting can work great for some, however, I generally see this as a better approach for those looking to lean out, more than build size. Moreover, guys tend to do better with these methods than women over the long term. Remember: if your goal is for size and strength, eating is your friend, not your foe.
  • Just A Little Bit More.
    Putting on strength or size can feel daunting for us hard-gainers, but if you approach it with a simple, “I-can-do-this” mindset, and think about how you can add “just a little bit more” to what you currently eat for maintenance, it gets easier. Consider adding 1/4-1/2 an extra serving of sweet potato with dinner, another tablespoon of coconut oil in your morning hash, or a liquid meal, like a smoothie, in addition to your three balanced meals to make it do-able. Baby step it up until you begin seeing the results you want.
  • Optimize Digestion.
    If you’re not digesting your food maximally, then no matter how much you eat or add to your diet, it’s not going to stick. Conditions like SIBO, fungal overgrow, h and leaky gut can keep your body spinning its wheels.

Sample Meal Plan

Meal 1:

Protein Powder in Water

1/2 Banana
Probiotic

Training: 6075-Minutes, weights & HIIT

Meal 2:

4-5 oz. Ground Turkey

3/4-1 cup Butternut Squash

Greens & Mushrooms in 1 tbsp. Ghee

1/3 Avocado

3 Tbsp. Sauerkraut

Meal 3:

Mixed Greens

6 oz. Canned Wild Salmon

2 Tbsp. Paleo Ranch Dressing

3/4-1 cup Roasted Parsnips
Asparagus Spears

Meal 4:

Handful Macadamia Nuts

Meal 5:

4-5 oz. Chicken Thighs

1 cup Sweet Potato with 1 Tbsp. Coconut Butter

Sauteed Kale in Coconut Oil

Herbal Tea + Prebiotic + Probiotic before bed

Lean Out/Lose Body Fat or Lose Weight

“I want to tone up or lose those last 5 pounds.”

  • Make Sure You’re Eating Enough Healthy Fats
    Low-fat dieting is so 1992! Healthy fats help minimize insulin secretion, detour glucose storage (sugar) and balance blood sugar levels over all. They also help keep you satiated and keep cravings—especially sugar cravings at bay. Balance is still essential (no need to go full on keto), but many people who have been spinning their wheels with a low-fat diet, or low calorie diet find that when fats replace some of the carbs they’ve been turning to, metabolism spikes and the body turns into fat burning mode, versus sugar burning mode.
  • Eat Enough
    Speaking of eating enough, just because you’re leaning out, doesn’t mean you need to starve. Meeting your baseline and activity requirement range is still essential. The leaning out happens when you begin to tweak fats and carbs (as mentioned above). Be your own experiment, and if you’ve been doing the same thing, and expecting a different result, consider doing something different.
  • Simplify.
    Simplify the foods you eat. Meat, veggies, some starchy tubers, healthy fats and herbs and spices go a long way. Many folks find that they begin eating more emotionally, thinking more about food or eat based on cravings when they have lots of variety in their diet, and a strategy some find helpful is picking 2-3 rotating breakfasts and lunches to keep things uniform and help them eat the balance they desire.
  • Little Treats.
    More on the deprivation note, food is meant to be enjoyable! Not militant or something to feel morally guilty or good about. If you find yourself getting into diet mentality mode, what generally happens? We want what we can’t have. That said, pick one small treat to add to your daily rundown—such as a piece of 80-100% dark chocolate, cinnamon tea, coconut butter energy bite, or a scoop of homemade coconut ice cream to keep the diet mentality at bay.
  • Intermittent Fasting.
    If can be a helpful strategy for some (not all) people. It entails fasting for 12-16 hours, and an eating window of 8-12 hours in a given day. It’s not necessary, but again, if you’ve been doing the same things and expecting a different result, then it could be worth a try in the short term. Above all, it still matters most that you are eating enough.

Sample Meal Plan

Wakeup

Probiotic

Warm Lemon Water

Training: 60-75—Minutes, weights & HIIT

Meal 2:

4-5 oz. Ground Turkey or Bison

1/2 Plantains, pan-fried in coconut oil

Sauteed greens

1/3 Avocado

3 Tbsp. Sauerkraut

Meal 3:

Mixed Greens

4-5 oz. Roasted Chicken

2 Tbsp. Paleo Ranch

Asparagus Spears, Yellow Squash & Zucchini

Meal 4:

Handful Macadamia Nuts

Meal 5:

4-5 oz. Chicken Thighs

Sauteed Chard & Mushrooms in 1 tbsp. Ghee

Herbal Tea + Prebiotic + Probiotic before bed

Enhance a Sport/Performance

“I want to get faster, make the team or win the CrossFit Open.”

  • Recover
    Recovery is just as important as training, if not more. Over-training is really under-recovery. As far as nutrition on “off days,” you may find you can actually eat more, or you’re hungrier—primarily due to the fact that cortisol levels are not as high. Listen to your body and treat recovery days like “workout days”—vital to your success.
  • Eat Enough (Especially Carbs & Fats)
    Do I sound like a broken record? Athletes tend to be pretty good on the protein front, but fall short in the carb and fat department. Most “performance” training women do best with at least 100-150 grams of carbs each day, if not upwards of 200 if you are doing lots of high-intensity training. Extreme diets of any sort—super high fat, or super high carb are not recommended though as much as a balance of all three macros. If you are finding you’re performance is stalling, assess what you are currently doing and evaluate where your carbs and fats are. Tweak one or both accordingly to find your fit.
  • Digest.
    Since your training is more demanding than the average Joe, digestion is even more compromised and stomach acid more suppressed with stress. Consider taking digestive enzymes with each meal, along with apple cider vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. of water), and your daily probiotic and prebiotic (supplements and fermented foods) for baseline support. In addition, peppermint oil, ginger and turmeric are amazing spices and herbs to get in teas, supplement form or essential oils.
  • Support Hormones.
    Amenorrhea is common in those who train hard. Lost your period? That is usually a sign that a.) you’re not eating enough calories, or carbohydrates/fats, and/or b.) you’re not recovering enough (sleeping enough, varying your intensity in your training or resting enough between workouts). You hold great power over your body’s balance and if you’re not having your period, your body is speaking.

Sample Meal Plan

Wakeup

Protein Powder in water or Bone Broth with Collagen

1/2 Banana or Slice Melon

Warm Lemon Water

Probiotic

Training: 90-120 Minutes, weights & endurance training

Meal 2:

4-5 oz. Chicken Sausage Patties

1 cup Sweet Potato

Sauteed greens in coconut oil

1/3 Avocado

3 Tbsp. Sauerkraut

Meal 3:

1/2 Homemade Energy Bar like this

Meal 4:

4-5 oz. Turkey Burger Patty

1 cup Roasted Carrot Fries drizzled with Olive Oil

Spinach Greens with Oil & Vinegar

Afternoon

Herbal Tea

Meal 5:

4-5 oz. Ground Turkey

1 cup Spaghetti Squash with Kale, Avocado Basil Pesto & Nutritional Yeast

Before Bed

8 oz. Goats Milk Kefir with Frozen Blueberries

Prebiotic + Probiotic before bed

Be Healthy

“I just want to look good naked and/or make peace with my body, food and fitness!”

  • As If
    You know you don’t want to care so much about what you eat or what you look ike in the mirror. So practice the “as if” mindset—the pretend mindset, “as if” you were the girl you want to be—happy, healthy and thriving. The more you can imagine that you are her today, and think about embodying the mindset, decisions, and way she would speak to herself, the more you will become her.
  • Balance
    No one ever did a study showing that balance—proteins, carbs, and fats—did a body good. Honestly, extremes (low fat, high protein, high fat, low carb, etc.) are not necessary for health if you’re eating a balance of all macronutrients and getting your fuel through real foods. Enough with extremes.
  • Digest Well
    The gut is the gateway to health! If your gut is unhealthy, leaky or overgrown with bacteria, then chances are you will feel it—from bloating and constipation, to autoimmune conditions, unwanted weight gain or body fat storage, genetic diseases, thyroid conditions, plateaus in your fitness, skin breakouts, allergies—seriously, all health stems back to the health of your gut and digestion to nourish your body and metabolic processes for your daily life. Support healthy digestion with your daily probiotic and prebiotic supplements and foods, apple cider vinegar or HCL with meals, and herbal tea for good measure.

Sample Meal Plan

Wakeup

Warm Lemon Water

Probiotic

Training: 60-Minute Group Fitness Class

Meal 1:

2-3 Scrambled Eggs, pastured

1-2 Slices pastured bacon or turkey bacon

Sauteed greens & mushrooms in coconut oil

Berries

3 Tbsp. Sauerkraut

Meal 2:

Handful Macadamia Nuts

Meal 3:

Baked Wild Salmon

Spinach Salad

1/2 Avocado

Roasted Yellow Summer Squash

Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing

Meal 4:

4-5 oz. Grass-Fed Flank Steak

Roasted Broccoli

1/2 Sweet Potato

Before Bed

Herbal Tea

Probiotic

If you want, there are some suggestions on protein powder choices on my website if you are stuck for ideas.

Re-Thinking Orthodox Set and Rep Structures to Optimise Hypertrophy

Sets and reps are as old as training itself. The repetition is the foundation of every training methodology out there. Without reps, there is no training. However, the rigid structure of sets and reps we default to might limit our potential to progress optimally when it comes to gaining muscle.

There is compelling evidence that training volume (sets x reps x load) is the driving force behind hypertrophy. So important is the influence of training volume that a dose response relationship has been established in literature. The more you do the more you grow. Furthermore, this volume must progress overtime to keep muscle overload in place. You might be thinking, “that’s all well and good Tom, but what does this have to do with traditional sets and reps?” Allow me to explain.

The Trouble with Sets and Reps

Most programs are set-up using rigid set and rep schemes (e.g., 3×3, 5×5, or 10×10). Other times a rep racket is allocated—for example, 3×6-8. These traditional rep schemes can be extremely effective. I have often used them myself. However, there can be a problem when it comes to ensuring training volume increases overtime.

To illustrate this point here is a working example. John starts out using 225 lbs for his 3×6-8. His “progression” is as follows:

  • Week 1 – 225 lbs X 8/7/6 = 4,725 lbs
  • Week 2 – 225 lbs X 8/8/7 = 5,175 lbs
  • Week 3 – 225 lbs X 8/8/8 = 5,400 lbs
  • Week 4 – 230 lbs X 8/6/6 = 4,600 lbs
  • Week 5 – 230 lbs X 8/7/6 = 4,830 lbs
  • Week 6 – 230 lbs X 8/7/7 = 5,060 lbs
  • Week 7 – 230 lbs X 8/8/8 = 5,520 lbs

Now, if you just look at the weight on the bar and the reps performed I think you’d agree that this looks like pretty decent progress. The problem is that after peaking in week 3, it then takes John until week 7 to surpass his volume for this lift. That means that he was failing to optimally overload via volume for 4 weeks out of 7—not a great hit rate!

Will his growth have been non-existent in this time? Of course not. Anything within approximately 10% of his best performance probably falls within an overload range—by which I mean a sufficient volume load was lifted to cause the body to adapt somewhat. However, it wasn’t a progressively overloading stimulus so, it was not an optimal stimulus. Growth could have been that bit quicker. Over a 7 week period these differences are negligible. Extend it out over your lifting career and it adds up to a noticeable difference.

The Role of Total Volume Training (TVT)

Recently, I have experimented extremely successfully with using total rep targets rather than specific sets and reps. I call this Total Volume Training (TVT). Consider the following structure and see how it helps John consistently add volume week to week. John starts out using his 8-rep max (225 lbs) and does as many sets as required to hit the total rep target as follows:

  • Week 1 – 225 lbs X 20 total reps = 4,500 lbs
  • Week 2 – 225 lbs X 22 total reps = 4,950 lbs
  • Week 3 – 225 lbs X 24 total reps = 5,400 lbs
  • Week 4 – 225 lbs X 26 total reps = 5,850 lbs
  • Week 5 – 225 lbs X 28 total reps = 6,300 lbs
  • Week 6 – 225 lbs X 30 total reps = 6,750 lbs
  • Week 7 – 225 lbs X 32 total reps (John exceeds his capacity to recover and takes a deload)

With this approach, there is a linear increase in training volume. To achieve the total rep target John might well have to do more sets over the phase. In week 1, he might have got 20 total reps in three total sets. To hit the 30 rep threshold in week 6 might have taken him 4 or 5 sets. The key is that volume is constantly increasing. Sure, you can achieve increases in total volume using more traditional set/rep schemes by adding sets. The problem is people often incorrectly apply this approach and fool themselves into believing they are progressing when they are not. They add weight to the bar, but don’t do enough total reps to increase total volume.

Consider this scenario:

  • Week 1 – 225 lbs X 8/7/6 = 4,725 lbs
  • Week 2 – 225 lbs X 8/8/8 = 5,400 lbs
  • Week 3 – 225 lbs X 8/8/8/6 = 6,750 lbs
  • Week 4 – 225 lbs X 8/8/8/8 = 7,200 lbs
  • Week 5 – 230 lbs X 8/7/6/6 = 6,210 lbs

The key with the TVT structure is that it ensures volume increases every week. It removes any potential for the perception of progress when none is there and it acts as a safety net to ensure you achieve your primary goal—overloading via volume.

As an added bonus, the TVT structure saves you from having to try and calculate your total training volume during a session and compare to last week’s performance. Good luck doing that after a hard set of squats! Instead, you know all you have to do is show up, punch the clock, and hit your allotted rep total at the given weight.

Re-Thinking Orthodox Set and Rep Structures to Optimise Hypertrophy - Fitness, strength and conditioning, hypertrophy, muscle gain, deloading, sets, reps, repetition, training plan, total training volume

The Lack of Load

For those of you concerned with the lack of increases in load on the bar I say, so what? Hypertrophy is the focus and you will be providing a strong hypertrophy inducing stimulus through increased volume. If you cannot reconcile this fact then, I do have a solution for you to use on the big compound lifts. A good rule of thumb is to aim to get 1-2% stronger each week. Assuming you are strong enough on the big barbell lifts for increases of this magnitude to be feasible (loads of at least 250 lbs allow a 2% increase of 5 lbs), then you can simply keep the rep total the same, but increase load. For example:

  • Week 1 – 250 lbs X 20 total reps = 5,000 lbs
  • Week 2 – 255 lbs X 20 total reps = 5,100 lbs
  • Week 3 – 260 lbs X 20 total reps = 5,200 lbs

To highlight how adding load in this manner is different to how a set and rep structure would play out, consider this example:

John performs 4×3-5 starting at 250 lbs and add 5 lbs per week as above.

  • Week 1 – 250 lbs x 5, 5, 5, 5 = 5,000 lbs
  • Week 2 – 255 lbs x 5, 5, 5, 4 = 4,845 lbs
  • Week 3 – 260 lbs x 5, 5, 4, 3 = 4,420 lbs

Each week his training volumes reduces. The exact opposite of what he is trying to achieve. Now, he could remedy this by adding sets. After all, that is essentially what would happen when using a total rep target, but it is rarely considered in set and rep structures. Even by adding sets there is no guarantee that training volume increases. Here is another example, to showcase how this might play out:

  • Week 1 – 250 lbs 4×3-5 – John gets 5, 5, 5, 5 (20 total reps) = 5,000 lbs
  • Week 2 – 255 lbs 5×3-5 – John performs x 5, 5, 5, 4, 4 (23 total reps) = 5,865 lbs
  • Week 3 – 260 lbs 6×3-5 – John does x 5, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2 (22 total reps) = 5,720 lbs

As you can see, focusing on a sets and reps structure takes your attention away from what matters most when it comes to building size. Instead, pick a strategy that allows you to relentlessly add volume. Over time, this will cause you to grow at the quickest rate possible. Regardless of whether you choose to drive total reps up or keep reps static and increase load, the total training volume will increase. This is what really matters when it comes to hypertrophy and is why TVT is so effective.

Jamie Lynn Spears gives birth to baby girl

Singer/actress Jamie Lynn Spears has become a mum of two after giving birth to another baby girl.

Britney Spears’ younger sister and her husband Jamie Watson welcomed Ivey Joan Watson on Wednesday in Covington, Louisiana.

“We are beyond excited to welcome this beautiful baby girl to our family!” Spears tells People magazine. “Her middle name, Joan, is to honour my Aunt Sandra, who passed away 10 years ago from ovarian cancer. She was the most graceful woman I’ve ever known.”

Jamie announced her pregnancy in December, revealing her her nine-year-old daughter Maddie, from her previous relationship with her ex-boyfriend Casey Aldridge, was going to be a big sister.

“Looks like we are starting off 2018 with another big milestone… sooo (sic) happy to announce that Maddie is FINALLY going to be a big sister,” she wrote beside a family photo, posted on Instagram.

In her pregnancy announcement in December, the 27-year-old also reflected on the past year, during which she almost lost Maddie after she was involved in a scary all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident in February, 2017.

“2017 was filled with some of the biggest challenges of my life, as well as some of the biggest blessings, so I made a choice to lay low this year to focus on truly becoming my best self as a person and as an artist,” she continued.

“During that time, I continued working on my music and telling my story, which has created some of my most honest work and I (CAN’T) wait to share that with you all very soon. 2018 is going to be filled with many milestones both personally and professionally…”